‘Tapas’ in Sanskrit means burning. Any activity or practice that burns up the false sense of ego or self is tapas. One of the most important ways in which the self-idea manifests is the feeling ‘I am this body’. The orthodox people suggested that anything that tortures, that mortifies the body is good. These don’t work because you are only punishing the body. The idea of the self, that ‘I am this body’, still persists. After all these wonderful practices you come up and say: “Look what I have done!” Whereas if something is practised that attacks directly this idea that ‘I am this body’, that might be useful.
What sort of practice should we adopt in order that the false idea that ‘I am this body’, might be removed? My Guru Swami Sivananda had a very simple and beautiful teaching. He said: “Bear insult, bear injury. This is the highest sadhana.” When you are insulted or get upset, it is this idea that ‘I am this body’ that is insulted. When you are injured because somebody hit you, it is the body that is injured. Therefore if it is possible to work on that area which gets hurt by insult or injury, then this false identification can be overcome. This is perhaps a very beautiful form of self-enquiry or meditation, and it is something that can provide us with the key to solve most of our problems.
For instance, somebody calls me a fool. ‘Fool’ is a word and that is his opinion, but when I hear this I am hurt – which means I feel almost a physical pain. What has this incident to do with the physical pain that I experience? We have never asked ourselves this question, and therefore we go on suffering this hurt in a million ways in our life. If, on the other hand, we can devote some time to it just once, it will go forever. What is this pain and what is it made of? Where does it arise? Not why does it arise, because then you are tempted to blame others or say that you are a very sensitive person. These things do not help you.
Someone says something and I feel physically hurt. If one contemplates this really seriously and earnestly, one arrives at this simple and beautiful realisation: that person was referring to a nothing and that nothing got upset. There is an idea that ‘I am this body that ‘I am So and so’, and that idea is hurt.