Justice T.U.Mehta

Austerities (Tapascarya)

Jainas are famous for their austerities. Every year during the holy-days of ‘Paryusana' the monks and nuns as well as the house-holders perform very hard and strict austerities of various types. Many persons go in fast for months. Some take the vow of alternate fasts throughout a year. Even children and teenagers perform fasts, ranging from a day to a week, and in some cases, which are rare nowadays, some persons end their life by voluntarily renouncing every thing including food and water and going into deep spiritual contemplation called ‘Santhara' or ‘Samllekhana'. Lord Mahavira himself carried out severest austerities of various types for long twelve years and earned the title of Mahavira meaning, a great warrior. His long period of severe austerities also earned him the title of a ‘Dirga Tapasvi' (one who has carried out hard austerities). At the successful end of an austerity which is undertaken, some Jainas are found to celebrate it with pomp. They give publicity to the austerities undertaken during Paryusana holy-days and publicly honour the persons undertaking these austerities. When the Jainas give so much importance to these austerities, it is necessary to treat this subject in proper perspective.

We have already noted that the performance of penances is the process of Nirjara when accumulated karmas are shed away by conscious efforts. One thing which is very important to note, and which is not properly understood by lay persons, is that neither Lord Mahavira nor any of the seers who followed him and interpreted his doctrines, has taken the doctrine of Tapascarya as a bare physical exercise and a matter of demonstration and publicity to the exercise world. It is therefore a gross insult of Jainism to give publicity and celebrate the occasions of such penances.

The fundamental principle behind the idea of penances and austerities is the ‘Bhava', the emotional awareness, to renounce. Unless such a ‘Bhava' is there all penances and austerities are mere physical exercise having no more value than the crude exhibition of bodily power to withstand the pangs of hunger or thirst. Even though the inner aspect of penances is duly emphasized in Jainism, yet the importance of external penances is also not underrated. External austerity involves physical endurance and renunciation of something perceptible, whereas the internal austerity involves control of mind.

The penances are classified under two heads : external and internal. To put more emphasis on Bhava, the Tirthankaras have repeatedly said that Abhyantara Tapa is better than Bahya. The external austerity being something physical can be pursued even by a man who is not possessed of right attitude.

Abhyantara means the thing which emanates from within. Bahya means ‘outward'. Acarya Hemacandra says in his ‘Yoga-sastra' - "Nirjara-karane bahyat srestham Abhyantaram tapah", meaning, "for the purpose of Nirjara Abhyantara Tapa is better than Bahya. The great Acarya said this because one should first improve the inner tendencies of mind and practice those austerities which grow from within one's self. Outward manifestations, unaccompanied by mental and emotional growth, amount to mere hypocrisy and cheating.

Abhyantara Tapa - the width and ambit of the meanings of Abhyantara and Bahya Tapa would be clear from their categories which are described as under:

There are six categories of Abhayantara Tapa, namely, (i) Prayascitta - Atonement for the breach of a vow resulting from carelessness or negligence, (ii) Vinaya - Respect for the virtues such as Jnana, Darsana and Caritra, (iii) Vaiyavrtya - Rendering of personal and impersonal service to those who deserve, (iv) Svadhyaya - Study to acquire true knowledge (v) Vyutsarga - Discarding ego and the sense of possession and (vi) Dhyana - Meditation to increase the power of concentration by making the mind, steady.

The above six categories of Abhyantara Tapa are cultivated by the mind which is inclined to learn, and to practice, the mind which has respect for the virtues and the mind which is ego-free. This condition of mind comes from the inner development only. The widest ramification of the meaning attributed to the austerities contemplated by Jainism becomes evident from the fact that even study of literature to get real knowledge and rendering of personal and material service to the deserving are treated as ‘Tapa'.

Bahya Tapa -Categories of Bahya Tapa also show its wide meaning. They are six, namely :

(i) ‘Anasana or Upavasa', i.e., fasting. ‘Asana' means taking food. Prefix ‘An' suggests a negative. The word ‘Upavasa' has a means a wider meaning than a mere fasting. The prefix ‘Upa' means near and ‘Vasa' means residence. Nearness suggested by the prefix ‘Upa' is nearness to the self. So the wider meaning of the word ‘Upavasa' is to remain near to your own self, to be within your own self. Not only food but all objects which are foreign to the self are to be discarded when one is performing ‘Upavasa'.

(ii) Unodari, i.e., Eating less than one's fill. Here perfix ‘Upa' is suggestive of a ‘want'. The word ‘Udara' means stomach. ‘Unodara' means a stomach which is not full. Normally the full quantity of food for ascetic is thirty-two morsels in the case of a monk and twenty-eight in the case of a nun. Any reduction in this quantity constitutes Unodari tapa. So even the one who remains a little hungry is supposed to perform an austerity.

(iii) Vrtti-sanksepa or Vrtti-parisankhyana - This type of penances is perceived for the limitations of our desire for enjoyment of different objects. Technically it means to limit the quantity of food and drink. A monk takes the vow that he will remain satisfied with the quantity of food or drink which he receives once or twice and will not try to get more. Psychologically there is no end to human desires. The ancient Greeks had a saying : "When Gods want to punish us, they grant us our desires." Lord Buddha, however, put it more pointedly, "We punish ourselves, just as we reward ourselves, by fruits of our desires." The more we desire the more we try to collect. Even if we can do comfortably well by having four suits we dump our wardrobe with twenty and, the same is true about all our possessions and enjoyment of different types. This surely results in waste which, apart from being harmful to our morals, is harmful to the society also. Hence putting some sort of limitation to our desire for food and drink is necessary even if we can financially afford to do so.

(iv) Rasa-parityaga, - i.e., Restrictions on taste for drinks and food. Rasa-parityaga is connected with food. The Monk should renounce one or more of the six objects of taste, viz., milk, curd, ghee, oil, sugar and salt and also one or more of the following types of tastes : acrid, bitter, astringent, sour and sweet. The purpose of this tapa is emasculation of the senses subduing sleep and unobstructed pursuance of study.

(v) Vivikta-sayyasana - Samlinata - Staying at a place of solitude which would be congenial to mediation. It should not be frequented by women, eunuch, she-animals and depraved house-holders. It helps in celibacy, self-study and meditation.

(vi) Kaya-klesa - Training the body to tolerate with patience and equanimity, difficult and hard situations in life. In fact it means inflicting some pain on the body by adopting certain postures or by exposing it to the vagaries of weather just like remaining in hot sun in summer season.

To practice properly all the categories of Abhyantara and Bahya Tapa essentially requires an attitude of mind. The rigorous and hard practices of tormenting the body and physical senses is not so necessary. Even the easier practice of not filling the stomach fully at the time of eating is a category of Bahya Tapa, if it is done to discipline the mental cravings. Lord Mahavira himself practiced such hard penances as a modern man would think it impossible to practice. Even so, he did not approve of the hard practiced by Tamali Tapas and Purana Tapas. It was not because he thought that he was only person Tapas. It was not because he thought that he was only person entitled to undergo such hard penances. The reason for his disapproval was that he firmly believed that no penance, however hard, has any value unless it is accompanied by the evolution from within. Practice of hard penances amounting to the crushing the body and physical senses was prevalent in the days of Mahavira. Even Lord Buddha started his spiritual journey by resorting to hard penances which reduced his body to a mere skeleton. Buddha, however, left them finding that they were not conducive to peace of mind. Buddha probably did not know the trick which his senior contemporary Mahavira did. It was Mahavira who brought real life to hard penances by insisting on the inner development. He looked at the penances as merely instruments to enable one to introspect on the self. One should get so much engrossed in the self that he forgets all that is non-self including the body and its wants. It was for this reason that hard penances came naturally to Mahavira. His physical frame never decayed as a result of his penances. It is said that his physical prowess and personality were outstanding throughout his life. This could be possible because he was living only in the spirit, and could train his body to yield to his spirit. Every breath of his existence was in rhythm with the whole universe and undergoing hard penances he had a blind faith that if his physical existence was needed in the universe it would be sustained inspite of these penances.

As Pt. Sukhalalji puts it: "Bhagavana (Mahavira) was known as a ‘Dirgha' not only because of his ‘Bahya Tapa' but also because he utilised his penances to develop his inner spiritual evolution."

Thus without Abhyantara Tapa, Bahya Tapa has no value and the Bahya Tapa is valuable only in so far as it is helpful in developing the spiritual evolution of the inner self.