Tapas and the Sage Vishvamitra

Tapas is a tasty snack or appetizer found served in bars and restaurants throughout Spain. It is also the third niyama. In Sanskrit it means to consume by heat, to blaze or burn. In the yogic tradition, tapasya may be translated as “essential energy”, referring to a focused effort leading towards bodily purification and spiritual enlightenment. Tapas implies a self-discipline or austerity willingly expended both in restraining physical urges and in actively pursuing a higher purpose in life. Through tapas, a yogi or spiritual seeker can “burn off” or prevent accumulation of negative energies, clearing a path toward spiritual evolution. It can refer to a personal endeavor of discipline, undertaken to achieve a goal, accompanying suffering and pain. One who undertakes tapas is a Tapasvin. From tapas the more widespread word tapasy was derived.
Tapas may be the striving for moksha (liberation). It may also be striving for perfection in a particular sport, field of knowledge or work. Tapasya may also be undertaken as penance, to liberate oneself from the consequences of a sin or sinful activities, or karma. By tapas the yoga develops strength in body, mind, and character.

The story of the king Kaushika is one of the most poignant ancient stories of tapas. There are many versions, here is one of them.

      On one of his exploits, King Kaushika and his soldiers took rest in the ashram of Rishi Vasishta. There, his whole army was well fed and taken care of. This caused a doubt in the king’s mind as to how it was possible for this simple ashram to take care of all the arrangements to feed an entire army. He expressed his surprise to the sage. Vasishta replied, “O king, this feast that you have partaken with your kinsmen, has been provided by my calf Nandini (sometimes referred as Sabala), who was gifted to me by Indra. You must know that she is the daughter of Indra’s cow Kamadhenu. She provides me with everything I need.” Kaushika was filled with wonder when he heard this. He began to think that possessing this cow would mean a lot to him; after all, the sage did not have to provide food and sustenance for a large army everyday. He expressed a desire to the sage for obtaining Nandini from him. Vasishta was polite, but steadfast in his refusal. He would not be tempted by the offer of untold wealth that was made by Kaushika, for after all who can set a price on a cow, which can readily yield all the riches in the world. The king grew exceedingly angry. He insulted the Bramharishi with harsh words, and ordered his soldiers to seize the cow, and drive it to his kingdom. By his yogic powers, the great sage Vasishta, called forth an entire army of fierce warriors. They fought the army of Kaushika and defeated it thoroughly. Kaushika was captured and presented before Vasishta. The sage pardoned the king and sent him away. This incident made a deep impression on the King. He realized that the power obtained by penances was far greater than mere physical might. He renounced his kingdom and began his quest to become a greater rishi than Vasishta. He undertook a fierce penance for one thousand years, after which Brahma names him a Rajarishi, or royal sage. After another long penance of ten thousand years, Indra attempts to test the tapasvin by sending Menaka, an

Sage vishvamitra and aspara Menaka

aspara to seduce him. Asparas are beautiful, supernatural women. They are youthful and elegant, and proficient in the art of dancing (dancing. wink, wink). Menaka trembled at the thought of angering such a powerful ascetic, but she obeyed the god’s order. As she approached Kaushika, the wind god Vayu tore away her garments. Seeing her thus disrobed, the sage abandoned himself to lust. Nymph and sage engaged in sex for some time, during which Kaushika asceticism was put on hold. As a consequence, Menaka gave birth to a daughter. Kaushika then lived with Menaka for 10 years. Kaushika becomes angry as Menaka had destroyed his years of meditation and thus he cursed her that she won’t possess her beauty, of which she was proud, in next birth. And hence in the next birth she became a monkey and mother of Hanuman, Anjani. Kaushika then went to the banks of the river Kaushiki. After many thousands of years of penance, Brahma names him maharishi. He then traveled to the highest mountain of the Himalayas to perform an even more severe tapasya for over a thousand years. He ceased to eat, and reduced his breathing to a bare minimum. He is tested again by Indra, who comes as a poor Brahmin begging for food just as Kaushika is ready to break a fast of many years by eating some rice. Kaushika instantly gives his food away to Indra and resumes his meditation. Kaushika also finally masters his passions, refusing to be provoked by any of Indra’s testing and seductive interferences. At the culmination of a multi-thousand year journey, Kaushika’s yogic power is at a peak. At this point, Lord Brahma, as the head of the Devas (benevolent supernatural beings), led by Indra, names Kaushika a brahmarishi, and names him Vishwamitra, or Friend of All for his unlimited compassion. He is also embraced by Vasishta, and their enmity is instantly ended. Vishwamitra is credited with authoring some of the oldest hymns in the rig veda. In particular, the ones to Agni and Indra. His most revered hymn is the Gayatri Mantra which is found in the the Rig, Yajur, and Sama Vedas. The Vedas clearly state that anyone can chant this mantra, and gain its benefits. Many of us are familiar with this mantra and chant it. Here is one of the many translation or it.

Aum Bhur Bhuva Svah,
Tat Savitur Varenyam.
Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi
Dhiyo yo nah prachodayat


We meditate on the glory of the Creator;
Who is worthy of Worship,
Who is the source of knowledge,
Who is the bright light,
May he illuminate our intellect.

(sourced on wikopedia and answers.com)

Today, we find that asana or pose dedicated to the sage Vishwamitra in the third series of the ashtanga vinyasa practice.

Scott in vishvamitarasana

Other stuff:

Classes I am subbing.

Tues. 3/29  6:00pm Ashtanga Mix at LifePower

Wed. 3/30  6:00am  Mysore at LifePower

Fri. 4/1  12:00pm LVP3 at LifePower

Sat. 4/2  10:00am Ashtanga Vinyasa Primary series.

I know that for the past two Saturdays I have been telling the yogis in this 10am class that Gabriel A. was going to sub the class. Gabriel is a wonderful teacher and practitioner. John texted me earlier today and asked me to teach the class because Gabriel was going to be out of town. You get me for one more Saturday practice…

New Class:

Starting next Monday, April 4th, I am going to start Monday afternoon classes at My Home yoga studio. Classes will be 4:30pm – 5:30pm Vinyasa to the level of the participants immediately followed by 5:30pm – 6:50pm Yin style deep strech practice…. You can arrive and leave any time during the practice. You can stay for both practices (really one long practice) or leave after vinyasa, or just come for yin. If you have work issues, you can come and join either class whenever you arrive. Class will be by donation of your choice. (suggested $10. for both classes). My yoga room is at my house at 10780 North 129th St. Scottsdale. It is across from the Mayo Clinic. The nearest cross street is 130 St. and Shea.

next post on svadhyaya:

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2 Responses to Tapas and the Sage Vishvamitra

  1. Can I use part of the information from your post over if I give a backlink for your site?

  2. A big thank you for your blog post.Really thank you! Really Cool.

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