Literal meaning of tapa in Hindi is to heat profusely to purify. For example, purifying gold by melting it and removing its impurities. As a spiritual virtue, it means to use our inherent energy and will power to purify ourselves of the evils/undesirable traits and habits, similar to heating the injection needle to make it sterile (free from any infectious material attached to it).
How can I purify myself? My answer is ‘Persistent single-minded strenuous effort to achieve our objective’, like persistent and regular studies eliminate our ignorance of the subject being studied. See the difference, so far, we are talking about giving up, exercising control etc. and now we are talking about persistent effort. Please remember persistent effort is made in association with all the controls and virtues we have talked about so far. For example, in self-restraint, we talked about controlling our food urges; now we are talking of giving up a particular type of food or the food completely for a specific period of time. Penance helps us eliminate the residual evils (anger etc.) and our past bad karmas/actions to achieve higher levels of happiness.
Penance is broadly classified as external and internal, each of six sub types. Let us discuss the ones of immediate use to us:
Let us now see how it is practiced in different life situations:
Penance can thus be summarised as willing and persistent strenuous efforts to achieve our objective, keeping our inherent virtues and nature of being happy in mind. If penance is not self-chosen, it will result in ill effects on the practitioner.
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