“Dukham eva sarvam vivekinaha. For a discriminating person the entire world is created to give you pain and nothing but pain,” Patanjali says in Book Two, sutra 15. Not that he was condemning the world, no. If you have the right approach, the world doesn’t cause you pain, nor does it give you pleasure. It is just there. Everything depends on our approach. The wrong approach has to bring pain, because only with pain can we learn the lesson. With pleasure we seldom learn lessons. Only by suffering can we learn more.
So those who want to learn more should even look for more suffering. One story that illustrates this point is about Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas in the Mahabharata. After the Pandavas won the war, they were all placed on the throne and were ready to enjoy life. But, their mother, Kunti, was so sad.
Krishna asked her, “Why are you so sad? Your sons all seem to be happy. What can I do for you?
“Well, Krishna, if you can do something, I would ask one thing only”
“What is that?”
“Create another war. Send my children back to the forest.”
“What? Are you crazy, lost your mind?”
“No, I am not crazy. I am totally sane.”
“Then why do you say this?”
“You know all these fourteen years when we were all in the jungle waiting to get caught any minute, we never forgot you. We have been constantly looking for ‘Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Krishna,’ for every little thing. But now, look at my sons. They are all complaining. Bhima says, ‘Oh, this throne seems to be a little small for me.’ Duryodhana, complains, ‘Oh, the crown is too heavy for me.’ They already have started thinking of their problems. Did you realize that nobody bothered about you. They didn’t even ask whether you ate or not. It’s not even been a few days since we’ve returned from the forest and already they have forgotten you! I don’t want that to happen. The only way to remember you always is to have pain.”
Kunti understood the real meaning behind the benefit that comes from accepting pain for purification. Once you learn the lesson, once you understand the purpose of tapasya, it becomes transformed, transmuted. Nothing is there to pain you. God isn’t trying to inflict pain to punish you. No. Pain is caused by your wrong understanding. I always tell the story of the two women who went to the doctor. One had a stomachache and she wanted the pain to be cured. She got the remedy and walked out.
Another one came to the doctor and said, “Doc, could you induce some pain?”
“Are you crazy? Why do you want me to induce pain?”
“Well, Doc, don’t you see my condition? I am expecting my baby. I should have had the pain two days before. Without labor pains how can I deliver the baby? So, please induce me!”
Why? Because this woman knows that without that labor pain there can be no gain, right? No pain, no gain. That’s what. If we know the benefit of pain, we will welcome it. If you know the benefit of the pain, you won’t feel pained anymore. The fact that you deny the pain causes more pain. Let us learn that this is nature’s formula. This is nature’s way in order to purify us. If we voluntarily offer ourselves to get purified, it will be much easier. Otherwise, like some children who don’t want to go into the bathtub, the mommy has to hold them tight and apply soap all over. It gets into the eyes and ears and then it burns the eyes. But she has to clean us anyway. She won’t let us get out of the tub until we’re all cleaned up.
So, tapas means that you first understand it, then accept it for the benefit it brings. What benefit? We have to go through tapas, burning, so that all our desires, all our impurities are cleaned out. Only by burning can you be cleaned, not by pampering. Tapasya doesn’t mean that you go and close your eyes and meditate. That’s easy, comfortable. In order to be purified, the dross has to be burned out. Like gold: The more you heat it, the more it loses its carbon particles, loses its dirt and it improves in carat. If you want to raise the carat of gold, you heat it, refine it. Likewise, if you want to become glittering gold—a brilliant person, a bright person, a person with light, let pain burn you. It is the suffering in life that will burn and purify you.
Another example I like to often give is the deep fried fritters. We are all fritters. We are all dropped in the hot oil wok. You have to be fried out of your moisture—the attachments, the desires, those things that bind you. Once the moisture is totally taken away by the hot oil, by frying, you don’t make any noise. Have you heard the sound of fritters or raw French fries placed into hot oil? They bubble and hiss. But once they are well-fried, there’s no more bubbles, no hissing. On the other hand, they seem to enjoy that same hot oil and they just float around. Life is like that hot oil.
Whether you want it, or not, you are constantly being purified by churning and burning. Do you know how holy ash is made? It’s nothing but cow dung. When that cow dung is burnt well it becomes holy ash. That same dung that was excreted from the cow, is now raised to the height of a holy sacramental ash that is given to worshippers in Hindu temples everywhere. So, one has to get burnt well to become holy ash. That is life.
There are so many examples given by our scriptures. Another one is the example of butter. Butter is made from milk. If you take milk and mix it into water, you can’t separate the milk from the water any longer. The milk gets mixed up in the water. Just like the human beings who are caught in the ocean of samsara. They get tossed about and swallowed up by the ocean of the world. However, if you let the raw milk sit and the cream rise, you can take the cream and churn or knead it. Enough churning (tapas) means the butter separates from the milk. Once the butter is out, take it, throw it into the water, it will never get mixed up in the water. It will just float there. In the same way, if you allow the Mother Nature to churn you, you will float in the ocean of samsara rather than getting swallowed up in its waters.
So learn to accept suffering. It’s not that you are going to put yourself into suffering or look for suffering. We don’t have to do that. We don’t have to purposely hurt ourselves. Some people do that. That’s cruel. Real tapasya, is that when suffering comes, accept it.
Another aspect of tapasya is to not only accept pain when it comes to you, but at the same time not to cause pain to anybody. Accepting pain and not causing pain. And that way we don’t lose anything. We learn to “adapt, adjust, accommodate; to bear insult, bear injury,” as Gurudev Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj said. He said that is the highest Yoga. Meditation? Anyone can do it. Sometimes even frogs meditate a long time. They go into deep samadhi, hibernation. Bed bugs practice samadhi. That’s not really samadhi. Equanimity is samadhi. Where do you want to show that you have acquired equanimity? In the midst of adverse conditions.
So now the ball is in your court. Get boiled, get churned, become butter—people who can float on the waves of the ocean of samsara rather than getting caught in the waves. You can be in the world but not of the world. That’s my humble wish and prayer for us all today. Thank you. I wish you all the health, happiness, peace and supreme bliss. Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.
~Excerpted from a satsang at Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville on September 21, 1991.