In order for us to advance on the yogic path we need to invest energy and effort needs to be exerted. On this path, we are walking very much against the flow, against the tendency to follow our senses, in pursuit of pleasures of transient life, against the tendency to indulge in consumerism and desires. All this requires discipline and effort – these are the components of Tapas – the insistence to persevere in the practice and the path.
- Tapas: austerity and associated observances for body discipline and thereby mental control.
- Svādhyāya: study of the Vedic scriptures to know about God and the soul, which leads to introspection on a greater awakening to the soul and God within, which literally means “one’s own reading” and “self-study”
- Ishvarapranidhana: dedicating all of one’s efforts to God or surrender to God.
- Praṇidhāna is used to mean a range of senses including, “laying on, fixing, applying, attention (paid to), meditation, desire, prayer.” In context of Patanjali’s Eight-Limbed Yoga, the word Īśvarapraṇidhāna means committing what one does to a Lord
Patanjali writes in the beginning of chapter 2 of the yoga sutras, the chapter on practice (Sadhana Pada):
“Tapah (tapas) svadhyaya Isvarapranidhanani (are) kriyayogah”.
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Tapas is commonly translated as asceticism and a discipline of mental and physical practice.
Svadhyaya is the study of sacred scriptures in order to know about the essence of the Self. Literally the meaning of the word is the study of the Self.
Isvarapranidhanana means devoting the entirety of our efforts and actions to God,
Dedicating ourselves to him completely.
When translating more freely we can refer to these three layers as: effort, inquiry and devotion. These are the foundational constituents of the yogic path (and indeed of any spiritual path).
However, the effort needs to be applied in the right direction and in the right amount and for that there is need for inquiry, research and study. The study of our own nature, of the places we act from, of the things we cling to, the crossroads in which we get stuck – all these require observation and inquiry and that comprises Svadhyaya. The study of the Self and the study of the yogic scriptures in order to reflect upon the nature of things and the nature of man as described by the philosophy of yoga.
Beyond that, there is need for trust and devotion on the yogic path. What is devotion? Devotion is an action devoid of calculation, an action that isn’t done out of thought on loss or gain. It is an action done wholeheartedly, an action performed out of love and not in order to glorify our ego. When we devote ourselves to the path we are willing to walk it for the very act of walking and not for tangible material fruits. That is the component of Isvarapranidhanani.
Svadhyaya is the study, it defines the domain of the yogic inquiry. Tapas is how to study, study by action, by doing and observing at the same time. Ishvara Pranidhana is accepting what is being our control.
The lives of human beings are made up of work, study and love – the three elements will turn into yoga, into kriya yoga once the work is performed as a service or offering; the study is done for the sake of internal inquiry and the love is to open up our hearts to all living beings without calculating gain and loss.
Once the work turns into selfless service, the study is done for the purpose of liberation and the love is unconditional, then we become Yogis!
There is a saying:
“Yoga helps cure what can be cured, bear what can’t be cured and distinguish between the two”.
Curing what is incurable through Tapas, bearing what is incurable – that is Isvarapranidhanani, and the wisdom to distinguish between the two is acquired through Svadhyaya.