I have been reading Shambhavi Lorain Chopra's book Yogini: Unfolding the Goddess Within, and I read a part that struck such a cord with me that I want to share it here. It is a little lengthy, but bare with me. She speaks of Tapas, the Fire of Spiritual Aspiration. Tapas is an intense yogic practice. According to Shambhavi it is an often misunderstood word being confused with far-fetched and bizarre practices in enforced asceticism.
Shambhavi states, "Tapas is the heat of spiritual inquiry and aspiration that makes the sadhaka consume all the fleeting needs and desires of life. The fire in the soul connects with the life-fire in the body, finding expression through the heart, leading one to liberate or detach oneself from illusion, creating the way to self-realization. This is the real inner movement of tapas." Shambhavi believes that true tapas is guided by the Goddess or feminine energy known as shakti. It is essentially shakti that is the real energy of tapas, which is her power of purification and transformation.
Shambhavi goes on to state, "Illusion or maya can produce many obstacles, sometimes creating a subtle 'ego'. On the spiritual path, many so-called gurus or sakhakas create certain boundaries describing the path in fixed terms or outer behavioural patterns and look to these outer appearances as the main thing. Typical examples of this are abstinence from meat, sex, or even alcohol and smoking, as if such outer marks of renunciation were enough to indicate the existence of the inner fire."
"Abstinence may be beneficial...to be free from smoking and eating meat can be conducive to one's spiritual growth. However, such outer changes have little value if there is no real fire burning within. If a person applies such outer forms as an end in themselves, it can bring about fanaticism or even arrogance, trying to portray oneself as above or different from others. I don't think someone eating meat or drinking alcohol or making love is necessarily 'unholy'.
Even vegetarians or non-smokers can be brutal in their behavior in relationship to mankind, expressing 'unholy' traits in how they see others in their hearts. People cannot be judged according to these relative habits. There are no simple outer criteria for assessing the degree of someone's enlightenment. Most important is to see to what extent a person lives in true love, experiencing harmony with the higher consciousness. This is also a kind of tapas."
Her words struck me deeply, as I am now seeking and experiencing my own tapas, how easy it is to become obsessed with certain practices at the exclusion of all others. I have seen so many well intended people on the spiritual path develop such a fervor for specific practices that they begin to pass judgment on others for not following their way. Or they may become fixed on one particular guru as being the final word on what is considered 'holy'. We must remember that not all human beings are awakened and have that fire burning within them, and that there are many who would believe they are 'awakened' and are in reality still fast'asleep' so to speak. This brings to mind the words of Rumi, my favorite Sufi poet, "Let the beauty we love be what we do, there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground."
Jai Mata Di,