Significance of Tapas (Austerities) in Hinduism
Tapas literally means heat. It is common knowledge that metals like gold become pure on heating them. Again, pure metal is extracted from ores by heating them in a blast furnace. Even so, it is said that the practice of tapas heats up our system, the mind in particular, and purifies it in the process.
Sri Shankaracharya makes the idea of tapas clear in his commentary on the
Taittiraya Upanishad (3.1.1) – Tapas is the best discipline, for it is known in the world that of all the means that are causally related with definite ends, tapas is the best.
Tapas consists in the control of external and internal organs.
In other words, anything that can be accomplished with some means is accomplished better with tapas. This is true of worldly prosperity as well as spiritual progress.
Tapas means concentration of the mind by choice – mine, not the mind’s. The mind needs to be trained in concentration. Who is the trainer? The buddhi. When a person is convinced of the need of mind control and sets about training it, buddhi enters the picture.
Source – Prabhudha Bharata Magazine editorial – August 2002