Uttam Tapa – Penance - is easy medium to lead a living being towards spiritual uplift. Penance is an extremely significant function
of life. Those who adopt austerity in life sail across the ocean of the world smoothly i.e. get rid of the
cycle of birth and death. Austerity is the only path to attain liberation.
Tapa does not only mean fasting but also includes a reduced diet, restriction of certain types of
foods, avoiding tasty foods, etc. The purpose of penance is to keep desires and passions in control.
Over-indulgence inevitably leads to misery. Penance leads to an influx of meritorious karmas. Also meditation
prevents the rise of desires and passions in the soul. In a deep state of meditation the desire to intake food
does not arise. The first Tirthankara, Rishabha is said to have meditative in such a state for six months, during
which he observed Nischay Uttam Tap.
Penance is of two kinds:
1. Tamasa-Tapasaya (Kutap) - Dark Penance.
The dark penance involves the ghastly and punishing practices, as to sleep on the bed made of pointed iron nails,
to walk on the burning fire, to get oneself suspended from a tree upside down, to get oneself buried in the ground.
Dark penance is the cause of migration of soul in the universe.
2. Satvika-Tapasya (Sutap) - Real or True penance.
The true penance involves the genuine or natural ways of practicing penance. This real or true penance
gives prominence to the practice of ‘Dhyana’ (meditation) and 'Upavasa' (fasting).True penance results in the liberation of the soul. Penance
is practiced for eternal bliss.
The penance performed to annihilate the karmic matter is the real penance. Without annihilation of
the karmas, the final goal i.e., liberation cannot be attained. Therefore, penance is a must for a
living being aspiring for salvation.
Penance has been assigned an insignificant place in this 'Pancham Kala' i.e., materialistic age. While telling the interpretation
of the dreams of the sovereign king Bharat, Lord Rishabh Dev said, "The sight of a horse with bent back due to being over loaded
with a burden fit to be carried by an elephant indicates that in the 'Pancham Kala' (materialistic age) the monks will not be capable
of adhering to all the characteristics of penance." Due to this very reason, declaring the study of scriptures as the superb type of penance,
the Lord emphasized the study of scriptures both by monks and householders.
We should know that one, who does not perform penance or practice austerities in life to one's utmost
power, deceives one's real self. Besides, all powers of such a man lie dormant. By being engrossed in
worldly pleasures a living being is held by the shackles of severe bondage of sins due to the influx
of evil karmas which bring him untold misery and bitter agonies in the several births to come.
If a living being performs penance within his power, he reaps its fruits beyond imagination. Just as the high temperature
of a person's body scorched by the fierce rays of the sun subsides by a shower,penance works as a tranquilizer
for the noble souls burnt by the great worldly fire of passions. Penance possesses the infinite power of undoing of the worldly
miseries. The glory of penance is unlimited. He, who does not perform penance observing
as much self-restraint as possible, is worthless like a straw.