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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

Tapas: Is It Hot in Here or Is It Just Me? (Fusion & Reintegrating Separated Pieces of God)


In various myths, Shiva assumes the form of a yogi. Through internal practices, known as tapas, or "internal heating," Shiva achieves greater integration through the dissolution of boundaries. The idea of tapas is also sometimes thought of as internal fire. Fire is a way to dissolve boundaries, melt and transform things. “Tapas moves the tapasyin toward erotic fusion with his/her lost otherness” (Handelman & Shulman, 2004, pp. 159-160). This process of reconstructed wholeness is attractive to split off and fragmented selves. Tapas thus serves as the necessary grounds for the recombination of beings. The process propelled by tapas is one of softening; turning hardness into flux, external flow back into inner flow. The turning inward of tapas is erotic: fusing, closing gaps, erasing boundaries. This internal heating or melting is a sucking into the self by powerful attraction everything that exists, and is thus transformative. Tapas is active, dynamic, and fluid; it dissolves borders, establishing continuous connection between hitherto isolated domains or states of being. It is transformative and generative, burning away gaps and reproducing the density of being; the rediscovery of preexisting totality within. Tapas cooks, melts, and dissolves all that is external, and tends to trigger upward transition in levels. The movement towards integration comes from within, and this internalization is always fluid and erotic, capable of joining, whereas externalization congeals gaps, hardens fragmentary identities, and is antierotic. Mahony (1998) speaks of the fervent transformative power of tapas:



Vedic texts often depict the deities’ inward transformative power as an energetic, forcefully fervent heat they describe as tapas, in the natural world, the primordial heat of such tapas lies principally in the element of fire. The powerful energy of life-giving and life-sustaining fire may exist inherently, as it does for example in the god of the sun Surya, who burns with vital and transformative force. (p. 27)

In the "Forest of Pines" story, the sages were doing empty rituals. Because there was only action and no love for God in their action, their tapas, it was antierotic. The sages are ultimately separated fragments of Shiva himself, as is everything in creation. By seeking to rectify this fragmented, antierotic condition, Shiva himself becomes more whole. He is filled up first with the fluid offerings of the women. The sages’ wives experience with Shiva, rekindles their the deep desire to experience the Divine, of which Grof (1998a) writes:

although the process of creation separates and alienates us from our cosmic source, our divine identity, the awareness of this connection is never completely lost. The deepest motivating force in the human psyche on all the levels of our development is the craving to return to the experience of our divinity. (p. 209)

Shiva becomes more whole as well through regaining or reabsorbing all of the weapons and other attributes that the sages ironically have given back to him through their hatred. Mulayakan, forgetfulness, is associated with epilepsy, spasmodic movement and a lack of consciousness. Shiva in this way is “remembering himself.” The erotic tapas induces a melting and the empty fragmented externalized parts come back into connection. This idea brings new meaning to the “SURRENDER DOROTHY” and “I’m Melting” scenes from The Wizard of Oz (Fleming, 1939), but I digress.






Shiva's dance, Ananda-Tandava, the dance of rapture, connotes both bliss and inner unity of the ananda aspect as well as wildness and destruction of the tandava aspect. The dance represents the ultimate moment of centripetality. Shiva is forced through the dance into a self-internalizing process of melting and combining. The struggle to reunite entails overcoming boundedness and limitations so they can flow again into one another. (Handelman & Shulman, 2004, p. 152)


Shiva knows himself through others (Handelman & Shulman, 2004). The meeting in the Forest of Pines changes both parties. The god becomes more alive, more full of himself, more present in deeper or more rapid movement, emerging as Nataraja, the dancer. Not only has the god changed, but also the feminine is freed from shame and restraint, becoming fertile and generative, while the male—although initially through anger and hate—begins to experience a love for god.


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