Sunday, December 13, 2020

The Tapas of John the Baptist

John 1:6-8, 19-28

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

When I think of John the Baptist I think of someone possessed or driven to action.  He is the "voice crying out in the wilderness." Working with a manic energy some may not understand. Single minded, uncaring for self, giving his whole self over to the greater good. Working with a heat or Agni. Focused or driven like one on fire or pitta. John the Baptist exudes Tapas. Read this and see if you don't  agree:

From Wikipedia "Tapas is a variety of austere spiritual practices... In Jainism, it means asceticism (austerities, body mortification); in Buddhism, it denotes spiritual practices including meditation and self-discipline; and in the different traditions within Hinduism it means a spectrum of practices ranging from asceticism, inner cleansing to self-discipline. The Tapas practice often involves solitude, and is a part of monastic practices that are believed to be a means to moksha (liberation, salvation).

In the Vedas literature of Hinduism, fusion words based on tapas are widely used to expound several spiritual concepts that develop through heat or inner energy, such as meditation, any process to reach special observations and insights, the spiritual ecstasy of a yogin or Tāpasa (a vṛddhi derivative meaning "a practitioner of austerities, an ascetic")... In certain contexts, the term means penance, pious activity, as well as severe meditation.

Tapas is based on the root Tap (तप्) meaning "to heat, to give out warmth, to shine, to burn". The term evolves to also mean "to suffer, to mortify the body, undergo penance" in order to "burn away past karma" and liberate oneself. The term Tapas means "warmth, heat, fire" "*

John prepared the way. He burned away past worldly karma and opened our eyes to what was coming. He passed the torch to Jesus who baptized with fire, the heat, the tapas of the Holy Spirit.


Picture: Mengs, Anton Raphael. 1728-1779 St John the Baptist in the Desert Germany, circa 1774


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