We are talking about tapas. What does tapas do? Why should we undergo tapas? It purifies and strengthens our system, strength and purity. That is the purpose of tapas. But tapas can also bring ego in a person. Unfortunately, people think that doing tapas means being very great. If someone has to fast for a long period of time, it means that he must have had lots of impurities.
Glorifying tapas out of proportion simply leads to ego. "I have done lots of prayer. I did lots and lots of meditation". This type of understanding about oneself brings ego. That is why, immediately after tapas, Patanjali said 'swadhyaya', that is self-study.
Just look, why are you fasting? Is it just to show off? Is it being done for competition with somebody. There is a story. Two gentlemen were sitting and meditating, doing some tapas. They were neighbors. God came to one of them and asked, "What is it that you want?" The first neighbor asked God, "Are you going to give something to my neighbor also?" God said, "Of course! You both started tapas on the same day. You started one hour earlier. I came to you first. What is it that you want?"
God went to the other man and asked him, “What is it that you want?” The second neighbor said, “Wait a minute. Are you coming down from my neighbor?” God said, “Yes.” So, the second neighbor asked him, “What did you give him?” God was silent. The second neighbor said, “Now come on, tell me what did he ask?” God hesitated for a minute and said, “Well, he asked to be given twice as much as whatever you ask.”
The second neighbor said, “Okay, so that is what he wanted. Okay, you take off my one eye and one ear. I will teach him a lesson. He is always in competition with me. Now let him have twice as much as I have”. This sort of tapas without self-study leads to ego. So immediately, almost simultaneously, Patanjali said 'swadhyaya'. Look into the motive behind your actions.
Often, you go in for things that you don't really want. You want things because others have them or because of what others might say or think about it. Many a time, you are not clear as to what you want because you have not looked into yourself. You are swayed away by fleeting desires. Your desire is not even your desire. You went somewhere and ate something and all that wrong food, situation, company and everything brought in a storm inside you and you started believing the storm as your desire.
That is why, often you are not happy when your desires are fulfilled or the fulfillment of your desires does not stay too long or charming for long. It breaks down with ease or you wonder as to why you got into this or you start believing that you really wanted it and that is why it has happened.
Self-study. Observing yourself. See what is your self. You have purified the body but are you the body? You have made your mind lighter but are you the mind? Are you the thoughts? Are you your emotions? Who are you? This is self-study. This leads you upwards to the Universe which is unknown to us. It takes you a step further. Self-study eliminates misery and suffering.
Buddha has said this so beautifully. He said kaayanupaschana,observe the body. That is tapas. Vedanaanupaschana,observe the sensations in the body. Chittanupaschana, observe the mind, the impressions in the mind, the thoughts in the mind. Brahamaanupaschana, observe your very nature. Observe the dharma, the very nature that you are. Buddha has said four steps. Patanjali too has said the same thing, yapahaswadhyayaishwarapranidhaant. Swadhyaya can eliminate all the mental or emotional impurities or fears, and ishwarapranidhaant, love of God, surrender to the Lord will complete the process.
(This is part of a series of knowledge sheets based on Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's commentaries on Patanjali Yoga Sutras.)