Today, we humans take in much more information than our ancestors did before us. Just to write this article, I probably read and re-read more information than my grandparents did in a week. This article puts it this way:
“Today, each of us individually generates more information than ever before in human history. Our world is now awash in an unprecedented volume of data. The trouble is, our brains haven’t evolved to be able to process it all.”
In Ayurveda, we would say that our tejas, or the fire of our subtle bodies, cannot efficiently process all of the information we take in. To dig deeper into the functioning of tejas, let’s first explore the symbolism and usages of fire.
Fire as symbol
In Ayurvedic philosophy, there are Five Great Elements [Pancha Mahabhuta] that make up our world. They are Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether. They all have their purposes. Fire is the element responsible for burning, clearing, cleansing, transforming, and illuminating. Metaphorically speaking, fire stands for intelligence, wit, clarity, truth, presence, and light. The element of fire lives in the physical body, keeping us “burning” at about 98.6 degrees. This fire [pitta dosha] directs the release of hormones via the endocrine system and oversees the digestive, metabolic, and regulatory functions.
Fire also resides in an even more subtle place: our minds. In our minds, fire provides clarity, illumination, and truth. This subtle aspect of fire is called tejas in Ayurvedic philosophy, and it directs all mental, emotional, and spiritual activity, including the crucial mental actions of discernment and discipline.
Tejas and discernment
Tejas is responsible for distinguishing falseness from truth, reality from imagination, or even genuine healers from snake oil salespeople. This is the activity of discernment and good discrimination.
Discernment is a power of inquiry that comes to supported, thorough resolutions. But it is a unicorn in our world today. Many people live off knee-jerk reactions and impulses. They are quick to judge and divide. They think they know the truth and are unwilling to challenge or question. Others choose to avoid any situation that asks them to stand their ground or speak their truth. They become passive and gullible. Neither group dives into nuance or subtlety. In Ayurvedic language, we would say that the first group has too much tejas, and the second group doesn’t have enough. When tejas is just right, you can easily discriminate between junk food and nourishing food.
Tejas and personal discipline
There’s a fundamental difference between discipline resulting from strong tejas and the kind of discipline fed by the ego. It would be valid to think of the ego’s discipline as more like force or immobile resolution, whereas tejas discipline is intention and mindful commitment. With tejas, you’re converting the fire’s energy into action, like spending money from your checking account. In the second situation, without a sufficient internal fire to draw from, you’re digging into reserves, like borrowing from a credit card. One day, that bill will come due.
When your discipline is fed by the fire of tejas, you have focus and clarity. You bring your entire being—body, mind, and soul—to your work. You are not deluded in your thinking, and you have no contradictions within yourself or between your words and your actions. A person with good tejas and high personal discipline has integrity, is honest, and shines like a beacon of truth in our world.
When to tend to your fire
Just like a fire in the real world, you must tend to your tejas regularly. Fire needs fuel and oxygen to burn. You have to use good judgment to know when to add fuel to the fire and when to sit back and let the tejas digest what you’ve already given it. Tejas in the mind can be sufficient, too high, or too low. Like Goldilocks and her porridge, you are seeking to build and maintain a “just right” level of tejas. Here is what each of those looks like:
When tejas is deficient, it manifests as:
- Intolerance to cold
- Lackluster, cloudy eyes
- Confusing speech
- Gullible and confused
- Lack of discrimination, clarity, and focus
When tejas gets too high, it presents as:
- Being overly critical/judgmental
- Manipulative behavior
- Lack of empathy
When tejas works best
A high [but not excessive] level of tejas leaves you feeling clear-headed, radiant, and filled with aspirations. When tejas is burning well within you, it results in a mind that is clear about what it wants and why. Tejas transforms the experiences of your life into wisdom and intelligence.
When the fire of your mind burns brightly and cleanly, the results are:
- Clear thinking
- High intelligence
- Luster in the eyes
- Clear speech
- Ability to endure cold
- Self-reliant and courageous
- Energy of discipline toward your pursuits, both spiritual and worldly
Here are seven ways to tend to your tejas
1. Be mindful about how much and what kind of information you ingest
You’re not a computer, and you’re not designed to simply store information. Instead, you’re supposed to ingest information the same way you take in food—in proper quantities, at designated times, and with the right intention.
2. Surround yourself by inspiring people/places
You learn from your environment. The more you surround yourself with people who have tejas [and you know it when you see it], the more you cultivate it from within.
3. Focus on strengthening your physical digestion
There is a parallel, supportive relationship between the fire of the body [pitta] and the fire of the mind [tejas]. Where one goes, the other follows. However, since it is easier to see the progress of our physical digestion than it is to notice movement in our mental digestion [at least initially], start with what you can observe. Focus on sustaining a bright, healthy digestive fire [agni], and this will, over time, build a glowing mental fire.
4. Get organized
Your external world reflects your inner world and vice versa. Clear the clutter and confusion in your life. Get specific about goals and intentions. Write things down. Speak clearly about them. By doing these things, you will start to feed your mental fire with the oxygen it needs to thrive, and before you know it, organization and clarity will feel like second nature.
[If you’ve determined your tejas is too high, allow more flexibility in your schedule. Let go of some of your fierce determination and practice spontaneity!]
5. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is not only a style of meditation; it’s a way of life. Drop into your five senses and explore your world through what you see, hear, taste, smell, and touch. As you raise your awareness and concentration, you will stoke and steady the fire of your mind.
6. Engage your curiosity
Curiosity is the urge to collect the food [information] our minds need to keep the fire burning. Asking questions and not being too quick to formulate an answer lets the fire linger, rather than raging hot before quickly dying out. It’s important to do curiosity the right way, like a child does, without expectation or judgment. Stay open! No matter your age, there’s more for all of us to learn.
7. Work with a spiritual guide/coach
To help you sort through the clutter and rekindle your fire, it helps to work with someone—whether that person goes by the title of coach, counselor, teacher, or therapist. They can take you through the process of sifting and sorting and building a clear, bright, inviting fire.
Once you raise your tejas, you will know it. You’ll be decisive and direct, without insult or anger. You’ll have clarity and discipline about your future as well as imaginative ways to get you there. You’ll be able to sort through the piles of information that come your way for what matters and what doesn’t. Finally, you’ll notice that people will be drawn to you, inspired by your passion and enthusiasm. From there, perhaps others will also find their own way to greater clarity and higher intellect through the power of tejas. It’s certainly one way to change the world.
Spot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!