The Purity of
PURITY OF life is the central theme of all the religions which have been given in all ages to humanity, for purity is not only a religious idea but is the outcome of the nature of life itself, and one sees it in some form or other in every living creature. It is the tendency of all animals and birds to cleanse their coats or feathers and to find a clean place in which to live or sit, but in the human being this tendency is even more pronounced. A man who has not risen above the material life shows this faculty in physical cleanliness, but behind this there is something else hidden, and that is the secret of the whole creation and the reason why the world was made.
Purity is the process through which the life-rhythm manifests, the rhythm of that indwelling spirit which has worked through the ages in mineral and plant, in animal and in man, for its effort through all these experiences is to arrive at that realization where it finds itself pure - pure in essence, pure from all that affects its original condition. The whole process of creation and of spiritual unfoldment goes to show that the spirit which is life and which in life represents the Divine has wrapped itself in numberless folds, and in that way has, so to speak, descended from heaven to earth.
This process is spoken of in occult terms as involution, and that which follows is what is known as evolution or the unwrapping of the divine essence from the folds of enshrouding matter.
The sense of this need of freeing the spirit from that which clogs and binds it is what is called purity, in whatever part of life it is felt. It is in this sense that we may understand the saying, "Cleanliness is next to godliness". In the Arabic language the word for purity is saf from which root the name Sufi is derived. Some of the early orders of Sufis were called the Brothers, or the Knights of Purity, and this did not allude to physical purity but to the unfoldment of the spirit towards its original condition : the pure being of the metaphysician or the pure reason of the philosopher. The word sophia or pure wisdom has the same derivation.
In the ordinary use of the word pure we find the same meaning. For instance, when we speak of pure water or pure milk, we mean to express the idea that the original substance is unmixed with any foreign element. Therefore a pure life is the term used to express the effort on the part of man to keep his spiritual being untainted by the false values of worldly life. It is the constant search for the original self, the desire to reach it and the means to recover it, which alone can truly be called purity of life, but the term can be applied with the same meaning to any part of man's life.
When it is used for that which pertains to the body it denotes the idea that what is foreign to the body must not be there. This is the first stage of purity. When a person is spoken of as pure-minded, does it not mean that only that which is natural to the mind remains there and that all which is unnatural has been cleared away?
This leads to the question as to what is natural to the mind, and for an answer we cannot do better than to take the mind of a little child. What do we find there? We find first of all faith, the natural tendency to trust; then love, the natural tendency towards friendliness and affection; then hope, the natural expectancy of joy and happiness. No child is a natural unbeliever. If it were so it could not learn anything. What it hears and what it is told is accepted by the mind which is ready to believe, admire and trust. It is experience of life, the life of the world where selfishness reigns, that spoils the beauty of the mind of the child who by nature is a believer, a natural friend ready to smile at every face, a natural admirer of beauty ready to see without criticism and to overlook all that does not attract him, a natural lover who knows not hate.
Such is the original mind of man and such its natural condition. It is not sin that is original but purity, the original purity of God Himself. But as the mind grows and is fed by the life in the world, that which is not natural is added to it and for the moment these additions, as they come, seem desirable, useful or beautiful. They build another kind of mind which is sometimes called the ego or the false self; they make a man clever, learned, brilliant and many other things: But above and beyond all this is the man of whom it can be said that he is pure-minded.
When we think about this there arises the question, "If this is so then is it desirable to keep a child always a child so that it shall never learn the things which belong to the worldly life?" To ask this is to ask, "Is it then not desirable that the Spirit should always remain in heaven and never come to earth at all?"
The answer is that the true exaltation of the Spirit is in the fact that it has come to earth and there has realized its spiritual existence. It is this which is the perfection of the Spirit. Therefore all that the world gives in the way of knowledge, in the way of experience or of reason, all that a man's own experience or that of others teaches, all that is learned from life, its sorrows and disappointments, its joys and opportunities - all these contradictory experiences help us to become more full of love and wider of vision. If a man has gone through all experiences and has held his spirit high and not allowed it to be stained, then such a man may be said to be pure-minded. The person who could be called pure because he had no knowledge of either good or evil would in reality be merely a simpleton. To go through all which takes away the original purity, and yet to rise above all which seeks to overwhelm it and drag it down, that is spirituality, the light of the spirit held on high and burning clear and pure. This is the effort of a whole lifetime, and he who has not known it has not known life.
The first purity is the purity of the physical world in which man has to obey the laws of cleanliness and of hygiene. In doing so he takes the first step towards spirituality. The next is what in general is called purity of life, that purity of life which is shown in a man's social, moral and religious attitude. The national and religious codes are often very rigid as to this kind of purity. Sometimes it is merely an external man-made purity which the individual soul has to break through to find that of a higher plane.
There is however a standard of inner purity the principle of which is that anything in speech or action which causes fear, brings confusion or gives a tendency to deception, takes away that little twinkling spark in the heart, the spark of trueness which shines only when life is natural and pure. A man may not always be able to tell when a particular action is right in regard to circumstances or when it is wrong, but he can always remember this psychological principle and judge as to whether the action or word robs him of that inner strength and peace and comfort which are his natural life. No man can judge another; it is man's self that must be his judge. Therefore it is no use to make rigid standards of moral or social purity. Religion has made them, schools have taught them; yet the prisons are full of criminals and the newspapers are every day more eloquent about the faults of humanity.
No external law can stop crime. It is man himself who must understand what is good for him and what is not good for him. He must be able to discriminate between what is poison and what is nectar. He must know it, must measure it, weigh it and judge it, and this he can only do by understanding the psychology of what is natural to him and what is unnatural. The unnatural action, thought or speech is that which makes him uncomfortable before, during or after it takes place, and his sense of discomfort is proof that in this it is not the soul which is the actor. The soul is ever seeking for something which will open a way for its expression and give it freedom and comfort in this physical life. The whole life is really tending towards freedom, towards the unfoldment of something which is choked up by physical life, and this freedom can be gained by true purity of life.
We have seen what it means to purify the life of the body and of the mind, but there is a further purity which is the purity of the heart : the constant effort to keep the heart pure from all impressions which come from without and are foreign to the true nature of the heart which is love. This can only be done by a continual watchfulness over the attitude towards others, by overlooking their faults, by forgiving their shortcomings, by judging no one except oneself, for all harsh judgments and bitterness towards others are like poison. To feel them is exactly the same as taking poison into the blood; the result must be disease. First disease in the inner life only, but in time the disease breaks out in the physical life, and it is such illnesses which cannot be cured. External cleanliness does not have much effect upon the inner purity, but inner uncleanness causes disease both inwardly and outwardly.
Then after this third stage has been reached and the heart has been attuned by high ideals, by good thoughts, by righteous actions, there comes a still greater purity in which all that is seen or felt, all that is touched or admired, is perceived as God. At this stage no thought or feeling must be allowed to come into the heart but God alone. In the picture of the artist this heart sees God; in the merit of the artist, in the eyes of the artist which observe nature, in the faculty of the artist to reproduce that which he observes, such a one sees the perfection of God. Therefore to him God becomes all and all becomes God.
When this purity is reached man lives in virtue; virtue is not something which he expresses or experiences from time to time, his life itself is virtue. Every moment when God is absent from the consciousness is considered by the sage to be a sin, for at that moment the purity of the heart is poisoned. It is a lack of life which is sin, and it is purity of life which is virtue. It is of this purity that Jesus Christ spoke when he said, "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God".