Guidance on Cleanliness
Cleanliness is an unexpected virtue perhaps. Many people in the West are almost obsessed by cleanliness and do not associate it with spiritual values. You may immediately think of your bath, your shower, or your washing machine. You think of your sparkling vinyl covered floor and your new kitchen tops, all shining clean. It is true that it is necessary and important to keep the home and the body clean to prevent infection from diseases.
It is a mark of respect to others when we wash ourselves and put on clean clothes when we go out to be with other people. No one likes to have dirty smelly friends around them, if it can be helped! It is also good to keep the house in order, clean, spick and span, although these things can become obsessive or overdone. There is another equally important aspect of cleanliness, which refers to the mind, a ‘clean approach’ to life.
What does this mean? When a person follows a line of thought which leads to some form of destructive action or thought, we might say that the thinking was wrong or perhaps ‘unclean’. So cleanliness of mind is achieved by recognising those sorts of thoughts and by replacing them with more useful, constructive thoughts.
For example, if every time you see your neighbour, an old man of eighty-five, dirty and bad-tempered, you think, “Dirty old man. I can’t stand the sight of him. Why doesn’t he hurry up and die?” It is your mind that is unclean. It is having destructive, unhelpful thoughts and though you have actually done nothing actively, thoughts are very powerful. Your thoughts will not help the old man in his struggle with life. They will not lead you into positive action with regard to him. He will feel the antagonism and become sadder and more embittered, and you yourself will be affected in a bad way. A mind practicing cleanliness would perhaps hear the bad thought forming and replace it with a constructive one: ‘Poor old Mr. Smith, he looks so unhappy, I wonder how I can help him?’
The ‘clean mind’ will always be watchful against destructive thoughts. The skill is to recognise those thoughts and to know that we can choose what we think. We are not ruled by our thoughts, though many people feel like victims of their own minds. We can decide to think good thoughts about others and ourselves. Doing this leaves us feeling bright and positive. We will be able to grow, learn and develop without being dragged down by useless damaging thoughts and feelings. This is the purpose of cleanliness of the mind. Sometimes it is very difficult to get rid of painful thoughts and emotions such as jealousy or anger. It is very human to feel these things. Looking behind those feelings can help to explain why they are troubling us. There are always reasons for our feelings, but that is not to say that we cannot change how we feel. Sometimes people need the help of a wise parent, friend or counsellor to sort out painful or confused thoughts. When we understand ourselves it is much easier to let go of uncomfortable and maybe frightening thoughts and emotions.
Yoga people see the body as a temple and the Soul as God. The temple needs to be clean and worthy of housing God. The mind is the ‘temple within the temple’ which also should be clean and pure for the same reason.