Volume VI - The Alchemy of Happiness
PURITY OF LIFE
PURITY of life is the central theme of all the religions which have been given through the ages to humanity. For purity is not only a religious idea but it 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; and in the human being this tendency is even more pronounced. Even a man who has not risen above the material life shows this faculty in physical cleanliness, but behind this there is something else hidden, something which 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 man. For its effort, through all these experiences, is to arrive at that realization where it finds itself pure, pure in essence and pure from all that could affect its original condition. The entire process of creation and of spiritual unfoldment shows that the spirit which is life itself, and which represents the divine in life, has wrapped itself in numberless folds, and in that way has, so to speak, descended from heaven to earth.
This process is called involution, and that which follows 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 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 that the original substance is unmixed with any foreign element. Therefore a pure life is the term used to express the effort of man to keep his spiritual being untainted by the false values of the worldly life. It is the constant search for the original self, the desire to reach it, and the means employed 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 refers to the body, it expresses the idea that what is foreign to the body should not be there; and 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 washed away? This leads us 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 is a natural 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 it; a natural lover who knows no hate.
There are two ways of becoming pure in mind and body. The one way is to live so that the divine nature in us may shine out and illuminate our path, and so that everything we do and refrain from doing may result in a pure life. The other way is very simple and yet very difficult: it is to observe a child, to envy its innocence, simplicity, and purity, and to grow like a child, following first the example of a child of nine years, then of eight years, then of seven, and so on. As one goes further one comes to taking even an infant as one's example. It was this secret which was taught by the pictures of the Holy Mother with the infant Christ. Also the symbolical meaning of the wise men of the East, coming to pay homage to the infant Christ, is that to learn the truth we must unlearn all the truths we have learnt.
To bring back that higher stage of innocence which existed in the Garden of Eden, we do not need to lose intellect, we need to rise above it. As long as man is beneath his intellect, he is the slave of his intellect; but when he is above it he is its master. Man is greater than the angels, therefore the world can be a higher place than the Garden of Eden, if only man has mastery over his intellect, if only he can rise above it instead of sinking beneath it.
When the soul is evolved it feels by itself. In other words it becomes conscious of its purity, of its majesty, of its eternal life, of its bliss, of its inspiration and of its power. 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, unnatural things are added to it and for the moment these additions seem desirable, useful, or beautiful. They build another kind of mind which is sometimes called the ego or the false self. They make man clever, learned, brilliant, and many other things. But above and beyond all is the man of whom it can be said that he is pure-minded.
When we think about this there arises the question as to whether it would then be desirable to keep a child always a child, so that it should never learn the things which belong to the worldly life. But one might just as well ask if it is not desirable that the spirit should always remain in heaven and never come to earth at all!
True exaltation of the spirit resides in the fact that it has come to earth and has realized there its spiritual existence. It is this which is the perfection of spirit. Therefore, all that the world gives, in the way of knowledge, of experience, or of reason, all that a man's own experience or that of others teaches, all that is learnt from life, its sorrows and disappointments, its joys and opportunities, all these contradictory experiences help our love to become fuller and our vision wider. A man who has gone through all experiences and has held his spirit high and has not allowed it to be stained, 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 everything which seeks to overwhelm it and drag it down, that is spirituality. The light of the spirit held high and burning clear and pure. It needs the effort of a whole lifetime, and he who has not known it has not known life.
The first kind of purity is the purity of the physical world in which man has to obey the laws of cleanliness and of hygiene. And in doing so he takes the first step towards spirituality. The next is what is generally 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 with regard to this kind of purity, and 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 of which the principle is that anything in speech or action which causes fear, brings confusion, or gives a tendency to deception, extinguishes that little spark in the heart, the spark of trueness which only shines when the life is natural and pure.
A man may not always be able to tell when an action is right in regard to particular 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 form his natural life. No man can judge another; it is a 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 daily more eloquent about the faults of humanity. No external law can stop crime. It is man himself who should understand what is good for him and what is not. He should be able to discriminate between what is poison and what is nectar. He should know it, measure it, weigh it and judge it; and that 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 has taken place. For his sense of discomfort is proof that in this case it is not the soul which is the actor. The soul is forever seeking something which will open a way for its expression and give it freedom and comfort in this physical life. In reality the whole life is 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 the impressions which come from without and are foreign to the true nature of the heart, which is love. And this can only be done by a continual watchfulness over one's 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 absorbing poison in 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 these are 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 may 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 which observes nature, in the faculty of the artist to reproduce that which he observes, such a one sees the perfection of God; and therefore to him God becomes all and all becomes God.
When this purity is reached man lives in virtue. Virtue is not a thing which he expresses or experiences from time to time; his life itself is virtue. Every moment that 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 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.'