12 Pillars of Dharma - Purity

monk wearing white robes walking through old temple

Written by: Rishi Akashananda

Let’s give some substance to the principle of purity! 

When I was young my mum used to tell me: ‘Brush your teeth! Shower! Clean your room!”. Did I listen to her? No. I was cleaning around once in a while, but in general, I lived a pretty ‘dirty’ life outside.

When my sister was doing something to make me angry I used to think very bad things about her and plan different kinds of revenge to make her suffer. All these evil thoughts used to pile up in my mind. Was it good for me? No. Did I even understand that it wasn't good for me and that I should've changed my mental approach to living a more pure life in my mind? Definitely not.

These are some of the reasons why the principle of purity is one of the pillars of dharma. Let's give a look at the different approaches we can have towards purity and how we can implement it in our daily life.

Whenever thinking of purity the mind immediately suggests different types of images: water in the form of waterfalls, sparkling clean floors in the house, and many others. Is this the type of purity the ancient scriptures talk about? Yes and no, actually.

First of all, we have to define the different areas where purity has to be applied. We, as humans, have two primary areas to take care of: one on the outside and one on the inside.

From the outside perspective, living a dharmic, pure life means to be clean, to shower at least once every day, to live in a clean environment and to maintain a pure body. Everything that is outside of us reflects in our inner activity and reality, consistently influencing our lifestyle and experience of our daily life. Purity has to be understood as that area that is somehow an extension of what we are. Therefore even the company we chose to be with, becomes a crucial decision in determining whether our inner experience stays pure and clean, or starts to become stained by the outer reflection.

From an inner perspective, purity of the mind has to be developed:

‘The mind of the bhakta is pure. He has purified himself through his yoga practice, through his japa, through constant remembrance of the Lord.’

Paramahamsa Vishwananda’s commentary, Bhagavad Gita, 13.8

What Paramahamsa Vishwananda is talking about here is a very high state of realisation where the mind is pure. He also gives clear instructions on how the bhakta can reach such a state. This is where spiritual practice plays such an important role in life for all of us. There is a need to purify the mind as that's the way to be in communion with God. This is the understanding we should have when we talk about an inner purity, a purity of the mind.

As most of the pillars of dharma, and the great wisdom of the Vedas, purity takes a lifetime, if not more, of experience to be understood in all its profoundness. Meanwhile, we should strive to maintain a healthy, clean and pure environment outside, while cultivating and feeding the mind with spiritual food. If we succeed in this effort, the outcome would be the actual embodiment of the principle of purity. It would mean that we are not only ready to understand purity, but also that we are ready to apply and embody it. 

Living a dharmic life has to be done not only for ourselves. Such conduct will serve as an example for the others, as a reference. As Krishna says in the Gita:

'Whatever an eminent person does, other people also do; whatever standard that one sets, the world follows.'

Bhagavad Gita, 3.21