DAAJI continues his series on refining habits, in the light of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga and current scientific and yogic principles and practices. Last month, he explored the final Yama, the virtue of aparigraha, which means the removal of possessiveness, greed, and focus on material gain. This month he moves to the Niyamas – those positive habits that are worth cultivating in order to live a contented life, starting with the first Niyama of purity or shaucha.
Good and bad habits
By now, if you have been following this series and the practices that promote Yama, you may have already let go of many negative habits and tendencies, and cleared complexities from your system. Yama is the removal of all the “don’ts,” such as violence and dishonesty, and that is one aspect of working with habits. The other aspect is to cultivate the “dos,” the Niyamas, those positive habits that will take our lifestyle to another level.
The Niyamas help us to intensify life itself and radiate goodness and beauty into the world around us – the fragrance of purity, simplicity, compassion and universal love. The Niyamas fill our hearts with noble qualities. They help us to refine ourselves toward subtler and subtler states, both inner and outer. They lead to a lifestyle that is in tune with Nature, and thus they are regenerative. And that is exactly what humanity and our planet need right now.
In essence, Niyama is about cultivating positive habits so that both our minds and bodies are in sync with the highest universal principles. In Nature we see tremendous order, and the higher the goal the greater the order required.
What are those five positive habits that propel us forward?
The Niyamas fill our hearts with noble qualities.
They help us to refine ourselves toward subtler
and subtler states, both inner and outer.
They lead to a lifestyle that is in tune with Nature,
and thus they are regenerative.
And that is exactly what humanity
and our planet need right now.
Purity of body and mind
The first Niyama is shaucha, purity of body and mind, and it is a natural outcome of perfecting the Yamas. In fact, the Niyamas follow on naturally from the Yamas, as the removal of unwanted complexities and impurities leads to simplicity and purity. The instant you start thinking of any negative habit, like an angry reaction or hurting another person, you move to impurity; the instant you start thinking of coveting someone or something, you move to impurity.
Many people today have a negative reaction to the idea of purity, probably due to its association with puritanism linked with rigidity, or perhaps because of other religious overtones, but in Yoga purity is not a moral concept, it is a science. It is the science of maintaining both the body and the mind in pristine condition, as you would do with your clothes, your car, and your home. We like our homes to be clean, just as we like to drink clean water and breathe clean air. We want purity in the outer environment, and yet we often allow garbage to accumulate in our inner environment. We happily accept the need to wash our hands or take a shower after returning home under the current Covid-19 pandemic. Leaving our shoes at the doorstep is another visionary move of the elders in India, as is not allowing sick people or strangers into our kitchens. Of course, it can go too far; even when another person is healthy, some orthodox religious people do not allow them to touch food if they are of a lower status.
To my heart, purity is the essence of inner transformation. My own teacher, Babuji, gave a very important message in 1982, toward the end of his life, and in it he said that purity weaves our destiny with the Ultimate. That is a very profound statement, and highlights the importance of purity.
Swami Vivekananda once said, “The sages have said that there are two sorts of purification – external and internal. The purification of the body by water, earth or other materials is the external purification, as bathing etc. Purification of the mind by truth, and by all the other virtues, is what is called internal purification. Both are necessary. It is not sufficient that a man should be internally pure and externally dirty. When both are not attainable the internal purity is the better, but no one will be a Yogi until he has both.1“
Happiness and mental well-being
What are the qualities that develop as a result of mental purity? In his Yoga Sutras, Patanjali defines four of them. The first is happiness – inner purity leads to happiness. How? When our consciousness is pure we can easily connect with the center of our being, the soul, where we find true inner happiness. The first Heartfulness Guide, Lalaji, wrote, “The causal body or the soul is the instrument of joy. Nay! It is joy itself, and cannot exist without bliss and happiness.”
It is important to understand this: Happiness does not come from the body or the mind. It comes from the soul.
When we meditate every morning, we connect with the center of our being through the heart, and this is aided by Transmission. Transmission nourishes the soul, just as food nourishes the physical body and problem-solving nourishes the mind. By nourishing the soul, Transmission promotes joy and happiness in our lives. And as we awaken to progressively deeper spiritual dimensions of existence, we experience subtler and subtler levels of joy and happiness. It is not that we stop caring for the body and mind, but we simply lose interest in their charms. Both body and mind are vehicles for our life here and for our evolution, but they no longer limit our existence.
Our understanding of beauty also changes. Beauty becomes an outer expression of inner purity, not of skin color, the shape of a face or body, or the level of intelligence or thinking capacity. All prejudice drops off as a result. The soul is our common connection with the Divine. Everyone is beautiful when we look into their hearts, beyond the qualities and characteristics of their bodies and minds. When we view ourselves and others from this inner perspective, there can be no prejudice and no hatred. In fact, all the Yamas become automatic.
Think about what this means: It is only through purity that we will attain real peace and harmony in this world. Until that time, people will continue to define themselves by their bodily characteristics, like skin color, sexual preference, and outer appearance, or by their mental and emotional characteristics, like mental health, intelligence, problem-solving ability, emotional maturity, belief systems, etc. They will remain boxed within their compartments and only see the differences between themselves and others.
When people went to visit my Guide, Babuji, he didn’t look at their faces or their clothes, or anything external. He wasn’t interested in their level of education or their religion or their status. Instead, he looked into their hearts, and knew everything about them by the signature of their inner world. In the early ’70s, the first seekers from the West traveled to meet him in northern India, and many of them said that in his company they felt pure love. They were accepted for themselves, and it was such a liberating experience. His innocent lack of judgment, and his capacity to love and accept universally, were natural outcomes of his purity. Such a refreshing state of openness and love was untainted by pre-conditioned beliefs and thinking patterns. Of course, that does not mean we dress without consideration for the people with whom we interact. What we wear reflects our attitude toward others.
Second, inner purity leads to concentration. This is a simple one to understand. When we are primarily focused on the body and/or the mind, all the processes of the body and mind draw our attention. The senses are active, thoughts distract us, and emotions control our moods and behavior. We may have a deluge of thoughts and feelings every time we close our eyes to meditate. When the field of our consciousness is not purified, we are burdened with all sorts of complexities, for example, worry, anxiety, restlessness, anger, fear, confusion, guilt, shame and grief, depression, excitement, and passion, just to name a few. When that same field of consciousness is purified, there is stillness, peace and contentment. We can then concentrate our attention easily, because nothing deviates us from what is in front of us. There is clarity instead of confusion.
Inner purity leads to concentration.
This is a simple one to understand.
When we are primarily focused on the body
and/or the mind, all the processes of
the body and mind draw our attention.
There is a story about Swami Vivekananda that demonstrates this very well. He once visited a famous Sanskrit scholar in the West, Professor Paul Deussen, who was famous for translating the ancient Vedic texts. A book arrived one day, and Vivekananda asked if he could read it. After a short time he returned it, and Deussen wondered how Vivekananda could have possibly read it given how long it was and how detailed were the contents. It took Deussen days to go through the book before he could ask Vivekananda questions about the contents, and every question he asked was answered perfectly.
Deussen was dumbfounded, and asked Vivekananda, “How is it possible?”
Vivekananda explained that when you study through the body, concentration is not possible. In contrast, when you are not bound by the body, your consciousness can soar, and it can be directly in contact with the book. Then, even half an hour is enough to imbibe the meaning. There are so many other stories about Vivekananda’s ability to “read” books in no time at all, including stories of him sleeping with a book under his pillow and being able to relay all the contents of the book the next morning.
Here is another story about concentration, this time involving Babuji. In 1972 he traveled to the West to meet the growing number of seekers from Europe and North America who were coming to him for guidance. In London, his hosts organized a meeting with a famous physicist of the day, who at first was a little dismissive of Babuji. How could such a simple uneducated person from India understand the world of physics?
At one point they were discussing atoms, and after a silence Babuji described the structure of an atom in detail, including some of the smallest particles that scientists had not yet discovered. The physicist was astounded. How could Babuji know all this? Babuji’s answer was very simple: “I penetrated into matter and this is what I found.” Such a level of concentration and direct perception is only possible with a pure consciousness.
Mastery of the senses
Third, inner purity leads to mastery of the senses or Pratyahara, the fifth limb of Ashtanga Yoga. Every time we meditate, we prepare ourselves beforehand by turning our attention inward, away from the outer pull of the senses and into the heart. This process will only really be successful, however, when our hearts are pure. Otherwise we will remain distracted by the complexities and impurities arising in our field of consciousness as thoughts, feelings and outer distractions. When our focus is truly on the center of our being, the senses lose their potency. This mastery of the senses is the result of mental purity.
Every time we meditate,
we prepare ourselves beforehand
by turning our attention inward,
away from the outer pull
of the senses and into the heart.
This process will only really be successful,
however, when our hearts are pure.
Fitness for Self-Realization
Finally, Patanjali tells us that inner purity gives us the mental fitness for Self-Realization. The contentment, concentration, calmness, compassion, courage, clarity of purpose, and mastery of the senses that are awakened in our hearts through purity, prepare us for Self-Realization. Realization is not possible without such a preparation, which requires discipline and intense interest, as well as the support of a capable Guide.
How do we purify our consciousness?
The answer to this question is so simple: We remove all the impurities that have accumulated in our inner environment – in our consciousness. In earlier times, mystics and yogis attempted to do this through very difficult practices and penances. Thankfully, in the modern era, there has been astounding progress in the science of Yoga, and in the practices that are available to remove impurities from the field of consciousness. These impurities are known as samskaras. The simplest and most effective of these is the Heartfulness Cleaning practice. Cleaning is done every evening so as to remove the “mental and emotional dirt” that accumulates during the day, just as taking a bath removes dirt from the physical body. It is a practical method, so its effects can only be known through experience. I suggest you try it and see how it purifies and simplifies your state of mind. You will feel light, contented and carefree at the end of the day.
As we become progressively purer and lighter
as a result of our spiritual practices,
we start to see changes in our outer lifestyle also.
The result: a better destiny
As we become progressively purer and lighter as a result of our spiritual practices, we start to see changes in our outer lifestyle also. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, and the habits we have will slowly adjust to our level of lightness. We do need to be aware of this process, however, and allow the changes to happen rather than staying stuck in outdated obsolete patterns of behavior. It is all about letting go of anything that no longer serves us. As a result of this inner purification, our character and lifestyle change, and thus our destiny changes. There is a complete transformation when purity permeates every level of our being from the inside out.
1 Swami Vivekananda, Raja Yoga, Chapter 8, “Raja Yoga in Brief.”
Kamlesh Patel is the Heartfulness Guide, and he is the fourth Guide in a tradition of Raja Yoga that is around 120 years old. He oversees Heartfulness centers and ashrams in over 130 countries, and guides the 14,000 thousand of certified Heartfulness trainers under his care. Known to many as Daaji, he is an innovator... Read more