Ideals and Values/Cleanliness (Shaucha)
The Importance of Cleanliness
We should be neat and clean. We should take a shower every day, wear clean clothes, eat clean food and our work should be neat. People who are dirty, untidy and filthy are also often very undisciplined and disorganized. These people cannot make much progress towards anything in their lives. The picture below shows good and bad habits with regard to cleanliness.
Internal and External Purity
Hindu scriptures state that external cleanliness is not a substitute for internal purity. The latter is more important, but one must be pure both outside and inside. Purification is of two types:
- External - External purification is achieved through water and clay.
- Internal - Internal purification results from cleansing of one's inner thoughts and emotions.
External purity is preferable to impurity and internal purity is superior to external purity. But he alone is pure who is pure both internally and externally.
The eight qualities of the soul that lead to one's union with Supreme Being are:
- Freedom from envy
- Purity of body/mind and speech
- Absence of intemperate desires and ambitions
- Doing virtuous acts
- Not debasing oneself in front of others
- Not coveting sensual pleasures or possessions of others
A man who has performed all the 40 Sanskāras but does not have these 8 qualities does not reach Brahman, but he who has these 8 qualities of the soul and has performed only a few of these 40 Samskaras reaches Brahman. Gautama Dharmasutra 8.24-26 If a person is defiled in inner emotions, all his external actions never bear fruit even if he puts in his utmost effort. Even if a person donates all his possessions but with an impious inner soul, he shall not be considered virtuous. Piety is the true cause of perfection.
Story: Internal Purity is Necessary In a village there lived a young man called Podo or Padmalochan. There was an old, deserted temple in the village where no image of God was present. The place was infested with bats, covered with dust and overgrown with vegetation. One evening the villagers heard the sound of a conch shell being blown from the temple. They rushed to see if a deity had been installed in the temple. But instead they found Podo blowing a conch to make the confusion worse. One of the men shouted, "Unless you purify the place, the Lord will not take his seat in the temple. First work hard and clean the place. It is like purifying the senses. Then install Him in the temple of your heart. Otherwise making noise about your devotion makes the present confusion more chaotic."
However, there are some instances where we have to indulge in unclean things, like eating unclean food. The story below gives an illustration of this type of situation from the Mahābhārata.
Story: Sage Vishvamitra eats a Dog Once upon a time, there was a great famine in northern India. Sage Vishvamitra roamed far and wide in search of food, but did not find anything to eat. He was on the verge of starvation. He happened to walk by a hut in which lived a chandala. A chandala was a person in ancient India who lived in a very filthy manner, and was not at all cultured or educated. In the hut was also a half-eaten carcass of a dog. Apparently, the front half of the carcass had been eaten by the chandala and only the blood soaked putrid rear half remained there.
Sage Vishvamitra asked the Chandala if he could eat that carcass. The Chandala was shocked! He asked ? ?You are a great Sage. You know what is right and what is wrong. So how can you ask me for this carcass as food? First, I am a chandala, and you should not be eating in the house of a dirty and uncultured person like me. Secondly, cultured people like you do not eat dog?s meat, and certainly not the hind legs of a dog. Have you forgotten what is good and what is bad??
Sage Vishvamitra replied ? ?I do know what is good and what is bad. But, if I do not eat, I will die. If I am dead, I cannot do any good deeds. Therefore, I believe that it is very important to stay alive, and be healthy. Only a person who is alive can do good deeds and practice Dharma. A dead man cannot do anything.?
The chandala saw that what Sage Vishvamitra said made sense. So he gratefully offered the carcass to the Sage for eating. Before eating, the Sage sat in meditation, and prayed to God to ask for forgiveness. He promised to God that once he had regained his strength after eating the carcass, he would atone for his sins. But Lo! A great miracle occurred. God caused a sudden downpour of rain. And even more miraculous, the water of the rain caused plants to grow instantaneously. As a result, the Sage did not have to eat the carcass anymore.
Source: Mahabharata, Shanti Parva
Moral of the Story: If one is starving, there is no sin in eating unclean and bad food to save one?s life. One must try to preserve one?s body so that he can do good karma. When times improve, we should ask for God?s forgiveness for having eating impure food, and atone for it by doing even more good karma.
Practical Applications: List 2 situations in which it would be OK to eat filthy food:
Story: Use Unclean Items only if you do not have a Choice
Sage Ushasti Accepts Left Over Food but Refuses Left Over Water
Sage Ushasti lived with his wife in a village in the Kuru country in Northern India. One year, the crop was devastated by a hailstorm. There was very little food to eat for people. Ushasti had no food one night, and he went around begging.
He found an elephant owner who had just finished eating some beans and was about to throw the leftovers into garbage. Sage Ushasti requested for the leftover food. The kind elephant owner gave him the leftover beans in the plate. Ushasti ate some, and kept the rest for his wife. When he was about to leave, the elephant owner asked him if he?d like to get some water as well. The water was in a jug from which the elephant owner had drunk by touching it to his lips. But the sage refused, saying that he did not want that water because it was unclear.
The elephant owner was surprised and he said ? ?Respected Sage! You had no problem eating the food that I had half eaten but are refusing the water just because I have drunk from the same jug!?
Sage Ushasti replied ? ?I took your food because there was none else available to me. Had I not eaten the beans, I would have fainted out of weakness. But as far as the water is concerned, I can get clean water from the river. I do not have to drink the unclean water and therefore did not take up on your offer for the same.?
Source: Chh?ndogya Upanishad, chapter I section 10
Moral of the Story:
- We should try to eat clean food at all times, but it may be necessary to accept unclean food when there is nothing else to eat. Nevertheless, even during a calamity, we should only take as much food as we need. A calamity should not be used as an excuse to hoard stuff that we do have with us.
- We should take only what we need, not more.
Practical Applications: List two ways in which you can possibly practice this teaching from Sage Ushasti?s life in your own everyday life.
1 Swami Srikantananda, page 169