In the West, we often come across the phrase ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’, which means that except for worshipping God, the most important thing in life is to be clean.
In the Hindu / Indian scriptures too, there is a lot of importance to cleanliness. In fact, the Hindu scriptures talk of two types of Cleanliness ‘Soucha (sanskrit)’ – External Cleanliness and Internal Cleanliness.
External cleanliness is something we all think we know, but what is imporntant to understand that our scriptures say that external cleanliness, keeping the body clean and keeping the surroundings clean also helps internally, in terms of the clutter in mind. The mind is calmer. Complementing this further by staying away from intoxicating drinks and meat, is also counted as external cleanliness as these are considered to agigate the mind. An agitated mind cannot think, promotes division and differences.
Developing internal cleanliness is more difficult but something one should strive for. There are multiple facets of internal cleanliness that are presented by our seers. Austerity – Tapas is one such facet of internal cleanliness. Tapas / austerity is to be able to tolerate hunger and thirst, hot, cold, happiness and sadness, avoiding frivolous talk.
It is interesting to see that in Islam, the festival of Ramzan involves fasting and through fasting focusing on internal purification, being thankful for what one has and feeling for those who don’t have and what they may be going through. Similarly, in Christianity, is the Lenten season. The aim of lent is to provide people with purified mind and heart, by weaning one from sin and selfishness through self-denial and prayer.
The other facet of internal cleanliness, that the scriptures talk about is Benevolence – exuding a friendly attitude towards all.
Contentment, Santosa, is an other facet of internal cleanliness. Essentially translates to recognizing difference between NEED and ACCUMULATION. As the Gita says, desire is the real enemy of the human being, as it never satified and burns like fire. True happiness (Santosa) comes from contentment.
Svadhyaya, Study, is an other facet of internal cleanliness. Svadhyaya is about study of the scriptures.
All these different facets in our scriptures are collectively called ‘Niyamas’. Mastering External Cleanliness and Internal Cleanliness (Niyamas), lead to developing a calmer mind, an essential pre-requisite for Yoga.
Did we ever think that Cleanliness has so deep a relationship with Yoga?