We often come across the phrase ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’, which means that except for worshipping God, the next most important thing in life, is to be clean.
It is interesting to see that in Islam, the festival of Ramzan involves fasting and through fasting focusing on internal purification. The act of fasting is also to train one in self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate; thus encouraging actions of generosity and compulsory charity. Charity, called “Zakat” in Arabic, it is also obligatory as one of the Five Pillars of Islam to contribute a minimal fixed percentage of the person’s savings to the poor. It is considered to be a personal responsibility for Muslims to ease economic hardship for others. It is mandatory to calculate the wealth on every lunar year, and a percentage is to be given as charity, as instructed in the holy Quran, and detailed by the prophet Muhammad. Muslims worldwide choose the month of fasting to calculate their wealth, and give their charity.
Apart from this, a special charity named “Fitra” should also have been given before the day of Ramzan by every Muslim. It is instructed to give to needy and the poor, to further make it possible to have everybody be able to enjoy the day of Ramzan.
Similarly, in Christianity, is the Lenten season. During these 40 days of fasting period, people generally abstain from certain food or physical pleasures. 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 Lenten season is observed by Christians and it lasts from Ash Wednesday to Easter eve, for 40 days. On the first day (ash Wednesday) of the Lenten season, many solemnly mark their foreheads with ash which is used as the reminder of human mortality as stated in the bible “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.
The Hindu scriptures approach fasting from an aspect of cleanliness. The Hindu scriptures talk of two types of Cleanliness ‘Soucha (sanskrit)’ – External Cleanliness and Internal Cleanliness.
Scriptures say that external cleanliness – keeping the body clean, keeping the surroundings clean, also enables to keep the mind off clutter. Complementing this, is staying away from intoxicating drinks and meat, as these are considered to agitate the mind. An agitated mind cannot think, promotes division and differences.
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.
Benevolence – exuding a friendly attitude towards all.
Contentment, Santosa – Essentially translates to recognizing difference between NEED and ACCUMULATION.
Svadhyaya, Study, – is about study of the scriptures.
All these different facets are collectively called ‘Niyamas’. Mastering External Cleanliness and Internal Cleanliness (Niyamas), leads to developing a calmer mind, an essential pre-requisite for Yoga.
The fascinating common thread across these religions, is the emphasis on self discipline, letting go of lower desires by locking to a higher goal, and recognizing the duality of life.Thank you.