Inner  Frontier
Cultivating Spiritual Presence

 

Purification

Every major religion and path addresses the requirement of purity of heart, purity of action. Impurities literally bar our entry to the higher realms. But what are these impurities? If they are in my heart and in my will, are they not a part of me? How can I become purified in heart and will? A whole gallery of nasty thoughts and petty emotional reactions course through my mind and heart. Do I need to somehow stop all that? Is that even possible? If I am impure, how can I purify myself? Won’t there always be some taint? Isn’t impurity inherent in dealing with this imperfect world? Isn’t life full of tradeoffs, so that nothing is totally pure?

If we truly aspire to open to the depths, these and other questions about purification cannot be ignored. Yet confronting them presents such difficulties that we take every opportunity to avoid them.

The first thing to remember is that it is not all up to us to do the purifying. The Christian model says that through grace we are forgiven our sins. In Buddhism, final enlightenment comes as the ultimate letting go of attachment, and all the remaining fetters drop at once, revealing the spotless purity of being. In both representations, a willingness to be purified, repentance and equanimity, enable the purification to come. The general principle is that, for each level, the higher purifies the lower.

This willingness to be purified grows gradually in us as a result of all our spiritual efforts. We become wary of succumbing to the temptations offered after we make an effort: temptations to rest on our laurels, to enjoy the self-aggrandizement of increased energy, to strut and brag about our practice, to compete with our fellow seekers and be jealous of their progress, to follow a fast with overindulgence, to fall into extremes and disregard the middle road of moderation in all things, to look only outward or only inward instead of both. We stand ready to be purified — except for our own unique set of special attachments, such as certain resentments and grudges, a propensity to angry outbursts, self-pity, self-glorification or self-loathing, laziness or avarice, worry and hurry, a surfeit of doubting or a naïve readiness to believe, strongly held opinions or weak-kneed vacillation, arrogance or timidity, stubbornness or refusal of commitments, and whatever else lurks in our personal psychological menagerie. True willingness to be purified means the willingness to not be attached to any of our personality traits, the willingness to let them go, to not be ruled by them, to stop looking to our thoughts, emotions and the momentum of our life experience as who we are, to come from a deeper place instead, to see the stream of thoughts, emotions, assumptions and reactions without floating away in it.

Perhaps you have known someone who struck you as a simple person, simple in the sense of guileless with nothing to hide, harmless with no one to hate, content with nothing to grasp, happy with nowhere to go, and childlike with maturity earned. The spiritual path leads to simplicity: the simplicity of presence here and now, of action directed by the intuitive and immediate wisdom of conscience, of a loving and joyful heart untroubled by the chains of time, ruminating thought or emotional reaction. Simplicity is purity.

Several stages delineate the path of purification. Early on, we may need to actively engage against our destructive habits of body, mind, and heart. As our contact with consciousness grows, clearly seeing our patterns of attachment weakens their sting, their sway over us. Drop by drop, the murky waters of our psychology are distilled and cleansed. The mud sinks and settles to where the winds and currents rarely disturb it. As we open to higher energies, our mind, heart, and will gradually grow transparent to motivations in accord with kindness and wisdom, supplanting the detritus of egoism and guiding us through the thickets of life's many dramas and dilemmas. Laughter and tears still accompany the ebb and flow of life, but leave fewer traces, as the tar of identification gives way to the air of freedom.

We may pray for purification and we struggle to see wasteful and disruptive patterns. But in the end we must choose whether to keep ourselves living in a narrow-hearted way, or give ourselves over to enter our place in the Great Heart of the World.


        

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