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Updated: Sep 23, 2022

According to the Indian school of thought, the supreme goal of human life is to realize our innate reality and the inherent divinity in all creation. Purity is a prerequisite to progress on the path to experience this divinity and everlasting bliss. Every philosophy and religion across the world have emphasized the importance of śhaucham (purity).

Shuchi means purity, both external and internal. We tend to give more importance to external cleanliness, thinking that the mind is invisible and no one can see what we are thinking or feeling. But our actions are the mirror of inner impulses and they reflect our inner being. The gross body goes through six modifications and is liable to decay and disintegration, whereas the subtle body carries memories and impressions that are a result of our actions.

Yoga lays a lot of emphasis on śhaucham, and Maharishi Patanjali gave it a special place in the five niyamas. While propounding the path of Ashtanga yoga, he has mentioned the importance of yogaangas (8 limbs) to remove impurities (aśuddhi-kṣaye) and bring vivekakhayati, the unbroken discriminative knowledge ("yoga-aṅga-anuṣṭhānād-aśuddhi-kṣaye jñāna-dīptir-āviveka-khyāteḥ ॥28॥

External Purity

External purity at a gross level means purity of physical body, purity of surroundings and diet, and is a means to reach the subtle aspects of our being. Vedic teachings say, "śarīramādyaṃ khalu dharmasādhanam;" it is only when the body is healthy and channels are clean one can progress on the path of spirituality. Yoga and Ayurveda, the two sister sciences, have given various practices and guidelines to lead a healthy life.

Hatha yogis gave a lot of importance to the śuddhi kriyas (cleansing practices like Neti, Dhauti, Basti, Nauli, Kapalbhati, and Trakata) to remove the imbalances of the doshas and purify the gross channels of the body. After taking care of the gross channels, a sadhaka (practitioner) can progress towards cleansing of the energy channels (nāḍī śuddhi), and make it conducive for the pranic energy to flow easily towards the desired path.

Purity of surroundings is not just limited to our external space, but it also includes living in harmony with the people around us and thereby filling the entire space with good and positive vibrations.

Food becomes another important component which not only builds seven tissues (rasa, rakta, mansa, medha, asthi, majja, shukra) of the body, according to Ayurveda, but the subtlest component of it goes to make the mind. It is often said that one should eat satvika food in the right quantity, with right attitude and it should come from the right means. Krishna in Bhagwat Gita says that the three gunas depend on the intake of food and determines your personality. The partaking of food has always been treated like a yajñá (fire ceremony) by the ancients and is offered as an oblation to the digestive fire, the vaishvanara. When the food is offered and consumed with this attitude, it becomes pure and sanctified (Brahmarpanam Brahma Havir Brahmagnou Brahmanahutam Brahmaiva Thena Ganthavyam Brahma Karma Samadhina). Eating with this attitude enables one to let go of the doership and enhances the understanding of one principle within and around us.

Food consumed by the mouth is not the only food we intake, but the sense organs also feed and indulge in objects. Even though a person is eating satvika food, if all his senses are polluted, then it is of no use. Therefore, external cleanliness should be undertaken along with the purity of inner instruments.

Purity of Inner Instruments (anthakarna)

All our sense organs are externally visible, but the manas (mind), buddhi (intellect), ahamkara (ego) and Citta are the inner instruments and form the subtle body. Any spiritual exercise or any sacred act in the external world would be futile if there is no purity in the mind and heart. If the food is cooked in a dirty vessel, it can spoil the fresh ingredients. A drop of poison can make the entire water undrinkable; similarly, a drop of bad thought can spread and pollute the whole body. If a heart is filled with ill feelings and is slave to the six enemies (greed, anger, passion, greed, jealousy and infatuation), no amount of sadhana or practice is going to bring success.

It becomes crucial that awareness is developed at this stage. Between every unconscious and conscious thought, there lies a power of discernment or choice where one can choose whether to express emotion and, if so, how to express it at the conscious level. The practice of yamas (social observances) and niyamas (personal observances), maitri bhava (Attitude of friendliness), and pratipaksha bhavana (adopting the contrary view) are some of the practical tools given by Patanjali to cultivate noble ideas and feelings. The maitri bhavas (friendliness, compassion, joy, Indifference) towards others and pratipaksha bhavana cultivate the positive thought based on ahimsa (non-violence), the first yama given in PYS (Patanjali Yoga Sutras). It means loving all beings and looking at them as a manifestation of the same principle and not entertaining bad thoughts, even at a mental level. The purpose of various Vedic rituals like Yajñá is to let go of the false identification with limited "I" and surrender ego in the fire as an oblation. Mantra Japa and prayers also aim to bring anthakarna/citta shuddhi so that one is ready for grace.

Purity of speech

Bhagwat Gita says: "anudvega-karaḿ vākyaḿ satyaḿ priya-hitaḿ ca yat svādhyāyābhyasanaḿcaiva vāń-mayaḿ tapa ucyate," meaning every word we utter should be satyam and priyam, free from agitation or excitement. Austerity of speech consists in speaking words that are truthful, pleasing, beneficial and not agitating to others. It is also used in reciting Vedic literature. It is said that there are four factors for the pollution of tongue: falsehood, excessive talking, carrying tales, and abuse or criticism of others. Sathyam is the second yama in the Patanjali Yoga Sutras and ahimsa, at speech level, needs to be exercised to be here as well.

Manusmiriti says “satyam bruyat priyam bruyat,na bruyat satyam apriyam,priyam cananrutam bruyat,esha dharmah sanatanah,” which means

Speak the truth, but speak pleasantly; do not unpleasantly speak the truth, even if pleasant; do not speak untruth to please others. This is the path of eternal righteousness.

The rishis or seers practised mauna (silence), meaning silence of speech, by talking in moderation as per the need. This enhances the power of speech (vak shuddhi) and reduces the chatter of mind. When these two are achieved, the intellect becomes more powerful and, through yogic practices, one can see and hear the inner sound.

Purity of Action

Generally, we think actions are just performed through the body, but gross body is just an instrument in the hands of the subtle body. Karma/action manifests at three levels – kayika (through the body), vachika (speech), and manasika (mind).

According to Bhagwat Gita, "Every day actions, when done without any desire for its results, as well as without any attachment and antipathy, are known as satvika karma ("niyatam sanga-rahitam arāga-dveshatah krtam,

aphala-prepsunä karma yattat sātvikamucyate.") (BG 18.23).When the actions are performed with the attitude of non-doership and surrender (Isvara Pranidhana), they stop binding us.

One must perform all the actions with the purity of thought. It is said that "To enjoy things (bhoga) without sharing with others is a disease (roga)." The Vedas have declared that immortality can be attained only through sacrifice and not by any other means. This sacrifice is not made physically, but mentally. The great masters teach us "to keep our hands in the society and head in the forest."

When there is purity in thought, word, and deed, the buddhi becomes satvika. As a result, one attains cheerfulness, one-pointedness and sense control. Due to which there is harmony within oneself, and in that stillness the self reveals itself – "sattva-śuddhiḥ saumanasya-ikāgry-endriyajaya-ātmadarśana yogyatvāni ca "PYS॥41॥).

Swami Gitananda Giri explains the concept of navavidha shuddhi from gross to subtle body and puts them under: mala shuddhi, deha shuddhi, nadi shuddhi, prana shuddhi, indriya shuddhi, manah shuddhi, jivan shuddhi, bhavana shuddhi and atman shuddhi. Atman shuddhi does not mean purification of atman, but establishing in one’s true nature which is already shuddha sattva, pure and it is indeed sat-chit-anand.



Sathya sai speaks Vol. 31, Chapter 10, April 1998,

Satha sai speaks Vol 26/Ch 29,Aug 1993,

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