Cleaning the mind of its impressions and influences, and developing a new awareness is the subject of jnana yoga. Jnana yoga and rational thinking is supported by the components of shuddhata and pavitrata, purity. Without shuddhata, jnana yoga only remains jnana, knowledge and knowing. You know so many things but they are never applied. You have read and learnt, that is jnana. However, it is when the purity of intention is there to apply that learning, when you decide, ‘I make that effort with the truest intention in my life’, that it becomes jnana yoga. When that knowledge is applied, it becomes practical wisdom.
Jnana yoga has two components: the first is discovering purity and the second is knowing and discovering how to deal with yourself, how to experience yourself. Jnana yoga will connect you to vidya, and it is living that vidya which will bring positivity in life. Until you live the knowledge, you are just walking in the maze of your own mind and mental creations. Therefore, the purpose of jnana yoga is connection with vidya.
In order to be true to vidya, you have to identify the aim and purpose of vidya. The aim and purpose of vidya is always atmashuddhi, self-purification. It is this idea of self-purification that has to be developed.
There are two types of impurity or accumulations, the external and the internal. The external is known as mala, external impositions, whether of thoughts, speech or other influences. For example, you hear something about somebody from your friend. You have never met the person being discussed, yet you create an opinion. That is an imposed understanding. It is not your own understanding; it is the understanding of your friend which you have totally accepted and made your own, as you believe him. That is an imposed mala. Somebody else’s rubbish has come into your mind. In the same way, somebody else’s wealth can come into your mind, somebody else’s peace can come into your mind. All these things that come from other people, where you have taken in other people’s suggestions, thoughts and ideas and changed your own response based on those, that is mala.
The second kind of impurity is vikara, which is your own creation. Vikara is your own reaction to a situation which allows one of the six enemies (passion, anger, greed, delusion, pride and envy) to emerge as a powerful figure and distort your natural condition and peace of body, senses, mind and spirit. That deformity is generated when one of the six traits becomes active. If you get angry, that is your deformity. If you hate, that is your deformity. Any of the six, when they take a shape and form, when they gather in strength inside, create a deformity.
The external impositions and the internal expressions both have to be managed to attain purity, and purity means that you are maintaining the clarity of your mind. For example, a crystal ball has no colour of its own, but when you place it on top of a coloured cloth, that colour is reflected in the ball. Similarly, purity represents the colourless state of mind, the unconditioned state of life. This unconditioned, colourless crystal, when it comes in contact with a sense perception, sense object, a desire, or one of the six enemies, takes on the colour of that state, mood or trait of the mind.
Purity means to free the mind from its associations which create deformity, or block or reduce its clarity by external impositions. The idea of purity is to go beyond the mala and the vikara and to establish yourself in that crystal clear nature. That is the atmashuddhi that yoga speaks of.
A hint has been given in the yogic scriptures and literatures, that the focus of every action in life is to attain purification. Yoginah karmakurvanti sangam tyaktva atmashuddhaye – “Yogis perform actions by becoming detached for attaining inner purification.” A specific phrase has been used here, ‘Yoginah karmakurvanti’ – yogis perform the actions. It doesn’t say ‘normal people who perform the actions’, or ‘bhogis who perform the actions’. It says, ‘yogis who perform the action’. Here the attention is being drawn to the intention of the mind: where one has taken the decision, made the choice, to become a yogi. That means a level of awareness has come in. It means that you are creating a goal for your efforts and direction in life.
With the goal defined and with that awareness of karma, one’s actions are guided so they become free from the effects and influences of the magnets that pull the mind-iron in all directions. That freedom is purity: those influences and their colours are not seen in the mind. Once the mind becomes pure then knowledge is expressed naturally and spontaneously, and perceptions become positive, uniform and harmonious. That is the beginning of jnana yoga.
From the yogic perspective, there are seven levels of purity. The first level begins with the intention to remove impurity and the cause of sorrow. It is known as shuchi. The word shuchi is related to sorrow; it means ‘that which removes sorrow of any kind’. Whenever there is any problem or suffering, first there has to emerge a desire, an intention to remove that problem or sorrow. Once the intention is there, then the effort you make to free yourself, to distance yourself from that condition is known as shuchi. Shuchi is also an awareness of any kind of discomfort arising from the presence of impurity. In this way, the concept of shuchi includes more than one idea.
In order to come to the level of shuchi, first analyse in meditation what is the discomfort that you feel in your mind. To begin with, just become aware of the general feeling of discomfort, then pinpoint where it is coming from. What is the source? An incident, an event, a person, a thought, a behaviour, an idea? Discover the cause of that sorrow, and see if you are able to eliminate that cause or not through your normal behaviour, applying the concepts of wisdom and justice. Therefore first comes the analysis, the understanding of sorrow and the cause of sorrow, and then the effort to remove it. That is one level.
The second level of purity is nirmal, meaning the absence of mala, the imposed attributes. At this level you make the effort to remove the impurity that is present. If the mala is negative thinking about somebody, can you stop that and become nirmal? Hating somebody is a vikara. Can you stop that and experience nirmal by separating yourself from the negativity? Disliking somebody is vikara. Can you convert that into liking them, and become nirmal, without that imposition?
The third level is vimal, which is also in relation to the impurities coming from outside. Vimal means to bring in the opposite quality of the impurity that you have now recognized. If you have seen your impurity as hate, then in vimal you cultivate the quality of love, the opposite virtue, so that that negative quality can be eradicated at the deepest level possible. Don’t leave the roots there, even the roots have to be taken out, so they don’t grow back in the future. Therefore vimal is converting the negative into a positive, hate is converted to love, separation changes to union. Anything that helps you to bring yourself back into the positive state of mind is vimal.
In the fourth level of shuddhi we move into the area of deformity, vikara. Up to the third level we were in the realm of mala. Now from four to seven, it is the realm of vikara. The fourth level is called shuddhi, which is translated as purity. However, in the seven levels of purity, the level of shuddhi means the state where one is ready to create a state of purity by expanding the effort. It is like expanding the ratio of nadi shodhana: first you do 2:2:2:2, then you go to 5:5:5:5, then you go to 10:10:10:10. You are expanding the period of pranayama. In the same manner, you try to expand the state of purity. The more you do so, the more the negatives are reduced in size. They are not fully eradicated yet, but they are reducing.
The fifth level is vishuddhi, meaning a special kind of purification. It is the same word that is used for vishuddhi chakra. From the general condition of purification now you move into more specific or subtle realms of purity. That is the vishuddhi component.
The sixth level is pavitra. This is the attainment of sattwic understanding; it is the awareness or realization of purity. The previous levels were efforts, but pavitra is an experience. The previous levels were steps that you were taking, but pavitrata is an experience of having expanded the positive and reduced the negative. It is also interesting that the word pavitra has the same root as that of pavak, fire, which means to burn, to consume. So the word pavitra is also an indication of the fire tattwa. Whatever you throw into fire, is all consumed, burnt, digested and turned into ash, all identity destroyed. In the same way, pavitra indicates the state where everything negative has been consumed and only the pure essence remains. Purity is the dissolution of form and shape; it is the ash. When name, form, shape, idea, everything is burnt, then the pure essence that remains is the ash. And ash is anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. If you mix it into the soil around trees, a chemical change takes place in the soil, and all the bacteria and insects will run away. Nothing can grow in ash, nothing survives in that dead matter of ash.
In the state of pavitrata the state of mind is such that nothing can now alter its conviction, its sankalpa and its harmony. No matter who comes and says what, the mind will not change its course. No matter what reactions come up from inside, the mind will not change its course, it will maintain its course. Continued absorption in the state of purity is pavitrata and therefore it becomes an experience.
The final stage of purity is ujjwal, luminous. You become the luminous self, the untainted self as an effect of purity, you become bright. It is the state of atmashuddhi, where the luminosity and the brightness of the inner self shines.
Jnana yoga speaks of purity in relation to understanding the state of mind that you have to develop when you are watching yourself. There have to be markers on the way to indicate where one is at, and these levels of purity are the markers for jnana yoga, showing how you have to apply your wisdom, understand yourself and your mind.
2 November 2015, Ganga Darshan, Munger