Archive for May 12th, 2020

May 12, 2020

The Fourfold Path Of Purification (1)

Chaukhamba (four pillars), Gyaraspur, Madhya Pradesh, India, 10th – 12th CE


Old photo of Sathiya Dharuma Saalai (The Home of True Charity) in Vadalur, Tamilnadu, South India – It was opened by Ramalingam on May 23, 1867 and has fed the poor and hungry to this day. 

At the opening of the சத்திய தருமசாலை  or The Home of True Charity (true charity because it is universal charity and dispensed regardless of caste, class, religion, sex, ethnicity, ideology, etc) on May 23, 1867, primarily for the purpose of assuaging the hunger and thirst of the destitute, but also for shelter, dispensation of medicines, and education for the poor, Ramalingam put a poster on the walls of the kitchen with its famous “inextinguishable” wood-burning oven (அணையா அடுப்பு). This kitchen has been cooking food for the hungry since its inception in 1867. And this May 23, 2020, marks its 153rd year of continuous operation. 

The poster was on the requirements of the fourfold path of purification in the great path of Samarasa Suddha Sanmargam (the pure and universal path of wisdom and harmony):

1. The purification of the body (இந்திரிய ஒழுக்கம்)

2. The purification of the mind (கரண ஒழுக்கம்)

3. The purification of life or the purification of relations with other living beings (ஜீவ ஒழுக்கம்)

4. Spiritual purification or the purification of the soul (ஆன்ம ஒழுக்கம்)

It should be noted that these are not four stages of purification. It is not the case that we must first start with the stage of purification of the body, and then move to the stage of purification of the mind, go through the stage of purification of relations with other living beings, and then finally reach the stage of spiritual purification. Rather, they are concurrent practices of purification. They are practiced together.

Nevertheless, they seem to constitute a hierarchy of forms of purification. Spiritual purification, or the purification of the soul, designed to remove the deep-seated ignorance of the nature of the ultimate reality or the OmniLight, is the highest form of purification and requires the most arduous practice.

Since it is a hierarchy of four forms of purification, the “lower” forms of purification, viz., the purification of the body and the purification of the mind, support the higher form of purification, viz., the purification of life or the purification of relations with living beings. And all these three forms of purification support the fourth and highest form of purification, spiritual purification or the purification of the soul.

Thus, the first and second forms of purification have primacy and facilitate the third and fourth forms of purification. This means that progress in the first form of purification facilitates progress in the second, progress in the second form of purification facilitates the third, and progress in the first three forms of purification facilitates progress in the fourth and highest form of purification.

These four forms of purification must not be conflated with ascetic forms of self-abnegation or self-torture. Ramalingam’s integral and life-affirmative approach discards ascetic self-torture. It emphasizes the care, regulation, and purification of the precious instrument of the human body and its astonishing senses of knowledge and action. He prohibits their suppression, deprivation, or torture.

I would also point out that the fourfold path of purification is inseparable from the practice of compassion for living beings and the cultivation of the sense of soul-kinship with them. This is evident from the fact that many of the precepts even on the purification of the senses of action and knowledge involve abstention from cruelty or harm and the cultivation of compassion or benevolence.

What is the goal of this fourfold path of purification? What do we attain by its practice?

There are some notes of Ramalingam’s remarks in conversations with his associates, the “உபதேசக் குறிப்புகள்” or “Notes On Teachings”. They contain a mixture of sense and nonsense, the plausible and the implausible, the accurate and the inaccurate.

Hence, one must sift through them with caution and discernment, keeping always in mind the gold standard of consistency with Ramalingam’s late and mature works, e.g., Jeevakarunya Ozhukkam or the incomplete Essay On The Practice Of Compassion For Living Beings, the Arutperunjothi Agaval or the Canticles On The OmniLight, and the four Suddha Sanmarga Vinappams or Petitions On The Way of Suddha Sanmargam.

These “Notes On Teachings” (உபதேசக் குறிப்புகள்) mention the four major attainments of the successful practice of the fourfold path of purification:

a.  Unitive experience and knowledge of the OmniLight (கடவுணிலையறிதல்-அம்மயமாகுதல்)

b.  Knowledge of the science of immortality (சாகாத கல்வி கற்றல்)

c.  Mastery over the elements of nature (தத்துவநிக்கிரகஞ் செய்தல்)

d. Mastery of alchemy or powers of transformation or transfiguration of substance (ஏமசித்தி)

Let us now consider the four forms of purification and the instructions pertaining to them.

The Purification of the Body (இந்திரிய ஒழுக்கம்):

This form of purification pertains to the bodily senses of action and knowledge, i.e., the senses which are the means of action and knowledge (“கன்மேந்திரிய ஒழுக்கம் ஞானேந்திரிய ஒழுக்கமென இருவகைப்பட்டது”). These are sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch, speech, hands, and legs.

The main objective is to regulate and harness these senses of action and knowledge in the practice of the ethic of compassion for living beings. The regulation of bodily functions and the maintenance of the health of the body are also included in this form of purification.

The instructions associated with this process of purification of the senses and the body are as follows. I have improvised on the basic instructions:

  1. Sight: “குரூரமாகப் பாராதிருத்தல்”: Refrain from casting cruel looks; refrain from using the eyes to express dislike, contempt, hate, and envy; refrain from gazing at cruel scenes or acts 
  2. Hearing: “கொடிய சொல் செவிபுகாது நாத முதலிய ஸ்தோத்திரங்களைக் கேட்டல்”: Avoid hearing harsh or cruel words and listen intently to chants, hymns, and other sacred words and sounds; listen to pleasant and elevating poems, songs, and music; listen to morally and/or spiritually inspiring speeches or discourses
  3. Touch: “அசுத்த பரிசமில்லாது தயாவணமாகப் பரிசித்தல்”: Touch things with compassion or TLC (tender loving care) rather than with greed or violence; refrain from harming other livings beings by means of touch; refrain from touching impure things or cleanse your body afterwards if it was unavoidable to touch or handle impure matter
  4. Taste: “உருசி விரும்பாதிருத்தல்”: Refrain from craving for tasty or delicious foods; refrain from tasting non-vegetarian food; cultivate the consumption of vegetarian foods; Note: I think the emphasis is on the overcoming of craving for tasty or delicious foods. It is not about an ascetic abnegation of the sense of taste. This is evident from all the verses in the Arutperunjothi Agaval, or the “Canticles On the OmniLight”, celebrating the manifestations of the OmniLight (அருட்பெருஞ்ஜோதி) in the forms of delicious mountain honey (“உயர்மலைத் தேனே“) , delectable concoctions of fruit (“கனியெலாங் கூட்டிக் கலந்ததீஞ் சுவையே“), milk, and honey and so forth. It is a reminder that when we enjoy such exquisitely delicious substances, we should view them as manifestations of the OmniLight (அருட்பெருஞ்ஜோதி).
  5. Smell: “சுகந்தம் விரும்பாதிருத்தல்”: Refrain from craving for perfumes; avoid bad odors; eliminate bad odors with the help of cleansers rather than perfumes; Note: I think, again, that the emphasis is on the overcoming of craving for perfumes or pleasant scents. It is not about an ascetic abnegation of the sense of smell. This is evident from a verse in the Arutperunjothi Agaval, or the “Canticles On the OmniLight”, celebrating the manifestation of the OmniLight (அருட்பெருஞ்ஜோதி) in the form of exquisitely fragrant substances (“சுகந்தநன்மணம்”) in nature.  It is a reminder that when we enjoy such exquisitely fragrant substances in nature, we should view them as manifestations of the OmniLight (அருட்பெருஞ்ஜோதி).
  6. Speech: “இன்சொல்லாடல்; பொய் சொல்லாதிருத்தல்”: Engage in pleasant speech; refrain from lying, slander, insult, insincerity in speech, exaggeration or misrepresentation, useless talk, and harsh words
  7. Hands and legs: “ஜீவஹ’ம்சை நேரிடுங் காலத்தில் எவ்விதத் தந்திரத்தினாலாவது தடை செய்தல்; பெரியோர்கள் எழுந்தருளி யிருக்கும் இடங்களுக்குச் செல்லுதல்; ஜீவோபகார நிமித்தமாய் சாதுக்கள் வாசஸ்தானங்களிலும் வேறு இடங்களிலும் சஞ்சரித்தல்; நன்முயற்சியிற்கொடுத்தலெடுத்தலாதி செய்தல்”: When harm or suffering is about to occur to living beings, intervene by any means to prevent it; visit places sanctified by the presence of noble, wise persons, persons who have made great contributions to the welfare of human and other living beings; walk around places, including habitats of Sadhus or seekers after spiritual knowledge, spiritual teachers, hermits, saints, etc., with the intent of providing assistance to those in need; use the hands for the performance of good deeds; refrain from causing injury or harm to other living beings by the use of the hands and/or legs
  8. Care of the Body: “மலஜல உபாதிகளை அக்கிர மாதிக்கிரம மின்றி கிரமத்தில் நிற்கச் செய்வித்தல், எவ்விதமெனில், மிதஆகாரத்தாலும் மித போகத்தாலும் செய்வித்தல், கால பேதத்தாலும் உஷ்ண ஆபாசத்தாலும் தடை நேர்ந்தால், ஓஷதி வகைகளாலும் பௌதிக மூலங்களாலும் சரபேத அஸ்தபரிச தந்திரத்தாலும் மூலாங்கப் பிரணவ த்யான சங்கற்பத்தாலும் செய்வித்தல், சுக்கிலத்தை அக்கிரம் அதிக்கிரமத்தில் விடாது நிற்றல் – மந்ததரம், தீவிரதரம் – எவ்வகையிலுஞ் சுக்கிலம் வெளிப்படாமல் செய்வித்தல்; இடைவிடாது கோசத்தைக் கவசத்தால் மறைத்தல், இதுபோல் உச்சி மார்பு முதலிய அங்கங்களையும் மறைத்தல்; சஞ்சரிக்குங் காலத்தில் காலிற் கவசந்தரித்தல்; அழுக்காடை உடுத்தாதிருத்தல்”: Regulation of bodily functions by avoiding deprivation, inadequacy, irregularity, and excess; moderation in the consumption of food (and it must always be nutritious vegetarian food!); moderation in enjoyment; the use of medicines, herbs, vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, spices, yoga, pranayama or regulation of breath, mantra, meditation, and massage to prevent or alleviate bodily ailments; regulation of sex by means of moderation in indulgence or celibacy; protection of the whole body from the elements of nature by adequate, suitable, and clean clothing, including a cap of some sort to cover the head and footwear to protect the feet (Ramalingam used to cover his head and body with a long white cloth, and, unlike many of his compatriots at that time, wore footwear);  keeping the body clean by bathing daily in hot water and using beneficial cleansers, lotions, oils, etc

(to be continued)