Spirituality and Self-transformation


by Jayaram V

The Wisdom of the Upanishads

Summary: The Upanishads emphasize the importance of Self-transformation or Self-purification in spiritual practice for Moksha or liberation. This essay explains why it is important.

In the process of knowing, the knower is not only the subject but also a barrier and a limitation to the very process of knowing. Without the knower, knowing is not possible, but with the knower, knowing becomes compromised, since in humans the instruments of knowledge such as the mind and the senses are neither perfect nor fully capable. Liberation is a journey of self-purification in which the seeker progresses from a state of imperfection to that of perfection beyond which nothing else remains to be accomplished. In a simple sense, liberation means liberation from anything that limits you, qualifies you or binds you to this world and restricts your freedom to be.

Knowledge and perception depend upon the person, his or her state of mind, learning, awareness, purity, intelligence, desires, attachments, beliefs, familiarity with the perceived object and so on. Therefore, if you want to know purely anything without mental filters, you must overcome all imperfections and become perfect or complete. The wholesome, harmonious personality, without the usual flaws, and in which the opposites are integrated is the ideal state which leads to eternal freedom.

The Vedas identify that state as Purnam (complete), which is the distinguishing feature of the cosmic being (Purusha). Nothing can be taken out of it or added to it to make it incomplete or to improve it. Even if you do, it still remains complete. Completeness also means freedom from judgment, attraction and aversion and other dualities. Nothing is excluded by choice and nothing is craved for. The mind surrenders to the contradictions of life as the will of God and withdraws into the serenity of the Self to experience peace and equanimity.

Perfection of the mind and body is not possible without purification and transformation for which one has to cultivate detachment, sameness, nonjudgmental awareness and equanimity. The mind must be stable and free from turbidity and the senses must be free from interference. Only then one can see things as they are and perceive their essential nature, which otherwise remains hidden from ordinary view.

The mind and senses have hidden potentialities. They come to surface only when they are free from usual disturbances and distractions caused by egoism, desires and attachments. It is why self-purification (atma suddhi) is emphasized in all spiritual practices of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

Existence is filled with the impurities of Nature. No one who lives upon earth is free from their influence. Those impurities are meant to keep the beings bound to the cycle of births and deaths and ensure the orderly progression of the world. Therefore, only few people out of millions succeed in transcending their limitations and achieving liberation.

The importance of self-purification is emphasized in classical Yoga. The triple gunas are chiefly responsible for the modifications and afflictions of the mind and the suffering which follows. The eight limbs of Yoga are meant to remove the impurities of the mind and body through gross and subtle practices so that the mind becomes filled with the predominance of sattva and perfection is achieved in both perception and cognition.

Spiritual people need to realize the importance of purity. Whatever practice one may choose, it must in some way contribute to this goal. The consciousness of an ordinary person is seriously ill-equipped to perceive his or her own essential nature which is symbolized in the scriptures as the Self or Isvara.

The Self is but you in your purest aspect, without the formations which create your distinct identity. When that distinction is merged into the silence of the pure consciousness and the boundaries of the ego are erased, one achieves the highest goal of self-realization. The lotus flower symbolizes pure consciousness and the lotus plant represents the virtues of detachment and sameness which one should cultivate upon earth to remain untouched by the impurities of the mortal world.

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