FACET 9: The Art of Cleansing

The Jain path to freedom


The Art of Cleansing

Guru Shree Chitra Bhanu

Observe the way in which a river goes to the ocean. Why does it reach the ocean? Because it has two banks preventing it from becoming scattered. The banks protect and guide it, giving it the freedom to move and reach its destination. Without this protection, it does not find the ocean. If, instead, the river fights and breaks the two banks, it will dry up and die in the desert.

In a way, life is like a flowing river. We have the quest for truth, for reality. To find our ocean, our treasure, we have to be consistent and dedicated. If our mind is scattered, our energy will be dissipated, and we will never reach the ocean, our reality. But if we keep two banks on either side of us, we will keep our freedom to move, our energy to flow, and ultimately we will reach our Self.

What are the banks which we can build to guide us toward our reality? They are known as disciplines. These disciplines are not outside commandments laying down the laws of “Thou shalt” or “Thou shalt not.” There is a difference between laws, or vows, and what we call disciplines. Vows are imposed from outside compulsion, whereas disciplines flow from inner self- awareness. They come from realizing that to do otherwise would be to become lost. They arise from the understanding that to dissipate one’s energy is to abandon oneself to the wasteland. By listening to inner awareness instead of to out- side compulsion, you know what you want and what you don’t want.

When you prepare yourself through self-awareness, you take responsibility for each act you do, for each sentence you utter, for each thought you think. You are no longer random. You scrutinize. You know what you are taking in and what you are keeping out. You realize that once something unwanted enters your consciousness, it takes root. So you say to yourself, “Why do I take it?”

Scrutiny of thought, of speech, of relationships becomes second nature to you. You are aware of the law –that anything which comes into contact with you creates ripples or waves in your life. Ultimately, they disturb your peace, your calmness. So you take a little time to reflect on your whole life and your real needs. Herein rests the responsibility–to ask yourself, “What do I want? Why do I want? How much do I want?”

Everything is there, but we must learn how to select. As we go on asking those questions, slowly we understand that the world is like a candy store and that sometimes we are like children. Candies are colorful. They are beautifully wrapped. They attract us, and before we know it, we swallow them, not knowing how they will affect our health, our teeth, or our blood sugar level. When our mind is in a childish, immature state, it likes to grab whatever it is given. At the same time, it has the tendency to want more and more. Once grabbing enters one’s life, it works like sugar entering the bloodstream. There is an instant energy, a temporary “high,” but afterwards the person’s energy deflates with double speed.

That is why inner disciplines are inevitably necessary.

Without them, we will be ruled by a mind constantly floating and fluctuating between a high tide of joy and a low tide of depression.

The seers in their search found these twelve reflections in which they could sit, meditate, and see with balanced vision. The seventh, eighth, and ninth facets–ashrava, samvara, and nirjara–are deeply connected with one another. In ashrava, there is observation of the influx, of the open gates, of inner vulnerable points. In samvara, there is an action–of stopping the unwanted elements from coming in. It is closing the gates of the lake of consciousness. Nirjara is cleansing out the negative vibrations which have already accumulated and taken dominance in your consciousness.

You are in an observation tower. What do you find when you scan your life from this distance? You find your addictions. They may be smoking, drinking, overeating, overindulgence in sex, greed for wealth or fame. They all create weakness. All are props to support the crumbling house. No one is going to become stronger by depending on an addiction.

So the aware person asks, “When did this addiction start? How weak have I become? I am not at peace. I am not with myself. Because of this addiction, I am creating scars in my life. I go in search of happiness and end up finding pain.” The seeker continues to go deep into his self-inquiry. “In pursuit of so-called enjoyment, my mind drives me in many directions. In the end, when I sit and watch, what do I get? In so many years, is there any happiness which gives me exhilaration, which lifts me? Or do I look upon past moments with sadness? Do my memories hover over me like a black cloud?”

By observing in this way, you come to the origin of your thoughts, the source of your needs; you see the quality of your desires and the meaning behind your relationships. When you see what kinds of thoughts come to you, you see why they come. What is their connection with you? Thoughts don’t come unless there is a connection. If you haven’t seen or heard something in relation to those kinds of thoughts, they won’t occur in the mind. They arise because of the connection.

The next step comes: you see unwanted thoughts as invaders. You are sure that you don’t want them, so you ask yourself, “Why do I allow them? Can I not exert my energy to stop them? Can I not bring out my willpower, my Atma-virya? Do I not have this soul power?” You become aware of your power. You exert your will, saying, “What I don’t want must not come in.”

When you take time to stop the intrusion of unwanted elements, your practice is born from inner awareness of your own power and of the direction you want to take in life. What you do is the result of a natural flow, not outside compulsion.

In samvara, you are with yourself. If new commitments or new relationships are continually coming, you are not able to see your thoughts, your emotions, your life. When you stop, you are in a position to watch. Then you ascertain which are the thoughts you do not want. “Let them not come,” you assert. If the thoughts continue to bombard you, you realize you have some weakness inside. Because of the weakness, although you don’t want those thoughts, you allow them to come. Stopping to observe yourself, you discover the addictions which are binding or conditioning you.

Bandha means to bind. When you look at your addictions from the point of view of the law of karma, you see that those inner weaknesses are binding you to matter. When you are in a state of either infatuation or hatred, you are not in your own nature. Your energy flow is blocked. Your soul is not free to move toward its destination. Some residue of matter remains like a cloud over your soul and influences your consciousness. Because of this influence, you think, speak, or act in an unaware or distorted way–with kashaya, passion. In this way, the residue acts like a gravitational force drawing to you particles of matter of a similar quality. If you hold on to this residue, though you try to take off, the overload will drag you down.

This ninth step is the antidote to bandha, or bondage. It is called nirjara. Nirjara means dropping, breaking off and shedding away the binding elements, the addictions and attachments.

First let us see the mechanism of dropping this sticky residue. We think things are holding us, but in reality we are the ones holding on to them. There was a monkey who put his hand into a small earthen pot and got a handful of chickpeas. But the mouth of the pot was very narrow, and when the monkey tried to pull his hand out, he could not. So he started shouting, “This pot is holding my hand!” Then a monkey trainer came and gave the monkey a spanking. “Silly monkey! Your hand is caught in the pot because you are holding on to so many chickpeas!” He dropped the chickpeas, and his hand was free.

The same thing happens in our life. We are greedy and we hold on to things. Drop that addiction which is binding you and you are free! No one is bound in the world What binds you is your own addiction.

Unfortunately, one form of addiction is unhappiness itself. For example, what happens when people don’t support your addiction? You think they are not being friendly toward you. Or watch what happens when you come home from work. By the end of the day, what have you collected from your communications with people? Either you take other people’s emotional problems onto your own head or you blame others for your problems. Do you sit and chew on them at night? If so, it shows that you invite problems, that you are in some way addicted to unhappiness.

The sincere seeker goes deep. In order to drop the negative vibrations or addictions, he or she asks, “Are people really making me unhappy? Or am I taking their vibrations upon me because of my own addiction? If I am responsible, let me stop allowing this to happen. I want to drop all addictions.”

Now a new understanding dawns upon you. When you reach this state, anyone who upsets you becomes your teacher. Anyone who causes you sorrow, pain, anger, jealousy, or ego becomes your guru. Why? Because he or she makes you aware of an addiction which was lying dormant in you. The hidden weakness is brought out in the open. So you say, “Thank you. It is good that you have made me aware of my preset response. Otherwise, I would not have known about it.”

What do you do when a doctor tells you there is a cyst in your body? Do you say, “What a nasty person you are, telling me about it”? On the contrary, you say, “Thank you for making me aware of it. Please examine it.” You have it checked and you pay the doctor for this service. In this way, the doctor makes you aware of your physical problem before it increases. You don’t despise yourself because you have a cyst or a toothache or a virus. You say, “I have taken in something wrong or I have exposed myself to something unhealthy. That is why this disease has occurred. Let me check it now before it develops further.”

In the same way, you don’t hate yourself because you have an addiction. When you find it, you should not criticize yourself. If you put yourself down because of it you become one with it. When you become one with Your addiction, how can you separate from it? Thinking of yourself as hopeless and helpless, how can you move away from the weakness? You can separate yourself only if you have not become one with it.

So you see yourself as Param-Atman, as pure Self, perfect through and through. After all, your aim ultimately is to realize what you are. There must be clarity of vision. If the soul were by nature unworthy, how could you ever free yourself. If the soul were sinful from the beginning how could it ever appear sparkling and clean? To be pure and guiltless is your birthday

Certain addictions become like heavy colors. They color your inner vision so that you doubt your own Self. You lose sight of the fact that you are pure at heart divine by nature. Just as you take some strong detergent to remove the heavy soil from your clothes, so you take the powerful light of meditation to rub out the influence which makes you see yourself as anything less than divine.

Your real Self is the steady, clear background. See your addictions as an influence, as a virus. Work on that level. Though they do not go easily because of being rooted in the long-distant past, still if you are serious about dropping them, they cannot remain.

There are certain trees which never grow high though they live a long time. That is because their roots are pruned and cut.

For any living thing to grow, its roots have to have room. Observe what happens when you put something in a particular condition. The condition limits the growth. Anything we have done for a long time and which we continue to do becomes a condition. It becomes cemented as part of our thinking. It makes itself so much at home in our consciousness that we are not ready to break with it. Even when we think that the condition is not going to last, we allow the mind to fool us and trick us into holding on to the condition in subtle ways. We forget the pain it can cause us. In this way, we become like those bonsai trees, dwarfed by our conditioning. If we never break it, we cannot grow and stretch. Without growing and stretching, we cannot reach our true height.

The idea in this second step is to break the conditions and free yourself. You want to free yourself so you can grow. You don’t want to remain in a dwarfish mentality. If you do, you will deprive yourself of the infinite sky. So you make the decision to detect which conditions are limiting you and to break them. Then you will soar to the height and have the ecstasy of knowing your own Self.

The third step comes naturally. It is a shedding process. You are shedding the dry leaves from your life, because you are preparing for freshness. What happens when you do this? You discover the difference between “I” and “we.” This “we” is the “we” of the herd mentality. When you live with “we,” you always try to be like others. You feel inadequate and think, “What will people think of me if I speak? What if they laugh at me?” If you are not able to fit into what others are doing, you feel awkward and call yourself a “misfit.”

Shed this misreading of yourself. Realize your uniqueness and tell yourself, “I am I. I can’t be anything else. Whether others accept or reject me makes no difference. I am what I am.” When you become what you are, a natural flow comes in Your life. You begin to communicate with all without fear or inhibition. This is what I call separating out “I” from “we.”

When “I” is mixed up with “we,” it is drowned in a big ocean. How will you find your true “I” unless you stop comparing yourself with others? There are so many styles, languages, customs. Will you try to copy “we” all over the world? You may be able to succeed in one place, but there are so many other places. Where will it stop?

Where will there be the variety of human life? It is better to feel, “Wherever I go, I go with myself. I go with my uniqueness. Everywhere I will add my light, my fresh color, my new approach.” It is a process of accepting your “I.” This “I” has come alone and this “I” goes alone; ultimately, you love to be with yourself. At the same time, you communicate with all.

When you drop the outer coverings, you become creative. During the process, if you break down one shell and find still another one underneath, then you know that something is still left over. The time comes when you find nothing more to break. That is you.

When you find yourself, you realize, “The Self is not breakable. The essence is not going to break.” You break only that which is breakable–the addictions and dependencies, the outside shells. In finding your real “I,” you also find your uniqueness. Discovering your “I” is not a form of selfishness. Rather, it is self-reverence. Finding yourself, you experience and revere the same pure “I” in all. In your aloneness, you are expanding your awareness of all oneness.

Now you know that in hurting others, you are hurting yourself, and that in helping others, you are helping yourself. Now what you see in you, you see in all living beings. When this state of “I” emerges, it becomes for you at the same time a merging–into the ocean of universal love and reverence for all life.


Nirjara is the way for me to drop, break, or shed conditions, addictions, and habits which bind me. I want to give myself room to grow. I want to free myself from limiting habits and reach my true height.

What do I want? Why do I want? How much do I want? What I don’t want I will not let into my life. What I do want is that which will help me grow and move toward my permanent reality.

I am I. I cannot be like somebody else. Wherever I go, I go with myself.

Religious vows are created from outside compulsion. Disciplines flow from inner self-awareness, from penetrating insights. They are like the banks of a river. If I keep these banks around me, I am freeing my energy to flow toward the ocean in a steady stream of awareness and love.