About Purification and Truth

When the Zen patriarch Bodhidharma was asked what is the best method to achieve illumination, he said that beholding the mind was the best, for it includes all the other methods. This, he explained, is because the mind is the source of all our experience, and when we grasp the true nature of the mind, we have grasped all.

Bodhidharma went on to say that the one who delves deeply into the mind realises that pure and impure thoughts are constantly arising, and the one who is able to remain unaffected by the impure thoughts is the sage. Such a person delights in good deeds, transcends suffering and experiences the bliss of nirvana. On the other hand, the one who partakes of impurity is ‘mortal,’ meaning subject to the endless circles of illusion, suffering, decay and death.

The emphasis on purity should be familiar. The path of Sufism, which is in every way in accord with Bodhidharma’s explanation, although we might appear to use different terminology, begins with purification. The disciplines of concentration, contemplation and meditation have no foundation if the first practice, that of purification, has not been established. And the essence of purification is not some sort of blanket disinfection or sterilisation of our inner world, which would be both unnatural and impossible. The key to purification is in learning where things belong. That which would be acceptable in a stable might be unfitting in the court of a king, and, although superficially it might seem paradoxical, that which can fertilise the roots of fruit trees in an orchard might not be welcome at the table where the fruit is served. In other words, to purify ourselves means to observe ourselves and our surroundings carefully, giving place to thoughts, feelings and actions that are in harmony with the circumstances, while like clear, still water we become transparent to that which is not in harmony, letting it pass through us without any engagement.

The real practitioner of purity does not waste time and precious attention in judging and criticising – neither condemning the thought nor oneself for having witnessed the thought – nor does such a person fall into the trap of telling a thought to stop. There is a small Buddhist story that illustrates this. A man drank from a stream, and when he had finished, began to tell the stream to stop – but the stream, of course, continued to run. Then a monk came by, saw what was happening, and told the man, “If you do not want more, just walk away.”

As the Zen patriarch observed, impure thoughts, meaning thoughts that are not in harmony with our nature and our circumstances, are constantly arising. To walk away from such thoughts is the beginning of true liberation. We could find a connection here with the phrase from the Gayan Boulas : All situations of life are tests to bring out the real and the false. Students might endeavour to apply this, seeking the real in every moment. Perhaps it sounds like an impossibility, but according to Sufi teachings, the Real wants to be known, and if we make a sincere effort to seek Truth, then Truth will make a greater effort to look for us.

2 Replies to “About Purification and Truth”

  1. Anwar

    Thank you for illuminating this Pir Nawab, and bringing it to our attention.

    The question I want ask you, should the purification breath be included and practised to teach people to meditate, according to the Sufi tradition?
    How would you advice us?

    • Nawab Pasnak Post author

      Thank you very much, Anwar, for your question. Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan gave many practices, always finding a prescription that corresponded to the nature and needs of the student, but the one practice that was more or less universal was the element purification breaths. So, not only for meditation, but simply to start the day, standing by an open window and attuning ourselves to nature – it is very helpful ‘medicine.’


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