Karmacology: Mindful Living, Sacred Practice

Sauca: Purity of Body and Mind

The only cure for materialism is the cleansing of the six senses (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind). If the senses are clogged, one's perception is stifled. The more it is stifled, the more contaminated the senses become. This creates disorder in the world, and that is the greatest evil of all. Polish the heart, free the six senses and let them function without obstruction, and your entire body and soul will glow.
-- Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido

The above quote from O-Sensei makes an interesting segue between the yamas (abstentions) and the niyamas (observances) of the Yoga Sutras. The last yama, Aparigraha, is a caution against materialism. It is interesting to see that the way to transcend materialism, as seen from outside the yogic tradition, can be found in the first niyama, Sauca.

Sauca is most often translated as purity and cleanliness. Interestingly -- unlike the other yamas and niyamas -- Sauca receives two sutras of explanation, observing that purity reduces our need to seek self-gratification from others, and that cleanliness polishes the lens so that we can perceive the Self without distortion.

Taking the second part first, the practice of Sauca means to keep ourselves clean on the outside by everyday hygiene, and keep ourselves clean on the inside through exercise of the body and breath, healthy eating practices, and healthy attitudes.

There is a reason that it is said that "cleanliness is next to godliness." When we are clean, we are more likely to feel relaxed and at peace. Distractions, disease, and discomfort are also less likely to present themselves. In the same way, it helps if our living, working and practice spaces are also clean and fresh. Clutter attracts our attention, distracts our focus, and steals our energy.

Building on the lessons of Aparigraha, we should clear away the stuff that we don't need, and the things that we retain should be kept clean and orderly. The warning is that the more physical objects we hold on to, the more time and effort is required to keep them tidy and organized. With so many other things pulling at our time and attention, it is easy to put off this effort and leave the house-cleaning for another day.

Most of us can see how this cycle can spiral out of control: our lives (and homes) are cluttered and so we feel uneasy and down; so we distract ourselves by seeking pleasure (let's go shopping!) and end up only delaying the work we must do, or making it worse by adding even more stuff. In my house, we call this the "Spiral into CHAOS," or Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome.

It is easy to get overwhelmed with clutter and disorganization, but we can break this cycle with commitment and a little honest observation. Take an objective and questioning look around you, and really feel how your surroundings affect you. Then clear away the clutter, make the bed, wash the dishes, take another look around, and ask yourself that question again. How does your surroundings make you feel? How are your feelings affecting your thoughts? How are your thoughts creating your emotional reality?

The exact same principles hold true in our mental lives. If our minds are cluttered, then our thoughts are unfocused and our actions are inefficient. Most of us carry around so many worries about things that haven't happened yet, reminders of things that we haven't done yet, and nagging guilt about the things that we should be doing that we can rarely be truly conscious and present in what we're actually doing.

There is a great karmic lesson in David Allen's system and book, "Getting Things Done." It is based on the idea that if we get everything that concerns us out of our heads, and into a single trusted system, which is then reviewed regularly, we will leave our minds clearer, be better able to respond to new challenges, and actually get things done. In essence, we quit thinking (and worrying) so much about what we have to do, and start taking action.

Just as we must take the time and make the effort to bathe and brush our teeth, we must take the time and effort to clean and de-clutter our homes and our minds. These can be our kriyas, or "committed action and effort" in Sanskrit.

That's all that Sauca truly requires: commitment, effort and action.