“freedom from adulteration or contamination”
A few weeks back, I sat under the Redbud tree in front of my home. This gorgeous tree announcing spring embraced its full glory.
My soul paused. Something was nearing.
Then it struck.
A collision of mind slamming into mind.
It was not a horrible collision, but it wasn’t pleasant, either. I’m always grateful when a rod in my eye is removed, however painful the procedure.
What struck me was that I’ve walked through life in an unconscious sort of quiet desperation, trying to remain good—trying to be pure.
I gulped, clearly seeing I’ve tiptoed in the confusing mud of life timidly so as not to splash the filth of muddy impurity on me by impure speech, impure action, and impure intentions (these being Buddhist ideals). Think I succeeded? Laughable. I have limited understandings. I am still puppeteered by confusions, fears, and hopes.
And so, my tiptoeing toes couldn’t prevent me from missteps. It didn’t matter anyways. I’d misstep if I walked in life’s mud flatfooted, or crawled, or swam.
But WHY does the ideal of purity feel so yucky to me?
As I sat under that tree of lavender glory and wrestled with this ideal of purity that has me in a choke hold, I kept returning to my theory that the concept of purity is MISUSED to perpetuate shame and guilt for simply living and running through life’s muddy swamps.
Shame on us for daring to live before we’ve got it all figured out!
After all, shame and guilt are tried and true ways in which to mentally enslave oneself to one’s deepest fears of inadequacies, enhancing the prevalent feelings many hold of not being of worth. We unconsciously use purity hooked to shame and guilt to validate our fears and to manipulate others. Religions do a splendid job of this, too.
So, if we trip in the mud and hurt ourselves or someone else, are we now impure? Contaminated? Adulterated?
Are we impure just being human?
If we cease to buy into not being contaminated, I suppose we’re free to do anything our animal brains dictate? Throw our feces at each other like chimps? That’s the fear, yes? The fear that if we don’t adhere to the ideal of purity, we release ourselves from personal responsibility. But that’s an ignorant conclusion, stemming from a small heart and a contracted view of reality (said the Redbud petals that fell into my lap).
I used to teach yoga to children with Downs Syndrome, and, I have to admit, if purity in a human exists, it exists in those children. Their palpable love reaching towards anyone aware snatches you by the heart and pulls you in. Yet, those children weren’t free from complexity. They had meltdowns, anger, and made mistakes, too. Are we to say they are impure?
Many express that babies are pure. Pure how? Yes, they have yet to activate free will, and consequently, can’t fumble while learning how to live with purpose and meaning. They don’t yet bear the marks of falling into mud.
Jesus is pure?
Buddha is pure?
What does that say about our relationship to this ideal of purity?
On the positive side, aiming for the nebulous ideal of purity can be an attempt to encourage more mindful, compassionate behavior.
But do not muddy swamps feed the sweet sunshine on warmed grasses and wildflowers found at its banks? And isn’t true that if we stand on the other side of the bank and wish to get to the wildflowers it’s inevitable we must splash through the mud, making mistakes small and big while confronting life challenges (heartaches, fears, and anxieties)? Is not the mud the teaching grounds?
Who wants to feel impure?
No one likes the idea of feeling dirty, impure, tainted. That’s why this ideal can wield us into submission to our deep fears and into group mentalities of all different flavors.
Christians believe Jesus relieved humanity of the burden of purity by taking on human sin. I find that teaching helpful for untangling from thinking purity is an attainable external, though it does sink a believer deep into the shame of viewing their essence as sinful or impure. Though in my heart/mind, Jesus is something much more. He rose magnificently on the tides of love and compassion.
Buddhists tend to the ideal of purity, also. It is taught our nature is compassion and wisdom, with no beginning and no end. This is often referred to as pure. I know, I’ve chanted, visualized, and meditated on this concept thousands of times. Am I brainwashing myself? Interestingly, it seems to me, Jesus embodies this Buddhist concept.
In these Buddhist pointing out truths on the nature of ourselves, which means not to attach to concepts, our challenge lies in recognizing that ignorance shrouds our ability to behold our true nature—ignorance being the mud, which, to make this more confusing, is in the end, neither good nor bad.
The Buddhist approach frees us from identifying ourselves with a sinful nature, while not denying the real-world effects of harmful behavior and the need to take personal responsibility.
Taken this way, the yucky feelings of the profaned idea of purity loses it’s power over me. I can then see this concept as an idea, in a myriad of ideas, attempting to answer big and bold questions. In essence, I can relate to purity as another color of human minds and hearts, wrestling with how to live a meaningful and joyful life.
If we are alive, we will find ourselves in muddy waters and swamps. Figuring out this soul-stuff isn’t a dance-in-the-meadow-with-flowers-in-your-hair-wearing a-white-cotton-dress. Taking on an honest soul-trek forces us to embrace personal responsibility and remove the rods out of our eyes. It’s painful, breaking free of the rods of assumptions and beliefs we inherited from family, friends, and community. Maybe we find some of those assumptions were wise and sound, but if we don’t question them we are more robotic than free agents, and engage our free wills quite infrequently.
Engaging soul-stuff is fraught with suffering, but if the Buddhists are correct, while we soul-trek, we may discover the play of it all—the mud and wildflowers, the guilt and self-love, the sun and moon. And we may finally remove the cataracts from our eyes, those rods, to see a reality that is grander than the commonly used and simplistic, provincial understanding of purity.
Choosing to soul-trek is simply us doing our best to figure out what this LIFE is all about. How we are a part of it all. What Source really is. What we really are. What it all MEANS. Soul-trekking is sifting through the sands of our consciousness to find Truth for ourselves. If you’ve ever trekked you know the challenges; the desire to quit, the fortitude not to, the sweat, the glory, the misery, and the satisfaction. And that kind of life kicks us in the pants sometimes because we aren’t safeguarded by society telling us what to think and believe. Damn courageous, I say.
After much time chewing on these ideas of purity, I gazed up at the Redbud flowers, washed white by the sun and felt a clarity of heart more than mind, and concluded that as squishy mud spurts between our toes, we need not berate ourselves when we make errors, lose balance, face plant in the muckiest mud, or slip up in a thousand different ways. The mud is our classroom.
All that rang so right to me under the lavender shadows of the tree, but a gnawing hole still needed attending to, and it took me another two minutes or so to realize what the hole was: Just because the mud and missteps are our classroom doesn’t give us an excuse to not take personal responsibility and declare when we misstep, “I won’t make that mistake again.”
But what if we do make the same mistake twice, thrice, or more? When I do, I repeat my declaration while determining ways to break past habits by understanding personal motivations and past traumas. Good times? Umm… define good. What I can say is that this willingness to free ourselves from rods in our eyes brings with it a deepening relaxation of self; a melting of an ice cube in warm waters (to be poetic).
For now, I rest comfortably with these ideas. And if the Buddhist teachings ring the final bell of Truth, we are not contaminated from our mistakes, for our cores are pure. After all, the lotus rises from the mud.
Sending light and love,