Shaucham: The cleanliness of the body and the mind


By Nithin Sridhar

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 6

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Among the many tenets of dharma (duty and righteousness) that Hindu scriptures have prescribed for the welfare of humanity, there is one tenet that is of extreme practical relevance in day to day life. It is the tenet of “Shaucha” or cleanliness. The Daksha Smriti gives a lucid description of Shaucha. In verse (5.2), it says that people must strive hard to maintain cleanliness in all their actions. It further says all those actions which have been performed without adhering to the tenets of cleanliness become fruitless. In verse (5.3), it describes in depth about how to practice Shaucha in daily life. It says:

shauchancha dvividham proktam bahyamabhyantarantatha |
mrujjalabhyam smrutam bahyam bhavashuddhistathantaram ||
Translation: The cleanliness is said to be of two types- external and internal. The external is the use of clay and water and the internal is the purification of mind.

Therefore, as far as practice is concerned, Shaucham is of two kinds- external cleanliness that includes the cleanliness of the body, objects and the surroundings and the internal cleanliness that involves the purification of the mind.

Most people keep their house clean and neat. But this attitude is not extended to the external surroundings. People throw garbage on the empty plot beside their homes and they spit and piss at the side of the roads. Many throw plastics and other garbage on the roads even when the dustbins are available.

These are clear actions of “ashaucha” or “non-cleanliness”. It is true that proper toilet facilities are not available everywhere and hence many people prefer to go out in the open. But this attitude has become so ingrained in some people that they do not use toilets even when they are available. This is a clear act of adharma (non-righteousness).

But, this cleanliness is not limited to keeping the house and surroundings clean. It also applies to various human actions like causing environmental pollution. Human beings have made the air, water, the earth and even the space dirty and polluted by their actions.

As the Daksha Smriti said, any action which is done without a care for cleanliness becomes fruitless, we are witnessing this happening in front of us. The ever-increasing environmental pollution and global warming are harming the humans themselves. They have given rise to so many diseases which were unheard of before industrial revolution.

It is practically impossible in this age to be 100 percent clean even externally because our actions directly or indirectly do contribute to various kinds of pollutions. But, what is definitely possible is to develop awareness about the importance of cleanliness and to implement it in day to day life to the best of our abilities.

Small actions like throwing garbage only into the dustbins, not spitting and pissing in the open unless it is absolutely necessary and there is no alternative available, trying to avoid those actions that may cause, water, noise or air pollutions etc. can go a long way in helping the society. These actions are termed as “Bahya Shaucha” or “external cleanliness.”

More important, but more difficult than external cleanliness is the practice of “Antar Shaucha” or “Internal Cleanliness.” Human actions are guided by their attitudes and thoughts. In every situation, a person decides to act in a particular way based on his rational thoughts, emotional feelings, attitude, and his decision-making abilities.

But all these are various functions of the mind alone. The mind is inflicted with internal passions called as “Arishadvarga.” Hindu scriptures classify them into six divisions: kaama (lust), krodha (anger), moha (delusion), mada (pride), matsarya (jealousy), and loba (greed).

Our emotional or the rational responses, our spontaneous reflexes or the planned responses, they are all under the effect of these six passions. All our actions, words and thoughts are controlled by these passions. Therefore, to attain the internal purity, one must become free from these passions. A person who can thus attain internal purity is called as “Stitah-prajna”- a person of firm consciousness, a person whose mind is unaffected by external or internal factors.

Hindu scriptures advice various methods to attain this internal purity. One method is through self-introspection. One should always be extremely alert regarding one’s thoughts, speech, and action. One must analyze every situation and perform only dharmic actions. The life of Lord Rama highlights this approach. He is called “Dharma-murti” (the symbol of dharma) for this reason.

Another approach is the path of selfless actions. One must practice one’s actions with a sense of duty and detachment towards the fruits of actions. One must be aware of one’s svadharma (individual duties) and sincerely perform them by giving up attachments to the fruits of those actions. The next step in this path is to surrender the fruits of actions, the doership of actions and the actions themselves at the feet of God.

It is not that these are exclusive paths; one often leads to the other. The gist is, by performance of such detached and selfless dharmic actions, a person will eventually become free from lust, anger etc. In fact, this internal purity also called as “chitta-shuddhi” is the very basic requirement without which one is not eligible to practice Vedanta.

Therefore, Shaucha is a very important tenet of dharma not only for the material and spiritual welfare of an individual but also for the social, ecological, and universal welfare.

More in this segment:

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 1

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 2

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 3

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 4

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 5