All Religious Practices
are Vehicles to Purification
and Spiritual Growth

The Egyptian Society for Spiritual and Cultural Research

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Purification of the Body
and the Awakening of the Soul

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Revelations have attempted to clarify that in fact, we are spirits shrouded in a material form. Hence, being physically clean is a form of preparation for one's body to act as a medium between the spiritual and physical realms. Purification is not only limited to the physical, but transcends that to another dimension. Purification of the heart enables the senses to function beyond their physical limits. The eyes and ears act as windows for the spirit. The importance of purifying the senses is emphasized by revelations through the prescription of a cleansing process before any spiritual practice. This is illustrated in the practices of ancient Egyptians, Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.


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The ancient Egyptians expressed the need for purification for the purpose of empowering the senses in different ways. Strengthening the power of the insight was a clear goal. The eyes of Horus were considered a symbol for those, whose insights have awakened. While the right eye symbolized the sun, the left symbolized the moon, signifying constant provision of light during both day and night. As such, purifying the whole body for ancient Egyptians was an essential part of the holy practices. The Pharaohs had divine lakes for purification in their temples. The Egyptian priests shaved their entire bodies, including their heads, for that same purpose.


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 In Taoism, breathing is a way of purification, "one typical instruction from those who attained spiritual development is to get rid of what is worn out or old, and to receive what is new and fresh" (Hua Ching -Ni 1997:121). When we exhale used air, we get rid of the old and when we inhale fresh new air, we allow it to refresh our body and mind. There are many breathing exercises that aim at establishing this effect.


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In Hinduism, purification of the senses is a prerequisite for the purification of mind and spirit. When the senses are purified, man can be a transparent medium of the light of God within. He can also see the wisdom of life, because he has "eyes of wisdom". Purification of the ears in Hinduism is a symbol for man's ability to receive the divine power that sustains the spirit, without which man starves spiritually:

….if from self conceit, thou wilt not listen (To Me), thou shalt perish (Bhagavad-Gita: 18: 58).

Cleanness of the body accompanies  yoga practices as a necessary preparation for the union with God.


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In Buddhism, purity directly effects man's ability to "see" truth, and "hear" the voice of truth. Man needs that purity in order to be attached to truth, and realize gradual spiritual growth:

Thine eyes are holden. If the eye of thy mind were undimmed. Thou couldst see the glory and the power of truth (GB: 53: 2)

The teaching of Buddha goes as far as saying that "Hearing the truth," man is like a lake, pure and tranquil and deep. To be spiritually purified, man needs to purify the senses. Such purification enables the merger of one 's self with the truth within, that is,  attaching oneself  with Buddha, the Enlightened One.


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In the Holy Bible, the guidance to purify the senses is associated with all religious practices. It represents the preparation of the spirit to receive spiritual nourishment from the higher source within and around. Moses and Jesus pointed to "hearing" as one way of "receiving" the words of truth. Jesus used the "eye" as a symbol for spiritual awareness.

In the Old Testament, purification of the senses, sometimes the whole body, was recommended before any holy practice. "The Lord commanded Moses" to make the children of Israel wash before going into the altar or starting any holy congregation:

"And he set the laver between the tent of the congregation and the altar, and put water there, to wash withal." (Ex:40:30) "And Moses and Aaron and his sons washed their hands and their feet thereat"(Ex:40:31) When they went into the tent of the congregation, and when they came near unto the altar, they washed; as the LORD commanded Moses. "And Moses said unto the congregation, This is the thing which the LORD commanded to be done." (Le:8:5) "And Moses brought Aaron and his sons, and washed them with water." (Le:8:6)

As such, washing became a necessary part of preparation for prayers in Jewish practices.


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In the New Testament,  Jesus Christ stressed the purification of the senses focusing on "meaning", rather than on "form". In different occasions, he emphasized that purification is that of the heart, not of the body, certainly not denying the process of preparation for prayers. Jesus used to say when revealing his guidance "let him hear who has ears." Jesus says about some people,

"ye cannot hear my word" Joh: 8: 43)

"they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not. Neither do they understand." (M't: 13:13).

Jesus also points to the purity of the senses as symbolizing purity of the heart:

The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.

But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! (M't:6: 22, 23)


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In Islam, the purification of the senses also corresponds to purification of the spiritual entity. As such it is an integral part of the spiritual growth. The discipline of purification practices is so rich with symbols where each sense refers to a spiritual dimension. "They have eyes wherewith they see not, and ears wherewith they hear not. They are like cattle, nay more misguided: for they are heedless (of warning)." (HQ: 7:179)

In Islam,  physical purification before prayer follows a certain order that is very indicative. Water is used to wash the face, arms, the front head, neck, and feet. The purification process starts by expressing man's "intention" to prepare his whole existence to receive enlightenment. The washing starts by the mouth indicating purifying the tongue of all idle or bad talk, moving to the nose purifying the breathing channels as a symbol for "life", and then the whole face purifying the eyes which correspond to "discernment". The purification of the arms symbolizes "work integrity". The purification of the front head points to the "mind". The purification of the ears implies the capability to respond to the words of truth. The purification of the neck implies the link between the upper part of man: the "mind" and the rest of the body. Purification of the feet symbolizes man's strive in every step seeking attainment of real life. A verse in Koran states that to be "purified" as a preparation that precedes the holy moment of prayer is essential, even in situations where water is unavailable. In other worlds, the idea of being pure stands behind the procedure of ablution.

"O ye who believe! when ye prepare for prayer, wash your faces, and your hands (and arms) to the elbows; rub your heads (with water); and (wash) your feet to the ankles. If ye are in a state of ceremonial impurity, bathe your whole body. But if ye are ill, or on a journey, or one of you cometh from offices of nature, or ye have bewith women, and ye find no water, then take for yourselves clean sand or earth, and rub therewith your faces and hands. Allah doth not wish to place you in a difficulty, but to make you clean, and to complete His favour to you, that ye may be grateful." (HQ: 5: 6)


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Conclusion

For all revelations, purification is a core concept. However, the symbolic rites of purification differ from one revelation to another. While in almost all revelations, water is used to purify the body, in Taoism, breathing deeply is an act of purification. In Christianity, there are no obvious instructions for how to purify one's body. As for Islam, there are clear instructions of how  and when a person should make himself clean and pure. Moreover, the purification process is practiced five times a day preceding the five times prayers. This practices follow certain order. As a symbolic process, ablution conveys a deep message that can be understood and felt through continuous practices.