Contemplation of Bodily Impurity
Ashuchi bhavana refers to the essential impurity of the body. Param Krupalu Dev Shrimad Rajchandra’s Vachanamrut is dotted with references to the body as “mal mutra ni khan” – a filthy mine of solid and liquid wastes.” We are constantly discharging wastes from our body – from our eyes, nose, ears, pores, and the excretory system.
Each one of us is familiar with the body’s inherent tendency to create and discharge waste. The body is made up of flesh, blood, bones and waste matter, the sight of which would be revolting if it wasn’t covered up by skin. The body defiles whatever it touches. The clothes we wear need to be washed and the plates we eat in need to be cleaned; a handshake with another person leaves our hands grimy and sweaty.
Param Pujya Bhaishree evocatively says the plate of food that looked tempting to us looks repulsive after somebody has eaten from it. “Would we eat anybody’s leftovers?” he asks. “The food is the same, but now that it’s been touched and consumed by another person, it loses its appeal.”
The body is the breeding ground of disease. Composed of 3.5 crore such cells, the body is a veritable stockpile of crores of potential health problems, Shrimadji says. Using perfume on a profusely sweating body helps contain the stink emanating from that body but that is an artificial ruse; the perfume overpowers the smell of sweat but it cannot eliminate the smell itself or protect the body from germs created by the creation and expulsion of sweat.
The statement that our body is impure has to be understood in its context. Bodily discharges help keep our body disease-free. These excretions fulfil a vital physiological function. So instead of condemning the body for its tendency to rot and decay, we need to appreciate it for its utility in taking us through our day and helping us fulfil our role in life.
However, the process of appreciating the body could easily stretch into involvement. Such an involvement can be slippery and treacherous. It leads one to identify the self with the body. We end up treating ourselves as a body, no more. We end up harnessing all our resources including our mind to cater to the body, its needs and its relationships. This slide into a sansaaric mirage is counter-productive and sucks us further into the vicious swirl of births and deaths from which there is no escape.
It’s for this reason that we are advised to see our body as a composite of blood, bones and faeces. We can then move beyond its deceptive beauty and explore our inner being which is the core of our existence. To a seeker, the primary and limited aim of his body is to play facilitator of his spiritual growth.
Sanatkumar, a king of supremely magnificent looks, was once bathing when two devtas descended from heaven in human guise to verify whether he was really as handsome as he was famed to be. Awestruck by his looks, they nodded their head gently in approval. A chuffed Sanatkumar then invited them to his court where he would dazzle, decked up in royal finery. The devtas obliged him, and after looking at him in his king’s gear, shook their head. When a puzzled Sanatkumar asked them why did they look disapproving, they told him that his body had changed. It had become poisonous. To prove their point, they asked him to spit. Sanatkumar did and watched a housefly die on consuming a fraction of his spit. The message of the body’s frailty and destructiveness having sunk in, Sanatkumar abdicated his throne, shed his robes and took off on spiritual quest as a monk.
We need to contemplate that no amount of cosmetic and skin treatment can help us stem the perennial rotting of our body. The body is decaying every second, every minute, every day. Our body clock is relentlessly ticking and making our body weaker and wearier. No power on Earth can arrest this decay. Some of us will remain healthier compared to others, but all of us are aging to the same extent every moment. That’s the law of nature. In Nature’s eyes, there is no discrimination between the rich and poor, good and bad, beautiful and ugly.
What comes, goes. The body came with birth and will go with death. Only that which does not have a beginning can be conceived to not have an end. And there is just one such entity - the soul. It has been around forever and will be around forever. It has no beginning or end. Once we grasp the import of this divine knowledge, we open the doors to the boundless power of happiness that is bursting within, waiting to be acknowledged, aching to be experienced.
They say ‘uttam shaucha’ (best cleanliness) is purity. It’s purity of mind that leads us to discover the purity of our soul. And once we land there, there’s no coming back.
A story of Lord Mallinath brings home the impurity of our temporary abode, our body. As a young girl, Malli Kumari was extremely beautiful and graceful. The fame of her beauty prompted six powerful kings, who were her spiritual companions in her previous births, to send marriage proposals for her. Each one of them threatened to go to war if they were rejected. Her father, King Kumbh of Mithila, was alarmed at the prospect of six marching armies but Malli Kumari calmly asked him to call all six kings to see her in a fortnight. Each day before they came, she placed a morsel of food inside a hollow, life-like replica of herself. When the kings arrived and came close to that magnificent statue, they were revolted by the nauseating stench emanating from the decomposing food within the statue. Malli Kumari demonstrated to them how beauty was just skin-deep, and made them aware of who they really were. As realization dawned on the kings, they set off on their incomplete spiritual journey with Malli Kumari who became our 19th Tirthankar.
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