Summary of the Workshop on Spirituality
5 Removing the Impurities
So, the single most important
spiritual practice is to remove these impurities from ourselves
which have covered our divine self, and hidden it from view.
There was a certain lady who would always look
out her kitchen window and see the neighbor's laundry hanging up.
Invariably, she had some critical remarks to make to her husband
about the neighbor's poorly washed clothes, which she could see
hanging across the court. She would see many spots and notice how
the wash wasn't really very white. The husband had to bear with
this day after day. But then one day she looked out the window and
noticed that all of the neighbor's wash was spotless and gleaming
white. She was so surprised. What has happened to that neighbor
lady? Suddenly she has learned how to do her wash properly. The
wife told her husband, "Look at what's happened to the neighbor's
wash. For the first time it is really clean." The husband answered,
"No dear, there has been no change in the neighbor. Every day
her wash has been the same. It is just in how you saw it. Today
it appears different to you, because this morning I cleaned your
Much of the dissension and disunity that we find
in our relationship with others, is nothing more than the dirty
kitchen windows that we see out of. We look at the neighbor's wash
and point a finger. But Swami says, when you point your finger at
another, the other three fingers of your hand will be pointing back
at you. He says that there are two things which we need to forget.
The first is the good that we have done to others, and the second
is the harm that others have done to us. "Love all, no matter
who, no matter what," he teaches.
6 Be Thankful to Your Sweepers
When there are difficulties
with others we should see it as an opportunity to critically examine
ourselves. If we do so sincerely, we will be doing a most useful spiritual
practice. For, those difficult others have no doubt been placed in
our path by Swami to teach us forbearance under difficult circumstances.
They are the sweepers that help us to sweep ourselves clean. Do you
know the story of the sweeper?
There was a family man who, after having spent his
adult years in a very active professional life, had reached the retirement
age. He decided that from then on he wanted to withdraw from worldly
life and intensely immerse himself in spiritual practice, so as to
gain the highest spiritual wisdom. For that a guru's initiation is
necessary. So, the man went to a guru and told him, "Swami, I'm
ready to devote the rest of my life to achieving God-realization.
Please give me your initation."
The guru said, "It cannot be done so quickly.
There must first be the proper preparations, otherwise the initiation
will have no effect. Here is what I suggest you do. I am keeping a
cabin down by the river. Go there and remain in seclusion for a year.
Spend the year in meditation and inner inquiry. Just stay with yourself
and go out only once a day to take your bath and beg for your food.
Then when the year is out, take a special purification bath intoning
some sacred verses that I will now give you and put on a new set of
clothes. Then keep yourself spotlessly clean and come back to see
me. If you spend the year as I instruct, you will be ready for the
initiation and it will be effective. Otherwise, it will be of no use
to you and you will just be frustrated."
The man went to the cabin as directed by the guru.
He avidly immersed himself in spiritual practice and progressed rapidly
in gaining some inner peace. Every day he counted the days still left
until the year was out and he would be able to receive the coveted
initiation. On the day that he was to come out of the cabin, the guru
called in the village sweeper and told the sweeper, "Go down
to the river and sweep the bank in front of the cabin. The man staying
there in that cabin will be going into the river for a bath. Wait
until he comes out and he has put on his new clothes, then sweep the
whole pile of rubbish in his face. If he gets angry let him do whatever
he will; don't resist him. He will not really harm you."
So the man came out of the river that day feeling
so sacred and pure, having completed the whole year immersed in spiritual
practice. Now at last he was to gain the inner mysteries of the highest
spiritual teachings. After having his bath and putting on the new
clothes that he kept by the river-bank, he recited the special purification
verses the guru had given him in order to prepare himself to receive
the initiation. At that moment, the sweeper came in his direction
raising a cloud of dust and swept the whole pile of sweepings directly
onto him, covering him with dirt. "O my God!" he thought,
"After having waited a whole year for this sacred moment, this
worthless outcast has now come along and spoiled everything."
He became furious. In a trice he totally lost his serene composure
and started abusing the poor sweeper mercilessly; then he grabbed
the sweeper's broom and beat him on the head with it. But very quickly
his anger abated and he went back into the river, took another bath,
put on some other clothes and collected himself. He refound a little
of the peace he previously had inside and went off to see the guru.
The guru said, "Yes, you certainly have advanced
very nicely. You are doing much better. But you know and I know that
you are not yet quite ready for the initiation. Perhaps you had better
go back and spend one more year in the cabin. At the end of that time,
have your bath, put on some new clothes, recite these prayers and
come back to me. I will give you your initiation and you will see
what wonderfully deep spiritual experiences will follow after that."
So again he spent a year in meditation, came out, took his bath, put
on his new clothes down on the bank and recited the special purification
Of course, the guru had again sent the sweeper and
he made sure that the sweeper would collect a very big pile of dirt,
which he now picked up with a shovel and casually threw in the direction
of the man, just as the man was coming up the river-bank, spic and
span in his new clothes. Again he was covered with dirt from head
to foot, and again he became furious. For a moment he was so disturbed
that a whole train of invective rolled off his tongue. But then he
collected himself, bit on his lips and restrained his hands so that
he would not touch the sweeper. He just turned around and went back
into the river, took another bath, put on some other clothes and returned
to the guru.
The guru said, "Oh, you are doing very much
better. A true inner peace is beginning to take hold in you, but at
the same time, you know and I know, that you are not yet fully ready.
Go back for another year and then come to me." And so he went
back to the cabin for a third year. And at the end of that year he
again went down to the river, took his bath and put on his new clothes.
Now this time the guru had instructed the sweeper to collect a barrel
full of droppings. When the man came up from the river-bank the sweeper
dumped the whole barrel-load of manure over him. This time the man
ran up with tears in his eyes and hugged the dumbfounded sweeper,
saying to him, "Oh brother, thank you, thank you so much for
showing me how much impurity was still remaining in me. Please forgive
me for everything I have done to you. I owe you a great debt of gratitude
for helping me to see my failings. Thank you and bless you, sweet
brother!" Once more he turned around and went into the river,
this time fully composed and at peace within himself. He completed
his bath and went to the guru. Now there was no question that he was
fully ready. And so, he received the guru's initiation.
We think of ourselves in the role of the aspiring
devotee, but just as often we are in the role of each other's sweepers.
We should be grateful to our sweepers. They are doing God's work.