WHEN I ONCE licked a stamp in a post office in India, a man next to me frowned and pointed to a little pot containing glue and a brush. All my life I'd been licking stamps and envelopes without a second thought, but in that simple, rather scruffy post office in an Indian village, I learned something about cleanliness not to be learned in all the immaculate establishments of Europe and America.
In India I noticed how clean people are. First thing in the morning even the poorest people are busy cleansing themselves, their clothes, their homes, their temples, their cooking pots practically anything they have.
When I saw how concerned the Indian people are with cleanliness, somewhere inside me a voice said, "Ah well, Indians have to be clean because India has a hot climate and disease spreads fast here." But another voice said, "And me, at home in my damp English fridge I don't need to be clean?"
The cleanliness of Indian people is part of a culture that for centuries has fostered the highest qualities and consciousness possible for a human being. The Vedic culture encourages one to be clean within and without.
Water is not the only cleanser at work on an Indian morning. In places that still have not contracted the Western disease of having "no time," you can hear bells and mantras from temples, houses, offices, and rickshas. After bathing and dressing in fresh clothes, people chant and meditate on the holy names of the Lord for internal purification.
As a general rule, even a simple person in India knows himself to be an eternal spiritual person whose clear consciousness is now covered by the dirt of what Prabhupada called "the six agitations" lust, greed, anger, envy, madness, and illusion. Our consciousness is now like a drop of pure water fallen upon muddy ground. And just as powerful sunshine can restore a muddy drop to its pristine condition, so can Lord Krsna, the source of all suns, purify us.
One of India's ancient texts, the Srimad-Bhagavatam, gives another analogy. It says that we souls in the material world have become so involved with our erroneous ways that it is as if our hearts have become buried in a gloomy mountain of sinful desire. The lotus feet of the Lord, however, are like brilliant thunderbolts that can shatter these mountains and illuminate our true consciousness.
That consciousness, known as Krsna consciousness, is not only the heritage of a person from India, but is the birthright of every human being. Krsna consciousness is what human life is for. Srila Prabhupada explained in a letter, "Our Krsna consciousness movement is not a religious movement [in the sense of teaching a particular type of religion]; it is a movement for purifying the heart."
The essential heart cleanser is a regular scrub with Krsna's holy names. Lord Caitanya says that chanting Hare Krsna cleanses away the influence of our six enemies as one cleanses dust from a mirror. When a dirty mirror becomes bright and clean, it gives a better reflection. Similarly, our mind, when purified, helps us see Krsna at every step of our life. And as our purity increases, we will attain love of God and be able to see within our heart the Lord's beautifully resplendent form:
santah sadaiva hrdayesu vilokayanti
yam syamasundaram acintya-guna-svarupam
govindam adi-purusam tam aham bhajami
"I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, who is Syamasundara, Krsna Himself, with innumerable inconceivable attributes, whom the pure devotees see in their hearts with the eye of devotion tinged with the salve of love." (Brahma-samhita 5.38)
Chanting Hare Krsna is so important that if for some reason a person can't take a bath, Vedic literature says he should simply chant. If one is spiritually clean, or free from the contaminating influence of the modes of nature, then he is also understood to be clean in all ways. Indeed, yogis in the past would sometimes forget to bathe because of their complete immersion in ecstatic trance, yet because of their elevated consciousness they would not smell bad or contract disease.
Although we are not the body, the state of our body does affect our consciousness. So keeping the body clean is important. "Cleanliness is next to godliness." By bathing regularly, we stay invigorated and healthy and better able to chant Hare Krsna with attention. The Ayur Veda lists three causes of disease anxiety, overeating, and uncleanliness. If the skin is not cleansed, it quickly becomes a breeding ground for bacteria.
We need to keep the inside of our body clean and healthy, too. The best way to do that is by drinking pure water and eating healthy, nourishing food offered to Krsna.
In India I noticed some cleanliness practices people in the West may be unfamiliar with. For example, many people Indians use a tongue scraper upon rising in the morning to remove the coating that collects on the tongue during the night. The Ayur Vedasays that this coating can cause sickness if not removed. People in India often bathe at least twice a day, morning and evening, and after evacuating. They use the left hand for cleaning their private parts. The right hand is reserved for eating, chanting on beads, and offering and accepting things, and for touching communal items, such as switches and door handles.
I noticed that many people in India pour liquids into their mouth to avoid placing their lips on the glass. They don't wear outdoor shoes inside the home. And they try to keep their cooking pots spotlessly clean.
Prabhupada encouraged us to keep everything as clean as glass. As we clean for Krsna, he said, we clean our hearts. Besides, our hearts, minds, bodies, homes everything belong to the Lord. If we take care of them, He will naturally be pleased.
Rohininandana Dasa lives in southern England with his wife and their three children. Write to him in care of Back to Godhead.