A New Value for Cleanliness
The first thing I do every day, after my commute home from work, is wash my hands. Now, I promise this isn’t some strange ritual or even an obsessive compulsive behavior. Simply put, my hands get pretty dirty. They accumulated the dirt because on my way home from the BART station, I pick up trash. I pick up cans and wrappers and papers and notecards; there is always an abundance of litter in my downtown Oakland neighborhood. I actually get a bit excited when I see some object to pick up. I get excited because I know I am caring for our shared neighborhood, our shared community, and our shared World.
Now, where did this all begin? It’s pretty simple. In the Vedic Spiritual Studies Program where I am a member-student, we learn about saucham, or cleanliness and purity as a spiritual value. It is a value we are instructed to uphold and maintain. But there is an important perspective we hold around this form of purity. Our spiritual teacher Acharya Shunya tells us that our atman, our true spiritual Self, our truest nature is always pure. Like water is always wet, our atman is always pure. But, we live in a world where messes, physical and emotional, happen. So we seek purity, but not from the sense that we are trying to make something dirty become clean. Rather, we remove the accumulated dirt and build-up from something that is eternally clean. We look for the purity in a world of messes, we look for the diamond in the rough.
So I chose saucham as a resolution for my 2017. And where did I begin with this cleanliness? My surroundings. It began in my home. It began as a call to declutter, to give away, to purge, and to clean my own home. And do you know what happened when there was less stuff in my space? There was more space to breathe. There was more space for me. It was a sweet process, it made the objects I chose to keep a little more special. It made the arrangement a little more functional. It allowed me to bring about a new beauty and light. When I made room for light in my surroundings, it allowed me to live in a space that was soothing and inspires my creativity.
When I started a new job that necessitated I walk through downtown Oakland every day, I witnessed how much trash there was in my neighborhood. Little things. Little forgotten pieces from somebody’s shopping trip. Little strings of another’s story they had forgotten to tie up. Since saucham was to be my value, it only made sense to help out with this litter as I could. I now have my favorite trash cans on my way, outside the Whole Foods, outside the First Congregational Church, all the way down Harrison Street.
But let’s say I pick up a paper cup on the street. Great, there is one less piece of trash out there. But then I look ahead and see 30 more cups. Well I can't always go pick up every cup; I don’t always have the time. So what’s the point of cleaning a world that seems to always get dirtier and dirtier? Because it is not about some arbitrary standard of clean, it is about love. When I pick up each piece, and usually one more than I want to, I am expressing my care and my love for our Earthly home. I pick up each piece because I want to say, “I am not simply going to be a consumer. I am going to give back because that is the world I want to live in. That is what the Vedas teach us.” I can make the effort to leave my house two minutes earlier so I can pick up those few extra scraps because we deserve to live in a worldly home that reflects our own inner beauty. It is a beautiful flow. With each object I put away, with every piece of trash I remove, I know I am cleaning up and caring for our shared home.
I wanted to just work on being a little cleaner, a little more relaxed, and a little more put together this year. I just wanted to learn how to clean up and finish the messes and the projects I begin. That’s why I chose saucham as a value this year. But the most beautiful part is that so much more came from my decision to be purer. As a result, I feel more in touch with my own home. I feel a new connection to my environment and community, and I can do this work without feeling so much entitlement or judgement. It has just become a healthy habit of mine, a new normal. That is the power of what we learn in the Vedic Spiritual Studies Program. This knowledge changes our values. By changing our values, we begin to be in the world with brand new eyes. We get to change our consumption into service. I am happy living my life a little lighter and cleaner. And I do not even mind having to wash my hands, every day when I arrive home from work. I even do it with a smile.
The author Shreyas Derek Cousineau is a student of Acharya Shunya, and serves as the Kitchen Coordinator, creating and offering delicious Ayurvedic meals to our Vedic Spiritual Studies classes and Vedika Global events.
Learn more about how you can study Vedanta with Acharya Shunya in her Vedic Spiritual Studies Program.