In this time of necessary quarantine, how we have missed coming together for the Purification Ceremony — a practice so personal, so intimate that no way to share it on-line has been found. While the strictures of physical distancing remain in place, we practice inwardly and alone, perhaps with even greater intensity of self-offering for lack of a formal channel.
The ceremony itself came to Swamiji in January of 1987. Every weeknight devotees would gather in the Crystal Hermitage chapel for meditation followed by the Purification Ceremony and the Festival of Light, sometimes led by Swami himself. It was magical — a time of deep inner communion, satsang, and devotion. One by one we would kneel before Swami to ask God’s blessing: “I seek purification by the grace of God.” Individually we would offer to God, through His channel before us, whatever was holding us back from the light and joy of our true natures. Swami would respond, “The Master says, ‘Open your heart to me, and I will enter and take charge of your life.’” Then came a period of shared meditation, a time of inner self-offering and of God’s encouraging blessing on that self-offering, His holy promise to every sincere seeker: “By the grace of our Masters you are free!”
When we need You, Lord, our Beloved, You descend.
Our human griefs Your love alone can mend.
The wonder of God’s grace is that He asks of us only that we give what we can: the darkness as well as the light, error as well as virtue. Krishna’s guidance to Arjuna comes down through the ages to each one seeking purification: Best of all, live in constant inner communion with God; if that is out of reach, then by steadfast will worship Him; if that too is not now attainable, then labor for love of God; and if even in this “thy faint heart fails, bring Me thy failure!” For God’s compassionate heart receives lovingly whatever His suffering children give into His keeping.
There is a legendary story of Christ’s coming to earth in the guise of a ragman, a collector of old rags. His heart overflowing with love for all creatures, the Ragman journeys through the world, pulling a cart filled with shiny new clothes, and crying out as he goes, “Rags! New rags for old! I take your tired rags!”
He comes first to a woman sitting on her back porch weeping inconsolably into a soiled handkerchief. When at his approach she looks up inquiringly, he takes from her, with ineffable gentleness, the poor cloth of her sorrow and places on her outstretched palm a beautiful new linen cloth. Her sadness flies away. As the Ragman walks away, he puts her soiled cloth to his own face and weeps with the bitter tears that have only moments before been hers. In the woman’s heart there burgeons new hope.
To a young girl he comes next. Her head wrapped in a bandage, blood soaking through, with a single line running down her cheek, she stares out at the approaching Ragman with empty eyes. “Give me your rag,” he says to her with infinite kindness, “and I’ll give you mine.” Lovingly taking her bloody dressing and placing it on his own head, the Ragman then places a lovely new yellow bonnet on hers, and walks away, her wound now his own, the blood soaking through now his own. The girl, now healed and beautifully clothed, watches his going with wonder in her heart.
The Ragman comes then to a man leaning against a pole, homeless and derelict, the right sleeve of his jacket lying flat and stuffed into a pocket. The loss of one arm has taken away his means of earning a living. With quiet authority the Ragman speaks: “Give me your jacket, and I’ll give you mine.” A long-vanished trust rising in his heart, the one-armed man gives over his worn jacket, and receives the Ragman’s own. And with the Ragman’s jacket comes his good right arm. “Now,” the Ragman says with gentle admonition, “now you can go to work.” With new life and purpose, whole in body and awakened in heart, the derelict man watches his strange benefactor walk away, wearing his old jacket, the right sleeve hanging empty and flat.
Then there is an old man, wizened and sick, lying in a drunken stupor, wrapped in a filthy and tattered blanket. Gently removing the old man’s soiled blanket, and leaving for his awakening a set of new clothes, the Ragman walks away, wrapped in the old blanket, and carrying now in his own person the decrepitude of drunkenness, sickness, and old age.
Staggering to the top of a hill, weeping, bloodied, crippled, the Ragman uses his one arm to scratch out a place to lie down. There on his earthen bed, he covers his body with the old man’s blanket, and places the woman’s handkerchief and the derelict man’s jacket under his head. And so, his work among men completed, he dies.
A young man has been following the Ragman, at first with curiosity, then with sorrow, finally with a love he has never before known. Grieving and despairing at the Ragman’s dying, the young man falls into a state of insensibility that Friday evening, and stays so until a great light awakens him as Sunday morning dawns. The light is pouring out from the Ragman, now radiant with health and a celestial beauty, standing by his earthen bed, carefully, lovingly folding all the rags he has gathered. Reverently the young man bows before the transformed Ragman. Humbly speaking his own name, the young man removes his own clothes and lays them at the Ragman’s feet: “Clothe me as You will, Lord.”
And so it is for all of us who have followed Swamiji and our Masters. Again and again they have taken onto their own persons the karmic consequences of mistaken actions of suffering humanity: “A master willingly sacrifices a portion of his bodily wealth to lighten the misery of his disciples.” Ever tenderly offering succor, how joyful their spirits when their beleaguered children turn to them in humility and love, and speak out their holy yearning to give everything into the hands of the Divine. “I seek purification by the grace of God.”
In divine friendship,
For Ananda’s “Thank You, God” Tithing