Valmiki Muni, who compiled the epic Ramayana, had a different name when he was younger. He was also diametrically opposite of what he later became. His name was Ratnakar, and he was a robber. One day, he chanced to catch hold of Narad Muni. As was his wont, Ratnakar demanded that Narad Muni hand over all his valuables to him. Narad Muni patiently explained to Ratnakar that the only thing valuable he possessed was Lord’s names and these he was quite prepared to give.
Ratnakar grew perplexed with Narad Muni’s answer. The Muni then inquired from him as to why did he engage in such sinful activity. “My family, of course !”, replied Ratnakar. “Would they share in the resultant punishment”, asked Naradji. “Why not” ?, came the response. “Better check”, counseled Naradj. “Would you leave while I am away ?”, asked Ratnakar. “No ! I shall wait for you”, Narad Muni assured.
Upon enquiry, all the family members refused to have anything to do with any future punishment. They all said, “You are supposed to provide for us, how you do it is your business”. Fully chastened now Ratnakar returned and fell on the feet of Naradji. Narad Muni then gave him the name “Ram” to chant. However, Ratnakar was so impure that he could initially chant “mara-mara” only which was closer to his nature. Later on, chanting of the Lord’s names purified him to such an extent that Ratnakar could compile Ramayan and was given the name Valmiki.
Purity has that potency. No wonder Lord Krishna in a Verse of the Bhagavad-Geeta has declared. “The ones who are connected to Me engage in acts, whether done by the body, mind, intelligence or the senses, only for self-purification” (5.11).
What is this purification ? It is to make oneself pure by removing dirty, harmful or undesirable, from one’s nature as well as make the self pure by removing one’s sins by suitable spiritual practices. Lord Krishna has also promised that He shall condone the future reactions of all sinful activities of one who is thus striving ( 18.66).
Purification of the self is like getting rid of a fever of the body. Physically, mentally and spiritually healthy is called soul-pure. To achieve such purification, one must also rid oneself of one’s sinful tendencies. Austerities, penances and sacrifices help one to get purified, just like gold is refined by heating and diamond is shaped by cutting. Abstaining from unnecessary sense gratification helps, as does chanting of God’s names. All mantras which have “Aum” in them are great purifiers, as is any activity which connects to God.
Just as bathing purifies by the body, the mind is cleansed by avoiding, impure thoughts. But such purification is a slow process and requires a lot of sacrifice, just like maintaining good physical health does.
Benefits of such purification are great. One comes to the mode of goodness (14.6) from where one can know God. God is absolutely pure and as such to know Him, self-purification is necessary. God also accepts what is pure and no wonder liberation is granted only to those who have purified themselves. Soul in its original state is pure ; one needs to get to that pure state to qualify for liberation.
Improvement and purification are synonymous. To become pure is the most important goal of human birth. To remain impure disqualifies one from achieving liberation in the present life. And there are other losses in remaining impure : One may be afflicted by depression, worries, anxieties, fear, insecurity, etc. Being impure is just like an adulterated food article -harmful.
Human beings crave pure air and water. Similarly, purity provides what we desperately seek, that is, peace, satisfaction, security, joy, enthusiasm, happiness, etc. Let us not cheat ourselves by not striving for it.