Friday, 10 December 2010

Tarot journey into yogic philosophy 6 - shaucha

It's been a while since I posted in this thread, having focused more on tarot, oracles and diet in recent months.  However, I wanted to come back to this path I started.

In previous posts back in June and July, I covered the yamas, or restraints on behaviour.  Now we move, in this strange yogic tarot journey, into the realms of the niyamas, or observances.  Here the yogi/ni turns inward, looking to themselves rather than to their relationship to others.

The first principle is Shaucha, or purity.  Temperance is a card some people have issues with because it represents being balanced and maintaining a certain clarity. Temperance sees situations clearly, which is what makes finding the right mix to balance all perspectives possible. Likewise, for shaucha the example sometimes described is having simple surroundings in a yoga class. You don't want clutter, strong smells or overly gaudy decorations, as these distract from the true focus of the class. Temperance would certainly know how to strike this balance.

However, Shaucha goes much deeper than this.  The suggestion is to be pure of thought and pure of body.  In Pattabhi Jois' book Yoga Mala he takes this to such lengths as saying you should not watch television, nor have sex even with your wife unless it's a particular day and time.

Personally, I feel there needs to be more of a realistic balance, a skill Temperance teaches us.  It's not just about abstaining, but about choosing what elements you will or won't bring into your life, and being conscious of why you are making those choices.

This is a very hard one for me.  I tend more towards the Devil than to Temperance, at least when it comes to chocolate!  And I'd be hard pressed to give up my murder/mystery TV shows like CSI, or White Collar (less gory, more eye candy, but still not "up-lifting" of "educational" by any standards).  Maybe some people can be perfectly pure, but then there can also be a certain rigidity or fanaticism in over-arching purity - what I have sometimes termed the "yogier than thou" attitude.  Purity for the wrong reasons might be as bad as balanced impurity.  This isn't to deny that some people may live a perfectly pure life, but simply to suggest that striving for this can be it's own undoing in some instances.

An idea I like is one which Andrea Albright talks about in her book, Amazing Body NowSamskara is a buddhist term for conditioning thoughts.  As Andrea points out, we condition our own thoughts through the choices we make each day.  However, we can balance these out a little, and help ourselves to decondition aspects we don't like, by creating a counter-weight conditioning.  She talks about this in terms of food - eating something healthy starts to balance out eating something unhealthy in our food habits.

I think this can be applied generally in the realm of Shaucha, and that Temperance gives us a good model for this.  It is about balancing out the good and bad, the pure and the not so pure, in a way that is true to ourselves at this moment, and realistic within our current life and culture.  So, doing a brief meditation, drawing some cards for a spiritual reading, chanting or just singing, taking a walk in nature, all these would be things to help balance our shaucha when we also watch TV, sometimes eat chocolate, or whatever other "impure" things we may still choose to include in our lives.

What is your take on purity: where do you feel you achieve it and where do you fall down?  Perhaps more importantly, what balance can you create in your life?

Image is from the Radiant Rider Waite Tarot.


  1. Temperance for me is more about creating a harmony that harmony most certainly relates to within ourselves as well as within any relationships we may wish to maintain. I think there is a lot to that old adage "a little of what you like does you good" as well as the other one "all things in moderation." So when things are taken to the extreme whether they are pure or not so pure, then there is no harmony within is there? So to deny one's self those things that give us pleasure in life (as long as its not to the extreme) does at least from my point of view create an imbalance.

    Pure thoughts, pure body - easily achieved when one is locked away in a commune of some sort whether that's a yoga temple or whatever, but out in the every day world this is much harder to achieve (when you think of the crap that most of us have to deal with at different points in our life). But for me anyway purity as such is about trying to keep an open mind, along with positive and gratitude thinking, eating a balanced diet that includes the odd chocy bisicuit LOL - I guess just trying to do what Temperance does in this image, and that is mixing and blending those different elements of life so that they create more harmony and balance for me - Temperance after all is balancing out those different elements when she pours that liquid from cup to cup. And I try to manifest my spirituality in my physical world, sometimes not always successfully I may add - especially when someone cuts me up on the road!

    I've waffled on long enough now and probably not even answered you question. :o)

  2. Hi Helen,

    Not waffle at all! I really appreciated your comment, it hits the nail on the head in so many regards. Sounds like you have a good balance in life, for the most part. And as you say, it's hard not to have the occasional small slip when you live in the real world. I don't have a car, so road rage isn't a problem I face, but then we each have our own slippery slopes.

    I especially liked your comment about purity being about keeping an open mind. I shall have to ponder that awhile...

    Thanks for sharing!