We say that a person is a good person if they have good thoughts and ideas—the kind that will bring benefit to humanity. We say a person is not good if the thoughts in their mind are selfish and are of a bad quality. A person may look very beautiful or handsome and still have an ugly heart and mind, so a person is called good or bad according to their character. Character is made up of the habits that are rooted in a person. The thoughts that become habits must be clean. An unclean or impure thought is one that is based on selfishness. Generally, we say that thoughts about hurting others, about stealing and lying are impure. And that is so. But, in the ultimate sense, any kind of personal or selfish desire in our thinking is impure because it disturbs the mind. Purity means a calm mind. Just like a pure crystal, which has no color of its own, but only reflects the colors around it, so a pure mind has no color, no selfishness in it.

The mind is made up of thoughts just like a piece of cloth is made of pieces of yarn. If there are is no yarn, then there is no cloth and if there are no thoughts there is no mind. The more thoughts, the bigger the mind. The brain should not be taken as the mind. The brain is the seat of the mind; it is the tool through which the mind functions. When we say someone has a big brain we mean that the mind has a lot of ideas in it.

When you want to do something good for somebody, if you have any kind of personal expectation behind it such as wanting to be appreciated or recognized then the action and the thoughts leading to that action are impure. That’s because the mind can never be calm when there is personal expectation.  But these kinds of impure thoughts that may be behind a desire to be useful or helpful are certainly better than the other kind of thoughts, such as wanting to hurt someone. But in the ultimate sense, even wanting to do good will bring restlessness to the mind if there is any expectation of a reward. Anything that shakes your mind, that makes your mind lose its peace, is impure because it makes the mind lose its strength.

A hand that shakes can never perform an operation. Whether you shake mentally or physically, the shaking starts in the mind. The attachment that comes from self-centeredness makes people nervous; they are worried about how they will perform or how others will think of them. A selfless person has no reason to be nervous because their thoughts will be pure. Pure thinking is always about doing something for someone else and the moment you are ready to think that way you become a proper instrument for the greatest potential in the universe. Power and position naturally come to you. Money, name, and fame come to you. People and opportunities come to you because you are ready. God knows when a person is ready to become a perfect instrument and then you will be used by that Higher Power. You don’t ever need to ask for special capacities. They are already waiting to come to you as soon as  you are refined.

If you start to polish any kind of crude rock, it starts to become refined. You begin with the surface and as you continue it will shine and then reflect—the light within appears. It’s not that you had to introduce the light. It was always there, but because of the crude surface, it couldn’t reveal itself. When it is refined, you can see your reflection in it. In the same way, the light within us is always there. You are the image of God; you have been made in God’s own image.

Each of us is divine, but that divinity is not always visible from the outside because our mental body may be misaligned, so the light is not expressed properly. If you clean and straighten the mind, it will shine and you can see the holiness. Why do you call someone a holy person? Did they ever go to a shop and buy some holiness? No. If that holiness could be imported we could do a very good business! The moment you become whole you become holy. All the special capacities and gifts are waiting for you; there is no need to go and beg for it.

I don’t believe in begging God for anything. Why should I beg? I don’t want to be a beggar and I never beg. I know God is waiting to give me everything; I just have to be ready. You have to prepare yourself by keeping clean and if you keep yourself clean, the door opens and you feel the sunlight. But if you close the door, you don’t see the light. So all the capabilities and all the knowledge are already there. You need not even go and study anywhere; it is all already in you. All the universities and the entire universe is in you already. So, take away all the impurity and shine. Let the light that is within you be revealed. That is what is meant by refinement. You were fine to begin with and then you became de-fined in between.

Refinement means coming back to your fineness. You have been given a choice. You have been made perfect, but you have also been allowed to be imperfect, if that is how you want to be. Your own conscience will tell you what is good and what is not good. If you ask then your conscience, which is God within you, will be your guide. That is the very reason you have been given a choice. God has given you the choice, has given you the freedom to see both sides and then you can decide which role to play: the good or the not so good. It is only in the human level that we have been given that freedom; but God always warns you about the best way to be.

God creates us in perfection, tells us which path is right and which is wrong, and then gives us the choice of which path to take. We are meant to sometimes suffer and then to come back and do things differently, to learn by our experience. If you ask, “Why haven’t we just been given only one good path?,” the answer is that there is no charm in life without the choices, the learning. It’s like the obstacle races that the gymnastic trainers create for their students.  Suppose you ask, “What is the idea? Why do you want me to run there?” “Well, if you run there, you will get a gold medal.” “Well, why don’t they give me the medal without me having to run through the obstacle course? The trainer wants you to show your capacity.

You have been given the opportunity to express, to exhibit, to demonstrate your capacity, so you must be thankful, for all the obstacles that have been put before you. You have been given the opportunity to feel brave and accomplished by having those obstacles in front of you. If you just walk slowly here and there and expect the gold medal, people will laugh at you and ask, “What is this? What bravery do you have? What fitness do you have? You have not demonstrated anything to deserve a reward.”

Instead, trainers and coaches want you to exhibit your capacity. In the same way, God wants you to prove that you have gained the knowledge that comes from facing challenges. You can never escape challenges and you are not going to gain anything by running away from them. Face obstacles with a smiling heart, with proper understanding and you will win the race!

By Sri Swami Satchidananda