Every religion encourages believers to sanctify or purify their souls – but people often misunderstand the whole concept of sanctity. Let’s take a look and see if we can figure it out.
If achieving spirituality or holiness through sanctity is the believer’s most challenging task, how does it happen?
When applied to humanity, the dictionary defines sanctity as holiness, saintliness, or piety. It can also refer to the character of a special place such as a temple considered to be sacred, sanctified, or hallowed.
Additionally, we can think of sanctity as a spiritual ladder – the higher we climb, the more we empty the self of worldly desire and fill it with love for the Creator and for humanity. With each rung ascended, the process of purification advances.
In the distant past, some religions associated purity and sanctity with avoiding those of other faiths – so called “infidels.” But today, in most cultures, associating with people of other religions is not considered impure. A very important and crucial teaching of the Baha’i Faith, this principle of unity distinguishes itself from the old ways. For Baha’is, looking down on believers from other religions not only undervalues the nobility of a human being, but disrespects the beliefs of others and creates disunity.
The Baha’i teachings have a lot more to say about the various aspects of sanctity. For example, in his Tablet of Purity, Abdu’l-Baha clearly identifies sanctity with purity, defining it as an essential characteristic for a soul to acquire on the road to perfection:
Cleanliness and sanctity in all conditions are characteristics of pure beings and necessities of free souls. The first perfection consists in cleanliness and sanctity and in purity from every defect. When man in all conditions is pure and immaculate, he will become the center of the reflection of the manifest Light. In all his actions and conduct there must first be purity, then beauty and independence.
… although bodily cleanliness is a physical thing, it hath, nevertheless, a powerful influence on the life of the spirit. It is even as a voice wondrously sweet, or a melody played …
For Baha’is, cleanliness is important for physical health and to prevent the spread of disease. The Tablet of Purity also warns us about what we put into our bodies. Substances like tobacco, alcohol, and opiates are all harmful – they not only take a toll on our bodies, but their spiritual effects are subtle and long-lasting. Likewise, proper nutrition requires attention. If we consider the body to be the temple of the soul, it becomes obvious that it should be respected and well-cared for.
As important as it may be, however, physical purity only represents the beginning of any journey toward sanctity. Consider the Sermon on the Mount, the greatest address Jesus Christ gave to his followers. Sitting on a mountain near Capernaum, Christ delivered the Word of God, providing beatitudes, new laws, and the Lord’s Prayer. Among other things, he spoke these words: “Happy are the pure in heart; they will see God!” This divine counsel connects three elements: happiness, purity, and closeness to the Creator.
Purity has the power to lift us up to a blissful existence. In Buddhism, it is closely related to Nirvana, the ultimate goal of every Buddhist. The last of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths says that to reach the highest plateau of peace, we must break away from the cycle of suffering. In the Buddha’s own words: “Free from impurities, I did attain unto the utter Peace of Nirvana.” Gold is purified through searing heat; for the soul, according to Buddha, that heat is suffering. Similarly, the Hindu Avatar Krishna said: “Freedom from fear, purity of heart …. these are the qualities of the man who is born for heaven.” In Islam, it is said that paradise consisting of “Gardens of Eden, beneath whose trees the rivers flow” will be the “reward of him who hath been pure.” God gave Moses the task of bringing Pharaoh a message from God: “Hast thou the will to purify thyself, and that I should guide thee to thy Lord, then thou shalt fear?”
In the same vein, the Bab wrote: “God loveth those who are pure.” Baha’u’llah wrote, “Every pure, every refined and sanctified soul will be endowed with tremendous power, and shall rejoice with exceeding gladness.”