Saucha (also spelled as Shaucha) or cleanliness is the primary Niyama which is the model code of conduct for practicing yoga. There are five important codes as given in Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, of which Saucha is the first one. Here, let us have look at its meaning and its relevance to yoga along with rules relating to its observance.
The Sanskrit word शौच (spelled as Shaucha and Saucha) means cleanliness. It is pronounced as Śauca. It is both internal and external cleanliness. Saucha is the first of the five Niyamas given by Patanjali. Water helps to have the external purity by driving away the dirt in the body; whereas the practice of dispassion helps to have internal purity by driving away anger, lust, pride, jealousy, greediness, and passion. No surprise, it is regarded as the primary Niyama.
Saucha in Yoga
External cleanliness makes the Yogi free from diseases. Internal cleanliness provides him calmness and cheerfulness which help him in progressing to the next level of Yoga. Hence cleanliness is a prerequisite for the Yogi in the course of Yoga.
Saucha in Yoga Sutra of Patanjali
śaucāt svāṅga-jugupsā parairasaṁsargaḥ
Through cleanliness, dispassion towards own body is developed and that dispassion extends towards the intimacy of other bodies.– Yoga Sutra 2.40
By practicing cleanliness, one develops aversion towards his own body. As a result, it stops the inclinations to the intimacy of other bodies. In other words, it gives the power to overcome the sexual urge towards the other bodies. This is possible only when the body consciousness is not there. When it is lost by purification of body and mind. Then the Yogi does not think himself as the body.
sattva-śuddhiḥ saumanasya-ikāgry-endriyajaya-ātmadarśana yogyatvāni ca
There arises pure Sattva, mental rejoice, concentration, conquest of sensual organs, and mastery of Yoga.– Yoga-Sutra 2.41
In this verse, Patanjali gives a list of benefits of Saucha.
Benefits of Saucha
By purification, there arises purified Sattva. Sattva is one of three Gunas. Guna is trait or idiosyncrasy. The three Gunas are Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas. In Sattva, the subtle qualities of harmony, cheerful, and goodness are dominant. It does not mean the absence of other traits like Rajas and Tamas. In Rajas, power, passion, and activity are dominant. In Tamas, inaction, inertia, and darkness prevail.
By purification, Sattva is purified. It is Sattva is not only dominant, but also there is absence of other qualities. Purification generates calmness that results in cheerfulness.
Concentration or focus is the other benefit of purification. Mind is free from anger, lust, and the like. Hence distraction is avoided and Concentration is gained.
With concentration, the Yogi becomes capable of mastering sensual organs. As a result, there is nothing on his way to stop attaining self-realization.
Saucha in Darshana Upanishad
According to Darshana Upanishad, external cleanliness is getting rid of the impurities of body; whereas the internal cleanliness is getting rid of impurities of mind through meditation.
Scholars view that cleanliness provides the knowledge “I am pure”. The nature of body is always impure; whereas the nature of Atman is always pure. Understanding this fact, to which of them (body or Atman) should cleanliness be prescribed?
A dullard enjoys the external purity and ignores the purity of internal awareness.
Saucha in Shandilya Upanishad
Shandilya Upanishad also puts Saucha in the category of Yama. Saucha is of two kinds: external and Internal. The external purification comes with the use of water and earth; whereas the internal purification comes with the practice of Atma Vidya, the knowledge of Atman.
Saucha in Bhagavad Gita
Bhagavad Gita defines Tapa in verse 17.14.
deva-dwija-guru-prājña- pūjanaṁ śhaucham ārjavam
brahmacharyam ahinsā cha śhārīraṁ tapa uchyate
Tapa (austerity) consists of worship of God, brahmins, guru, and elders. When it is performed with the observance of Saucha (cleanliness), Arjava (simplicity), Brahmacharya (celibacy), and Ahimsa (non-violence), it becomes the kind of austerity by means of body.Bhagavad Gita 17.14
Tapa by means of body is one aspect of Tapa. While performing this kind of austerity, cleanliness is the primary code of conduct.
In the practice of Yoga, Cleanliness, both internal and external, is the primary virtue to observe. Have you convinced why Patanjali has put Saucha as the primary Niyama?