Anyone who has spent time undertaking inner reflection will appreciate that our understanding of the true nature of things is distorted by the layers of preconception and the action of ego, desire and untrained and unrestrained rising up of sense impressions, nervous impulses, desires and emotions, as well as habits of thought and reaction. The interpretation of events is very much influenced by the filter through which the individual sees it. Our predispositions color the way we understand and respond to events, people and forces. Add to this the influence of the environment, the media manipulation and the power of peer pressure and it is easy to see that we live in a world that is very much the illusion that the sages have claimed it to be, if not for the same reason that they make that statement necessarily!
The seeker therefore is confronted, early on in his quest, with the need to find a way out of this web of distorted understanding. If he is to gain an understanding of the truth of life, he must first find a way to escape the frame within which he is trapped and limited. The process that brings this about is called purification, and it is a systematic tamping down of the forces of ego and desire in the mind, emotions, vital and nervous being and the physical body, so that in a state o tranquil observation, a less distorted seeing may arise.
The image of the still water providing a true reflection while turbulent water breaks up the reflection and distorts the image so reflected, holds very much true in this case. Swami Vivekananda, in his book Raja Yoga, spends considerable time describing what he calls the “mind stuff” which receives the sense impressions and, due to turbulence in that mind-stuff, distorts them. He then proposes a series of techniques to bring about and observe the calming of the “mind-stuff” (“chitta”) through the practices of the yogic method.
Sri Aurobindo declares the essential nature of this process of purification, not just in the mind, but in all the parts of the being: “The first necessity of preparation is the purifying of all the members of our being; especially, for the path of knowledge, the purification of the understanding, the key that shall open the door of Truth; and a purified understanding is hardly possible without the purification of the other members. An unpurified heart, an unpurified sense, an unpurified life confuse the understanding, disturb its data, distort its conclusions, darken its seeing, misapply its knowledge; an unpurified physical system clogs or chokes up its action. There must be an integral purity.”
“It may even be said that while each member of our being has its own proper principles of purification, yet it is the purified understanding that in man is the most potent cleanser of his turbid and disordered being and most sovereignly imposes their right working on his other members.”
This process requires both a substantial amount of patience and perseverance, and an unflagging will to observe as a separated, “disinterested” witness of the action of the being, thereby to make it possible to see, understand and respond, eventually, without the bias of ego and desire coloring the observation and the viewpoint.
Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 3, The Purified Understanding, pg. 295