Removing one's shoes

Question: Why do you ask people to leave their shoes outside and not bring them into the meditation hall?

Sri Chinmoy: In the spiritual life two things are of greatest importance: one is purity and the other is aspiration, the inner cry. Purity and aspiration must go together. Purity intensifies aspiration, and aspiration increases purity. He who is pure inwardly and outwardly will have spontaneous aspiration, and he who aspires is bound to see purity dawn in his devoted life.

We ask people to leave their shoes outside before coming into the meditation hall because we come here to aspire. When we come to aspire, we have to make our physical consciousness, our physical body, also aware that we are aspiring. With our shoes we walk around all day in the dirty streets. After that, if we walk into the meditation hall with them on and try to meditate, all the impurity of the streets will enter into the consciousness of the room, into our consciousness, and into the consciousness of all the people who are meditating there. Naturally it will disturb us. Also, we should think of our meditation room as a shrine, a holy place. There we come to commune with God. When we enter a church, out of respect we remove our hats. Similarly, before we enter the meditation room, out of respect we remove our shoes.

When we meditate we are trying to throw away our animal consciousness. Shoes come from an animal. When we leave the shoes outside, we should feel that we are leaving the animal consciousness outside and entering into the human consciousness. It is not just the animal hide but the whole consciousness that we are leaving. Then, from the human consciousness we try to go one step ahead, during our meditation, to the divine consciousness. We try to go beyond the human in us — with its doubt, fear, jealousy and worry — and enter into the consciousness of perfection.

Now you will say from your practical mind, "These shoes help me. If I didn't have shoes, I would suffer from heat and cold when I walk along the streets. So why is it when I meditate I do not need them?" Now, we can offer our gratitude to the things that help us, but this does not mean that at every hour of our existence we have to keep them with us. A broom helps us clean our house, but after it has played its role, we put it in a particular corner until we need it again. We don't take it with us when we sit down to eat. In the spiritual life also, we do appreciate things that help us. But they have to have their proper place.

At one time the animal consciousness was necessary for movement. If we had not had animal qualities we would have remained inert, like trees, or we would have remained in the stone consciousness where there is no activity, no movement. Now movement can either be destructive or dynamic. With our dynamic movement we try to run to our goal; with our destructive consciousness we try to destroy others and destroy ourselves. Unfortunately, in the animal we see the destructive quality looming large. But it is better to have this animal consciousness, to fight and struggle, than to remain in the stone consciousness where there is no movement, no progress. Now the animal has played its role, and we have come to the human consciousness. We know that movement is necessary, but that it has to be a dynamic movement. In the human consciousness we try to go a little farther with our dynamic movement, but unfortunately, the animal consciousness still lies dormant in us. We try to purify the destructive quality through our dynamic quality in the human. Then from the dynamic movement in the human, we try to go to the Divine. And when the dynamic movement of the human enters into the Divine, then we get perfect perfection.

Step by step, we are freeing ourselves from previous helpers which are of no use to us in reaching our ultimate Goal. Many times our human friends are helpers, but when we want to go farther and deeper into the inner life, we see that our human friends stand in our way. The animal consciousness did help us when we were trying to go beyond the plant consciousness, but it only drags us backwards when we enter into the human consciousness. So the farther, the higher we go, the more we have to be aware of whether or not our previous friends can be of any help to its. If they cannot be of any help, we shall leave them behind us and go forward alone.

From:Sri Chinmoy,A Sri Chinmoy primer, Vishma Press, 1973
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