By Roberto Assagioli, A Practical Contribution to a Modern Yoga, The Beacon, 1933
Purification of the personality
PURIFICATION. When man sets himself earnestly about the task of his spiritual development, he soon discovers that the first necessity is a thorough purification of all the elements of his personality, the physical, emotional, and mental parts of his being.
1) Physical purification is achieved chiefly through the harmonious contact of the body with the natural elements; sun, light, air, and water; the right kinds of foods, and other hygienic practices as advocated by the new health movements of today.
These are generally known, so I need not dwell on them here; but to which Orientals, and chiefly Indians, have given much attention, sometimes to the point of exaggeration, about which we in the West have much to learn.
2) Purification of the Emotions, Instincts and Impulses. This is most important, owing to the great vitality which the emotional nature has, not only among ordinary humanity, but often in advanced individuals. This purification consists, first of all, in the re-orientation and elevation of conscious desires, in the transferring of the longings of the heart from earthly and human things to things spiritual and divine. This can be summed up in the beautiful Indian saying:
“If you still desire to see, long to see Him in every form; if still desire to hear, long to hear Him in every sound.”
But this does not complete the work of purification. There is another, a more subtle and difficult part to be accomplished, concerning the sub-conscious passions and longings. We must get rid of the various attachments, fear, attractions, and repulsions to individuals, things and places which bind us in so many ways and hamper our inner development and outer adjustments, and which retard our spiritual growth. All this field has been dealt with extensively in psychoanalysis and similar lines of psychological research, and if we eliminate the exaggerations, the undue generalizations and the materialistic trends which make the Freudian psychoanalysis an unsafe and dangerous method, we shall find much that is useful and illuminating. The higher aspects can be found in Dr. Jung’s books and in the good presentation of these matters made by Dr. B. Hinkle in her book “The Recreating of the Individual.”
It would be well worthwhile to select from these studies and methods those which are the most applicable to the Yoga and the New Age.
3) Mental Purification. Besides the emotional glamour, we have to get rid of the various illusions of the lower mind which are subtle, but very real limitations and barriers, that hamper us in our spiritual progress. These comprise our prejudices, our preconceived ideas, our attachments to limited theories, and dogmas and mental forms of all kinds. Some of these attachments are produced or nourished by emotional complexes and can be destroyed by the work of analysis just mentioned. But there are others which have their origin on the mental plane and have to be dealt with by mental means. They are due generally to too strong a tendency towards the hardening and crystallization, so to speak, of mental forms. (This corresponds astrologically to the predominance of fixed signs affecting the mentality).
The remedy for this condition is the cultivation of breadth of vision and inclusiveness. This can be developed by the study of the various presentations of Truth, both Eastern and Western, during which no stress should be laid on minor differences, nor on points of arguments; thus it will be discovered how they substantiate and complete each other.
Another way is to consider the same fact, principle or law, from as many different angles as we are able to, aiming at having an all around complete view of it.
Then there are people who have the opposite difficulty; their mental body is too active, plastic and changing. (Astrologically this corresponds to a prevalence of mutable signs). The condition here is that of a mental fog, of a multitude of inchoate or disintegrating thought forms which cloud the vision and drain the vitality. Purification in these cases is achieved by the use of the will and of “fire”: an act of will repeated as often as necessary until these mental abortions and fragments are expelled from the aura; a fire of aspiration and spiritual love which will burn the dross.
4) Purification of the Will. The purification of the personality has its climax in the purification of the will, which is its highest element.
This consists, first of all, in the conscious and systematic purification of the motives, and requires a habit of constant watchfulness and a regular daily review. Its essential and highest achievement is the complete transmutation of the personal will itself. First there is submission, then cooperation, and finally the absorption and unification of the personal with the spiritual Will.
These four stages of purification, which can and should be carried out simultaneously, emphasizing that which is most needed, cover the whole field of active conscious purification. Its value, goal and means are clear enough and are dealt with at length in many books on Yoga philosophy (beginning with the invaluable Yoga Sutras of Patanjali), on religious devotion and on spiritual development. The point is to follow the advice and to practice the methods given.
But there is another kind of purification less well known and more difficult to understand. It is that called by the Christian Mystics passive purification, and it is generally accompanied by a state of emotional aridity, mental darkness and spiritual impotence. The mystics call its extreme phases ‘the dark night of the soul.’ One of its first and more frequent aspects is what is called in the life of aspirants “the pledge fever.” It consists essentially in a violent upheaval of all the lower elements of the personality hitherto more or less dormant, which is the reaction to an intense and sincere aspiration and to a determined spiritual purpose. It is literally the waking up of “sleeping dogs,” which, contrary to the proverb, has to be done, sooner or later, in our spiritual development. This passive purification is the most painful and difficult phase of spiritual evolution. I cannot dwell upon it now, as it is outside my immediate purpose, but it is necessary to know about it in order not to be caught unawares. It explains many otherwise baffling and disquieting inner events and also gives us a needed encouragement and hope. I will only add that it is a purification by fire accomplished by an occult burning up. It is interesting to note how the candid reports of the mystics coincide on this point with the esoteric teachings.
 For instance, the account by St. Catherine of Genoa, to which the Baron von Hugel has devoted a thorough study in his excellent book, “The Mystical Element in Religion.”