In the Sabbath prayers we say: “Purify our hearts to serve You in truth”. There is no more powerful teaching than this. The purification of our heart lies at the centre of the spiritual life. The effects of a pure heart are far-reaching.

This process takes place on several levels: The first step is to purify our thoughts, speech and actions in order to form them into a fit vessel for Divine service.

In the Dhammapada, it is written:

“By oneself the evil is done, and it is oneself who suffers: by oneself the evil is not done, and by one’s Self one becomes pure. The pure and the impure come from oneself: no man can purify another.” [1]

All around us there is sensory, mental and emotional input that impacts upon our being. How we process this information determines the nature of our life. We create our own reality. We have free choice to decide how we will interact with the world.

We need not be passive recipients of this input. Our every thought, word and deed can make a difference. Each can simply be the vessel for the mundane occurrences of daily life or each can be transformed into a vessel to hold the light of the supernal holiness. It is up to us.

The crucial question is: Where will we focus our energies? What will we make the centrepoint of our existence?

Swami Brahmananda teaches:

“The more you occupy the mind with holy thoughts, the greater will be your spiritual unfoldment. Just as a cow yields much milk when it is well fed, so when the mind is fed spiritual food it will yield greater tranquility. Spiritual food consists of meditation, prayer, contemplation, and japam (reciting God’s Name). “ [2]

In the Torah it states: “Make me a Sanctuary and I will dwell in your midst.” (Exodus 25:8) God is waiting to imbue us with His love and light. If we make ourselves into a vessel that is pure and clear, then God’s presence will automatically fill our hearts.

The Hasidic Master, Menachem Mendel of Kotsk, was fond of asking his Hasidim: where does God dwell? And then answering himself: wherever we let Him in. Next, he would quote the verse from the Torah: “Therefore shall thy camp be holy that He see no unclean thing in you, and turn away from you.” (Deuteronomy 23:15) Finally, he would conclude by demanding: how can the king enter into our home if we put packages of dirt before the house?

What is our home? Our home is our mind, heart and body.  We must purify our whole being if we want God to dwell therein.


The second level in this process is to purify our motives.

In the Dhammapada it states:

 “Of what use is your tangled hair, foolish man, of what use your antelope garment, if within you have tangled cravings, and without ascetic ornaments?” [3]

Purity is not an external matter; it is an inner process that touches at the core of our being. We can fulfill all the outer trappings of a ‘pure life’, yet they will not bring us into the presence of God.

Reb Yaibe, a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, liked to tell a story about two friends who made a pact that whichever of them dies first will return and tell the other what happened.  When they reached an old age, one of the friends died. A few days later, the friend who survived had a dream in which he saw his dead friend. Although he was sure that his friend (who had done so many good deeds and learned a great deal of Torah) was in heaven, his face looked sickly. When he asked his dead friend why he looked like this, his friend explained: everyone in heaven receives spiritual joy from the Torah and mitzvoth (good deeds) that they did while alive. When they brought me my mitzvot, however, they gave off such a terrible smell that everyone ran away. When I asked why they emitted this awful odour, I was told that it was because all of my mitzvot and learning were done with a sense of pride and a desire for praise.

Reb Yaibe goes on to explain that the Baal Shem teaches that an angel is created from each mitzvah that a person does: from the physical mitzvah, the outside of the angel is formed, and from his intention or kavanah – the inside of the angel is formed. If our kavanah is not right, then the angel that is created is hollow and lifeless.

When we pass over from this world, the only thing that we take with us is who we are in ourselves. This is what is lasting in everything that we say, think and do. All that we possess, all that we have achieved is left behind. Therefore, it is our inner state that really matters.

As Swami Brahmananda says:

“We judge men by their actions, but God looks into their innermost minds. Be sure of this: God runs to him who prays with a sincere heart. Be pure in heart and always make your thoughts and lips one. “ [4]

Psalm 145: 18 declares: “God is near to all those who call upon Him, to all those who call upon Him in truth.”

According to the Kosker Rebbe, to call on God “in truth” means to call out to Him from the point of true sincerity in our heart and not to just speak words that sound sincere or true. God, he teaches, is simple, pure truth. We, on the other hand, have all manner of thoughts and feelings going on inside us, so it is hard for us to reach the place of pure truth or total sincerity.

It is only when everything else has been taken away and we reach the place of being stripped naked before God that we call on Him with complete sincerity. Then, when we have ‘touched’ the point of pure truth at the centre of our being, God comes close to us. From this point of truth within ourselves, we can then become instruments to serve Him “in truth”.

The next level in this process is to purify our heart center: to open our heart to others. Like the physical heart, this spiritual center circulates energy throughout the body. It is love which lubricates the wheels of our spiritual vehicle. It is love which makes the energy flow freely through our centers. It is love that harmonizes and balances our spiritual body.


Then we come to the final stage in this process where we reach the consciousness of the ‘spiritual heart’.

In the supplement to his work, Reality in Forty Verses, Sri Ramana Maharshi declares:

“In the centre of the heart-cave

the sole Brahman shines by itself

as the Atman (Self) in the feeling of ‘I-I’.

Reach the Heart by diving within yourself…

You will thus get fixed in the Self.” [5]

There is a spiritual heart, a heart of pure consciousness, which is the heart of all existence. This ‘spiritual heart’ is what we call the Self. The more we purify ourselves on all the different levels described above, the more we will be able to clear away the outer layers of this material existence and touch the spiritual heart that lies at its core.

Psalm 51:12 states: “lev tahor barah li Elohim” – “Create in me a pure heart, O God.”

Swami Brahmananda instructed his disciples:

“Be pure-hearted. The purer you become the more will your mind be absorbed in God.” [6]

To be “pure-hearted” means to centre our consciousness in that which is eternal and of the spirit. To be “pure-hearted” means to be one with all that is. To be “pure-hearted” means to perfectly align ourselves with the Divine Will.

This is the highest fulfilment of the sublime prayer: “Purify our hearts to serve You in truth.”


Copyright © 2008, by Yoel Glick

Acknowledgements    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Dhammapada, translated by Juan Mascaro
  2. The Eternal Companion, Swami Prabhavananda
  3. Dhammapada, translated by Juan Mascaro
  4. The Eternal Companion, Swami Prabhavananda
  5. Supplement to Forty Verses on Reality, Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi
  6. The Eternal Companion, Swami Prabhavananda