The troposphere is that part of the earth’s atmosphere that lies closest to the surface of the planet. It is usually about eleven miles thick, a little more at the equator and substantially less at the poles. From space, it looks like a gray haze, especially when seen from the side, due to turbulence caused by the friction between it and the ground. Air mixed with dirt, air mixed with water, air mixed with pollution – the troposphere forms a heavy blanket over everything. It is where we live.
Alchemically, air symbolizes mind, and it is remarkable how similar our minds are to the stratas of air that form the earth’s atmosphere. If we could see ourselves the way we see the earth from space, we would see the same kind of gray haze, the same zone of turbulence, the same mixtures of different elements. Water for emotion, earth for materiality, fire for impulsiveness – all these forming our own personal atmosphere pressing down upon our awareness and creating the lens through which we perceive and interpret our world.
As with all of the five vows, the vow of purity is a tool that helps clarify our consciousness. It helps us move past the entropy of self-absorption and toward a clear vision of God. As a blessing, administered by one who has himself or herself attained the reality of clear sight, the vow of purity is a taste, a scent of the possibility of something greater than oneself, a wider and deeper reality of life that lies just beyond the boundary of self-involvement that surrounds us like a layer of fog. Once introduced to that reality, we then have something to shoot for, a ray of hope, the certain knowledge that the sun is indeed shining, in fact always shining just above the clouds.
It is tempting at this point to regard all that is of the earth as impure. This is a big mistake. It’s not that the earth is impure, it is simply the earth. It is what it is, neither pure nor impure, good nor bad. To shun it or, worse yet, despise it is as misguided as despising one’s own body. Nothing but suffering can come of that. But to regard the earth as the entirety of one’s being is equally misguided and can cause tremendous suffering to the soul. The vow of purity is a way to see past the veil of materiality. It enables us to see the brilliant luminosity of the greater sphere of being that we also inhabit, just as surely as we do the dusty, turbulent environment of life on this planet.
Earth clings to itself. It has a kind of static electric charge, spiritually speaking, that makes everything earthy (including earthy thoughts) cohere into a mass of…well, dirt. Inherent within that clump, however, is the possibility of all life and self-expression. But without a connection to the clear, expansive, amniotic field of light within which it exists, the earth is entirely inert. No possibility for anything. In order to realize the full spectrum of life, that connection has to be made. That greater reality is the source of all power; no animation could exist without it. Far from obliterating all things familiar, however, this pure energy brings life to what would otherwise be dead. The vow of purity is a way to harmonize one’s thinking and way of being with that greater reality and thus bring about a fuller, more conscious spiritual life.