From the 1960s and 70s onward, awareness of environmental pollution has increased steadily. In 2017 the Green movement is almost like a religion for many.
Personalities like Al Gore present themselves as objective reporters of scientific fact while promoting particular agendas on climate change. Meanwhile, the scientific and greater debate on global warming rages on.
The media tends to emphasize industrial pollution generated by so-called developed countries. But organic pollution from human and animal waste is a huge contributor to early death and preventable disease—especially in densely populated, economically underdeveloped countries.
We are all aware of pollution. People wear masks in public. Not just in China but where I live in Toronto.
However, there are at least three additional types of pollution that many overlook.
Social pollution is about social activities that an opposing group, usually a ruling power, says pollute the social body, as we find in China.
“The same people that are cracking down on issues like democracy and Falun Gong are concerned about things like ‘spiritual pollution,'” Economy said. “And every several years — maybe five to seven years — China is likely to have a ‘spiritual pollution’ campaign and ‘anti-spiritual pollution’ campaign which means that they don’t like what they perceive to be coming from the West: sex, the freedoms, drug use; all of these very sensationalistic television programs.”¹
According to Leviticus 15: 19-23, women are impure and can spread this impurity for a certain period during and after menstruation:
When a woman has a discharge, if her discharge in her body is blood, she shall continue in her menstrual impurity for seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening. Everything also on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean, and everything on which she sits shall be unclean. Anyone who touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening. Whoever touches any thing on which she sits shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening. Whether it be on the bed or on the thing on which she is sitting, when he touches it, he shall be unclean until evening.
More dramatically, Eric Lafforgue says the idea of ritual pollution has deadly consequences among the Hamar in southern Ethiopia.
Twins, a child born outside of formal marriages are considered to possess mingi (abnormality, pollution, unclean) and, for this reason, they are abandoned into the bush to die.²
Beliefs about spiritual purity and impurity can be found that are not necessarily linked to a particular social or physiological taboo.
As evident from the works of the Indian holy men Sri Ramkrishna and Sri Aurobindo, the distinction between pure and impure is also made on the basis of an individual’s perceived spiritual development.
The Hindu guru (Skt = spiritual teacher) often keeps a safe distance from disciples to avoid being overwhelmed by their spiritual impurities. The guru allegedly intercedes for disciples to help purify them—that is, to cleanse their souls from the subtle crud accumulated from their ungodly attitudes and behavior.
From the guru’s perspective, the disciples’ spiritual discomfort is alleviated through intercessory meditation, ritual and prayer.
The poet Kálidása (c. 5th century CE) mentions a similar dynamic involving spiritual pollution and purity in his Shakuntala.
It is natural that the first sight of the King’s capital
should affect you in this manner;
my own sensations are very similar.
As one just bathed beholds the man polluted;
As one late purified, the yet impure:-
As one awake looks on the yet unawakened;
Or as the freeman gazes on the thrall,
So I regard this crowd of pleasure-seekers.³
Likewise, Jainism makes use of the symbolism of iron filings (the impurities of non-liberated souls) automatically flying to a magnet (the pure and liberated soul).
Most spiritual perspectives differ on some of the finer points but all agree that subtle impurities may transfer from one person to another.
In Jungian depth psychology, the notion of a subtle transfer of light and dark qualities is found in the discussion of alchemy, where Jung and his followers liken human relationships to complex chemical interactions.
Ethics and Pollution
Implicit to any discussion of spiritual pollution is the realm of ethics. The classic religion scholar Rudolf Otto says a morally evil action is “self-depreciating” and “pollutes,” leading toward imagery suggesting the need for “washing and cleansing.”4
So the next time someone tells you we have a polluted environment, you might ask what they are saying.
When we say someone is “toxic” do we simply mean they are a drag to be with or is there more to the picture? And how about “bad vibes?”
Metaphor or reality?
¹ Nikola Krastev, “China: Report Says Media Control Is Tightening,”Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Thursday, February 23, 2006.
² See commentary at flickr.com/photos/mytripsmypics/3231940994.
³ From the Shakuntala by Kálidása, circa 5th century CE, in A Treasury of Asian Literature, ed. John D. Yohannan. New York: Meridian, 1984.
4 The Idea of the Holy, second edition, trans. John W. Harvey, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973 , p. 55. For more on religious and spiritual pollution see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ritual_purification
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