The concept of purification is central to many faiths. For believers, it represents the process by which we cleanse our souls and come closer to the divine. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore how God purifies us according to the teachings of various religions.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: According to many faiths, God purifies us through disciplines like prayer, charity, fasting, and sacrifice which help us transcend the desires of the flesh and worldly temptations.
In this roughly 3000 word article, we’ll provide an in-depth look at the various ways God is believed to purify followers, with insights from Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and other major religions. We’ll examine religious rituals and practices aimed at purification, the role of spiritual leaders, key scriptural passages concerning purification, and the effects and benefits of purification according to different faiths.
By the end, you’ll have a detailed understanding of how purification allows believers to come closer to God.
Purification Through Prayer
The Power of Prayer in Christianity
Prayer is central to Christianity as a means of communicating with God and inviting His presence into one’s life. Christians believe that sincere prayer has the power to cleanse both body and spirit from impurities (GotQuestions).
Through prayer, Christians invite God to search their hearts, reveal hidden motives and sins, grant forgiveness and reconciliation, and transform them into the likeness of Christ.
Some key Biblical passages emphasize the purifying power of prayer in the Christian faith:
- Psalm 51 – King David’s prayer of repentance after sinning. He asks God to cleanse and renew him.
- James 5:16 – The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
- 1 John 1:9 – If we confess our sins, God forgives us and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.
In addition to personal prayer, Christians believe corporate prayer within the church has a unique purifying effect. As believers gather to worship, pray, and study Scripture together, the Holy Spirit works to convict hearts and promote godly living (Desiring God).
Salah and Dhikr in Islam
In Islam, the five daily prayers (salah) and devotional acts of remembering God (dhikr) are key means of spiritual purification. By submitting to the command of God through regular prayer and constantly bringing Him to mind, Muslims believe impurities are cleansed from the heart.
The Quran emphasizes prayer and dhikr as moral safeguards and spiritual healing:
- 29:45 – Prayer restrains from shameful and unjust deeds.
- 13:28 – Remembering God reassures and pacifies the heart.
- 39:23 – Prayer protects from sin and wrongdoing.
In salah, through prescribed motions and recitations, Muslims reaffirm devotion to God and reset spiritual compass to righteousness five times daily. Dhikr provides continual conscious focus on God amidst life’s distractions. By these rhythms, Islam teaches hearts and lives are purified (WhyIslam).
Meditation and Mantras in Hinduism and Buddhism
Meditation and the repetition of mantras are essential purification practices in both Hinduism and Buddhism. These disciplines train awareness and intention, calming turbulent emotions while refining virtues, wisdom, and compassion.
Key aspects of meditative purification in Hinduism and Buddhism include:
- Detachment from selfish desire
- Insight into the impermanent, unsatisfying nature of ordinary existence
- Awakening to a joyful, limitless, yet ordinary awareness not separate from reality itself
The numerous schools of Hinduism and Buddhism recommend various meditation techniques suited to different personalities and levels of advancement. But all purify by loosening clung-to mental constructs about “self” and “reality” eventually revealing a primordial peace within all appearances (Tricycle).
Thus chanting, visualizing deities, or simply watching breath and mind, devotees surf waves of clarity and confusion which gradually settle into luminous stillness.
Purification Through Charity and Generosity
Christian Charity and Almsgiving
In Christianity, charity and almsgiving are considered important spiritual practices. Jesus taught his followers to love their neighbor as themselves and care for the poor and needy. The Bible encourages believers to be generous with their money, time, and possessions.
Here are some key points about Christian charity:
- Jesus endorsed giving to the poor and needy. He said that when you feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome strangers, clothe the naked, and visit those who are sick or in prison, you do it to him (Matthew 25:35-36).
- The early Christians shared their wealth and possessions with each other as any had need (Acts 2:44-45). They saw giving as a way to express God’s love.
- The Bible teaches that those who sow generously will reap generously (2 Corinthians 9:6). God promises to bless those who give cheerfully and freely.
- Almsgiving is considered an act of righteousness and justice. As God has blessed us, we are called to generously bless others, especially those in need.
- Giving should be done with a joyful heart, not out of obligation. God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7).
Zakat in Islam
In Islam, zakat is one of the five pillars or foundational practices. It involves donating a fixed portion of one’s wealth to the poor and needy. Here are some key points about zakat:
- The Quran emphasizes caring for the disadvantaged in over 30 verses. It frames zakat as an act of worship and spiritual purification.
- Muslims must donate 2.5% of their accumulated wealth beyond living expenses if they have the financial means. The rate varies for livestock and farm produce.
- Zakat purifies wealth. It reminds Muslims that all things ultimately belong to God and wealth should be shared.
- Recipients include the poor, needy, those working to collect and distribute zakat, and others specified in the Quran (9:60).
- Most mosques have zakat committees to collect and distribute funds to verified beneficiaries locally and internationally.
Zakat allows Muslims to fulfill their spiritual duty, show compassion, and promote social welfare. Its impacts can be profound – one report estimates global zakat could potentially lift 48 million people out of poverty.
Dana in Buddhism
Dana is a key Buddhist practice that involves cultivating generosity through giving. Here are some aspects of dana in Buddhism:
- The Buddha encouraged his followers to give freely and selflessly, without expectation of rewards or returns.
- Dana develops qualities like selflessness, non-attachment, and compassion. It is an antidote to greed and ill will.
- In early Buddhist communities, dana offered lay people a way to support monks. The laity gave food, robes, shelter, and medicine to the monastics.
- Giving can be material goods, but also extends to non-material gifts like teaching the Dharma, forgiveness, courage, and more.
- Recipients of dana are those in physical or spiritual poverty. The merits of giving are dedicated to all beings.
Dana allows Buddhists to cultivate generosity and goodwill. It reduces clinging and gives the opportunity to practice non-attachment. Dana supports spiritual community and expresses compassion in action.
Purification Through Fasting and Asceticism
Fasting in Christianity
Fasting has been an important spiritual practice in Christianity since ancient times. Jesus fasted for 40 days in the desert before beginning his ministry (Matthew 4:2). Many Christians fast during Lent, the 40-day period leading up to Easter.
Common Lent fasting practices include abstaining from meat on Fridays, giving up a particular food or luxury, and limiting overall food intake.
Biblically, fasting is often connected to repentance, mourning, and supplication. By removing distractions and worldly comforts for a time, one can focus more intently on prayer, Scripture reading, and examining areas needing repentance. Some Christians also fast weekly or at other set times.
Historically, Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and some Protestant groups like Methodism have emphasized fasting more than other Christian sects. However, most Christian denominations accept fasting as an important spiritual discipline.
Ramadan and Fasting in Islam
In Islam, fasting during the holy month of Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars, or core ritual duties, of the Muslim faith. From dawn to sunset each day of Ramadan, Muslims abstain from food, drink, and marital relations in order to focus on spiritual reflection.
The fast is meant to increase self-control, gratitude, and compassion for the less fortunate. It also allows Muslims to identify with the suffering of the poor and the hungry. At sunset each day, Muslims break the fast by eating three dates—following the example of Muhammad—and later, sharing festive meals with friends and family.
In addition to the communal fasting of Ramadan, many Muslims also undertake voluntary fasts at other times of the year. These might consist of fasting on Mondays and Thursdays or for three days each month.
The Night of Power during Ramadan, believed to be the night the Qur’an was first revealed to Muhammad, is especially well suited for solitary meditation and worship through fasting.
Fasting in Hinduism and Buddhism
Fasting has been commonly practiced in both Hinduism and Buddhism for thousands of years. In Hinduism, fasting is often undertaken as a way of penance or purification, as outlined in various religious texts like the Upanishads.
Common Hindu fasting practices include abstaining from all food and drink or restricting oneself to a single meal during the day.
Some Hindus will fast on New Moon and Full Moon days or during festivals like Maha Shivaratri, when devotees fast in honor of the god Shiva. Pilgrims to holy sites may also undertake fasting as a way to purify themselves before participating in religious rituals.
The ancient sage Vasistha was said to have undertaken a divine fast by drinking only water for 12 days.
In Buddhism, the Buddha himself is said to have undertaken long and arduous fasts during his six years of ascetic life before achieving enlightenment. Thus, fasting also holds an important place in Buddhist tradition.
One of the most common Buddhist fasting practices is upavasatha, which refers to observing the eight ethical precepts on full moon days, including fasting from solid food after noon.
Purification Through Sacrifice and Mortification
Imitation of Christ’s Sacrifice
In Christianity, followers seek to imitate Christ’s sacrifice through acts of self-denial and mortification of the flesh. Christ’s suffering on the cross serves as the ultimate example of sacrificing oneself for the salvation of others.
Christians believe that by enduring hardship and renouncing earthly pleasures, they grow closer to God. Some practices include fasting, abstinence, rigorous prayer routines, and even wearing undershirts made of haircloth or self-flagellation.
While controversial, mortification of the flesh allows Christians to identify with the sacrificial nature of Jesus.
Sacrifice in Islam
In Islam, sacrifice holds great spiritual significance. The most important Islamic sacrifice is Eid al-Adha, during which Muslims commemorate Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail as an act of obedience to God.
Muslims who can afford it sacrifice a permissible animal, usually a goat or sheep, and share the meat with family, friends, and the poor and needy. This represents sacrificing something of value to grow closer to Allah.
Other forms of sacrifice in Islam include fasting during Ramadan, giving Zakat (charity), and performing the pilgrimage to Mecca known as Hajj.
Tapas in Hinduism
In Hinduism, tapas refers to austere spiritual practices undertaken to grow closer to Brahman. Literally meaning “heat,” it signifies the burning away of impurities to attain higher states of being. Forms of tapas include vows of silence, fasting, sexual abstinence, meditating through pain, and standing on one leg.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna declares, “Sacrifices, austerities and charities performed without faith in the Supreme are non permanent. They are neither worthy of being done, nor of being called sacrifice.” Thus, tapas allows Hindus to transcend the physical world and realize the divine within.
The Role of Spiritual Teachers and Clergy
Priests in Christianity
Priests play a vital role in Christianity as spiritual teachers and clergy who lead religious services and ceremonies. They serve as intermediaries between God and people by presiding over the Eucharist during Mass.
Priests hear confessions, provide counseling, officiate weddings and funerals, preach sermons, and offer moral guidance to members of the church.
Some key responsibilities of Christian priests include:
- Leading liturgical services and administering sacraments
- Providing pastoral care and spiritual guidance to congregants
- Visiting and providing communion to the sick or shut-ins
- Educating members of the faith, particularly children and youth
- Offering counsel and comfort during difficult times
Priests undergo extensive theological training, taking vows of celibacy, and are ordained by a bishop. They are respected as spiritual leaders and play an integral role in tending to the spiritual needs of Christian communities.
According to a 2019 study, there are over 36,000 Catholic priests actively serving in parishes in the United States.
Imams in Islam
Imams occupy a respected position as spiritual leaders within Islam. As teachers and clergy, they lead Islamic worship services in mosques, deliver sermons, and provide religious instruction and guidance to Muslim communities.
Some key duties performed by Imams are:
- Leading communal prayers and worship services
- Delivering sermons (khutbahs) on Fridays and religious holidays
- Providing pastoral care and spiritual guidance
- Solemnizing marriages according to Islamic tradition
- Teaching and educating Muslims on the Quran and traditions of Prophet Muhammad
Imams often spend years studying Islamic theology and sacred texts before qualifying to serve in mosques. While some Imams are full-time, others may volunteer their time while working in secular careers.
According to estimates, there are over 2,000 full-time and part-time Imams serving Muslim communities across the United States.
Gurus and Swamis in Hinduism
Spiritual teacher-adepts known as gurus and swamis play a profound role in guiding Hindus on the path of self-realization and enlightenment. They serve as living embodiments of Sanatana Dharma, providing discourses on sacred Hindu texts like the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, Puranas, etc.
Some ways these Hindu religious teachers enlighten devotees include:
- Giving discourses, spiritual advice and philosophical knowledge to seekers
- Prescribing spiritual practices like japa, yoga, meditation, etc.
- Clarifying doubts on subtleties of Hinduism and Vedantic philosophy
- Initiating qualified disciples into monastic orders
- Authoring acclaimed commentaries on ancient Indian scriptures
Renowned modern spiritual figures like Swami Vivekananda, Paramahansa Yogananda, Mata Amritanandamayi, and Satya Sai Baba have taught and influenced millions worldwide through their ashrams, books and organizations.
Believed to be over 5 million in India alone, Hindu swamis and gurus continue to guide followers on the righteous path.
Across faiths, the process of spiritual purification allows believers to transcend their base desires and egos, getting closer to the divine. While the exact methods vary, prayer, charity, fasting and sacrifice are commonly relied upon to cleanse adherents of sin and worldly temptations.
Proper guidance from clergy and devotion to scriptural teachings enable the purification. With persistence and discipline, believers can attain higher states of being and come into deeper communion with God.