Monday, March 12, 2007

a vegetarian diet

The food which caters to people with differing temperaments is clearly listed by Bhagwan Krishna in the Gita. ayuh-sattva- balarogya- sukha-priti- vivardhanah rasyah snigdhah sthira hrdya aharah sattvika-priyah Aharah, foods; ayuh-sattva- bala-arogya- sukha-priti- vivardhanah, that augment life, firmneess of mind, strength, health delight; [Life-a brilliant life; firmness of mind or vigour; strength-ability of body and organs; happiness-pleasure of mind; delight-great joy even at seeing other persons prosperous.] and which are rasyah, succulent; snigdhah, oleaginous; sthirah, substantial, lasing in the body for long; [Beneficial to the body for long.] and hrdyah, agreeable, to one's liking; are sattvika-priyah, dear to one endowed with sattva. katv-amla-lavanaty- usna- tiksna-ruksa- vidahinah ahara rajasasyesta duhkha-sokamaya- pradah Aharah, foods; ayuh-sattva- bala-arogya- sukha-priti- vivardhanah, that augment life, firmneess Foods that are katu-amla-lavana- atyusna-tiksna- ruksa-vidahinah, very bitter, sour, salty, very hot, pungent, dry [Without fat.] and burning; and duhkha-soka- amaya-pradah, which produce pain, sorrow and disease; [Pain, immediate suffering; sorrow, grief arising from not having that desired food.] are rajasasyaistah, dear to one having rajas. yata-yamam gata-rasam puti paryusitam ca yat ucchistam api camedhyam bhojanam tamasa-priyam Bhojanam, food; which is yata-yamam, not properly cooked [Yata-yamam lit. means 'crooked three hours ago', that which has lost its essence; but here it is translated as 'not properly cooked to avoid tautology, for the next word gata-rasam, too, means lacking in essence.-Tr. ] (-because food that has lost its essence is referred to by the word gatarasam-); gata-rasam, lacking in essence; puti, putrid; and paryusitam, stale, cooked on the previous day and kept over-night; and even ucchistam, ort, remnants of a meal; and amedhyam, that which is unfit for sacrifice;- this kind of food is tamasa-priyam, dear to one possessed of tamas. Not only does this mean that these foods are liked by people of the varying temperaments but also, on the flip side, these foods develop the respective qualities in the individual. For example consuming spicy food tends to make a person get better endowed with rajas while alcohol no doubt helps the tamasic qualities in an individual gain ground. Hence Bhagawan Shankara prefaces these slokas by saying "The liking of persons possessing the qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas for foods that are divided into three groups, viz succulent, oleaginous, etc., is respectively being shown here so that, by knowing the presence of the qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas (in oneself) from the indications of the degree of one's preference for particular foods as are succulent, oleaginous, etc., one may avoid foods having the characteristics of rajas and tamas, and accept food with the characteristics of sattva." The food we consume has three constituents - the first portion that caters to the tongue or the organ of taste, - and whether it is samosas or chocolate this is the portion that drives our eating for the vast majority of us the second portion caters to the gross body - this is what is medically known as carbs,fat,protein, caloric value,etc. the third portion caters to the subtle body - this principle is of course outside the realm of objective science, but is endorsed by our scriptures as well as can be a matter of our own experience. Consuming sattvic foods will make the mind-intellect develop sattvic qualities, and so on. So when prescribing food for a warrior who needs to have great valor, bravery, and hence a predominantly rajasic temperament, rajasic food is of course best. But for someone who wants to undertake a study of vedanta, and study and understand the subtle turths about his own nature, wants to lead a life of contemplative self-enquiry, the best diet is one that is sattvic. A rajasic temperament will ease our mind to stray in a hundered directions and a tamasic temperament will ease it into sleep or dullness. A alert, pleasant, sattvic mind endowed with sufficient vitality is the most ideal mind for undertaking atmavichara. What are some dietary items that fit the sattvic qualities listed - fresh fruits, cooked vegetables, milk and milk products such as ghee, butter, yogurt, sweets - all this fall in this category. They are pleasant to eat as well. Now vegetariansim is not specifically mentioned - but can be inferred by two ways. One of course is that no meat products will ever fit into the "sattvic" mould, based on the qualities listed. Secondly, in the 13th chapter, Bhagwan has clearly listed ahimsa as one of the foremost qualities in a ideal student. Ahimsa is nonviolence. There is no meat-eating without violence, without killing another living being. There is of course no two thoughts about this. Now one may argue that even plants are living things, and there is certainly himsa involved in killing them as well. Let us consider this. First of all, when we eat fruits and vegetables, these are products of the plant which will go to waste eventually. The ripe fruit will at some point simply drop off from the plant and so as far as fruits and vegetables go, there is no violence to the plant itself. Moreover, the plant is not something which has an advanced level of consciousness that enables it to feel fear,pain, and distress unlike say a lamb or a cow. Many people who consume meat will choose not to consume it on certain holy days or occasions - showing that there is a part of them that does regard this practice as being less desirable. Sant Kabir writes with his characteristic conviction: "They fast all day, and at night they slaughter the cow; here murder, there devotion; how can this please God? O' Kazi, by whose order doth thou use thy knife." "When you declare the sacrifice of an animal as your religion, what else is sin. If you regard yourself a saint, whom will you call a butcher ?" So clearly, the writings are clear. Vegetarianism is a well-accepted and universal recommendation for a spiritual seeker. At the same time, being judgemental about people who do not embrace it is also best avoided. Being vegetarian does not make you a saint nor does consuming meat a demon - far from it. With regards to the valid point about all this being movement in the one or "all this is brahman" - this is actually a beautiful sloka from the Gita that many Hindus recite prior to the meal "Brahmarpanam Brahma Havir Brahmagnau Brahmana Hutam Brahmaiva Tena Ghantavyam Brahmakarma Samadhinaha" "The act of offering is Brahman, the oblation is Brahman By Brahman it is offered into Brahman." The point here is - yes - the eater, the eating and the eaten are all the One, but when you regard yourself as a eater, then you are already in duality - what you intend to eat cannot then be clubbed into a homogeneous set. One has to exercise choice in this regard. Finally I understand our innate discomfort at "standing out" - its always a bit awkard to declare your choice in the midst of people who dont understand. This is almost as true for alcohol as well - most people in the West would consider not consuming alcohol as being an oddity as well ("not even wine?" is a common question) This of course should not be just cause for us to indulge in alcohol. Standing up for what you believe to be right and drawing a line for what you think is acceptable for you is a must for us as seekers, and I think there are plently of people who will appreciate you for it as well. If one wishes to not inconvenience one's host, one can always find something to eat which is vegetarian, or better eat and then go! Moreover this also forces you to an extent to develop satsangati - a friend circle consisting of people who share your beliefs and value-structures.