In the Suranga Sutra the Buddha states, "After my parinirvana (enlightenment) in the final kalpa (time era), different kinds of ghosts will be encountered everywhere, deceiving people and teaching them that they can eat meat and still attain enlightenment… How can a bhikshu (seeker) who hopes to become a deliverer of others, himself be living on the flesh of other sentient beings?”
When Ramana Maharshi, the most famous Self-realized sage of modern India, was asked what the most important aid to meditation was, he replied a pure vegetarian diet. He quoted the ancient Chandogya Upanishad D II 26.2 that says “when food is pure, the mind is pure, when the mind is pure, concentration is steady, when concentration is achieved one can loosen all the knots of the heart that bind us.” Vegetarianism is one of the main pillars of the purifying the mind.
In the past year some of the practitioners in the American Yoga scene have questioned this perennial wisdom from the Vedas and from modern enlightened beings such as Ramana Maharshi. This article explains the meaning of this ancient wisdom, which is also known as Sanatana Dharma or natural way to enlightenment or Yoga Dharma. In this article we explore the continual importance of this dharma in our modern times. It may be a challenge to some and blessing to others.
Yoga and Self-purification
Yoga means ‘to link together’ and is most commonly defined as ‘union with the Divine’. It is not simply a set of exercises, physical or mental, but a complete path for developing higher awareness. Yoga requires controlling and silencing the mind, not simply developing bodily flexibility.
There are many traditional definitions of Yoga or Union. In the Patanajali Yoga Sutras, the classical compilation of the ancient Yoga school, Yoga is defined as ‘Yoga chitta vritti nirodha’. The practice of Yoga helps us reduce our disturbed thoughts and control our mental activities even at a subconscious level of sleep and dream.
In this context, Yoga has two stages. The first is purification of body, prana and mind in order to create a clear or sattvic mind. Stage one is the development of sattva. Stage two is the transcendence of sattva to realization of the Self. However, only the pure or sattvic mind is considered capable of realizing the higher Self (Atman or Purusha) in a lasting manner. In the Yoga teachings, it is considered rare if not impossible to reach the second stage of Yoga without having mastered the first stage. Few of us possess the sattvic or pure mind capable of holding any lasting Self-realization.
The life that produces an inward quiet sattvic state of mind is well defined in yogic texts as a life based on meditation, chanting and pranayama, service, devotion and austerity, the practice of non-violence and, on a physical level by asana practice and a sattvic (vegetarian) diet. These are regarded as the preliminary practices for the creation and sustaining ourselves in sattva and which is the foundation necessary for Self-realization.
The Importance of Vegetarian Diet
Hathayoga Pradipika (section 58), the main classical Hatha Yoga textbook, recommends avoiding “ alcohol, fish, meat…" In the Mahabharata, which the Gita comes from, the importance of not eating meat is emphasized. The body, emotions, mind and spirit and even our hereditary expressions are significantly affected by what we eat. Sensory inputs from numerous objects disturb us in many ways consciously and unconsciously. The yogic terminology for this disturbed condition of awareness is called vyutthita chitta or the disturbed (literally ‘provoked’) mind. Through proper vegetarian diet, meditation, and other sattvic activities we can reduce this state of disturbed awareness and experience a state of undisturbed awareness or equilibrium termed as, Samahita chitta or the concentrated (collected) mind in which body, senses, prana and mind all function in harmony.
The key element to the sattvic diet is vegetarianism. Flesh food (meat, fish and poultry) increases the animal frequency in the body and it brings more animal-like tendencies into operation such as the vibrations of anger, lust, fear and murderous impulses. The energy of a flesh food diet adds to the impurities of the mind and the nervous system. It communicates the energy of destruction to the cells and brings the energy of death into our auric fields reducing the flow of higher prana into the body. The lives of the creatures we’ve eaten weigh down our astral body with their negative feelings of fear at their time of death.
Some people claim that flesh food is part of their natural diet and so should not interfere with the unfoldment of their higher nature. As Sri Yukteswar, the guru of Paramahansa Yogananda, states in his Holy Science, “Can flesh be considered the natural food of man, when both his eyes and his nose are so much against it, unless deceived by flavors of spices, salt and sugar. On the other hand, how delighted do we find the fragrance of fruits, the very sight of which often makes the mouth water.”
Flesh food creates a tamasic (dull and heavy) effect on the physical body and mind. It clogs the channels of the subtle body, the 72,000 nadis through which the Kundalini needs to move freely to do its spiritualizing work, and tends to make the mind insensitive. Even western historians such as Herodotus have suggested that not only violence and crime, but also religious intolerance is more common among meat-eating groups. Many spiritual teachings support this. The Manusmirti (5.49), an ancient law code of Hindu society, states, “Having well considered the origin of flesh foods, and the cruelty of fettering and slaying of sentient beings, a person should abstain from eating flesh.” It also states (6.60), “By not killing any living being one becomes fit for liberation.” It also states The Yajur Veda (12.32) states, “You must not use your God-given body for killing God’s creatures whether a human, animal, or whatever.”
Buddhism was originally vegetarian and, according to the Dalai Lama, Buddhism should return to vegetarianism. The Mahaparinirvana Sutra sums it up, “The eating of meat extinguishes the seed of great compassion
A key component for creating a sattvic mind is the practice of Ahimsa. In the book, Ahimsa written by Nathaniel Altman, the Buddha is quoted saying, “Him I call Brahman who is free from anger, who gladly endures reproach and even stripes and bonds inflicted upon him without cause. Him I call Brahman who slays no creatures, who does not kill, or cause to be killed, any living thing.”
A vegetarian way of life actively creates six aspects of Ahimsa: (1) compassion and non-cruelty toward animals; (2) preserving the earth and its ecology; (3) feeding the hungry; (4) preserving human life; (5) preservation of personal health; (6) and inspiring peace.
Violence to the Environmental of Meat-Eating
In this age of overpopulation, meat eating is an attack on the entire natural world and one of the main causes of environmental degradation and destruction. Livestock use approximately half of the water used in the United States. A flesh-centered diet creates need for about 4,500 gallons per day, per meat-eater, as compared to 300 gallons per day for a vegan (a diet of no flesh or dairy). A flesh-centered diet requires approximately eighteen times more energy to sustain than a vegan diet. The destruction of the rainforest for grazing land and the resultant greenhouse effect is another example of the deleterious effects of a flesh-centered diet on our ecosystem. Neither our land, water, atmosphere, or animal and human populations are safe from the resource intensive destruction that results in the meat-centered diet. We simply cannot escape the fact that raising animals for meat and dairy at this point in history has a devastating effect on our entire ecosystem.
Vegetarian Diet and Health
Yoga teaches that vegetarian diet is not only essential for the spiritual life, but is also the basis for good health. Not only do vegetarians live longer and actually have (according to at least 10 research reports) two to three times the endurance than meat-eaters, they are less subject to the health problems that meat-eaters experience. The eating of flesh foods significantly increases major chronic diseases like heart disease, hypertension, cancer, kidney disease, and osteoporosis
People who eat meat are also at a higher risk of various viral, bacterial, fungal, and parasitical infections. Toxoplasmosis is one of these There is now the possibility of Mad Cow Disease.
Flesh food being at the top of the food chain has about 15 times more pesticides and herbicides than vegetable food. Dairy products have about 5 times more pesticides and herbicides than vegetarian food. A vegetarian mother has 1% the amount of pesticides in her breast milk as a meat-eating mother.
The ill-effects of a meat centered diet is clarified by the enlightened being Swami Prakashanada Saraswati in 1987 when he said, “Every animal that is slaughtered for human consumption brings the pain of death into your body. Think about it. The animal is killed with violence. That violence causes the animal to experience very intense pain as it dies. That pain remains in the meat even after you’ve prepared and cooked it. When you eat the meat, then you eat pain. That pain becomes lodged in your body, heart, and mind. That violence and pain which you consume will also eat you also. It consumes you so that you must experience the same pain in your life also.”
The Place of Dairy Products
Traditionally, a sattvic diet in India includes dairy products. This however, depended on good quality milk from cows treated well and raised naturally. Such dairy products are very hard to get in this country (though some organic farms are making a movement in this direction and should be encouraged in their efforts). The formula is simple: good cow’s milk is pure rasa dhatu or pure plasma. Bad cows milk is pure ama or toxins! The milk itself is pasteurized and homogenized which further weakens its prana. Such milk is a degenerated food filled with fear, the pain of death and enslavement. There is very little prana in it, very little love and little true nourishment. Therefore, very little dairy in today is a sattvic food. Instead it is more a tamasic food, which reflects cruelty, pain and lack of consciousness.
The optimal sattvic diet?
The equivalent of a traditional sattvic diet today consists of organic, whole, natural fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains. A modern sattvic diet emphasizes foods grown in harmony with nature by organic farmers, on good soils, ripened naturally and prepared with an attitude of love. Such foods carry the highest prana and consciousness. A modern sattvic diet does not include junk food, excessively spicy or salty foods, fried food, white flour, white sugar, and other forms of food that unnaturally stimulate your blood sugar or your mind. It avoids meat, fish and alcohol, and often garlic, onions and eggs as well. It is careful about but not necessarily exclusive about dairy (as per the comments above). It does not include genetically engineered foods, irradiated foods, microwaved foods, foods that have been cooked more than 24 hours previously or stale foods.
We should remember that the sattvic yogic diet is a special type of spiritual vegetarian diet aimed at helping us transcend body consciousness and calm the vrittis of the mind and increase a higher type of Prana. For this reason, the yogic diet is more disciplined than a regular vegetarian diet, generally lighter, and includes fasting and the taking of live-foods (uncooked roots, leafy vegetables and fruit, which are called specifically the food of the rishis or the food of the yogis). Raw foods are rich in prana, which brings the prana force not only into the body, but also into the mind helping to purify the 72,000 nadis. Raw foods are the most powerful foods for enhancing the flow of Kundalini energy and cleansing the nadis through which the Kundalini flows on the subtle plane. A yogic sattvic diet helps us become superconductors of prana. As the prana in our body increases, these nadis naturally open, affording us deeper perceptions of truth, reality and universality
Difficulty With a Vegetarian Diet
Not surprisingly, some people, particularly thin or hypersensitive Vata types, can have a difficult time with vegetarianism.
This issue can be solved in a way that leaves no physiological excuse for not incorporating the yogic sattvic diet into ones spiritual life. The book Conscious Eating addresses it in detail, establishing the scientific and Ayurvedic principles for consciously and successfully creating a live-food, high pranic, and sattvic diet.
In summary, the yoga of food is the art of selecting food that increases the pranic force for healing, purifying, and quieting the body and mind. It is a diet that energizes the 72,000 nadis so that the spiritualizing force of the Kundalini can move more freely through them until we reach the goal of yoga, freedom from the vrittis of the mind with its resulting union with the divine. The sattvic yogic vegetarian diet is the best food discipline to aid our sattvic practices.