The Significance of Vegetarian Food In Spiritual Life
It is very fine to escape into meditation and from the height of one's so called grandeur look down on material things, but one who is not master in his own home is a slave. The Mother
Is Eating Meat Wrong?
In spiritualism we often come across this fundamental question. Why should any one eat only vegetarian food? There are arguments and counter arguments about what we should and should not eat. Some people argue that it does not matter what you eat as long as you are leading a pure life and do not have craving for a particular kind of food. They cite the lives of prophets like Jesus and the Buddha who had no like or dislike for any food. Others argue that the prophets were above human and we should not compare ourselves with them. Even though the Buddha did seem to have no particular preference for any food, the Buddhist monastic discipline clearly specifies certain food as forbidden for the monks. Hindu religious law books also specify certain types of food as forbidden for consumption unless ones life is in danger because of starvation.
Is meat eating really bad? Is it acceptable if one eats meat as long as one is not directly killing the animal? To answer these question from a spiritual perspective we have to answer other questions that are equally relevant and important. Some of these questions are:
- Whom do you want to feed within yourself?
- Do you want to feed the animal, or the human or the divine in you?
- Whom do you want to keep awake in you? Whom do you want to energize in you?
- Do you like the company of gods or do you like the company of demons?
- Which one do you want to prevail ultimately in your inner world, gods or demons?
- What do you want to achieve in your life? Material rewards or self realization?
If your aim is to feed the animal in you so that you can gain extraordinary physical strength and vigor, as was the aim of some warriors in ancient India, animal food would be perhaps the appropriate choice. If your purpose is to feed the human in you so that you may develop an extraordinary mind, perhaps you may have to choose the food that is conducive to the development of the mind and the body in a balanced way. May be certain types of meat, fruit and vegetables would be appropriate for a rational disposition. On the contrary, if you want to feed the divine in you and grow spiritually identifying yourself with the spirit rather than with the body and the mind, you would perhaps prefer only that which would be approved by your inner deity or your higher self. It is not that God Himself would have any choice, for He is beyond all desires and wants, but what God might approve for your own spiritual growth and inner purification that would lead to your final liberation.
Hindu texts remind us constantly that man is made in the mold of God. Man is a microcosm made in the manner of Brahman or Purusha or the macrocosm. If that be so, we possess in our individual microcosms all that exist in the macrocosm including all the celestial deities and divine energies as well as all the demons and negative energies. These deities and energies are active or inactive, latent or manifest, depending upon where we stand on the spiritual path individually.
Our inner cosmic order is constantly shaped by our actions and aspirations. Each and every minute either we are evolving or devolving. If we strive for spiritual awakening and do the needed practice, we awaken the deities and divine energies who would assist us to progress further on the path. On the contrary if we are driven by our egoistic nature and aim to satisfy our lower needs, we might awaken the demons and the negative energies who might assist us in achieving our worldly goals but also delude us and wean us away from the spiritual path. It is therefore karma guided by the buddhi, or the discriminating intelligence, which plays a crucial role in deciding which path one would choose in life and what would happen eventually.
Much depend upon what the deities would prefer and what cosmic order you would like to establish in your consciousness. If you want higher energies to work through you and manifest in yourself, you need to make your body and mind suitable for their activity. If you want to keep the demons away, you need to do things that would not let them establish themselves in you and become stronger. You would not feed them with the food of their preference that would eventually over power and silence the deities.
As you can see it is not just food, but the over all discipline that plays a crucial role in your spiritual evolution and what you manifest in your being. The purpose of such discipline is purification of the mind and the body. Food is a crucial aspect of this purification process. Till you become adept in harnessing other forms of energy, it is through food that you channel your energies to your inner cosmic order.
To know what food is appropriate and what is not is in a given situation is not always easy. The knowledge that we gain through the mind may not be always helpful. The mind is fed by the senses and the senses are not reliable in matters concerning the spirit that is beyond the mind and the senses. So in spiritual matters we can rely but little upon our learned and conditioned minds. To know what is appropriate we have to enter God's consciousness and know what God would actually prefer His devotees to do. This is not easy. We are not that fortunate like Neale Donald Walsch* to whom God would speak on every trivial matter and help him write books and make money. So, if we want to find a reliable answer about the nature of food that is appropriate for a spiritual aspirant, either we have to rely upon a learned master or guru for guidance or we have to look for definite clues in scriptures to distinguish the appropriate from the inappropriate.
For the purpose of this article we refer to the Bhagavadgita, which is considered to be a revelation of Lord Krishna to his closest devotee Arjuna.
The Bhagavadgita speaks of three primary qualities or gunas which are present in different proportions in the whole nature including the human beings. The permutations and combination of these gunas and the predominance of one over the other is responsible for our behavior and internal disposition. Thus when sattiv guna is predominant, a person would behave in a soft and pure manner with love and compassion. When rajo guna is predominant the same person would behave in an egoistic and self centered manner with little concern for others. When tamo guna is predominant the same person would behave in a lethargic, cruel and crude manner without showing any niceties of human behavior.
Having enumerated the qualities of the three gunas and how to distinguish them, Lord Krishna speaks of three different types of food (ch17:7-10).
- Sattvic food is juicy (rasya), oily(snigdhah), stable or wholesome (sthirah) and pleasing to the heart. It promotes longevity (aayu), purity (sattva), strength (balam), health (aarogyam), happiness (sukham) and satisfaction (priti).
- Rajasic food is bitter (katu), sour (amla), salty (lavana), very hot (ati ushna), pungent (tikshana), dry (ruksa), over cooked (vidahina), It causes pain, discomfort and diseases
- Tamasic food is not fresh (yata yamam), tepid (gata rasam), putrid (puti), left over (ucchistam) and impure (amedhyam). This food promotes tamasic nature.
As you can see, meat or non vegetarian food usually falls into the rajasic and tamasic categories. Of the three gunas sattvic nature is the best, especially if your aim in life is to transform your lower nature and become united with your inner self. While it may not be possible for all human beings to suppress completely the qualities of rajas and tamas, it is possible to strengthen sattvic nature through devotion and self discipline and eating only that food which will promote the sattvic qualities.
One may argue that it is possible to cook meat in a sattvic way without adding too much salt or spices or without letting the meat rot or burnt. Perhaps it is possible. But if ones aim in life is to attain inner purity and self realization, then why take risks and follow questionable and debatable methods?
The Bhagavadgita also tells us that in this world we should live with our minds focused on God, offering our actions to God, with a sense of detachment and without the desire for the fruit of our actions. We have to follow the same advice in matters concerning food also. Before we start eating, we have to offer God whatever food we want to eat, and eat it with detachment, without preference and desire and without worrying about the consequences. The general belief is if food is offered to your personal deity, it would be blessed by the deity and purified so that any negative energy that may exist in the food would become neutralized.
In conclusion we can say we have to choose carefully what we eat for the following reasons:
- To purify our bodies and prepare ourselves for inner awakening.
- To make the body receptive to certain higher forms of energies and vibrations that would awaken as we move into the realm of the higher consciousness.
- To establish control over our lower nature and the desires and impulses that are predominant in its field of activity.
Praise be to Lord Siva for bestowing this knowledge upon me.
Suggestions for Further Reading
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- How Karma Applies to Animals?
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