For most of us, food is meant to be only for satisfying hunger and nourishing the body. However, as per Vedic Scriptures, what we eat and drink significantly, though subliminally, affect our subtle and astral bodies as well. For instance, the Chhandogya Upanishad says––
Aharashuddhau Sattvashuddhih Sattvashuddhau Dhruva Smratih,
Smratilambhe Sarvagranthinam Vipramokshah |
Purity of food helps in purifying the inner self. Purification of the inner self and hence of the mind and intellect, accelerates elimination of illusions and ignorance. This in turn, paves the way for salvation of the soul.
The sages of the Vedic times, the rishis, had researched and categorized the gross and subtle qualities and effects of food in three categories –– satvika, rajasika and tamasika. They had also enjoined that those desirous of having the purity, piety and sagacity of thoughts, feelings and emotions along with the vibrant health of the body, should avoid tamasika and rajasika food and take only satvika food.
In the Gita (17 | 7) the Divine Teacher says–
Aharastwapi Sarvasya, Trividho Bhavati Priyah |
Yagyastapastatha Danam, Tesham Bhedamimam Shrunu ||
What kind of food one likes is also of three types according to one’s own intrinsic nature. Similarly, yagya, tapa
and alms are also of three types (satvika, rajasika and tamasika). Let me tell you their (broad) differences.
Ayuh Satvabalarogya, Sukhapritivivardhanah |
Rasyah Snigdhah Sthira Hradya, Aharah Satwikapriyah ||
Katvamlalavanatyushna, Tikshnarukshavidahinah |
Ahara Rajasasyeshta, Dukhashokamayapradah ||
Yatayamam Gatarasam Puti, Paryushitam Cha Yat |
Uchchhishtamapi Chamedhyam, Bhojanam Tamaspriyam ||
Pure, health-giving, juicy (watery), smooth (e.g. boiled vegetables), fresh and naturally soothing eatables that enhance life, vigor, mental strength and sharpen the intellect –– are liked and used as food by the people having satvika tendency. Sour, salty, bitter, hot, spicy, fried and dry kinds of food stuffs, which are of highly stimulating taste, but are usually difficult to digest and cause burning sensation in the stomach ––are mostly liked by the people of rajasika tendency. Those having tamasika tendency generally like half-cooked, raw and pungent, stale, foul-smelling, juice-less foodstuffs; they don’t even care for the cleanliness and purity of food.
All, who care for physical, mental and spiritual health, should remember the above guidelines of the Gita. We should modify our eating habits accordingly. The Shastric saying "annau vai manah" affirms that what we eat (and drink) also contributes to the making of the tendencies of our minds. Similar views are expressed in the Scriptures dealing with spiritual sadhanas. That is why Ayurveda
lays so much emphasis on purity and subtle properties of foodstuffs and cautions us about what to eat and what not to eat.
Our mental and emotional state while eating, the feelings with which we take our food, all have subliminal but intense impact upon our subtle and astral bodies. Our rishis had therefore taught that food should be treated as sacred as the naivaidya (consecrated ‘food’ offered to a deity). They had also founded the tradition of sitting with clean body and calm mind and chanting specific mantras before having meals. These mantras include the great Gayatri Mantra
and the prayer-mantras like ––
"sahanavavatu, sahanaubhunaktu saha viryam karavavahai", or, "Brahmarpana Brahmahavirbrahmagnau Brahmana Hutam|", etc.
The intrinsic sentiment associated with each of these prayers is that what we are eating should nourish and purify us from inside-out; we should eat with the notion that the food is not being eaten for this ‘visible physical self’, rather, we are sacrificing it to the omnipresent Brahm. Such sentiments emanating from within us sanctify our food and make it like a naivaidya, every morsel of which purifies our gross as well the inner body.
As we had discussed earlier, food should be pure and austere and earned and prepared by righteous methods. If we search for pure, austere and nourishing food, which enhances the vitality and physical strength and also sharpens the intellectual potential and mental concentration, the best choice would be that of the vegetarian food recommended as pathya under Ayurveda. Cereals, pulses, fruits, vegetables and milk, prepared without destroying their natural qualities (i.e., without putting excessive spices or frying or overcooking the food) are most suitable, as explained in detail in the earlier installments of this series.
The Charak Samhita cautions ––
Na Ragannapyavijoanad, Aharanupayojayet |
Parikshya Hitamashniyad Dehohyahara Sambhavah ||
Don’t eat because of the greed of the tongue or in forgetfulness. Be aware of what you should eat and eat everything carefully, because what you eat makes your gross body. Before consuming it you should test and make sure that your food is of satvika (or satoguni) tendency, for, this will give righteous nourishment to your mental tendencies.
Referring to similar aspects (pertaining to the subtle effects of food), The Manu Samhita highlights ––
Pujitam Hyashanam Nityam, Balamurjam Cha Yachchhati |
Apujitam Tu Tad Bhuktam, Ubhayam Nashayedidam ||
Purified and ‘consecrated’ food provides energy and power whereas impure, unconsecrated food causes adverse effects. Here, by ‘consecrated’ is meant – sanctified by offering to the Deity and eaten gracefully with corresponding feelings; it is found to have healthful, ennobling effects on the gross and the subtle bodies.
The following Mantra
from the "Chhandogya Upanishad" also elucidates the hidden effects of what we eat and further illustrates the majestic insights of the rishis of vedic times:
Annamashitam Tredha Vidhiyate Tasya Yah Sthavishtho Dhatustatpurisham Bhavati Yo Madhyamastanmaosam Yo~nishthastanmanah |
Food has three parts. Whatever is eaten has three simultaneous effects accordingly. The gross part is what is not consumed by the body (by metabolism) and is excreted; the subtler part, referred as ‘rasa’ (in Ayurveda) is used in making the elements (flesh, bone, etc) of the gross body; the subtlest, invisible part contributes to nourishing the mind.
The above-mentioned subtler properties and effects of the food we eat are most sensitive to the sentiments with which the food is prepared and eaten. If we pay attention to this fact and adopt the disciplines laid down by the rishis and the ancient experts of Ayruveda, the food we eat could provide enormous benefits to our physical, mental and spiritual health.
More and more people are being attracted now-a-days towards the so-called fast-foods, eating anything preferred as ‘tasty’ food outside in the gardens or roadside stalls, restaurants, hotels, etc. They are driven by the greed of the tongue and suffer from varieties of health hazards as a consequence. It has therefore become extremely important that we understand and care for the role of food in our life from all angles. The scenario of physical and psychological health would improve, and more importantly, the rising trend of mental vices would be checked, if people realized the significance of the perceivable and subtle properties of food and adopt the disciplines of eating pure, properly cleaned and cooked, naturally healthy foods with the feeling of consecration and sanctification.
It is stated in "Brahaspati" that –– "Sarveshameva Shaucanamanna Shaucam Vishishyate"
(Meaning: Purification of food is the most important purification").
The rishi author of "Mahabharata" writes –
Mitam Bhukte Samvibhajyashritebhyo Mitamswapityamitamkarmak—atwa |
Dadatyamitreshvapiyacitah Sanstamatmavantam Prajahatyanarthah ||
All diseases and sorrows escape from the life of the one who observes self- continence, who eats only minimal necessary quantity of food after offering it to his dependents; who works hard during the day for good purposes and sleeps in night only for the duration essential for healthy relaxation of the body and who is generous to even those not friendly to him or not known to him.
This Shloka conveys that it is not only sufficient to just eat. We should be attentive to–– proper quality and quantity; and eat after sharing the food with the needy around us rather than just grabbing and gobbling; we should also practice appropriate physical exercise and adopt disciplined work habits and self-restraint over sense organs; take sufficient sleep but avoid lethargy and dullness. Being humble and kind even to those who may not be favorably disposed towards us is also important for our health (especially of the subtle body).
Our hunger often increases or is suppressed depending upon what type of food is kept before us; at times, our mood also varies accordingly after seeing the food in front of us and thus affects our health. Analogous effect is induced in the reverse direction as well –– the quality (especially the subtle impact on health) of food changes according to the state of our mind, the level of our thoughts and feelings while eating. The same food would have healthier effects if eaten in a happy mood, whereas mental excitement, disturbance or depression etc, would make it harmful or less suitable to our health. As many of us might have experienced, the food eaten in a state of anger or tension is not digested properly and causes acidity, constipation, etc.
The negative effects of mental state upon food are equally significant for our spiritual health. An Ayurvedic scripture "Bhava Prakasha" warns in this regard ––
Irshyabhayakrodha Samanviten, Lubdhena Rugdainya Nipiditena |
Vidweshayuktena Ca Sevyamanam, Annam Na Samyakparipakameti ||
If there is any sentiment of jealousy, fear, anger, greed, lust, gloom, sorrow, hatred, etc, or there is an attack of some disease while eating, then the food consumed cannot be digested (and will be hazardous to health).
In short, it is repeatedly warned that the sickness of mind or having a negative emotional state while eating is as pernicious as eating in a state of physical ailment. In fact it is more damaging, as it not only causes immediate untoward effects on physical health, but, if it occurs frequently, it eventually becomes a cause of chronic diseases and psychosomatic disorders as well.
The practice of chanting mantras before having food eliminates such risks and increases the chances of positive, healthy effects in two ways. Contemplation over the meaning of the mantra
and the associated feelings calm down and purify our mind. The vibrations of mantra
induce soothing effects on the endocrine glands and also generate sublime currents of healthy spiritual impact. The latter kinds of benefits are achieved only after the practice of physical and mental purification and chanting the mantras before eating becomes a regular habit, observed sincerely with due mental and emotional engrossment.
(To be continued)