Healthy habits in Ayurveda 6
Chhandogya Upanishad says “Aharashuddhau Sattvashuddhih Sattvashuddhau Dhruva Smratih, Smratilambhe Sarvagranthinam Vipramokshah”
Purity of food helps in purifying the inner self and hence of the mind and intellect, accelerates elimination of illusions and ignorance. This paves the way for salvation of the soul. The sages of the Vedic times had understood and categorized the gross and subtle qualities and effects of food in three categories satvika, rajasika, and tamasika. They had instructed that those who are desirous of having the purity, piety and of quick perception 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 Bhagavad Gita (17 | 7) Krishna states Aharastwapi Sarvasya, Trividho Bhavati Priyah | Yagya stapastatha Danam, Tesham Bhedamimam Shrunu
There are three catagories of food according to one’s own intrinsic nature. Similarly, yagya, tapa, and alms are also of three types of satvika, rajasika and tamasika. Now hear the differences between them…..
This is confirmed in Chandogya Upanisad VI.VI.III with Apam somya piyam ananam
The essence of whatever food is eaten rises up and becomes the mind. From pure nourishment manifests a pure nature; for the mental disposition determines the quality of propitiation by rituals which is influenced by the guna one is situated in. The food of every human being is eaten according to circumstances regarding likes and dislikes which is governed by their innate nature corroborated by their particular preponderance to one of the three gunas only. There is no fourth choice or other alternative.
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, life giving, watery, fresh and natural eatables that enhance life, vigor, mental strength and sharpen the intellect are liked and eaten by the people of satvika mind. Sour, salty, bitter, hot, spicy, fried and dry kinds of foods, 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 mind. Those having tamasika mind generally like half-cooked, raw and pungent, stale, foul smelling, juiceless foods like leftovers and processed and canned foods. They don’t even care for the cleanliness and purity of food.
“Annau vai manah” meaning “What we eat, makes the emphasis of the mind.” Similar views are expressed in the texts dealing with spiritual sadhanas. Ayurveda emphasizes on purity and subtle properties of foods and cautions us about what to eat and what not to eat with discrimination and the wisdom of science behind the what and why. 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. Food should be treated as sacred as the naivaidya or consecrated “food” offered to a deity. The tradition of sitting with clean body and calm mind and chanting specific mantras before having meals comes from this.
A prayer-mantra like “Brahmarpana Brahmahavirbrahmagnau Brahmana Hutam|”, etc. comes from the Bhagavad Gita 4.24, “Viṣṇur ārādhyate panthāḥ” from the Viṣṇu Purāṇa 3.8.9. Both of these prayers essentially mean that everything material or spiritual done for the satisfaction of god is understood to be an actual yajña, and by performing such actions one gets liberation from material bondage.
The spiritual conception is that, that any number of fragments of the whole can be taken from the whole spirit, but still, the spirit whole is as it is. We have got material idea: “One minus one equal to zero.” But in the spiritual realm, one minus one equal to one. So these fragments, the fragments of the Supreme Brahman, Kṛṣṇa, Shiva, God, Allah, Christ, Yahweh, whatever name you wanna give It …… we are. So with that consciousness, we have to sacrifice. (read future post on Rna, debt)
Brahmārpaṇam brahma havir……. the thing which we are sacrificing, those things are Brahman. Brahmārpaṇaṁ brahma havir brahmāgnau…… And the fire which is on the altar, it is the energy of the Brahman. And brahmaṇā hutam….. the person who is offering the sacrifice, is also Brahman. In this way, if we offer sacrifice. Brahmaiva tena gantavyam. The person who is offering such sacrifice having this realization is sure to attain liberation. This is brahma-karma-samādhinā. What all of that means?…….. if we execute the duties of our living condition without attachment because of realization that all of this is Brahma, there is liberation.
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 but we are sacrificing it to the omnipresent Brahma. 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. In my experience, this idea that we are sacrificing to something greater than ourselves is really difficult for a Western mind to swallow. It normally triggers the Western culture “I am special” ahamkara and sets off the anti dogmatic religion alarm to protect itself within that cage.
Om Puurnnam-Adah Puurnnam-Idam Puurnnaat-Purnnam-Udacyate
Puurnnashya Puurnnam-Aadaaya Puurnnam-Eva-Avashissyate ||
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||
That is whole; this is whole;
From that whole this whole came;
From that whole, this whole removed,
What remains is whole.
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 overcooking the food) are most suitable, as explained in detail in the earlier installments of this series.
Charaka Samhita states Na Ragannapyavijoanad, Aharanupayojayet | Parikshya Hitamashniyad Dehohyahara Sambhavah
Don’t eat because of the greed of the tongue or in mindlessness. One needs to be aware what they should eat, are eating, and eat everything with conscious awareness carefully because what you eat makes your gross body if you are digesting it properly. Prior to eating, the food should be analyzed to make sure that it is of satvika nature for this will give righteous nourishment to your mental tendencies. Pertaining to the subtle effects of food…….
Manu highlights Pujitam Hyashanam Nityam, Balamurjam Cha Yachchhati | Apujitam Tu Tad Bhuktam, Ubhayam Nashayedidam
Purified and consecrated food provides energy and strength whereas impure, unconsecrated food causes the opposite. What is meant by consecrated is sanctified by offering to the Deity and eaten gracefully with corresponding feelings. It is found to have healthful effects on the gross and the subtle bodies.
Chhandogya Upanishad also illuminates the hidden knowledge of what we eat: Annamashitam Tredha Vidhiyate Tasya Yah Sthavishtho Dhatustatpurisham Bhavati Yo Madhyamastanmaosam Yo~nishthastanmanah
Food has three parts. Whatever is eaten has three simultaneous parts to it 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 dhatus of flesh, bone, etc… of the gross body. The subtlest part contributes to nourishing the mind. The subtler properties and the effects of the food we eat are most sensitive to the attitude and situation in which the food is prepared and eaten. The food we eat could provide enormous benefits to our physical, mental and spiritual health if we paid attention to this. It is a thought to note about food that is prepared in a restaurant by a cook. Who knows what the attitude of the cook is. Most likely he is stressed about the cooking of all the plates and trying to get them out to the servers properly and on time. I remember when i worked in a restaurant as a kid and all of the yelling and stress that went on behind the scenes. The other thing to note is that from my experience of people that only eat out…. they are driven by the tongue and suffer from varieties of health hazards as a consequence. Eating at a restaurant in America is hardly healthy and has very little chance of being healthy. This is the sacrifice that is made though in a Western culture where work is more valued than ones own being. It has become very important that we understand the role of food in our life from all angles.
The scenario of physical and psychological health would improve and the rising trend of mental and physical vices would be checked if people realized the perceivable and subtle properties of food and adopt a discipline of eating fresh, properly cleaned and cooked, naturally healthy foods with the gratitude for all the work of nature to grow the food and the work of all the people to get that food to them.
Brahaspati states “Sarveshameva Shaucanamanna Shaucam Vishishyate”
Purification of food is the most important purification.
In the Mahabharata, Mitam Bhukte Samvibhajyashritebhyo Mitamswapityamitamkarmakatwa | Dadatyamitreshvapiyacitah Sanstamatmavantam Prajahatyanarthah ||
All diseases and sorrows escape from the life of the one who; observes self continence, eats only minimal necessary quantity of food after offering it to his dependents; works hard during the day for good purposes, sleeps in night only for the duration essential for healthy rejuvenation of the body, and one 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 others around us rather than just grabbing and throwing food down our throats. We should practice appropriate (capacity) physical exercise, adopt disciplined work habits, and develop self restraint over sense organs. Take sufficient sleep but avoid lethargy and dullness. Be humble and kind even to those who may not be friendly 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. Our mood also varies accordingly on seeing the food in front of us and this too 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. Bhava Prakasha warns us of this
Irshyabhayakrodha Samanviten, Lubdhena Rugdainya Nipiditena | Vidweshayuktena Ca Sevyamanam, Annam Na Samyakparipakameti
If there is any emotion 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 harmful to health. It is repeatedly warned that the disease of mind or having a negative emotional state while eating is as damaging as eating in a state of physical ailment. It not only causes immediate harmful effects on physical health but it eventually becomes a cause of chronic diseases and psychosomatic disorders. The practice of chanting mantras before having food eliminates such risks and increases the chances of positive, healthy effects. The mantra calms down and purifies our mind. (Interesting side note here, matra is a word that means that which protects the mind. Man + tram. if you do a search on google, how many websites have all sorts of meaning of the word mantra, yet none are correct? So is the depth of real knowledge. Much bs is out there completely made up and the real knowledge is not easy to find.) The vibrations of mantra are connected to the chakras and the planets as well as the deities. There are many details to mantras as to what time to chant them as well as pronunciation is critical. They generate sublime currents of spiritual energy. Effects and 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 focus.