Proper diet is fundamental for sustaining good health and mental development. Yoga categorises three types of foods according to their qualities.
The Yogic Diet
Written by Dharmpuri
Proper diet is fundamental for sustaining good health and mental development. What we eat has far reaching effects well beyond our own bodies. The Science of Yoga has given us the understanding of the effects of food on our bodies, our mind, and our environment. It has shown us how food not only affects our health but how we feel and think. Great Yogis through out the ages have taught us the benefits of the yogic diet. This article explains some of the reasons Yogis are vegetarian.
“We are not living for eating we are eating for living”
Excerpt from "Yoga in Daily Life - the System"
by Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda
Different types of food
Yoga categorises three types of foods according to their qualities. These qualities correspond to the three Gunas - Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic. Sattvic food is found in a lacto-vegetarian , whole food diet which includes grains, vegetables, pulses, fruit, nuts, seeds, milk and milk products. Vegetarian food detoxifies, cleans and purifies the body and increases our resistance to illness.
All beings are God's children
Apart from the health aspect, the main reason lies in the fact that all living beings are God's children - this includes animals. God is the creator of us all. God's light dwells in animals as well as in humans.
Vishwa Prani Meri Atma Hai
All living beings are my Self
All beings want to be happy
All beings want to be happy and avoid suffering. Animals experience fear and pain just as humans experience fear and pain. Animals also fear death, just as humans fear death. Yoga rejects the killing and eating of animals, for there is the inherent awareness that all livings beings are united in the one consciousness.
There is a proverb that says, “You are what you eat”. Two factors, society and nutrition, principally determine the type of qualities that a human develops. An improper diet not only causes us physical illness, but also confuses the mind. It destroys the Pranic energy and produces aggression, depression and fear. We cling to life with every fibre of our being and consider freedom and happiness the ultimate goal of existence. Every animal and every living being also wants to be free and happy.
Prana in Food
All creatures, such as birds, dogs, cats, horses and cows, intuitively feel the impending danger of a natural disaster. In the same way, animals are instinctively aware of their own death in advance. In the days before cattle are brought to the slaughterhouse, they are fearful and restless. The fear of death floods their entire body and their endocrine glands secrete vast quantities of “fight and flight” hormones. These hormones lodge in the tissues of the animal. We cannot see these subtle substances stored in the flesh of a dead body, but inevitably we ingest the animal’s fear of death whenever we consume its flesh.
In addition to this, we also take in the animal’s Prana – that is, the animal’s qualities and the nature of its consciousness. This greatly impedes our spiritual development. The aggression and fear of the animal’s consciousness deeply penetrates our subconscious mind and rises again into consciousness at the hour of our own death. Also, in meditation and in prayer this fear arises whenever we try to withdraw deeply into ourselves. It is due to this unaccountable fear that many people have an aversion or fear of meditation and religion.
However, at some time we must go through this unconscious fear. Either we purify ourselves consciously through meditation, prayer and good deeds, or we go through the fear again at the hour of death. But at that time we can do nothing about it. Our destiny is fulfilled according to the law of Karma. This can be compared to the predicament a mountain climber faces when his rope breaks. At this moment his own will has no power, no influence on the consequence. He falls whether he wants to or not.
Our Qualities Make Us Human
In contrast to animals, we humans have free will to choose our path through Buddhi (intellect) and Viveka (discrimination). This is why we should give proper attention to correct eating, and keep good company. These influence our mood and the nature of our inner qualities far more than we are able to imagine. How we think and act are in direct relation to the quality of the food we eat and the company we keep. This also impacts our Karma.
We love and spoil our domestic pets such as cats, dogs, guinea pigs, hamsters etc. But at the same time we eat roast chicken, fillets of fish, beef and pork cutlets. Many people don’t even consider the fact that these living beings are tortured and sacrificed simply to satisfy the pleasure of their palate. A God-Realised person says, “When you are not able to give life, you also have no right to take it away”.
Meat is dead food. Eating something dead also produces death within. Vegetarian food however, provides us with vitality, health and spiritual development. That is why from the viewpoint of health, as well as spiritually and ethically, consuming meat is the worst possible way of eating. Anyone can understand this just by taking the time to think a little more deeply and relate to the feelings of other living beings.
As humans our Dharma is to help, to protect and to support, not to exploit and destroy. The highest principle for a human is summarized in just one sentence:
AHIMSA PARAMO DHARMA
Non-violence is the Supreme duty.
There is no greater sin than to kill or injure. If we have no sympathy for the pain that an animal suffers when it is slaughtered, or close our eyes to its suffering, then it is no wonder that we as humans must suffer terrible wars, environmental destruction, many diseases and natural disasters.
- Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda
In many articles about how to reduce global warming our diet is never mentioned. It seems taboo. Nobody likes to be told what they can and cannot eat but also nobody likes to be made thirsty by drought or homeless by floods, tornadoes or fire, and nobody wants to die either. The World Health Organisation says deaths from global warming will double in just 25 years -- to 300,000 people a year.
The United Nations report “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, details the impact a non-vegetarian diet has on the environment and on global warming.
Some points from the report are:
- The livestock sector is responsible for 18% of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. This is more than all forms of transport put together.
- Livestock production accounts for 70% of all agricultural land and 30% of the land surface of the planet.
- 70% of previous forested land in the Amazon is occupied by pastures
- The Livestock sector emits 37% of all anthropogenic (caused by humans) methane which has 23 times the global warming potential of CO2, most of that from cow burbs. It emits 65% of anthropogenic nitrous oxide which has 296 times the global warming potential of CO2, the great majority from manure. Livestock are also responsible for almost two-thirds (64%) of anthropogenic ammonia emissions, which contribute significantly to acid rain and acidification of ecosystems.
- The livestock sector accounts for over 8% of global human water use
- is probably the largest sectoral source of water pollution, contributing to eutrophication(no oxygen in the water), “dead” zones in coastal areas, degradation of coral reefs, human health problems, emergence of antibiotic resistance and many others.
- The report concludes that, unless drastic changes are made, the massive damage done by livestock will more than double by 2050, as demand for meat increases.
From a Yogic point of view it is not the cows causing the problem but what is behind it. Mala - impurities in our thinking.
"Mental pollution is the most dangerous pollution. All that happens in the world, all environmental pollution, and all the wars are caused by mental pollution."
- Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda
We think “I am a meat eater” but the truth is that this is just an idea sold to us. When our thoughts are not in harmony with nature they are unnatural thoughts.
It's in Your Hands
"Love them, feed them, don't eat them"
- Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda
Everything we have - our bodies, our homes, our cars, our money, our food, and our families, all come from Planet Earth. She is our Mother and She has given us everything. She is also the mother to all creatures that live on her. This makes all creatures our sisters and brothers.
The whole world is but one family
Do the Math
Meat is expensive to produce, both economically and agriculturally. Meat-animals are fed perfectly good plant food which could have been fed directly to people. For instance, it takes 17 kilos of corn, beans, grain, etc, to produce 1 kilo of beef in feedlot cattle. That's like investing $17 and getting $1 back at maturity - Good if you want to go bankrupt!
About 70% of crops grown in the US are fed to animals and not to humans.
Meanwhile, a child dies of starvation somewhere in the world every two seconds.
It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of hamburger. This could be used to grow more than 50 pounds of fruits and vegetables. Half of all water consumed in the US is used to grow feed and provide drinking water for cattle and other livestock.
For the more metric - To produce 1 kg of beef uses 100 times more water than to produce 1 kg of wheat and 50 times more water than to produce 1 kg of rice.
Quantities of water needed to produce one kg of crop
Litres water per kg of crop
One person following a meat free diet also saves over 4000m2 of trees per year*UN Environment Program
"Earth provides enough to satisfy everyone's need, but not everyone's greed"
- Mahatma Gandhi
From the time of Christ and for 1000 years after the human population was around 300 million people (0.3 billion). In the 1950's the human population was around 2.5 billion people. In 2006 it was 6.5 billion. That's a 260% rise in only 50 years. As it becomes more obvious to scientists that human activity is affecting our climate then what we do and how we eat is going to have an increased affect as the human population grows. We have a greater responsibility than our grandparents had. It is time to face our responsibilities as citizens of Planet Earth.
In the 1980’s if you asked a smoker not to smoke in your presence the most common outcome would be a tirade on how they have the right to smoke. Now we know how second hand smoke is detrimental to those who breathe it in and our society has come to accept that the smoker has no right to inflict the detrimental affects of smoking on others. Now in the following decades we are coming to realise the detrimental affects of a non-vegetarian diet, not just on those who partake in this type of diet but on others also. The biggest taboo will need to be broken – a painful thing to do because we don’t like to go near taboo’s.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
- Matthew 7:12
In 2006 a staggering 50 billion animals were killed in slaughter houses around the world. That's over 8 times the Earths human population. Yogis know that Karma is not just some philosophical idea but is a Universal Law. This law has been expressed in various ways through out time:
- What you give you shall receive
- Everything you do comes back to you
- For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction
- He who lives by the sword dies by the sword
A lamb is a baby
There is an inescapable consequence to pay for the killing of another living being just as there is for protecting life, doing good, or helping another. One consequence is welcomed and one is feared and whichever one comes has to be faced.
“Every living being, human or animal, that is violently killed before it has lived its predestined time, may possibly have to take a long detour through the astral plane before it once more attains embodiment in a form that it is able to fulfil its destiny. Therefore those persons who cause the death of living beings, or destroy their own life (as in suicide) invite a very difficult Karma.” – Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda
What is Natural Food for Humans?
Here by “natural food for humans” it is meant food that promotes a healthy life. To make the distinction between a “natural diet” as opposed to what we can or just like to eat we can make some observations.
Carnivores have sharp pointed teeth, do not have digestive enzymes in their saliva, and have short digestive tracts (3-6 times the length of the body) to eliminate meat before it putrefies.
Omnivores have mainly sharp and pointed teeth, do not have digestive enzymes in their saliva and also have short digestives tracts (4-6 times the length of the body).
Herbivores have broad flattened teeth, secrete digestive enzyme in the saliva and have long digestive systems (10-12 times the length of the body).
Humans have broad flattened teeth, secrete digestive enzyme in the saliva and have long digestive systems (10-11 times the length of the body).
For a more detailed comparison please check out The Comparative Anatomy of Eating
Imagine yourself out in the bush on a long walk. You haven’t eaten anything for days and you can feel hunger burning in your stomach. You see your cow, Daisy, standing under a heavily laden apple tree. You are so hungry it is unbearable. What would you do?
Pick an apple off the tree and eat it or sink your teeth into Daisy’s throat.
If you are eating an apple you are a normal human being - even the staunchest meat eater would agree that the sight of a human biting another living creature is not normal.
We will take our children strawberry picking but we never visit an abattoir.
We put abattoirs away from our towns and if the wind brings the smell from there to our nose we find it very unpleasant to the point of stomach churning. Human instinct is vegetarian. Read more here Are Humans Omnivores?
When buying life insurance the insurance company assesses the risk to them that your lifestyle poses. If you smoke the risk of you dying is higher so your premium is also higher. Now a life insurance company in the UK is offering lower premiums to vegetarians. This is because vegetarians live longer with less disease than non-vegetarians. The vegetarian diet is the natural diet for humans.
“There is nothing that will benefit human kind more than the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”
- Albert Einstein
Care where it comes from too!
Excerpt from "Yoga in Daily Life - the System"
by Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda
Sages and Yogis not only pay attention to what they eat, but also to where the food comes from. Was it taken away from others or in some way wrongfully acquired? Such circumstances also produce negative vibrations in those who that eat the food and can create inner disturbances.
Guru Nanak once came to a village, where he was warmly welcomed by a businessman and a farmer, both of whom invited him to share a meal. The businessman produced a richly covered tray full of exquisite delicacies. The farmer however, offered a simple meal with bread, onion and olives. Guru Nanak took the plate which the farmer offered and ate the bread.
The businessman was deeply hurt and asked why his food was rejected. Guru Nanak said, "Contained in this food is blood, however, in the food of the farmer is milk. And as you know, I don’t eat blood". The businessman was filled with indignation and assured Guru Nanak that the food he brought was pure, vegetarian food and that his family also lived strictly by this principle. Then with one hand Guru Nanak took a piece of bread from the plate of the farmer and a piece from the plate of the businessman with the other hand. He squeezed both pieces of bread firmly. Blood dripped from the bread of the businessman, while milk flowed from the bread of the farmer. Guru Nanak turned to the businessman and said, "You have acquired your wealth through deceit and exploitation, while he has earned his money through honest, hard work".
Between the cook and the food is a direct interaction. Therefore when cooking, we should cook with love and prepare the food with positive thoughts.
“To be vegetarian means to lead a noble way of life” - Mahatma Gandhi
We have seen how in Yoga food is divided into three categories, Rajas, Tamas and Sattva and how Yogis choose to only eat a Sattvic diet.
In Yoga it is recognised that food not only affects our body but also our mind, way of thinking and feelings. Yogis understand the energetics of the food they eat.
Yogis do not only consider the qualities of the food they eat but see all life in oneness with themselves.
Yogis follow a natural way of life in harmony with nature. They understand that a vegetarian diet is the natural diet for humans.
They care about how their food has been acquired and make choices through understanding the law of cause and effect. This is the path to Happiness.
Yogis understand the intellectual reasons for being vegetarian but really what lies behind and guides their actions is Love.
What we choose to eat can have the biggest effect on our life. Yoga helps us choose wisely for a healthy, happy, and successful life.
It's so simple! It's Healthier. It's Humane. It's Economical. It's Environmentally Friendly. It's common sense!
"True joy can be found in the service of all creatures and in this is the wisdom and meaning of life."
- Sri Deep Narayan Mahaprabhuji