A diet that is conducive to the practice of Yoga and spiritual progress can be rightly termed 'Yogic Diet'. Diet has intimate connection with the mind. The mind is formed out of the subtlest portion of food. Sage Uddalaka instructs his son Svetaketu as follows: "Food when consumed becomes threefold, the gross particles become excreta, the middling ones flesh and the fine ones the mind." Again you will find in the Chhandogya Upanishad: "By the purity of food one becomes purified in his nature; by the purification of his nature he verily gets memory of the Self, and by the attainment of the memory of the Self, all ties and attachments are severed."
Diet is of three kinds, viz., Sattvic diet, Rajasic diet and Tamasic diet. Milk, fruits, cereals, butter, tomatoes, cheese, spinach are Sattvic food-stuffs. They render the mind pure. Fish, eggs, meat, etc., are Rajasic food-stuffs. They excite the passionate nature of man. Beef, onions, garlic, etc., are Tamasic food-stuffs. They fill the mind with inertia and anger. Lord Krishna says to Arjuna in the Gita (XVII: 8-10): "The food which is dear to each is threefold. Hear thou the distinction of these. The foods which increase vitality, energy, vigour, health and joy and which are delicious, bland, substantial and agreeable are dear to the pure. The passionate man desires foods that are bitter, sour, saline, excessively hot, pungent, dry and burning and which produce pain, grief and disease. The food which is stale, tasteless, putrid, rotten and impure is dear to the Tamasic."
Food is of four kinds. There are liquids which are drunk; solids which are pulverised by the teeth and eaten; semi-solids which are taken in by licking; and soft articles that are swallowed without mastication. All articles of food should be thoroughly masticated in the mouth. Then only they can be readily digested, easily absorbed and assimilated in the system.
The diet should be such as can maintain physical efficiency and good health. The well-being of man depends rather on perfect nutrition than on anything else. Various sorts of intestinal diseases, increased susceptibility to infectious diseases, lack of high vitality and power of resistance, rickets, scurvy, anaemia or poverty of blood, beriberi, etc., are all due to faulty nutrition. It should be remembered that it is not so much the climate, as food which plays a vital part in producing a healthy strong man or a weakling suffering from a host of diseases. A knowledge of the science of dietetics is essential for every man if he wants to keep up physical efficiency and good health. He should be able to make out a cheap, well-balanced diet from certain articles of food. Then only all the members of his family will be hale and hearty. What is wanted is a well-balanced diet but not a rich one. A rich diet produces diseases of the liver, kidney and pancreas. A well-balanced diet helps a man to grow, and turn out much work, stabilises his body weight and keeps up the efficiency and a high standard of vigour and vitality. A man is what he eats. This is a truism indeed.
Food is required for two purposes: (1) to maintain our body-heat and (2) to produce new cells and to make up for the wear and tear of our bodies. Food-stuffs contain proteins, carbohydrates, hydrocarbons, phosphates, salt, various kinds of ashes, water, vitamins, etc. Protein substances are nitrogenous. They build the tissues of the body. They are present in abundance in dal, milk, etc. They are called 'tissue-builders.' Proteins are complex organic compounds which contain carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen and sometimes sulphur, phosphorous and iron. Starches are carbohydrates. They are present in abundance in rice. Carbohydrates are 'energy-producers' or heat-givers. Carbohydrates are substances, like starch, sugar, or gum and contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrocarbons or fats are present in ghee and vegetable oils. Fats are compounds of glycerine with fatty acids. The human machine of the body necessarily needs lubrication. Butter, cream, cheese, olive-oil, ground-oil and mustard- oil are good for lubrication.
A well-balanced diet is one in which the different principles of diet that go to keep the body and mind in perfect health and harmony exist in proper proportions. Milk is perfect food because it contains all nutritious principles in proper well-balanced proportions. The protein, fat and carbohydrate should be in right proportion. They should be of the right kind also. If a diet contains too much of one thing or too little of another, if it is faulty in one way or the other by being deficient or preponderating in one or more important constituents of food, then it is called an ill-balanced or faulty diet. This will lead to malnutrition, stunted growth, physical deficiency, etc. Many diseases take their origin from malnutrition. If the food is nutritious, wholesome and well-balanced, one has good power of endurance and physical efficiency. If he has physical efficiency he can turn out more work. Some take milk as an animal diet, while some others regard egg as vegetable diet. All these people are under a delusion. Milk is a vegetable diet, while egg is an animal diet. This is the emphatic declaration of learned sages. Yogic students should give up eggs. All the nutritive principles are found in milk, butter, cheese, fruits, almonds, tomatoes, carrots and turnips.
The important digestive juices are saliva in the mouth, gastric juice in the stomach, and pancreatic juice, bile and intestinal juice (succus entericus) in the small intestines. Saliva is alkaline. It is secreted by the salivary glands. It digests starches. Gastric juice is acidic in reaction. It contains hydrochloric acid. It is secreted by the gastric glands. It digests proteins. Pancreatic juice digests starches, proteins and fats. It contains three kinds of digestive ferments. It is manufactured by the pancreas. Bile is secreted by the liver. It digests fats. The food-stuffs are rendered into chyle by the action of these digestive juices, which is absorbed by the lacteals of the small intestines.
Gluttons and epicureans cannot dream to get success in Yoga. He who takes moderate diet, he who has regulated his diet can become a Yogi. That is the reason why Lord Krishna says to Arjuna: "Verily Yoga is not for him who eateth too much, nor who abstaineth to excess, nor who is too much addicted to sleep, nor even to wakefulness, Arjuna. Yoga killeth out all pain for him who is regulated in eating and amusement, regulated in performing actions, regulated in sleeping and waking" (Gita, VI: 16, 17). Take pleasant, wholesome and sweet food half-stomachful, fill quarter-stomach with pure water and allow the remaining quarter free for expansion of gas. This is moderate diet.
All articles that are putrid, stale, decomposed, fermented, unclean, twice-cooked, or kept overnight should be abandoned. The diet should be simple, light, bland, wholesome, easily digestible and nutritious. He who lives to eat is a sinner but he who eats to live is a saint. The latter should be adored. If there is hunger, food can be digested well. If you have no appetite do not take anything; give rest to the stomach.
A good quantity of food overworks the stomach, induces capricious appetite and renders the tongue fastidious. Then it becomes very difficult to please the tongue. Man has invented many kinds of dishes just to satisfy his palate and has made his life very complex and miserable. He calls himself a civilised and cultured man when he is really ignorant and deluded by the senses. His mind gets upset when he cannot get his usual dishes in a new place. Is this real strength? He has become an absolute slave of his tongue. This is bad. Be natural and simple in eating. Eat to live and do not live to eat. You can be really happy and can devote much time to Yogic practices.
A Yogic student, who spends his time in pure meditation only, wants very little food. One or one and a half seer of milk and some fruits will suffice. But when he comes on the platform for work he wants abundant nutritious food. A man who does immense labour (physical work) wants more food.
Meat is not at all necessary for the keeping up of health. Meat-eating is highly deleterious to health. It brings a host of ailments such as tape-worm, albuminuria and other diseases of the kidneys. After all, man wants very little on this earth. Killing of animals for food is a great sin. Instead of killing egoism and the idea of 'mine-ness' ignorant people kill innocent animals under the pretext of sacrifice to Goddess but it is really to satisfy their tongue and palates. Horrible! Most inhuman! Ahimsa Paramo Dharmah. Ahimsa is the first virtue that a spiritual aspirant should possess. We should have reverence for life. Lord Jesus says; "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." Lord Jesus and Mahavir shouted at the top of their voice: "Regard every living being as thyself and harm no one." The law of Karma is inexorable, unrelenting and immutable. The pain you inflict upon another will rebound upon you and the happiness you radiate to another will come back to you, adding to your happiness.
Dr. J. Oldfield, Senior Physician, Lady Margaret Hospital, writes: "Today there is the chemical fact in the hands of all, which none can gainsay, that the products of the vegetable kingdom contain all that is necessary for the fullest sustenance of human life. Flesh is an unnatural food, and therefore, tends to create functional disturbances. As it is taken in modern civilisation, it is infected with such terrible diseases (readily transferable to man), as cancer, consumption, fever, intestinal worms, etc., to an enormous extent. There is little need for wonder that flesh-eating is one of the most serious causes of the diseases that carry off ninety-nine out of every hundred people that are born."
Meat eating and alcoholism are closely allied. The craving for liquor dies a natural death when the meat diet is withdrawn. The question of birth-control becomes very difficult in the case of those who take meat-diet. To them mind-control is absolutely impossible. Mark how the meat-eating tiger is ferocious, and the cow and elephant, which live on vegetable matter are mild and peaceful! Meat has a direct evil influence on the compartments of the brain. The first step in the spiritual advancement is the giving up of meat-diet. The divine light will not descend if the stomach is loaded with meat-diet. In large meat-eating countries, cancer mortality is very high. Vegetarians keep up the sound health till old age. Even in the West in the hospitals, doctors are now putting patients on vegetable diet. They convalesce very quickly.
Pythagoras, the Grecian Sage, condemned meat-diet as sinful food! Just hear what he says: "Beware! O mortals, of defiling your bodies with sinful food! There are cereals, there are fruits bending the branches down by their weight, and luxurious grapes on the vines. There are sweet vegetables and herbs, which, the flame, digestive fire, can render palatable and mellow. Nor are you denied milk nor fragrance of the aroma of the thyme flower; the bountiful earth offers you an abundance of pure food and provides for meals obtainable without slaughter and bloodshed."
If you want to stop taking mutton, fish, etc., just see with your own eyes the pitiable, struggling condition at the time of killing sheep. Now mercy and sympathy will arise in your heart. Then you will determine to give up flesh-eating. If you fail in this attempt, just change your environments and live in a vegetarian hotel where you cannot get mutton and fish. Move in that society where there is only vegetarian diet. Always think of the evils of flesh-eating and the benefits of a vegetarian diet. If this also cannot give you sufficient strength to stop this habit, go to the slaughter house and butcher's shop and personally see the disgusting rotten muscles, intestines, kidneys and other nasty parts of the animal, which emit bad smell. This will induce Vairagya in you and a strong disgust and hatred towards meat-eating.
It is not only heinous but an atrocious crime to kill a cow or a goat which gives invaluable milk, butter, etc. O self-deluded ignorant cruel man! do not kill these innocent beings. Terrible torture awaits you on the day of judgment. You are morally responsible for all your acts. The law of Karma is infallible. Killing of cows tantamount to killing one's own mother. What right have you got to take away the lives of these innocent animals which give you milk to nourish your body? This is a most brutal, inhuman, heart-rending act. The slaughter of cows, goats and other animals should be immediately stopped by legislation. The animal that is taken for slaughter causes various sorts of poisons in the blood on account of its fear and anger. The vegetarian diet can fully supply the dietetic needs of the body. Therefore, such cruelties are unwarranted.
I shall speak a word now on vitamins. Vitamins are also required in the diet. They build the bodies. If they are absent or deficient, the body cannot grow and deficiency diseases such as rickets, scurvy, etc., result. They are present in very small quantities in foods. They are like a spark which ignites the fire of nutrition. There are four important kinds of vitamins: Vitamin A, Vitamin B, Vitamin C and Vitamin D. Vitamin A is present in milk. Vitamin B is present in the unpolished rice and tomato juice. Deficiency of Vitamin B causes beriberi. Those who eat polished rice get this disease. Vitamin C is found in vegetables, fruits and green leaves. This vitamin is destroyed by cooking, tinning. Sailors suffer from scurvy, because they cannot get fresh vegetables and fruits during long voyage. They generally take with them the juice of lemons. This prevents the development of scurvy. Vitamin D is present in milk, butter, eggs, cod-liver oil, etc. Absence or deficiency of vitamin D causes rickets in children.
Food is nothing but a mass of energy. Food supplies energy to the body and mind. If you can draw this energy from your pure will, if you know the Yogic technique of absorbing the energy directly from the sun or cosmic Prana, you can maintain the body with this energy and can dispense with food altogether. The Yogi gets Kayasiddhi or perfectoin of the body.
If food is completely digestible it will produce constipation. Food should contain some residue of fibres or husks which will form faecal matter. No water should be taken when digestion is going on in the stomach. It will dilute the digestive juice and impair digestion. You can take a glassful of water when you have finished your meals.
Where can Sannyasins who live on public alms get a well-balanced diet? On some days they get pungent stuffs only, on some other days sweetmeats only, and on some other days sour things only. But they draw the required energy through the power of meditation. This unique, Yogic method is unknown to the medical profession and scientists. Whenever the mind is concentrated, a divine wave bathes all the tissues with the divine elixir. All the cells are renovated and vivified.
Fasting is interdicted for practitioners of Yoga as it produces weakness. Occasional mild fast is highly beneficial. It will thoroughly overhaul the system, will give rest to the stomach and intestines, and eliminate uric acid. Yogic students can take one full meal at 11 O'clock, a cup of milk in the morning, and half seer of milk and 2 bananas or 2 oranges or 2 apples at night. The night meals should be very light. If the stomach is loaded, sleep will supervene. A diet consisting of milk and fruits alone is splendid menu for students of Yoga.
Simple, natural, non-stimulating, tissue-building, energy-producing, non-alcoholic foods and drinks keep the mind calm and pure and help one in Yogic practices and in the attainment of the goal of life.