Effect of Food on Spiritual Growth
Question: Swamiji, does the food we eat have any affect on our spiritual growth?
Answer: The food we eat seems to affect us not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. After overeating, for example, we not only add to our waistlines, but we also feel dull or listless. To give a personal example, I grew up in a family where eating meat and drinking alcohol were acceptable. As a young man, when I began to practice yoga and meditation, I soon noticed how much those foods disturbed my practice. They made my body feel numb and made it difficult to concentrate during mediation. I soon stopped consuming those items.
In chapter 17 of the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna categorizes foods into three groups; sattvika, rajasa, and tamasa. Foods that are satvika are those that promote health, longevity, intelligence, and happiness. Foods that are rajasa are those that are too bitter, sour, salty, pungent, dry, or hot. Such foods are said to cause suffering and illness. Finally, tamasa foods are described as improperly cooked, tasteless, putrid, stale, or impure — unfit for offering in rituals or for meals.
Sri Krishna makes no mention of either eating meat or drinking alcohol. This probably suggests that he didn’t even consider them suitable for human consumption. Alcohol, of course, is a poison — in sufficient quantities, it can be fatal. Generally, drinking small amounts of poison would not be considered healthy.
The problem with eating meat is based on the Hindu value for ahimsa, non-injury. Dharma requires us to live in a manner that causes the least harm to all living things. Since we can live without killing animals for our food, it is preferable to do so. Of course, the principle of ahimsaapplies to all areas of life, not just diet. A vegetarian who hurts people with nasty words or rough behavior is only practicing ahimsa for one hour a day — a half hour at lunch, and a half-hour at dinner. Ahimsa is meant to be a full-time practice.