Mind and Food

By Sri Swami Sivananda

“When the food is pure, the whole nature becomes pure; when the nature becomes pure, the memory becomes firm; and when a man is in possession of a firm memory, all the ties are severed.”

(Chhandogya Upanishad, VII-xxvi-2)

Mind Is Made Of Food

Mind is manufactured out of the food that we take. Subtlest part of food reaches upward to the heart and thence entering the arteries called the ‘Hita’, and thereby bringing into existence the aggregate of the organs of speech and being changed into the form of the mind, it increases the mind. And thus, the mind, being increased by food, is material and not eternal as held by the Vaiseshikas.

The Upanishadic philosophers believed that the mind depends upon the food for its formation. “The food that we take is transformed in three different ways: the gross or the heaviest part of it becomes the excrement; that of medium density is transformed into flesh and the finest part goes to form the mind.” (Chhandogya Upanishad, VI-v-1) “Just as in the churning of curd, its fine particles rise up and are transformed into butter, so when food is consumed, the subtlest part rises up and is transformed into mind.” (Chhandogya Upanishad, VI-vi-1 & 2). Later, even in the days of the Bhagavad-Gita, we find that the three different mental temperaments-the Sattvic, the Rajasic and the Tamasic-were supposed to be due to the three different kinds of food what we eat. (Bhagavad-Gita, XVII-8 & 10).

Quality Of Mind Depends Upon Quality Of Food

Food has a direct and intimate connection with the mind and plays a vital part in the make-up of the mind. Sattvic diet calms the mind. Rajasic diet excites the mind. Mark the difference in nature between a tiger which lives on flesh and a cow which lives on grass. Food exercises important influence on the mind. You see it clearly every day. It is very difficult to control the mind after a heavy, sumptuous, indigestible, rice meal. The mind runs, wanders and jumps like a monkey all the time. Alcohol causes tremendous excitement in the mind.

Food plays an important role in meditation. For purposes of meditation, the food must be light, Sattvic and nutritious. The body is Annamaya (made up of food). Bhairavi Chakra is in Annamaya Kosha. Bhairavi Chakra is Maya. Light Sattvic food, such as fruits, milk, etc., takes you to Vishnu Chakra and thence to Nirvikalpa state quite easily.

When the quality of the mind depends upon the quality of the food taken, it is natural to insist in the interest of the highest morality upon a kind of Sattvic regimen of diet for those aspirants who lead a contemplative life and householders who are attempting to lead a spiritual life in the world. It was because Narada had his impurity destroyed that the venerable Sanatkumara pointed out to him the way beyond darkness. The way which leads up beyond darkness, therefore, must be sought for in the purity of food, which involves in its train, the purity of mind.

Harmful Foods

Different foods produce different effects in different compartments of the brain. Spiced dishes, sour things, black gram, onions, garlic, tea, wine, fish, meat, mustard oil, etc., excite passions and emotions and should, therefore, be avoided. They should be particularly avoided by a Sadhaka. A Jijnasu (spiritual aspirant) should strictly give up meat, fish and alcoholic drinks as these make the mind coarse and produce excitement in the mind. Heavy food brings Tandri (drowsiness) and Alasya (laziness). Tea should be given up. It destroys Virya. Sugar must be taken in moderation. It is better if it is given up.

Food Items Helpful In Meditation

Milk, fruits, almonds, sugar-candy, butter, green oats, Bengal oats (Chenai) soaked in water overnight, bread, etc., are all helpful in meditation. Thed, a kind of Kandamula found in abundance in Brahmapuri, Vasishtha Guha and other parts of the Himalayas, is very Sattvic. It helps meditation. My friend and spiritual brother Swami Purushottamanandaji used to live on that for some days when he was at Vasishtha Guha, fourteen miles from the reputed Rishikesh. Sunthi-Sevana (taking powder of dried ginger) is very good for aspirants. It can be taken along with milk. It refreshes the mind and helps digestion. Yogins take it very often. Triphala water also is taken by Yogins. It removes constipation, cools the system and stops wet-dreams. Myrobalan or Haritaki (Harad of the yellow kind) can be chewed by Yogic practitioners very often. It preserves semen and checks nocturnal discharges. Potatoes boiled without salt or roasted in fire are very good.

A Note Of Caution

Evolution is better than revolution. Do not make sudden changes in anything, particularly in food. Let the change be gradual. The system should accommodate it without any hitch. Natura non facil saltum (nature never moves by leaps).

A Raja Yogin who wants to control the mind must be able to avoid the two extremes, viz., luxury and severe Tamasic Tapas. Too much fasting brings about extreme weakness. You cannot do any Sadhana. You cannot think. You cannot ratiocinate. Take any food that suits you. Do not make much fuss about it. Any food that is readily available and that agrees with your system is harmless.

When Food Can Be Dispensed With

Food is only a mass of energy. Water supplies energy to the body. Air also furnishes energy. You can live without food for very many days, but you cannot live without air even for some minutes. Oxygen is even more important. What is wanted to support the body is energy. If you can supply the energy from any other source, you can dispense with food entirely. Yogins keep up the body without food by drinking nectar. This nectar flows through a hole in the palate. It dribbles and nourishes the body. A Jnani can draw energy directly from his pure, irresistible will and support the body without food. If you know the process of drawing the energy from the cosmic energy or solar energy, you can maintain the body with this energy alone for any length of time and can dispense with food.

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