Search & Read
Food and Experience
Isaac: Thanks for your reply. It’s too bad you didn’t find a place to settle, but judging from the blog it looked like it was a great trip. If you ever happen to come through Arkansas on one of your trips you are both welcome to stay with me and my wife. There really isn’t anything to do in Arkansas except fish, camp and hike, so you might like it. They don’t call it the “natural state” for nothing. Okay, now that my commercial for Arkansas is over, let’s start this satsang. ☺
Anyway, it’s funny you refer to yourself as the food-Nazi because I have often referred to myself as the nutrition-Nazi. I sometimes tend to have fanatical food tendencies, so your suggestion to relax about it has been noted. My wife, who is a very sensible eater without any help from me, has often told me the same. I seem to be inclined to extreme swings in behavior on certain issues. When I first starting working at the health food store I had, for maybe five or six years, been living a life of total food indulgence, binge drinking, random pill-taking, endless caffeine consumption, chain smoking cigarettes and marijuana. Whew! Talk about binding vasanas! Naturally, these habits caused me a great deal of physical and mental problems. So when I found that I could alleviate these sufferings by dropping bad habits, eating better and using vitamins, minerals and herbs, I had found my new religion! Over time I became extremely anal about everything that did (and didn’t) go into my body.
After starting self-inquiry I can see now how a lot of that behavior (beyond the limits of sensibility) has been motivated by fear. A fear lack (of not getting enough nutrients) and a fear of the resulting physical infirmity. Alongside those fears is a very strong aversion vasana for suffering. So overall, self-inquiry has really helped to shed light on how I approach my health and why. Now some of the compulsions have started to loosen. It does help to really understand that I don’t depend on the body. I know James likes to quote Shankara saying, “I live without breathing.” Perhaps I should make my motto, “I live without eating.” Still, I wanted to ask about the priority of nutrition in regards to inquiry because I didn’t want to trade one compulsion for another. In other words, I didn’t want to just shift my attention from trying to get certain nutrients and avoiding certain toxins to trying to get sattva and avoiding rajas and tamas. So I suppose the key is to be aware of nutrition but to not put too much emphasis on it.
Continuing the food theme, I noticed you mentioned you both eat chicken, fish and eggs. I know Ram doesn’t necessarily advocate vegetarianism, but he doesn’t seem to speak very highly of the value of animal protein in his book. My wife and I are both vegan, although we don’t feel offended, self-righteous or judgemental if other people aren’t. It’s just a personal choice. Although I have noticed that since starting inquiry my sense of injustice and a need to “change the world” has decreased and almost disappeared. Still, I feel uncomfortable at the thought of harming animals and/or contributing the the environmental problems caused by modern animal farms (although I still feed my dogs dog food! Ha!). I often have trouble even killing insects. Am I overreacting or is this just some kind of emotional vasana playing out, just my personal nature? I just want to make sure that I’m not clinging to something unnecessarily. Also too, I want to make sure I’m not being unduly influenced by the idea of ahimsa that floats around in the yoga world and in Hinduism. Even the Dharma Shastras talk about people eating animals, yet many Hindu swamis discourage it. Is it purely matter or possibly getting too much rajas or tamas? I need some food for thought on this matter. ☺
I also have a question about purifying rajas and tamas: Even if you change your rajasic/tamasic lifestyle to a more sattvic one, can the residual rajas/tamas take a while to burn out? As I mentioned above, I used to have an extremely rajasic/tamasic lifestyle. Slowly over the past couple of years this has started to shift to more of a sattvic lifestyle. Many of my bad habits have ceased. I rarely watch movies (which was difficult for a film school graduate) and only occasionally listen to music (which was difficult for a musician) because they took up so much time and often were of rajasic/tamasic nature. I eat pretty decently compared to your average bear. I have no social commitments other than to see my father and stepmother once a week and the occasional family trip. My mornings and evenings before and after work are mostly spent listening to teachings, studying scripture, praying/meditating, etc. My job is slow-paced enough that I often can just study Vedanta on the clock. But still… I seem to have a lot of damn rajas and tamas. I don’t get it. Perhaps I have not made enough changes? Any thoughts?
Finally, your comments on self-knowledge and experience were clear and helpful. Thanks. And yes, I would be interested in contributing to your lifestyle blog. It would be interesting. I often think about Vedanta’s relation to my job because I see people being totally destroyed by rajas and tamas every day. Obesity and fatigue are always the biggest issues. Fatigue is number one. When I talk to these people I say, “Well, your adrenal glands are depleted and you need zinc, pantothenic acid, vitamin C and tyrosine to support them.” But I’m thinking, “But WHY are your adrenals depleted? Rajas! You won’t slow down. You can take these pills and they will help, but if your lifestyle remains the same then you will end up right where you started.” So it’s always a challenge to ease these ideas into my work because most people just want the quick fix of popping some pills, not advice about changing their lifestyle. They just want to know what to take to get them out of their tamas and back into their rajas. Dispassion has helped me a lot in this area. I used to get very bent out of shape when people didn’t change their ways. Also, I have started to be able to see them all as the self and appreciate them for the beautiful shiny people they are. Now when I see obese people at work I just think, “Wow, the self sure is full!”
Okay, one last question. Certain places and environments can be sattvic/rajasic/tamasic, correct? I ask this because I have noticed over the last month or so that no matter how I’m feeling before I get to work, after a while I start to feel dull, sleepy and heavy. Naturally when you work with a lot of sick people, old people set in their ways and dogmatic religious fanatics (I live in the South, mind you), you come in contact with a lot of tamas, right? Where I work is not very big. Is it that the people are making the environment tamasic? If my work environment is tamasic, should I be concerned about it? Actually, now when no one else is there I get online and play chants from the Gita to try to lighten the place up. I don’t know if that will work, but I thought it would be worth a try.
Thanks for your time.
~ Lots of love to you and James, Isaac
Sundari: Hello, Isaac. I really like your email and the way you think, your discrimination is really excellent. One needs to have walked the walk to have the depth of understanding you have. It is a tough one because when you have hauled yourself out of those vasanas, it is so difficult to avoid becoming anal. And of course it does take a long time for their effects to wear off and work themselves out of the subtle body. There is nothing I can tell you about this, as you are well aware of it and in touch with how Isaac deals with all of this.
I find the issue of the body an interesting one, mainly because I have enjoyed a healthy strong one; I have always looked after it and it definitely serves me well. My answer to those who negate the importance of taking care of it and call it vanity is this: it is tough enough to be in a body, why not have one that works well? It is a gift from Isvara, to take care of it is the same as taking care of any part of the creation and honouring it with gratitude. As you say, why suffer? I get what Ramana was saying with the statement he (apparently) made when the physicians finally attended to his cancer, about “mud on mud.” I know this is true, but still, this mud walks and talks and quite enjoys being healthy.
I am as much averse to fanaticism of any kind though, as I believe that that is even more harmful than eating badly. So although I have taken care to eat well, informing myself about nutrition and taking responsibility for my health at a young age, I am not a fanatic. There are too many people in the spiritual world who feel better than others because of their fervently-held beliefs about lifestyle and nutrition. The self does not care one way or the other; however I practice a healthy lifestyle because I enjoy the benefits of good health.
It is patently obvious that one can manage the gunas better by taking note of what works for the body, what effects are produced and adjusting lifestyle habits to suit that. It is just common sense. We have found that it is better not to have a fixed formula, because the body changes daily. It is just the five elements, only food itself. Until recently we were eating mostly raw, but found that we started getting bloated and uncomfortable, so we re-introduced more steamed and grilled food. I used to be able to eat all grains and pulses, now I have to be selective. Quinoa, which is touted as a health food, has a protein called a saponin which is used in immune tests it is so hard for the body to digest. I became very interested a few years back, when vegetarianism no longer suited me, in the palaeolithic as opposed to neolithic diet. According to that school of thought (and the science is very well backed up), vegetarianism and especially veganism are inferior forms of nutrition. It holds that all grains and pulses contain proteins similar to gluten that are mostly indigestible and the root cause of rampant inflammation in the body. As we all know, this is one of the main causes of all disease, along with hyper-acidity. The paleo diet holds that since the introduction of the agrarian age man has lived longer because he is in control of his food source, but in a much-depleted state of health. It does not take much to see that this is true. Our food chain is totally screwed up and will never come right again, it is just not possible. Health care worldwide is in a terrible state. It also claims that although the body can make protein from carbohydrates, it is extremely taxing for the body and it is an inferior source of protein.
One can drive oneself quite crazy with all the contradictory information, so I keep it simple. I try to eat organic (strange term, as this means growing? ☺) as much as possible, although this is no guarantee of good nutrition, as most organic or otherwise grown food is picked unripened off the vine, not allowing for full maturation of nutrients. I eat as much raw as possible, cook as lightly and as little as possible. I cut out most sugar and avoid all cakes, sweets, biscuits and pudding (I don’t like sweet stuff anyway); I avoid all bottled and tinned stuff, all processed and refined products, most bread and grains (I enjoy pasta and couscous). I love pulses, so I still eat them, although I pay a price for it. I avoid all sauces, butter and oil, using olive oil, coconut and sesame oil in their place. I steam or grill very lightly if I do cook anything. When we finally do find a home I will buy a dehydrator, as we can then cook food below 49 degrees Celsius, before the nutrients get destroyed. We eat raw nuts with fruit and I have added the raw superfoods like I mentioned in my last email, which we find is fantastic. I have a mixture which we call Shrek or swamp juice which I told you about, which works like a bomb. My daughter says she is going to patent it and sell it in her health food restaurant one day! I add a good multivitamin and omega-3s. I drink purified water wherever possible, avoiding the bottled waters.
We do include some animal protein. I know that there is a big thing around ahimsa, which is why I used to be a vegetarian. I did not become one because I necessarily felt that it was a superior way to good nutrition, but because I did not want to eat anything that had a heartbeat. So I understand why you feel emotional about this. Well, I admit I still feel bad about it in some ways, but really, if ones looks at it, just my breathing causes some creatures to die on account of it. I was very tortured about it at one time, but everything is no less the self, from an amoeba to a human – what if Isvara put some things here for us to eat? And also, nothing dies, as we know. Admittedly, I would not want to be on the menu myself, but actually, if I look at it, I will be eventually anyway. I like what Chinmaya had to say about vegetarianism, which was that eating an antelope is just a vegetarian once removed. I don’t judge it and I don’t feel judged for it. I feel that teachers like Dayananda go overboard about it, and it gives rise to a lot of moral high ground, which is just as harmful. You have to work out what works for you; I don’t think there is a right or wrong about it.
Ramji is very keen on starting a lifestyle blog, as these questions come up a lot. I gave up trying to convince anyone to become more informed as a lost cause many years, so I have no interest in proselytising. Most people really don’t care enough and it’s their business. For those who do though (and it is hard to avoid if one is serious about Vedanta because lifestyle has to be addressed), it would be great to have a source of info for them. I would like it to include other areas of lifestyle and habits as well, like exercise, living and working space. If you would like to start off a blog on this topic, I will collaborate with you and we can put it on my blog site, with your email address so that people can contact you. I don’t necessarily believe in promoting either vegetarianism or veganism, but unbiased information about good nutrition and exercise. I will invite other experts to contribute and it can be a good way for people to share their views and knowledge.
With regards to your question about the remaining rajas and tamas, yes it does take a while to work the residual effects out of the subtle body, especially after substance abuse. We are in touch with a few serious ex-drug addicts, and they go through a torrid time. There is not much that can be done about this other than to make the necessary adjustments to one’s lifestyle – and to observe the gunas and the effects. They will do what they will do because they do not belong to Isaac, they belong to Isvara. As you probably know, they have very predictable patterns with correspondingly predictable thoughts that arise with them. They work the same way in everyone. The trick is not to identify with them. I am a great advocate of triguna vibhava yoga because it is the best tracking device there is to find where your likes and dislikes still bind and the doer is still invested. They govern the creation of both. The guna teaching is the best way to understand and resolve all psychological issues and to release guilt around what you did to yourself or others – and blame for what was supposedly done to you or by you.
I like your comments about the way you see people now, that’s great. Being free means that you accept things as they are and don’t find fault with them. No one responds very well to a fault-finding attitude. And it is not up to us to change anything anyway. That is Isvara’s domain. Without self-knowledge everyone is run by the gunas, no one is doing anything; if they could be different they would be. See everyone as the self and you have no problems. I definitely agree with you that certain places like work or home environments produce energy that is conducive to certain gunas. How people live and work definitely contributes to the gunas. I am super-sensitive to my environment at this stage, so I still feel it. However, once the mind is dead, meaning that once it is no longer conditioned by either rajas or tamas, all likes and dislikes ameliorated and not disturbed by any particular thought, then this passes. Ramji is like that. His mind is pretty dead, so his subtle body is aware of what is going on in his environment but is unaffected by it. I am still getting there. This is what self-actualisation is all about.
When it comes to the gunas and how they play out in our world, it is a tricky one. You have obviously made a lot of changes and are very aware how they play out for Isaac; there is not much more one can do really, other than to observe them without identifying with them. We all have a predominant guna and that is just how Isvara made us. This guna always teams up with one of the other two, they work in pairs with one or the other dominating at different times. When we have gained self-knowledge and made the adjustments that can be made to our lifestyle, we have to accept what we cannot change, which is our inborn nature; it is just how it is. So what if Isaac has a few faults? Freedom is not about making the jiva perfect; that is a waste of time and energy. Love Isaac unconditionally, he is a great guy! ☺ Prarabdha karma will also work itself out, until it does not anymore. Like you say, dispassion is essential. Just keep reinforcing the choices that bring peace of mind, make that a priority. When you get caught up in the movie, don’t beat yourself up; just track what triggered Isaac’s response and why. Every time you do this, the knowledge will be there faster and you will make the choice for peace of mind quicker.
You are really doing great Isaac, well done. I had a good giggle about you being a musician giving up music – and being a film graduate giving up movies! Actually, we love watching movies, very select ones. There is one you have to see if you have not, it’s called Perfume. If you don’t have it I will try to get you a copy. It is the most amazing analogy of the self. We don’t listen to music much, as much as we love some of it, the mind still has to modify. Your knowledge of the scripture is great and you have a lifestyle conducive to inquiry, a great wife. Good for you!
Let me have some ideas of how you would like to present a blog on nutrition and lifestyle.
~ Much love, Sundari