The Mirror Of The Self ► [06] Moderation In Food

Posted: 22.01.2009

A poet stood before a lamp. He saw the burning flame; he also saw the smoke rising out of it. The poet asked himself as to why the flame should be accompanied by smoke. Why should pure and bright light be tarnished by dark fume? He went into it deeply and found a solution - one evacuates what one eats. The flame consumes darkness. So, only smoke, darkness can come out of it.

 

Food: Fourfold Development

This small metaphor, a poet's thought, manifests a great truth. Our body and our sentiments are intimately connected with food. While taking food, we should not think in terms of only appeasing hunger. Rather we should look at it from a comprehensive point of view. How deeply connected is our life with food. Even thousands of years ago, the great masters and thinkers did a lot of research on food. And they threw a good deal of light on the association of food with life. They evolved a code of conduct in this connection and formulated many rules. They highlighted the connection of food with every aspect of life - with chastity, with the control of the senses, with education and with intellectual development. What kind of food sharpens intelligence and what kind of food dulls it? Learning, intellect, intelligence, fortitude, the control of the senses - food is concerned with them all. In brief, we might say that - food is concerned with physical, mental, intellectual and emotional health. In other words, food is intimately connected with man's fourfold development - physical, mental, intellectual and emotional.

 

Moderate Eating: Balanced Diet

From the scientific point of view, food is connected with health. How many calories does a person need? What constitutes a wholesome meal? How much energy does a man require? What food should be taken in what quantity? In all these contexts, science has emphasized the importance of balanced food. The old maxim was: 'moderate eating!' 'Balanced diet' is the modern form thereof. Present-day nutritionists have also laid down the quantity of food to be taken. In Agama literature, this has been discussed at length. Moderation in food has been defined there in terms of limited diet. Supposing a whole meal prescribed for a person, consists of 32 morsels, any meal of less than 32 morsels would constitute in this case a moderate diet. Eating even one morsel less than the prescribed number comes under moderation of food as much as eating five or ten morsels less. A whole section of Bhagwati Sutra is devoted to a detailed discussion of the quantity of food to be taken in moderation.

 

Quantity Of Balanced Diet

The present-day scientists' approach is different. Take the case of fats. What should be the quantity of fats in a balanced diet? From the point of view of moderate and balanced eating, it should be 150 gm per day.  A healthy person needs no more fats than that, whether it is in the form of buttered chapati, in vegetables, milk, curd or ghee (butter oil). This rule of moderation in food was laid down to ensure good health. The Ministry of Food has prepared a schedule of balanced diet. According to the schedules published by the World Health Organisation, 50 gm of fat per day would suffice a man.  The quantity of balanced food for an individual has been worked out to be 250 gm per day.

In the Agama Sutras and other expository works, food has been discussed from the viewpoint of practising austerities and control over the senses. The body forms the chief basis of the present-day schedule of balanced food. What are the needs of the body? How much food can the different parts of the body digest? How can health be preserved? The schedule of balanced food is based on all these.

 

Health And Self-Restraint

For a religious person, it is not a question of health-preservation alone, but also and principally a question of observing self-restraint. Health-preservation is a necessary consideration, but the exercise of self-restraint is equally important. How may health be preserved? How to maintain one's vital power? How to ensure minimum expenditure of energy? How to preserve one's strength? How to utilize our energy in self-study, meditation, contemplation and reflection?  It is necessary to consider the whole matter from both angles - health and self- restraint.  A partial consideration from the viewpoint of health, ignoring self-restraint altogether, will not do.  Also, mere exercise of self-restraint, ignoring health considerations, will not serve our purpose. A mere health-schedule may suffice the common man, but not a spiritual practitioner.  For a spiritual practitioner, both health and self-restraint are equally important.

 

Technique Of Living

Preksha meditation is not only a technique of meditation; it is a whole technique of living. How to lead a wholesome life? What are the fundamental elements of living? On what basis is a man to live? What is the, fundamental basis of life? The first foundation of life is breath. Life lasts as long as respiration lasts. No breath, no life. So the basic element is breath. The second is food. A man continues living as long as he eats. If he stops eating, he will not continue for long. The fundamental needs are breathing and food. That fact is that a man does not know how to breathe properly, nor has he full knowledge about food. Thus he is not well acquainted with the two fundamental needs of life. Respiration goes on of itself and a man cannot do without food. So he goes on breathing and eating. But how to breathe and what to cat, he does not really know.

Discretion in eating is very important for life. Nutrition begins with the first moment of birth and it lasts till the end of life. Even during transition from one life to another, there are occasions for the intake of food. Nutrition means taking food from outside. It is necessary to have an understanding of how anything taken from outside affects the body. For the purity of mind one must know when to eat, what to eat, how much to eat and why?

 

Problems Created By Wrong Food

We are least attentive about the food we consume. God knows how many people take to eating eggs and meat instead of vegetarian food. This is not good for health; it is even harmful. Non-vegetarian food adversely affects our disposition. Similarly, many people start taking intoxicants. The consumption of liquor and all kinds of tobacco preparations distorts our mentality. Not only do the intoxicants distort our character, but they are also principally responsible for many physical diseases. A campaign against the consumption of tobacco is on in America, Sweden and Canada. Tobacco causes cancer. Many people get addicted to scented and specially-prepared tobacco.   It is said that such scented tobacco is chiefly responsible for causing mouth-cancer. The Government of India is considering a ban on the use of such tobacco products.  Liquor impairs the liver and the lungs.  It constitutes in itself a big cause of cancer. Liquor and tobacco together largely account for the occurrence of cancer.

 

Some Constructive Steps

With increasing interest in dietetics, people are becoming more circumspect. A climate of non-smoking is developing in countries where smoking was heavily prevalent.   In America alone, 2-3 million of people have abandoned smoking. Smoking is prohibited in Government offices. There are non-smoking rail cars in Switzerland. Smoking is not allowed in public places. Smoking is prohibited in parks and gardens. A great many restrictions have been imposed upon smoking in many countries. Each packet of cigarettes carries a statutory warning - "Smoking is injurious to health!" Through many exercises of preksha meditation, an effort is made to awaken people's consciousness so that they achieve total freedom from such addictions.

 

Sugar And Salt

Excessive use of sugar and salt is no less dangerous. The naturopaths call sugar a sweet poison. There is a poison, which causes instant death. However, sugar is a poison, which does not kill at once, but gradually. It works imperceptibly. Generally, people consume too much sugar. They gulp in large amounts of sugar in tea. In fact, they take tea primarily for gratifying their inordinate craving for sugar. For good health it is most desirable that we give up taking white sugar altogether. If this is not possible, we should at least reduce our consumption of sugar to the minimum. The minimum intake of sugar is helpful in the preservation of health.

Then there is the addiction to salt. We consume too much salt. Excessive consumption of salt is the chief cause of kidney trouble. Eating too much salt is tantamount to impairing one's kidneys. According to modern heart specialists, a person needs two grams of salt per day at the most. Now, if a man take a kachauri (a cake made of flourstuffed with bruised pulse orboiled potato, etc. fried in butter oil), how much salt enters his body? Much more than two grams. The man who lakes kachauris, fried vegetables and other fried and saltish preparations, consumes a lot more salt. People put salt even in wheat-bread; also in millet-bread. With the consumption of all that spicy stuff, how much salt goes into the body? The body needs only two grams of salt, whereas one consumes 10-20 gms of salt or even more in a day. Such excessive intake of salt can only spoil one's health.

 

Food: Some Experiments

A sadhak practising preksha meditation must acquire full knowledge about the food he takes. Also what he should not eat, or not eat excessively? When to eat and when not to eat? Also how to eat? He must be well informed about these. A sadhak should also do some exercises. Fasting is one exercise. Aayambil (taking only one meal per day consisting of only one kind of corn - wheat, millet, rice, etc.) is another. To eat less, to consume a limited number of substances - one should experiment with all these during sadhana. In preksha meditation camps people are made to perform one exercise, which consists of consuming 20 gm of raw rice with only water. In another exercise, one takes 20 gm of half-cooked rice with water. Through this exercise, many people have got rid of some formidable diseases. In a meditation camp held at Ludhiana, Dr. Goyal practised aayambil for 10 days. He was suffering from diabetes. Doctors say that diabetes patient should not eat rice. But Dr. Goyal ate raw rice for 10 days and got rid of diabetes altogether. The exercise of ayambil, or of eating less, of taking food in small quantity or fasting altogether - all these have proved to be important factors in the maintenance of not only physical health, but also for the preservation of emotional health.

 

Eating And Silence

While eating, one should practise silence. One should not speak during a meal, nor laugh, nor indulge in conversation. Because taking food is also fraught with risk. Our body functions in a peculiar way - the alimentary duct and the glottis (the wind pipe) are both covered by one flap. When we are not eating, the flap is lifted, leaving the glottis open. If we talk and laugh while eating and the glottis remains open and a particle of food enters the wind-pipe, it can result in death. Such incidents have come to pass. An army commander of India was on a visit to Japan. During the course of a meal, something happened so that the flap did not cover the wind-pipe and a particle of food entered it. The commander died instantly.

 

Eating: An Exercise Of Meditation

While eating we must exercise mindfulness. One must be fully aware of the action of eating - "I am eating!" According to Ayurveda - "While eating food, one's mind should be wholly devoted to eating, and to nothing else." If the mind is distracted by some family or business problem or some controversy, eating with mindfulness will not be possible.

Eating, too, is an exercise of meditation. Eating with mindfulness is a kind of sadhana. It means paying one's whole attention to eating, and to nothing else. No thinking, no ideas, no imagination, no planning for the future. "Do nothing! Give your whole mind to eating!" This constitutes an important exercise of one's spiritual practice.

 

The Technique Of Eating

There is a proper method of eating - one must chew well the food one eats. Man chews the food at the time of taking it; a beast chews it later while ruminating. An animal swallows the cud first and chews it later at leisure, but a man must chew his food while eating. He cannot, like a beast, put the food first into his stomach and chew it at leisure. If a man does not chew his food well while eating, this work has to be performed by the intestines. One of the two must do the grinding - the teeth or the intestines. It is the office of the teeth to do it. But if the teeth fail to do it, the intestines are obliged to do it. To eat without chewing is the surest way to impair the intestines.

 

What Is Significant Is The Final Consummation

Food constitutes an important feature of life. We must consider it from various aspects.
Food must accomplish the following five objectives:

 

    1. Increase in vigour
    2. Filling up deficiencies
    3. Evacuation of heterogeneous wastes
    4. Acquisition of lightsomeness
    5. A feeling of joy and well-being

 

Increase In Vigour: Filling Up Of Deficiencies

The first objective is to accomplish an increase in vigour. Will the food that we take increase our energy or reduce it? The chief function of eating is to effect an increase of energy. We eat so that we grow stronger.
The second objective is the filling up of deficiencies. The energy that is lost should be recouped. The intellectual power that is spent must be made up. Likewise, the energy of various limbs should be restored as and when consumed. We must ensure that the food that we take should fill up all deficiencies. Only that food is beneficial for us, which fulfils this function.

 

Evacuation Of Heterogeneous Wastes

The third objective is the evacuation of heterogeneous stuff. On the one hand, food taking is going along, on the other, excretion of faeces. The non-purgation of accumulated excrement is detrimental to our physical as well as spiritual health. An inadequate egression of excrement constitutes a serious obstacle to health. The accumulation of excrement is coincident with eating. What is old age, after all? Old age means the accumulation of waste matters. If there is no proper evacuation of waste stuffs, the arteries would grow rigid, the elasticity of the body would be adversely affected, old age would set in sooner, the face will be covered with wrinkles and one's efficiency reduced.

 

A Mistaken Belief

For the maintenance of good health, the purgation of excreta is far more important than eating. There is a regular schedule for eating. One takes breakfast in the morning. One does it every day. Then there are the lunch and the dinner, and one consumes food on these two occasions. There are some people who, in addition to regular meals, take tea or cold drinks a number of times during the day. While sitting down for a meal, one seldom says to oneself, "I haven't had clean bowels today, so I must not eat." If the bowels are not clear, one must not eat rich food, for rich and heavy food only serves to increase constipation. Some people believe that if they eat more, it helps to reduce constipation. This is an altogether mistaken belief. If whatever is eaten is properly digested, it easily passes through the intestines, but if it is not digested, it gels stuck up in the intestines, resulting in constipation. Constipation is caused by inadequate digestion.

 

The Foundation-Stone Of Naturopathy

We should therefore pay greater attention to the evacuation of waste matters. The larger intestines push out the excrement. The process of egression of the excreta takes place all over the body. Filth goes out of the body through perspiration, through the kidney, through the mouth and the nose. The more subtle excreta cling to the arteries. The accumulation of excreta leads to the cumulation of acids, of calcium. This accretion of calcium is the chief factor in the onset of old age. To ensure that there is no accumulation of calcium, no hardening of the arteries, no obstruction in blood circulation, it is needful to pay attention to the proper evacuation of all kinds of filth from the body.

An important secret of health is the avoidance of extraneous refuse. That forms the basis of naturopathy. The essence of naturopathy may be stated in a sentence: "The more the accumulation of excreta in the body, the greater the ill-health, whereas proper purgation of these excreta ensures good health." Good health means no accumulation of extraneous refuse in the body.

 

The Importance Of Fasting Therapy

In Jainism, great significance is attached to fasting. The Jains undertake fasts from a spiritual point of view. The people in the West have developed fasting as a therapy. Mahatma Gandhi has shed a good deal of light on it. Dr. Dalton, a celebrated American physician, makes use of fasting therapy in the treatment of various diseases. He has done a lot of research on dietetics and fasting. Dr. Dalton makes a patient undertake fasting for ten days, for 20-30 days, and even for 50 days. He has successfully treated many diseases through fasting-therapy. In ancient literature, too, references are found to fasting-therapy. Moi-Padima ('urine-therapy') is yet another method of treatment. In Vyavhar Bhashya, it is written: "He who properly undergoes urine-therapy - his body grows healthy and radiant like gold." There were many such therapies, which have now gone into oblivion. A lot of research is being done on these in the West.

 

Acquisition Of Lightsomeness: A Sense Of Well-being

The fourth objective is a feeling of lightness. We should determine for ourselves whether we feel light of body or heavy after a meal. If there is any heaviness, it means that something is wrong with our eating; it has not been moderate. How one feels is the best criterion. If, after having eaten, one feels exhausted, or overcome by sloth, or if one feels heaviness in the head, or is utterly listless so that one cannot concentrate on any job, one should take it for granted that one's eating is not wholesome. It is eating for the sake of eating, i.e., eating only in name. Eating is one thing, and eating only for the sake of eating quite another. Eating and eating-in-name only is not one and the same thing. Eating is a necessity, whereas eating for the sake of eating, eating-in-name only proceeds from a deluded consciousness.

The fifth objective is the sense of well-being. If after a meal, one feels cheerful, if one feels exalted by pure consciousness and feelings, it means that one's eating has been wholesome. Otherwise it is unwholesome.

Increase of vitality, recoupment of lost energy, evacuation of heterogeneous wastes, a feeling of lightness and well-being - eating which contributes to the achievement of these five objectives may be said to be moderate and beneficial.

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