“But also the food preferred by all is of three kinds, as are their sacrifices, austerities, and charity. Hear now the distinction between them” (17:7)
It is interesting that these three things are major indicators of the dominant guna of an individual. Now here are Krishna’s commentary on them:
“Promoting life, sattwa [or: light], strength, health, happiness, and satisfaction, which are flavorful, smooth [or: oleogenous], firm, and hearty: such foods are dear to the sattwic” (17:8). Since we are seeking to become increasingly sattwic, we should look at each point of this verse so we can improve our diet and increase our sattwa, remembering that food becomes mind according to the Chandogya Upanishad. “Mind consists of food. That which is the subtle part of milk moves upward when the milk is churned and becomes butter. In the same manner, the subtle part of the food that is eaten moves upward and becomes mind. Thus, mind consists of food” (Chandogya Upanishad 6.5.4, 6.6.1, 2, 5).
Ayus–food that actually increases the span of life. In other words, truly healthy food that protects the body and fosters it. The problem is that everybody has their own idea about what kind of food is healthy. I urge you to obtain and read these books: Diet For a New America by John Robbins, What’s Wrong With Eating Meat? by Vistara Parham, the books of Dr. Neal Barnard, particularly Food for Life: How the New Four Food Groups Can Save Your Life, and The RAVE Diet and Lifestyle by Mike Anderson, whose latest book Healing Cancer From Inside Out is a must read, as is Your Body’s Many Cries for Water by Dr. F. Batmanghelidj, and his other amazing books. Most people are slowly killing themselves with wrong diet. If they do not shorten their life, they make sure that they are sick for years at the end of their life. Ayus also means what increases life force.
Sattwa–food that increases the quality of sattwa, which also implies food that promotes virtue–both in the sense of strength and in the sense of goodness. It is food that lightens and promotes health of body and mind, food that is actually spiritual in its effect. This is purely vegetarian food, free of both animal and chemical elements. It is fresh raw food which has all its natural enzymes intact, and moderately cooked food, as well.
Bala–food that imparts strength to the body and mind.
Arogya–food that strengthens the immune system so the body can resist or rid itself of disease.
Sukha–food which is easy for the body to digest and which produces ease and comfort in the body.
Priti–food that truly satisfies the body nutritionally, and therefore the mind. It need not be eaten like medicine. In fact, priti is that which gives actual enjoyment in the eating.
Rasyas–food which has abundant good flavor, that has plenty of taste.
Snigdhas–food which contains sufficient oil, which is smooth and pleasant to eat.
Sthiras–food which is substantial.
Hridyas–food which is hearty–satisfying and pleasant-feeling in the stomach.
This is a valuable checklist to help us eat truly sattwic food.
“Pungent, sour, salty, excessively hot, harsh, astringent, and scorching: such are the foods desired by the rajasic, causing pain, misery, and sickness” (17:9).
Kata–food that is extremely acrid, pungent, or sharp–that is virtually caustic to the mouth.
Amla–food that is very acidic, sour, or vinegary.
Lavana–food that is very salty or briny (containing pickle-type fluid). This is hard on the kidneys and raises the blood pressure.
Atyushna–food that is excessively hot. The problem here is deciding what is excessive, for the more people eat hot food the more tolerance they develop until what will be painfully, burning hot to others will be mild to their taste. I knew a man who would sit and eat jalapeño peppers whole like a snack. When I asked if they were hot, he said No. So I bit into one. Volcano!
Tikshna–food that is harsh, fiery, and acid–especially in the stomach.
Raksha–food that is astringent, and also rough and dry, the kind of things that cut the roof of your mouth or even your esophagus as it goes down.
Vidahinas–food that is burning and scorching.
This kind of food is productive of:
Duhkha–pain and discomfort or stress.
Shoka–misery: that regret so many feel and which makes anti-acid manufacturers rich, and which contributes to ulcers.
Amaya–sickness in the sense of malfunction and disease produced by the harm it does to the body.
Next to its harmful effects, the more unfortunate aspect of this kind of food is its addicting nature. For example, people will eat hot food that makes them cry–and love every painful moment of it. This is because hot food contains elements that affect the brain–as does the mere experience of hot food. So rajasic food is the most difficult kind to give up.
“Stale, tasteless, putrid, rotten, and left-over, the leavings of others, as well as the impure, is the food which is dear to the tamasic” (17:10).
Yatayamam–food that is leftover, stale, and even spoiled. A lot of people eat this kind of food just from laziness or lack of initiative–both traits of tamas. Most restaurant food is unfit for human consumption, what to say about the “deli” food from big grocery stores. No one knows how old that is. Fast food chains pack their food–especially meat–in bags of formaldehyde and other horrors. Some people will cook a large amount of food and then eat it for a week or more. I have known people that would scrape off the mold and eat away. Much canned food is another offense to humanity. (Now that we can refrigerate and even freeze food, the eating of leftovers is not always detrimental.) The willingness to eat stale food–and sometimes the inability to tell it is stale–is more psychological than physical, and we must not let misapplied thrift get us into the habit of eating this devitalized food.
Gatarasam–food that is tasteless, devoid of flavor. This applies to a lot of oriental food, and used to be the main trait of English cooking. And it really applies to a lot of fake “sattwic” food cooked by those that think they are spiritual or even yogis. Notice how flavorless and insubstantial it is, and what a disgusting color and texture. And on top of it all they give people a little dab, commenting: “This is really pretty rich [or heavy] and you mustn’t eat too much.” Some chance! The last time I had to eat in the home of dedicated spiritual (in other words grim and rote) people the amount served for eight people would only have sufficed for three normal human beings. Their tasteless and insufficient food reflected their philosophy and their minds. Do not buy into it.
Puti–food that is putrid, stinking, and fetid. How many times have you seen restaurant signs or ads boasting that they serve “aged steaks”? It is the custom of carnivorous “gourmets” to “hang birds” and let them decay a bit before cooking them. (I read of one restaurant that would “hang” grouse until they bred maggots, which they would wash off before cooking. One evening a group of customers called for the chef and rhapsodized over the delicious “stuffing” that had been in the grouse. At first the chef was bewildered, and then realized that the maggots had not been removed, but had been baked in the grouse! This is a clear example of how tamasic food perverts the palate.) Meat itself is rotting flesh. And what of the moldy and “stinky” cheese so beloved to many? Think of the awful smell fish and seafood emit when being cooked, what to say of the stench in oriental markets that stock them dried? Delight in such things is distinctly abnormal. Do I need to mention such ghastly things as “hundred year old” eggs and suchlike?
Uchchistam–food that has been eaten on by another person. This is a favorite of many. They grab off the plates of others, plop things from their plates on others’ plates, say: “Give me a taste of that” and take a bite off whatever someone has been eating–often a body part of an animal. Eating another’s spit! In modern times when we know about germs and communicable diseases, it makes no difference to them. “Give me a sip of that…tear off a hunk of that for me…let me have a little bite of yours….” This is the way they feed and at the same time pass their negative vibrations on to others. I have known chronically ill people who did this to steal the energies of healthy people and pass their disease vibrations to whomever they could.
This all applies to drink, as well, the rajasic and tamasic loving fermented, alcoholic liquids, and being addicted to every form of poisonous “soft drink.”
A missing element
At the time of Krishna refined sugar in any form was unknown, so it is not on the list. It may be disguised as rajasic in elaborate and ingenious forms of sweet things, but its destructive nature makes it tamasic, though there is a good case for arguing that it should not even be listed as food.
These principles can be applied to every aspect of our life, not just to food. Society, religion, personalities, modes of life–just about everything can be classified with the traits of the food Krishna has described. Apparently we really ARE what we eat, even metaphysically speaking.
Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: Religion and the Three Gunas
Bhagavad Gita for Awakening links:
- The Battlefield of the Mind
- On the Field of Dharma
- Taking Stock
- The Smile of Krishna
- Birth and Death–The Great Illusions
- Experiencing the Unreal
- The Unreal and the Real
- The Body and the Spirit
- Know the Atman!
- Practical Self-Knowledge
- Perspective on Birth and Death
- The Wonder of the Atman
- The Indestructible Self
- “Happy the Warrior”
- Buddhi Yoga
- Religiosity Versus Religion
- Perspective on Scriptures
- How Not To Act
- How To Act
- Right Perspective
- Wisdom About the Wise
- Wisdom About Both the Foolish and the Wise
- The Way of Peace
- Calming the Storm
- First Steps in Karma Yoga
- From the Beginning to the End
- The Real “Doers”
- Our Spiritual Marching Orders
- Freedom From Karma
- In the Grip of the Monster
- Devotee and Friend
- The Eternal Being
- The Path
- Caste and Karma
- Action–Divine and Human
- The Mystery of Action and Inaction
- The Wise in Action
- Sacrificial Offerings
- The Worship of Brahman
- Action–Renounced and Performed
- Freedom (Moksha)
- The Brahman-Knower
- The Goal of Karma Yoga
- Getting There
- The Yogi’s Retreat
- The Yogi’s Inner and Outer Life
- Union With Brahman
- The Yogi’s Future
- Success in Yoga
- The Net and Its Weaver
- Those Who Seek God
- Those Who Worship God and the Gods
- The Veil in the Mind
- The Big Picture
- The Sure Way To Realize God
- Day, Night, and the Two Paths
- The Supreme Knowledge
- Universal Being
- Maya–Its Dupes and Its Knowers
- Worshipping the One
- Going To God
- Wisdom and Knowing
- Going To The Source
- From Hearing To Seeing
- The Wisdom of Devotion
- Right Conduct
- The Field and Its Knower
- Interaction of Purusha and Prakriti
- Seeing the One Within the All
- The Three Gunas
- The Cosmic Tree
- The All-pervading Reality
- The Divine and the Demonic
- Faith and the Three Gunas
- Food and the Three Gunas
- Religion and the Three Gunas
- Tapasya and the Three Gunas
- Charity and the Three Gunas
- Sannyasa and Tyaga
- Deeper Insights On Action
- Knowledge, Action, Doer, and the Three Gunas
- The Three Gunas: Intellect and Firmness
- The Three Kinds of Happiness
- The Great Devotee
- The Final Words
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