Although I have been prevented by outward circumstances from observing a strictly vegetarian diet, I have long been an adherent to the cause in principle. Besides agreeing with the aims of vegetarianism for aesthetic and moral reasons, it is my view that a vegetarian manner of living by its purely physical effect on the human temperament would most beneficially influence the lot of mankind.
Bondage and liberation are states of mind. The mind, as a mass of vibrating energy, is limited by the constitution or condition of that energy. If the energy is heavy or inert, little can be done with it to produce the state of silence and clarity needed to reflect the truth of spirit. Certain elements darken the mind and make it thick or heavy, vibrating very slowly–sometimes seemingly not at all. On the other hand, some elements lighten the mind, making it fluid and subtle, vibrating at a very high level. It is this latter condition that is needed for attaining the state of liberation–or rather, the state that liberates the spirit from the illusion of bondage and suffering. It is really the mind that becomes liberated, but that liberation also affects the essentially ever-free spirit and sets it free. To attain such liberation the mind must be purified and refined, vegetarian diet being one of the best and strongest means for its purification.
Diet and consciousness
Although diet is commonly considered a matter of physical health alone, since the Hermetic principle “as above, so below” is a fundamental truth of the cosmos, diet is a crucial aspect of emotional, intellectual, and spiritual development. For diet and consciousness are interrelated, and purity of diet is an effective aid to purity and clarity of consciousness.
The purification of our subtler levels depends upon the purification of our physical entity. This makes sense when we realize that all that goes to constitute a human being is formed of energies of various types, and the only source of energy is that which is brought into the body through sunlight, air, and food. And it is material food that provides by far the greatest amount of the energy from which our multilevel complex is shaped.
When we realize that any physical object has all the levels which we do, namely, the physical, biomagnetic, sensory, intellectual and will bodies, we can understand the importance of the kind and quality of food we eat. For not only does the physical substance of the food become assimilated into our physical body, so also do the subtler energies become united to our inner levels. This is the teaching of 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).
We cannot get a marble statue from clay, nor can we get wheat bread from barley meal–the end product is still going to consist of the nature of the material started with. So it is with all our bodies, gross and subtle. They will reflect the character of the food which has gone into their formation.
The esoteric side
Nothing that exists is “solid matter.” All physical objects are formed of molecules that are formed of atoms that are formed of particles that in the ultimate analysis are vibrating energy–not “things” at all. The only difference between gold, wood, water, and living human flesh is the pattern or behavior of the energy of which they are composed. If we go through the whole range of relative existence from the bottom–where we are–right up to the top, to (but not including) the realm of pure spirit, it is all energy of varying kinds, though one in essence.
The same is true of our individual, private universe we call “me.” It is composed of successive layers of energy from very subtle to very gross. All the levels of energy that exist in creation exist in us as well. We are actually small reflections of the greater universe. Our spirit pervades our little cosmos, enlivening and directing it, just as God pervades, enlivens, and directs the universe.
All which we experience as “us” are just different strata of cosmic energy vibrating at differing rates. The physical body is the densest stratum, behind which is the stratum of biomagnetic energy that keeps the body going and links it to another field of energy which is the mind. (By “mind” is meant the percepting part of us which can see, hear, smell and so on, by means of the messages conveyed from the sense organs through the nervous system into the brain.) Beyond the mind is the intellect, the part of us that not only sees a hand but knows it is a hand–and not a foot. Beyond the intellect is an even subtler level from which our power of will arises. Human consciousness and human behavior are nothing but the states and activities of these various bodies of vibrating energy.
From whence do all these energy layers come? First we get these energy levels from our parents, but as we grow and develop we replace and increase those energies through the food we eat, although we receive some energy from light and air.
We are what we eat
It is obvious, then, that the food we eat is going to determine the quality and condition of all the levels of our being. Our food has the same levels we do, and the different energies of the food are absorbed into our corresponding levels. Therefore when we eat something, it not only affects us on all levels of our existence, it becomes those levels. In this very real sense we indeed are what we eat. In esoteric philosophy our various levels are looked upon as separate bodies through which our consciousness operates. Since those bodies are formed essentially from the food we eat, they will be conditioned by and function according to the kind of energy extracted from the food. We are very much like the child’s toy that is a series of colored rings stacked on a rod. That is, we are successive layers of subtler and subtler energy that are connected to the physical body. From these energy levels the different life processes are empowered and administered.
When the energies within us are positive, they produce harmonious states of mind and behavior. But when the energies are negative, they move in a random and chaotic manner and produce negative states of mind and, consequently, negative behavior. Moreover, these toxic energies can also manifest as physical illnesses or defects. Substances that are toxic to the body–such as meat, alcohol, nicotine, and drugs–are toxic on the inner levels as well, and their ingestion poisons all our bodies by putting into them negative energies which are going to manifest in the disrupting manner just described. On the other hand, fruits, vegetables, and grains are reservoirs of pure, basic life energies which are very light and malleable. These energies are easily assimilated into all our bodies and made to take on our specific, unique life vibrations and karmic patterns.
Diet and the mind
As stated at the very beginning, the bondage and liberation of an individual is exclusively a matter of his mind, and the process of liberation is a matter of purifying and transmuting the mind. Since the mind is formed of the subtle energies of that which we eat, we can realize that diet is one of the most crucial aspects of the spiritual aspirant’s regimen, for it will determine the quality and effectiveness of his meditation experience. Just as soft wax readily takes the impression of a stamp and retains it–in contrast to cold, hard wax–so the mind formed of light and pure food energies will respond most readily and permanently to the liberating samskaras produced by meditation. Diet, then, can be a major determinant of our success or failure in spiritual life.
What is perception? Volumes have been written on that question, but we can consider it very simply. The mind is a field of energy which, when acted upon, is modified. Those modifications are the perceptions which the pure consciousness of the spirit witnesses, and which the intellect–also an energy field–classifies and evaluates. So the mind shapes itself in response to stimuli, and it is the modifications of the mind-energy which we perceive–not the actual thing itself. Obviously, then, the mind should be extremely sensitive and capable of easily forming into the patterns of perception. For this to be so, the mind (and intellectual) energies must be light and fluid. Such energies are obtained through eating substances composed of those energies–and those substances are fruits, vegetables, and grains.
It has been scientifically proven that plants react to thoughts–they are telepathic. If we take the energies of plants into our higher levels we will then naturally develop intuition and other subtle perceptions.
Energy, consciousness, and will
To helps us better understand the mechanics of developing higher consciousness, we can consider the behavior of water. A bowl of water can easily be made to form into waves and eddies in response to movements of the bowl or of air currents. Thick syrup, on the other hand, will respond very little, and tar will not respond at all. So it is with the mind according to the type of energies which go into its composition.
For the intentional evolution of consciousness, the mind has to be very light and responsive, and that is accomplished mostly through diet. The mind must not only be sensitive to random impressions, it must also be shaped by our illumined wills. In a sense, we must sculpt our minds, forming them into instruments of higher awareness. To facilitate this, the mind must be as malleable as possible.
Just as cold clay cannot be worked with for modeling, but warm clay is easily used, in the same way the mind must be responsive to shaping by our will. Animal energies were never meant for higher consciousness, and consequently cannot be attuned to anything beyond the most mundane perceptions. The energies of fruits, vegetables, and grains, being unconditioned, can easily be made to vibrate to the highest potential.
The spiritual value of vegetarianism
The major thing to keep in mind when considering the subject of vegetarianism is its relevancy in relation to our explorations of consciousness. We need only ask: Does it facilitate my spiritual growth–the development and expansion of my consciousness? The answer is Yes.
“One acts according to one’s prakriti. Even the jnani does so. Beings follow their own prakriti; what will restraint accomplish?” (Bhagavad Gita 3:33). Many supposedly moral or spiritual problems are only matters of energy behavior. If the energies are purified and re-centered where they belong, instantly the problem vanishes. But such a purification and repositioning is not possible with energies other than those absorbed from sunlight, air, and plant life.
Practices for conscious evolution consist of two processes: (1) purification, refinement, and repolarization of energies and (2) placement of energies in higher levels. This means that our energies must be responsive, malleable and moveable.
Appollonius of Tyana, a great Master who lived in Greece shortly before the time of Jesus, was asked how he was able to work miracles. His simple answer was: “I have never eaten the flesh of animals.” Of course he did not mean that abstinence from meat alone made him a miracle-worker–otherwise all vegetarian animals and humans would work miracles naturally. What he meant was that the condition of his mind and body, resulting from being a strict vegetarian, had enabled him to successfully engage in the inner disciplines required for spiritual enlightenment–disciplines he had learned from the yogis of India.
Best of All
The best part about all this is that you can discover the truth for yourself by simply trying a vegetarian diet. Of course it must be a sensible one with those things that will nourish the body correctly. But you need only go on a vegetarian diet, eat correctly, and watch for the benefit. It will come.
Read the next chapter of How to Be a Yogi: Living the Yoga Life
- Christian Vegetarianism — The amount of material in the New Testament and in the tradition of the Christian Church is remarkable, as this article proves.
- The Four Soul Killers — The story of Adam and Eve demonstrates the intimate relationship between diet and consciousness. This booklet considers the four general categories of substances which cloud, darken, and even destroy consciousness.
Chapters in How to Be a Yogi
- Introduction: Climbing the Ladder of Consciousness
- The Implications of All This
- The Foundations of Yoga
- Spiritual Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet
- Living the Yoga Life
- The Gita Speaks To The Yogi
- It Is All in Your Hands
- Appendix: The False Guru Test
Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary
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