The Mother Divine
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By Kinkar Vitthal Ramanuja

Sri Sri Sitaram would shower all with the elixir of his gracious and compassionate speech. “Come, I will tell you the tale of that land of bliss. Come, have a seat. O so you cannot meditate? Never mind. Sing loudly the Hare Krishna mantra for half an hour. Then do meditation. Still cannot meditate? You can’t still the mind you say? Never mind. You are not to still the mind and then meditate. You will meditate and hence the mind shall become still. Your japa is not wasted because you have a flickering mind. As you progress slowly, soon you will shed tears, your body will feel gooseflesh…later you will hear unstruck sounds and see the lights. You will soon find that sadhana is an integral part of your daily life. Keep God with you as you go about your household duties, in fact in all that you do.
It is very necessary that all girls, from very childhood must receive orientation in celibacy as part of education itself. All the scriptures as well as the spiritual masters have emphatically put forth this view, and continue to do so in this age as well. In the chapter titled ‘Brahmacharya’, Sitaram has given in brief the conditions, which conduce to and oppose the effort to embrace the celibate life. However, here we summarise these under three heads: 1. Pure diet 2. Good conduct and 3. Timely sadhana. Further conditions to be met are: 4. Bathe three times a day 5. Fasting once every fifteen days especially on Ekadashi, Purnima and Amavasya as already given above. Over and above, fasting on designated days, such as Janmashtami, Shivaratri etc. are conducive to both physical and spiritual health. From the eleventh to the fifteenth days of the dark and bright fortnight in the phases of the moon, the body has heightened levels of mucus from which fasting provides relief. Then fasting provides some rest and relief to the overworked digestive system. Even those who exercise strenuously choose, once in fifteen days, to consume lemon with warm water or observe a fast for this purpose. The digestive system thus rested is able to resume work with renewed vigour. Fasting also keeps in abeyance the six adversaries of desire, lust, hatred, greed etc. Every religion prescribes a fast of some type or other. Gandhiji, the father of the nation of India has said, “A fast in body is a feast in mind”. 6. Do some exercise every day as per your liking. However, yogasanas and mudras are much more effective in promoting general well-being and celibacy in particular. 7. Keep good company, which consists of persons who have the same values and do some study of good treatises. Participation in discussions on spiritual matters, listening to the sadhu-mahatmas’ views create conducive conditions. 8. Keep yourself occupied productively always, for an idle mind is a devil’s workshop. 

Entry into the realm of spiritual endeavour may be gained, and sublime experiences may descend on the seeker, provided a set of three conditions are met: 

  1. Pure diet 
  2. Purity of conduct 
  3. Regular sadhana or practice.  

Purity of Diet : 
The Chandogya Upanishad is one of the treatises classified under the term Vedanta, which constitutes the crowning glory of the body of work relating to all that is spiritual. It states in verse 7/26 that purification of diet brings about sattvashuddhi or purification of the essence of the self. An unwavering remembrance of the Paramatma is conferred on the seeker. All the previous births are witnessed (dhruvaasmriti) and the illusions regarding oneself as limited to the present life are destroyed. The brahmagranthi, hridayagranthi and rurdagranthi, as also the minor granthis are pierced and the knots of ignorance lodged therein are rent asunder. Acharya Ramanuja has given three defects, which cause impurity of diet. These causes have already been discussed elsewhere.  
An interesting perspective on diet is given by the venerable Shankaracharya, through his commentary on the said verse of the Chandogya Upanishad. ‘Diet’ may include over and above food intake, the gross and subtle impressions assimilated from the very environment. The sense impressions too are ‘diet’. ‘Purity of diet’ thus would mean indifference to the pleasures of the senses and striving after true knowledge. The negative emotions of jealousy and malice arising from sense impressions will have to be overcome too. A third emotion of attraction to worldly things needs to then be overcome as well. A variety of things in the world tend to cast a near hypnotic spell and intense craving. Shankaracharya says that purification of ‘diet’ ought to involve the imbibing of sense impressions without being moved by such emotions. The resultant state of sattvashuddhi (purification of the very essence of being) will bring about effortless and unbroken remembrance of God. While Ramanujacharya explains ‘purification of diet’ in a relatively material sense, Shankaracharya explains it as purification of the consciousness itself. 

Swami Vivekananda has harmonised these two apparently contradictory views, with typical felicity: Both views are true and purposeful. So that the sukshama sharira, i.e. the subtle body may be kept unsullied, the sharira i.e. gross body, must be kept free of imposition of matter, which acts in a toxic manner on the former. Hence the rules regarding diet ought to be observed. Swami Vivekananda, in his personal life, could remain unaffected by materials in his diet that might ordinarily be considered unworthy; such was the all-consuming power of the fire of jnana he exerted. All the same, he fully endorsed the view of the seers like Ramanujacharya regarding diet. 

That which we consume affects the mind and hence, one must be watchful. The knowledge pertaining to diet is worthy of being given special attention to and learnt. The majority of our sorrows arise due to faulty diet. (Speeches and Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume IV, page 88.) 
The reader surely has observed that when leftovers and indigestible food items are eaten, the mind cannot keep still. Most would admit to intoxicants and addictive substances as resulting in unstable mind. All kinds of foods, which stimulate must be given up. Meat, for example, is highly impure. A non-vegetarian diet will have to be given up by the bhakta. So also onion, garlic, sour fruits, foul-smelling foods, stale foods and those foods which have lost their natural juiciness. (Speeches and Works of Swami Vivekananda, page 89.)  

The Bhagavad Gita divides food into three sorts: Sattvik, rajasic and tamasikSattvik foods, which are healthful and create positive energy, promote happiness and affectionate attitude. They are full of juices and lubricants, producing contentment and joy; the subtle portions of these are retained by the body, and are worthy of being included in the diet. Such foods are loved by those with  nature. 
Foods, which are extremely bitter, pungent, sour, hot, dry, productive of feverish conditions, diseases, sorrow and mental afflictions are favoured by those with rajasic natures. 
Foods which are undercooked, overcooked, cold, dry, tasteless, foul, polluted with another’s saliva, left-over from previous days’ preparations i.e. unworthy of being offered in a sacred fire and sacred rituals, are favoured by the ones with tamasik tendencies.  (Speeches and Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume IV, page 89.) 

Sri Vijaykrishna Goswami’s work, ‘Sri Sadgurusang’ (In the Company of the Guru), gives the best exposition on the matter of diet. He writes: I went to meet Sadguru (Sri Goswami). I said, “The experiences which I used to have earlier have stopped.”  
Sadguru: “Various irregularities can cause this. Irregularities in the diet are the cause.” 
I: “I never have non-vegetarian food. There is no question of having food polluted by someone’s saliva.” 
Sadguru Goswami: “So what! If you eat food without sharing it with someone else who desires it, it is polluted. The same happens when you share the same seat or even the same room/place with an individual who is tamasik by nature. The touching and even the casting of a glance by such an individual on your food pollutes it. Thus emotion, touch and glance, all can pollute food, rendering it unfit for offering at the altar and unfit for one’s own consumption. One can get diseases and the various ripu (faults of nature) such as greed, lust, anger, stealing etc. can arise. You need a highly subtle power of observation to realize all this. I myself would not have otherwise believed such things. But now after seeing the truth of it all, how can I deny it? Hence there is the custom of shutting the door of one’s room and eating quietly by oneself. Ensuring that all the rules are followed in the matter of food consumption is itself a discipline, which if followed strictly confers unhindered progress on the path of light. There is no need to do something over and above.”  
In the Bhagavad Gita (15/14), Sri Krishna says: I take the form of the digestive fire in all entities and with the aid of the active Prana Vayu and Apana Vayu, I devour that which is consumed by the entity by any method. If one pours clarified butter (ghee) as oblation in fire, the aromas which waft up, purify the body and mind of not only human beings but also of other creatures, including rooted ones (plants, trees), as well. In the same fire if chicken, mutton, fish, eggs, onions are cast, the foul smells are difficult to withstand. The body and mind of all creatures are greatly discomfited. In the same way, the Lord resides within us as the digestive fire, in which we ought to cast only pure food for the sake of bodily and mental comfort. Food, which is toxic, obtained through evil means, and having the properties of raja and tama, ought to be avoided. The extracts from the digested food spread all over and into every part of the body through the samana vayu. One portion of assimilations from food is excreted; another becomes the body and the third, the mind. When meat is eaten, the senses become uncontrollable; materialism and lust prevail over all. And the mind sings the same tune! 

The atma or the self, which can attune itself to Brahma, resides in the vital fluid of the individual. Loss of the vital fluid can be likened to suicide by this atma or self. Now, it is observed that the one who is attached to indulgent eating and drinking, lacks the ability to restrain the vital fluid. Such a person tends to become diseased in body, preoccupied excessively with worldly concerns and hence mentally diseased, with the quality of existence becoming hollow. Man then, has no choice except for a sub-human existence within the shell of a human body. The essential human being is destroyed and the purpose of life is lost. By having a controlled rajasic diet one can become strong, and even have a sharp intellect. Wealth and worldly happiness can come to such a one. But, the spiritual realm remains inaccessible.  

(Sri Omkarnath Rachnavali, Section VI, ‘Vanivilaas’).  
To summarise, as well as add a few important points:  
1) The shastras as well as the seers have prescribed a vegetarian diet, in which sattvik items must be chosen and rajasic and tamasik are to be avoided. 

2) Food must not be eaten without being offered to the Lord; else it is worth nothing but excreta and urine. Food must be offered to God or a favoured deity or to the Guru. The best way is to place the offering at the altar. If the altar is not accessible, leaves of tulsi (holy basil) may be placed on each item of food. Alternatively, one may mentally offer it to God prior to consuming it. This last option is efficacious. Some of the Masters recommend saying a verse from the Bhagavad Gita, which means:  
The act of offering is Brahma; the offering (clarified butter) is Brahma; the consumption of the offering (Brahma) by the Brahmin guest who is Brahma, results in the performance of a yajna (sacred rite of oblation into fire). 

The verse whose meaning is given above is not easy to fathom. The more popular ‘Matrisangeet’ states that all food may be eaten visualizing as having been offered to the Divine Mother, Shyama Ma.
3) Food is best eaten in silence (mauna). The best recourse would be remembrance and chanting the name of the beloved deity or ‘Guru Guru’ with every morsel cast into the mouth. 

4) Sri Krishna Bhagawan in the Bhagavad Gita (24/6) says: moderation in diet, sleep, meditation, self-study and all endeavours, is the key to success in Yoga. Such tempered practice destroys the worldly sorrows. Moderate diet requires only half the stomach to be filled with food, a quarter with water and the remaining quarter be left for vayu tattva or the vital airs to move about in. At the minimum, at least one quarter should be left empty; on no account should the stomach be filled to capacity. One ought to stop consuming the meal before the hunger is fully appeased. Kshana, the renowned astrologer, says that such moderation makes for good digestion, while eating to capacity makes for poor digestion. One should eat to live and not live to eat.