What role does food play in our spiritual growth? Can we eat anything and everything and expect to attain love of God? Definitely Not.
This is why Vedas recommend the type of food we must take for our spiritual awakening.
Vedic scriptures also tell the type of food we must give up if we want to grow in our spiritual life.
So, let us reflect upon those food which are best for our body and also best for our spiritual life.
We all eat. None of us can live without eating. So, we see countless food outlets thriving in almost all the parts of the world.
But if we want to grow in your spiritual life it is important that we are aware of the food we are eating. It is because:
- The type of food we eat affects our consciousness.
- The quantity of food we eat affects our consciousness.
- Unregulated eating habits affect our consciousness
And immediately in the next verse, he says
Similarly, Sri Rupa Goswami, the leader of the Goswamis of Vrindavan and a disciple of Lord Chaitanya, in his book Nectar of Instruction, Text 1 writes about the importance of controlling the urges of tongue and belly. And in the next verse he writes about the necessity of giving up overeating.
The holy books and the holy sages have given guidelines to consume right food in right quantity.
They do not ask us to give up eating. But they teach us to eat in such a way that we elevate our consciousness.
Just like an uncontrolled mind becomes our biggest enemy in our spiritual life and a controlled mind facilitate our spiritual awakening.
Similarly, an uncontrolled eating habit impedes our spiritual growth and a controlled eating habit helps in our spiritual progress.
Food plays an extremely important role in our overall well-being. It not just gives nourishment to the body but if we take proper food then it nourishes our soul too.
If we eat food which is pure then it can completely transform our life. So, the Vedic literatures extol the glory of pure spiritual food. The sage Narada got purified just by eating spiritual food.
The pure spiritual food transforms the son of a maidservant
Narada Muni in his previous life was the son of a maidservant. Once he got an opportunity to eat the remnants of food from the plates of Bhakti Vedantist who were pure devotees of the Lord.
And by tasting few morsels of sanctified food, he got completely purified.
He developed intense desire to practice devotion to the Lord and became a pure devotee of the Lord. And in next life he became Narada Nuni, the celestial sage, who guided many great souls like Dhruv Maharaj, Prahlad Maharaj in attaining love of God.
What type of food to eat?
It is very easy to find out. If the food can be offered to the Lord, we can eat those food. If the food cannot be offered to the Lord, we should not eat those food.
- If Lord Krishna can eat, we can eat.
- If Lord Krishna cannot eat, we cannot eat.
What Lord Krishna can eat has been said by Krishna himself. In Bhagavad Gita 9.26, he says,
“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit or water, I will accept it.” Bhagavad Gita 9.26
Srila Prabhupada explains in the purport of the same verse Bhagavad Gita 9.26:
If Krishna says give me vegetarian food, then let us give him that. Krishna also does not take onion and garlic, so we should give up onion and garlic too.
Since Krishna eats only vegetarian food without onion and garlic, so we should eat only vegetarian food which is without onion and garlic.
And we should give up non vegetarian food like meat, fish and eggs.
Killing an innocent animal and eating its flesh is extremely sinful.
The person who kills an animal is punished by the laws of nature.
What happens when one kills an animal for food?
There is a story in Gita Mahatmaya.
Once a man was about to slaughter a goat. And the goat started laughing. The man was shocked. The goat said in human voice,
“In my previous life, I too was a butcher. I killed many animals. So, I got this body. And as per the laws of Karma I am now being killed by you. You are killing me. In next life you will become an animal and will be slaughtered in the same way.“
The butcher was surprised. He came to his senses. “Killing an animal will make me an animal in next life,” he thought. So, he decided not to kill the goat.
But it so happened that it started raining heavily. There was storm and lightening. The lightening fell on the goat and the goat died. Every living entity has to die one day.
But we are not supposed to take the lives of other living entities. Let animals live and die as per the laws of nature, just like we die, we should not interfere with it.
Sanskrit word for meat
The Sanskrit word for meat is māṁsa. When someone kills an animal, he actually says, “māṁ saḥ khadati iti māṁsaḥ.” I am now eating the flesh of an animal by killing and in future the animal will be eating my flesh.” :
In this world, as per the law, if a human being kills another human being, he is punished. But human being is not punished if he kills and eat animals. But as per the Vedic laws killing innocent animals is an offense.
So, when one kills an animal, he is preparing himself to be killed in similar way in future. The laws of God are very stringent. We can escape from man-made laws but not from the laws made by God.
Once a person asked Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura,
“When we kill animals then are we not liberating them from animal life? They get freedom from the bondage.”
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura explained to him:
Suppose that a person has been put in a jail because of some crime. And you feel pity on the person. You decide to help him escape from the jail.
Then what will happen? The police will launch a manhunt to catch the prisoner. The prisoner will be caught and but behind the bars again. And since you helped him to escape, so you too will be caught and put in prison.
Similarly, if someone kills an animal then the killer will be punished. And if the soul had not exhausted his karma of being in an animal body then the soul will again get another animal body.
So, we should give up the habit of eating meat. If we have this habit, then slowly and gradually we should give up.
We cannot keep on killing an innocent animal, enjoying its flesh and simultaneously hope to attain God.
Are we not killing plants for food?
Is killing and eating plants not sinful? Many argue that we kill plants for our food. What about that? Now before answering this question let me tell that before the modern science discovered that plants have life Vedas already mentioned that plants have life.
The sacred scripture informs that soul migrates into 8.4 million species of lives which includes plant life also. We have the example of Nalakuvara and Manigriva who got the body of plants because they had committed sins. They were finally delivered by Lord Krishna.
We do not always kill the plant for food
When we eat vegetarian food then it is not that we always kill the plants. Suppose that we eat fruits. For that we do not kill an apple tree or a banana tree or a guava tree.
We only pluck the fruits the way we pluck the flowers. Plucking fruits is like cutting hairs and nails from a body. If someone cuts nails and hairs from our body, then it is not that they are killing us. They are in fact cleaning us.
At my home there was a guava tree. When we used to see that the fruit has ripened, we used to pluck the fruit. But if we forgot then the next morning, we used to find that the guavas have rotten and have fallen on the ground.
Similarly, if the rice and wheat crops are not harvested on time, they get spoiled.
Points to note:
- When we eat vegetarian food then it is not that we always kill the plants or trees.
- The vegetables or grains which are taken out from the farm have mostly completed their lifespan.
Why not visit a slaughterhouse and a farm?
If you get a chance visit a farm especially during harvesting time. You will enjoy the sweet fragrance emanating from the soil and the ripened crops. Harvesting is accompanied with song and dance. Men, women, children all will be celebrating. It’s a festive atmosphere.
Can the same be said about slaughterhouses?
How many of us would like to visit a slaughterhouse? How many of us can stand and see the animals being killed? Will any parent take their children to slaughterhouses and make them see how animals are killed?
In fact, majority of the people just buy meat from the butcher or from supermarket. They do not directly kill the animals. And the flesh of this dead animals smells so bad.
In houses many times family members sit together; laugh and joke and simultaneously chop vegetables for lunch or dinner.
Can they do the same thing with animals?
I mean to say that, can they sit together, laugh and joke, and simultaneously cut the neck of chicken or goat or any other animals? The answer is obvious.
Most of the people do not realize that they are committing gravest sin by killing animals. They will have to suffer in a terrible way. Scriptures warn again and again that we should not kill animals and eat its flesh.
Does vegetarian food not have sufficient nutrients?
Many people have developed wrong notion that if they do not eat meat, they will not get sufficient nutrition.
One of my friends started becoming serious in devotional life. He began chanting the Hare Krishna Mahamantra, started attending classes in the temple and became vegetarian. His wife too became interested in devotional life. He had a small child.
Once he invited me to his house so that I can show him how to offer food to the Lord, what prayers to say while offering food and what prayers to say before eating the offered food.
After that they began offering food to Lord Krishna at home.
After few months his parents came to his house. They saw that they have completely become vegetarian. His parents who were elderly had the habit of eating non vegetarian food since childhood days, especially fish.
Out of parental affection they started feeling that if their children will not eat meat and fish they will become weak. The grandfather became concerned about his grandson.
He said, “It is his growing age. He needs proper nutrition, especially protein. And it is there in meat and fish only.”
My friend was worried. He called me, “My son will grow weak if he does not get non vegetarian food. What should I do?”
I gave the example of devotees’ children who are pure vegetarian and are in good health. I quoted the verses from the scriptures. He was intellectually convinced that eating meat is not necessary.
But within the core of his heart he was apprehensive. “Am I doing injustice to my child?”
He did not want to take risk. Slowly, he started becoming less serious in spiritual life. As of now I am not in touch with him. Or it could be that he does not want to be in touch with me or with any other devotee.
Many prominent leaders of the world are vegetarian
There are many people in the world who have never touched meat, fish and egg since birth. Such people are leading a happy and successful personal and professional life.
One of the greatest political leaders of the world, Mahatma Gandhi, was vegetarian. Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, is also a vegetarian.
Great spiritual leaders like Ramanujacharya, Madhavacharya, Madhvendra Puri, Srila Prabhupada all were vegetarian.
So being a vegetarian does not mean that we are compromising with our health. It is also not that vegetarian food does not give us sufficient nutrition.
Vegetarian food is extremely healthy and much better than non-vegetarian food. The coronavirus pandemic which has affected the entire world and is killing thousands of people had its origin in China’s wet market, the place where animals are sold as food.
Also just being a vegetarian is not a great thing. Many animals are also vegetarian and could be possible that some people who are indulging in many abominable activities are also vegetarian.
The most important thing is that the vegetarian food should be first offered to the Supreme Lord with love and then we should eat it. If we are not offering food to the lord, then we are committing sin.
What happens if we eat food not offered to the Supreme Lord?
What happens if we do not pay tax to the government? We are punished.
What happens when we eat contaminated food? We get sick.
Similarly, when we do not offer food to Krishna who is the proprietor of the entire universe, we are punished. Also, when we do not offer food to Krishna then food remains impure and when we eat such impure food we suffer.
The food we eat, the water we drink has been provided to us by the Supreme Lord. We should be grateful to him for providing us food. So, with love and with gratitude we should cook and offer food to him and then eat the remnants left by the Lord.
Offering food to the Lord is extremely important
Once when Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura was just a child, he ate a mango which was not offered to the Lord. Bhaktivinod Thakura, a great Vaishnav acharya who was his father also, said that we should not eat anything which has not been first offered to the Lord.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura regretted his action. He thought that he has committed a sin.
And he took a vow to not eat mango ever in his life. When he took this vow, he was a small child.
Later on, whenever he was offered a mango, he used to say that he is a sinner to the Lord and he would refuse to eat mango, the king of all fruits. He never ate mango ever in his life again.
These great personalities through their personal conduct is teaching us the importance of offering food to the Lord.
Since our childhood days we have eaten so many unoffered food items. For us, it will not be possible to give up all those food items. But at least after getting educated in the science of devotional life, we should start offering food to Krishna with love and then take the remnants.
Offering food is not just about our personal purification. Most importantly, it is to express our love to Krishna.
Food should be cooked with proper consciousness
Those of us who want to become serious in devotional life, it is also important that we eat food cooked only by the sincere devotees.
Once Srila Prabhupada came to Pune with a group of devotees. One rich person had invited him for a three-day program in his house. He had also promised to help build a temple in Pune.
The rich man had a big house. For each devotee he arranged a separate room. He made a big feast for the devotees. The devotees enjoyed the feast.
Next morning when Srila Prabhupada came for Mangala Arati he saw no one was there. The leader of the brahmacharis was there. Prabhupada asked where are other devotees? He said that others are still sleeping.
Prabhupada said, “I know because I can hear them snoring.” But why are they sleeping. The leader said, “Last night they ate the feast and I think because of that they are not able to get up.”
Prabhupada said, “It is not just about the feast. It is because of the karmi food. The food was not cooked by the devotees. So, it has affected their consciousness. And so, they are not able to get up in the brahma muhrat which is very conducive for devotional life.”
Prabhupada said that we will immediately leave the place and return back to Iskcon Juhu temple in Mumbai. The program was for 3 days but they stayed for only one night and one morning.
Prabhupada was always protecting the devotees from getting entangled in this material world.
Prabhupada was very particular about the food.
The devotee who is cooking the food should cook with a desire to offer it to Krishna. The food should not be cooked with a desire for personal enjoyment.
While cooking there should be devotional ambience. One can play Prabhupada lectures or some senior devotees lecture or some nice kirtan. It helps to purify the consciousness.
And with love the food should be offered to Krishna and then we all should take it.
But if we cook and eat food for sense gratification, then we will not get purified.
The type of food we eat affects our spiritual growth
In Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17, Krishna explains in detail about the different types of food: Food in the mode of goodness, in the mood of passion and in the mode of ignorance.
- Foods in the mode of goodness are juicy, fatty, wholesome, and pleasing to the heart.
- Such foods purify one’s existence and give strength
- It also increases the duration of life
- Such foods are too bitter, too sour, salty, hot, pungent, dry and burning. Here hot means spicy.
- These food causes distress, misery and disease
- Such foods are tasteless, decomposed, putrid.
- They are prepared more than three hours before being eaten i.e. they are no fresh.
- Foods containing untouchable things like meat, fish and egg are in ignorance.
Those of us who want to grow in our spiritual life, we should prefer food which is in mode of goodness. If we eat food in the mode of goodness, then we will also come in the mode of goodness which is very conducive for spiritual growth.
While consuming food we should also be cautious about the quantity of food we are eating.
We should not overeat because it is neither good for our physical health and also detrimental for our spiritual life.
So, in NOI Text 2, Srila Rupa Goswami says that we should not do atyāhāraḥ i.e. we should give up overeating. Even the spiritual food we consume, we should eat it in a regulated way and not unregulated way.
The purpose of human life is not to get attached to food but to get attached to Lord Krishna.
The purpose of human life is not to eat, drink and be merry
Suppose that a student gets admission to a premier institute like MIT, IIT or AIIMS. But during his stay in the hostel instead of focusing on studies he becomes too obsessed with eating good food.
In fact, he looks for new restaurants, new recipes and spends maximum time going out to eat. During the time of exam when other students are absorbed in their studies, he remains absorbed in finding new cuisines. He runs here and there for food. What will be the future of such a food addict?
He will fail in the exam. His parents will chastise him saying, “Why did you get obsessed with eating food? Why did not you study properly? Eating is essential but what was the need to get obsessed with it.”
The story is relevant for you and me.
The human life which we have got is for self-realization. It is not for sense gratification.
Animal life is meant for sense gratification and suffering. But human life is meant for sense control and self-realization.
If we overeat, we invite disease, we become lethargic, we become obese. We do not have quality time for practicing devotional life.
So at the end of our life’s journey, Krishna will tell us, “I gave you human body so that you can purify yourself. But you used it like an animal. So better you taken an animal body.”
What steps we can follow to give up overeating?
Following steps can help us overcome overeating:
- We can give up overeating by regulating our eating habits.
- We should have fixed time for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is better to take dinner as early as possible. We should not keep on eating at any time of the day.
- Most importantly, we should eat only Krishna prasadam, sanctified food. If we start eating prasadam our mind gets purified. If our mind is purified, we will have better control over our life, and gradually we will be able to give up overeating.
- Also, when we start eating prasadam, we will stop eating outside and stop buying all kinds of fast food which are extremely harmful for our spiritual health and physical health.
- We should give up fried foods. So, at home we should not prepare such food and stock it. We will surely keep on munching it throughout the day. We mostly overeat fried items and fast food. People overeat items like pakoras or samosas or burger or sweet items like gulab jamun or sonpapdi. I have never heard or found or experienced that we overeat apples or oranges or green (not fried) vegetables.
- Try to eat fruits and green vegetables more. These are healthy, nutritious and does not cause wait gain.
- We should never ever eat non vegetarian food like meat, fish, and eggs. If anyone is still having this habit, then one has to give it up if one wants to grow in his/her spiritual life.
- We should also take milk and curd more. But not sweets made from milk. Occasionally one can take sweets but not on a regular basis.
- If untimely we feel hungry then we should tolerate the hunger. Remember the body does not need the food but our uncontrolled mind needs it. So, ignore the mind. Drink water during that time. It may appear difficult initially but slowly we get used to it and then it becomes easy to give up overeating.
If we want to grow in our spiritual life, then we have to be very careful with the food we are eating. It’s not that we can eat anything and everything and expect to attain love of God.
Food plays an important role in our spiritual awakening and so the scriptures have given many guidelines about the food we should eat and how we should eat. If we follow these principles as it is then we will be able to grow in our spiritual life.
Following points can help us decide best food for our spiritual growth
- The best food for our spiritual growth is the vegetarian food which is without onion and garlic and which has been first offered to the Supreme Lord Krishna.
- We should never eat non vegetarian food like meat, fish and egg.
- Sanctified vegetarian food is good for our physical health and is also good for our spiritual growth
- We should also give up overeating by regulating our eating habits.
- We should eat only those food which is in the mode of goodness.
- If we eat only prasadam i.e. spiritual food, then our heart will get purified and we will be able to attain love of God which is the only purpose of human form of life.
Just to confess that although I am writing about this important topic, but I am also trying to follow this process. Hope by the mercy of Krishna and the blessings of all of you I will also be able to control the urges of tongue and belly and will be able to give up overeating. I am writing so that I can keep reminding myself about the importance of eating only Krishan prasadam in a regulated way.
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