[This article appeared in the December 2019 issue of The Theosophical Movement. For more articles published in this excellent magazine follow this link: http://www.ultindia.org/previous_issues.html]
You are what you eat.
Whatever we eat directly reflects in our being. That is why the eighteenth-century French lawyer, Jean Savarin said: “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” Keeping in mind the effect of food on mind, body and soul, Pythagoras recommended a healthy vegetarian diet. He seems to suggest that by consuming meat, a person absorbs the animal inside, which then becomes an obstacle to reach the peak of consciousness. The religions in India have favored a vegetarian diet, mainly based on respect for all forms of life. Moreover, vegetarian food is light whereas non-vegetarian food is heavy. However, that does not mean that the non-vegetarians cannot meditate, it is only that they will be required to put in extra effort as compared to a vegetarian. For them it is like climbing a mountain carrying a heavy weight.
Moreover, with the vegetarian diet our body also begins taking on a different vibe. One begins to become less aggressive and more receptive. Chhandogya Upanishad says, “Purity of thought is a consequence of the purity of food that we eat. When food is pure and subtle, it transforms the very basic nature of man.” But it would be wrong to say that every vegetarian is a meditator, while every non-vegetarian is a non-meditator. “The messages from spiritual masters and scriptures are about unburdening the heavy baggage that we are carrying in our journey towards the peak of consciousness, in the easier and faster way,” writes Pratiksha Apurv. (The Speaking Tree, Sunday Times of India, November 24, 2019) In the Gita, food is classified into three divisions: Tamasic or impure food is described as stale and tasteless. Rajasic food is bitter, sour, saline, pungent and excessively hot. Sattvic food is pure and savoury, and tends to enhance age, vitality, strength, health and cheerfulness. We can see from the above classification of food that vegetarian diet is neither emphasized nor insisted upon.
It is true that animal food imparts to the eater the qualities of the animal and tends to make the physical body grosser and denser. One of the great German scientists has shown that every kind of animal tissue, however you may cook it, still retains certain marked characteristics of the animal that it belonged to. H.P.B. observes that when the flesh of animals is assimilated by human beings as food, it imparts to them, physiologically, some of the characteristics of the animal it came from. The “coarsening” or “animalizing” effect on a person is greatest from the flesh of the larger animals, less for birds, still less for fish and other cold-blooded animals, and least of all when he eats only vegetables. Spiritual life calls for etherealizing of the physical body.
Thus, meat eating is deleterious in two ways: It retains the characteristics of the animal even when it is cooked very well, and it leads to coarsening of the body. There is also the other fact to be borne in mind and that is, suitability or fitness of the food for each person. Each body extracts from any kind of food only that which conforms to the nature of the possessor of the body and that nature is subject to change from within. Moderation in eating is important as much as the quality of food. “We advise really earnest students to eat such food as will least clog and weight their brains and bodies, and will have the smallest effect in hampering and retarding the development of their intuition, their inner faculties and powers,” writes H.P.B. Ultimately, however, we must be more vigilant about our mental food—what kind of thoughts and desires we entertain, and allow to take roots in our minds. “Without doubt, therefore, it is through one’s food that objects of senses get control over one’s mind. It is easy to shut off action of other senses, but it is not possible to carry on without food, on which, sustenance of the physical body depends,” teaches Saint Jnaneshwar.