When Ramana Maharshi, one of the most famous Self-realized sages of modern India, was asked what the most important aid to meditation was, he replied a pure vegetarian diet. He quoted the ancient Chandogya Upanishad D II 26.2: “When food is pure, the mind is pure, when the mind is pure, concentration is steady, when concentration is achieved one can loosen all the knots of the heart that bind us.” Yoga tradition, as emphasized by the Chandogya Upanishad, teaches, “The mind is made of food.” It says that the food we take in is divided into three parts: The gross part becomes excrement, the middle portion becomes flesh, and the subtle essence becomes the mind. So we cannot ignore the role of food in our consciousness, even if we are Enlightened like Ramana Maharshi. Ramana Maharshi is quoted in his book, Be As You Are: “Of all the restrictive rules, that relating to the taking of sattvic food in moderate quantities is the best; by observing this rule the sattvic quality of the mind will increase, and that will be helpful to self-inquiry.” Vegetarianism is one of the main pillars of purifying the mind. It is part of an ancient wisdom, which is also known as Sanatana Dharma, natural way to Enlightenment, or Yoga Dharma. It continues its importance in our modern times.
Yoga and the Kabbalah are spiritual paths that offer models for understanding the optimal nutrition for spiritual life. Traditionally, Yoga is taught as that which “links together” and is most commonly defined as “Union with the Divine.” The goal of prophetic Kabbalah, as with Yoga, is Deveikut, or God-merging. They are complete paths for establishing one’s higher awareness. For this exalted purpose, Yoga requires controlling and silencing the mind, not simply developing bodily flexibility or moving and building prana. In Kabbalah, one goes beyond the mind to Chochma (the direct apperception of non-dual, subjective reality of God). The mind is not at all easy to control, as we all know from our ongoing stream of mental activity. The mind can most easily enter into silence only when it is pure, clear, and full of energy. Otherwise, it naturally falls into its normal pattern of disturbance.
We cannot look at the mind in isolation, either. The mind and body are organically interrelated and our bodily condition strongly influences how we think. Therefore, Yoga includes purification of the physical body as an aid to purifying the mind. The tremendous energy required for such inner transformation is provided by prana, through which we can access deeper levels of vitality through various pranayama (breath) techniques. The foundation of Yoga is purification or detoxification of body, mind, and prana. Although Kabbalah is more focused on purification of the mind, the need for a healthy body is recognized. The great Hasidic master, Israel Baal Shem Tov, who lived in the early 1700s, is quoted in Tzava’at Harivash: “When the body ails, the soul too is weakened, and one is unable to pray properly, even when clear of sins. Thus, you must guard the health of your body very carefully.” The great physician, rabbi, and philosopher of the twelfth century, Moses Maimonides, said “For it is impossible to understand the subject of wisdom and to meditate upon them when he is ill . . . the welfare of the soul can only be achieved after obtaining the welfare of the body.” A deep teaching about the importance of the body health on the spiritual path comes from Rabbi Yose, a Mishna sage of ancient times who said, “Let all your deeds be for the sake of Heaven.” Pirkei Avos 2:17 (a highly respected Hebrew text) implies that all we eat and how we live is for the sake of Heaven. It affirms this one’s principle guideline for diet for spiritual life, which is that we eat to enhance our Communion with the Divine. This teaching is current language that aligns with the teachings of the physician-rabbi-Kabbalist Moses Maimonides in his text Hilchos De’os, that we “must avoid that which harms the body and accustom [oneself] to that which helps the body become healthier and stronger.” In the ancient language, Moses Maimonides points out we need a healthy body in order to have the energy to emulate the ways of the Divine. Proverbs 11:17 says, “A person who does Chesed deeds (of Love) does good to himself.” This ancient teaching can be interpreted that the good people do for themselves in terms of diet and lifestyle empowers them so they have the health, strength, and resources to give to others. The basic teaching of Spiritual Nutrition is to eat and live in a way to enhance and sustain our Communion with the Divine for at least as long as it takes to be Liberated.
Patanjali, in the Yoga Sutras, the classical compilation of the ancient Yoga school, defines Yoga as chitta vritti nirodha. Chitta refers to the mind in the broadest sense and includes the subconscious, conscious, and superconscious aspects of the mind. It is closely connected to prana, which is the energetic aspect of chitta. Vritti refers to mental activities of all types from physical to spiritual levels, from deep sleep to sensory perception. Nirodha means to inhibit, reduce, resolve, control, or eliminate. The practice of Yoga helps us reduce our disturbed thoughts and control our mental activities even at a subconscious level of sleep and dream. To achieve this requires extraordinary concentration, discipline, and work on all three levels of body, prana, and mind that can take years, if not lifetimes, to accomplish. From this perspective, the optimal diet for spiritual life is that which stills the vrittis (activity of the mind). This same principle holds true for moving from Binah (I AM consciousness) to Chochma (non-dual awareness of I AM THAT). I AM consciousness is Beingness; a subtle sense of the ego self. I AM THAT is when all sense of individual existence disappears and one is completely identified with the whole.
From this perspective, Yoga has two stages. The first is purification of body, prana, and mind in order to create a clear or sattvic mind. Stage one is the development of sattva. In Kabbalah, it is called kedusha, or holiness. Stage two is the transcendence of sattva to realization of the Self. However, only the pure or sattvic mind is considered capable of realizing the higher Self (Atman or Purusha) or Ein Sof in a lasting manner. In Yogic and Kabbalistic teachings, it is considered rare, if not impossible, to reach the second stage of Yoga or Deveikut without having mastered the first stage. It is easy to conceptually understand the state of Self-realization, the direct apperception of I AM THAT in which we realize that we are not the body-mind-I AM complex and there was never any lack of Union with the Absolute. While it is not rare to get a glimpse of it, to be able to abide in this state is the most difficult thing for all human beings. Lasting Self-realization is achieved by one in many millions of people. Few possess the sattvic or holy consciousness capable of holding any lasting Self-realization, even though it is who we are. Waking up is one thing, staying awake is another.
Enlightenment is the awakening to the Eternal Oneness that Was, Is, and always Will Be. It is the natural, eternal, changeless Truth of the non-dual awareness of the Ein Sof or Paramatman. In other words, there is not and never was anything to attain… We have been it all the time. The purpose of the Spiritual Nutrition lifestyle is to awaken to I AM THAT . . . to the cosmic ocean prior to the play of consciousness. It is to help us let go of the delusion that we are Yogis or Kabbalists seeking to attain Union with God. As with the author’s teachings about live food (“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”), Union was never broken, so it does not need to be fixed – or attained. We no longer need to live as a fish looking for water.
Most are unaware of the disciplined processes necessary for purifying the mind. This can be different from the Grace and subtle effort to transcend the mind, which does not itself require any special practice or complicated techniques. Some of us think that we can just jump into a state of Self-realization and don’t need to deal with our prana, a body full of toxins, or a mind weighed down by sensory desires. Those who describe Yoga as a pathless path that requires no rules are correct if one is able to ignore stage one of Yoga, the creation of a stable, sattvic way of Being. In classical India, it was considered that only an extremely rare disciple was able to forego preliminary practices and go directly to Selfrealization (anupaya). In the Kabbalistic tradition, it is expected that those who enter the practice are already married and living in an ever increasing state of holiness as preconditions. Shimon Bar Yochai spent eleven years meditating in a cave. Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (the Ari), the sixteenth-century mystic considered the greatest source of modern Kabbalistic understanding, spent six years meditating with his spiritual teacher and seven years meditating and studying in virtual silence, returning home only on the Shabbat, in the process of becoming Deveikut (God-merged). That we Westerners – raised in a culture of sex, materialism and ego, in love with the images and projections of our virtual reality minds – can just easily pop into permanent, non-dual states is a cruel and misleading illusion. It may be convenient to think that we can do away with any physical and mental disciplines and simply be naturally Self-realized in an instant, but it is like believing we are going to win the lottery, giving up our job and waiting for the check in the mail!
The life that produces an inward quiet sattvic/kedusha (holiness) state of mind and body is well defined in Yogic texts as a life based on meditation, chanting, pranayama, service, devotion, austerity, non-violence, asana (Yoga postures), and a sattvic (vegetarian) diet. The same is true in Kabbalah, but with more emphasis on holiness through prayer and mitzvoth (practice of good deeds that align us with God and draw the Light). These are regarded as the preliminary way of life for the creation and sustaining ourselves in the sattvic holy state, which is the foundation necessary for Self-realization.
A synergistic view of nutrition is a part of what it means to live in an integrated, harmonious, and peaceful sattvic life on the planet. The body, emotions, mind, and spirit and even our hereditary expressions are significantly affected by what we eat. Sensory inputs from numerous objects, feedback from the motor organs, and other sensors in the body disturb us in many ways, consciously and unconsciously. The Yogic terminology for this disturbed condition of awareness is vyutthita chitta, or the disturbed (literally, “provoked”) mind. Most of us who come to Yoga from our modern culture of sensation and physical, emotional, and mental stimulation are naturally in a condition of vyutthita chitta. Samahita chitta is the concentrated (collected) mind in which body, senses, prana, and mind all function in harmony. A sattvic or holy lifestyle that includes vegan diet, meditation, a balanced, loving, peaceful, non-violent life (ahimsa), right livelihood, and service creates a state of samahita chitta.
The Spiritual Nutrition Approach
The Spiritual Nutrition approach helps us to develop the highest qualities of peace, Love, compassion, and equanimity. It emphasizes increasing prana and the subtle elements of air and ether that help open the mind and heart and make them more sensitive. The nature of the mind itself is air and ether and therefore the sattvic diet works directly upon it. This way of eating and living also reduces heaviness in body and removes excess weight and toxins that are usually heavy in nature. But following this way also requires that we follow a spiritual lifestyle to be able to sustain it. We must cultivate peace, forgiveness, and compassion, and avoid stress, emotional agitation, and conflict. It is the Way of the Six Foundations.
We see, therefore, that the consciousness of our bodies and minds are both the cause and result of the diet that we eat. Eating, as our most basic and habitual activity, defines not only our physical body but also our emotional state and our human interactions, which usually center around the dinner table. As we progress spiritually, we gain an increased sensitivity not only to the sacred, but also to the food, which is also sacred. We require food that has both high and balanced prana, ojas, tejas (Spiritual Nutrition, Chapter 25), and Love as its main ingredients. That is why eating together in a spiritual circumstance is one of the most transformative and spiritual actions that we can do.
In summary, the subtle science of Spiritual Nutrition is the art of selecting food that increases the pranic force for healing and purifying the body and mind, builds tejas, and protects the ojas. It is a diet that calms and creates freedom from the vrittis of the mind. It is a diet that turns us into a superconductor of the Divine. The Spiritual Nutrition diet is the best food discipline to aid our sattvic-kedusha practices of the Six Foundations that help stabilize us in sattva, or holiness. It is a diet that purifies the six koshas and energizes the 72,000 nadis so that the spiritualizing force of the Kundalini/Shekhinah can move more freely through them until we are able to awaken to the realization that we were always the One – we were always free.
We cannot eat our way to the Divine, but we can use our food as part of our foundation for awakening to the awareness of the Absolute. It is less easy to expand consciousness while we eat in an unconscious or harmful way. A sattvic diet helps build the vehicle and develop and expand the mind so that when the Grace of the apperception of Union descends, we are able to integrate it in our consciousness and physical body. It helps us transcend the illusory identity with the body-mind complex and I AM consciousness and merge into I AM THAT awareness. It is the way of eating that allows the Absolute that we are to express itself through the body-mind-I AM complex as the living revelation of the full Light of God.
From Spiritual Nutrition by Dr Gabriel Cousens, MD