“You are what you eat”. Everyone is familiar with this expression. But what meaning does it have for a person who is striving for spiritual growth? Food is of utmost importance for forming the body, but it also nourishes subtle structures of the brain and our psychic structure. That is why in every religious tradition there are limitations on eating certain types of products and austerities connected with food. How can one purify intelligence with the help of food, and how can one make the food itself pure?
Dietary laws in different religions of the world
In Christianity, during a fast, depending on the level of its strictness, food products such as meat and milk products, fish and eggs are forbidden. This is connected with the need to purify oneself in advance of important religious holidays. Also, there are bans (although they are not frequently implemented) on using the blood, as well as the dead flesh of animals as food. The Quran forbids the consumption of swine flesh, blood and the meat of animals over which a name other than that of God has been invoked. In Judaism, the edibility of a particular foodstuff relies on a system of ritualistic rules based on the commandments of the Tora. The consumption of the flesh of pigs, horses, donkeys, camels, hares, elephants, and of other types of meat, is forbidden. Practically all types of seafood are prohibited for Jewish people. In Hinduism vegetarianism is one of the key aspects of the faith – it is viewed as one of the means to achieve a sattvic (clean, pure) way of living. In the Bhagavad-gita it is said that food can be divided into three categories, depending on the qualities of nature. Milk products, grains, sugar, vegetables, fruit and nuts are considered to belong to food in the mode of goodness. Such food brings happiness, joy and love to everyone. Moreover, it is not the product of violence and cruelty.
Apart from the material aspect – nourishing the body tissues, food also transmits energy on a subtle level. Food is the main principle of relationships, the binding thread among people, among all the living beings. Higher forms of life feed on the lower forms of life. There is a relationship through violence – this is how the material world works. Оne can judge the level of civilization by what types of food people eat, and how it is consumed. Food that has been gained through violence carries the energy of the lowest quality – evil, hatred, ignorance, fear and pain. A question of spiritual development, freeing oneself from violence, is addressed to a human being, not to an animal. It is only in the human form of life that one is granted the ability to purify oneself and live in the right way following a different principle in this world.
Purifying the food
The living force of God permeates the whole creation. A myriad of living creatures inhabits universes. Each blade of grass and every flower, animal or bird is a child of the Divine Father. When a sentient creature, a human, takes his food, he is responsible for the life taken. Produce becomes pure only when a human offers them to God. God touches the offering and takes on the responsibility for the living creature that is being eaten, and thus this creature doesn’t die for nothing, it gets purified. Such food becomes prasadam, the mercy of God. It is said in the Bhagavad-gita that anyone who eats food, not offering it to the Supreme Lord, eats the only sin. Such food brings about diseases and negative karmic reactions. But food should liberate and purify us.
The Vedas narrate about great sacrifices when food was offered to Narayana – the Supreme Deity. People of the whole village brought the food to the sacrificial altar. Mountains of rice, pots with different preparations and fruits of all kinds were offered there. A yajna took place that went on for several hours; Vedic hymns were recited by priests, who poured purified butter into the fire. During this process, people got purified of the bodily concepts. They felt great happiness. And Narayana, as a Deity, appeared and accepted this sacrifice – the food. Afterwards, all the food was distributed to people, dogs, birds, and all the living beings. In such a way, a wonderful, unbelievable atmosphere can be created, and ultimate liberation from the accumulated karma, mistakes and offences takes place. Everything becomes purified and the world gets renewed. There is a spiritual cleansing. This yajna has such an effect on nature that it starts working like a clock. For example, in Vedic times it rained only at night, and the sun shone during the day. Yajna influences not only the mindset of all living beings, but it also has an influence on the climate. It is a very subtle process that modern science is yet to grasp.