Sunday, 8 April 2018

Classification of faith & food

Gita essays 30

At the end of chapter 16, Lord Krishna had stated that sastra is the pramaṇa in determining what is right and wrong and that one who discards the scriptural injunctions and acts according to the promptings of one’s desires cannot attain the highest knowledge of Athma Jnanam.  This generates a doubt in Arjuna’s mind about the fate of those who worship with faith and sincerity but without the knowledge of the scriptures and hence indifferent to the rules and procedures of worship due to ignorance. So he asks the Lord in verse 1:
“What is the condition of those people who ignore the scriptural rules and worship with faith? Is it satva, rajas, or tamas, O!Krishna?” (17-1) 

Lord in his reply first states that the faith may belong to any category satva, rajas or tamas according to one’s temperament.  Faith being an attribute of the mind is invisible like the mind.  But it can be inferred on the basis of three factors, Lord points out.  They are; 1) type of deity worshipped, 2) motive of worship & 3) mode of worship.  Lord prefaces his analysis with the remark that one is made of one’s faith, because the truth one sees is determined for one by one’s faith.  If a person’s innate tendencies are characterized by satva, then his faith will lead him to the pursuit of knowledge and spiritual growth. If they are characterized by rajas, then his faith will drive him to the pursuit of material happiness resulting in sorrow and suffering. If it is characterized by tamas, then his faith will land him in ignorance and delusion.

In satvic category, the deity worshipped is satvic devatha like Siva, Vishnu, Rama, Krishna etc, and the motive of worship is spiritual growth and the mode of worship is one turned inwards, not highly physical or verbal but mental and this worship contributes to spiritual growth.  In rajasic category comes the worship of rajasic deities like yaksha, rakshasa, gandharva devathas, and they are worshipped for material growth and the mode of worship is highly ritualistic, extrovert, with pomp and noise, verbally and physically oriented.  In tamasic category falls the worship of tamasic devathas like spirits and ghosts, mode of worship involving blood and sacrifice of physical beings with deities invoked in skull and in burial ground and worship involves hurting and torture of one’s body with the motive of hurting or harming others.  Briefly stated faith in God and worship is satvic when it is used for spiritual growth, rajasic if used for material benefits and tamasic when used for hurting others and oneself.

After this analysis of faith, Lord voluntarily chooses to analyse four other areas; ahara (food), yajna (worship), tapas (austerity), and daanam (charity).  In the choice of one's food, in the type of sacrifices one will engage, in the kind of Tapas one will undertake and in the quality of charity one will make, any one of the three types of classification can be discernible.  According to our scriptures, the food that one takes has a great influence on one’s personality.  Food also is an important contributory factor in spiritual pursuit can be seen from a passage in Chandogya Upanishad (7-26-2) that reads as : “āhāra śuddhau, sātva suddhi; sātva śuddhau, dhruva smr̥ti; smr̥ti labdē, sarva granthinām, vipra mōkṣaḥ” which means that if the food is pure, it will make the mind pure and if the mind is pure, the memory becomes firm i.e. a person will be able to receive the knowledge, Self-knowledge and also retain it; dhruva smr̥ti; and, when a person gets Self-knowledge, that is liberation.  Lord Krishna talks about satvic, rajasic and tamasic food respectively in the three verses, 8th, 9th and 10th as follows:
Foods which increase life, purity, strength, health,joy and cheerfulness , which are sweet, soft, nourishing and agreeable are dear to the Sattvic people. (17-8)
The foods that are bitter, sour, saltish, excessively hot, dry, pungent and burning which cause pain, sorrow and disease are liked by Rājasic people. (17-9)
That food which is not properly cooked, which lacks nourishments, which is stale, tasteless, putrid, rotten and impure refuse, is the food liked by the Tamasic people.(17-10)

We can summarise Lord’s categorisation shortly as:
Satvic - Food which is delicious, which gives longevity, health, strength, and happiness.
Rajasic - Food which is excessively bitter, sour, salty, hot, pungent and which causes pain
Tamasic - Food which is improperly cooked, without nutrition, putrid, stale, left over, and impure.

In Chandogya Upanishad guru Uddalaka tells his son and sishya, Svetaktu “Food when eaten becomes threefold. What is coarsest in it becomes faeces, what is medium becomes flesh and what is subtlest becomes mind”. (6-5-1).  As per Swami Paramarthananda this statement means briefly as follows:  The food that we consume has got three layers; sthula bhaga, the gross part; madhyama bhagaḥ, the middle portion and sukṣma bhagaḥ, subtle part. The sthula bhagaḥ, the gross part of the food will only cater to the taste and it will be evacuated as a waste; then there is a madhyama bhaga, the middle portion, which does not contribute to the taste; but contributes to the physical nourishment in the form of carbohydrates, fats, minerals, salts, etc. And the sukṣhma bhaga, subtle part of the food, will contribute to the nourishment of the sukṣhma sariram; all the subtle 17 organs of sukṣhma sariram, including the mind and sense organs.  The type of mind that we enjoy; whether we have a calm, spiritually friendly mind, or whether we have a highly restless extrovert mind, and whether our sense organs are alert or dull, are determined by the sukṣhma bhagaḥ.  So if a person is interested in the nourishment of the sukṣhma sariram, which is very important for spiritual sadhana he should choose satvic diet which will be good for sukṣhma sarira growth; rajasic or tamasic food may nourish the physical body, but it will not be nourishing the subtle body that helps spiritual growth. So only satvic diet is supposed to be conducive to spiritual growth.

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