'Freedays' are the 'gather our thoughts' days; Q&As; a general page reviewing the week so far…
Yesterday, on assessing shloka four of Saadhana Panchakam, there was a lot about food. Or more particularly, that food ought not to be thought a lot about!
In as succinct and precise a text as the 'forty steps of practice', that is all fine and well. However, as no doubt all who are paying attention will understand, each 'step' (instruction) could itself become a full and encompassing saadhana. How many are yet to take up the daily scriptural reading? Are we all remembering to dedicate our activity to the Higher in an ever more conscious manner?
Would it not have been logical to have included such a staple thing as approach to food in the first shloka?!
No. For the simple reason that it is a staple of life. The Master understood that to ask the likes of us to beg for and live on chapatti and dahl once a day would be so impractical as to lose his audience before ever getting to the urgent stuff. (Though without doubt, chapatti and dahl are amongst the most nourishing and satisfying of foods!) The fourth shloka is addressed to those who have advanced their spiritual skills and Vedantic understanding to encompass the concept of the body merely being a vehicle requiring fuel in order that the आत्मा/aatmaa (soul) can do the work required to reunify with the Whole.
However, one does not have to wait for a convenient time to take up true spiritual calling. Neither does that mean one must retreat to a convent or ashram to live spiritually. Indeed, the best of all spiritual (and indeed philosophical) challenges, is to take up the call whilst still 'living life' and mingling with Maya.
All of the steps in Saadhana Panchakam can be exercised by all who dedicate themselves to the Higher and this does not mean becoming nuns or monks or sadhus, but simply that the priority becomes Other. This does, in fact, mean that we can take a look at our 'fuel consumption', even at the early stages of saadhana. Again, if we look at the purely functional aspects of diet, can it not be agreed that everyone knows that better food choices are more likely to optimise our health? The concept of 'you are what you eat' has been around for centuries and in a number of cultural threads. Food is also one of the unifying factors, culturally and inter-culturally. Very often, if we understand the basis of a particular cuisine, we are more likely to gain an understanding of the general culture and also, perhaps, to the spiritual culture of a people.
Whilst the basis of Sanskrit culture is vegetarianism, it has to be acknowledged that in some areas of the globe, there was, historically, no option to obtain plant foods. The Polar regions are the obvious comparison here. Even in the lower Northern areas, whilst vegetables could be obtained, it can be understood how a culture of flesh-consumption grew up.
In this modern age, however, with the wonder of science and transportation, plant foods have become available to all. The difference now is making a choice. As intellectual, spiritual beings we can become intelligent about our fuel consumption.
This applies also to the 'food' of other senses. All spiritual philosophies dictate at the very least, moderation in all things. Similarly, abstinence from the consumption of items which are known to alter our perception on life or to pose a severe risk to health of self or others is a common factor in various philosophies. This is not a revelationary (neither revolutionary!) idea. Nor is the idea that food is a highly emotive constant in life. Whole societies have been controlled when their food supplies have been controlled. Think sieges, think famines, think glut…
Glut? Yes. "Western" society is led around by its nose - or should that be stomach?! Fast foods have become a scourge, prepackaged supermarket meals will proclaim their benefits but none of their pitfalls.
We will discuss more on food, particularly when it comes to the Vedantic concepts of the three qualities, but for the time being consider whether you may be able (if not already) to undertake vegetarianism. Ponder the possibility of at least taking up, say, three days a week, of eating without meat. Think about whether you could make one day a fortnight a day of fasting. Note within yourself as you look at these things, of the excuses which arise within; the justifications which we are so adept at manufacturing for ourselves and the hurdles we can find to block our change.
If there is one thing guaranteed to trip up anyone seeking to make spiritual change in life, it will be this!