Every human soul craves happiness in whichever stage of spirituality they are in. People may dream of joy in their jobs, their relationships, pursuing their hobbies, or even just eating their favourite food. Apart from these material desires, there are spiritual feats which people wish to achieve. Whether the end is material or spiritual, the precondition to both is good health. If one is diseased, realising one's highest potential in achieving life goals in one's career, family or spiritual journey is impossible.
The Connection Between Food and Spirituality
Our scriptures prescribe sattvic food for enhancing one's physical, mental and spiritual health. Meat, fish and eggs or an excess of sour or spicy food desirable to the tongue are said to evoke the tamogunas dangerous for the body and mind.
Some people argue that God has not asked us to be vegetarian, so why renounce the food we like? What has the spiritual journey of our soul to do with our diet? Many people also argue that giving up animal flesh will cause weakness in the human body due to a deficiency of the required proteins. These myths, and many others, have been busted centuries ago by Vedic Sciences and, in the present day, by scientific studies in Epidemiology and Medicine. Ayurveda and Medical Sciences subscribe to the fact that human beings must stay away from meat, fish and poultry because, unlike carnivorous animals, the human body is naturally designed to be herbivorous. Studies have found that the agents of the body that aid in digestion, beginning with the teeth and then the liver and pancreas, the intestines in the human body, are adapted to eating fruits and nuts, which require fewer acids to get digested. Animal bodies, conversely, secrete more acids and have shorter intestines, which are suitable for digesting meat.
The Impact of Food on Health and Emotions
It is said that our body and mind constitute what we eat and shall respond according to our diet. Eating food that goes against our body's physiological constitution will undoubtedly incur long-term damage. It will adversely affect not only the body but the mind, too. Scientific studies in recent times say that meat eating is the cause of many types of cancers, high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases,type-II diabetes and many more. Dr. Neal Barnard, MD and Associate Professor of Medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, is a nutrition researcher. In his book, The Power of Your Plate, he observes that humans had a primarily plant-based diet from the beginning of their evolution, like most other apes. Human meat consumption had probably begun by eating the leftovers that carnivores had left behind. Barnard holds that human bodies have never adapted to meat-eating, as a result of which meat-eaters have a higher occurrence of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other problems.
Moreover, meat eating can lead to irritability, anger and violence. There is a scientific justification for this statement. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating aggression. It stabilises our mood and makes us more pleasant. Consuming high protein diets like meat lowers the level of serotonin in our body and makes a person prone to aggression in the presence of external stimuli. Branches of Eastern medicine, like Traditional Chinese Medicine, have also identified foods that cause anger, anxiety and violence—vices one must avoid for holistic spiritual growth. It is thus established that food has a direct impact not only on our gross bodies but on the subtle body as well.
The National Cancer Institute, a cancer research wing of the National Institute of Health in America, has carried out significant research in the field, and its findings are that cooked meat may increase the risk of cancer in humans. Meat cooked at high temperatures results in the formation of the mutagenic compounds heterocyclic amines (HCA) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons(PAH), which accumulate on the surface of the meat. Consumption of it causes DNA mutations, eventually leading to a high risk of different types of cancer.
Importance of Sattvic Lifestyle for Spiritual Growth
Thus, scientific discoveries have affirmed and reaffirmed Vedic knowledge, an ongoing process. Science is a form of ascending knowledge; therefore, more and more research will only establish the descending knowledge already available to us in the form of scriptures. This divine knowledge has existed for centuries and lifetimes for both believers and non-believers, and the onus is upon the individual soul to use his intellect and implement that knowledge instead of engaging in uninformed arguments. The more one argues, the more he is derailed from the spiritual goal. Faith pulls him back on track. It is very easy to sway the mind in the direction of our desires and give justifications for following them. However, that will lead to gratification rather than happiness. Spiritual seekers must perceive the thin line of difference between gratification and happiness. While gratification is momentary, happiness is there to stay. Happiness is a product of the renunciation of toxic substances, thoughts and deeds which bring instant gratification. Happiness is about sacrificing our indulgences and passions, giving way to sattvic gunas to predominate our mind and intellect. For example, if an obese person overeats, it gratifies his hunger momentarily, but later on, it causes severe health conditions, and his delusion of happiness disappears.
Moreover, happiness is about engaging in selfless deeds. When we do something to gratify our selfish desires, the desire is not quenched but magnified manifold. On the other hand, happiness involves offering everything we do to God in yajna and enjoying only the prasad, the remnants of the oblation.
Gratification involves neither sacrifice nor offering. It is a selfish end that never ends! It is like an unending maze where the human body and soul are trapped forever! The objective of a true spiritual seeker is to liberate the soul from the shackles of bodily gratification, and what better way to start the spiritual journey than to purify one's body, mind and soul by embracing a sattvic lifestyle!