“To keep the body in good health is a duty, for otherwise we shall not be able to light the lamp of wisdom, and keep our mind strong and clear. – Buddha”
Food is our life source. But the food we eat has an impact on every area of our lives, even when we are not aware of this. It is not just about filling our stomach and satisfying our appetite. Our lives depend on it physiologically, psychologically and spiritually. Physiology and psychology give us important empirical knowledge about why and how food nourishes body and mind. But to understand it in a spiritual sense, requires knowledge of another sort: a knowledge that resides in the human heart and spirit.
Food is an insightful doorway to spiritual growth, because how you experience food is how you experience life. So food is not just what we eat. It is about what we feel, think, behave etc. For example, if you deprive yourself of pleasure and joy in your life, you probably deprive yourself of eating nourishing food. We often encounter people eating less than they may need or not getting the macronutrients their body requires — and then losing control at night. Even our beliefs and habits get “echoed” in our food choices. Even the people surrounding you, their energy, vibes, knowledge, thinking, emotions and care; all goes into your dish.
Why Food Is Sacred
The word ‘Sacred’ refers to the quality of an object which imparts an ultimate worth to it that goes beyond the human standards.
Food can sometimes produce a sense of awe or gratitude within us, a “reverence”. Imagine living far away from home. Let’s say a close friend sensed your mood and prepared a special meal for you (familiar with home). You are filled with awe, grateful to your friend and comforted by this sweet gesture. When food communicates grace in such ways, it takes on a sacred quality.
The ancient Indian Vedic culture looks at food in terms of how it affects our temperament and is said to be belonging to one of the three categories, depending upon its effect on the body and spirit – Sattva, Rajas and Tamas.
Tamasic food is heavy. It is over-ripe, spoiled, stale, processed or canned, and creates dullness, heaviness, sluggishness and lethargy. It adds little nutritional value to our body and on a deeper level also ‘weighs’ down your energy field.
Rajasic food is spicy, pungent and stimulating that can lead to over-activity and agitation. This is therefore not good for meditation because you want to settle your mind at that time.
Sattvic foods is considered the most desirable. They are pure, fresh and light, and leave us feeling refreshed, clear and alert. These include whole, natural, organic foods – fruit and vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. This category is good for calmness, peace, digestion and health.
Food and Ritual
There are many ways in which human find meaning in food. There have been long-established rites and rituals attributing spiritual importance to food and eating.
For example, Christians have an important association with the food in the form of memory of Jesus Christ’s ‘last supper’ with his apostles. While in Hinduism, special foods called ‘Prasada’ are offered to the deities in the temples. Eating ‘prasada’ is believed to purify one’s body and mind.
Buddha was said to have instructed his disciples to accept whatever food was offered, as refusal of an offering meant rejection of the giver. Careful admonishments were given on eating mindlessly or just for pleasure, as that is said to be moved by selfish temptations.
Some rituals and practices also promote consumption of certain types of food on certain days of the months as this helps in balancing and aligning the body’s 5 elements (tatvas) and electromagnetic field surrounding it.
Another ritual relationship with food that people in many of the world’s religions practice is ‘Fasting‘. A fast is an act of abstaining from food for the purpose of directing a person’s attention away from the body’s physical needs and move towards the spiritual needs of the soul; increasing spiritual awareness, achieve the discipline necessary to resist temptations, purifying and detoxifying the body etc.
Our ancestors treated food as a sacred offering to our human body considered as ‘the temple’. They considered food to be made out of sacred and pure substance – earth, a rare gift from the Mother Nature to be assimilated and used by ‘the temple’. If we fail to revere food and continue eating the toxic foods mindlessly, we will always struggle and remain to live in lower states of awareness. Only public reawakening to the spiritual dimension of food, aligned with sound scientific and ethical knowledge will inspire, strengthen and promote deeply committed action for healthy food and sustainable food systems.
Some of the principles of spiritual eating we can consider for our food practices are:
1. Eating mindfully, being aware of the food and your body needs – avoiding overeating or binging on food.
2. Eat for the purpose of nourishing your body; treat your body as a temple.
3. Eat only fresh, clean, light foods, avoiding foods that are processed or canned.
4. Always eat with an attitude of gratitude; that will also help you in your purpose of bettering yourself spiritually.
Food and your connection
We are all interconnected and rely on each other to co-exist on this planet. Food takes a new meaning on all levels – energetically, spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically. So if your health is not up to the mark, begin to look at more than just your physical body. It can be difficult to work this out so seek out help from a practitioner, be it a psychologist, energy worker, nutritionist or spiritual adviser. Whatever input they give you, will be ‘food’ for your future perspective and help you on your further journey.