‘For the mind, my dear consists of food’ (Cha. Up., 6.5.4)
‘when the food is pure, the mind becomes pure’ (Cha. Up., 7.26.2)
You are what you eat.
Though there are many astounding takeaways of the Bhagavad Gita this simple aphorism is quite the last word on food habits.
To best understand it we need to go back to a clear conception of the panchkosa constituted by a single prani or human.
Panchkosa – 5 sheaths, veils, levels, dimensions of the human constitution.
- Annamayya Kosha- The food sheath or physical body is created by anna or food. Also called the gross body.
- Pranamaya Kosha- The vital air sheath is propelled by the life-breath of prana. This kosha is sometimes called the Energy Body.
- Manomaya Kosha – Also called the Subtle Body or Mental Body, it comprises the ego, faculties of self-determination, drives, and emotions.
- Vignanamaya Kosha- The knowledge sheath, Buddhi or intellect, responsible for agency and action.
- Anandmaya Kosha- The bliss sheath is closest to the atman loosely defined as soul. It is also a state of pure joy and achieved after transcending the previous grosser states, much like peeling off the layers of an onion.
Four subtler levels of human existence hinge on the physical body. And since the physical body is created by food it is understood that so is the brain organ, and so also our emotions, drives and subtler existential aspects. Food, therefore, constitutes the body, mind, and spirit.
So much so it is said that the cook’s personality and mental dispositions are subtly imprinted on the prepared food, as well as the terror of the dying animal if the food is meat.
First described in the Krishna Yajur Veda, this is also the understanding Ayurveda uses to diagnose doshas or flaws of the human constitution to balance and heal it, holistically and yogically.
Specific foods unique to each individual constitution become essential in balancing flaws or doshas for a healthy, balanced, disease-free life.
The Vedic goal of human existence is the self-realization of the bliss of the Anandmaya Kosha and its connectedness to the elements of Nature (cosmos/world/universe/objective reality). Food, therefore, becomes an important means to this end.
This understanding is a civilizational cultural understanding. Remarkably separate from cultures that ‘other’ Nature, cultures thus prone to alienation, violence, and objectivization.
Unlike knowledge systems that seek to conquer/control/subjugate Nature, the Vedic perspective apportions all living beings with an equal share of divinity.
So while interconnectedness with non humans dharmically includes them in the Vedic pantheon, other civilizations cannot outthink the exploitation of animals.
Violence is so deep-rooted as a civilizational entity that objectivization continues even in their animal protection movements. In their alienated objectivised world, the human as the sumum bonum of existence, like their one true god, dispenses mercy and justice to those he deems fit. A controlling God who selectively culls animals, a merciful God who decides when an animal needs to be put to sleep. The decision is always personal, the animal is always owned, something to be controlled even while loved, eaten even if domesticated, harvested even if nurtured.
Their paradigms create ‘either/or’ ecosystems categorized by the exploited, the exploiter, and the exploitable and never become free of non-duality.
In alienated binary cultures, exploitability is a defining determinant of the ‘other’. In their nutrition sciences, edible plants and edible animals are equivalents in exploitability quotient. So farming of plants is not different from farming of animals. Animals are fed, fertilized, chopped, harvested, and processed like plants.
But recently the humane in these cultures revolted against cruel industrial processes of animal farming and came up with a movement called veganism.
Veganism is different from vegetarianism because the vegan eschews dairy products as a protest against the horrific warehousing of cattle in the dairy industry.
Ahimsa parmo dharma (Non-violence a primary duty)
Veganism is a commendable though fledgling attempt at compassion. Fledgling because in the dharmic lexicon there are myriad synonyms and connotations to ‘compassion’ or ‘karuna’. Just like in Eskimo there are myriad synonyms for the word ‘white.’
So it is laughable that the land that gave ahimsa to the world is being taught homilies of ‘milk is murder’ by cultures where violence is an industrial practice.
In Indic cultures, the cow was sacred to an extent the modern educated Indian cannot conceive or imagine. Kamadhenu, the wish fulfilling cow is revered even by gods. Gau translates as both ‘cow’ and ‘light’. The cow is the mother. Every aspect of her was and still is to a lesser extent (thanks to colonization of Bharat’s mindset), a symbol of abundance and divinity.
It is true that systematic assault on Sanatan Dharma and the modern industrialization of dairy has denuded Indian viewpoints on food. The derisive allusion to the milk drinking, ghee consuming Gangetic people as the ‘cow belt’ gives a clue to the extent of proselytisation, the essential cause of this denudation. The industrialization of dairy, the vilification of Gau Rakhsaks as Hindu radicals, and contempt for cow worship as rustic and uneducated have successfully created a perception of the ‘cow belt’ as backward, crass, militant, communal and illiterate.
So for modern Indians looking for cruelty-free food choices, it is preferable to ‘go vegan’ rather than ‘go Vedic. Cooler too.
Prima facie, the ideology of Protection and Ethical Treatment of Animals that PETA signifies, is not a problem. PETA’s focus on veganism as an NGO activity in India might seem innocuous if not laudable. But the fallacies inherent in PETA activities clamors for intense attention and dialogue. The fallacies are in ideology, purpose, practice, and proselytization.
Sun as the source of food (ideology)
The essential fallacy is in the understanding of the nature of food. The primary energy source of food for all life is the Sun. The closer the source of our food is to this primary source of life the better for all, is the dharmic understanding. Plants, processed primarily by the sun become ideal food. In the purism of Jain vegetarianism, root vegetables like garlic and onions are inferior food sources in comparison to those that face direct sunlight. But cow milk as a product of the primarily herbivorous and spiritually beneficial cow is a sacred superfood common to Jain, Gangetic, Southern, Vaishnavite and even Shaivite vegetarianism.
Amongst primarily vegetarian Vaishnavite cultures milk and milk products are essential items on the food platter.
In Puri, out of the 56 Chappan bhog vegetarian dishes offered to Lord Jagannath, at least thirty dishes have milk products especially ghee. Interestingly, the tomato is prohibited as it is a foreign, therefore impure vegetable.
Most Vaishnavite cultures and sub-cultures are so rooted in lacto vegetarianism that they contribute a large percentage of global vegetarians. Rarely on the planet can one see entire geographical swathes primarily vegetarian in food habits.
Artificial people artificial food (practice)
Indian vegetarian subcultures have managed to somehow stay connected to their Vedic roots. To convert them into veganism is preaching to the preacher. It also belittles the refinement of their ancient philosophies on compassion.
Veganism is a fad, it converts well-meaning in a self-righteous kind of way. As pretend meat eaters they spend a lot of their time trying to replace egg and dairy and meat in their menus with non-dairy counterparts till their platter is full of artificially processed foods unfamiliar to the human constitution. Their cultural DNA still craves steak, omelets, and caramel pudding. Most of the quinoa, aquafaba, couscous and nutritional yeast is only to recreate the sought-after taste of pork chops with eggs on the side. Vegans crave meat the way AA members crave alcohol and nicotine patch wearers crave tobacco, and the weight watchers crave carbohydrates.
Yogically, since craving is imprinted in the subtle constitution, wanting it is the same as eating it. Just as alcohol and nicotine stay in the bloodstream even after de-addiction, however vegan you may think you are, you are constitutionally still a meat-eater in denial. That means, from the Vedic perspective, your mental makeup is still contaminated.
The shallowness of this artificial ideology also extends to socio-economics. No amount of artificial vegan pressure created by PETA-type activism has stopped or will stop meat-eaters from becoming meat-eaters. Unlike entire geographically vegetarian belts in Bharat, no counterpart ecosystem has been known to be entirely vegan. Whether an entirely vegan ecosystem is even feasible remains debatable. Because as long as their socio-economic ecosystem operates in non Vedic binaries of control or be controlled, suppress or be suppressed, there will be a meat-eater for every PETA inspired vegan. And cows will always be slaughtered.
The Vedic ecosystem
In the Vedic ecosystem the one on top of the food pyramid is the one who is connected to all of Nature. A lot different from primitive ecosystems where the top feeder is a lion-type King of the jungle.
And because of this essential connectedness, of unity in diversity, the Vedic ecosystem accepts all feeders.
The Bhagavad Gita explains the three qualities that differentiate.
Satvik- those who eat pure food. Food close to the primary sun source. Food that is fresh, uncontaminated and non spicy.
Rajasic- those of egoistic passionate temperament prefer food that are hot, spicy and hard to digest. The meat-eaters, who like it spicy and fried.
Tamasic- those prone to inertia and dullness prefer their food fermented, decomposed, or stale. A French platter of escargot with blue cheese and red wine would be a fine example.
The Bhagvad Gita goes on to say that each individual has all three qualities in varying proportions, though of course there are those who are purely Satvik and those who are purely tamasic.
But this is the clincher.
To think to own yourself be true, the Bhagvad Gita says, don’t try to be what you are not, for it doesn’t work. Better your own dharma devoid of merit, than someone else’s dharma, full of merit. Chapter 18, verse 47.
There’s no room here for PETA proselytism, or any kind of proselytism.
Sarva dharma samabhava (All faiths are equal)
Parallel universes are normal in the Vedic multiverse as different sampradayas or traditions. In the warrior communities prone to heavy protein diets all the Khalsa gurus were vegetarian. The belief system was those vegetarian foods, Sattvik in nature release fear. Entire clans of Rajput sooryavanshis in Uttar Pradesh are strictly vegetarian. Whereas in other Rajput communities, especially in Rajasthan, goats are sacrificed during Durga Puja and partaken as mahaprasad, food of the gods.
Diversity and refinement in vegetarian cuisine is also immense. South of the Vindhyas exists a cornucopia of lentils, grains, spices and exotic vegetables. Up north the Gangetic platter relies heavily on milk and milk products, especially ghee. Interestingly, ghee as animal fat is technically non-vegetarian in the vegan’s lexicon. The non-vegetarian must not only be incomprehensible but also quite befuddling for the limited linearity of the PETA type thought process.
For here, there are no binaries even though a pure vegetarian diet is exulted as Sattvik.
Here the aghori eats the meat of burnt human corpses.
And then takes a dip in the holy Kumbh Mela with a Digamber Jain who sweeps the floor while walking so no microbes are killed.
The Vedic ecosystem shuns proselytism in thought, word and deed. In Sanatana Dharma conversion is anathema because there is no exclusivism in its all encompassing inclusive philosophy.
That is why all foods are accepted in its ecosystem, except beef. Cow eaters invade the spiritual core of Indic philosophy. The sanctity of the cow is sanctity of Sanatan dharma.
Because the cow is the mother. And the core of Sanatana Dharma is the sacred feminine.
But not a single PETA tag line will promote this.
The modern educated Indian has adopted so many western constructs that she is now completely divorced from Sanatana dharma. And while there is a fraction amongst them, who eat beef as a celebratory vilification of their Sanatana roots, most amongst them still will not eat beef. Consciously or unconsciously the sanctity of the cow is hard wired in their Hindu civilizational DNA.
PETA’s veganism seems to be targeting this splice of the pie chart. The educated Hindu who could not be proselytized into eating beef is now being proselytised to shun dairy. By shunning dairy they shun the Vedic wisdom of cow worship. PETA’s push for shunning dairy is especially egregious because of its lackadaisical activism on cow slaughter. Beef is consumed by both Christian and Muslim communities. PETA instead of aiding and empowering Gau Rakhsaks remains silent on horrific animal slaughter during Bakr- Eid and Christian festivals. This is even more suspicious because of their vociferous protests against Hindu festivals and temple elephants. For if animal protection was really their purpose and intention they would have adopted the Vedic gaushala model and propagated it in western ecosystems where cattle are in dire need of rescue.
They would not then be channeling foreign funds in imposing a western construct incommensurable to ethnic traditions of cruelty-free cattle rearing. Rather, they would be learning from it.
PETA’s intention then is not the protection of animals but quite the opposite.
It is the political appropriation and colonisation of an ancient and ethnic paradigm.
Adopt a cow. Sponsor a gaushala
Vedic dairy farms are mushrooming throughout the country thanks to an organic and indigenous movement towards dharmic living.
Their voices need to be heard.
They will tell you that cows are milked only after calves get their fill.
They will tell you that lactating cows who are not milked suffer from pain and hormonal imbalance. That calves who overfeed die of indigestion. That domesticated animals do not survive in the jungle.
They will tell you that the cows they rear are not artificially inseminated.
Bulls are not culled.
And those aging animals are protected and looked after in gaushalas.
They will tell you what PETA won’t.
Beef eating and veganism are the flip sides of the Abrahamic coin.
They are both self-limiting unsuccessful binaries of an unsophisticated deterministic algorithm.
The Vedic choice is the algorithm for a humane, organic and enlightened ecosystem.
It is a civilized choice.
If you have to go vegan, go Vedic vegan.
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