Food and its Effect on the Mind

Àcarya Pranakrnananda Avadhuta
In charge of Ananda Marga's activities in Italy
My name is Prana Krishna Nanda, but you can call me Dada which means "brother". It's very nice to see so many vegetarians sitting together trying to work out how to recruit more vegetarians. I hope that you are very successful and will be able to make the whole world vegetarian.
I've been a vegetarian for 30 years. I don't eat meat, fish, eggs, garlic, onions or mushrooms. What I teach is yoga meditation - a state of pure consciousness. These states are called "chakras" in Sanskrit. I'm here to talk about the effects of diet on the mind and I would like to draw a picture of your mind from the yogic point of view. I'm talking about the spinal cord, which, according to yoga, is the protector of our nervous system. When we use the term "nerve", we may not be using it in exactly the same way as the medical profession would.
There are three major nerves in the spinal cord: one of them leads from the brain straight to the base of the spine, and two others wind around the central nerve like a vine. The point where these nerves cross in the centre of the spinal cord is where the nuclei of the various chakras are located, so that these chakras are therefore primarily formed by the nerves.
The second way chakras are created is by the glands. According to meditation philosophy there are fifty glands in the body. In each of these chakras there are many mental propensities guiding our behaviour such as greed, hunger, thirst, the desire to help other people, compassion, dogmatic thinking and cruelty.
So all the possible abilities of the human mind are potentially to be found in the spinal cord, the nervous system and the glandular system. These glands produce various hormones, which, on entering the blood stream, activate the various mental propensities. When these propensities are repeatedly activated they become part of our personality. So we can say that if you eat a particular type of animal food, you will tend towards the personality of that animal. By observing your behaviour you can see in what ways the food you have eaten has stimulated your particular personality.
The pig is a very nice animal and in Asia is almost treated like a dog around the house. Though a very interesting animal, it has defects: it eats and eats and eats! Some people I know behave in this way, and I have discovered that they are great pork lovers. Goats too are very interesting animals, who love to bang their heads together. There are many human beings who like doing the same thing, and develop this propensity by eating goats' meat.
The big fish tends to eat the small one. In this era of the capitalist ethic, there are difficulties in world socio-economic conditions precisely because the big fish wants to eat the small one.
In conclusion, our human personalities depend to some extent on the food we eat.
However, we are not just organic beings - we also have a mind and a soul, whatever that may be. We have to discover this, and meditation is the process that leads us towards such a discovery. So the aim of yoga is to achieve a state of pure consciousness, and yogis are trying to bring all our energies into some kind of equilibrium.
Yoga maintains that energy possesses three basic qualities. The first one is called sensitive, the second mutable and the third static. These are the three types of forces playing a part in our consciousness and are always present together. The bottom two centres are dominated by static force, whereas in the top two centres the sensitive force is dominant. When we analyse the world around us, we want to know what force we must activate in order to activate our consciousness. Obviously if we want to get closer to a state of pure consciousness, we must keep well away from static force and get closer to sensitive force. This explains why yogis do not eat meat, fish, eggs, garlic, onions and mushrooms: all these foods stimulate static mental force. Coffee, tea, cocoa and spices stimulate the mutable mind. Everything else stimulates the sensitive mind.
We are, then, doing meditation to reach a state of pure consciousness, and to see this state in plants, animals, minerals and the various other elements - we need all the help we can get from them. If a food deprives us of this experience, we do not believe that that food is of great importance, so we would want to eliminate the food in question.
The human body carries out a process of digestion or purification. The food ingested takes 28 days to be purified. The final product is lymph, the raw material used by the glands to produce hormones. Non-vegetarian food produces little lymph because it lacks chlorophyll, whereas vegetarian food is high in chlorophyll. For the lymph then to be converted into hormones in the glands, chlorophyll is needed as a catalyst.
This explains why yogis and meditators aim to eat foods high in chlorophyll in order to give more energy to the sentient glands, the brain, the nervous system, the skin and so on. Two aspects of the vegetarian diet are important: the first is the sentient food we eat and the second is the chlorophyll-assisted use of lymph. For the yogi, however, food is not an end in itself, but a means of activating the subtlest layers of the mind in order to directly experience divinity, spirituality, consciousness, God or whatever term you prefer to use. The human mind has the potential to give all the answers; it just needs some concentration. This aspect of concentration is meditation, which becomes a form of self-realization. We can therefore see the vegetarian diet as a means of achieving self-realization.
Q: What is your opinion about cows producing milk?
A: The problem is the capitalist ethic. Things are not done for our wellbeing or for that of the cow or calf, but only to make money. The capitalist has the sole aim of making money, so becoming ever greedier, and when we become greedy ethics go out of the window. Preaching ethics to a capitalist is senseless. If you want to change society then you have to adopt a more aggressive approach. You cannot just talk about cows and calves - you have to do something significant to change the present capitalist ethic.
- translations by Hugh Rees, Milan - commissioned by Associazione Vegetariana Italiana (AVI)