9. Yama - Moderate Diet | Mitāhara
Summary of the Ninth Restraint
Be moderate in appetite, neither eating too much nor consuming meat, fish, shellfish, fowl or eggs.
Enjoy fresh, wholesome vegetarian foods that vitalize the body.
Avoid junk food. Drink in moderation.
Eat at regular times, only when hungry, at a moderate pace, never between meals, in a disturbed atmosphere or when upset.
Follow a simple diet, avoiding rich or fancy fare.
The Ninth Restraint
Mitāhara / मिताहर
Mitāhāra, moderate appetite, is the tenth yama.
Gorging oneself has always been a form of decadence in every culture and is considered unacceptable behaviour. It is the behaviour of people who gain wealth and luxuries from the miseries of others.
Decadence, which is a dance of decay, has been the downfall of many governments, empires, kingdoms and principalities:
Marie Antoinette, queen of France, made the famous decadent statement just before the French revolution: “If the people have no bread, let them eat cake.” Nearly everyone who heard that imperious insult, including its authoress, completely lost their heads.
Decadence is a form of decay that the masses have railed against century upon century, millennium after millennium.
All this and more shows us that mitāhāra is a restraint that we must all obey and which is one of the most difficult:
The body knows no wisdom as to shoulds and should-nots. It would eat and drink itself to death if it had its way, given its own instinctive intelligence.
It is the mind that controls the body and emotions and must effect this restraint for its own preservation, health and wellness of being, to avoid the emptiness of “sick-being.”
According to āyurveda, not eating too much is the greatest thing you can do for health if you want a long life, ease in meditation and a balanced, happy mind. That is why, for thousands of years, yogis, sādhus and meditators have eaten moderately.
There is almost nothing, apart from smoking and drugs, that hurts the body more than excessive eating, and excessive eating has to be defined in both the amount of food and the quality of food:
If you are regularly eating rich, processed, dead foods, then you are not following mitāhāra, and you will have rich, finely processed, dead, dredged-up- from-the-past karmic experiences that will ruin your marriage, wreak havoc on your children and send you early to the funeral pyre.
For the twenty-first century, mitāhāra has still another meaning:
Our Ṛishis may have anticipated that the economy of mitāhāra makes it a global discipline—eating frugally, not squandering your wealth to overindulge yourself,
not using the wealth of a nation to pamper the nation’s most prosperous, not using the resources of the Earth to satiate excessive appetites.
If all are following mitāhāra, we will be able to better feed everyone on the planet; fewer will be hungry. We won’t have such extreme inequalities of excessive diet and inadequate diet, the incongruity of gluttony and malnutrition. We will have global moderation.
The Hindu view is that we are part of ecology, an intricate part of the planet. Our physical body is a species here with rights equal to a flea, cockroach, bird, snake, a fish, a small animal or an elephant.
Diet and Good Health
By following mitāhāra you can be healthier, and you can be wealthier:
A lot of money is wasted in the average family on food that could go toward many other things the family needs or wants. If you are healthier, you save on doctor bills, and because this also helps in sādhana and meditation, you will be healthy, happy and holy.
Overeating repels one from spiritual sādhana, because the body becomes slothful and lazy, having to digest so much food and run it through its system.
Eating is meant to nourish the body with vitamins and minerals to keep it functioning. It is not meant for mere personal, sensual pleasure.
A slothful person naturally does not have the inclination to advance himself through education and meditation, and is unable to do anything but a simple, routine job.
We recently heard of a Western science lab study that fed two groups of rats different portions of food:
Those who were allowed to have any amount of food they could eat lived a normal rat life span. Those who were given half that much lived twice as long.
This so impressed the scientists that they immediately dropped their own calorie input and lost many pounds, realizing that a long, healthy life could be attained by not eating so much.
People on this planet are divided in two groups, as delineated by states of consciousness:
The most obvious group is those ruled by lower consciousness, which proliferates deceit and dishonesty and the confusion in life that these bring, along with fear, anger, jealousy and the subsequent remorseful emotions that follow.
On the purer side are those in higher consciousness, ruled by the powers of reason and memory, willpower, good judgment, universal love, compassion and more.
A vegetarian diet helps to open the inner man to the outer person and brings forth higher consciousness. Eating meat, fish, fowl and eggs opens the doors to lower consciousness. It’s as simple as that.
A vegetarian diet creates the right chemistry for spiritual life. Other diets create a different chemistry, which affects your endocrine glands and your entire system all day long. A vegetarian diet helps your system all day long.
Food is chemistry, and chemistry affects consciousness; and if our goal is higher consciousness, we have to provide the chemistry that evokes it.
Take Charge of Your Body
There is a wonderful breathing exercise you can perform to aid the digestion and elimination of food by stimulating the internal fire:
Breathe in through your nose a normal breath, and out through your nose very fast while pulling the stomach in. Then relax your stomach and again breathe in naturally and then out quickly by pulling the stomach in to force the air out of the lungs.
Do this for one minute, then rest for one minute, then do it again. Then rest for a minute and do it again. About three repetitions is generally enough to conquer indigestion or constipation.
This prāṇāyāma amplifies the heat of the body and stimulates the fire that digests food and eliminates waste:
It is especially good for those who are rather sedentary and do a lot of intellectual work, whose energies are in the intellect and may not be addressing their digestive needs adequately.
Take charge of your own body and see that it is working right, is healthy and you are eating right. If you do overindulge, then compensate by fasting occasionally and performing physical disciplines.
Most people have certain cravings and desires which they permit themselves to indulge in, whether it be sweets or rich, exotic foods or overly spiced foods. Discovering and moderating such personal preferences and desires is part of the spiritual path.
If you find you overindulge in jelly beans, cashew nuts, liquorice, chocolate, varieties of soft drinks or exotic imported coffee, moderate those appetites.
Then you are controlling the entire desire nature of the instinctive mind in the process. That is a central process of spiritual unfoldment—to control and moderate such desires.
The Ṛishis of yore taught us to restrain desire. They used the words restrain and moderate rather than suppress or eliminate.
We must remember that to restrain and moderate desire allows the energy which is restrained and moderated to enliven higher chakras, giving rise to creativity and intuition that will actually better mankind, one’s own household and the surrounding community.
The Ṛishis have given us great knowledge to help us know what to do. Study your body and your diet and find out what works for you. Find out what foods give you indigestion and stop eating those things.
But remember that eating right in itself is not spiritual life:
In the early stages seekers often become obsessed with finding the perfect diet. That is a stage they have to go through in learning. They have to find out what is right for them. But it should balance out to a simple routine of eating to live, not living to eat.
Reasons for Vegetarianism
Vegetarianism has for thousands of years been a principle of health and environmental ethics throughout India and it remains to this day a cardinal ethic of Hindu thought and practice.
A subtle sense of guilt persists among Hindus who eat meat, and there exists an on-going controversy on this issue.
The Sanskrit for vegetarianism is śākāhāra, and one following a vegetarian diet is a śākāhārī.
The term for meat-eating is mānsāhāra, and the meat-eater is called mānsāhārī.
Āhāra means “food” or “diet,” śāka means “vegetable,” and mānsa means “meat” or “flesh.”
Amazingly, I have heard people define vegetarian as a diet which excludes the meat of animals but does permit fish and eggs.
But what really is vegetarianism?
It is living only on foods produced by plants, with the addition of dairy products.
Vegetarian foods include grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, milk, yogurt, cheese and butter. The strictest vegetarians, known as vegans, exclude all dairy products. Natural, fresh foods, locally grown without insecticides or chemical fertilizers are preferred.
A vegetarian diet does not include meat, fish, shellfish, fowl or eggs.
For good health, even certain vegetarian foods are minimized:
frozen and canned foods, highly processed foods, such as white rice, white sugar and white flour; and “junk” foods and beverages—those with abundant chemical additives, such as artificial sweeteners, colourings, flavourings and preservatives.
In the past fifty years millions of meat-eaters have made the decision to stop eating the flesh of other creatures.
There are 5 major motivations for such a decision.
1) Many become vegetarian purely to uphold dharma, as the first duty to God and God’s creation as defined by Vedic scripture.
2) Some abjure meat-eating because of the karmic consequences, knowing that by involving oneself, even indirectly, in the cycle of inflicting injury, pain and death by eating other creatures, one must in the future experience in equal measure the suffering caused.
3) Spiritual consciousness is another reason:
Food is the source of the body’s chemistry, and what we ingest affects our consciousness, emotions and experiential patterns.
If one wants to live in higher consciousness, in peace and happiness and love for all creatures, then he cannot eat meat, fish, shellfish, fowl or eggs.
By ingesting the grosser chemistries of animal foods, one introduces into the body and mind anger, jealousy, fear, anxiety, suspicion and a terrible fear of death, all of which are locked into the flesh of butchered creatures.
4) Medical studies prove that a vegetarian diet is easier to digest, provides a wider range of nutrients and imposes fewer burdens and impurities on the body.
Vegetarians are less susceptible to all the major diseases that afflict contemporary humanity, and thus live longer, healthier, more productive lives.
They have fewer physical complaints, less frequent visits to the doctor, fewer dental problems and smaller medical bills. Their immune system is stronger, their bodies purer and more refined, and their skin clearer, more supple and smooth.
5) Finally, there is the ecological reason: Planet Earth is suffering:
In large measure, the escalating loss of species, destruction of ancient rainforests to create pasture lands for livestock, loss of topsoil and the consequent increase of water impurities and air pollution have all been traced to the single fact of meat in the human diet.
No single decision that we can make as individuals or as a race can have such a dramatic effect on the improvement of our planetary ecology as the decision to not eat meat.
Many conscious of the need to save the planet for future generations have made this decision for this reason and this reason alone.