noun - a body of traditions and knowledge on a subject or held by a particular group, typically passed from person to person by word of mouth.
One of the unifying and fundamental requirements of life is food. Regardless of how advanced we believe ourselves to be, everything we do through our interactions with the world is about survival and a key component of that is the procurement of vitals.
Unifying in the sense that every living thing has this common need.
However, it is very often because of food that divisions arise; competitiveness, ruthlessness... next week this will be investigated a little more deeply. Today though, I would like to look at one particular tradition, considered to be at the very least 6000 years in use and some scholars now believe it could be as much as 10-12000, for the oral tradition of Sanskritam is solid and unaltered... there are many ancient palm pages preserved which substantiate this - the Indians were always keen on record keeping!
That is not to say that the understanding has remained the same. It is another part of human nature that a person will do a lot to work things round to suit their own requirements, rather than adhering to strict discipline! It can be very subtle and is very very difficult to avoid.
Take sitting with a group in a restaurant, for example. Sharing a common meal. Someone pipes up that they wish to eat something, and due to being in a group, all agree. The one adherent to Sattvika is now faced with dilemma. That dish contains food not conducive to discipline. There are, in fact, writings which cover this contingency and permission is there that in social circumstances with no other choice, no sin is incurred; but requires some measure of ‘prayaschitta’ (mental compensation) be made afterwards. Inherent in this is the very basis of what the Catholic church now uses as confessional! (There is much in the Catholic practice which is recognizable as having, perhaps, Eastern influence – the rosary is quite likely an adaptation of either ‘worry beads’ of the Muslim or the Mala of the Hindu, possibly both… but again I digress!)
Okay, so the saadhaka has worked round the dilemma; at least on the practical level. However, in highest spiritual terms there really cannot be any avoidance of the fact that an error has occurred. Choice could have been to simply not partake of that particular dish. At the very highest spiritual level though, it is also found that all is nothing and even error has no place…. Like I said. Top of mountain stuff. In the hutch of Wild YAM, practicality must out.
What is Sattvika?
……… it is tricky to try and summarise this, for it takes pundits full focus for years to really nail it. More than a simple set of rules, though there are ‘rules’ as with all to do with the Vedas, much of the concept is held within each practitioner and is really more about the relationship with food, than the food itself. Sattvika is one of the त्रिगुणाः /triguna-s, the three main qualities to be found in life.
तमस् /tamas – mental darkness, heaviness, lust, illusion, error, sloth, ignorance, absolute impurity
रजस् /rajas – misty, day, restlessness, confusion, the relative impurity of a layer of dust
सत्त्व /sattva – simplicity, honesty, clarity, truth, beauty and complete purity.
Each of these does have this definition, however it is very rare indeed to find a single one of the gunas in a person – most particularly Sattva. That is reserved for the God-men of the world. Majority of we struggling beings have all three within us but to varying degrees and balances. Also, within one person, all three may vary according to time of day, circumstance and so on.
You can experience this even now isn’t it? If not already, then at least now you have found yourself thinking about food and whether or not you want to eat – or if you just ate, wondering whether it was the best thing for the body – or ate it knowing it probably wasn’t… This is not confined to India and Indians you see!!! This is the beauty of the Vedantic philosophy; it truly addresses the personality of being human. No matter the person’s location. What is more, it does not just apply to food but to all aspects of behaviour. If walking down the same street, the Tamaasika will have not much regard for what is under foot or all around him; the Rajaasika will skirt round sticky messy stuff, attempting to keep feet clean, but will perhaps not be so aware of keeping the hands clean; the Saatvika carries or finds the necessary items to keep hands and body fresh as well as weaving the cleanest possible line down that street! Same again can be applied on the mental level when interacting, and still further at the intellectual and of course ultimately at the spiritual level. In fact, the Tamaasika is unlikely to pay much attention to the latter two at all and the Rajaasika will at least pay lip service but dedication will be lacking.
Majority Western culture is held in the T and R states. S is left to the nuns and monks to carry the burden of penance for the rest.
Even those who have adopted vego or vegan lifestyle, unless done through teachings of Sanskritam, are unlikely to have the appropriate frame of mind to actually be attaining a level of Sattva. To be harshly against the eating of meat because of cruelty to animals is certainly Rajaasik, but can be borderline Tamas – because of the amount of anger which is held in the matter.
That is enough of the philosophy for now. Don’t want you glazing over. Not completely anyway &*<>
Now the really interesting stuff; from the Ayurvedic perspective food is medicine. Hunger is a disease condition of the body which is recurring and chronic. The only way to treat that disease is to provide a medicine to calm it. Here’s a cruncher. The term “you are what you eat” is from the Sanskrit writings. Western nutritional ‘pundits’ have only, in relatively recent times, fully grasped the significance – and of course, now it is ‘new age’ …!!!
How much the disease of hunger affects us depends a lot on whether we predominate in T, R or S. Again you can experiment this directly. At breakfast, you are at your most Sattvik (usually!) and therefore healthy foods are likely to be taken – cereals, fruits and such. By midday that resolve has waned somewhat as energy levels get used. Taking the healthy option from that menu becomes more of a challenge . Mid-arvo, there is very often a need to top up. …and what is that for many folk? By evening, too tired, too hungry, too everything. Why bother even to cook. Zap a frozen dinner or order pizza.
…do you need to be told by now that this is Tamaasik behaviour?! The Rajaasika will perhaps have maintained virtuousness through till the evening – or will have erred during the day (away from critical eyes) and then will produce a healthy evening meal. Flesh foods, alcohol, drugs/smoking, onions, garlic, mushrooms, fermented foods, stale foods, preserved foods and yeast are key pointers of T foods. Excess of hot, salt, sour pungent foods, stimulants (caffeine!), fried foods, rich foods all feed the R personality. What is required is to balance with the calming, soothing, healing foods of Sattva.
Golly – tricky wickets, eh??? Has it caught your attention? The point of knowing this stuff is to then be able to do something about changing and upping one’s status. In Western format now, that presents as the food pyramid. …
continuing next Thursday. Will you drop by?
IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT THIS IS FOR EDUCATIONAL AND ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES AND IS NOT AT ALL INTENDED AS ANY FORM OF CRITICISM OF A PRACTICE OR TO BE USED IN ANY WAY FOR INDIVIDUAL ASSESSMENT. ANYONE WISHING TO MAKE MAJOR CHANGES TO THEIR DIET MUST DISCUSS WITH A QUALIFIED PRACTITIONER.