Spiritual Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet
Swami Nirmalananda Giri
Bondage and liberation are states of the mind. The mind, as a mass of vibrating energy, is limited by the constitution or condition of that energy. If the energy is heavy or inert, little can be done with it to produce the state of silence and clarity needed to reflect the truth of spirit. Certain actions darken the mind and make it thick or heavy, vibrating very slowly–sometimes seemingly not at all. On the other hand, some actions lighten the mind, making it fluid and subtle, vibrating at a very high level. It is this latter condition that is needed for attaining the state of liberation–or rather, the state that liberates the spirit from the illusion of bondage and suffering. It is really the mind that becomes liberated, but that liberation also affects the essentially ever-free spirit and sets it free from involvement with the mind. And to attain such liberation the mind must be purified and refined, vegetarian diet being one of the best and strongest means for its purification.
Diet and consciousness
Although diet is commonly considered a matter of physical health alone, since the Hermetic principle "as above, so below" is a fundamental truth of the cosmos, diet is a crucial aspect of emotional, intellectual, and spiritual development. For diet and consciousness are interrelated, and purity of diet is an effective aid to purity and clarity of consciousness. "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." (Note 1)
The purification of our subtler levels depends upon the purification of our physical entity. This makes sense when we realize that all that goes to constitute a human being is formed of energies of various types, and the only source of energy is that which is brought into the body through sunlight, air, and food. And it is material food that provides by far the greatest amount of the energy from which our multilevel complex is shaped.
When we realize that any physical object has all the levels which we do, namely, the physical, biomagnetic, sensory, intellectual and will bodies, we can understand the importance of the kind and quality of food we eat. For not only does the physical substance of the food become assimilated into our physical body, so also do the subtler energies become united to our inner levels. This is the teaching of the Chandogya Upanishad: "Mind consists of food. That which is the subtle part of milk moves upward when the milk is churned and becomes butter. In the same manner, the subtle part of the food that is eaten moves upward and becomes mind. Thus, mind consists of food." (Note 2)
We cannot get a marble statue from clay, nor can we get wheat bread from barley meal–the end product is still going to consist of the nature of the material started with. So it is with all our bodies, gross and subtle. They will reflect the character of the food which has gone into their formation.
The esoteric side
Nothing that exists is "solid matter." All physical objects are formed of molecules that are formed of atoms that are formed of particles that in the ultimate analysis are vibrating energy–not "things" at all. The only difference between gold, wood, water, and living human flesh is the pattern or behavior of the energy of which they are composed. If we go through the whole range of relative existence from the bottom–where we are–right up to the top, to (but not including) the realm of pure spirit, it is all energy of varying kinds, though one in essence.
The same is true of our individual, private universe we call "me." It is composed of successive layers of energy from very subtle to very gross. All the levels of energy that exist in creation exist in us as well. We are actually small reflections of the greater universe. Our spirit pervades our little cosmos, enlivening and directing it, just as God pervades, enlivens, and directs the universe.
All which we experience as "us" are just different strata of cosmic energy vibrating at differing rates. The physical body is the densest stratum, behind which is the stratum of biomagnetic energy that keeps the body going and links it to another field of energy which is the mind. (By "mind" is meant the percepting part of us which can see, hear, smell and so on, by means of the messages conveyed from the sense organs through the nervous system into the brain.) Beyond the mind is the intellect, the part of us that not only sees a hand but knows it is a hand–and not a foot. Beyond the intellect is an even subtler level from which our power of will arises. Human consciousness and human behavior are nothing but the states and activities of these various bodies of vibrating energy.
From whence do all these energy layers come? First we get these energy levels from our parents, but as we grow and develop we replace and increase those energies through the food we eat, although we receive some energy from light and air.
We are what we eat
It is obvious, then, that the food we eat is going to determine the quality and condition of all the levels of our being. Our food has the same levels we do, and the different energies of the food are absorbed into our corresponding levels. Therefore when we eat something, it not only affects us on all levels of our existence, it becomes those levels. In this very real sense we indeed are what we eat. In esoteric philosophy our various levels are looked upon as separate bodies through which our consciousness operates. Since those bodies are formed essentially from the food we eat, they will be conditioned by and function according to the kind of energy extracted from the food. We are very much like the child's toy that is a series of colored rings stacked on a rod. That is, we are successive layers of subtler and subtler energy that are connected to the physical body. From these energy levels the different life processes are empowered and administered. When the energies within us are positive, they produce harmonious states of mind and behavior. But when the energies are negative, they move in a random and chaotic manner and produce negative states of mind and, consequently, negative behavior.
Moreover, these toxic energies can also manifest as physical illnesses or defects. Substances that are toxic to the body–such as meat, alcohol, nicotine, and drugs–are toxic on the inner levels as well, and their ingestion poisons all our bodies by putting into them negative energies which are going to manifest in the disrupting manner just described. On the other hand, fruits, vegetables, and grains are reservoirs of pure, basic life energies which are very light and malleable. These energies are easily assimilated into all our bodies and made to take on our specific, unique life vibrations and karmic patterns.
Diet and the mind
"Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure." (Note 3)
As stated at the very beginning, the bondage and liberation of an individual is exclusively a matter of his mind, and the process of liberation is a matter of purifying and transmuting the mind. Since the mind is formed of the subtle energies of that which we eat, we can realize that diet is one of the most crucial aspects of the spiritual aspirant's regimen, for it will determine the quality and effectiveness of his meditation experience. Just as soft wax readily takes the impression of a stamp and retains it–in contrast to cold, hard wax–so the mind formed of light and pure food energies will respond most readily and permanently to the liberating samskaras produced by meditation. Diet, then, can be a major determinant of our success or failure in spiritual life.
What is perception? Volumes have been written on that question, but we can consider it very simply. The mind is a field of energy which, when acted upon, is modified. Those modifications are the perceptions which the pure consciousness of the spirit witnesses, and which the intellect–also an energy field–classifies and evaluates. So the mind shapes itself in response to stimuli, and it is the modifications of the mind-energy which we perceive–not the actual thing itself. Obviously, then, the mind should be extremely sensitive and capable of easily forming into the patterns of perception. For this to be so, the mind (and intellectual) energies must be light and fluid. Such energies are obtained through eating substances composed of those energies–and those substances are fruits, vegetables, and grains.
It has been scientifically proven that plants react to thoughts–they are telepathic. If we take the energies of plants into our higher levels we will then naturally develop intuition and other subtle perceptions.
Energy, consciousness, and will
To helps us better understand the mechanics of developing higher consciousness, we can consider the behavior of water. A bowl of water can easily be made to form into waves and eddies in response to movements of the bowl or of air currents. Thick syrup, on the other hand, will respond very little, and tar will not respond at all. So it is with the mind according to the type of energies which go into its composition.
For the intentional evolution of consciousness, the mind has to be very light and responsive, and that is accomplished mostly through diet. The mind must not only be sensitive to random impressions, it must also be shaped by our illumined wills. In a sense, we must sculpt our minds, forming them into instruments of higher awareness. To facilitate this, the mind must be as malleable as possible.
Just as cold clay cannot be worked with for modeling, but warm clay is easily used, in the same way the mind must be responsive to shaping by our will. Animal energies were never meant for higher consciousness, and consequently cannot be attuned to anything beyond the most mundane perceptions. The energies of fruits, vegetables, and grains, being unconditioned, can easily be made to vibrate to the highest potential.
The spiritual value of vegetarianism
The major thing to keep in mind when considering the subject of vegetarianism is its relevancy in relation to our explorations of consciousness. We need only ask: Does it facilitate my spiritual growth–the development and expansion of my consciousness? The answer is Yes.
That this is true is demonstrated in the Second Book of Esdras (Note 4) When Esdras pled with God for prophetic guidance, God told him: "Go into a field of flowers, where no house is builded, and eat only the plants of the field; taste no flesh, drink no wine, but eat plants only; And pray unto the Highest continually, then will I come and talk with thee. So I went my way into the field which is called Ardath, like as he commanded me; and there I sat among the plants, and did eat of the herbs of the field, and the same satisfied me." (Note 5) After seven days Esdras received a revelation from the Lord, but first he had to refine his mental energies by diet–mere devotion and prayer was not enough. (Nor would diet have availed anything without prayer.)
As already discussed, many supposedly moral or spiritual problems are only matters of energy behavior. If the energies are modified and re-centered where they belong, instantly the problem vanishes. But such a modification and repositioning is not possible with energies other than those absorbed from sunlight, air, and plant life. This is why, in the Bible, God told the first human beings: "Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so."(Note 6) From this we see that neither humans nor animals are natural flesh-eaters. To be so is to violate the divine pattern. The Psalmist affirmed this dietary regimen when he wrote: "He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth." (Note 7)
Practices for conscious evolution consist of two processes: (1) repolarization and refinement of energies and (2) placement of energies in higher levels. This means that our energies must be responsive, malleable and moveable–just as is water. (It is no accident that water is continually used in the Bible to symbolize spiritual life.)
Appollonius of Tyana, a great Master who lived in Greece shortly before the time of Jesus, was asked how he was able to work miracles. His simple answer was: "I have never eaten the flesh of animals." Of course he did not mean that abstinence from meat alone made him a miracle-worker–otherwise all vegetarian animals and humans would work miracles naturally. What he meant was that the condition of his mind and body, resulting from being a strict vegetarian, had enabled him to successfully engage in the inner disciplines required for spiritual enlightenment–disciplines he had learned from the yogis of India.
Daniel, prophet and vegetarian
In the Old Testament we have an example of abstinence from meat as a basis for physical and psychic health. Daniel and his fellow Essenes refused to eat the meat provided by the King of Babylon. Here is the account.
"The king spake unto Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring certain of the children of Israel, and of the king's seed, and of the princes; Children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king's palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans. And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king's meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king.
"Now among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: Unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave unto Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abednego.
"But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself. Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs. And the prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your meat and your drink: for why should he see your faces worse liking than the children which are of your sort? then shall ye make me endanger my head to the king.
"Then said Daniel to Melzar, whom the prince of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink. Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king's meat: and as thou seest, deal with thy servants.
"So he consented to them in this matter, and proved them ten days. And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king's meat. Thus Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should drink; and gave them pulse.
"As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.
"Now at the end of the days that the king had said he should bring them in, then the prince of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. And the king communed with them; and among them all was found none like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: therefore stood they before the king. And in all matters of wisdom and understanding, that the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm." (Note 8) The proof of the philosophical pudding was in the physical eating!
We should not overlook the fact that Daniel and his friends are said to have been "ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm." This indicates that the King was questioning them on esoteric matters, proving indeed that "as for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams."
Abstinence from meat is shown by this incident to be vital for the opening of higher consciousness.
The New Testament
Turning to the New Testament, we find definite instructions on diet. The oldest known version of the Gospels is in Aramaic, the actual language which Christ spoke. The text of Luke 21:34 reads: "Now take care in your souls that you never make your hearts heavy by eating flesh and by drinking wine."
Best of All The best part about all this is that you can discover the truth for yourself by simply trying a vegetarian diet. Of course it must be a sensible one with those things that will nourish the body correctly. But you need only go on a vegetarian diet, eat correctly, and watch for the benefit. It will come. So why not give good sense a chance to prove itself? There is nothing but benefit to be gained. (Note 9)
1) Matthew 5:8
2) Chandogya Upanishad 6.5.4, 6.6.1,2,5
3) I John 3:2,3
4) This book was originally in the Bible–including the King James Version–but was later removed by the Protestant denominations.
5) Second Esdras 9:24-26
6) Genesis 1:29,30
7) Psalms 104:14
8) Daniel 1:3-20
9) For more information on the health benefits of vegetarianism, see Diet For a New America by John Robbins (Stillpoint Publishing, Walpole, New Hampshire) and What's Wrong With Eating Meat? by Vistara Parham (PCAP Publications, Corona, New York).