Bhagavad Gita Wisdom, Chapter Four

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita

Some aspirants offer material sacrifices to the gods. Others offer selfless service as sacrifice in the fire of Brahman.  Some renounce all enjoyment of the senses, sacrificing them in the fire of sense restraint.  Others partake of sense objects but offer them in service through the fire of the senses…All these understand the meaning of service and will be cleansed of their impurities. 4.25-26, 30b (Easwaran trans.)

Human beings do not lack the means of spiritual liberation: they only lack the proper resolve to see a particular path through to its conclusion.  Shri Krishna here offers many ways (read the entire chapter for more) that individuals can move beyond duality and into the bliss of God-consciousness. Restraint of the senses, control of vital breath, selfless service of others, and study of scriptures can all bring a dedicated yogi to the very edge of human understanding so that enlightenment can dawn.  Spiritual aspirants do not see the results that they desire not because these practices are ineffective, but because of wavering consciousness, the propensity to fall in and  out of love with Self-realization.

Imagine if, reading a novel, you were to read the first chapter over and over again rather than continuing with the plot.  This would quickly get aggravating, because you would never get to the climax of the story.  Or imagine if your car tire had gotten stuck in a ditch, and, rather than freeing the stuck wheel, you simply revved the engine over and over again.  Such an approach would only lead to an empty fuel tank.  Or suppose you wanted to paint a room in your house but used the entire bucket on only one square foot.  It would be better not to paint the room at all!  Progressing in the spiritual life requires a certain expansiveness, a willingness to pass beyond pre-established boundaries that we set for ourselves.

I am reminded of one of the Analects of Confucius.  If I can paraphrase, one of his disciples said, “Master, I want to follow in your way, but it’s just too hard for me.”  The Master replied (again, paraphrasing), “You should go on doing good until you fall down in the road.  You, on the other hand, are setting the limits beforehand.”  In other words, we say that we believe in these lofty spiritual and ethical principles, but when it comes down to living them, we act as though we did not believe.  We apportion a small amount of our effort, but not all of it.

One of my favorite poems is by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and the first stanza reads, “My own heart let me have more pity on; Let / me live to my sad self hereafter kind, / Charitable; not live this tormented mind / With this tormented mind tormenting yet.” And later down in the poem, a great phrase reads, “leave comfort root-room.” I think that we do ourselves a disservice by penning spirituality into this notion of what we think it should look like and how it fits into some flow-chart of an ideal life.  The roots of comfort just need a little more room to grow.

Using probably way too many metaphors, let’s return to the car image above.  We can keep doing the same spiritual regimen over and over again, expecting always to get better results from the same thing.  This is the “revving the engine” part.  But to really get unstuck, we have to use a jack or wedge some boards under the tires.  This is where the Satsanga and the teachers enter the picture.  We don’t have to go it alone: others have tread the path before us, and others are with us along the way.   We just need to band together to increase our overall capability for moving beyond the difficult spots.

I think that some of the difficult spots arise from a certain attitude of mind that is part grumbling and part procrastination.  We say to ourselves, “I will make room for meditation (or yoga, or writing, or gardening, or my marriage, etc.) as soon as I have a little more money in my bank account” or “as soon as the kids are out of school” or “as soon as I get my career up and running.”  Meanwhile, days, months, years, and decades pass by.  There is always time to start again, and yet there is not always time to start again.  Circumstances will never be better than they are right now.

I don’t mean this as one big guilt trip, but only as a reminder to 1.) get started and 2.) keep going.  Amazing experiences await if we can tune into non-duality, into the unity at the heart of everything.  It’s not here tomorrow or next week.  It’s  here now.  In the state that Shri Krishna describes in chapter four, work and contemplation are one, self and other are one, and the world and heaven are one.  It takes a little bit of effort to realize this state, but it’s definitely worth it.  It is also easier in a way than the perpetual anxiety that characterizes everyday existence.  So we should believe in the effectiveness of the practices, and believe in them enough to just keep going.





108 Days to a Yogic Diet

Vegetable market. India

David Dillard-Wright teaches philosophy and religion at the University of South Carolina, Aiken.  He is the author of several books, including Meditation for Multitaskers: A Guide to Finding Peace Between the Pings (Adams Media, 2011).  David studies Indian spirituality in the tradition of Shri Ramakrishna under the direction of Swami Satyananda Saraswati of Devi Mandir (Napa, CA).  He is the founder and general secretary of the Anahata Chakra Satsanga (Heart Chakra Society).  

108 Days to a Yogic Diet

by David Dillard-Wright, Ph.D.

How can he practice true compassion who eats the flesh of an animal to fatten his own flesh?  Greater than a thousand ghee offerings consumed in sacrificial fires is not to sacrifice and consume any living creature.  Tirukural, śloka 69  Quoted in Dancing With Śiva, by Śivaya Subramaniyaswami, p. 201

Already-cooked bacon in the grocery store aisle, salads laden with steak in popular restaurants, beef jerky and pork rinds as “snacks”: these are all familiar sights to vegetarians and would-be vegetarians, who have a heightened sensitivity to animal suffering.  The world seems to conspire against the reduction of harm to animals and the environment, making life very difficult for those who would overcome negative karmas.

Many well-intentioned Hindus, spiritual seekers, and ethical consumers may want to practice vegetarianism, but, for one reason or another find themselves unable to do so.  Those of us living in Western, industrialized nations must face a society already geared towards eating meat and may not find much support from others.  Born Hindus and Buddhists may have faced social pressures that led them to give up the diet of their childhood in an attempt to assimilate into Western culture.

Whatever the reason, once a meat-eating diet has been espoused, it can be difficult to shed.  This article offers a template for conversion to a vegetarian diet, giving a realistic timeline for the transition.  The 108 day period places dietary choice within a religious context and gradually leads to abstinence from animal-based products.

Purists will argue that one should quit eating meat right away, “cold turkey,” so to speak.  Such an approach will work for some people, but others will need a more gentle way to transition to a vegetarian or vegan diet.  Like quitting smoking, quitting meat can be very difficult, as meat-eating is a major individual and societal addiction.

Phase One: Days 1-27

In this phase, eliminate red meat from your diet, including beef, pork, and lamb.  You will find that you still have a large number of choices in restaurants and in your home kitchen.  You may experience some cravings, but these can be easily overcome through spiritual and mental discipline.  Friends, co-workers, and family members may not understand your choice.  Arm yourself with information about the health and environmental benefits of vegetarianism, but do not feel the need to overly defend your choices.  They speak for themselves.

Spiritual practice during this phase should include puja and japa to Lord Ganesha.  Pray to all the devas for support in undertaking this lifestyle change.  Ask forgiveness for past abuses of animals and the environment, and consider a financial gift to an animal sanctuary or environmental organization.  Educate yourself about industrial farming practices and other alternatives, including the local food and organic movements.

Phase Two: Days 28-54

In this phase, eliminate poultry from your diet.  You will begin to need to look for meat substitutes, including beans, nuts, paneer, tofu, and seitan.  More processed “fake meat” items will help occasionally with specific cravings for foods like sausage, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets.  Focus on cooking at home more in this phase.  Buy a new cookbook or look for online recipes.  Notice how many of the world’s traditional diets—Indian, Thai, Chinese, Mediterranean—do not use large amounts of meat.  Experience the freedom that comes from exploring new cuisines and cooking for yourself.

Spiritual practice during this phase should include prayers on behalf of those who have criticized your choice of a vegetarian lifestyle.  Make sure to practice pranayama and asanas to increase your body’s energy, which will help with your transition to plant-based foods on mental, physical, and spiritual levels.  Make sure to go walking or jogging for at least 30 minutes a day.  You will find that you have more vigor and enthusiasm than most meat-eaters.  Drinking water and herbal tea will also help with cravings.

Phase Three: Days 55-81

Congratulations!  You have already finished the hardest part of your journey to a yogic diet.  Now eliminate fish and seafood from your diet.  You might increase your consumption of “good fats” like olive oil and flax seed oil to make up the difference and consider taking a multi-vitamin.  Keep your home and office well-stocked with healthy snacks like fruit and granola bars.  Drink herbal tea several times a day.  Eating many small meals will stave off cravings.

Channel mental wanderings into deepening your sadhana.    Now would be a good time to make a donation to a religious institution, go on a spiritual retreat, or undertake scriptural study.  As you make your lifestyle more in accordance with ahimsa, meditation will become easier.  Likewise, your spiritual practice will make your vegetarian lifestyle easier.  You will no longer need to strain yourself to abstain from meat, because your practice will take you to deeper dimensions of living.

Phase Four: Days 82-108

In this final phase of your transition to vegetarianism, abstain from eating eggs and possibly dairy.  Begin to look for ingredients like gelatin that are animal-derived.  Investigate household products that are tested on animals and get rid of them.  Try using handmade or ayurvedic soap, and clean with baking soda and vinegar.  Find natural products that you really like as an additional motivator.  Now is the time to go the “extra mile” towards a yogic diet.  Rajasic (passion-inducing) foods like onions should also be avoided.  An ayurvedic practitioner can help you tailor a diet to your specific constitution.

During this last phase, finding the support of others will become more important.  Find a “real-life” or online community that can help with your journey.   Avoid the company of those who profess spirituality but do nothing in practice.  Pick your battles, and refuse to get into debates with those who don’t really want to hear.  Now would be a good time to take a lifetime vow (vrata) to abstain from meat before the preceptor of your lineage.

Take the time to reward yourself at the end of this 108 days.  Buy a new item for your home shrine, take a yoga retreat, or visit a massage practitioner.  Purchase some high-quality tea or incense.  Take a day to do something you really enjoy.  At its basis, the harm-free lifestyle is equally about self-care as it is about caring for animals and the earth.  A natural, ayurvedic lifestyle can be easily practiced when hurry and stress are avoided.  Taking time for good living leads to deep fulfillment