Traditional Ayurvedic Center

Part One: traditional Indian texts, nutrition and diet


It is important to learn what traditional Indian texts teach about nutition and diet in order to understand the central role played by foods at every level of our existence and in order to facilitate diagnosis and treatment.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 6, verse 16 states:
"naty-asnatas ‘tu yogo ‘sti
na caikantam anasnatah
na cati-svapna-silasya
jagrato naiva carjuna

"There is no possibility ("na," never) of becoming a yogi (a person who has mastered the science of yoga and attains spiritual heights) if one eats too much ("ati") or abstains ("ananatah") or equally ("tcha") eats too little, sleeps too much ("svapna-silasya"), does not sleep enough and stays up too long at night ("jagratah")."

Bhagavad Gita, chapter 7, verses 8-10
Diet and modes of eating are presented here in the context of the three gunas ("sattva,"
purity, goodness; "raja," activity, passion; and "tama," inertia, darkness). These three gunas are inseparable in every person; what defines an individual is the preponderance of one guna over another, i.e. balance. The task of the Ayurveda practitioner is to understand these nuances and constantly adapt the diagnosis and treatment to the patient’s progress.

Verse 8 describes the "sattvic" form of life based on diet:
rasya snigdhah srhira hrdya
aharah sattvika-priyah

«The length of life ("ayuh"), excellence of existence ("sattva"), strength ("bala") and healthy ("arogya"), happiness ("sukha") and satisfaction ("priti") are enhanced ("vivardhanah") by juicy ("rasyah"), fatty ("snigdhah"), rich ("sthirah") foods which delight ("hrdyah") and are enjoyed ("priyah"). This is how it is for the person who lives his life according to goodness ("sattvika")."

These beneficial foods are foods which are pure, holy, and unconnected to the murder of a living being or to intoxicating drugs, but to lofty substances such as the milk of the cow or the "neem" plant with its innumerable qualities.

Verse 9 describes the "rajanic" form of life which is characterized by desire, passion and disorderly activity.
ahara rajasasyesta

"Acidic ("amla"), salty ("lavana"), overspiced ("ati-usna") and hot ("riksna"), dried ("ruksa"), scalding ("vidahina") foods are favored ("istah") by the person who is influenced by the "raja" of impulsiveness, desire and passion ("rajasasyesta") and this causes ("pradah") him suffering ("duhka"), misfortune ("soka") and sickness ("amaya").

Verse 10 describes the "tamasic" form of life which is characterized by ignorance and intertia.
"yata-yamam gata-rasam
puti paryusitam ca yat
ucchistam api camedhyam
bhojanam tamasa-priyam"

"Food prepared more than three hours before consumption ("yata-yamam"), without taste ("gata-rasam"), fetid ("puti"), decomposed ("paryusitam"), which is ("yat") the leftovers of others ("usshistam") and also ("api") food ("bhojanam") which he is not familiar with ("tamasa") and pertain to his ignorant lifestyle, this is what he likes ("priyam").

In contrast, another verse, Bhagavad Gita, chapter 4, verse 24, presents food as a prayer, sacrifice or offering. It is often chanted as a prayer before eating in India.
"brahmarpanam brahma havir
brahmagnau brahmana hutam
brahmaiva tena gantavyam

"He who whose nature is spiritual ("brahma") and is drawn ("arpanam") to spiritual levels ("brahma") as in the offering of butter ("havir or havih") in the fire ("agnau") and who through his spiritual soul ("brahmana") is offered ("hutam"), then the pure ("eva") spiritual level ("brahma") is attained ("gantavyam") by him ("tena") and, in spiritual activities ("karma"), he is completely integrated ("smadhina)."

Bhagavad Gita, chapter 15, verse 14, then depicts the state of union achieved through food.
"aham vaisvanaro bhutva
praninam deham asritah
pacamy annam catur-vidham.

"Me, I ("aham"- the divine I) am in the fire of digestion ("vaisnanarah"), being and becoming ("bhutva") situated ("ashritah") in the air which comes out ("prana") and in the air which enters and descends ("apana"), preserving balance ("samayuktah") and thus I digest ("pacami") foods ("annam") of the four types ("catur-vidham")."

This is a far cry from simple dietary treatments. It represents a holistic, unitary concept of the universe, or of "Creation" as one would say in Judaism. It is a concept in which all levels of being are one, encompassing external and internal matter, psychological, intellectual, spiritual and supra-spiritual dimensions.

So what I describe as the "Ayurveda-meditation-yoga trio" is a holistic state in which all three levels of being are experienced simultaneously.

Digestion is represented as being facilitated by the action of the gastric fire, which is itself connected to the divine fire, as noted by a vedic mantra in Br.had-a-ran.yaka 5.9.1, and without which digestion cannot function ("ayam agnir vais'va-naro yo 'yam antah. purus.e yenedam annam. pacyate"). The same concept is found in Vedanta Sutra 1.2.27 : "abda-dibhyo 'ntah. pratis.t.ha-na-c ca, the divine presence exists in sound, in the body, in the air but not in bodily form."
This complex knowledge, needed for good self-management, should not complicate one’s life for the Vedanta Sutra Adhyayas lets each individual make his own interpretation, as reality or as a metaphor and affirms this categorically in Sutra 6.4.28 (in the same way as the Talmud and Jewish religious law allows flexibility in situations of danger and Jewish mothers know what is good or bad for their children).

Here is the verse:
"sarva-nna-numatis' ca pra-n.a-tyaye tad-dars'ana-t":

"every ("sarva") nourriture ("anna ") has permission ("numatih") to save life ("prana") in extremis ("atyaye") and this is stated in the scriptures ("darsanat")."
The verse alludes to the legend of poor Usasti Câkrâyana and his wife Atiki, recounted in Chandogya Upanishat 1.10.1 to 4.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 15, verse 14 (cited above) concludes this theme. This tradition describes in very concrete terms the individual ways of using this fire, in the digestion of the four forms of foods: foods which are mashed or swallowed, foods which are sucked or licked. In his diagnosis and recommendations for treatment, the Ayurveda practitioner bases himself on the individual’s particular taste for this or that type of food.

Another important dietary note

We find this in Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a well-known work, which deals specifically with breathing techniques and reports age-old traditions. It was written in the 15th century but describes ancient traditions. Chapter II, verse 14 states:

abhya-sa-ka-le prathame s'astam. ks.hi-ra-jya-bhojanam |
tato|abhya-se dr.-d.hi-bhu-te na ta-dr.-ng-niyama-ghrahah. || 14 ||

"After a period ("kale") of regular practice ("abhyasa"), a person attains the personal discipline needed for self-purification. And if, during the first stage of practice or treatment, food consisting of milk or clarified butter is considered healthy, when practice becomes more regular, no restrictions are necessary."
Everyone who practices Ayurveda is surprised by this flexible approach, which evolves in accordance with the success of the treatment.

Everything ends with music and singing

The patient then understands the magnificent holistic chants which use the same word (as described in one of the most ancient Upanishad, the Taittiriya Upanishad, which is part of the Yajur Veda) for the anatomy of the body, the sun or the moon, fire, food, consciousness, or higher levels. We see this in the magnificent chant entitled "Gayatri mantra" : the mantra repeats the words: Om, Bhuh, Bhuvah, Suvah, Tat, Savitur, Varenyam, Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi, Dheeyo yo nah Pratchodayaath.

Because of its holistic and multi-dimensional motifs, the chant "Om, Bhuh, Bhuvah, Suvah" is considered particularly therapeutic for health disorders and is chanted by everybody. Its "sattvic" qualities make it particularly appropriate for the hours when "sattva" is beneficial (4-8 in the morning, and 4-8 at night), while the "rajanic" attribute is dominant between 8 am to 4 pm, and the "tamasic" from 8pm to 4am.

Two other references will be useful for those who wish to deepen their knowledge:
- the Chandogya Upanishad or Chandogyopanisad Part VI, chapter 7, verse 2 tells us that "the mind is made up of food," which is a revolutionary idea.
- the Mahanatayanopanishad 79, 15 brilliantly describes how all the dynamics interact and succeed each other.

"LXXIX-15: Those rays by which the sun gives heat, the same rays transform water into rain-cloud which showers the rain. By the rain-cloud herbs and trees come into existence. From herbs and trees food is produced. By the use of food the breaths and sense are nourished. When the life-breath is nourished one gets bodily strength. Bodily strength gives the capacity to practise Tapas (in the shape of self-control, religious fast and so forth). As the result of such Tapas, faith in scriptural truths springs into existence. By faith mental power comes. By mental power sense-control is made possible. By sense-control reflection is engendered. From reflection calmness of mind results. Conclusive experience of Truth follows calmness. By conclusive experience of Truth remembrance of It is engendered. Remembrance produces continuous remembrance. From continuous remembrance results unbroken direct realization of Truth. By such realization a person knows the Atman. For this reason, he who gives food gives all these. For, it is found that the vital breaths and the senses of creatures are from food, that reflection functions with the vital breath and the senses, that unbroken direct realization comes from reflection and that bliss comes from unbroken direct realization of Truth. Thus having attained bliss one becomes the Supreme which is the source of the universe."

After having acquired the knowledge needed to understand and continue your training in Ayurveda practice and diet, you can now enter the phase of diagnosis, treatment, and fine-tuning your daily diet, without losing your bearings.
The practical phase will be described in the second part of this article.

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