Part 2 of 4Bodhinatha talks on vratas, or vows. There are two kinds of vratas, vows that are taken for specific periods of time, such as festivals, and permanent vows. He gives examples of various types and elaborates on the first of the three vratas taken by Saiva Siddhanta Church members and aspiring members-to-be, the vegetarian vow, which has the power to harness the instinctive mind when fulfilled.
As we know, a vrata is making a promise to observe certain religious practices in a strict manner. Often vratas relate to a specific festival, someone will take a vrata for the six days of Skanda Shasti, that is common. For all six days, they will fast during the day and go to the temple for Skanda puja and then at night they will have their meal. Then, on the seventh day, it is done.
Likewise, we have Vinayaga Vratram that even has the name 'vrata' right in the festival name. It gives us a clue what it is for. It is for vratas. It is a twenty-one day Ganesha vrata that some Ganesha devotees take every year, in fact and do the same thing. Fast everyday, go to puja and then eat only at night.
In the July issue of 'Hinduism Today', we had another kind of vrata related to the Sabarimala Ayyappan pilgrimage. That vrata includes preparation. In other words, it does not start on the first day of a festival. It includes forty-one days of preparation for a pilgrimage. We have taken this vrata to include not only the pilgrimage but the forty-one days of preparation that precede it. So, it takes some forty-plus days or forty plus a few to make a pilgrimage, is the duration of the vrata.
All of these vratas that we have talked about, these three examples, have one thing in common. They end. Skanda Shasti Vrata - on the seventh day, eat breakfast and lunch, stay home. Vinayaga Vratam is over after twenty-one days. Sabarimala is over when the pilgrimage is done. We have taken a vrata for a specific period of time. It has a beginning and an end.
However as we all know, there is another type of vrata that Gurudeva has given us and that is a permanent vrata. A vrata that we take for the balance of our life. Of course, that is a more serious commitment. It does not end after six days or twenty-one days. It is permanent. Usually, someone will practice the disciplines of the vrata for a few months or a few years before they take it, that is the best way. In that way, they are assured a much better chance of successfully fulfilling it because they have been fulfilling it already. We don't want to take a permanent vrata which we have never done. There is a good chance you may not be able to uphold it and that creates a negative impression in the subconscious. You want to practice for a while, a couple of months, a couple of years before you take the vrata. Then when you take it, you have a solid habit of already doing it.
As we know, there are three vratas that are of this nature and the first is the Sakahara Vrata, governing diet. The second is Parampara Vrata, which governs the study of spiritual teachings. The third is Dasama Bhaga vrata which governs our finance.
There is more to each of these vratas than may initially strike us and that is some of the depth that Gurudeva explores in the Saiva Dharma Shastras which we will touch on next.
Gurudeva makes a statement that, "The vegetarian vow builds character through the control of appetite, which is control of the instinctive mind."
That is an interesting statement, that control of appetite is control of the instinctive mind. What does that mean? Well, it means as we get better in controlling our appetite meaning eating the right amount, not eating between meals, eating the right food and so forth, as we get better at disciplining ourselves, control of our appetite, control of the other emotions, instinctive emotions such as anger and jealously also improves, goes along with it. That is what Gurudeva is saying. So, if we focus on appetite, we will actually improve control of the other instincts as well.
It is an excellent way of getting better control of the instinctive mind because it is so tangible. You know controlling anger or jealousy, asking, "Was I jealous today? Did I control my jealousy today?", it is a little bit vague. Right? How do we see jealousy? How do we remember what we did? But, we know what we ate. "Okay, I ate five times today. That is two too many. I ate the wrong thing or I ate too much." It is more objective, right? We can see it, we can remember it in a much easier way. Therefore, it is an easier discipline to manage, to control our appetite, rather than say, controlling our jealousy.
Sakahara Vrata, of course, starts with avoiding the non-vegetarian foods, we all know that. Avoid meat, fish, fowl and eggs. It also includes eating healthy foods, a balanced diet, avoiding junk food, avoiding frozen foods, foods with too many chemicals, good quality foods. It also includes mitahara, moderate appetite, not eating too much. It also includes not eating between meals.
Not eating between meals is an interesting discipline, sometimes not fully cognized as to the importance of it. But there is a chapter in the Tirukural, written two thousand years ago or something, called 'Marundu', medicine. About the first seven verses talk about what we eat, keep stressing that the health is very dependent upon our eating habits. One of the verses points out this issue of not eating between meals. "Once digestion is complete, eat with moderation. That is the way to prolong the life of the body." There are about two or three other verses saying the same thing, in slightly different ways. Don't eat between meals, let the food you have eaten fully digest before you eat again. This is the way you stay healthy. It is also the way we control the instinctive mind and fulfill the vow of Sakahara.