Yama 9 - Mitahara, Moderate Appetite
Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami , 2003-06-16
Bodhinatha begins with a note about Mother's Day, Father's Day and Grandparent's Day. He offers the key that we should be openly appreciative of our elders, and the more specific we can be, the better. Then Bodhinatha spoke on being moderate in our appetites, mitahara. By controlling our appetite, we can control other instinctive tendencies. Instead of indulging in foods when we become sad or moody, it is better to go to the temple and spend time in worship of Ganesha, to lift our consciousness that way. Part of eating well is not eating meat, and Gurudeva gave five reasons for not eating meat.
Good Morning, everyone! Happy to have so many devoted guests with us this morning. Welcome, a special welcome.
We are starting again tomorrow, the annual observance of Mother's Day, Father's Day and finally Grandparents' Day. As we mentioned, last year at this time Gurudeva put Mother's Day, Father's Day and Grandparents' Day in our calendar because they are natural opportunities to express appreciation. Sometimes it is hard to find the right time. This is a time that has been set aside.
Okay, it is Mother's Day. What do we do? Appreciate Mom. It is very nice and certainly everyone in our global congregation has that spirit. It is a great time to verbalize our appreciation and as Gurudeva says, be specific. Try and figure out very specific points because that makes someone really feel you thought about it and it has a heartfelt sincerity behind it. That is the key. You don't just want to say, "You are wonderful." You want to say specific things about the person, so they have a sense that you are really deeply feeling what you say, that it is not just a surface compliment.
Here is an interesting story about expressing appreciation. A few years ago, a bird would come to our courtyard everyday at lunch time and take some of the food and fly away, we assumed, back to her nest to feed her young. I remember one day in particular, we had put a little tofu out on a ledge just for her, as we noticed she liked tofu. So she came as usual, took the tofu away and then came back and sang a long and beautiful song, which we like to think was an expression of appreciation!
Today's lesson on 'Good Conduct' is on the 9th yama, of Mitahara, which is to be moderate in appetite, neither eating too much nor consuming meat, fish, shellfish, fowl or eggs. Enjoy fresh wholesome vegetarian foods that vitalize the body. Avoid junk food. Drink in moderation. Eat at regular times, only when hungry, at a moderate pace, never between meals, in a disturbed atmosphere or when upset. Follow a simple diet, avoiding rich or fancy fare.
Let us look first at some common examples of not following this yama.
First example - Regularly, reports appear in the News these days of growing problem of obesity among children in the United States. For adults to be obese is problematic, but when it is a problem among children it is a much greater one. In fact, the day I was writing this, a new study was issued citing that obesity was now a problem even among young children, toddler age.
Second example - In the United States and many countries in which US businesses have expanded, franchises that serve junk food abound. Hamburgers and french fries are the most popular. There are even junk food restaurants in many of the public schools in the United States.
Third example - Due to recent events in our personal life, we have ended up in a lonely and sad state of mind. To make ourself feel better, we add a large amount of ice cream and cake to our evening meals and, of course, start gaining weight.
Fourth example - Today, convenience foods abound, such as canned and frozen vegetables. It is so much faster to cook with canned or frozen corn than fresh, that we cannot resist using it even though we know that it has little nutritional value.
As we know, all of the yamas focus on harnessing a tendency of the instinctive mind. In the case of Mitahara, moderate appetite, the instinctive tendency we are focusing on harnessing is, of course, our appetite. We tend to eat too much, as well as, foods that are not good for our health. It is a restraint that we must all obey and which is one of the most difficult. However, gaining control over our appetite helps us to have greater control over all the other instinctive tendencies as well. So, in making progress with this yama, we also progress in all the others.
Here is a story to illustrate Mitahara. In traveling to Toronto last month, we ended up in the Chicago airport at lunch time, both in going and coming back. Chicago airport has a huge number of restaurants, more than any airport that I have ever been in. But most of them only serve junk food. McDonalds is by far the most common restaurant. We had to walk quite a distance and search hard to find a restaurant among them all, that served something nutritious. The Chicago airport situation illustrates that these days people are not very concerned about eating nutritious meals. Otherwise, there would be less junk- food-only restaurants.
Mitahara has a number of aspects to it. The basic one, of course, is simply not eating too much. According to Ayurveda, not eating too much is the greatest thing you can do for your health if you want a long life, ease and meditation and a balanced and happy mind. That is why for thousands of years yogis, sadhus and meditators have eaten moderately.
The Tirukural in its Chapter 95, 'Marundhu - Medicine' includes six verses on moderate appetite, reflecting Ayurvedic wisdom and showing how the key to good health is in how much, what and when we eat. The chapter advises that we should eat in moderation, only if hungry and never between meals.
Overeating is sometimes caused by using food to fulfill an emotional need, as we mentioned earlier. At work, the expected promotion did not manifest and we are unhappy about this. To rid ourselves of this unhappiness, we overeat and the pleasure temporarily fills this void. We can fill in the void in a more direct way. Being self-reflective, we can realize that we have gotten a bit sad and spend extra time at the temple worshipping Lord Ganesha to raise our consciousness up, to the point we are no longer sad.
The practice of fasting on a regular basis, strengthens control over our appetite. Common days for regular fasting are on Fridays and on the 13th tithi of each fortnight, which is called the Pradosha vrata. Fasting consists of skipping breakfast and lunch and taking only liquids such as water, herb teas or fruit juices until the fast is broken by the dinner meal.
The second aspect of mitahara is vegetarianism. In the past fifty years, millions of meat-eaters have made the personal decision to stop eating the flesh of other creatures. There are many different reasons that have inspired them to do so. There are websites that list up to one hundred and one different reasons and even a website with the URL, goveg.com.
Gurudeva selected five major motivations for the decision to give up eating meat.
The first reason - Meat eating violates the principle of not harming other living creatures.
Second reason - It creates negative karma.
Third reason - It lowers our state of consciousness.
Fourth reason - It is a less healthy diet.
And fifth and last reason - It is a much less efficient use of our natural resources.
The Tirukural has an entire chapter on vegetarianism. Chapter 26, 'Abstaining from eating meat', which states that "vegetarianism is the way of insightful souls who have realized that meat is the butchered flesh of another creature" and that such restraint is "an act of greater value than a thousand ghee offerings consumed in sacrificial fires."
Let us take a closer look at the third of the five reasons for giving up eating meat, which is that it lowers our state of consciousness. A vegetarian diet helps to put us in touch with our higher consciousness. Eating meat, fish, fowl and eggs opens the door to lower consciousness and makes it harder to stay out of the states of fear, anger, jealousy and the subsequent remorseful emotions that follow. A vegetarian diet is therefore quite helpful, increasing our control over these lower states of mind.
A third aspect of mitahara focuses on the quality of the food we eat. Fresh vegetables are greatly superior to canned or frozen vegetables in nutritional value. Whole grains such as whole wheat flour and unpolished rice are superior to white flour and polished rice. Cooking by steaming preserves nutrients the best, boiling loses some of the nutrients and deep frying adds unhealthy oil to our diet.
Our Nandinatha Sutra describes the vegetarian, ayurvedic diet prescribed by Gurudeva. "Siva's devotees cook and eat in the balanced, varied, vegetarian, Indian ayurvedic manner, enjoying healthy unprocessed, freshly cooked foods. Occasionally, they may partake of cuisine from other world cultures."
In conclusion, be moderate in appetite, neither eating too much nor consuming meat, fish, shellfish, fowl or eggs. Enjoy fresh, wholesome, vegetarian foods that vitalize the body. Avoid junk food. Drink in moderation. Eat at regular times, only when hungry, at a moderate pace, never between meals, in a disturbed atmosphere or when upset. Follow a simple diet, avoiding rich or fancy fare.
Aum Namah Sivaya.
Thank you very much.