How to have a better health to better serve Krsna
This is the first of a series of articles about health that I will be publishing in the following weeks. These articles are actually excerpts of a new book about health that I'm working on. If you are interested in having a better health to better serve Krsna, keep tuned, there is a lot more to come.
Sick body, sick mind, sick soul
One time, a senior lady asked: "Why do we have so many devotees with cancer nowadays? We are vegetarians, we are supposed to have a healthy diet and a healthy lifestyle, why still so many of us are dying of this terrible disease?"
Actually, it's not only cancer. There are so many devotees suffering from all kinds of health problems. Not only this causes a great deal of suffering, but also makes it harder for one to advance in spiritual life. Our body is just like a vehicle, that we need to properly use to go back to Godhead. If we misuse the vehicle and it breaks, we will be stuck on the way. While we study that we are not the body and so on, the fact is that most of us are still identified with the body. If the body is sick, we also accept that we are sick, and this interferes with our devotional practice. While a pure devotee may be capable of executing his service perfectly even with a terminally diseased body, very few of us can make such a claim. For most of us, a diseased body causes not only great suffering, but also stunts our spiritual progress.
Although we understand the importance of taking prasadam, we tend to follow the same dietary trends as the rest of the population. As the general society geared towards a diet of refined carbohydrates, sugar, refined oils and industrialized products, we followed the trend. Srila Prabhupada alerted us to the importance of “simple living, high thinking”, to eat simply and cultivate our own food, but we have been very talented in avoiding this instruction.
Truth is, people in general are becoming more and more unhealthier, and we devotees are following the trend. In many instances, we do actually worse than most people. Gone are the times that we could claim to be healthier because we are vegetarian.
As a book distributor, I spent many years living in a small van, traveling every few days, taking cold showers and having few facilities for cooking. Over the years, this took a toll on my body, and to be able to continue doing my service I had to find ways to improve my health. After trying different options, visiting many doctors and so on, I found that what was actually bringing results were not treatments or medicines, but changes in my diet. I continued researching in this line and was able to find some surprising information.
Diet and health
To have a proper diet is essential to keep our health. It's even more important than exercise. If one can keep a healthy diet, he can prevent many different health problems, keep the immune system working properly and increase the longevity of the body, without having to spend time and money on different treatments.
“In Kali-yuga, the duration of life is shortened not so much because of insufficient food but because of irregular habits. By keeping regular habits and eating simple food, any man can maintain his health. Overeating, over-sense gratification, overdependence on another’s mercy, and artificial standards of living sap the very vitality of human energy. Therefore the duration of life is shortened.” (SB 1.1.10 purport)
Nowadays, most devotees have very unhealthy diets. We can see this practically when we go to Mayapur, for example. The local Bengalis work very hard, practically every day until old age, and rarely become sick. Our western devotees, on the other hand, frequently have a hard time just functioning. One important difference is that the Bengalis have a simple diet, based on rice, dhal, and vegetables, while our western devotees tend to base their diets in breads, cakes, sweets, pizzas and festival prasadam, with lots of fried preparations.
What we normally call a “sumptuous feast” is not always very nutritional. Quite the opposite: it usually contains a lot of refined carbohydrates, fried preparations, sweets, and so on, that may gratify the tongue, but is very unbalanced nutritionally. Once there was a special feast in a temple, with many different preparations, but I noticed that actually, the main ingredients for all the different preparations were basically the same: rice, white flour, oil, sugar, and potatoes, with a few preparations containing a little milk, paneer or fruits. The different preparations were basically just variations of the same ingredients, mixed with heaps of oil and sugar.
Most people nowadays have a diet based on white flour, rice, refined oils, sugar, potatoes, and meat. It started in the western countries, but slowly became popular all over the world. As devotees, we, of course, skip the meat, but we tend to mimic most of the rest of the diet, not only eating a lot of refined, poorly nutritious, processed, sugar-coated and deep-fried food, but also overeating. This combination of refined food and overeating wreak havoc in our bodies, causing all kinds of premature problems. As Srila Prabhupada points out, the secret is in eating healthy, wholesome foods and in a moderated way:
“People in rich nations eat more, become fat, and then pay exorbitant prices to so-called yoga instructors in order to reduce. People try to reduce by all these artificial gymnastics; they do not understand that if they just eat vegetables or fruits and grains, they will never get fat. People get fat because they eat voraciously, because they eat meat. People who eat voraciously suffer from diabetes, overweight, heart attacks, etc., and those who eat insufficiently suffer from tuberculosis. Therefore moderation is required, and moderation in eating means that we eat only what is needed to keep body and soul together. If we eat more than we need or less, we will become diseased.” (Path to Perfection, ch. 4)
In his purport to SB 4.26.13, Srila Prabhupada emphasizes that we should have a simple and balanced diet. Too much rich foodstuffs, he points out, can make one fall down, making him attracted to sense gratification:
“Sattvika-ahara, foodstuffs in the mode of goodness, are described in the sastras as wheat, rice, vegetables, fruits, milk, sugar, and milk products. Simple food like rice, dal, capatis, vegetables, milk and sugar constitute a balanced diet, but sometimes it is found that an initiated person, in the name of prasada, eats very luxurious foodstuffs. Due to his past sinful life he becomes attracted by Cupid and eats good food voraciously. It is clearly visible that when a neophyte in Krsna consciousness eats too much, he falls down. Instead of being elevated to pure Krsna consciousness, he becomes attracted by Cupid.”
As the Lord explains in the Bhagavad-Gita (17.8), one of the symptoms of food in the mode of goodness is that it is wholesome: pure, nutritious and health-giving. The effects of such foods are that they “increase the duration of life, purify one’s existence and give strength, health, happiness and satisfaction”. Most food that people eat nowadays is refined, with most of the nutrients taken away, which is a characteristic of food in the mode of passion. As the Lord points out, it “causes distress, misery and disease.”