This is Part 3 of an interview with Sri T.K. Sribhashyam. Part 1 & 2 can be found as previous posts in the Harmony Yoga blog section.
4) There are many translations of Yoga texts available now. Your books have the advantage of presenting practical exercises to the reader. Please could you say why you devoted so much of the books to this practical aspect.
Because I wanted to show to people that Indian teaching is not just theoretical. It has a practical basis and that is one of the reasons why very often I give practical indications so that it can be applied by all.
It need not be understood intellectually. There are some practical aspects that are difficult to accept because of cultural differences, but there are many which can be applied by all. Maybe that comes from the fact that when you study western philosophy, I mean philosophy from the western point of view, it is so theoretical and intellectual, I would say it is verbal. So verbal that you can just read and appreciate but you don’t know what you can do with it.
Whereas Indian philosophy is a living philosophy in the sense you can apply its teaching in your daily life. The commentaries and the teachings of our spiritual masters give indications on how to apply the philosophical teachings.
In all the three books, we attempt to maintain a balance between the theoretical aspects and the practical indications to enable the readers to realise that these proposals can be applied.
5) In your book ‘Blissful Experience, Bhakti’ there is a section on diet in page 81, Chapter five, Sādhana Saptaka, and then the subject of Chapter eleven is Dietary Regulations in Devotion. That means that more than one sixth of that book is given to the subject of diet in devotion. Could you shed some light on the main reasons for this emphasis on diet?
As I have already discussed in one of the previous chapters, we say that the way our mind functions depends on what we eat. In Chāndogya Upanishad, it is said that mind is fed by food. That is the food that we eat influences our thoughts, feelings and emotions. So all the philosophical Masters give importance to our food habits and insist on applying them to succeed in our Sādhana. This is the main reason why I gave so much importance to diet regulations.
I am aware that from the western point of view it is not only difficult to believe but to apply these regulations. I wanted to give some examples of what they mean by this. It is true that some of the indications might hurt us. But from the Indian point of view, we have to think of the potentialities of what you eat. What you eat has, let us say, a biological effect on you, that’s one thing that is unquestionable. But it has also in it the potential aspects. It is a fundamental rule in Indian thoughts that action can be effective at an active state, latent state or it can be at the potential state. So it’s not because, in the food you eat, you don’t see the influence in a potential state that it doesn’t act.
It is true that our Masters give great importance to the mental state of the person who prepares the food, who serves you (and who feeds you). We say that the way your mind is (that is, your emotions and feelings) when you prepare the food influences the person who eats the food but this is not the active state in the sense that it is not visible but it has been influenced by the way you think when you prepare the food.
From our point of view here in the west, it looks strange because we just have a freedom of thought when we prepare food for children or for anyone. In India you have to have a perfect harmonious thought. For example, when you want to prepare your food for the child you should have affectionate positive thoughts. It is not sufficient to think of the child to whom you are preparing the food, you should not have feelings or thoughts that would affect the child. In a way, it is almost like saying that you should prepare the food with love. Because the child has one major emotion, that is love. So you should not have anger, hatred or disgust when you are preparing food for the child or feeding it.
So too, when you prepare food for the sick or for the aged people. So it’s almost like in a monastic life here, either you eat in silence or somebody is reading the Bible because that silence or listening hinders you from thinking on something else, so that what you eat becomes pure. We don’t say purity in the sense of hygiene which is very important, but there is purity of thought. In fact, it is one of the most important aspects because we cannot live without food.
So you have to eat but what you eat affects your mind, not how you eat but what you eat. Rāmānuja’s indications might seem unbelievable. Yet, it is a simple hygiene to cultivate physical, mental and spiritual cleanliness in our living. As they are considered very important in our devotional life, I have brought to light their importance. In fact, many of them are valid even in our daily life, not necessarily devotional life.