While many people choosing a vegetarian diet do so primarily for reasons of health or animal ethics, another viewpoint favouring both vegan and vegetarian nutrition is demonstrated in the lifestyle of many practitioners of meditation and supported by a persuasive body of spiritual teachings.
A number of humanity's most respected meditation masters have taught that our diet has an impact on the development of our consciousness – the clarity or restlessness of our minds, the expansion and refinement of awareness and the functioning of our subtle body and nerves.
Many health and healing disciplines have their own language to describe this phenomenon – Ayurvedic medicine, for example, talks about the rajasic, tamasic and sattvic qualities of food – but in the realm of meditation diet can and does significantly alter the depth and subtlety of our experiences and the purification of our entire being.
In 1974 contemporary meditation Master Sri Chinmoy wrote a popular book called Colour Kingdom which identified the spiritual qualities and properties of specific colours. It described at length the principle that everything in the physical world – even colour – carries a specific vibration, energy and consciousness which in some way shapes our experiences in life. By extension and even more powerfully, the food we eat significantly adds to or subtracts from the quality of our inner spiritual life and impacts on the subtle world of our consciousness.
"The vegetarian diet plays a most important role in the spiritual life. Purity is of paramount importance for an aspirant. This purity we must establish in the physical, the vital and the mental. When we eat meat and fish, the animal consciousness enters into us – our nerves become more agitated and restless, and this can interfere with our meditation. But the mild qualities of fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, help us to establish in our inner life as well as in our outer life, the qualities of sweetness, softness, simplicity and purity. So, if we are vegetarians, it helps our inner being to strengthen its own existence. Inwardly, we are praying and meditating; outwardly, the food we are taking from Mother Earth is helping us too, giving us not only energy but also aspiration."
"At one time the animal consciousness was necessary for forward movement. If we had not had animal qualities, we would have remained inert, like trees, or we would have remained in the stone consciousness where there is no growth or movement. But the animal consciousness also contains many unillumined and destructive qualities. Now we have entered into the spiritual life, so the role of the animal consciousness is no longer necessary in our life. From the animal consciousness we have entered into the human consciousness and now we are trying to enter into the divine consciousness."
Many people feel that eating meat gives them strength and nutrients unavailable to people on a vegetarian diet. But nutritional research does not support this view – indeed, a growing body of credible research supports the opposite point of view. Often, too, even one's ideas about meat – the power of the mind! – confer strength. But as Sri Chinmoy comments, "It is not meat but the spiritual energy pervading one's body that gives one strength. That energy comes from meditation as well as from proper nourishment. The strength that one can get from aspiration and meditation is infinitely more powerful than the strength one can get from meat."
"If one has aspiration, the vegetarian diet will help considerably: the body's purity will help one's inner aspiration to become more intense and more soulful. But again, if one is not a vegetarian, that does not mean that one will not make spiritual progress or will not be able to realise God."
Here in New Zealand, the Sri Chinmoy Centre offers vegan and vegetarian cuisine at their cafés and restaurants in Auckland (The Blue Bird) and Christchurch (The Lotus-Heart) and globally at dozens of small cafés, restaurants and food enterprises run by students of Sri Chinmoy. A popular 'Conscious Living' course is offered in New Zealand which introduces fundamental life skills for well-being based around nutrition, exercise and meditation.
A living spiritual Master much recognised for his lifelong work for world harmony, Sri Chinmoy has touched and inspired the lives of countless people globally through hundreds of published books; concerts of meditative music; humanitarian aid; and pioneering the world's longest, largest participation torch relay for world harmony ever seen – World Harmony Run.
If you are interested in exploring meditation as a wonderful lifeskill or familiarising yourself with Sri Chinmoy's teachings on diet and consciousness, look out for our free 'Conscious Living' and meditation workshops offered by the Sri Chinmoy Centre in New Zealand.