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There are three kinds of food that a man can eat.


The following commentary is by
Swami Shivananda, (1887–1963),
Divine Life Society, Rishikesh

There are three kinds of food that a man can eat.
(Sattwic, Rajasic and Tamasic).

According to the gunas (Sattwa, Rajas, Tamas), a man’s taste for a particular food is determined.

All foods have different properties. Different foods exercise different effects on different compartments of the brain or the mind. A confection of sparrow, meat, fish, eggs, onion and garlic excites passion. Fruits, barley, etc. render the mind calm and serene. The nature of food greatly influences the being of a man. Man feels a desire for particular foods according to his guna or temperament.

The body is the instrument by which man accomplishes all his purposes in the world. It is the horse that takes him to his destination or goal (moksha or liberation). Therefore, it should be kept clean, strong and healthy. The body is a mould prepared by the mind for its activities. There is an intimate connection between the body and the mind. The nature and condition of the body has a vital effect upon the mind and activities. Therefore, the materials or foods that build the body and the mind should be pure, wholesome, nutritious, substantial and bland.

Everything in this world is threefold. The food is either Sattwic, Rajasic or Tamasic according to its character and effect upon the body and the mind. You can find out the nature or temperament of a man from the nature of the food he takes. You can find out your own nature, whether you are Sattwic, Rajasic or Tamasic from your predilection to particular food and then abandon the Rajasic and the Tamasic foodstuffs and take to the Sattwic diet.


Sattwic food

Pure food increases the vitality and strength of those who eat it. It augments the energy of the mind also. Sattwic food produce cheerfulness, serenity and mental clarity and helps the aspirants to enter into deep meditation and maintain mental poise and nervous equilibrium. It supplies the maximum energy to the body and the mind. It is very easily assimilated and absorbed.

A Sattwic man relishes juicy food and other foods which are attractive in form, soft to touch and pleasant to taste, which are small in bulk but great in nourishment like the words from the lips of a spiritual preceptor. Sattwic food is highly conducive to health.

Eat that food which will develop Sattwa in you. Milk, butter, ghee, (clarified butter),fresh ripe fruits, almonds, dates, green dal, barley, wheat, cereals, tomatoes, parwar, torai, karela (names of Indian vegetables), plantains etc., are Sattwic.

Abandon fish, meat, liquors, eggs, etc., ruthlessly if you want to increase Sattwa and attain Self-realisation. The mind is formed of the subtle portion of the food. "As is the food so is the mind"- says a Hindi proverb. If you take Sattwic food, the mind also will be Sattwic. The seven elements (dhatus) of the body (chyle, blood, flesh, fat, bone, marrow and semen) are formed out of food.

Ideas and concepts are generated in the mind corresponding to these seven elements. As is the constitution of these elements, so is the constitution of the mind. Just as water is rendered hot when the pot that contains it is placed over the fire, so also the nature and constitution of the mind is according to the nature and constitution of the food or the seven elements.


Rajasic food

Food of a passionate nature produces restlessness in the mind, evil thoughts, excitement, craving now for one and then for another, pain, trouble and disease. The Rajasic man always plans to prepare various kinds of preparations to satisfy his palate. He takes salt, chillies, mustard, cloves, condiments, pungent pickles etc., in excess. Tears flow from his eyes and water dribbles from his nose and yet he will not leave the hot and pungent articles. The palate remains unsatisfied until the stomach is completely filled with pungent things, till the tongue is burnt with chillis. Ladies’ fingers (an Indian vegetable), puri, kachori (Indian food preparations), pungent condiments, meat, fish, eggs, sweets, fried bread, curd, brinjal, carrots, black-gram, onions, garlic, lemon, masur, tea, coffee, betels, tobacco are Rajasic articles of food.

Rajasic food distracts the mind. It excites passion. Give up salt. It excites passion and emotion. Giving up of salt helps in the control of the palate and thereby the mind. The will power is also developed. Snake bite and scorpion sting will have no influence on a man who has given up salt. Onions and garlic are worse than meat.


Tamasic food

Cannabis indica (ganja), bhang, opium, cocaine, charas, chandoo, all stale and putrid articles, are Tamasic.

The man whose taste is of a Tamasic nature will eat food in the afternoon that has been cooked on the previous day. He also likes that which is half-cooked or burnt to a cinder.

He and all the members of his family sit together and eat from the same dish or plate, food that has been mixed into a mess by his children.

The food eaten by Tamasic people is stale, dry, without juice, unripe or overcooked. They do not relish it, till it begins to rot and ferment. They take prohibited foods and drinks. They take liquors, fermented toddy, etc. They are horrible people with devilish tendencies.

Beef, wine, garlic, onions and tobacco are Tamasic foodstuffs. They fill the mind with anger, darkness and inertia.

The eating of meat and alcoholism are closely allied. The craving for liquor dies a natural death if meat is withdrawn from one’s diet. The question of birth-control becomes very difficult in the case of those who eat meat. To them mind control is next to impossible. Mark how the tiger, eating meat, and the cow or elephant, living on green grass, are poles apart! The one is wild and ferocious while the other is mild and peaceful.

The first and foremost step in the spiritual advancement of an aspirant is the giving up of meat. The Divine Light will not descend if the stomach is loaded with meat. Manu, Jesus, Buddha exhorted the people to refrain from using liquors, intoxicants and drugs as these are deleterious in their effects. No spiritual progress is possible without abandoning them.

Purity of food leads to purity of the mind. Sattwic food helps meditation. The discipline of food is very necessary for the successful practice of Yogic sadhana. If the palate is controlled, then all the other senses are also controlled. Boil half a litre of milk along with some boiled rice, ghee (clarified butter), and sugar. This is called Cheru. It is an excellent food for Yogis. This is for daytime. For the evening meal, half a litre of milk will do.

Milk is the best food for yogis but even a small quantity is harmful to some and may not agree with all constitutions. If one form of diet is not suitable, or if you feel constipated, change the diet and try some other Sattwic articles of food. This is common sense.

Milk should not be boiled too much. It should be removed from the fire as soon as the boiling point is reached. Too much boiling destroys the nutritive principles and vitamins and renders the milk quite useless.


A fruit diet exercises a benign influence on the constitution. This is a natural form of diet. Fruits are very great energy producers. A fruit and milk diet helps concentration and easy mental focussing. Barley, wheat, milk and ghee, all promote longevity and increase one’s power and strength. Fresh fruit juice and the water wherein sugar-candy is dissolved are very good beverages. Butter mixed with sugar candy, and almonds soaked in water, can be taken. These cool the system.


Live a natural simple life. Take simple food that is wholly agreeable to your system. You should have your own menu to suit your constitution. You are yourself the best judge to select a Sattwic diet (that suits your constitution).


From the Bhagavad Gita, Ch.6, Verse 16 & 17

Verily Yoga is not possible for him who eats too much, nor for him who does not eat at all, nor for him who sleeps too much nor for him who is always awake. 16

Yoga becomes the destroyer of pain for him who is moderate in eating and recreation, who is moderate in exertion in actions, who is moderate in sleep and wakefulness. 17

From Samaveda, Uttararchika, Book 5, IX :
Translated by Devi Chand, M.A.

O learned persons, free from partisanship towards other wise men, in your non-violent religious dealings, appoint him as your messenger, who is learned, renowned, virtuous, firm and patient among mankind, truthful, austere, forbearing, leader of men, taker of non-stimulating diet like ghee (clarified butter), and ennobling. (1219).




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This article was published on Wednesday 27 September, 2006.
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