International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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15th World Vegetarian Congress 1957
Delhi/Bombay/Madras/Calcutta, India


VEGETARIANISM AN ESSENTIAL KEY TO YOGA
B. K. S. Iyengar

For any student of yoga or any other spiritual aspirant, it is a common knowledge that pure diet is absolutely necessary for the development of the body and the mind and the enlightenment of the spirit. All the results of the actions of the causes are dependent on the causes themselves. If the cause is righteous, the result ensuing therefrom is bound to be righteous. Therefore, the character of a man is determined by the food he eats and how he eats. Every morsel of food is for the service of the Divine; thus no impure element can ever be accepted in this holy sacrament. Importance of Sattvic (pure) food is emphasized in all Yoga teachings. Neither the physical health of the body nor the mental quietude can ever be achieved by exciting, harmful food, reeking with blood. Yoga teaches that the primary principle is to take food not for the sake of the pleasure of the senses but for the nourishment of the soul within. The food must be natural to the constitution of man. Animal foods disturb the harmony of the total well-being of the individual. Any disturbance caused by wrong food reacts on the thinking power and thus creates confusion and delusion. This brings about restlessness of the body and mind which hinders spiritual progress.

Yoga aims at disciplining the body and mind. Health of the body and mind depends on the observance of the laws of right living. The human being is herbivorous and frugivorous. This, any other food is against the law of nature. Physical health is dependent on the food we take. If we are not conscious and careful about the nourishment of the body, we impoverish the whole system. The Body is the Temple of God in which the Holy of Holies dwells. How, therefore, can any impurity be admitted into this pure temple? This body is the vehicle of the Divine to manifest Himself in His true glory. If the blood stream is polluted by the blood of animals, no light can ever shine in the function of the heart and this this Divine Temple is darkened. Even if through ignorance the body is weakened and disturbed by wrong food, Yoga points the way of establishing equilibrium and restoring normalcy. By the persistent practice of Yoga the instincts are refined and gradually man moves towards higher knowledge; thus, though he in his ignorance, considered animal food as essential for the strength of the body, he begins to realize that he was under a delusion and that his body is now so purified that he cannot entertain the idea of consuming flesh food.

Yoga is a perfect practical science of its own. It is one of the basic philosophies of India which can rightly be termed now as a "Universal Culture," because its practice is a real necessity in our daily walk of life. The science of dietetics is as important for the well-being and progress of every individual.

The ultimate aim of Yoga is to achieve union with God - enjoying the unalloyed peace from within. To achieve this aim, several means have been advocated. They are, namely, Rajayoga, Hathayoga, Bhaktiyoga, Jnanayoga, Karmayoga and so on. All these paths ultimately lead to the one goal - self realization. Just as there are different paths to reach the peak of a mountain, one easy, the other tedious, one long and the other short, but all leading to the peak, so also in Yoga these paths, though different, lead to the same one and only goal - SELF REALIZATION. The different paths are just to suit one's mental tastes and environments. For all these paths the basic principles of cleanliness of body and mind and vegetarian diet are essential.

Yoga is a perfect science which prevents our body from decay and cures many of our disabilities. It is also the best unrivalled system for the prevention of diseases. Yoga is as old as civilization itself and yet it is suitable for the modern times in helping to maintain and sustain sound health which is absolutely necessary if one wishes to advance mentally and spiritually. It is now a proven fact that food plays a major part in the prevention of diseases and curing of ailments.

Nowadays some people who are sincere in the practice of spiritual discipline or ATMVIDYA are, unfortunately afraid to give a thought to the perfectness of their own bodies lest they should become body conscious. The body is the temple of the spirit, an instrument to take us nearer to the goal of REALIZATION. It seems a pity that such persons who are endeavouring to advance spiritually, fear that they may fall back in their advancement. Here, the fear itself is a hindrance and retards their aim in life. It is not that one who is in search of TRUTH has to neglect the body. So let me assure sincere aspirants that body perfectness through pure nourishment and the principles of "right living" is very essential. The Rishis and Sages of lore. no doubt, explained more about Atmavidya than about Shariravidya. That does not mean that they neglected the body. They were training their students in social virtues and also in Asanas and Pranayama from their childhood so that could enjoy sound health.

It is easy to forget the body when it is in perfect condition. When there is illness, pain or discomfort due to ill-health it is then that you become body conscious and the spiritual progress is hindered.

All Yoga accessories point to the highest moral and spiritual purpose and goal. Non-violence, non-killing, non-stealing, truthfulness. continuance and non-covetousness are the social virtues of the teachings of Yama. Prayers, contentment, practice and perseverance, kindness to all and complete surrender to the Will of God are the essence of Niyama for the cultivation of individual virtues. These two steps build the moral character of the Yoga student. That itself is a proof regarding the importance of vegetarianism from times immemorial.

The other accessories of Yoga help the development of the body and mind.

Everyone wants peace. The body is like a nation. Just as an aggressor takes advantage to occupy a nation, seeing its weakness, a thief burgles when the resident of the house is careless, so also diseases attack our system and create unhappiness and and misery when we are careless regarding our body and its nourishment. If proper care is taken, happiness, peace and love, will be with us in abundance. For the achievement of this, vegetarianism is most essential.