Some time back, I posted some photos to my Facebook account. They were from another text sacred to Hindus, the Paramarthasara, which is sacred to non-dual Shaivites. I purchased a copy of this from my favorite bookery. Even if one only glances at some of the content of Avinavagupta’s Paramarthasara it becomes clear quickly the treasure within it. For anyone unfamiliar, and according to the preface of my copy of the Paramarthasara, Avinavagupta lived between 950 and 1000 A.D. and produced the Paramarthasara as a build-on to an already-existing Vaishnav text. Avinavagupta increased the verse count from 85 to over 100 and converted the text into a Shaivite scripture.
Twists like this, insofar as scriptural evolution is concerned, are a bit more common than realized. Another example is the Vaishnav incorporation of Ganesha into some of their stories and myths. It really goes both ways, and in Hinduism it goes more than both ways– it goes all ways! From where I sit, I’m unsure which verses were added by Avinavagupta, which were simply modified, and which verses he deemed to already parallel Shaivite theology close enough to keep as-is. At any rate, there are many that stand out to me and could be applicable to this series on Hindu vegetarianism – and I’d like to share one with you, dear reader. You can see a picture of it posted here below. You’ll notice the devanagari, the transliteration, and the translation, all followed by Yogaraja’s commentary, which isn’t entirely viewable but which I’ll be sharing a bit of below the picture.
“He eats not according to dietary rule, but whatever may come, without considering whether that food is pure or impure, unpleasant or sweet in taste. In other words, free from any consideration of what is advantageous or disadvantageous for him, the spiritual adept lives on the food which appears before him…It may be asked: How is this possible? The reply given by the author is that the spiritual adept remains still, unruffled, above the feelings of pleasure and pain…”
Here we can see deep truth spelled out well for us. Shaivite truth, Vaishnav truth… doesn’t matter. The question asked, “How is it possible?” is a good one, that many staunch religious vegetarians ask even today. How can you get to heaven if you eat meat? The answer is given in the shloka above and it’s mirrored in the Gita: One cannot achieve moksha without this form of Self control. The rules are – at best – meant as a guide; they are not the destination. Indeed, this form of Self control is the key to governing one’s karmas and doing away with them – Karma Yoga.
This is actually indicative of deep realization of the Truth and high spiritual development. Whenever a devotee or aspirant invests enough effort travelling the path back to our Source, little by little, Truth opens to that person and while they still may live according to certain specific principles they are no longer bound by those principles. It’s from this supreme outlook/wisdom that Krishna advises Arjuna that it’s detrimental to be so greatly affected by life’s happenings – even when violence is involved, like killing your kin. This is a point where Jnana balances everything, always bringing one to (or closer to) equipoise.
Enter: Karma Yogis.
As with any action we make, our dietary choices are directly related to one’s practice (or absence of practice) of Karma Yoga. Karma Yoga affords special emphasis to one’s behaviors, and usually the context those actions are placed into is that of being beneficial to others. Karma Yoga is often then accidentally understood to be largely synonymous with seva (service to others), which is really only a small part of practicing Karma Yoga, in the same way that non-violence is often taken to be the “everything” behind ahimsa but is actually only a small part of. It can be argued that, by far, most people neglect to take Karma Yoga deeper than that. They manage to convince themselves that if they do good works and don’t expect anything in return (which they mistake to be completely synonymous with karmaphala vairagya, renunciation of their actions’ fruits), liberation will come to them. What a horrible disservice to one’s spiritual progression!
Karma Yoga is about the renunciation of the effects of one’s deeds on all levels not the just outward and obvious levels. Doing something for the simple and pure sake of doing it is something so very few people can even mentally grasp, let alone outwardly exhibit in daily life. And even when it seems like someone might truly be doing something purely for others, that inner landscape I’ve mentioned before still pollutes the whole thing. There often remains a glaring disconnect between the outer where everything is seen and the inner where everything originates. It’s in this context that so many humble “servants of the servants of the Lord” are actually fools simply engaged in mechanistic acts – which they incorrectly think equate Karma Yoga.
Another book I’ve been reading is The Yoga of Nutrition – in the book itself, this form of yoga is called Hrani Yoga. Much of the book so far has been boring and dealt a lot with mindfulness during eating and offering some instructions on how to view our food and habits involved when we’re eating. One thing said, though, I kind of like. The author, clearly Hindu, references a biblical passage where Jesus advises folks that it’s not what goes into the body, but what comes out from it that determines a man’s spiritual expression and development. Mind you, I think there’s ample support in the Bible to indicate that people aren’t meant to eat animals, but that’s for another day and another post. Certainly Jesus knew what he was talking about and I think, in this case, the Hrani Yoga author does too. He mentions, “Jesus certainly never advised his disciples to eat anything and everything: it would be unthinkable for an Initiate to give such advice, for it is only when one has done great spiritual work capable of changing impurity into light that one is free to eat whatever one likes. And the reverse is true too: unless you have made your mind up to work at your spiritual development, even the best food will not have the power to transform you. What counts is the strength of your inner life, of your thoughts and feelings.”
Aum Mahaganeshya Namaha