Editor’s note: In some of his letters Sri Aurobindo explained the right attitude a sadhak of Integral Yoga must cultivate toward food. While the letters were written in response to queries from the disciples living in the Ashram, the advice found here is equally applicable to the aspirants and devotees living outside.
Importunity of the palate
It is certainly not very Yogic to be so much harassed by the importunity of the palate.
I notice that these petty desires, which plenty of people who are not Yogis at all nor aspirants for Yoga know how to put in their proper place, seem to take an inordinate importance in the consciousness of the sadhaks here—not all, certainly, but many.
In this as in many other matters they do not seem to realise that, if you want to do Yoga, you must take more and more in all matters, small or great, the Yogic attitude. In our path that attitude is not one of forceful suppression, but of detachment and equality with regard to the objects of desire.
Forceful suppression (fasting comes under the head) stands on the same level as free indulgence; in both cases, the desire remains; in the one it is fed by indulgence, in the other it lies latent and exasperated by suppression.
It is only when one stands back, separates oneself from the lower vital, refusing to regard its desires and clamours as one’s own, and cultivates an entire equality and equanimity in the consciousness with respect to them that the lower vital itself becomes gradually purified and itself also calm and equal.
Each wave of desire as it comes must be observed, as quietly and with as much unmoved detachment as you would observe something going on outside you, and must be allowed to pass, rejected from the consciousness, and the true movement, the true consciousness steadily put in its place.
But for that these things of eating and drinking must be put in their right place, which is a very small one.
You say that many have left the Asram because they did not like the food. I do not know who are the many; certainly, those who came here for serious sadhana and left, went for much more grave reasons than that.
But if any did go because of an offended palate, then certainly they were quite unfit for Yoga and this was not the place for them. For it means that a mutton chop or a tasty plate of fish was more important for them than the seeking of the Divine!
It is not possible to do Yoga if values are so topsy-turvy in the consciousness. Apart from such extravagance, these things which ought to be only among the most minor values even in the human life, are promoted by many here to a rank they ought not to have.
At the same time it is better, if it is possible, to have well cooked rather than badly-cooked food.
The idea that the Mother wants tasteless food to be served because tasty food is bad for Yoga, is one of the many absurdities that seem so profusely current among the sadhaks in this Asram about her ways and motives. The Mother is obliged to arrange for neutral (plain and simple), not tasteless food, for the reason that any other course has been proved to be impracticable.
There are ninety people here, from different countries and provinces whose tastes are as the poles asunder. What is tasty food to the Gujarati is abomination to the Bengali and vice versa. The European cannot stand an avalanche of tamarind or chillies; the Andhra accustomed to a fiery diet would find French dishes tasteless.
Experiments have been tried before you came, but they were disastrous in their results; a few enjoyed, the majority starved, and bad stomachs began to be the rule. On the other hand, neutral food can be eaten by all and does not injure the health,—that at least is what we have found,—even if it does not give any ecstasy to the palate.
Only, the food, if neutral, should not be tasteless. A certain amount of fluctuation is inevitable; no one can cook daily for 80 or 90 people and yet do always well. But if it is too much, a remedy is to be desired and the Mother is willing to consider any practicable and effective suggestion.
If any practicable suggestion is made, it will be considered,—keeping always in view the difficulty I have pointed out of the ninety people and the three continents and half a dozen provinces that are represented here, apart from individual idiosyncracies and fancies, which, of course, it is absolutely impossible even to try to satisfy unless we want to land ourselves in chaos.
But what if people were to remember that they were here for Yoga, make that the salt and savour of their existence and acquire samatā of the palate!
My experience is that if they did that, all the trouble would disappear and even the kitchen difficulties and the defects of the cooking would vanish.
Yoga consciousness and desire consciousness
. . . people here do not seem to realise that desire consciousness and Yoga consciousness are two different things. They seem to want to make a happy amalgamation of the two.
. . . this is not an ascetic Yoga. But neither is it a Yoga of the satisfaction of desire.
In this Yoga quite as much as any other, one must be free from servitude to the mind, the vital and the body. It is to be done by the growth of an inner consciousness free from demand and desire, not by the principle of an outer suppression of the objects of desire. It is to be done by having a perfect equality with regard to food as to other things. But this very few seem to recognise.
About food, tea etc. the aim of Yoga is to have no hankerings, no slavery either to the stomach or the palate.
How to get to that point is another matter—it depends often on the individual. With a thing like tea, the strongest and easiest way is to stop it. As to food the best way usually is to take the food given you, practise non-attachment and follow no fancies. That would mean giving up the Sunday indulgence.
The rest must be done by an inner change of consciousness and not by external means.
From our archives:
On Vegatarianism, Compassion and Equality
~ Design: Beloo Mehra