What is sentient? A sentient diet produces a sentient body. (Áhárashuddhao sattvashudhih.)
The physical body of every human being is composed of countless cells. These cells are of two kinds: protozoic and metazoic. All parts of the human body are composed of these two types of cells. In another sense, the entire human structure can be regarded as one metazoic cell.
Each of these cells has its individual mind, soul, etc., but the minds of the cells are different from the human mind. (And the minds of the metazoic cells are more developed than those of the protozoic cells.) The human mind is the unit microcosm plus the collection of the minds of the protozoic and metazoic cells; therefore the human mind is a collective mind. Just as the Macrocosmic Mind is inseparably associated with each and every entity of this universe through ota yoga and prota yoga, the unit mind is inseparably related to each of its composite entities [individually]; and in a collective way also, the minds of the cells have a certain relationship with the unit mind.
Generally a cell lives about twenty-one days and then dies, being replaced by new cells. When one rubs a certain part of the body, some seeming dirt comes off, even when the body remains covered, but this is not always dirt from the environment. In most cases, it is the accumulation of hundreds of dead cells.
Cells generally grow out of light, air, water and the food we eat. The nature of food and drink has its effect upon the cells, and consequently also influences the human mind. Obviously each and every spiritual aspirant should be very cautious in selecting food. Suppose a person takes támasika [static] food. The result will be that after a certain period, static cells will grow and exercise a static influence on the aspirantʼs mind. Human beings must select sáttvika [sentient] or rájasika [mutative] food according to time, place and person. This will lead to the birth of sentient cells, which in turn will produce a love for spiritual practice and help in attaining psychic equilibrium and equipoise, leading to immense spiritual elevation.
After about twenty-one days old cells are shed and new ones grow. But in old age, due to certain defects in the cells, the smoothness and the lustre of the face disappears, the skin becomes wrinkled, and the different parts of the body weaken. (In old persons, the old cells decay, new cells are produced in lesser numbers and some of the new cells do not get proper nourishment.)
In all cases where a patient has been ailing for a long time, experienced physicians advise complete rest for a minimum of twenty-one days to allow the growth of new, healthy cells so that the ailing person will regain physical and mental energy.
Cells are living beings, and as a result of transformation through lives together, they have found existence in the human body. Later, through gradual evolution, each cell mind will develop into a human mind.
The aura or effulgence radiating from the human body is the collective effulgence of all its composite cells. When in old age many cells in the body become weak, this results in the diminution of the effulgence. Even the body of a young man who is suffering from a disease loses its lustre.
In the human face alone there are millions of cells. When a person gets angry a large amount of blood rushes into the face, causing it to become red and causing many cells to die. Violent or cruel people can easily be recognized by their faces.
As a result of eating sentient food and performing spiritual practices, the cells of the human body become sentient. Naturally, an effulgence emanates from these cells, creating an aura around the physical body of the spiritual aspirant. This is the reason why many pictures of mahápuruśas [highly-evolved persons] show them with radiant auras.
If cells are affected by food and water, and if the nature of the cells affects the nature of the human mind, obviously human beings should eat the correct diet, because food and mind are closely related to each other. Any food item, whether good or bad, must not be taken indiscriminately because it may lead to mental degeneration. Sincere spiritual aspirants must follow the dictum,
What is a Sentient Diet?
Vegetarian diets have become popular during the past 40 years in the west, but the vegetarian diet that is important to those who practice yoga and meditation is still not well understood.
The yogic vegetarian diet is centered around foods that affect the mind as well as the body, which makes it different from other types of vegetarian systems.
Gauging the effect of food on the mind requires an understanding of the philosophy behind yoga. According to yoga philosophy, the force of nature works in three primary styles, and the different foods are governed by each one of these alternating styles. Thus the yogic diet has three food classifications:
Nature’s sentient principle dominates foods that are beneficial to both the body and the mind. These foods include most fruits and vegetables, grains, legumes (beans), organic milk products, nuts, herbs, and mild spices. Note that there are some vegetable products that are not sentient: lentils (taken at night are static, during the day they are mutative), red lentils, onion, mushrooms, garlic, and white eggplant are static; the durian fruit (of South East Asia) is also static.
The natural force that creates motion and change in the universe is predominant in some foods. Mutative foods are beneficial to the body and may or may not be beneficial to the mind. These foods are stimulants, and some examples are coffee, tea, chocolate, ginseng, carbonated drinks, and strong spices. Taken in moderate amounts, mutative foods are not harmful to spiritual progress.
There is a static force that creates inertia in the universe. This force solidifies and binds consciousness. A static quality characterizes some foods, and when eaten, they make the mind dull and drowsy. These foods are detrimental to mental concentration and meditation. They also stimulate the lower chakras (psycho-physical controlling points) of the body and the mental propensities controlled by these centers, making it more difficult for the aspirant to maintain mental purity.
In terms of vital energy static foods are harmful to both body and mind, and they are not eaten by yogis. Static foods include meat, fish, eggs, onions, mushrooms, and garlic. Alcohol, tobacco, drugs, as well as rotting or spoiled foods, also are static.
Those who want to succeed in meditation and yoga will get significant benefits by following a diet that includes foods from the sentient category, and by avoiding static foods. A sentient diet is especially important for those who wish to perform yoga postures on a daily basis.