I have been following a vegetarian diet for most of my life. When I was a young child, my mother couldn’t get me to eat the meat she served. She was concerned that I wasn’t getting enough iron in my diet, so she made sure I had plenty of raisins since she’d heard they were high in iron. My favorite sandwich in those days was Wonder Bread with Miracle Whip and raisins. Luckily, my choice of vegetarian foods has greatly improved from those early years. I clearly came into this incarnation with a strong preference from past lives to avoid meat. But beyond my personal likes and dislikes, choosing a vegetarian diet such as we follow at The Expanding Light has a lot of merit for physical, mental, and spiritual health.
As a species, were we meant to eat meat? Yogananda’s guru, Sri Yukteswar, points out that the human tooth structure is not like that of a carnivore, which has long pointed teeth designed to tear into flesh. Also, the digestive tracts of carnivorous animals are much shorter proportionally than those of humans, so when we eat meat it stays with us longer before elimination than in an animal that has to survive on meat. Meat may be a source of high protein and energy but it also comes with a lot of toxins. Many research studies have shown that people who eat a vegetarian diet are about 40 percent less likely to develop cancer than meat eaters.
When we think about what occurred before a piece of meat came neatly packaged into our refrigerator, it isn’t hard to understand how stress hormones of fear and anger from the animal that was slaughtered (even if the animal was raised naturally and grass fed) would be present in that meat. Those who want a life of inner peace and happiness find it helpful to keep the nervous system as free as possible from fight-or-flight neuro-chemicals (such as those produced by fear and anger). So, following a vegetarian diet makes sense. Plants offer themselves for harvest with much less fear and stress. Fruits and nuts that fall off the tree are the most willing source of nourishment.
If we had no other choice of food to sustain life, it would certainly be better to eat meat than to starve. But in today’s world we find ourselves with lots of choices. We can get the protein we need from other high quality sources without resorting to meat. If we want to make the most of this lifetime, then why not do all we can to reach our highest potential?
The food we eat gives us much more than just nutrients. Food imparts vibrations that we receive when we ingest it. Yogananda told us, for example, that cherries impart cheerfulness, avocados enhance our memory, and coconuts lift our spiritual awareness. The animal magnetism of meat, on the other hand, diminishes our spiritual magnetism. Meat eating brings our focus of awareness too much to the physical plane, and so we feel restless, heavy, and bound by worries of the world. To find greater happiness, we need to lift our consciousness to feel light and expansive.
Certainly there is more to a healthy diet than just avoiding meat. There are pitfalls in being vegetarian, such as overemphasizing carbohydrates and sugars. Over the years I have worked to eat fewer processed or starchy foods, with fewer sweets (no more raisins on white bread). Now I include many more live, high vibrating, and colorful plant-based foods. It takes effort and willingness to enjoy new tastes and textures. But it is worth finding ways to honor the body as a temple and to be conscious about how to keep it clean, making the body temple a place fit for the Divine to dwell. In the end, our attitudes and purity of heart are what matter most. The healthiest food is that which we bless and offer to God.
I love Yogananda’s prayer before meals:
“Heavenly Father, receive this food. Make it holy. Let no impurity of greed defile it. The food comes from Thee. It is to build Thy Temple. Spiritualize it. Spirit to Spirit goes. We are the petals of Thy manifestation but Thou art the flower, its life, beauty, and loveliness. Permeate our souls with the fragrance of Thy presence.”