There is a story told in the East of two fakirs who had spent years in seclusion studying yoga, having learned extraordinary feats of physical and mental control and mastery of their minds and bodies. Standing on the banks of the Ganges they fell into one another's company, and in the course of their conversation one of them happened to imply that he had developed the ability to do more miraculous things than most, probably including his companion.
The other fakir, a bit older and perhaps a bit wiser, rebuked him gently, wondering whether he might not be carried away by a moment's boastfulness. But his new found friend bristled with pride and volunteered to demonstrate what he could do. The older man agreed to this. "Go ahead," he said. The younger proceeded, "See the man across the river? I will make appear on a piece of paper in his hand the name of a friend whom he has long forgotten."
The older man smiled, "Is that really the sort of thing you do? That's nothing."
The younger fakir replied, now with some heat, "Oh, really! That's nothing? Well, please tell me, what sort of miraculous feats do you accomplish?"
The first fakir looked at him calmly and his eyes twinkled, "I eat when I'm hungry and drink when I'm thirsty."
There is no real consensus today, if one is to look in the bewildering array of theories and methods of nutrition, about how one should nourish one's body. To add to the confusion, the food industries, caught in stiff competition between national companies or multinationals, have been invaded by the strangling world of publicity. Consequently, the public is inundated with messages about food and foodstuffs which have usually little to do with truth, but which are calculated to kindle as many desires as possible.
As a result, the consciousness of the true needs of the body is obscured. In the affluent or relatively well-off classes of modern societies, mothers are being besieged by their children to get the latest fancy food items. Confusing and contradictory theories about nutrition combined with the cacophony of titillating messages all around have contributed to a lowering of the clear and simple consciousness about food.
There are in our modern times some quite divergent views of what constitutes a good diet. One great divide is between vegetarians and non-vegetarians. Further, vegetarians differ with "vegetarians" about animal products such as milk, eggs, butter, etc. Vegetarians will not take any animal products. Some nutritionists have argued that man belonging generally to the larger species of apes should have an apelike diet, consisting mostly of fruits and nuts, i.e., whatever can be found on trees. The followers of the Macrobiotic system, on the contrary, think that diet should consist mostly of grains and roots. An extreme diet system advocates a totally raw diet, banishing cooking and any food processing altogether. As a result of these conflicting views there is — particularly in the West but now growing everywhere — an enormous and bewildering amount of books on nutrition and diets, among which a good number are hardly serious, selling "diet packages" which can some times be harmful.
Maybe a practical truth is that one should try to find out experimentally one's own optimum diet. Whether one lives in the cold northern countries or in a hot tropical country would have a major impact on the type of diet which can be appropriate. And many more factors: age, type of body, type of activity, psychological make-up, family situation, budgetary considerations, state of health, seasonal variations and climate. These are only some of the main variables which constitute the essential background of an experiential diet.
Deeper aspirations can also influence the choice of diet. If one's main concern is, for instance,
to make the body a fit servant in the pursuit of a higher truth of oneself, one would select from among many possible food items those most useful in promoting qualities such as endurance, strength, agility and lightness which are most necessary in serious spiritual seeking.
Mindset and psychological circumstances might also be much more important in the process of nutrition than generally acknowledged. There is a striking story which serves as a good illustration of the importance of the body/mind relations. It is not about human beings but about rabbits, and that makes it, we feel, even more remarkable. In a laboratory experiment, rabbits were given foods that induce high rise of cholesterol in the blood, in order to study the potential of various corrective medicines. After a while, it was noticed that a group of rabbits, although receiving exactly the same diet, were showing dramatically less increase of cholesterol in their blood. After an in-depth enquiry, it was discovered that one of the attendants giving food to the rabbits had the habit of patting and caressing his rabbits while feeding them. Closely monitored repeat experiments showed that indeed these specific actions of the attendant were responsible for the surprising fact that these rabbits suffered much less negative effects from the same harmful diet than the other rabbits.
If rabbits can be that sensitive to love and care, what of human beings? From time immemorial, all great traditions have insisted on the importance to be given to the preparation and serving of food. And every mother in the world knows instinctively what it means to feed children. Nourishment must be of the total being, at the most material level but also at subtler and subtler levels of the being. The material base of the food must be proper, but so must be many other circumstances around it which contribute to the total care of the body. Wholesome character of the food, beauty in presentation, subtle art of enhancement of flavours and proper combinations and, above all, an atmosphere of calm, love and care are all important parts of the "ceremony" of serving food.
One may dream of one day further along in the evolutionary future when much more refined human beings would be sufficiently fed merely by the essences of food, or else, when breath or "prana", so termed in the Sanskrit, may suffice to provide strength and energy to subtler but still material bodies. This day might come later but for us, today, the urgency remains of a proper approach to nutrition, so that our bodies
are maintained in a peak condition of health and longevity.
The excerpts that we are presenting below, a brief hut clear exposition of the main principles of nutrition in Ayurveda and their crucial importance to health and healing, come from a book called Diet and Nutrition: A Holistic Approach by Rudolph Ballentine, M.D. Mr. Ballantine's presentation, we feel, brings out the depth of a very ancient knowledge in the art of nutrition in a field that suffers from our modern overabundance of theories, some of which seem hardly more than fashionable prescriptions. We hope the brief extracts presented here may induce the reader to a deeper study of nutrition as a very' important aspect in the complex domain of human life.
We are also giving excerpts of a small book called The Grape Cure. This is the story of a man who, after many unsuccessful attempts at his treatment, was considered terminally ill. One day he came across the description of a cure of a severe illness through eating grapes only for a long period. Having nothing to lose, he tried this method and in a few weeks he achieved the seemingly impossible feat of curing himself. We felt it useful to present this story as we believe that it demonstrates the power of nutrition on the body. If bodies can be cured by only taking the same specific food over a long period, the importance of nutrition to health cannot be exaggerated.