Of prunes and ragi…

A few days back I spoke of OTT, mobile and in general – screen addiction.

Today, I speak about food addiction. Specifically, bad food addiction.

The problem is that food that is good for us is almost never addictive, and food that is bad for us is always addictive. From the colas, to the chips, sausages, ice-cream, donuts, coffee…everything that takes a toll on our system has within it a built-in mechanism to make us crave for it.

As I was feeding Rohāmrta today, I realised how much our way of eating has changed in the past twenty years. Foods that we had never heard of in a common middle-class Bengaluru family – prunes, blueberries, avocado, quinoa and the like, are now commonplace. Millets have taken the backseat, and processed foods rule, for babies as small as 2-3 months old.

As a consequence, children are growing to be bigger, but not necessarily healthier, and surely not more immune that their previous generations. I read somewhere that this may the first generation in a long long time that actually may end up living less healthier than the previous one.

Which brings me to Tiruvalluvar once again. And the Gita. Small snippets that help us realize larger truths. Read on and think about it!

உரனென்னும் தோட்டியான் ஓரைந்தும் காப்பான்
வரனென்னும் வைப்பிற்கோர் வித்தது. 

Uranennum Thottiyaan Oraindhum Kaappaan
Varanennum Vaippirkor Viththu (24)

One who has the strength to control his five senses, paves the way for a higher experience of life.

धैर्याङ्कुशेन् संयम्य गजान् पञ्चेन्द्रियात्मकान् ।
य: पालयत्ययं मोक्षफलकृद्वीजवद्भवेत् ॥ (२४)

अंकुश से दृढ़ ज्ञान के, इन्द्रिय राखे आप ।
ज्ञानी वह वर लोक का, बीज बनेगा आप ॥ (२४)

ತನ್ನ ಪಂಚೇಂದ್ರಿಯಗಳನ್ನು ನಿಯಂತ್ರಿಸುವ ಶಕ್ತಿ ಹೊಂದಿರುವವನು ಜೀವನದ ಉನ್ನತ ಅನುಭವಕ್ಕೆ ದಾರಿ ಮಾಡಿಕೊಡುತ್ತಾನೆ.

manaḥ-ṣaṣṭhānīndriyāṇi – the mind is the sixth sense – says the Bhagavad Gita. Swami Sivananda said that ‘the Indriyas are the prolongation of the mind’. Our mind is constantly fed by data gathered by the five senses, which leads to desire. The more the data, the lesser the self-control. This simple fact is well exploited by mainstream advertising – which constantly bombards us with images of the stuff that they want us to buy, and even when we do not pay attention to it – our subconscious mind registers it. Thats how subtle messages such as logo colors, product placements and guerrilla advertising register, leading the name of Pepsi or MacDonalds to pop up almost immediately in our heads, when we are hungry.

Our senses are of no use without the mind. It’s like collecting data and typing it into a computer that is not switched on.

Only when the computer is on, is when the data that is keyed in can be interpreted. So is it with the senses. Your eyes do not see – your mind sees. The eyes are the lens – the mind is the camera that captures the image and makes sense of it. When you experience a plate of delicious food put in front of you – you see the vivid colors of the food, you smell the aroma, you touch it with your hands and taste it – the mind aggregates these senses and the output is the ‘deliciousness’ that you experience.

And so, when the five senses are not under your control, the sixth sense – the mind – is not under your control. Your decisions are not based on rationality or contemplation – rather they follow what appeals to you, and not what is good for you.

This is why so many diets and exercise regimens fail – the bowl of ice cream is always more enticing than that bowl of salad, isn’t it?

ध्यायतो विषयान्पुंस: सङ्गस्तेषूपजायते |
सङ्गात्सञ्जायते काम: कामात्क्रोधोऽभिजायते || 62||

dhyāyato viṣhayān puṁsaḥ saṅgas teṣhūpajāyate
saṅgāt sañjāyate kāmaḥ kāmāt krodho ’bhijāyate

While contemplating on the objects of the senses, one develops attachment to them. Attachment leads to desire, and from desire arises anger.

Bhagavad Gita 2.62

As the Gita describes, indulgence in the senses leads to attachment, then to desire, and then anger or sadness when we are unable to fulfil all our desires. Our lives are spent in trying to satisfy our desires, from the mundane to the extraordinary, leaving us with little time to discover our own selves.

Tiruvalluvar explains that controlling one’s senses, and not over-indulging in them, helps free up the mind for higher experiences, higher thinking.

Higher thinking leads to better living, where we do not run behind objects and people, rather, we are able to make more conscious decisions without the bias of our senses.