आहारशुद्धौ सत्त्वशुद्धिः सत्त्वशुद्धौ ध्रुवा स्मृतिः
स्मृतिलम्भे सर्वग्रन्थीनां विप्रमोक्षस्तस्मै ॥ ७.२६.२॥
The mind remains pure if what it receives is also pure. If the mind is pure the recollection of the Self becomes steady. If the recollection becomes steady, one is released from all the ties of the world. (7/26/2) Chandogya Updanishad.
Everyday we chant the aforementioned prayer. Our two most ancient Updanishads are Vrihadaranyaka and Chandogya. This quotation has been taken from Chandogya. The first line of the quotation is “The mind remains pure if what it receives is also pure.” (7/26/2). Again, if the mind is purified then it can concentrate on the desired goal. Here the word ahara does not mean food which we take in with the mouth but it includes whatever stimuli we receive through our sense organs. What we see with the eyes and what we hear with the ears are all a part of it.
We can now examine how these stimuli reach the mind. When somebody speaks, sound waves are produced in the air and strike the auditory receptors. The auditory stimulus is conveyed to the brain which interprets its meaning. Following that a chain of thoughts is set in motion: whether what we heard was good or bad and whether it was pleasant or offensive.
Our mental activity is of two kinds. One is related to our internal identity and the other to our external identity. What we perceive throught our eyes or ears is a scientific process which affects our external identity, and after that when this process is followed by the mind getting activated, the chain of thoughts gets associated with our internal identity. Our minds have a permanent disposition which is variously referred to as nature or character. When a chain of thoughts is set up after reciving the external stimuli, it results in a state of mind in accordance with the nature of the personality. There are nine such states: pleasure, pain, delusion, love, hatred, fear of death, the waking state, the dream state and deep sleep devoid of dream. If an external stimuli generates love in somebody, then accordingly the state of love or attachment is manifested in his mind.
We have to remember that all creatures desire happiness. Indian philosophy reveals that happiness is freedom from pain. This is the basic principle of the Indian theory of liberation. Everybody desires physical health; which is also a desire to be free from physical pain. There is no difference of opinion about this being a desirable goal and this is a fundamental and universally accepted postulate of the medical sciences. Similarly the good health of our mind is also a desirable goal and the treatment of the mind is universally accepted as legitimate.
The Upanishad says, “If what is received is pure, the mind remains pure.” What is desirable for me, whatever I want in order to free myself from pain, is pure, and whatever is opposed to it is impure. That is why it is said that if the intake is pure, the mind will also be free from impurities. Among the yogic principles, the prescribed observances and restraints, there is much emphasis on purity. This purity has two aspects: internal and external . When the intake is pure, the body as well as the mind are purified.
The food we eat works on the body and what we receive through our sense organs has an effect on the mind. However, as a result of the close identification of the body with the mind, whatever affects the body brings down the level of the mind also. Hence it is necessary that the food we eat is also pure. It is not true that vegetarian food is necessarily pure. Intoxicants have a vegetarian base but they make us a prey to delusions, so they are not pure. Non-vegetarian food does not have such an adverse effect on the body as it has on the mind: it enhances the feelings of violence.
Similarly, whatever we take in affects the mind. The purity of external stimuli is important because it affects our internal identity and we should exercise some control over it. After the external stimuli have been received, the mind works upon them, colouring them with our emotions, such as love, hatred and delusion, magnifying what is insignificant or ignoring that which is significant.
It is necessary to control our emotional reaction to the stimuli we receive from outside. Spiritual practice enables us to do that. When we read a biography we may have a negative feeling about a great man. On the other hand, we may admire a person who acquired a kingdom after killing a number of people in war. We might want to follow his example and achieve greatness by defeating our enemies. Somebody else might think that he would not gain anything by such means. He might want to be different. This is how individual minds work. We may arouse all kinds of emotions and thoughts in our minds temporarily, none of which may be in accordance with our inherent nature or character. Hence the Sruti observes that the purity of the mind depends on the purity of the intake.
.. taken from “So have we heard” by Swami Dharmamegha Aranya