While I have been in Africa, people have been asking me about yoga and diet. Mostly they are concerned that their attempts to purify and awaken their subtle energies through yoga will all be useless because they are not vegetarians. Everyday they revert to the same tamasic, non-vegetarian foods. This problem is not only peculiar to Africa, it has been a problem the world over since the dawn of history. Yet we can find a solution to this problem in yoga, for yoga is evolved from tantra, and tantra has the answer.
In tantra the basic purpose is expansion of mind and liberation of the energy principle. In order to achieve this, aspirants are given different types of sadhana, with different restriction, according to personality. All sadhakas are divided into three classes called pashu, vira and deva. In terms of modern psychology, we may describe the pashu as a man who lives by instinct, the vira as one who lives by intellect and the deva as one who lives by intuition. These are also respectively known as tamasic, rajasic and sattwic sadhakas.
For sattwic people the sadhana is very clear and we do not need to discuss it now, nor the details of sadhana for rajasic people. We are concerned with the majority of people who are rajasic and tamasic combined. In this case neither raja yoga nor hatha yoga is suitable. Tantra yoga is the best way for these people to evolve, so that with their habits of sexual freedom and non-vegetarian diet, with their attachment to meat and wine they can still slowly creep forward on the path of evolution. It doesn't mean that for the sake of awakening you have to eat meat and so on. Yet there are people in the world who are leading a rajasic cum tamasic life and who still want to evolve to the higher path. For these people there is definitely a way and that way is known as tantra.
Therefore, I am proposing that all of us who are dedicated to the sattwic life, and to a strict, disciplined system, should also provide a way for those people who are suffering from infirmities of will power, but who are also aiming for evolution. This is point one. The most important thing in tantra is mantra, so much so, that the other name for tantra is mantra shastra. If a particular mantra suited to an individual's personality is repeated by him, together with the practice of maha mudra, maha bheda mudra and siddhasana, then within a few months time his whole personality will undergo a great change. It will not only be evolution, it will be revolution.
Point two is this. In hatha yoga there are certain practices which are really meant for tamasic people. These techniques can be easily taught to, and practiced by, everybody. For instance, there is jala dhauti (kunjal kriya) in which you drink three or four glasses of lukewarm water then vomit it out. This cleans out all the fermented acidic substances that accumulate in the stomach at night. Another practice is shankhaprakshalana (varisar dhouti) during which you drink sixteen glasses of warm saline water and perform certain asanas. This technique washes all the old, pungent and rotting mucus from the whole alimentary canal, and may be practiced once a year or even every three months. The third practice is trataka. You fix the eyes on a steady point, internal or external, so that the pupils don't move or flicker for, say, one to ten minutes. When the eyes become motionless, the mind follows suit and movement of prana also ceases. This brings rest and tranquillity.
Now we come to the third point. In the Bhagavad Gita, it is said that it is very difficult to control the mind, because the mind is very powerful. Arjuna says, "I think that to have control of the mind is a very difficult task". Krishna tells him that it is as difficult as controlling the wind, but he gives Arjuna encouragement and assures him that it can be done. The Gita presents two ways of doing this. Krishna tells Arjuna that whenever his mind goes outward and becomes restless and unsteady, he should straightaway bring it back. This is one way, but it is not for all. It is only for those people who are almost on the borderline of sattwa, well beyond tamas.
The other way set forth in the Gita is to tame the mind through constant practice (abhyasa) and internal detachment (vairagya). What does this mean? It means that you go on doing your practices every day but make no attempt to control your mind. You practice your mantra every day, but don't control the thoughts. Merely dissociate yourself from them. You should not worry at all about your thoughts. You simply observe them like a witness, a seer. Your attitude should be, 'I am not the thought, I am only the witness of the thought process. Let it go, what do I care!' If I am thinking of meat or wine or murder or dishonesty - I am not that thought. It is just a thought which comes and goes. Don't care about it. Let it come and go. This is vairagya, non-attachment for any thought that comes into the mind. When you develop this attitude, the mind becomes calm and quiet, at least for a few minutes. For a short while you are not in conflict with your personality.
In yoga we are clear on one thing - there should be no conflict in your personality. What is a conflict? A mind holding two opposing ideas is a mind in conflict. Suppose I want to drink alcohol, and at the same time I believe it is bad. This creates a conflict and when it becomes more powerful it can cause mental derangement. This is why in some countries there is such a high incidence of schizophrenia.
The Gita says that mind is your enemy, but it is also your friend. There should be no conflict, and even with a rajasic or tamasic mind we can evolve. There is a sloka in the Gita that says even ordinary people with bad habits, with an untrained and uncultured mind, they too can attain the highest bliss.
I have come across people who were alcoholics and non-vegetarians but they were very good devotees of Shakti, the goddess who personifies the active power of the universe. They were sattwic in mind, and absolutely rajasic in their day to day life. They had no anger, no passion, no hatred or jealousy, but -they were often intoxicated with alcohol and were totally non-vegetarian. However, when they sat for the ceremonial worship of Durga or Kali (aspects of Shakti) they would not move. Even if a snake or a scorpion were to bite them, they would not break the meditation by moving the body.
I can give you one example of a man in India who was my host once during the religious festival of Chaturmas. At one time during his worship of Shakti his dhoti caught fire! He was in meditation and his body was badly burned. I asked later why he did not get up to put out the fire, and he said that he simply had no idea it was burning. That's how deeply he was involved in the ceremony. This shows us how a sattwic mind can have rajasic habits, how a sattwic mind can have rajasic and tamasic elements also.
I know as a yogi that food plays a very important part in life, but at the same time I have a different way of thinking as well. I know that evolution is not only open to those who are careful about food, but that it is also open to those who are pure in mind, no matter who they are.