In Ayurveda, food is intimately linked with well being and achieving a positive outcome of medical treatment. There are specific dos and don’ts, based on your individual prakriti (body-mind type), wellness status as well as nature of the illness you may be experiencing. Generally, ahara is interpreted as “food” or “nourishment to the body”. It is the latter interpretation that requires some thought, because when read in context of an entire classical discourse, ahara is not limited to food. Ahara instead, is anything that we imbibe or is experienced by our body.
Imagine your morning. From the time you wake up, your indriyas or sense organs are receiving inputs from your environment and transmitting it to your brain. Think of the time well before breakfast, the first meal, when you just open your eyes. The twittering of birds, tinkle of your phone alarm or the loud ring of the milkman arouses you from slumber. Even before your eyes open, your ear, has conveyed an experience to your mind. You stretch, and the body senses the movement of all its muscles. The indriya of touch is now active. Maybe morning light from a window falls on your eyes and this is registered by your eye. You may take a deep breath or a yawn and feel the breath fill your lungs. All these experiences – sound, touch, sight and smell – these too are ahara.
This spirit of ahara has been captured succinctly in Chandogyaupanishad. ““Aharasuddhau satva suddhi satva suddhau dhruva smriti”. If one interprets Ahara as food, it would means that sattvic/ pure food is reflected in a sattvic/pure mind which in turn is reflected in the function of memory. However, if we think of any person in our life who we think has achieved a pure mind, are we convinced that food is the main/only reason how they have achieved that state of mind?
This small example illustrates the difficulty in interpreting classical texts of Sanskrit in modern languagef. Because philosophy and instructions are interwoven in our texts, simplicity sometimes strips words of their full meaning. The original authors of classical texts were artists: aiming to transmit their scholarship in prose and poetry that prized brevity, beauty in language as well as expression. Thus, today, readers who can only access translated texts should be aware that are for the most part they are reading “interpretations” of the author and not a translation.
1 – 7 September is National Nutrition Week. Nutrition in most campaigns = nutrition in food. A closer look at ahara reminds us that for “wellness” you need to nurture not only the ‘physical body’ with good/pure food, but also constantly nurture your ‘mind’ with good/pure experiences of every sense organ!