Although far from comprehensive and obviously directed towards reasons we do not eat onions and garlic the following notes considered relevant have been compiled. (we recognise that there are claimed to be many medicinal benefits from the said foods but our businesses is to support Srila Prabhupada’s statements about them.
Your servant Janananda Gosvami
ONIONS AND GARLIC PROHIBITED AND AGITATING
Indian man: Relieving high blood pressure, best is garlic. Prabhupäda: Garlic. Indian man: Garlic, you don’t want it. (laughter) Prabhupäda: Garlic, onions, prohibited. (Room Conversation — October 9, 1976, Aligarh)
Reporter (6): What about onions…? Prabhupäda: Yes, onions is also very agitating. (Conversation with News Reporters — March 25, 1976, Delhi)
(Srila Prabhupada mentioned many times to his disciples they should refrain from using Onions and garlic)
Many people ask the question why is it that in the Hare Krishna movement we do not eat onions and garlic. After all they vegetables are they not. Of course it is not only us who keep them out of our diets but Jains, many Buddhists, many Hindus, and even some Christians apparently.
Several years ago the question was raised in the Back to Godhead magazine
Question: I can understand the prohibition against meat-eating. But what’s wrong with eating garlic and onions? Surely there’s no more violence committed when we eat an onion than when we eat a potato. Is it considered sinful to eat garlic and onions? Ranjeet Sharma Durban, South Africa
Answer: “Eating onions and garlic adversely affects one’s consciousness. Why? Because the modes of goodness, passion, and ignorance influence every living thing — human, animal, or plant — and we learn from the Vedic literature that onions and garlic are in the lower modes of nature: passion and ignorance. In spiritual life one should cultivate the mode of goodness and avoid the lower modes. Sin in its broadest sense is any activity that hinders our spiritual advancement. Since eating foods in the modes of ignorance and passion hampers our Krsna consciousness, Vaisnava spiritual masters teach their followers to give up onions and garlic. Most important, as aspiring devotees of Krsna we eat only what we offer Him. And His great devotees tell us He doesn’t eat onions and garlic.” The foul breathe and sweat of anyone who has consumed garlic is enough to turn many off. Not only the breathe but the whole body may reek.
Although the above may satisfy the faithful it does not give substantial scriptural, historic, scientific or medical evidence.
We will try to present some other evidences as to why no onions and garlic -especially see the Vedic conclusions at the end.
CONSCIOUSNESS Eating onions and garlic adversely affects one’s consciousness. Why? Because the modes of goodness, passion, and ignorance influence every living thing-human, animal, or plant-and we learn from the Vedic literature that onions and garlic are in the lower modes of nature: passion and ignorance. They cause a disturbance, and even pain and sickness to those who eat them. In spiritual life one should cultivate the mode of goodness and avoid the lower modes.
In Bhagavad Gita (17.9) Krsna states that ‘Foods that are too bitter, too sour, salty, hot, pungent, dry and burning are dear to those in the mode of passion. Such foods cause distress, misery and disease.’ Onion and garlic fall in this category. They excite the baser instincts and make it difficult for one to control the senses. The prohibition on onion, garlic etc. is implicit, by virtue of their characteristics.
There are several stories about the actual appearance of onions and garlic in this world – here are a few:
(The following story was kindly provided by HH Bhakti Purusottama Swami) One ayurvedic doctor had told me that this description is there in Ayurveda: When Lord Vishnu in His Mohini form was distributing nectar to demigods two demons named Rahu and Ketu sat down along with the line of Demigods. By mistake the Lord served them nectar into their mouths. Immediately the lord was informed by the Sun and Moon that those two were demons. As soon as the Lord came to know of this He cut off the heads of both demons. By that time nectar had not passed through their throats. It was still in their mouths. When the Lord cut of their heads , the heads were separated from their bodies. Thus nectar did not pass to the stomach but fell on the ground . (That is the reason why Rahu and Ketu’s head are still alive but their bodies were finished.) When their heads were cut off garlic and Onions manifested from this nectar which fell on the ground from the mouth of the two demons. Thus Garlic and Onions are regarded as nectar but not used for the Lord because these are remnants of demons having touched their mouths. Even the nectar touched the mouths of these two demons still garlic and onions act like nectar in curing the diseases. But they are not meant for Vishnu or Vaishnavas. The doctor told me that whoever will eat garlic and Onion, their body will Be very strong like demons body and at the same time their intelligence also will be contaminated like the intelligence of demons.
Here is another historical account: “Once, in Satya Yuga the rishis were performing gomedha and asvamedha sacrifices for the welfare of the whole universe. A cow or a horse would be cut into pieces and placed in the fire. Afterwards the rishis would utter mantras and the same animal would come alive in a beautiful young body. One time the rishi who was about to perform a gomedha sacrifice, his wife was pregnant. She had a very strong desire to eat and she had heard that if, during pregnancy one has a desire to eat and does not fulfill this, then the baby that will be born will always have saliva coming from its mouth. Very strangely, she desired strongly to eat meat, thus she decided to keep one piece of meat of the cow’s body that was offered in sacrifice. She hid it and was making a plan to eat it very soon. At that time the rishi was finishing the sacrifice and uttered all the mantras for the new young cow tocome to life. However when he saw the new cow, he noticed that there was a little part missing from her left side. He went into meditation and realized that his wife had taken away a piece of meat during the sacrifice. Now his wife also understood what happened and quickly threw the meat far away in a field. Due to the effect of the mantras uttered by the rishi there was now life in this piece of meat. Then the bones in that piece of meat became garlic and the meat became onions in that field. Thus these foods are never taken by any Vaishnava devotee because it is not vegetarian. Plus it is in the mode of ignorance.”
Another historic reference:
From the Puranic Encylopedia by Vettam Mani (under CANDRA VI.), (Kamba Ramayana, Yuddha Kanda and Bhagavata, Astama Skandha. Kamba Ramayana is a Tamil text by poet Kambar):
“Solar eclipse according to the Puranas. The Devas and the asuras jointly churned Ksirabdhi wherefrom emerged Dhanvantari with the Amrtakumbha (pot of nectar). But an asura mayavi (magician) called Saimhikeya absconded to Patala with the Amrtakumbha which nobody noticed as everybody was busy with dividing other divine objects. Only after the mayavi’s disappearance was it noticed that the Amrtakumbha was missing. At once Mahavishnu assumed the figure of a beautiful woman, got back the Kumbha and gave it to the devas. The devas began drinking the amrta when, at the instance of some other devas, Saimhikeya, the mayavi, assuming the form of an old Brahmin reached svarga, got a share of the amrta and began to drink it. Surya and Candra (Sun and Moon) who were on guard at the gates divined the secret of the ‘old Brahmin’ and informed Mahavishnu about it. He cut the throat of the pseudo-Brahmin with his Sudarsana Chakra. But, half of the nectar he had drunk stayed above the throat and the other half below it. Therefore, though the head and the trunk were severed they remained alive. These two parts, in course of time, evolved as Rahu and Ketu.
When the throat was cut some blood dropped on on the ground, and became the red onion and the white onion (garlic) respectively. So both onion and garlic originated from the throat and blood of the demons or asuras, thus their consumption brings us closer to tamo guna (mode of ignorance) which characterizes the nature of the demons and thus is detrimental to Bhakti.”
CONTROL OF MIND: ROLE OF DIETARY REGIMEN
Onions have, almost since prehistoric time, been attributed aphrodisiacal properties. They are mentioned in many classic Hindu texts on the art of making love, they were the most used aphrodisiac in ancient Greece, and they are frequently included as an ingredient in Roman and Arab recipes. Garlic is a natural aphrodisiac. Even Dr. Robinson, an eminent sexologist of America considered it so. It is a tonic for loss of sexual power from any cause, Sexual debility, impotency from over indulgence in sex and nervous exhaustion from dissipating habit. It is said to be especially useful to old men of high nervous tension and diminishing sexual power. Onion and garlic are forbidden for the pregnant mother because the child’s body is too delicate and new for him to tolerate such pungent food. Restrictions and precautions to be taken by the pregnant mother, as enunciated in the smrti scriptures of Vedic literature, are very useful. Many ancient cultures recognized the aphrodisiac effects of onions and garlic and highly recommended them for those who wished to increase their sexual potency and discouraged them for those who were on the spiritual path, as they irritate the mind and senses. Onion is one of the most important aphrodisiac foods. As an aphrodisiac, onion stands second only to garlic. It increases libido and strengthens the reproductory organs. Onion aids in spermatogenesis i.e. increases production of sperms.
BUDDHISTS AVOID ONIONS AND GARLIC
One reason is because in ancient Buddhist Tao writings, one sage Tsang-Tsze described the Alliums as the “five fragrant or spicy scented vegetables” , and that each have a detrimental effect on one of the following five organs – liver, spleen, lungs, kidneys, and heart.
Tsang-Tsze said that these pungent vegetables contain five different kinds of enzymes which cause “reactions of repulsive breath, extra-foul odour from perspiration and bowel movements, and lead to lewd indulgences, enhance agitations, anxieties and aggressiveness,” especially when eaten raw
Onions are well known for attracting bacteria, and it is said that a peeled onion in a sick room will draw the infectious microbes. Many diseases are spread therefore from chopped onions at salad bars. They are a tamasic food with some medicinal application though we avoid them for their rajasic and tamasic qualities, (Thanks to Kurma prabhu for above references)
You may know that onions and garlic are botanical members of the Allium family – along with leeks, chives and shallots. According to Ayurveda, India’s classic medical science, foods are grouped into three categories – sattvic, rajasic and tamasic – foods in the modes of goodness, passion and ignorance. Onions and garlic, and the other Alliums are classified as rajasic and to some extent tamasic, which means that they increase passion and to some degree ignorance. Rajasic and tamasic foods are also not used because they are detrimental to meditation and devotions. Of course some of the Alliums have specific health benefits; garlic is respected as a natural antibiotic. In recent years, the cardiovascular implications of vegetable Alliums has been studied in some detail, although the clinical implications of onion and garlic consumption from this point of view are not well understood (Block 1992; Briggs et al. 2001). Nevertheless, despite medical comings and goings, alliums are still avoided by spiritual adherents because they stimulate the central nervous system, can act as a natural aphrodisiac, and disturb meditation. You may be aware that strict Buddhists also do not eat any of the Alliums for the same reasons as adherents of India’s Ayurveda – they disturb meditation. If you visit any strict vegetarian Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, or Japanese restaurant anywhere in the world you will most likely find no Alliums in any of the cooking.
SCIENTIFIC AND HISTORICAL FACTS ABOUT GARLIC
Garlic and onions are libido enhancers. When you lean towards spiritualism you lean away from the worldly things. Because of its stimulating qualities, garlic was never part of Buddhist tradition in China or Japan, whose practitioners felt it would upset one’s spiritual balance. Garlic was never adopted into traditional Japanese cuisine and was shunned by Zen masters.
The Greek citizenry, especially the aristocracy, firmly rejected garlic and found its smell repugnant. Anyone smelling of garlic was considered vulgar and was prevented from entering the temples. However, in Aristophanes’ play Wives at the Feast of Thesmophores, the women who were cheating on their husbands found garlic the perfect cover-up for a night of indulgence. Garlic Like the Greeks, the early Roman nobility did not embrace garlic in their own diets but considered the herb worthy only of being fed to the laborers and slaves, to give them strength and vigor. Any man smelling of garlic was considered of low breeding. Horace, Roman lyric poet and satirist (65 to 8 BCE), said of garlic in his Epodes, it is “more poisonous than hemlock.”
Hippocrates did warn that garlic “caused flatulence, a feeling of warmth on the chest and a heavy sensation in the head; it excites anxiety and increases any pain which may be present. When the British colonized India, they noticed that lepers were peeling and consuming garlic non-stop. The British began referring to leprosy as the “peelgarlic disease.” Today Hindus and Brahmins eschew garlic and onions, believing they are too stimulating and interfere with the ability to reach a high spiritual plain in meditation and self-reflection.
Some do not eat garlic or onions because they practice ahimsa, the philosophy of non-violence. Concern that they might be destroying potential life forms or souls, they recognize that a bulb of garlic, with its many individual cloves, could possibly produce many more plants.
In Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, the character Bottom tells the other actors not to eat garlic or onion, “for we are to utter sweet breath.”
The seventeenth century British view of garlic was solidly negative, with expressions like, “not fit for Ladies’ Palates, nor those who court them,” or that eating garlic “was part of the Punishment for such as had committed the horrid’st Crimes.” When famous poet Percy Shelley visited Italy with his friend Lord Byron, he was shocked and appalled to see his friend eating the garlic that was served at a social gathering.
SCIENTIFIC FACTS ABOUT ONION
Onions contain complex sulphur compounds. When you cut into an onion, two chemical reactions take place. First, when a knife cuts through the cells of an onion, its enzymes release a strong odor. Second, the onion releases allicin, a volatile sulfur gas that irritates the eyes and sends one rushing for a tissue. One cannot deny the power of the onion on the olfactory senses. The rich found the odor downright disgusting. From ancient history up to the 19th century, onions were relegated as the food for the poor. The Code of Hammurabi, known as the ancient law of Mesopotamia, shows great concern for the needy by providing them a monthly ration of bread and onions, a ration that comprised the mainstay of the peasant diet. As disagreeable as the onion was to the aristocrats, the peasants devoured them completely raw.
Apparently onions took on dual status in the attitudes in the ancient world. In Egypt they were highly revered by the poor and eaten extensively along with bread and beer. A small sect of Egyptian priests, however, were forbidden to eat them. Onions may have been reviled by those in high positions. In India Brahmins and others are also forbidden to eat onions, even today. We’re all familiar with onion breath. Perhaps that is why the upper classes, such as the Brahmins of India, turned up their noses. In Pompeii those “lowly vendors” who sold onions were rejected from the guild of fruit and vegetable vendors, and had to form their own guild.
The pungent odor and awesome strength of the onion was a mystery to ancient man. An old Turkish legend explains it rather profoundly. It tells that when Satan was thrown out of heaven, garlic sprouted where he first placed his left foot, and onions grew where he placed his right foot.
There is certainly much information to indicate that onions and garlic are beneficial in many areas of health such as the following: Antibacterial, antifungal, blood pressure, cholesterol, circulation, impotence, pregnancy, diabetes, as a cardioprotective, anti-oxidant, coughs and colds, stomach conditions, cancer, garlic supplements, garlic and cooking, for pets and other animals, festivals, synergistic effect with other health food supplements. However for those wishing to cultivate spiritual life they should better not be taken even for those reasons.
GARLIC IS TOXIC – PROVEN MEDICALLY
Garlic – a Brain Poison? from GARLIC – TOXIC SHOCK! Reprinted from Nexus Magazine, Feb/Mar 2001. Source: From a lecture by physicist Dr. Robert C Beck, DSc, given at the Whole Life Expo, Seattle, WA, USA, in March 1996.
The reason garlic* is so toxic, is that the sulphone* hydroxyl* ion penetrates the blood-brain barrier, just like DMSO [a sulfoxide*], and is a specific poison for higher-life forms and brain cells. We discovered this, much to our horror, when I (Bob Beck, DSc) was the world’s largest manufacturer of ethical EEG (electro-encephalography*] feedback equipment. We’d have people come back from lunch that looked clinically dead on an encephalograph, which we used to calibrate their progress. “Well, what happened?” “Well, I went to an Italian restaurant and there was some garlic in my salad dressing!” So we had them sign things that they wouldn’t touch garlic before classes or we were wasting their time, their money and my time. I guess some of you … are pilots or have been in flight tests… I was in flight test engineering in Doc Hallan’s group in the 1950s. The flight surgeon would come around every month and remind all of us: “Don’t you dare touch any garlic 72 hours before you fly one of our airplanes, because it’ll double or triple your reaction time. You’re three times slower than you would be if you’d not had a few drops of garlic.” Well, we didn’t know why for 20 years later, until I owned the Alpha-Metrics Corporation. We were building biofeedback equipment and found out that garlic usually desynchronises your brain waves. So I funded a study at Stanford and, sure enough, they found that it’s a poison. You can rub a clove of garlic on your foot – you can smell it shortly later on your wrists. So it penetrates the body. This is why DMSO smells a lot like garlic: that sulphone hydroxyl ion penetrates all the barriers including the corpus callosum* in the brain. Any of you who are organic gardeners know that if you don’t want to use DDT,garlic will kill anything in the way of insects. Now, most people have heard most of their lives garlic is good for you, and we put those people in the same class of ignorance as the mothers who at the turn of the century would buy morphine sulphate in the drugstore and give it to their babies to put ’em to sleep. If you have any patients who have low-grade headaches or attention deficit disorder [ADD], they can’t quite focus on the computer in the afternoon, just do an experiment – you owe it to yourselves. Take these people off garlic and see how much better they get, very very shortly. And then let them eat a little garlic after about three weeks. They’ll say “My God, I had no idea that this was the cause of our problems.” And this includes the de-skunked garlics, Kyolic, some of the other products. Very unpopular, but I’ve got to tell you the truth. Garlic can affect the mind and concentration. Do not eat it if performing activities requiring concentration and mental acuity. People who have an angry temperament or reddish complexion should use garlic cautiously.
In the Kurma Purana it is said: “One should avoid eggplant, plantain, safflower, asmantaka, onion, garlic, sour cereal, and the sap of trees.”
palandu lasunam sigrum alambum grjanam palam bhunkte yo vai naro brahman vratam candrayanam caret (Padma Purana, Brahma Khanda 19.10, spoken by Suta Gosvami) O sages, one who eats garlic, onions, sigrum (a kind of plant), turnips, bottle gourd and meat, that person should observe a candrayana fast.
vrntakam jalisakam kusumbha smantakam tatha palandu lasunam suklam niryasan caiva varjayet grjanam kinsukan caiva kukundanca tathaiva ca udumbaram alavun ca jagdhva patati vai dvijah (Hari Bhakti Vilasa 8.158,159, from Kurma Purana) One should not eat eggplant, banana leaves, sunflower leaves and asmantaka leaves, onions or garlic. One should not eat sour gruel (a thin watery porridge) or the juice of the tree. One should also give up turnips and beetroots, carrots, kinsuka, forest figs, and white pumpkin. If the twice born persons eat these things, they all become fallen.
(It is true our acaryas do not follow the strict standard mentioned above in all circumstances but they do follow the injunction not to eat onions and garlic. Even then on one occasionfor the sake of preaching Srila Prabhupada did eat some onion which was mixed in the sabji so as not to offend the host who had not been informed of the proper standards. Prabhupada approved also the use of carrots)
palandulasunadini jagddhva candrayanam caret sraddhe devanpitrnprarcya khadanmamsah na dosabhak By eating garlic and onion one becomes sinful and as atonement one should perform Candrayana. (Garuda Purana 1.96.72)
Onion, stool-thriving pigs, Selu, garlic, Goplyusa (milk of a cow before the lapse of ten days from calving), Tanduliya (a grain growing in faecal rubbish) and mushrooms- all these are to be avoided. (Skanda Purana 40.9)
The householder taking the rite shall avoid heavy indigestible pulses like Nispava, Masurika etc., stale food, defiled food, brinjals, gourds, cocoa-nuts, garlic, onion, intoxicating beverages and all kinds of meat. (Siva Purana 7.10-12)
(But) he should avoid stalks of lotuses, safflower, gold or silver, onion, garlic, sour gruel, a thick fluid substance; so also chatraka (a kind of mushroom), vidvaraha, greasy milk of a cow during the first seven days of calving, vilaya (a particular product of milk) and mushrooms. By eating the small red variety of garlic, blossoms of kimsuka, a gourd, so also udumbara, bottle-gourd, a twice-born becomes fallen. (Padma Purana Vol. 42, 4.56.19b -24)
I shall now mention those things that should always be avoided in Sraddha. Garlic, onions, globular radish and Karambha (groats or flour mixed with curds), and other articles devoid of smell and with no taste should be avoided in Sraddha.The reason is also mentioned (as follows): Formerly in the fight between devas and asuras, Bali was defeated by suras. From his wounds drops of blood gushed out and from them these articles grew up – hence they are avoided in the Sraddha rite. (Varaha Purana 16.11b-15)
5.5. Garlic, leeks and onions, mushrooms and (all plants), springing from impure (substances), are unfit to be eaten by twice-born men.
5.19. A twice-born man who knowingly eats mushrooms, a village-pig, garlic, a village-cock, onions, or leeks, will become an outcaste.