by H.H. Bir Govind Maharaj at 4th May 2007
I mentioned that I would write about living longer in the present body. In order to understand this topic one has to understand the larger topic of how the material energy affects the bodies and minds of devotees, whether or not they are aware of it, or even in denial of it.
If we had the siddhis that yogis have, such as laghima, becoming light enough to float on a sunbeam, or mahima, becoming very big or heavy—and I am not talking about getting fat—or prapti, being able to reach out and grab something from a distant locale, we could definitely ignore certain aspects of the material nature. But since we don’t have these siddhis, it behooves us to be aware of how the material nature affects our bodies.
It is amazing to me how devotees are often-times in denial of this: in our diet, sleeping habits, use of spiritual paraphernalia, eating habits, safety procedures, etc. There are certain laws of nature (of course Krishna is the Supreme law giver who has made these laws).
There is the law of gravity for example. Whether you are a devotee or not, if you jump from a twenty story building you will end up on the ground with a splat. There are some notable exceptions to this though, such as the yogis I mentioned previously and special devotees like Prahlad Maharaja, who was thrown off a cliff and saved by the Lord. But I assure you, if you try this, Krishna will not catch you. You will wake up in a brand new body with the same problems and lack of Krishna consciousness that you have in this life, with the additional bad karma of killing yourself. Don’t do or try it!
There is a story that one time devotees were driving all night long and got into a car accident where several devotees died. Prabhupada was asked whether or not this was Krishna’s mercy, and he replied that it was not Krishna’s mercy, rather it was the devotees’ foolishness and they would have to take birth again. Then Prabhupada gave the order that devotees should not be driving more than 1 hour after their normal bed time.
I am here in New Orleans and about a year and half ago we had devotees who were driving all night long, coming back from Los Angeles after the Ratha-yatra. They had a disastrous accident in Texas, the result of which was that one devotee passed away, two devotees were severely injured, and the rest lightly injured. Those who were severely injured and the devotee who passed away were not wearing seat belts. Had they been wearing seat belts they wouldn’t have been so badly injured, or we would not have had the death of that one devotee.
Many times I have been in cars with devotees and I have been told by them that seat belts are maya and that we should depend on Krishna. My reply is that Krishna has given us seat belts and the intelligence to use them. If we don’t use them we are in one sense rejecting Krishna—the facility and intelligence He has given us.
Prabhupada tells the story of a man who was a great devotee of God and always dependent on His protection. One day there was a big flood, the water was rising and threatening to engulf his home. A boat with the rescue squad came by and he was invited to jump in. He refused and told them that God was protecting him. Then the waters rose higher and higher, and the man was forced to take shelter on the roof of his house. A helicopter came by, lowered a rope so that he could grab it and be taken to safety. He refused again, stating that the Lord was his only protection. Finally the waters rose so high that the many was left without any place to stand and he was washed out to sea where he died.
After his death, his soul went to God and asked Him: “Why didn’t you save me? You promised in the Gita that you would always protect me, and that I should not fear.” God replied: “You fool! Didn’t you see the boat and helicopter I sent to save you?”
The point is that God has given us plenty of facility—intelligence, strength, knowledge, etc — for understanding how to live in this material world. We should use these facilities to take care of this body which belongs to Krishna.
Now comes the controversial part where I attempt to explain how many of our habits (that we confuse with Krishna consciousness) or activities may be harming us, or at least not contributing to our health.
Let’s take eating for example. Most of us were brought up in Krishna consciousness eating tons of halvah, sweet rice, fried foods, etc. We thought: “It’s prasadam, so how can it be bad for our bodies?” Well, I got news for you: a saturated fat or sugar, even if it offered to Krishna, has the same affect on our arteries, kidneys, liver, etc., that a saturated fat has when it is not offered to Krishna.
This may be a radical statement, but it is true. Ask any devotee who is suffering from high blood pressure, kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes, whether it is true or not. Ask an Ayurvedic physician about saturated fat, high sugar diet, and see what he says. He will advise you to avoid this type of diet. Even in the face of all this evidence we may deny reality.
Another example is most of the kirtans that we have in our ISKCON temples and programs. We think that because we are chanting the holy name no ear damage will occur, even the sound level is high enough to freak out a regular disco club customer.
Now we have many devotees with tinnitus (constant ringing of the ears) or partial deafness. As we know, the ears are the most important sense in Krishna consciousness, so we need to keep them functioning properly.
I now carry a decibel (sound level) meter with me and have seen that it a rare kirtan in ISKCON that falls within the safe level (below 90 dB) or is softer than the sound of a jet taking off from 50 ft away.
Another example is that we ignore the fact that the byproducts of combustion (incense, etc.) may cause cancer or lung disease even if it is spiritual combustion or even if the ingredients are completely natural and organic.
Interestingly enough, we often-times ignore even Ayurvedic injunctions in the name of religion — but the Ayurveda has been given to us by Krishna.
For example one Ayurvedic injunction is that one should wait at least six hours between heavy meals. Nowadays in ISKCON (it wasn’t like that in the early days) devotees will load up on a super heavy meal for breakfast (that is usually eaten too late due to a much too long morning program), then eat lunch four hours later (10 AM to 2 PM is four hours for you non-mathematicians).
There are many other examples of devotees ignoring reality such as sleeping habits, safety habits, etc., but my intention is not to attack those things that are near and dear to you (habits that you may have confused with Krishna consciousness), but to help you understand how to live longer in the present body so that you can serve Krishna and Prabhupada with more energy for a longer period of time.
I state these things simply out of a desire to serve the Vaisnavas. It pains me to see devotees unnecessarily suffering or leaving their bodies. I have seen too many of my fellow devotees succumb to illnesses that could have been prevented by lifestyle adjustments.
So, please do not be in denial of reality in the name of religion.
I am not going to prescribe a diet or lifestyle for you, but I am going to advise you to do some research into Ayurveda and common sense nutrition. Don’t do things because “that’s the way we always did things,” or, “that’s the way I was taught to do things.”
A number of years ago my health was declining because of improper lifestyle habits. My diet was full of saturated fats — I loved cheese on everything and also foods fried in ghee — tons of salt, etc. I got a wake-up call when I collapsed one day with heart pain. (It wasn’t an attack but some indication.) I had high blood pressure: 180/108—an auspicious number!.
I refused to take medication but chose to change my lifestyle: no salt, more exercise, even some sports, more rest. I was able to reduce my BP to 118/76 which is completely normal and even great for a person of my age.
About two years ago, when I was suffering from some allergic reactions, I decided to reduce the saturated fat (fried foods, pan fried foods, heated oil, cheese, paneer) in my diet. Now the reactions are gone and my body feels ten years younger.
I am not saying that my lifestyle is the ideal for everyone, nor am I prescribing it for you. I know this body is temporary, but it does belong to Krishna and Prabhupada, not me, therefore I have to take care of it nicely as a service.