HITBHUK, MITBHUK, RITBHUK
[This is the first of a series of articles under the main theme – ART OF LIVING. In this series we propose to publish practical tips for leading a healthy, vibrant, enlightened, happy and balanced life. We hope that these articles will receive a hearty welcome from our readers and they will be able to adopt the guidelines and thus uplift themselves to a nobler and higher level of purposeful life.]
Na ma tamanna shramannota tandranna vochama ma sunoteti somam
Yo me p—nadyo dadadyo nibodhadyo ma sunvantamupa gobhirayat.
- Rigveda 2/30/7
‘O men! Only those food articles are fit for consumption that make the body energetic and contented, that provide glow and comfort, and that make the organs strong and fit for the performance of yajna. Do not ever stock and consume those herbs / food materials that sap the body's strength and produce lethargy and intoxication.’
The effect of food on the body is comprehensive. Be it physical health or mental well-being, both are intrinsically linked with food, and keeps taking up and down swings depending on changes in it. It is a matter of common experience. Bad and irregular dietary habits make the body sick and the mind restless.
If we were to enumerate the ill effects of rich, pungent, spicy and fried food, we will have to list practically all the diseases, because all of them have direct or indirect connection with food. The fashionable fast food, packed food or junk food of today also fall in the same category. This new style of eating, widely prevalent these days, has given many a body-blow to the quality of human life.
Food is a basic necessity of life. Everybody knows this, but few have an idea of what to eat, when to eat, and how to eat. Let's first take the "what to eat?" aspect. The only proper and right answer to this question is that we should eat only what provides nourishment to the body. It is important to remember that we eat to live and do not live to eat. So, if the right kind of food is to be selected out of a long list of eatables, we will have to give preference to only those items that have nutritional value and are beneficial for health. Such articles can very easily be identified. Everybody is aware, for example, of the value of fresh fruits, vegetables, pulses, cereals etc.
Many cooking ingredients like pungent spices, appetizers, pickles etc. lack any nutritive value and are manifestly harmful to health; and so are the processes of frying, stewing etc. These render even healthy food useless and deleterious. Materials inimical to health are found not only in the kitchen but also outside; e. g. liquor and intoxicants of various kinds, betel, tobacco, zarda, gutka and so many other such things have acquired the status of food supplements and are used in a routine way. The situation has become so alarming that even the food habits of the elite of society make one wonder why these educated and well-informed persons have lost their sense of wise discrimination. There are some exceptions, of course, in this class but their number is negligible.
Now, "when to eat"? Again, the answer is only one viz. twice a day at the most, and that too, when the appetite has built up sufficiently. Eating randomly, or taking frequent snacks and breakfast in addition to regular meals is going to do no good. Dietary habits, these days, have so much deteriorated that biologists and psychologists have made this matter a subject of their research. They classify hunger in different types, for example, (i) strong craving to eat at the sight of others' eating (ii) frequent urge to eat during moments of tension (iii) fixed-time-appetite in accordance with the biological clock, etc. The experts consider the former two types wrong and only the third type right.
Now having known that one should eat only when there is real appetite for it, there follows the next question "how to eat"? The answer is that food should be taken in a quiet and restful manner, with humble remembrance of God as His prasada (grace). If food is seen as God's prasada, even the simple 'chapati' (unleavened bread) proves nourishing. On the contrary, sweetmeats, multi-course dishes and dry fruits, if taken hurriedly and in fretful mood, impair health and produce ailments. The right food taken in the right manner is the key to sound health.
The Ayurveda (ancient healing therapy) has an interesting and instructive story. Once it occurred to Maharishi Charaka, the great pioneer of Ayurveda, that he should test whether his pupils understood correctly his teachings. He metamorphosed into a pigeon and sat on a tree, through under which many vaidyas (healers) were passing by. The pigeon called out: "Ko ruk, ko ruk, ko ruk"? (Who is healthy, who is healthy, who is healthy?) . The vaidyas paid no heed to pigeon’s words. The Maharishi thought that either they did not comprehend what the tiny bird was saying, or they were ignoring him. He flew from there and chose another tree. Incidentally, the great scholar Vagbhatta was passing that way. He heard the query of Maharishi and replied repeatedly thrice: "Hitbhuk, hitbhuk, hitbhuk", i.e. healthy is one who eats the right type of food. Charaka-turned-pigeon asked again, "Ko ruk, Ko ruk, Ko ruk"? Vagdatta answered: "Mitbhuk, mitbhuk, mitbhuk" i.e. the one who eats in moderation. The 'bird' repeated the question a third time. Vagbhatta's response this time was: "Ritbhuk, ritbhuk, ritbhuk" i.e. one who eats according to season; and what he has earned through righteous means. The bird flew away satisfied, as his question had been answered correctly.
Three words or stipulations may be laid down about diet- hit, mit and rit. Hitbhoji is one who consumes only those materials that are useful and beneficial for health. Such a person eats for health, not taste. Mitbhoji is that who eats in moderation. Gluttons cannot do any kind of sadhana. They remain pre-occupied with finding digestive powders and tablets after meals.
The third and most important stipulation about food is rit. It implies piety and purity of thought and what is suitable in a particular season. The meaning of rit inheres in the inner attitude with which the food is prepared and taken. What are the feelings of the person preparing the food? Whether or not the eaters are dutiful and conscientious? Rit food can be prepared only by one who is full of loving kindness, who is suffused with motherly affection. And then the means by which we earn our livelihood must also be righteous and honest. Remember, the more we extend our goodwill to others, the more our inner strength increases. If the food that goes into our stomach is sullied with others' feelings of deep hurt, it will corrupt our feelings too.
The truth is, an evolution of the food habit is an evolution of consciousness. The nature of our consciousness is refined or perverted depending upon the nature of the food we consume. This very refinement, or perversion is reflected in our style of living too.
A king once lost his way and in course of his wanderings reached a village. Inspite of his being unknown and unrecognized, the villagers received him well and attended to his comforts. Their innate goodness deeply impressed the king and he wanted to reciprocate their gesture by providing them with some needed amenity, which the king identified as the medical facility. So a well-equipped hospital was established in the village with a competent doctor as in-charge of the facility.
One year passed. The doctor came to the king's court and said: "I remain without work there. In the last one year, no patient has turned up. All the medicines, too, are lying unutilized". The curious king himself went to the village and enquired of the villagers the reason for their apathy to avail of the medical facilities. The villagers replied: "We observe dietary discipline and do hard labor. Our food items are nature-products and pure. Our daily routine is also well regulated with hard physical exertion as its main constituent. All this wards off diseases, and if per chance, an illness occurs, it soon gets expelled from the system through the mechanism of sweating". The king realized the great importance of food and hard work. The doctor was shifted from there to a more appropriate place.