The Three Qualities of the Universe

The ancient yoga teachings stated that the food a person eats affects his state of consciousness. Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the world-renowned Autobiography of a Yogi), in his wide range of teachings, explained that specific spiritual influences are inherent in certain foods. Such influences include cereal for strength of character; beets for martial vigor; maple syrup for mental freshness.

According to ancient yoga tradition, the universe expresses three fundamental qualities or gunas, depending on the degree of clarity with which they express the original, Pure Consciousness out of which all things were manifested. In Sanskrit those qualities were named tamo guna (the which is dulling to the consciousness), rajo guna (which activates the mind), and sattwa guna (which clarifies and uplifts the understanding).

How Does This Apply to Our Food?

Certain foods were described as being tamasic because the effect they have on our awareness is stultifying. Others were considered rajasic because they tend to make one restless and overactive. For mental and spiritual happiness, the foods most highly recommended were sattwic, because they exert a calming and uplifting influence on one’s consciousness.

For a well-balanced and happy life, foods with a tamasic influence should either be kept to a minimum or eliminated altogether. One should moderate his intake of rajasic foods. Foods that help to induce calmness and mental upliftment should preponderate in the diet of people seeking inner peace. Modern life, however, is essentially restless and ego-centered. For people who must cope with worldly attitudes around them, or who have many outward demands made on their time and energy, Yogananda recommend that some rajasic foods be included in the diet. For them, a measure of rajas will help them to deal effectively with the restlessness in their environment.

Tamasic foods include all those which have a deadening or stupefying effect on the mind — foods such as alcoholic beverages and certain drugs, whether medical of hallucinogenic. Foods are tamasic also when they are lifeless, perhaps because they’ve been “cooked to death,” or have simply become stale, losing their vitality. Tamasic foods include also those which are too pungent, which is to say those with a strong, sharp taste. Excessively heavy foods, finally, which emphasize bulk rather than vitality, are also considered tamasic.

Rajasic foods include spicy foods such as mustard, onions, garlic, chili peppers, hot sauces, and other foods that have an irritating or over-stimulating effect on the body, and especially on the nervous system.

Sattwic foods are those which are calming to the nerves. They include especially fresh fruits, nuts, and vegetables.

Yogananda specified further that certain foods — as we stated above — exert not only a sattwic influence generally, but also help to develop specific spiritual qualities. Of fruits and vegetables that are produced from blossoms, cherries help to develop a cheerful nature; grapes, to develop love in the heart. To develop specific spiritual qualities one should consume especially foods that are imbued with those spiritual vibrations.

To eat heavily, however, even if one’s diet is otherwise sattwic, can have a tamasic influence, since excessive bulk darkens the mind rather than uplifting or energizing it.

Particularly important is the consciousness a person holds while eating. Important also is the consciousness with which the food is cooked or otherwise readied for the table. Even unspiritual food can be spiritualized by a cheerful, uplifted state of mind while one eats.

Getting an Extra Boost

It takes time to reap the full benefit from even the best of foods. In the present age, with its exaggerated restlessness, people are impatient for results. A fruit’s essence is most highly concentrated in the blossom from which the fruit appears. The essences are made from the blossoms — which would be impossible to do from the fruits themselves — and contain in potent form the spiritual quality of each food.

A major benefit of flower essences is that they affect their users without bloating their stomachs! (How many cherries, after all, would one need to become appreciably more cheerful? or grapes, to become more loving? Their sheer bulk might have a tamasic, rather than a sattwic, effect!) Two or three drops of flower essence taken several times a day can greatly increase the spiritual power of these foods.

An interesting aspect of these wonderful essences is that they have also been found to help animals. Animals, in fact, respond more spontaneously because there is no negative “placebo effect” due to doubts or other mental reservations.

However people are slowly becoming more open to energy-based solutions to challenges. Flower essences work with a person’s spiritual nature. They help people to reclaim inner peace, innate sense of dignity, and indomitable strength in the face of obstacles.

Commissioned by Swami Kriyananda, Lila Devi founded Spirit-in-Nature Essences in 1977 to create blossom-essences from the foods Paramhansa Yogananda described. Lila Devi is also the author of The Essential Flower Essence Handbook, published in 6 languages, which has been used by Doctors Across Borders to train their physicians.

The spiritual qualities, and the specific food from which each blossom-essence has been made, are listed below:

1) Lettuce: Calmness

2) Coconut: Uplifted spiritual awareness

3) Cherries: Cheerfulness

4) Spinach: Simplicity and guilelessness

5) Peach: Unselfishness

6) Sweet corn: Mental vitality

7) Tomato: Mental strength and endurance

8) Pineapple: Self-assurance

9) Banana: Humility rooted in calmness

10) Figs: Flexibility and self-acceptance; moderating over-strictness in self-discipline

11) Almond: Self-control, vitality, and moral vigor

12) Pear: Peacefulness

13) Avocado: Good memory

An apple blossom for peaceful clarity.

14) Apple: Peaceful clarity

15) Orange: Enthusiasm, hope

16) Blackberry: Purity of thought

17) Dates: Tenderness, sweetness

18) Strawberry: Dignity

19) Raspberry: Kindness, compassion

20) Grapes: Devotion, divine love

These essences act with or without our affirming their spiritual qualities. Their effectiveness is greatly enhanced, however, when combined with affirmations, uttered out loud or mentally with concentration, will power, and energy. Spirit-in-Nature Essences offers suggested affirmations to use with each essence.

About the Authors

Swami Kriyananda (1926-2013) is a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda and the founder of Ananda. He has written extensively about the spiritual path and composed many pieces of spiritually uplifting music. In his final years he traveled and lectured around the world, showing others how to more fully live in their Highest Self.

Lila Devi is an Ananda minister and the founder of Spirit-in-Nature Essences. She is an engaging seminar leader with over 40 years’ experience who lectures nationally and abroad. She has authored 4 books: The Essential Flower Essence Handbook, Flower Essences for Animals, Bradley Banana and The Jolly Good Pirate, and From Bagels to Curry, a spiritual memoir about a Jewish yogi’s journey from a traditional religion to a spiritual community (Ananda). Lila is considered one of the foremost flower essence developers in the world today. She graduated with honors from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Psychology and a Secondary Education certificate.

After work at the end of the day I know that there are things I should do: exercise, fix a healthy dinner, and do spiritual practices. But those aren’t the easy things.

The easy things are the opposite: sit on the couch, eat whatever is sitting out, and browse random news sites. Maybe use Facebook, Instagram.

Do you ever have this happen?

Those sites and apps are the killer. If I was just sitting on the couch and doing nothing else, I might start watching my breath (meditating). If I was eating but didn’t let my energy drop (sitting on the couch and mindlessly consuming media), I’d be more inclined to have something healthy. The distractions aren’t helping…

Swami Kriyananda said, and this is honestly one of my favorite quotes of his, that “Restlessness is the playground of maya (delusion).” Why?

Without stillness, we can’t see clearly. If I try to take a picture but don’t stop the camera long enough for it to focus, every picture I take will be a blur. This is what restlessness — constant movement — does to the mind as well.

Becoming still, however, we naturally see more clearly and make healthier choices. The first step in getting there is to slow down and disengage from anything that is actively pulling us out of ourselves and away from stillness.

1. Unplug Some Things

In Paramhansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi there’s this wonderful old photo — except wait, I forgot, it’s not a photo, it’s from hundreds of years ago. No smartphones back then. It’s a drawing:

Not a lot going on. Just the practitioner of the spiritual arts, a spiritual teacher, and a quiet countryside. Ah, the simple life. Actually, there is one piece of technology, if you can spot it: an arm prop, used in certain yogic techniques like the AUM technique where the hands need to stay elevated.

Except during times of retreat, however, few of us can live that way-and even if we could, I’m not sure we would want to. Modern technology gives us a lot of good things, right? Medical advances; improvements in communication and learning; immersive storytelling can be helpful in building empathy; apps can even support our spiritual life. (Incidentally, check out the Ananda Meditation app!)

Still, there’s a point at which too much of a good thing becomes counter-productive. In recent years we’ve become even better at distracting ourselves from what really matters. Actually, we’ve become really good at it.

In Behavioral Addictions by Kenneth Rosenberg and Laura Feder, the authors report that 46 percent of people report that they couldn’t bear to live without their smartphones and up to 59 percent of people say that they’re dependent on social media, while admitting that this dependence makes them unhappy.

If you belong to this either of these groups (I know I do), you can do something about it. But it’s not enough to just turn off the Wi-Fi and take an evening off; we have to make unplugging a habit.

Think of a time in your day when you’re liable to turn to what Paramhansa Yogananda called “fillers”—distractions that don’t add to your quality of life. Maybe it’s at the end of your workday like it is for me. Now take a moment and imagine yourself in that situation. Visualize choosing a positive direction for your energy instead.

Our minds are powerful and with training can help us. One activity I’ve found helpful is to build routines at the inflection points of my day: when I wake up, for example, and decide not to check message right away, or when I come home from work and spend a few minutes in silence. I might be tired and hungry, but if I spend some time meditating first thing — at least before I plug in — I do feel better.

Make time each day to put down the phone, keep it out of sight and reach, and be still. What that bucolic drawing above represents to me is an opportunity, a state to keep in mind; a time before devices were so much at the center of our lives.

2. Do Some Deep and Controlled Breathing

The techniques of yoga can also help us — and I’m not just talking about the yoga postures, which are good, but also breathing and energy control techniques like pranayama.

This is a good introductory pranayama technique to try if you have a few minutes. We have a whole series of them if you want to explore more. (Oh, and, ahem, they are also on the Ananda Meditation app.…)

Yoga encourages us to work with our energy and raise it. When we get the energy right, it says, good things will flow naturally. We build a force field that keeps away restlessness and other negative states of consciousness.

3. Create an Environment of Focus

I have a secret to share, or perhaps confess. A few minutes ago, I created a new user account on my computer where I hid all the other apps, the web, etc. to create a space where I can focus.

As I’m writing this, I’m not technically unplugged — well, my laptop is running on its battery, so I guess technically I am — but this article is filling my screen and my Wi-Fi is turned off. My phone is in another room. Actually, I am in another room, in our guest room, away from any other distractions.

I haven’t written this much at one time in quite a while, so I guess it’s working! Changing our environment with an eye towards changing our consciousness is a time-honored yogic practice. Paramhansa Yogananda even went so far as to say, “Environment is stronger than will power.”

Focusing is itself a spiritual practice. This is why many people say “I meditate when I swim,” or “I meditate when I’m painting.” In these types of activities, we reach a state of flow and calmness that can be spiritually uplifting.

A relative and I were talking about this at a recent family gathering. Then we also talked about how the deeper states of meditation happen when our bodies are completely still and when the direction of our energy, instead of its habitual movement outward through the senses, reverses and flows inward. In those states, we touch the bliss of our own being.

To attain that level of stillness, the scientific technique of meditation is a great help. And it is available to learn… in the Ananda Meditation app. Sorry, I work on that app and I guess I can’t help mentioning it all the time!

Apps like this one are, in fact, a way to turn technology into an aid for our spiritual growth. It’s not all about unplugging. Technology, like the ancient science of yoga, is a tool, and when we get away from distractions we can use it to bring stillness and peace into our busy lives — gifts that we can then share with the world.

Shivaratri, 2018. The community gathered in Hansa Temple for a nightlong celebration in honor of Shiva, the supreme yogi. Chanting together, meditating, giving and receiving divine love and divine joy, we moved into a realm of Spirit, our own true home. The light of a candle was offered before the altar, offered to each of our Masters, then held up in offering before a devotee. This devotee swept the holy light into her being, drawing her hands toward the spiritual eye, then received the candle and carried it to another, then, one by one, to everyone present — sharing what of God’s bounty had been received, and in sharing, helping that bounty grow beyond measure. In the same way were offered to God and Gurus — and shared with all — incense wafted, blessed water lightly splashed with a feather, a tinkling bell, a blessing of sandalwood paste at the spiritual eye: all the senses offered in gratitude to the Divine, from whom all blessings flow.

Those acting as channels circulated through the temple, weaving patterns of light, joy, love¬—Divine Mother’s tender loving care embracing, comforting, uplifting, thrilling our hearts. The Masters smiled down upon us from the altar, eyes glowing, rejoicing with their children as we opened ourselves more and more to their presence among us. The feeling was of friendship in God — and, even more deeply, friendship with God.

Singing “Many Hands Make a Miracle” during the Attunement Ceremony, we hold hands across the aisle, each row connected with the next, a continuous, looping chain of hands clasped. The heartbeat felt in each palm grows stronger and stronger, until it seems a single heartbeat uniting a temple full of lovers of God — and of God in one another.

Bathed in Divine Mother’s enveloping presence, memories of Her thousand blessings awake in the heart. As a devotee dances in honor of Shiva, an image forms of the line of tall cypresses lining the entry to Swamiji’s Moksha Mandir: a gentle breeze, and the line of trees sway gracefully, and welcomingly — their dance stately, dignified, noble, joyful. “All living things,” Master wrote, “swayed in the incense-breeze of Thy approach, hinting at Thy perfume of bliss.” As we are blessed at the point between the eyebrows, a memory comes: Walking out of the Meditation Retreat’s Temple of Silence after a kirtan, we look up into a night sky lit by a nearly full moon, shining from a dark purple/blue field, aureoled by an orange-shading-to-gold outer ring. Here mimicked in the natural world was the blissful spiritual eye, calling the devotee inward to the Light that never fades. “Open every portal of Nature,” Master prays, “that I may see Thee everywhere.”

For each one there is a portal through which Divine Mother may be known. No one is overlooked. And so we come to the spiritual journey of Stacey O’Brien, whose portal was her friendship with Wesley the Owl. All her life, Stacey felt most at home with the animal world. As a toddler she was guided and protected by the family dog, who allowed her to clutch his belly fur to steady herself while taking her first faltering steps, and who, sensing that his little charge was about to lose her balance, would at once lie down to create a soft, furry cushion for her safe landing. As an adult, now a biologist working with rescued barn owl orphans, she one day met a helpless five-day-old bit of skin and bones. Her heart opened and she committed herself to caring for this tiny life form. She knew what her commitment entailed: Barn owls mate for life; if one of the pair dies the survivor often goes into deep depression, turns to face the trunk of the tree home and dies soon after. Stacey knew that she would be, effectively, Wesley’s other half — that without her, he would not survive.

Thus began a nineteen-year friendship between species, beginning as a human caring for an animal, evolving through a thousand changes as the human learned to understand and respond to the needs, emotional and physical, of her owl friend, then shifting radically when Stacey was incapacitated with an inoperable brain tumor. Day and night she was racked with unbearable pain. No treatment did more than dull the outer edges of her agony. The prognosis was for more of the same the rest of her life. Her savings were gone; her mother, who had taken her (and Wesley) in, was nearing the end of her own savings. Horrified at burdening her mother, with endless pain on the horizon, Stacey was inexorably drawn toward suicide.

What saved her, put her on the road to recovery, and finally to carry on valuable work even in her disabled condition, was her commitment to care for Wesley, whom she knew her own death would sentence to the same fate. Through love for a helpless fellow citizen of our planet, Stacey learned lessons in service, compassion, loyalty — most important of all, she learned to set aside all personal considerations in order to carry through her commitment to her owl friend: “He was my teacher, my companion, my child, my playmate, my reminder of God.”

Thus did Divine Mother reach down through the unique channel of an orphaned barn owl to carry the soul of Her daughter Stacey to spiritual victory over suffering and despair, to acceptance, inner joy, and deeper levels of service. “You commit for life,” Stacey writes, “you finish what you start, you give your unconditional love, and that is enough. I looked into the eyes of the owl, found the way of God there, and decided to live.”

Ah, friendship! Flowering, heaven-born plant!
Nurtured art thou in the soil of measureless love,
In the seeking of soul-progress together
By two who would smooth the way each for the other.
. . .
There, on that sacred shrine of fragrance,
The Friend of all friends craves to come and remain!

In divine friendship,

For Ananda’s “Thank You, God” Tithing

There may be as many ways to make spiritual progress as there are people. Each of us has a unique path to inner stillness and may find practices that, for us, work particularly well.

And yet there’s so much that we have in common, no matter what path we follow. Last week, at Inner Renewal Week at Ananda Village, meditators shared inspiration and practical tips about what helps them in their meditations. Some suggestions came from new meditators and others came from people who have meditated for decades. I found all of the advice helpful and hope you do, too!

Here are some highlights:

Building a Foundation

  • Meditate at a consistent time each day
  • Make a commitment to myself, God, and Guru to meditate every day
  • Whenever I make up my mind to do a longer meditation, I always try to follow through for the length of time intended. This helps the mind to stop fighting so much during longer meditations.
  • Have a genuine desire to meditate; I nurture this by reminding myself that Yogananda said “the soul wants to meditate”
  • Being gentle and kind with myself and not dogmatic; I do my practice to keep myself from falling into perfectionist and grim tendencies

Staying Inspired

  • Look into my Guru’s eyes, talk to him; be with him in silence with heart open
  • I read Yogananda’s words before and after meditation
  • To prime the pump, I tell myself, “Just think, in ____ hours I’ll be able to meditate deeply.”
  • During a period when I was feeling restless and having trouble meditating, I started listening to Swami Kriyananda’s guided meditations. It helped a lot. I started reading from Yogananda’s or Swamiji’s books each evening, and also read The Holy Science.
  • Set long-term goals to inspire perseverance
  • Meditate outdoors
  • Read a favorite or random entry from Whispers from Eternity

Going Deep

  • I focus on meditation as an offering, rather than trying to achieve something
  • Chanting before meditating
  • I do whatever I can to awaken devotion, and try to be creative with chanting, visualization, and reading poetry. It makes it so much deeper and transforms my consciousness.
  • Going to group meditations
  • Do the Energization Exercises
  • My favorite thing is having a free afternoon, starting at 2 pm and going deep as long as I can
  • A few minutes of yoga postures before meditation help my body settle down and relax so I can go deeper more quickly
  • Meditating with long-time deep meditators as often as possible
  • Seclusion really helps to take my sadhana to the next level

Simple Things

  • Lighten up
  • Having books for inspiration next to where I meditate
  • Meditate before evening meal rather than afterward — that way I’m not sleepy
  • Keep tissues and a glass of water close by
  • Put down silk over wool to sit on
  • Have pen and paper near meditation chair, to write down persistent thoughts
  • I make my altar beautiful, clean it often, add colored lights and beautiful fabrics; magnetize it whatever ways I can
  • Try different sitting positions

If you like, pick one or two pieces of advice and work with it for the next few weeks. You can also see the complete list of the tips and inspiration about sadhana (meditation practice), service, and attunement here for more. The sadhana section alone has 114 ideas.

Finally — what inspiration and tips would you share with another meditator? Add a comment below and contribute what has worked best for you!

May your practice be blessed,

Last week we had a very successful and inspiring Inner Renewal week at Ananda Village. New ministers were ordained, new connections made, and hearts uplifted. Videos of some of the events will be posted soon. View pictures.