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Food, Sex, Enlightenment

Urban Sadhu Exploration July 2024

BG 4.24 brahmārpaṇaṁ brahma havir brahmāgnau brahmaṇā hutambrahmaiva tena gantavyaṁ brahma-karma-samādhinā  

Meaning: Brahman, God-consciousness, is within and without. The food is Brahman, the spoon with which the food is prepared is Brahman, the act of serving the food is Brahman, and the act of eating the food is Brahman. For those who view everything as Brahman – God-consciousness – Self-realization is easily obtained. – Interpretation by Austin Sanderson 

The act of eating food and the act of engaging in sex have a lot more in common than most people would wish to admit or even think about. But in fact, our brains perceive food and sex as the same. Food and sex are both physically connected to the limbic system of the brain, which controls emotions. Food and sex trigger similar emotional reactions and both stimulate dopamine that signals cravings and satisfaction. While we eat food or have sex, all of our sensory organs are aroused – sight, taste, touch, smell, and sound. Food and sex can be used for pure pleasure and sensory indulgence.


Both food and sex can become an expression of love and affection. A willingness to share with others.  And both sex and food can bring people together. Preparing food for someone we love can encompass as much passion (if not more) than the act of sexual intercourse. Eating that food can be equally passionate, for the person who cooked the food as well as for those who are being fed. This experience can be among family members, friends, lovers, and even strangers. Think of all the times you had a master chef at a restaurant cook an outstanding meal for you, but you never knew his or her name. However, food and sex can also be used as tools of divisiveness, subjugation, aggression, otherness, and hostility.


Food, like sex, is something that most people long for or crave. Some people are obsessed with thoughts of sex, while others think about sex only every so often. The same is true with food – some people think about it all the time and others only when they are hungry. Sexual obsessions and food obsessions can both become deeply distressing because the obsession is uncontrollable. Our relationship with food and sex can be nourishing, healthy, and spiritually uplifting or it can lack sustainable value and be unhealthy and spiritually depleting. Sex acts can be hedonistic or highly evolved spiritual experiences, and the same can be said about eating food, yet few make the connection between eating food and hedonism in the modern consumerist world.


We need to ask ourselves what type of relationship a yogi should have with food and sex.


While I can’t think of any ancient yoga shastra (manual) that compares food and sex in the same way as I have here, yoga shastras have a lot to say about food as a stand-alone subject and also about sex as a stand-alone subject. When we compare the two subjects we can see similarities between the ways they’re discussed.


Because food and sex activate the sensory organs, as I pointed out above, almost all yogic texts suggest that the yogi should become aware of overindulging in any sensory activities. Sensory indulgence is called bhoga in Sanskrit; the English word “bogus,” meaning “fake,” is derived from that Sanskrit term. Bhoga is pleasure for pleasure’s sake, like a Roman sex orgy or eating the whole pie by yourself, just because you can and you want to. If we allow our indulgences to dominate our thoughts, words, and actions, we are no longer practicing yoga but are participating in bhoga, the opposite of yoga. Bhoga may sound alluring, especially when analyzing our relationship to food and sex, but according to all yogic texts such pursuit of debauchery will always end in misery and keep us shackled to avidya (“ignorance”).


All yogic texts suggest that a sattvic diet, -- meaning one that is “energetically uplifting” and “light” – is a regimen that emphasizes seasonal foods, fruits if one has no sugar problems, nuts, seeds, oils, ripe vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and non-meat-based proteins. The food should be ethically sourced and grown. In ancient yogic scripture, dairy products are recommended when the cow is “fed and milked appropriately,” but we have to face the fact that no cow enslaved in the modern dairy industry is fed and milked appropriately without violence and abuse.  It is the abusive nature of the modern dairy industry that turns the food into a tamasic, or spiritual poison. Finally, the yogic texts say that food should be consumed in moderation and eaten with a deep gratitude to the Divine for providing nourishment to our bodies. In today’s landscape, a vegan diet is the only way to achieve a truly sattvic diet.


In ancient yoga shastras, sex is more controversial, just as it is in our modern world. Many early shastras forbade sex, but when we look closely we see that those texts were written by monks, renunciates, and Swamis who gave guidance to those wishing to practice spiritual asceticism, not to householders who were looking to form close intimate bonds with other humans. Tantra texts, written for non-ascetics, see sex as one of the most beautiful, natural, and spiritual acts, but they discourage sex before marriage and extramarital sex because these can lead to bhoga and away from yoga between the couple. Let’s not forget, that both the monk and the householder are both trying to achieve the same goal in life – moksha (“liberation”) – they are just taking two different paths to get to the summit of the mountain. In sharp contrast, the person who indulges in sex as lust is acting in an unspiritual way and is only spiraling down the rabbit hole of avidya.

In the sloka, BG 4.24 Lord Krishna tells Arjuna to see all aspects of the preparation and consumption of food as an interaction with God, something special. While the two never speak of sex directly, Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita that ‘lust is the biggest spiritual enemy of humans in this world’. Lust destroys a person’s life completely. This profound understanding of lust could be applied to both food and sex. If intercourse and eating are lustful and hedonistic, then the action is not of a sattvic quality. For the yogi, the action of consuming food or making love should always have a higher intention; everything should be viewed as Brahman, the highest consciousness. A yogi understands that any action performed with a higher intention can give rise to enlightenment.

Austin Sanderson – Urban Sadhu


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