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Chapter 7:


Restraining the Tongue in Both Food and Speech


One of the most important disciplines necessary for coming into union with God is control of the tongue. This must be exercised both in the area of food and in the area of speech. Without control of the tongue it is impossible to follow the path of devotion and become one with God.


Embodiments of Love,


Together with most animals and birds, human beings have five sense organs. These sense organs must be used extremely carefully, always being aware of their capabilities and limitations. You must exercise the same control over them as you do in controlling some of the powerful energies and tools that are used in daily life. For example, fire when used with care and intelligence can serve you in many useful ways. But when it is out of control it can be very harmful. Or take a knife or electricity; if you know the proper way to use them, they will be beneficial. Otherwise they can be quite dangerous. It all depends on the care you take and how well you use your intelligence. The spiritual teachings have laid great emphasis on knowing the proper use of the sense organs and applying that understanding to your day-to-day life.


The Dual Power of the Tongue


Each sense organ given to human beings has one particular use, but the tongue is endowed with dual power. It has both the power of speech and the power of taste. In the Gita, the Lord cautions you to be very careful in using your tongue. He praises the devotee who has attained complete control over the tongue, for such a one will soon develop a pure and steady heart and feel the constant presence of the Lord. To gain such control, devotees have been practicing a number of special disciplines, such as observing silence, controlling their diet, or maintaining a complete fast.


Fasting promotes health for the physical body. In the mental realm it gives joy and bliss. Unlimited and unregulated food is very harmful for devotees. Indulging indiscriminately in unwholesome foods is likely to lead the devotee into the torpidity of inertia. To think that you can go on wantonly indulging yourself in food, while at the same time trying to please God and enjoy the nearness of God, is extremely foolish. These two, indulging in food and gaining the nearness of God, are not compatible. Therefore, right from the beginning you must make a determined effort to keep the tongue under control. Once you gain mastery over the tongue, the other sense organs will automatically come under control.


Control of the Tongue


Today's devotees have imposed on themselves all sorts of rules and regulations in order to live a disciplined spiritual life. Unfortunately, these have not been effective in gaining control over the tongue. Truly speaking, it is not necessary to make such strenuous efforts to control the various sense organs. If the tongue is properly controlled all the other sense organs will come in line by themselves. Because people have not been able to gain control over the tongue, they are afflicted with numerous doubts, emotional turmoil, contradictions and confusion. Control of the tongue refers not only to food but also to speech. You must recognize that there is nothing more powerful than the power of words. For this reason, you must keep your talk strictly under control.


In life, you can observe that even for little things a number of sacrifices have to be made. You cannot get anything without paying for it. You are prepared to sacrifice even your own life to obtain some small, petty, useless things. But, you are not seeking that which is exceedingly important, that which includes all other things and is the very basis of everything worthwhile. That greatest of all treasures is the immortal self. Only when you give up one thing can you get another in its place. Should you not then give up everything else for the sake of gaining this most important and most valuable of all possessions? Should you not sacrifice everything for the sake of reaching your highest self?


In the market place, if you want some vegetables you will have to give some money in exchange. Without offering to pay, and thereby sacrificing some of your money, you will not be able to get those vegetables. By giving up one thing you can then acquire another. In the same way, if you want to acquire virtues, you will have to give up your bad qualities. Only by sacrificing your likes and dislikes can you obtain equal-mindedness. Only by sacrificing your bad qualities can you attain the noble qualities. Only by giving up your bad thoughts, bad habits and bad behavior can you possibly achieve good thoughts, good habits and good behavior.


Many sages have described how the tongue always longs to enjoy good things, and how everything will be easy once you can gain control over it. The principal way of exercising this control is by observing silence. Silence does not merely refer to restraint of the tongue. Not only should you exercise silence in speech but you should also be silent in thoughts. Your mind should remain free of all thoughts. That is true silence.


Develop a Discriminating Mind


If you want to gain control over the food that you take in, you should not go on feeding the tongue whatever it desires. You have to develop discrimination. In every activity of life you have to apply your discriminating faculties to determine if what you are doing will benefit you spiritually. In the area of food, you have to explore and find out whether the food you take in is pure, or if it inflames the senses and passions, or if it is of a dull, unhealthy quality that produces a sleepy slothful reaction.


According to the Gita, maintaining control over the tongue by taking in pure food in limited quantities is absolutely essential for the devotee. Use your powers of discrimination with every item of food and ask the question, "Is this food pure, or will it disturb or lower my consciousness?" If you were to examine every item of food you use in this way, and take food in judiciously, you would always remain equal-minded. You would not be affected by censure or praise.


But, if you were to indulge in food without discrimination, without trying to find out whether it was desirable or not, paying attention only to satisfying your hunger and catering to your taste buds, you would not be able to control your attachments and feelings. You would sink down into weakness. If someone were to make adverse comments about you, you would soon conclude that the whole world was against you and you would feel depressed. The moment you were criticized or blamed by anyone your happiness would go, you would become grief stricken and regard all of life as meaningless.


On the other hand, if anyone were to praise you and appreciate you, you would start bloating up with ego and pride. It would be practically impossible to hold you down. What is the reason for such instability? The single most important reason for these weaknesses is the type of food you take in. All these adverse feelings come about because of your lack of control and discrimination in the area of food. The Gita has emphasized the need for exercising extreme care in selecting the food you eat. You must constantly keep in mind the importance of pure food for helping you to maintain equanimity in all situations, so that you become neither elated when praise is showered, nor depressed when criticism is heaped upon you.


Purity of the Food, the Cooking Vessels and the Cook


The Gita has also declared that there should be purity of the vessels and utensils used in cooking, and purity of the cooking process itself. The vessels used must be absolutely clean. Purity refers not only to physical cleanliness but also to the way in which the implements and the articles of food have been acquired. You have to see whether these things have been acquired by proper means and honest work or whether they have come through dishonest means. Articles which are acquired by improper means and used for cooking food, will not only generate bad thoughts but will lead you down the wrong path.


The next step is to inquire into the purity of the cooking process itself by ascertaining the thoughts and feelings of the person who is cooking the food. There are three things that have been mentioned that must be carefully looked into and controlled. Normally, you pay attention only to the purity of the vessels and not the other two, namely, the purity of the person cooking and the purity of the food itself. You do not know the feelings in the mind of the cook and you do not know if the shopkeeper has acquired the articles you buy in the market by proper or improper means.


Therefore, just before taking your food, you should pray and offer the entire meal to God in order to cleanse and purify it. This prayer which is offered before food is not for the benefit of God but for your own benefit. It will purify your food by evoking God's blessing. Before eating, you can say your own sincere prayer from your heart asking God to purify and bless the food. Or, you can use formal prayers such as the verses from the Gita that are traditionally used before food. These are the 24th verse from the 4th chapter and the 14th verse from the 15th chapter, which are particularly efficacious.


The Blessing - Offering Food to God


In Sanskrit the Gita verses used before food are:


Brahmaarpanam, brahma havir,

Brahmaagnau brahmanaa hutam,

Brahmaiva tena gantavyam,

Brahma karma samaadhinaha.

Aham vaishvaanaro bhutvaa,

Praaninaam dehamaashritaha,

Praanaapaana samaa yuktaha,

Pachaamy annam chatur vidham.


which mean:


The offering is God, the act of offering is God,

Offered by God in the sacred fire which is God.

He alone attains God

Who in all his actions is fully absorbed in God.

I am the all-pervading cosmic energy,

Lodged in the bodies of living beings.

United with their ingoing and outgoing life-breaths,

I consume all the various foods.


This prayer before eating removes all the defects and flaws in the vessels and in the articles of food, as well as removing any negative influence acquired during the cooking process. Before offering the prayer the food is merely food; but once you offer it to the Lord it becomes consecrated food.


The Role of the Tongue in Speech


The second aspect of the tongue is speech. As has already been mentioned, speech has its own powerful impact on the mind and the entire mental process. It has a tremendous power. It can perplex your mind. It can break your heart. It can even kill you. It can also give life and encouragement and help you to reach your divine goal. These are two opposite and contradictory results, both effected by the spoken word.


By the use of appropriate words, it is possible to transform the entire mind of an individual. Unfortunately, many people do not believe this. They raise objections like, "How is it possible to transform the mind through mere words? What experiments have been conducted to prove that there is this power in the faculty of speech? Words are only gross sounds heard through the ear." Or else they think, "The mind is a very subtle thing. How can mere sounds transform something that is so subtle and fine? It is not possible." In this way they will argue that it is impossible to bring about a mental transformation through words. There is a small story to illustrate this attitude.


The Story of the Officer and the Preceptor


There was once a government officer who did not believe in the great power of words to transform minds, particularly when it came to spiritual teachings. He happened to be the education secretary for a district, and included among the schools he had under his auspices were some religious institutions. One day he visited one of these schools where a preceptor was teaching the holy scriptures to a number of young students. This spiritual teacher was expounding on some very profound concepts. Sitting there listening to this, the officer developed a headache. Finally, he told the teacher, "My dear fellow. These are small children. There is no need to burden them unnecessarily with such lectures. This will be completely useless to them. Such scriptural truths and deep philosophical concepts cannot possibly be grasped and understood by such small children."


The teacher replied that only when children are at such a tender and impressionable age can they be led onto the proper path. Being taught these noble truths from the very beginning, he felt, would clear their hearts of doubts and put them on the right track in life. The officer said, "I do not believe in all these words. How can mere words transform the mind? I do not think this will ever be possible." The teacher tried to convince him through various explanations and arguments, but the officer would not listen and allow any of the teacher's wisdom to penetrate into him. It was a case of a closed mind. Too much authority often results in cynicism and an exaggerated sense of self-importance. Cleverness follows and in a short time all the virtues disappear and the reason becomes impaired.


When the teacher realized that no matter how hard he tried it was impossible to explain his point of view to this officer, he decided to prove his point by a practical lesson that the officer was sure to understand. He asked the youngest of the students to get up and told this small boy, "Child, you go and physically throw this officer out of the room. Do it immediately!" The moment he heard these words, the officer got very angry. He started shouting at the teacher, "Who do you think you are? I am a government officer, I am the education secretary of this district, and you are asking a small child to send me out! How dare you do this?"


The teacher then told the officer, "Well sir, I did not beat you or hit you or even touch you. I did not do anything to you. Just by merely hearing some words you seem to be getting very upset. What could be the reason for your becoming so angry? It is because of these few words I used, isn't it?" This is how the teacher demonstrated to him that words can be very powerful. They have an enormous capability for doing great harm or great good, according to the way they are used. After this personal lesson the officer left, but now much wiser and humbled by his experience.


The Power of Words


In the scriptures you will also find statements that point out how words are extremely powerful and can destroy the world itself. There it is said that if you were to cut a tree, it could still sprout; or if a piece of iron were broken in two, a blacksmith could make the two pieces come together again by heating and pounding them until they were one. But if you were to break a heart by venomous words, it would not be possible to ever make it whole again. Words can cause endless troubles and they can also give boundless joy. Therefore, you should be most careful that the words you use do not hurt or give pain to others.


If you were to physically slip and fall there might be some small injury that could cause you some inconvenience for a while. But there would not be any grave consequences resulting from this in the long term. There might only have been a small wound, which you can get easily dressed, and which would soon heal. But if your tongue were to slip and you were to hurt the mind or the heart of another person with harsh words, it would create a wound in that person which could not be cured by any doctor in the world. Therefore, you should never use words which are likely to hurt another's feelings. One day the words which you have used will come back to you. So, always use sweet and good words.


It has been said that the tongue relishes sweet things. You can talk to it and say, "O tongue, you like sweet things so much, why don't you linger on the sweet name of the Lord? O tongue, you know what true sacrifice means; you are the very embodiment of sacrifice. Use yourself only for singing the name of the Lord. Sing of God and become sacred and holy thereby."


Sacrifice and Forbearance


Now, why do we say that the tongue knows the true meaning of sacrifice and is absolutely selfless? Well, this is really what you experience every day. For example, when you give some sweet things to the tongue it tastes them, and as soon as it finds out that they are delightfully sweet, it says to itself, "O let me pass these lovely sweet things on to the stomach so that it can also enjoy this delight." But if what is tasted is not pleasant, if for example it is something that is bitter, then the tongue will not pass this on to the stomach but will immediately spit the offensive substance out of the mouth to save the stomach from grief. Good or bad, sweet or bitter, the tongue does not try to keep anything just for itself and only for its own enjoyment. It lives selflessly and with honor, knowing its own limits very well. For any number of years it is content to remain shut up inside the mouth. Does it come outside even once? No. Whatever work it does, it does uncomplainingly inside the mouth.


There is still another important feature of the tongue; it has extraordinary forbearance. Whatever are its difficulties and problems, and whatever troubles others give it, it remains focused within itself, never exceeding its own limits, and always observing forbearance. It lives in the midst of exceedingly harmful companions, namely, very sharp and powerful teeth. With a great deal of skill it manages not to be bitten or hurt by these aggressive fellow-residents that share its tight quarters. With unusual skill and forbearance it has been existing very well with such dreadful neighbors, without even once coming to any harm.


In this way, the tongue can teach a number of very important lessons which can be quite useful to you. For instance, it teaches you that you can live in the midst of people who are very difficult to live with. With a lot of care, forbearance and skill, you should be able to enjoy a happy life despite such trying circumstances. But in today's world there will be very few who follow such good examples. For most individuals, once they come in touch with bad people, they also tend to become bad. All the good feelings, the good qualities, the good thoughts and the good behavior disappear in a moment, and they lose all their merit and virtues. In order that you do not suffer such bad consequences, it is necessary that you gain complete control over your tongue.


Talk Wastes Spiritual Energy


Baba quite often tells the students, "Dear students, you should not talk too much. The divine energy which is in you will get wasted in the process. By engaging in too much talk, your memory power will be reduced and weakness will develop in your body. Premature old age will be the final result. Besides that, you will also get a bad name."


Now, consider that you have a radio. You may switch it on to hear a news broadcast, but then you leave the room and forget to switch it off. The radio just continues to play without purpose and uses up costly energy. Your body can be compared to that radio and the intellect may be thought of as the switch that has turned it on but failed to turn it off again. In this comparison, your mind will be the useless sound coming forth in the form of words and talk, ceaselessly babbling all day. The sacred divine energy in you will get wasted by this kind of endless talk.


Right from dawn when you get up until dusk when you go to bed you go on talking, if not loudly then within yourself. The volume might be turned down but nevertheless the talk will be going on all the time. The radio inside just keeps on playing non-stop and the valuable spiritual energy that is within you gets wasted, just as electricity is consumed in the case of the radio, whether it is playing loudly or softly. The energy just drains away.


The most common cause of premature old age and senility is this talk, and more talk, and still more talk. All this talk is not good. You have to observe silence. From birth you have not developed the habit of inner silence. You have to develop it now. Actually, the two functions of the tongue are closely related. Too much talk leads to unnatural hunger. When the talker feels more hungry he will, of course, take more food. Because of this excess food, feelings will arise which will express themselves in still more talk. In this process, controlling the senses becomes an almost impossible task.


If you were to give a horse very concentrated food and then confine it or tie it up, it would become very nervous and upset, and would not be able to keep quiet. After you feed a horse it is necessary to exercise it also. In the same way, if you take in rich food without working hard and taking some exercise, you will become nervous and restless, and you will also develop egoistic feelings of selfishness and pride. Proper exercise will strengthen your health and proper food taken in moderation will control the negative tendencies.


One of the main purposes of spiritual practice is to see to it that the food you take in will be used in the service of society. You must be firmly resolved to always do good. In the face of some adversity, you should not flicker like a flame in the wind. You must have strong self-confidence.




Consider a tiny bird which has come and landed on a branch where it continues to sit for some time afterwards. Now, suppose a wind comes up and the branch starts to move, swaying back and forth. The little bird will not get frightened by this movement of the branch. Why? Because it does not depend entirely on the branch for its support. It depends on its wings and so it has strong self-confidence that no amount of movement of the branch would disturb it. Even if the branch were to break, this would not threaten it or cause it to fall. But today's man gets easily frightened by the smallest difficulties in day-to-day life. He does not have the self-confidence which even a little bird has. What is the reason for this? The reason is too much food. He takes in food which is full of dross and which, in turn, generates feelings that are saturated with the quality of rajas, excessive nervous energy and activity, which promotes apprehension and anger. As a result, he has no chance to experience his true nature which is even-minded and pure.


The youth of today have many doubts. They see animals and birds relating to one another in all kinds of ways, enjoying a great deal of freedom. The youth wonder why they should not have the same freedom and independence that the animals enjoy. The proper answer to this question is, "Yes, you are also entitled to freedom, but it is the freedom appropriate to a human being, not that of an animal." Animals enjoy the freedom which is natural to animals. You should enjoy human freedom, the freedom that is natural to human beings.


Live as a true human being; develop the qualities appropriate to a human being. Calling yourself human but trying to enjoy the freedom of an animal will not get you far. The human characteristics are sacrifice, love, compassion, generosity, sympathy, nonviolence and other such noble qualities. Do not develop the qualities associated with an animal. And even worse than that, do not succumb to qualities much lower than an animal, namely, the qualities of a demon such as selfishness, anger, hatred, lust, jealousy and the like. These demonic qualities have no place in a human being.


Efface Selfishness, Pride and Jealousy


In particular, you should never allow selfishness, pride and jealousy to take up residence within you. These three are the worst of the bad traits that infest man. If you wish to acquire only good qualities, the human qualities instead of animal or demonic qualities, then you will have to acquire control of the tongue, in both the areas of speech and food. This is the royal road for human beings. The path of devotion, requires that you use the tongue properly, which means that you use food properly and use words properly.


Especially in this dark age of materialism and unrighteousness, the tongue can get easily sanctified by repeating the holy name. Instead of wasting your precious divine energy and your precious time in idle talk, let the tongue constantly sing the praises of God and repeat his name. Sing the name of the Lord! That is the proper way to spend your life. Use every moment of the day to saturate yourself with the glory and the holiness of his presence.


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