I have a dear friend with a strong interest in health and nutrition. He works as a hospital librarian and therefore has access to all the latest research so he often sends me snippets on health and nutrition related issues. I was just watching one such video today, which talked about the method by which broccoli provides such potent anti cancer properties, as well as myriad other benefits. I once put money into shares of a company researching the anti cancer properties of broccoli, hoping to produce a saleable product. It wasn’t a smart move really, as all you have to do is eat raw broccoli to get the benefits.
Why raw broccoli you ask? You know those light emitting tubes that start to glow when you bend them to break the internal compartments so that 2 separated chemicals merge and produce a neon glow, popular at music festivals and useful in wilderness situations? Well broccoli is like that. It contains a precursor compound called glucoraphanin and an enzyme myrosinase. When the broccoli is munched on, or cut, the two compounds meet up and produce the magic sulforaphane. But myrosinase is destroyed by heat so when you munch cooked broccoli you don’t get sulforaphane.
There is a good trick however… sulforaphane is not destroyed by heat, so if you chop up your broccoli and leave it for say an hour before cooking, there will be a decent supply of sulforaphane in the cooked broccoli. Or if you are making soup, blend up the broccoli before cooking it. Or even more magically, just add a pinch or two of mustard powder to your cooked broccoli, not in the cooking but on your plate so it doesn’t get too hot. Mustard seeds contain the enzyme myrosinase, and mustard powder is just ground up mustard seeds. And the precursor glucoraphanin is not destroyed in cooking so when you mix the two the enzyme goes to work and sulforaphane is produced in your very innards.
Going back to my medical librarian friend. He is always trying for an optimal healthy lifestyle, and is well educated in what that means, yet finds himself continually acting in less than healthy manners. (Don’t we all! Speaking for myself here…) Anyhow, recently he wrote me, “here is the million dollar question hon – i know all the things i should do (or at least try) but never seem to quite get there so a bit of a mystery why not – not like the hardest thing in the world really and potentially the benefits could be very significant. what say you?”
My response was that deep questions require deep answers. The fact of the matter is we think we are in control of our actions but we are subtly bound up by the modes of material nature, which the yoga texts called tri-guna, the three gunas. These are tamas (ignorance), rajas (passion), and sattva (goodness). All products of material nature are controlled by a combination of these three energies, and this includes our bodies and our minds. In as much as we identify with our bodies and minds we also are controlled by these modes.To explore more about our real identity and essence, check out the amazing Self Discovery Series by Jagad Guru.
One can consider these energies as being like the 3 primary colours that are used to produce a myriad of hues and shapes in an artist’s work. So while I will describe each mode as a single entity, they are never found purely in material nature, but always in come combination.
Tamas, the mode of ignorance is that energy which draws one down into excessive sleep, lethargy, laziness and ultimately madness. It is increased by eating stale old foods, flesh foods, wine, and drug taking. Places that are controlled by this energy include pubs and slaughter houses.
Rajas, or passion, is the energy of ambition, striving, strong desires. Food that is overly spicy is one example of rajas. Cities, stock markets, bustling shopping malls are all passionate rajastic places. The energy of rajas is creative, making one active and productive. But it has a terrible downside, which is the frustration that develops when these strong desires are not fulfilled as and when one had wanted. And frustration leads to anger which can then draw one down into tamas.
Sattva, the mode of goodness is a more desirable energy to be influenced by. A person in the mode of goodness is peaceful, kind, thoughtful and gentle. Foods that are healthy, juicy, sweet, fresh, and vegetarian are sattvic. The countryside and natural settings, and clean, quiet and airy places are in this mode. One who is predominantly influenced by this mode tends to find it easier to enquire into the deeper purpose of life, and to be engaged in practices of meditation and spiritual endeavour. There is still a downside to this mode, which is that one can become so attached to the sattvic lifestyle that one will avoid less peaceful situations, and not be willing to enter into the stress that sometimes accompanies a sincere search for spiritual enlightenment.
So in response to my friends questioning why he didn’t act in his best interest even though he know how he should be acting, I said that as long as we are controlled by 3 modes of nature so we are not fully in control of our own minds and desires. We think we want to do something, but that desire is instigated by whatever combination of the modes we are currently influenced by. Just think of how advertisements work! The three modes are even more subtle, insidious and all encompassing.
So we have conflicting desires and behaviours, sometimes influenced by the mode of goodness to eat well and act in healthy way and sometimes influenced by one of the other modes to act in less beneficial ways.
It is important to realise that it is actually possible to surpass the influence of all three modes. This is the goal of the more subtle yoga practices, especially mantra yoga, which, when appropriately practiced, is nirguna, beyond the control of the triguna, the three gunas. When one moves beyond the modes of nature into a state of nirguna, it is possible to be one pointed, not switching from one desire to another. But as long as we are embedded in material nature, we are under the controlling influence of the three modes, which churn our desires like a washing machine so sometimes one desire and behaviour surfaces and sometimes another. Even if for some period we have stability it is only relative. In time the pendulum will swing. There is really only one stable place, and the practice of the deepest aspects of yoga will bring gradually bring one to that place.