Why bother? Considering how short life is, why should we bother about taking care of the different aspects of health? In the Sri Caitanya-siksamrta (chapter 2.1, p. 67-68) Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura explains why: “If people do not follow these rules [regarding health of body and mind], they cannot pass through life smoothly. […] One will not be able to take the mind from material thoughts and direct it to thoughts of God. As a result, sinful thoughts and an atheistic attitude will dominate the mind. Finally, a person will become no better than a beast. Therefore, these bodily and mental rules are very necessary for success in human life.” In other words, if you don’t take care of the needs of your body and mind in a way that is favorable for your spiritual development, you will not come very far.
Life can be compared to a tree. Just as a tree needs to have deep roots, a strong trunk and a flourishing crown, we all need to have roots in eternity, a supportive life style, in which physical, emotional and social needs are met, and the fruits of contributing to the lives of others.
The unique feature of the tree of life concept is that by applying the principle of sattva to all these areas of life it is uplifted onto the spiritual plane (in contrast to ordinary self-improvement). Sat means “eternal” and tva “truth”, so sattva is that force of nature which is open for spiritual truths. The sattvic way of practicing the principles of the tree of life will be different from rajasic or tamasic self-improvement. In this way the teachings of the tree of life open the doors to the spiritual dimension. The Guiding Principle:
The workings of matter are orchestrated by three forces: sattva (goodness, illumination), rajas (passion) and tamas (ignorance). The Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.2.24) teaches us that, “[…] passion [rajas] is better than ignorance [tamas], but goodness [sattva] is best because by goodness one can come to realize the absolute truth.” Srila Prabhupada explains, “It is further comprehended herein that one has to rise to the platform of the mode of goodness (sattva) so that one can be eligible for the devotional service of the Lord.” In other words, having a strong sattva means having access to the absolute truth. Strong sattva is a state in which we maintain balance in the four areas of our life: the health of body and mind, contributing to the lives of others and nourishing our spirituality. It is a force that brings you inside. Rajas is an energy that is directed to Amrta Vani, Training Letter for Retreat Participants, page 2 the outside and when it is dominant you feel stressed. A state of dominant tamas is a state of exhaustion and depression. Ensuring that your sattva stays strong will make it easy for you to enter the sacred space in your heart – sattva is the force that brings you there and facilitates God-realization.
The many details of leading a life of strong sattva are guided by the principle of associating with thoughts, food, recreation, people etc. that are sattvic (“One can strengthen the mode of goodness by cultivation of those things that are already situated in goodness […].” SB 11.13.2) (For more information, see handout “The Modes and their Corresponding Attributes” attached to this email.) With practice, you will eventually be able to remain sattvic even in situations that would usually bring you out of your steadiness. On the other hand, if you are ruled by rajas and tamas, you will feel anxious or downcast even when you are in paradisiacal surroundings. So, in essence, it is not difficult to become sattvic: you need to learn which behavior is sattvic, practice it and then the force of sattva will do everything for you. After some time behaving in a way that allows sattva to unfold itself will become natural to you, habitual, and you can go through life smoothly. You will be moved forward by an energy which brings you to happiness, composure, peace and spiritual realizations.
Much can be said about maintaining physical well-being. You might want to revisit the handout “A Day in Sattva” you received at the retreat (and which is attached to this email), specifically the tips on a sattvic diet.
Please remember to do regular physical exercise. The benefits of physical exercise are usually very underrated. Remember, exercise is not something that takes energy from you – it restores it to you. By burning excessive fat and sugar in your blood system, physical exercise clears up your cardiovascular system and prevents cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks. Physical exercise is a powerful antidepressant, reduces stress and makes your brain faster and larger. Studies have shown that physical exercise is also a strong booster for willpower – not only for the exercise itself but it is contagious to all aspects of life. So by increasing self-control, physical exercise supports you in achieving any other goal as well.