Food, Sacrifice, Tapas & Giving – Bhagavad Gita, Ch 17, Vs 11-22


In these verses Lord Krishna is answering Arjuna’s question on Faith. He began His answer with Sacrifice in verses 2 – 10. The following verses are expansions on this answer and include not only sacrifice, but foods, kinds of austerities (tapas) and giving.

Arjuna spoke: “What is the status of those who sacrifice without consideration of scriptural injunctions but sacrifice with faith? Is it sattva, rajas or tamas?” — chapter 17, verse 1.


7 – 10
Like sacrifices, austerities and gifts, the foods preferred by all are of three kinds. Now hear of these distinctions:

The kinds of foods mentioned in these three verses have their roots in times before the Indus Valley Civilization.Sattvic Foods

(8) Foods that are sweet, succulent, juicy, nourishing and promote life, energy, strength, health, happiness and satisfaction, are dear to the sattvic.

Foods that are sweet, etc. Refined sugar is not what is meant by ‘sweet’, but is considered to be ‘stale’.

Rajasic Foods(9) Foods that are very bitter, very sour, very salty, very hot, very pungent, very dry and burning, are dear to the rajasic, are unpleasant and cause misery and disease.

Too much bitterness, etc. In moderation, these kinds of foods are anti-inflammatory and healing. The admonition is to not take it too far and cancel their positive effects, as rajasic persons are inclined to do. 

(10) Foods that are stale, tasteless, putrid, rotten, foul, impure, and also the leavings of others, are dear to the tamasic.Tamasic Foods

Stale, etc. You may wonder how anyone could even eat these kinds of foods. Anandamayi Ma insisted that no food be left at the end of the day in Her ashram. On one occasion, She was found in the night eating left over flour to make her point. Old foods are dead foods. 


11 – Sattvic Sacrifice
Sacrifice that is offered according to scriptural injunction with the only thought, “this is given.” This sacrifice is sattvic.

Sacrifice offered without the purpose of fruits (without using your will to fulfill desires) is sattvic.

12 – Rajasic Sacrifice
But sacrifice offered out of pride and deceit, with the intent of personal benefit, that sacrifice is rajasic

13 – Tamasic Sacrifice
Sacrifice offered without faith and contrary to scriptural injunction, with no food offered, and with no mantras or giving, that sacrifice is tamasic.

Austerity (Tapas)

Austerity of Body

Honoring God, the twice-born (Brahmanas, God-people), gurus and sages, through purity, goodness, continence and non-violence, is austerity (tapas) of the body.

  • Twice-born – ‘born again’ or ‘reborn’.

Today, the usual translation of Brahmanas means priests. However, God-people are those who live in harmony with the Real. It is the purpose of their lives. Brahmanas (or Brahmins, temple priests) have more recently (a few thousand years ago) been set aside as the highest caste, but also rightly include scholars, teachers, gurus and sages.

Purity, goodness, continence and non-violence in all your actions is Tapas of Body. 

Austerity of Speech

The practice of reciting sacred texts, and the use of words that do not cause distress and are truthful, inoffensive and beneficial, is austerity (tapas) of speech. 

Tantric yogi reciting mantra then drinking whiskey from a skull.
Tantric yogi reciting mantra and drinking whiskey from a skull.

Reciting sacred texts also means reading and study of sacred texts. This was written at a time when not everyone could read and the memorization and recitation of scriptures was customary.

Tapas refers to purification by fire (energy). This is different than the elimination of impurities.

When you are careful not to cause distress when speaking, reciting or teaching, and being truthful in an inoffensive manner that is also beneficial, this is the Tapas of Speech.

Austerity of Mind

Clear-mindedness, gentleness, monitoring speech, self-restraint and pure-heartedness, is austerity of mind.

Clear-minded also means peaceful or serene. Monitoring speech also means silence. Self-restraint is self-control. Pure-heartedness is sincerity and empathy. 

Austerities of Body, Speech and Mind

17 – 19
(17) These three austerities — body, speech and mind — practiced with ardent faith by those without expectation of return benefit, are sattvic austerities that last.

(18) Austerities undergone with pride and for the purpose of gaining honor, respect and adoration, are rajasic, unsteady and impermanent.

(19) Austerities performed out of ignorance that torture oneself, or for the purpose of destroying or overpowering others, are tamasic.


20 – 22
Feeding the needy(20) Gifts given at the proper time and place, without expectation of reward, to worthy persons who have done no prior favor, with the only idea, “this is given,” is sattvic giving.

(21) But gifts given grudgingly, with the aim of personal benefit or the expectation of reward, is rajasic giving.

(11) Gifts given at the wrong time and place to the unworthy without paying respect, but with contempt, is said to be tamasic giving.

Namaste (I bow to the divine one that you really are),
Durga Ma

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Hatha Yoga Pradipika 15 – Suitable Food

Now that you have had a sampling of chapter one on Asana, I will skip to the last few verses of that chapter.

This installment answers a question I am often asked: “Is there a specific diet I should adhere to?” Some of what you read will probably come as a surprise.

The first translation is from the Pancham Sinh edition
The second translation is from the Akers edition from
The third edition is from Swami Kripalu‘s Revealing the Secret, and is followed by his commentary.

Things in (parentheses) are from the edition concerned.
My own input amidst verses is in [brackets] and in color when commenting.

Suitable Food (vs 64-65)

Sinh edition:
Wheat, rice, barley, shastik (a kid of rice), good corns, milk, ghee, sugar, butter, sugarcandy, honey, dried ginger, Parwal (a vegetable) the five vegetables, moong, pure water, these are very beneficial to those who practice Yoga. A Yogi should eat tonics (things giving strength), well sweetened, greasy (made with ghee), milk, butter, etc., which may increase humors of the body, according to his desire.

Akers edition:
These are wholesome for the best yogis: wheat, rice, barley, shashtika rice, auspicious food, milk, ghee, sugar, butter, sugar candy, honey, dry ginger, cucumbers, etc., the five potherbs, mung dahl, etc., and pure water. The yogi should eat food that is desirable, suitable, nutritious, pleasantly sweet, juicy, contains dairy products, and strengthens the bodily elements.

Kripalu edition:
Wheat, rice, barley, quick-growing rice, the best food, milk, clarified butter, unrefined cane sugar, fresh butter, sugar candy, honey (nectar), dry ginger, cucumber and other fruit, the five green leafy vegetables (potherbs, cooked greens) (those potherbs that are good for the eyes), and crystal clear water are suitable for kings among yogis. The yogi should ingest food that is nourishing, sweet, agreeable, combined with milk, supportive of the constituent essences of the body (chyle*, flesh, blood, bone, marrow, fat, and sexual fluid), wished for in the heart, and appropriate.

* Chyle – A milky fluid consisting of fat droplets and lymph. It drains from the lacteals of the small intestine into the lymphatic system during digestion.

Kripalu Commentary on Suitable Food 

There are three kinds of food: tranquil [sattvik]-powerful, passionate [rajasic], and dark [tamasic]. Tranquil-powerful food is the most appropriate for the yogi. In The Chandogya Upanishad it says, “From pure food comes purity of being; from purity of being comes a stable memory.” This is indeed true. But we ordinarily think of food (ingesta) as food and water only; this is incorrect. We forget that all the objects of sense perception of the (various) organs are encompassed by ‘food’! That is to say each organ has its own type of food. We think that only one tongue ingests food – the other organs fast; this is not so. Therefore, it also becomes unavoidable for the aspirant to take in tranquil-powerful visual phenomena (sights), tranquil-powerful sounds, tranquil-powerful odors, tranquil-powerful tactile phenomena, etcetera. Thus, when there comes to be tranquil-powerfulness in thought, speech, faith, feelings, conduct, etcetera, real tranquil-powerfulness is attained.

Tranquil Power

In Hatha Yoga Pradipika 10 – Asanain the section beginning, “There are many levels of yoga” we read about three qualities—lethargy, passion and tranquillity—in the context of the three main levels of yoga. Now we are to understand that one of these, “tranquil-power,” will guide what we put in front of our senses for them to ingest during the stages of Hatha Yoga. But what is “tranquil-power”?

Tranquil-power is how someone has translated the Sanskrit word, sattvas. Sattvas is the quality of something that is easy-going, smooth-flowing. It is also interpreted as clarity and goodness. So to get there, we are to take care about what we take in, i.e., our food, the company we keep, what our eyes behold, our ears hear, and so forth. During Hatha Yoga, our intake should be sattvic. The short list of foods in this verse are sattvic foods.

We go through Hatha Yoga in order to get to Raja Yoga.  At the highest level of yoga, as stated in Kripalu’s commentary in Hatha Yoga Pradipika 10 – Asanasattvas is predominant. But even this is going to change, get destroyed, and ultimately disappear altogether, along with the other gunas.

The Three Gunas (Qualities of Nature)

Guna: Property or characteristic of all created things.
Tamas: The quality of inertia.
Rajas: The quality of passion.
Sattvas: The quality of tranquillity.

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