Johari has come to be known as an authority on a wide
range of subjects, principally those dealing with the development
of our spirituality. Gemology,
and ayurvedic medicine
are but a few of the many topics on which he has written.
In this interview he speaks with us about foods and cooking,
the subject of his yet-to-be-published ayurvedic cookbook.
Besides being well read in terms of India's scriptural legacy,
an abundance of down-to-earth "common sense" cultured
in village life in rural India, as simple as it may seem,
represents perhaps his foremost credentials.
Can you tell us something about your background?
I come from a very simple background, born in
a village. In India, "village" means where electricity
has never been seen, where the telephone is never dreamt of
and where cars cannot reach. My village is Faridpur. There,
every street is like a family. There are many temples and
holy men. It is not an industrial town where people have no
time to be friends with one another. So I come from a very
different culture than that of modern America. It was my grand-uncle,
Acharya Chandrashekar Shastri, who served as a role model
for me. I saw in him something very different from other people.
He had a great command of many subjects, he wrote more than
100 books, and had a keen interest is spiritual things.
We are going to be talking about cooking.
My experience is that many men from India know something about
cooking, whereas in the West, at least until more recently,
it was uncommon to find a man who had an extensive interest
I think it is uncommon to find a man adept at
cooking anywhere in the world except for the chefs in big
restaurants. But I think that in India the men are perhaps
very keen observers. They watch their mothers very closely
as boys. Otherwise, in India we are not allowed to go into
the kitchen. When these boys become men and then go abroad,
they have to cook. Otherwise they cannot find the food of
the kind and taste that they are accustomed to. I have been
traveling for some years and now my wife, who has been living
in California for the last couple of years, sees that I can
cook, so she allows me in the kitchen.
You have described eating and cooking as
forms of worship. Can you explain that?
Eating is always worship in the sense that the
body is our instrument of work and we must take care of it
in terms of diet. We should not eat simply for filling the
belly. Food should have some taste and give rise to love and
The body is a temple: the individual consciousness
that dwells within the body is part of the supreme consciousness.
Every effort to make our body pure and help its proper growth
and development is a form of "worship." So it is
with eating as well as cooking. Food that is cooked by someone
who does not want to cook, who is not in the proper consciousness,
will not be healthy food despite the ingredients. You may
not get sick from it, but it is not health producing. We do
not eat only the food that is cooked, but the consciousness
of the cook as well.
Cooking should be done as an offering to God.
Before eating one should first offer a portion on a separate
plate to God in meditation. It should be done slowly and deliberately
since meditation cannot be done in a hurry. In India, one
who has not taken bath and put on clean cloth will not be
allowed in the kitchen. One must be clean, and the kitchen
also must be clean before starting. One cooking should be
in a happy mood, as should be the one who serves the food.
Food cooked by one who really likes to cook tastes quite different
from that food which is cooked merely out of obligation.
Bathing before cooking has a twofold effect:
preparing to bathe makes the cook more conscious of his or
her work; in this way it prepares one's mind. It also cleans,
purifies, relaxes, and removes fatigue and depression.
The art of cooking involves an emotional relationship
between the food and the cook. Cleaning, cutting, chopping
food - all these activities can be performed with a sense
of rhythm and in a relaxed manner. Cooking should be enjoyed
as much as any other art. It becomes a creative art when the
person cooking does so with complete emotional involvement.
In this way, like a clairvoyant, he or she will receive messages
through intuition, creating new tastes and evolving new recipes.
Once the cooking starts, one cannot taste the
food, nor should one try to enjoy the food being prepared
even by smelling it. If it is enjoyed first by ourselves,
it is no longer fit to offer to God.
In the West I doubt if many people could
relate to not tasting the food while it's still on the stove.
Typically one might think, "How will I know if it is
done or properly cooked without tasting it first?"
I cook every day and never taste it before it
is finished and offered and everyone tells me it tastes very
good. One should have confidence in what he or she is doing
to begin with.
Those who cannot see, hear better; and those
who cannot hear, see better. At the loss of one faculty, nature
gives more power to other faculties. If we refrain from tasting
the food beforehand, then our ability to subtly experience
what it will taste like will increase. One must learn to cook
by feeling, not by tasting.
Cooking improves one's sense of smell, sight
and touch respectively. The sense of taste is deliberately
not used. The energy that would have been centered there may
then flow into other sense organs, thus making them more receptive.
By willfully abstaining from tasting, a cook improves his
or her other senses such that they become more sensitive and
efficient. I know a blind man who used to cook bread simply
by listening to the sounds it made during the process of cooking.
Indian philosophy divides nature into three
modal influences - goodness, passion, and ignorance. The sattvic
influence of goodness and clarity is one from which our spirituality
is developed. Should those interested in spiritual life then
eat only sattvic foods?
or passion foods create sensuality, sexuality, greed, avarice,
fantasies, irreligiosity, and egotism. They must be prepared
and combined with other foods before they are eatable. Tamasic
foods, or those of ignorance, are foods that consume considerable
energy while being digested. They make one dull and drowsy.
They increase pessimism, lack of common sense, laziness and
foods give necessary energy to the body without taxing it
and they are helpful in achieving balanced bodily chemistry,
which serves as a foundation for higher states of consciousness.
The psyche is brought to a centered state through sattvic
foods because they bring readily digestible and nourishing
food material into the system. These three modes are distinct,
yet foods can be converted from one to another with time and
In one sense, those concerned with spiritual
development should eat only sattvic foods, but not everyone
is a rishi. Many may be interested in spiritual life, yet
still have worldly commitments. These three influences - sattva,
rajas, and tamas - pervade human society and generally speaking
we people of the world, common people, should eat in a balanced
way, while trying as far as possible to avoid tamasic substances
such as meats and liquors. If one is a rishi, then he can
eat only sattvic foods. But Krishna was not a rishi and in
the temples we offer all types of vegetarian foods to him.
If we follow the lead of Krishna, who set an example for all
types of work, we will have a proper diet that includes our
Milk is central to the yogic Indian diet,
yet milk has been assailed in modern America due to its association
with the unjust treatment of the cow. Its nutritional value
is also questioned. You call milk the miracle food, even recommending
occasional milk fasts (consuming only milk for up to 40 days
at a time) for purifying the body and mind. What is your response
to those who denounce milk?
First of all we are mammals. Our mothers have
milk to give us and our life thus depends upon milk from the
start. If modern society has polluted the cow's milk and caused
harm to the giver of the milk, then so much for city living
and "civilized life". This represents only 20% of
the population. The other 80% living in the Third World are
drinking milk without any difficulty. Because someone has
corrupted natural living, that does not mean we should throw
out milk. Milk has everything we require for healthy living.
According to the Vedic culture, the rishis who gave up everything,
all work, were living on milk alone as their perfect food.
Milk is a food that is readily converted into
semen, which produces new blood. Thus if milk is the sole
nourishment of the human organism for some time, it can rejuvenate
that organism. "Milk kalpa" or a milk fast is a
treatment employed by homeopathic doctors for patients who
have lost hope of living a healthy, happy life. Such a milk
fast can also cure premature aging. During the fast the body
reorganizes itself. Premature aging is often the result of
food material clinging to the intestinal walls. When the process
of assimilation malfunctions, various organs in the system
are unable to receive the proper supply of nutrients and thus
begin to age quickly. If these waste materials can be expelled,
all the organs will receive proper nutrition. Milk is known
to clean the digestive tract. It expels toxins and waste from
the stomach and intestines and supplies nutritious food material
readily digestible and convertible into blood. Being alkaline
in nature, milk is an aid to the stomach in its digestive
The main organs of digestion are the mouth,
stomach, and small intestine. Milk helps the entire digestive
process and if digestion is working properly, the circulatory
system works well. If the circulatory system is functioning
properly, then the nervous system will be healthy. These three
systems regulate the human body, and milk helps to regulate
Milk is best straight from the cow while it
is still warm. Milk from a cow 21 days after she has delivered
a calf is especially powerful. It must be remembered that
in India cows are especially well taken care of, even revered.
They are brushed and washed regularly and they are not milked
when they are pregnant. In Vedic times, care of the cow was
considered sattvic. There was no need to pasteurize or tone
milk. With the appearance of anthrax, people in Europe became
alarmed and pasteurization began and saved many lives. Pasteurization
was an alternative to disease. But no one ever thought to
revert to cleaning and properly caring for the cow. Thus today
we have ultra-pasteurization and poorly cared-for cows who,
instead of being gently hand-milked by someone who cares about
them, are milked electronically without sensitivity.
In ayurveda cows are classified according to
color and place of residence. Milk from a black cow is highly
praised and recommended. Such milk is like nectar and it relieves
gases, mucus, bile, burning sensations, depression, heart
disease, stomach troubles, kidney disorders, jaundice and
more. Milk from a spotted cow, brown cow or red cow cures
problems of excess bile. But milk from a cow whose calf has
died creates mucus, bile and gas. Milk from a cow who has
stopped feeding her calf is strengthening but harder to digest.
So in this way, before modern society condemns milk, they
might do well to consult those who have the experience of
loving and knowing cows as we do in India. There is more to
be discussed than the fact that cows are mistreated. One must
learn how to treat the cow properly and that includes taking
her milk, which is her gift to humanity in return for her
being nicely taken care of.
You have described certain foods as "holy."
What makes them holy?
Foods which have great value to human society,
such as figs, bananas, dates and others were considered holy
by the sages because they do not need to be cooked, they are
very high in nutritional value and they can be picked, washed
and offered to God very easily. By this I refer to sattvic
foods. They need no preparation, but are already prepared
for eating by God. Otherwise all prepared or cooked foods
offered to God are also holy.
You recommend cooked food over raw food.
Whatever you eat raw is then "cooked"
within the body. Most people do not have the necessary digestive
power to eat many raw foods. Humanity has mastered the element
of fire, which reduces the expenditure of energy required
by the intestines. Body heat and stomach acids provide the
catalysts for digestive action. The human body is not geared
for eating only raw fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes.
Foods such as these are more difficult to digest. They require
more energy to digest. The obvious path of least resistance
is cooked vegetarian food, with raw foods like fruits, salads,
nuts and sprouted beans and seeds eaten within an hour and
a half after preparation.
Cooking is also necessary to kill certain bacteria.
If you do eat raw foods such as salads, oil or lemon is necessary
for the same purpose. Only a few things can be eaten raw;
most foods must be cooked. Civilized humanity knows how to
cook food and use spices.
What are the six tastes in Indian cooking?
There are six
tastes and six taste buds with which to appreciate them:
sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. All foods
produce one of the six tastes. Each taste is a combination
of two of the five basic material elements : earth, water,
fire, air and ether (space).
Sweet taste results from the combination of
earth and water. This is a sattvic taste that produces calories
for energy, removes nervousness created by glucose deficiency,
removes acidity and provides radiance and a healthy glow to
Sour taste is a mixture of water and fire. This
taste is rajasic and therefore it excites the mind. Sour taste
increases appetite, provides saliva, and helps digestion.
Salty taste is produced from the merging of
earth and fire. This taste is also rajasic and therefore it
also excites hunger, attracts water and liquefies mucus.
Bitter taste results from a combination of air
and space. It is rajasic and serves as an appetizer and blood
purifier and rids the body of toxins.
Pungent taste is a combination of air and fire.
It is both rajasic and tamasic simultaneously. Pungent taste
excites the sense organs, for example making the eyes water
and the nose run. This taste increases circulation and produces
Astringent taste is a mixture of air and earth.
Rajasic in nature, it purifies the blood, helps the skin,
creates dryness, assimilates fats and oils, and aids digestion.
An intelligent, creative cook will provide all
six tastes in his or her preparations rather than sticking
to only one or two tastes. We are meant to experience all
six different tastes. Unless we use all the tastes, some taste
buds will remain unsatisfied and the system will experience
a certain imbalance and chemical deficiency. Balanced meals
should include all six tastes.
Is food also medicine?
One's general diet can be one of healing, but
for that one needs good digestion. If one has good digestion,
food can be seen as medicine when properly administered in
relation to specific diseases.
How would you classify the typical Western
For those who are health conscious, I think
they should avoid it. I would not say that those who are eating
that fast-food diet are bad people, but I don't think they
have any great understanding about food nor about life's actual
purpose for that matter. They are rather unfortunate, because
in a sense anyone on that diet lives only to die. The American
diet is spreading around the world, but in Delhi in India,
McDonald's went out of business and Coca Cola is having great
In what direction do you see the Western
diet moving in the future?
Food is a necessity, not a luxury. Food should
not be treated as carelessly as it is nowadays. It is common
in this country to see someone walking down the street eating
"fast food" on the run. Large-scale manufacturers
of food do not concern themselves with the question of consciousness
and vibration in regard to preparation. There are many people
who have no time to think about food. They simply eat when
they are hungry, and are not particularly interested in what,
how, or where they eat. Others are led only by taste. Only
a few realize the importance of understanding the relationship
between our food and our living habits. Unfortunately, whatever
is easier will become more popular, because at least in the
West, man has no time.
How is it that food affects our consciousness?
Food is the first essential part of our life,
anamoya kosha, understanding our dependence upon food. The
first stage of realization of the nature of reality involves
understanding our relationship with food. Without food, prana
(breath) will not work, nor mana (mind) nor jnana (intelligence).
Psychic make-up depends upon body chemistry and body chemistry
is directly influenced by food input. Food is not just fuel
for our bodies - it is as much alive as we are.
Food is also a medium through which one person's
feelings can be transferred to another. In our country we
say that food prepared by one's mother can satisfy the child
more than the same food prepared by another. Certain foods
will create a particular consciousness and another's consciousness
can be transferred through prepared food. The body has both
the physiological side and emotional side, and food affects
If you eat saffron for a few days you will feel
happy. Whenever I have groups of 20 or 30 people in a workshop,
I use fenugreek because it is a regenerator. It also gives
inspiration and joy. I can prepare food of such type that
upon taking it a man will run like a horse for sex. Or I can
cook food such that upon eating it one will feel calm and
become quiet. This is all a question of knowing the art of
spicing. Some spices are hot, some have a cooling effect upon
the body. One must know how to mix them properly to cause
different effects. Spices are very important. After all, if
it weren't for spices, America might never have been discovered.