Question: Why do some spiritual paths say that you do not have to follow specific rules about diet, whereas other paths lay down precise guidelines?
A simple answer is that not all paths are correct about everything. In the world of philosophy, religion and spirituality there are so many people laying down so many doctrines and ideas. Often these claims are contradictory, and some of them are just plain wrong.
But there is also another way to look at the differences in various spiritual messages and practices. The various teachers who came along during the course of human history had to give a teaching that was appropriate for the particular time and place in which they lived. For example, Sadashiva, the guru who was the first teacher to systematize the practices of tantra yoga, lived 7000 years ago. His emphasis was on spiritual practice and he gave detailed instructions regarding meditation. However, he did not present any philosophical system, because the time was not right for it and he felt that philosophy would just confuse people. The fact that he did not expound on philosophical subjects does not mean that there is no place for philosophy on the spiritual path, but if we understand the context in which Sadashiva taught, then it is clear why he did not give it importance.
Similarly, Gautama Buddha did not say anything about God. While some will say that he did not talk about God because he did not believe in the existence of God, it is also possible to see another reason for his approach. In the period prior to and during Buddha‘s time religious leaders exploited people in the name of God and religion. Buddha wanted to make a sharp break with this trend and didn’t speculate about the nature of God. Rather, he emphasized morality and taught people how to meditate with the expectation that they would find out for themselves, through meditation, what is the ultimate reality. Buddha’s avoidance of speculation or talk about the nature of God should be understood in the historical and social climate in which he lived.
Likewise when it comes to diet and dietary “dos and don’ts”, the time and place where a particular doctrine originated has a role to play. So, the question is, if there are so many different ideas on this subject, what should a person do? Quoting an ancient verse, Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, the founder of Ananda Marga, explained that though intellectuals may present so many divergent ideas, a spiritual aspirant should not get confused but should be practical. He advised that one should find a realized person, and follow the advice of that person.
With regard to diet, a practical approach is very important. If you eat a heavy meal and then immediately after the meal try to meditate you will see that eating does have an effect on your spiritual practices. You can make experiments to see what works and what doesn’t work for you. Alternatively, if you are convinced that dietary guidelines will be helpful for you, then examine what yogis have said about the subject and then once again make an experiment and see if their recommendations are helpful or not.