Question : What about diet?
Ramana Maharshi : Food affects the mind. For the practice of any kind of yoga, vegetarianism is absolutely necessary since it makes the mind more sattvic [pure and harmonious].
Question : Could one receive spiritual illumination while eating flesh foods?
Ramana Maharshi : Yes, but abandon them gradually and accustom yourself to sattvic foods. However, once you have attained illumination it will make less difference what you eat, as, on a great fire, it is immaterial what fuel is added.
Question : We Europeans are accustomed to a particular diet and a change of diet affects the health and weakens the mind. Is it not necessary to keep up one's physical health?
Ramana Maharshi : Quite necessary. The weaker the body the stronger the mind grows.
Question : In the absence of our usual diet our health suffers and the mind loses strength.
Ramana Maharshi : What do you mean by strength of mind?
Question : The power to eliminate worldly attachment.
Ramana Maharshi : The quality of food influences the mind. The mind feeds on the food consumed.
Question : Really! Then how can Europeans adjust themselves to sattvic food only?
Ramana Maharshi : Habit is only adjustment to the environment. It is the mind that matters. The fact is that the mind has been trained to think certain foods tasty and good. The food material is to be had both in vegetarian and non-vegetarian diet equally well. But the mind desires such food as it is accustomed to and considers tasty.
Question : Are there restrictions for the realized man with regard to food?
Ramana Maharshi : No. He is steady and not influenced by the food he takes.
Question: Is it not killing life to prepare meat diet?
Ramana Maharshi : Ahimsa [non-violence] stands foremost in the code of discipline for the yogis.
Question : Even plants have life.
Ramana Maharshi : So too the slabs you sit on!
Question : May we gradually get ourselves accustomed to vegetarian food?
Ramana Maharshi : Yes. That is the way.
Question : Is it harmless to continue smoking?
Ramana Maharshi : No, for tobacco is a poison. It is better to do without it. It is good that you have given up smoking. Men are enslaved by tobacco and cannot give it up. But tobacco only gives a temporary stimulation to which there must be a reaction with craving for more. It is also not good for meditation practice.
Question : Do you recommend that meat and alcoholic drinks be given up?
Ramana Maharshi : It is advisable to give them up because this abstention is a useful aid for beginners. The difficulty in surrendering them does not arise because they are really necessary, but merely because we have become inured by custom and habit to them.
Question : Generally speaking, what are the rules of conduct which an aspirant should follow?
Ramana Maharshi : Moderation in food, moderation in sleep and moderation in speech.