There was a great controversy in the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century about eating in hotels. Was it right or was it wrong?
We have earlier mentioned how there are three types of dosha connected with food, the nimitta dosha, the guna dosha and the ashraya dosha. The guna dosha is the dosha that is connected with the type of the food. Lotus is good and cooling in nature, garlic is fierce in nature and destructive, it is useful to control and prevent illness but its nature is such that it repels Daivic forces and retards our sadhana. Nimitta dosha is the dosha which arises from the kitchen, the manner in which the food is cooked and the way it is kept. A dirty kitchen, a dirty, angry, sad or careless cook causes dosha which may result in either illness or mental upsets. The aashraya dosha is caused by the person who gives or serves us the food, the environment in which we eat it and the people we eat it with. Food which may contain nimitta or guna doshas may not create such great problems for us as food which is afflicted with aashraya dosha.
The food which is given with affection and love nourishes us both physically and mentally bringing out the best in us. Food given with ill-feeling brings us illness in our physical bodies, unhappiness in our minds and retards our spiritual progress. The bhava (attitude) with which the food is offered is most important. The sastras tell us of people from whom we should and should not accept food from. Persons who are evil, or who are engaged in professions which involve doing harm to another are not the ideal people from whom we should accept food. Some persons are barred from giving food for health reasons, such as a person suffering from an infectious disease. Some on account of the professions they practise such as usurers, a spy or a professional hunter. Some people should be avoided on account of their nature such as a person puffed up with pride, an unchaste person, a cruel person, an aggressive person, a dishonest person or a sanyasin who does not follow he rules of his ashrama. One should not also accept the food of a person who tries to tempt one, saying, "I will offer you such and such a dish."
But the most important thing is that we should not accept the food of people who are ill disposed to us, either out of jealousy or out of enmity. When Sri Krishna visited Hasthinapura on His peace mission, Duryodhana showed Him the highest respect at every turn, hoping that he would be able to turn him against the Pandavas. When Duryodhana asked Sri Krishna to stay in his palace, Sri Bhagavan however, declined saying, "The bread of beggary may be eaten and also the food offered with love. O King, you bear us no love and we are not beggars either." The Rishi Apasthamba prescribed that one should accept the food of any person whose conduct is religious and who desires to offer food even if he shows the slightest reluctance to give and whatever is offered unasked may be accepted.
When one eats in a line (pankthi), one is directly connected with the persons with whom one eats.It is for this reason that we should be careful about whom one eats with. It is also for this reason that it is not good that one should eat in public places or gatherings since we do not know what sins the others may have committed. When one eats with noble souls, their punyam and glory lifts us up higher. They are known as pankthi paavanas, they purify the row in which they eat. It is for this reason that sanyasins and kings are advised to eat alone. Their functions are valuable to the world and if they are affected by the merits and demerits of other people the world will suffer.
A pankthi paavana is either a person who has studied the six angas of the Veda, maintains the five fires, who knows his Veda or has studied the Dharmasastras. Manu says that a person who knows the meanings of the Veda, who expounds the Veda, a brahmacharin, a liberal giver of presents, or who has reached the age of one hundred years. Sankha says that those who are devoted to Yoga who regards gold and a clod of earth as equal, an ascetic given to contemplation are all pankthi paavanas. A pankthi dusaka is a person who suffers from an infectious disease, who engage in acts not fit for brahmanas, who are cunning, those who abandoned their Veda, the sacred fires, parents or guru and those who accept food or presents from evil persons.
When one eats in a public place like a hotel or a gathering like a temple festival, there is a possibility that the food is affected by the nimitta dosha or the guna dosha (depending on what one chooses to eat), but the possibility of the aashraya dosha is remote since the food is sold and the giver has no personal interest in the receiver. In the house of a friend, acquaintance or a relation the possibility of the nimitta dosha is less, but the possibility of the aashraya dosha is much higher. A sadhaka should use his common sense and judgment before deciding.
May Sri Sathguru grant us the Viveka to avoid evil and obtain punyam.