Achara Prathamo Dharma

Swami Sri Hariprasad

A devotee had asked as to what should be done if one has by force of circumstances to eat with a lot of other persons, many of whom may not be desirable to eat in the same row with. The sastras tell us that a pankthi (row is broken when there is a pillar or a passage between two diners. Another way to break a row is to draw a line with water or vibhuti between the person eating and his neighbours that ensures that no evil vibrations will affect us.

Sri Sathguru has often told us of how we should be when we eat. Our minds should be peaceful, cheerful and happy, filled with gratitude to God who has been pleased to grant us the food that is before us. Else the food becomes as poison causing us little good and maybe even illness.

The sastras tell us that all beings including plants possess the five pranas which is why we would have seen in pujas the vadyar performs naivedyam saying praanaaya swaahaa apaanaaya swaha etc. When we eat, the pranas from the food is transferred to the pranas of the eater. When we are upset or angry or disturbed by sorrow or desire, the pranas move about in disorder, causing improper digestion and a host of other ailments. This is why when we eat we are prescribed a certain diet - a pathyam which we must follow. This consists of foods which augment the pranas in us which need help and calm down those pranas which are disturbed.

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According to Bhishma we should wash our mouths with water five times before and after food. Obvious hygiene reasons apart, in the course of the day we speak of various matters all of which leavean unseen vibration in our mouths, whatever we have spoken of, whatever we have seen, heard or smelt relates to other persons and beings which have their own level of vibration and their own karma. When we gargle and wash our faces, we wash off those effects on our physical bodies. Our feet and hands are the vehicles through which we transmit our vibrations, also they are always in contact with the outside world so they should also be washed, which is why the sastras say that the feet, hands and face should be wet when we sit down to eat.

When we sit down to eat, we should sit down peacefully and happily, preferably not on the ground, feeling glad that we are able to eat and grateful that God has given us something to eat. Manu says that when food is brought to be served, the person about to eat should greet it, pay honour to it, show his delight and should not find fault with it. Kulluka Bhattar, the commentator on Manu says that on seeing food we should fold our hands and bow before it saying "May this always be ours" for Bhagavan Vishnu Himself has said that whomsoever honours food honours Him. Vasishta says, "He should honour food in the morning and evening by saying, "I like it"; in the case of food eaten at shraadhas by saying, "it was good to eat" and at aabhudayika ceremonies likes marriages by saying, "It was perfect!"

The Upanishads tell us that annam is Brahman. Annam or food is the basis of all the worlds. It is the means by which Bhagavan Vishnu who sustains the universe keeps all beings alive. When we feel the pangs of hunger we know the value of food, which is why we should pray that food should always be with us. Sri Sathguru once explained how when Sridevi comes and resides with a person, he or she may not be a crorepati, but they will always have more than enough for themselves and some more to give others. That we have food to eat and are able to eat it is a proof of God's love for us, for it is He who has created all these foods and given us the knowledge to cook them.

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Everything in this world is created with a purpose to fulfil, a duty which is preordained and performing which a person feels fulfilled. There may be unhappiness and difficulties which have to be undergone, obstacles which have to be overcome butall these only add to the joy which comes when the basic purpose of our lives are fulfilled. In a Mukha Mukham (face to face discussion) in the Mathrubhoomi weekly (3rd May 1970) Mahakavi Akkitam Achutan Nambudiri asked Mahakavi P.Kunjiraman Nair whether writing poetry was a pleasure. The Mahakavi replied, “I have often asked that question to the rosebud, I've asked the songbird in springtime, I've asked the ocean throbbing with the glitter of the full moon: Is it a pleasure to bloom like this; to be lost in intoxicating music, to rise in this tidal swell of love? I'll tell you their answer: "This is a pleasure. This alone is pleasure. Even the pain to achieve this pleasure is pleasure."

The poet was quite correct. Experts tell us that trees that are placed in the front of botanical gardens grow more because they get much more attention from visitors than the trees which are planted in the back.Bird and Tompkins have shown quite clearly in "The Secret Life of Plants" how plants have feelings just as we do. Like us, they are happiest when fulfilling the duty which God has ordained for them. Similarly food has been created to nourish and please us. When we regard it with affection and gratitude, then the deity presiding over it comes and lives with us knowing that She is welcome. When we eat with joy knowing that it is a blessing which God Himself has asked us, there is no disturbance in our minds and consciousness and that is reflected in our bodies also; the pranas move about smoothly and easily assimilate the prana of the food which is being eaten.When we find fault with the food, we create feelings in ourselves which are not sattwic and which disturb our minds, then the shakthi in the food is not able to enter into us and do us good, though the chemical components may have some effect.

When we eat everyday we should greet the sight of food with happiness as it is a form of God and when we think or say "we like it" we create feelings of joy and gratitude in our being which is a protection against any doshas (which we have discussed in an earlier article). At a sraddham we say the food was good to eat thereby sending up feelings of joy gratitude and other pleasant feelings to the pithru in whose honour the feast was held. It is on such feelings that the annual sradhams are based. The mantras help to carry those feelings to the departed soul.

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At an auspicious function like a wedding, birthday etc we should say "It was perfect". This is because we should not bring into being the slightest feelings of discord or ill-feeling on such auspicious occasions since we are going there to wish the objects of the ceremony eg. the groom and bride in the marriage or the person whose birthday was going to be celebrated, all happiness. Besides we should be so happy that we do not even notice what was wrong. This is however not always the case and most people go just as a duty or to find fault. This is a most reprehensible habit, going to auspicious ceremonies and behaving inauspiciously and because of which many people prefer to do annadanam instead of feeding relatives who will anyhow only criticise. While annadanam can only bring punyam, it will be much better if a couple or a person celebrating his or her birthday is blessed by elders who wish them well with all their hearts and who are happy that a happy occurrence was taking place in the family. But this is not the case always, as there were jealous relatives even in the Rajasuya sacrifice of Yudhistira who was well know by another name, Ajathashatru, "he whose enemy is not born."

A most important point which Sri Sathguru points out is that we should offer the food to God before we eat. This helps protect us from the doshas that may be present in the food and more importantly it trains us in the habit of offering anything we receive to God and receive anything that happens as His prasadam. This takes us further in the path of saranagati

May Sri Sathguru, at whose Feet this is offered, be pleased to take us further on the path of saranagathi.

Sri Sathgruarpanam astu!