Thursday, August 20, 2009

Food For The Soul

Draupadi feeding Krishna “The whole material world is full of hungry living beings. The hunger is not for good food, shelter or sense gratification. The hunger is for the spiritual atmosphere.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.12.6 Purport)

A staple of the dining out experience in America is the buffet restaurant. America is the “land of the free and the home of the brave”, and thus there is increased freedom in all aspects of life, especially in eating. Dining out at a buffet restaurant provides a one-of-a-kind eating experience, with no menus to look at and no time spent waiting for food to be brought to your table.

At a normal restaurant, we have to look over the menu and figure what we want to eat. It’s usually a tough decision because there’s probably more than one thing on the menu that would satisfy our taste buds. We have to be really careful because if we choose the wrong dish, we’re stuck with it unless we want to fork over more money for something else. A buffet lets us hedge our bet. All the food is already out there for us to choose from. With the “all you can eat” pricing model, it is in our interest to stuff ourselves until we can’t eat any more so that we can get the biggest bang for our buck.

A buffet meal is best enjoyed on an empty stomach. If we have advance notice prior to going to a buffet restaurant, we strategize ahead by altering our eating schedule accordingly. It is also for this reason that many restaurants serve buffets only on weekends as part of brunch, a meal considered as either a late breakfast or an early lunch. Most people wake up later on the weekends, so brunch represents their first meal of the day, a time when they are usually quite hungry.

Cicis Pizza Buffet The goal is to make sure we are as hungry as we can possibly be when we arrive at the restaurant. Even while eating, we may try different techniques so as to trick ourselves into still being hungry. One of the more common strategies is to stay away from soda and other beverages, so as to leave more room in the stomach.  In the South, some people even go as far as jumping off toilets in the restrooms as a means of “making room” in the stomach. The hungrier we are, the more food we will be able to intake and the more we will enjoy it, or so we think. This theory applies to all areas of sense enjoyment. The less we have of something, the more we appreciate it. “Don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone” as the saying goes.

According to the Vedas, this current age is known as Kali Yuga, meaning the age of quarrel and hypocrisy. In Kali Yuga, religion is almost non-existent, with dharma existing at only one quarter its full strength. Even the religions that do exist today are mostly cheating ones, advising people to do everything except love God. Because of this deficiency, God has made the path of self-realization much easier in this age. Lord Krishna Himself came to this earth some five hundred years ago in the form of Lord Chaitanya to initiate the sankirtana movement. Sankirtana is the process of congregationally chanting the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare.” Lord Chaitanya taught us that in this age, there is no other way of realizing God besides constantly chanting His name:

“In this age of quarrel and disagreement, the Kali Yuga, there is no other way of spiritual realization but this chanting of the names. There is no other way, there is no other way, there is no other way.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 17.21)

This method of self realization may seem very simple, but it is effective due to our lack of religious awareness. Fortunately for us, we are all hungry for spiritual knowledge and this lack of education has actually made us hungrier for serving Krishna, even if we may not realize it. Our current activities involving meat eating, intoxication, gambling, and illicit sex life which are all attempts at pleasing the senses and achieving everlasting peace and happiness. However, since these are all on the material platform, they never succeed in fulfilling our desires and thus we remain searching after that one thing that can make us truly happy.

“…as a hungry man cannot be made happy by all comforts of life minus foodstuff, so the hungry man for eternal Absolute Happiness cannot be detracted by any amount of material happiness.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.13.17 Purport)

Those who take to chanting the holy names of the Lord immediately appreciate it since it is a religious activity that actually delivers real benefits. Chanting becomes the most attractive religious activity because we immediately get connected with Krishna. Through chanting our interest in God is spurred on, and we gradually take to the other processes of devotional service.

Krishna eating lunch with friends Eating at a buffet is a fun experience, but the aftermath can be quite painful. Heartburn, indigestion, or extreme fatigue usually follows such a heavy meal. Unlike eating at a buffet, chanting God’s name has no negative side effects.

“You'll find happiness. If you chant Hare Krishna twenty-four hours, you'll never get tired, and that is the... You'll never get tired. In any other material thing, if you chant or you repeat three times, you'll get tired. It is practical test. But if you go on chanting Hare Krishna twenty-four hours, you'll never get tired. So if you engage yourself in the activity of Krishna consciousness, you'll never get tired because you are acting on the spiritual platform. Spiritual platform is absolute. The material platform is different. If you work very hard, then you get tired.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Lecture, New York, Sep 2, 1966)

The more we do it, the more we become attracted to it. So let us all take advantage of this great gift given to us by Lord Chaitanya, and we’ll be satisfying our real hunger.