Monthly Archives: March 2017

Laugh and Learn – 9

“Grandma Knows How to Cook”

The following post is based on two stories I had heard from Swami Adiswarananda who was the Spiritual Leader of the Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center in New York from 1973 to 2007.

John was a young boy of seven years old. His mother Jane was raising him with the utmost love and care. As part of this, she made sure that John learned all of the Christian family traditions. John’s father Jack was not as keen on these traditions as his mother. He was more interested in seeing John succeed in his studies and develop an interest in sports.

John’s maternal grandparents lived far away.  He could not go there often, but Jane made sure that she and John visited her parents at least twice a year. John loved his grandparents’ house. He felt lots of freedom there.

Every time they visited, Jane’s mother would remind Jane to make sure that John learns all of the Christian traditions. And whenever Jane found an opportunity, she would show her mother that she was raising John in that tradition.

This year’s summer break had finally come.  Jane had told John earlier that year that they would go to grandma’s house for a week. John was eagerly waiting for those days to come. Now that it was finally here, he was jumping with joy.

After about 10 hours of driving, both John and Jane reached grandma’s house. As soon as Jane parked the car in the driveway, John ran and rang the door-bell a number of times.  Grandma knew who it was.  Since grandpa had passed away, she was the only one in the house to open the door. Grandma remembered grandpa and a couple of tear-drops came up on the corner of her eyes.  But, thinking about John, her heart was filled with joy overcoming all of the sorrowful memories.  She was always excited to see little John and had actually spent the whole day cooking all of John’s favorite dishes and awaiting his arrival.

Grandma opened the door and John jumped to give her a big hug, almost knocking her over.  Jane quickly exclaimed, “John, be careful! Don’t knock your grandma down.”  Overcome with joy, John started telling grandma everything about the trip over, including where they took breaks, what they ate, etc. Jane was almost not in the picture.

As John’s story came to a close, Jane asked her mother how she was doing and inquired about her health and living alone. Meanwhile, John looked around and found all the gifts his grandma had brought for him. He was excited and gave a big hug to his grandma for buying all the things he liked.

John then went into kitchen. To his surprise, John found that grandma had made all the goodies that he liked.

“Oh Grandma! I am hungry,” said John.

“But John, we had meals just couple of hours ago. Are you really hungry?” Jane questioned.

“I am really hungry.”

Jane told John to wash his hands. As he did so, John found that his grandma had already placed his meal into a very special dish. John ran to the dining table, sat down, and started eating. Jane was starting to become annoyed by John’s behavior.

“John, before you eat, what do you say?” she asked.

John continued eating and finally responded, “We say grace before the meal.”

“Then, why did you forget to say your grace?”

John continued to eat and said, “But Ma, grandma knows how to cook!” 🙂 🙂

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Another Story:

 “Please bless the food”

A priest came home in the evening exhausted by the whole day’s work. He was hungry. He washed his hands and sat on the dining chair. His wife brought out some leftovers from the refrigerator, warmed them up in the microwave, and placed them on the dining table.

She sat on the other side of the table with folded hands and head bowed down. She was waiting for her husband to say “Grace.” However, after couple of minutes of silence she looked up to her husband. He was sitting staring at the food expressionless.

His wife then said, “Please bless the food.” The priest said with sad voice, “I have already blessed this food three times.” 🙂 🙂

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Thoughts about blessing food

 Harvest-related festivals and blessing food:

In India and all over the world, we can find that there are festivals at the time of harvest. We find in many countries and languages harvest-related songs and dances. The significance of this theme is the recognition of the people that Mother Nature or God almighty provides us with food, without which we cannot survive.

As with these festivals, in our everyday routine, we should realize that we are lucky to have food on the table. Many do not immediately connect having food with God or Mother Nature, but all over the world there are prayers to bless the food and thank God for providing food.

Advantages of blessing food or praying before meals:

There are many advantages to doing prayer before taking meals or blessing the food.  I can list a few advantages:

  1. Because of prayer, people wait for each other and they eat together. If there is no prayer, whoever gets food first will start eating right away and will not think about other people or the servers. Sometimes when this happens, the servers who had cooked the food may not have anything left to eat.
  1. Prayer reminds us of Mother Nature, or the God Almighty, who is providing us the food.
  1. Prayer also reminds us that God has created the body and the digestive system in order for us to digest our food and turn it into energy. With this energy, we must perform our responsibilities and do good work for the benefit of all.
  1. With prayer, we become aware that so many people have worked for our food. For example, not only the farmers but also the people who transport the food, those who sell the food, those who buy the food, those who cook the food and those who serve the food. We appreciate the efforts of all of these people and in turn show our humility.
  1. Blessing the food gives us an opportunity to think of people who do not have food, friends, and family.
  1. Psychologically, prayer or blessing the food quiets the mind before eating. If we eat our meals with peaceful minds, the food can be easily digested. Eating while rushing and running will not help us to digest the food fully. In rush, we sometimes eat more and sometimes less. Neither is good. Calming the mind down before eating helps us to develop control and restraint with our eating.

Various prayers blessing the food:

In the Hindu religion there are several prayers:

  1. In the Ramakrishna Mission and other places, people recite the following shloka from Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 4, shloka 24):

While reciting this shloka, one thinks that eating a meal is like performing a Hindu ritual called a “yajna.” In a yajna, one offers ghee and other ingredients of worship into a sacred fire.

The shloka is:

The meaning of the shloka BG 4.24 is:

“In a ‘Yajna’, one who sees that the Brahman is the fire, the oblation, the offering, the person who offers, and who sees thus Brahman in action ultimately becomes one with Brahman.”

(Brahman is the Ultimate Reality of a being or of the universe. One can think of Brahman as the formless God who has become the whole universe.)

Why we recite this shloka:

The food is considered as an offering in the fire of stomach. Thus, eating a meal becomes like a spiritual practice that reminds us how ultimately everything becomes one with Brahman. In this way, during each meal, one connects oneself with the Ultimate Reality.

  1. Many places people recite the chapter 15 of Bhagavad Gita. I think the reason is that the following two shlokas 13th and 14th of Chapter 15 are directly related to the food:

Meaning BG 15.13

Lord Sri Krishna said, “I reside in the earth and with My power I sustain all the beings. I become the moon and nourish all the vegetation.”

Meaning BG 15.14:

Lord Sri Krishna said, “I reside in the stomach of all beings as fire (Vaishwanara) and with the help of inhalation and exhalation I digest the four kinds of foods.”

Note: The four kinds of food are: (1) food that is chewed, like bread, etc. (2) food that is swallowed, like milk, etc. (3) food that is licked, like ice cream and (4) food that is sucked in the mouth, like the way many people suck on the pulp of a mango through a hole they create on the top of a mango.

The following are a few more prayers for blessing food:

Children’s Prayer:

God is great, God is good.
Let us thank him for our food.
By his hands, we are fed.
Let us thank him for our bread.

Humorous Prayers:

“Good food, good sweets, good Lord, let’s eat.”

“Lord, bless this bunch as they munch their lunch.”

A Few more Christian Prayers:

“Without Thy sunshine and Thy rain
We could not have the golden grain;
Without Thy love we’d not be fed;
We thank Thee for our daily bread. Amen.”

“Bless, O Lord, this food to our use and us to thy service, and keep us ever mindful of the needs of others. Amen.”

“Our Dear Heavenly Father, we thank Thee for this food. Feed our souls on the bread of life and help us to do our part in kind words and loving deeds. We ask in Jesus’s name.”

“Heavenly Father, bless this food and bless our friends and family who’ve come to dine with us today.”

“God, many hands made this meal possible. Farmers grew it. Truckers drove it. Grocers sold it. We prepared it. Bless all those hands, and help us always remember our dependence on you. Amen.”

(Thanks to Ronak Parikh for editing this post and Sneha Shah for two illustrations.)

 

The Essence of Bhagavad Gita Chapter 15: The Supreme Self

The Essence of Bhagavad Gita Chapter 15

The Supreme Self

The Universe as a Tree:

Shri Krishna said, “The universe is like the Imperishable ‘Ashwattha’ tree hanging upside down. Its roots are above in the sky (in the Ultimate Reality, the Supreme Self or Brahman), the branches are below, and the leaves are the scriptures.  One who knows the universe as described above is the knower of the Ultimate Reality.

The branches of this tree spread above, below, and all around.  They are nourished by the three gunas; sattva, rajas and tamas.  Its buds are the sense objects.  In this human world, the cause-effect chains form the tap roots which give rise to ego, attachment, and desires.

What to make of the tree?

One cannot comprehend its true form here. It has no beginning, no end and its present state is uncertain. This tree has been deeply rooted into ego, attachment, and desires. In order to acquire the Supreme Knowledge of the Ultimate Reality, one has to cut down this tree with the powerful weapon of detachment.

Then, one has to search for the Ultimate Reality, the knowledge of which prevents one from becoming deluded again.  One should pray, “I surrender to you, the Ancient Supreme Self, from which streamed forth the whole universe.”

Who attains the Supreme Self?

Those highly evolved people, who have gotten rid of their false pride and delusion, conquered their minds and senses, are ever devoted to the goal of attaining the Supreme Self, are devoid of worldly desires, and do not get disturbed by the pairs of opposites like pain & pleasure and others, attain the Immortal Supreme Self.

This Supreme Self is self-illumined.  Neither the sun, nor the moon, nor fire illumines It. The one who reaches the Abode of the Suprereme Self does not get deluded again.

The Parts of the Supreme Self:

An eternal part of Me (the Supreme Self), called the Atman, attracts the mind and the senses and becomes a being called Jivatma.

As wind takes fragrance from a flower to another place, this Jivatma takes the mind and the senses from one body to another.

This Jivatma, presiding over the senses like the ear, the eye, the organs of touch, taste, and smell, and the mind, enjoys the objects of the senses.

The people with deeper insight realize that the Jivatma endowed with three gunas resides in a body, enjoys the sense-objects, and leaves the body.  People with undeveloped intellect cannot realize this fact.

Yogis who have purified their minds through proper spiritual practices and self-control realize this Atman.  But, people with impure minds and lack of self-control cannot realize this Atman even if they make efforts.

The Power and the Nature of the Supreme Self:

Know that the effulgent light of the sun which illumines the whole world, and the light of the moon and the fire is My (Supreme Self’s) light.

Pervading the earth, I, the Supreme Self, hold all beings and I nourish all vegetation through My light of the moon.

I, the Supreme Self, digest all the four kinds of food (food which is chewed, swallowed, leaked, and sucked) being the fire inside the stomach which is kept alive by the wind of inhalation and exhalation.

I reside in the hearts of all, and through Me alone they have memory, knowledge, and destruction of their doubts.  I am the creator and the knower of the Vedas, and through  the Vedas I am the One to be known.

The Supreme Self:

There are two kinds of selves in the world, the Perishable and the Imperishable.  All the embodied beings of the world are Perishable, while the Unchanging Self within all beings (the Atman) is the Imperishable.

However, there is yet another Self which is beyond the Perishable and the Imperishable.  It is known in the Vedas and the world as the Supreme Self.  It pervades and sustains the whole universe.

Since I am the Supreme, beyond the perishable and the imperishable, I am known in the Vedas as the Supreme Self.  One who knows Me as the Supreme Self has known everything to be known and he/she worships Me with all his/her heart.

O Arjuna!  Thus, I have told you the profound Truth by knowing which one becomes the Knower of the Truth and the blessed soul.”

(Thanks to Sheela Krishnan for editing this post.)

The Essence of Bhagavad Gita Chapter 14:The Classification of the Three Gunas

The Essence of Bhagavad Gita Chapter 14

The Classification of the Three Gunas

The Supreme Knowledge:

Shri Krishna said, “I will again tell you the supreme knowledge, by knowing which sages have attained the highest state a human being can attain.

My power (Prakruti) has created all the matter in the universe and I (as Purusha or Brahman) infuse Consciousness in the matter. That is how all beings come to life.

Prakruti is made out of three gunas, sattva, rajas, and tamas. These three gunas bind the Consciousness (Atman) to the matter (body and mind).

How the Atman is being tied to the Body and the Mind:

Sattva is pure, without modification, and illumined. Sattva ties the Atman to the body and mind through attachment to knowledge and happiness.

Rajas is created by the desires to please the body and mind with worldly pleasures and attachment to worldly objects. It ties the Atman to the body and mind to perform actions to fulfill these worldly desires and keep the attachment to worldly objects.

Tamas is created through ignorance. It deludes all people. Tamas ties the Atman to the body and the mind with inertia, laziness, sleep, and destructive activities.

Rising of each guna:

Each guna rises by dominating the other two gunas.

When the sattva guna rises, there is full awareness of the Atman in the body and mind. When the rajas rises, then greed, desires and activities to fulfill worldly pleasures, and restlessness prevails in the person. When tamas rises, the body and mind are filled with inertia, laziness, delusion and destructive activities.

Results of each guna:

When the sattva guna dominates, a person performs good actions, and the results of these good actions are happiness and an awareness of the Atman (one’s true identity). The results of actions performed under the domination of rajas are suffering and greed. The results of actions performed under the domination of tamas are ignorance and delusion.

The Consciousness of the people in whom sattva dominates most of the time remains in the higher state, which brings knowledge, happiness, and inner peace. The Consciousness of the people in whom rajas dominates most of the time remains in mediocre state which brings suffering, confusion, and attachment to the worldly pleasures and objects. The Consciousness of the people in whom tamas dominates most of the time remains in the lower state which brings ignorance, delusion, inertia, and destruction.

When a person dies living a sattvika-oriented life, he/she takes birth in the family of sattvika people. When a person dies living a rajasika-oriented life, he/she takes birth into a family of rajasika people. When a person dies living a tamasika-oriented life, he/she takes birth as an inert material or a lower species.

How to attain the highest knowledge?

When a person realizes that the body and mind are dominated by the three gunas and he/she, as Atman, is just the Witness Consciousness being unaffected by the three gunas, then the person attains the highest (supreme) knowledge.”

How a person with the highest knowledge behaves in the world?

Arjuna asked, “O Lord Krishna! How can a person go beyond the three gunas and realize that he/she is an Atman, a Witness Consciousness? What are the characteristics of such a person? How does that person behave in the world?

Shri Krishna said, “A person who has gone beyond the three gunas and realized that his/her true identity is the Atman (the Witness Consciousness) will not hate when any guna rises in him/her and does not crave for any guna when it subsides. Such a person remains calm within and observes like an outsider how his/her body and mind function due to the gunas. Such a person realizes that his/her body and mind are constantly changing, but as Atman he/she remains the same.

(The nature of Atman is Existence, Knowledge, and Bliss Absolute. This means that a person as Atman is the eternal Life Force, has all the Awareness or Knowledge, and has a nature that is Infinite Bliss.)

Realizing that his/her true nature is Atman, a person goes beyond the three gunas. The following are a few characteristics of such a person. Such a person (1) remains calm while going through the joyful and sorrowful situations of life, (2) sees no existential difference between dirt, stone and gold, (3) does not become elated when favorable things happen and does not become depressed when unfavorable things happen, (4) always remains fully aware and knowledgeable about all things occurring and keeps complete control on oneself, (5) knows that the praise and blame, honor and insult are temporary and they come together as two sides of a coin, (6) is unbiased towards friends and foes, and (7) does not engage in any selfish (related only to the temporary pleasures of the body and mind) activity.

With the above mentioned characteristics, when a person has an unswerving intense love for Me (meaning has intense passion to realize one’s true identity as Brahman or Atman and makes proper effort for this), goes beyond the three gunas, and becomes one with the Atman (or Brahman).

Remember I (Brahman or Atman) am the abode of Immortality, the True Righteousness, and the Infinite Bliss.”

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Notes:

  1. If we know the characteristics of the three gunas, then we will be aware of the rising of each guna in us and we can understand the cause of our thoughts and behavior. We can also understand the cause of other people’s thoughts and behaviors and treat them the best way we can. This understanding of gunas definitely helps us to know ourselves better and improves our relationship with others.
  2. All three gunas are needed to live a life. Sattva is needed for knowledge, happiness and peace of mind. Rajas is needed to maintain the body and keeping the mind alert. Tamas is needed to rest the body and mind.  These three gunas should be in proper proportions.  In order to attain the supreme knowledge we have to control tamas to its proper proportion by raising rajas and similarly to keep rajas in proper proportion we have to raise sattva. Finally, we have to go beyond the three gunas.
  3. Sri Ramakrishna told an excellent parable that gives a clear picture of these gunas. A person was going through a deep forest. Three robbers came and robbed him and beat him. One robber said, “Let’s kill him, so he cannot tell the police about us.” The second robber said, “There is no need to kill him. Let’s tie him to a tree and leave him to die on his own fate.” They tied him to a tree and left.  The third robber who was quiet and did not initially do anything, came back. He said, “Oh! You have suffered so much and you are in pain. Let me untie you and relieve you from this pain.” He untied the traveler and said, “I know the way out from this forest. Follow me.” The third robber took the traveler out from the forest. But, the robber stayed at the border of the forest and pointed the traveler a path to his home. The traveler said, “You are a very nice person. Please come with me to my home.  My family will like to see you.” The third robber said, “No. I cannot come out of this forest. I am also a robber.”

 The three robbers are three gunas, sattva, rajas, and tamas. The robber who was             ready to kill is tamas, the robber which tied the person is rajas, and the robber who       relieved the person and showed him the path leading towards his home is sattva.          Home is our own true identity Atman which is our divine self. In order to realize                 Atman we have to go beyond the three gunas. Sattva is closer to Atman. But, we             should not even have awareness that ‘I am sattvika.’ When we go beyond the three         gunas, we become free from all bondages. Such a person truly lives a life as a master     of oneself and not as a slave.

  1. A person who has gone beyond the three gunas is called a Gunatita. A Gunatita person is not inactive. To the contrary, such a person is intensely active to unselfishly serve all beings seeing the same Atman in all. In the presence of such a person, we feel an unspeakable bliss, peace of mind, a clear understanding of the purpose of life, and derive inspiration to realize Atman and be free from all bondages.

(Thanks to Rushil Desai for editing this post.)