Everybody eats. Most of us eat three times a day or more, including meals and snacks. In this article we explain how eating can actually become a powerful spiritual practice when it’s approached in the right way. This is known as food yoga, or connecting to the supreme through cooking and eating sanctified food.
Worshiping the Ganges with Her Own Water
In India, there are many sacred rivers. You may have heard of some of them. The Ganges is by far the most famous. It is an ancient practice to worship these holy tributaries by cupping together one’s palms, dipping them into the cool, flowing current, and then offering back to Mother Gangesher own, life-giving water.
What is the significance? How does Mother Ganges profit from such a gift?
There is a saying in English: “It is the thought that counts.” Actually, we don’t possess anything of value to Mother Ganges. There’s nothing material we can offer her, but if we offer her our love, she graciously accepts it.
In comparison to celestial beings like the divine Mother Ganges, and especially the Supreme Person, Krishna, whatever we might possess — our talents, intelligence, or wealth — all of these are quite meager. The fact is that all we really have to offer God, or His divine representatives, is our love. And this is what everyone actually wants to receive. In the exchange of gifts, love is the sweetest commodity. The physical gift itself is a mere token, a vessel meant to carry one person’s affection to another.
Some Fruit, Flowers, Leaves or Water
In the Bhagavad-gita, God Himself tells us what He likes to be offered:
patraṁ puṣpaṁ phalaṁ toyaṁ yo me bhaktyā prayacchati
tad ahaṁ bhakty-upahṛtam aśnāmi prayatātmanaḥ
“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a ﬂower, a fruit or water, I will accept it.”
Krishna, being the Supreme Person, doesn’t need anything from us. Rather, whatHe wants is our love and devotion. This is the essence of bhakti-yoga. Whatever we do for Krishna, we should do it in a spirit of love and gratitude. We show Krishna our genuine, heartfelt submission in the act of offering simple items, such as a leaf, flower, or cup of water, as a loving gift. This is the heart and soul of all religious and spiritual culture. As Krishna is the Supreme Proprietor, a thoughtful, considerate person naturally reciprocates the Lord’s infinite kindness by utilizing everything in his possession for Krishna’s pleasure.
You Are What You Eat
There is another popular English saying, “You are what you eat.” In the ancient medical tradition of India, Ayurveda, nearly all physical and psychological illnesses can be traced to an imbalanced diet. Similarly, the Bhagavad-gita explains that neglecting to prepare food for the pleasure of Krishna will result in a stunted spiritual life:
yajña-śiṣṭāśinaḥ santo mucyante sarva-kilbiṣaiḥ
bhuñjate te tv aghaṁ pāpā ye pacanty ātma-kāraṇāt
The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of karmic reactions because they eat food which is offered ﬁrst for sacriﬁce. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin. (BG 3.13)
The entire life of a bhakti yogi is an expression of devotion to God. Shopping at the grocery store, cooking preparations to be offered to Krishna, and honoring the prepared food as the mercy of the Lord, all these are sacraments that serve to deepen the devotee’s connection with his beloved object of worship.
God is a Vegetarian
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna clearly prescribes a vegetarian lifestyle. How could He accept the dead carcass of a cow or pig, after previously stating that the wise sages, who possess equal vision, see priests, cows, elephants, dogs, and even dog-eaters on an equal level of spiritual equality? (BG 5.18)
One may object, “But what about plants? Aren’t they living beings? You’re killing them, too!”
This is true; in many cases, plants are killed so that humans can benefit from their precious nutrients. For this reason, those who eat for their own sensual pleasure must endure karmic reactions. However, by offering the fruit of our harvests to Krishna for His satisfaction, both the living entities formerly inhabiting the plant-bodies, and the persons who eat the remnants of sacrifice, receive tremendous spiritual benefit. Thus Krishna’s system is perfect and logical. Everyone benefits.
Anyone who makes a daily practice of engaging in food yoga by preparing meals for the pleasure of Krishna and His devotees will delight to find a greater peace of mind and an increased attraction for full-fledged spiritual life.
How to Practice Food Yoga
Anyone can practice food yoga on their own in the comfort of their own home. Here’s how to get started:
Step One: Prepare a vegetarian meal.
Cooking your own food is both healthy and affordable. It’s also a relaxing and fun way to spend time with a friend, spouse, or kids. By cooking a meal for Krishna, we show Him how much He means to us. Our loving intention enters into the food we offer Him.
If you don’t know how to cook, that’s okay. Any vegetarian meal you eat can be offered first to Krishna for His pleasure, even if you bought it from a store or restaurant.
Step Two: Offer the meal to a picture of Krishna and / or your spiritual guide.
Once the meal is complete, you can offer it to the Lord. It’s nice to have a separate special plate for making such offerings. You can even have small bowls to hold each of the various items in the meal. But there’s no requirement that the dishware be fancy.
Set the plate in front of Krishna and invite Him to eat it. You can say a prayer such as the following:
“Dear Guru and Krishna, I have prepared this meal for Your pleasure. Please enjoy it!”
You can also come up with words of your own. Traditionally, devotees in India will lightly clap or ring a bell before making such an offering so as to get Krishna’s attention and to bring the mind into the present moment.
Step Three: After several minutes, complete the offering.
After giving Krishna some time to eat, you can complete the offering. This can be done respectfully, just as you would ask anyone if they are done with a meal. Then you can remove the food onto a separate plate and wash Krishna’s dish.
Step Four: Honor the prasadam, or sanctified food.
Krishna promises His devotees that if they offer Him food prepared with love and devotion then He will accept it. Although He may not visibly eat the food, He still tastes and enjoys it. That is God’s inconceivable power — He can taste something just by looking at it. This way He also leaves His holy remnants for His devotee to honor.
We say “honor” prasadam instead of “eat” prasadam because it is a spiritual act, a service in bhakti-yoga. Just as we chant the names of Krishna with attention and devotion, we should also try to honor prasadam in a loving, prayerful spirit.