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Food For Thought

Date: Fri Nov 27 1998 - 14:41:50 PST

Dear Bhaktas,

Before I begin, I just HAVE to say this to Sri. Madhavakannan: You have 
always been extra generous with your praise (employing "Athishayokthi") 
publicly and privately, and yet one has hesitated to praise each of your 
postings, for where in this flow of amrutham does one stop and say "Romba 
azhagaa artham ezhudhiyirukkeL, saar!"? But such a moment has come, and tho 
in my private study of the "Prabandham" I stop and get lost in the beauty 
from time to time, now not a day goes by without remembering the following:

anbhu aavaay! Aaraa amudhu aavaay! * adiyEnuk/
inbhaavaay ellaamum neeyaavaay*- pon paavai/
kELvaa! KiLaroLi yen kEsavanE! * kEdinRi/
aaLvaaykku adiyEnan aaL

So I'd like to do namaskaram and thank you for your many gifts. Romba Azhagu 
Saar Namba PerumaaL!! Azhagai "kaikaattiya" ungaLukku mikka nanri!!

Margazhi promises to be absolutely fantastic with Sri. Anbil's explanation 
of "Tiruppavai" (Older gems are still with us, in which he quoted "Uthishta 
Chintaya Harim/Vrajan Chintaya Kesavam/Bhujan Chintaya Govindam/Swapan 
Chintaya Madhavam" and connected Tiruppavai to the Dharma Shastras), Sri. 
Sadagopan's writings on "Thiru Adyayana Uthsavam" and Smt. Kalyani 
Krishnamachari's "Nachiyar Thirumozhi" posts. Happy Pongal indeed.
I also read with much interest Sri. Anbil's postings on "Ahara Niyamam" and 
Sri. Anand's forwarding of Michael Traub's essay on coffee. I liked Sri. 
Anbil's note much better because it said there were no restrictions on Appam 
and Cheedai:-). Now if one only had coffee to go with I'm just 
kidding, but it seemed to me that the author Dr. Traub sounded like he had 
had about 6 cups of coffee that got him all jittery and sound totally 
alarmist. Sometime back a study was done on folks who live healthy lives 
past age 100, and what makes them tick. 5 factors influenced:
1. Engagement: These people had a major interest or focus (unspoken being 
"other than themselves"), for example a 103 year old man took daily care of 
the church, and was much involved in its activities.
2. Activity. No explanation needed.
3. Independence. These folks never listened to any newfangled scientific 
nonsense. Described as "stubborn", their food habits etc did not change with 
the latest info. They acted as per their beliefs.
4. Optimism.
5. Ability to take the loss of loved ones. Most folks this age have lost 
parents, siblings, spouses, friends etc. A 102-year-old woman said the day 
after losing her daughter: "The Lord gave her to me so peacefully and 
pleasantly. I want to give her back just as peacefully."

If one looks at the above, most of them have to do with the mind and the 
power of the mind over matter. The Belief-System is a Powerful Gaurd (or 
God), which is where we are so very lucky to be born into one in which such 
distilled truths are given to us freely. Engagement in the Lord, activity in 
His service, independence in following our beliefs in a changing world, 
optimism that we will reach Him one day, and the ability to see other 
relationships as transient...why wouldn't a bhakta be healthy? Does that 
mean the daily Niyamams have no meaning, as long as one has "faith"? Of 
course not, but while some things appear to be completely non-negotiable, 
absolute taboos, some of the rules seem to be more indicative of the times. 
These days we have to not only peruse carefully the many ingredients in each 
food product, (and learn about the food-production-process to avoid certain 
additives) but also be honest and say, for example, that if I'm stuck in an 
all-day seminar in a hot, crowded room and the most harmless liquid around 
is a few bottles of "Evian" water, I'm probably not going to care that "it's 
water that has been stored for more than a day". One has to understand the 
times in which the treatise was written, and understand that given a choice, 
obviously it's best to take fresh water. Most of the rules were 
self-evident, and if some seemed obscure, Sri. Anbil had kindly interpreted 
them for us in his many-part posting. It occurs to me, tho, that by jumping 
up and down telling others what to do with coffee (accompanied by cute 
little digs such as "I know you will not give it up for spiritual reasons, 
at least do so for your own physical well-being.."), one evinces guNas that 
are probably more harmful than coffee. You may be what you eat, but what I 
find much more interesting is:

You Become What You Think About
Sometime back, there was a discussion about how to get children inculcated 
in our philosophy. I have a suggestion. It's not by lecturing them at a 
young age on the "foodstuffs that increase Rajo or Tamoh Gunaas etc". I had 
an uncle who'd rant and rave about this, and at age eight I never understood 
what the bad guNas were and what they'd make of me if i acquired them (of 
course since i only ate at a srivaishnava home like most children that age, 
i never quite understood the need for such seemingly unnecessary and dire 
warnings). Also, while supposedly following "ahara" rules, my uncle didn't 
seem too sAtvik to me.  I strongly suspected that the means to increase the 
bad guNas were not hidden in onions but in people.

I'm writing this not because my individual experience is one bit important, 
but because I'm sure this confusion has existed in any number of 
srivaishnava children growing up watching such disconnects. The 'patti' who 
followed the rules silently influenced one positively (especially since one 
wanted to emulate her peacefulness) while those "laying down the law" to 
gentle spirits invested taboos with much attraction. That food influences 
moods/behavior is not in doubt. But if by being denied coffee a bhakta is 
going to be focused on it and longing for it during prayer, or by being 
vigilant that others do not break this golden rule an elder is focussed on 
it beyond reason, I think that foolish brew gains an importance beyond 
proportion and can do much more harm than by being drunk and forgotten so 
that the focus is on the Lord.

It's just like being told about the evil called 'money', and then figuring 
out one day that it's not the $ but the attitude towards it that matters. 
Srivaishnavas are not walking peacefully to a river for a ritual bath in the 
morning. They're getting on a freeway in which regardless of hours of sleep 
they have to remain vigilant to avoid serious injury. Their choice should 
not be to take coffee and feel guilty or avoid and feel that they are bereft 
of something. This is also no personal defense of coffee. If there is only 
One Power that holds sway over us, it helps to know that all other habits 
can be broken by us at will. Women are very lucky, and have the opportunity 
for an exalting experience called motherhood. The same coffee that seemed to 
get one thru exams held no charm vs my interest in a healthy baby. But the 
point is, here's what I would gaurd more against:

1. "Ahankaram" that I follow rules and "don't do these bad things that these 
others do".
2. Anger at someone for breaking one of the lesser rules.
3. Forgetting that the converse is not true: By avoiding certain foods, one 
does not necessarily lessen influence of "Rajo, Tamoh GuNaas" or suddenly 
acquire Satvik ones. Mental exercise and control have greater and more 
direct influence.

It's really the thought that counts. Having coffee without thinking about it 
(and not getting anxious in its absense) is probably less harmful than 
thinking a lot about "sakkarai pongal" and exploding when it doesn't turn 
out the way one dreamt of it... Besides, modern life gives many 
opportunities for "prayaschitham" such as plane travel and compulsary "wine 
and cheese" meetings in which one starves and smiles.

I realize that these days there is greater need for vigilance and active 
schooling when our children are exposed to opposing influences. But many 
more srivaishnavas have been put off by being berated when too young than 
are negatively affected by garlic. It's all quite unnecessary when our 
system has been designed most intelligently. We are not asked to kneel or 
confess, we get to experience beautiful vigrahams, chandanam, karpooram, 
flowers, incense, hear chants and the bell that invites the Lord who eats 
behind the "thirai" and get prasadam and tulasi water. Is there a child who 
can resist? And the stories......Having developed the love, when one is told 
what pleases and what displeases the Lord, it certainly draws attention. But 
it is when one shows both a determination to follow one's own ways to the 
utmost and is an example of the gentling influence of those ways that one 
can hope to be followed.

My grandmother had a book called "Bhakta Vijayam" in which in one story, 
some wonderfully strict Brahmanas stay for a day at a woman's house on their 
way between theertha sthalams. The woman doesn't seem to follow our many 
rules, and the bhaktas are most offended. Extremely disturbed, they are yet 
unable to leave that night itself as the nearest place is too far and they 
plan to get away early in the morning. The next morning, they hear the puja 
bell, and knowing that the woman has not even gone for a bath, they are now 
enraged. They peep thru the window of the puja room, and are awestruck. For 
what do they see... there is the woman, lovingly feeding someone, and 
bending more, they see that it is the "thavazhum Krishnar" in the altar who 
gets out of his "thottil" to eat from her hand. Bathing would take 10 
minutes and one can get fit for prayer, it is cleansing the mind and heart 
(and thought and speech) that take a lifetime and more...

Aao Bhog Lagaao Mere Mohan
Jo koi tera parsaad khave, Jo koi teri SharaN lagaave,
Teraa hi ho jaaye mere Bhagwan
Aao Bhog Lagaao Mere Mohan
Aap hi ki vastu, aap hi ke aage
Ruch ruch Bhog lagaao mere Mohan
Aao Bhog Lagaao Mere Mohan..

Sarvam KrishNaarpaNam Astu...
Viji Raghunathan