Once I sighted a bicycle rider speeding along a crowded New Dehli road precariously balancing fifty or so heavy stack lunch containers hanging from different aparatus attached to his bike. “It is tiffin time!” cried my Indian friend Amit, noticing my concern. “This man will deliver a hundred homemade lunches to the office today. All over the city.”
I learned that like clockwork, Indian business men are delivered their favorites, hot and fresh, prepared by personal cooks or their wives, and carry the clean tiffins home for the same ritual the next day. This delivery employs well over a thousand bicycle carriers in every major city in India carrying tens of thousands of tiffins in total.
Homemade food, prepared with devotion by someone who knows you and cares about you. Family food, cooked with one’s personal tastes and tradition and diet in mind. Sacred food, or prasada, (and this is where the yoga blends in as if it were yogurt,) for if yoga is about bodily health and satisfaction, then certainly yoga is about the food we eat.
Sacred food prepared with devotion. Why the fuss, when there’s a restaurant available around every corner? Well, traditionally, no Indian family member will eat outside of his home. A very strong concern for home and family motivates him in every sphere of life. The home altar, with an oil lamp always burning, is the focal point of the house, and food is offered there to the family Deity. Those who are of strict religious following, or who are brahmana by class, consider that food must be selected and prepared by a person who is in union with the divine, or not to be eaten at all.
Yoga is about the welfare of mind and consciousness; certainly the food one likes is there in the mind from day to day as much as anything else. In Sanskrit this preliminary appreciation of the value in food is called annamoya. No ripe ambrosial Georgia peach or crunchy fresh salad or even one single grain of rice was ever produced in a laboratory. Food is made only in heaven. Someone up there cares about us– even tantalizingly.
When we refer to this yoga of food, we refer to altering the very way one thinks about his sustenance. “The butter, the fire and the offering,” as Krsna says to Arjuna in Bhagavad-Gita, “those things I am.” Spiritual realization can be available in the simple process of preparing food for those you love. The consciousness that the Supreme has bestowed this foodstuff upon me, please let me prepare it for Him and my family and friends with all sincerity of purpose, for the satisfaction of the Supreme.
That sincerity of purpose in cooking illuminates the mind and this is carried from the center of the home, altar or temple, nourishing every person we feed, right to their soul. It is evident in the quality and taste of “prasadam,” food offered as a sacrifce. It is not simply another culinary choice, it is a way of life that is a spiritual pleasure.
An example our guru often gave us is of the child who sincerely wants to please his father and who takes some allowance from his father to go and buy him a tie or some gift. The father is so pleased to get that gift from his little boy who has shown such love, although the gift in fact was purchased with the father’s money. In the same way, making an offering of food to the Original Person who bestows all foodstuffs is a way of acknowledging our dependence and gratitude and love. Acknowledging this dependence does not weaken us in any way, rather it unlocks our own divinity.
O.k., it sounds great, but not for you. You work, attend yoga classes in the evenings, and barely there is enough time to shop for food, much less cook and make offerings on most days. There is an alternative.
I cook at Govinda’s Buffet in West Los Angeles. “Govinda’s,” which means, “He who gives pleasure to the cow or to the senses” is a vegetarian buffet, and it is more than that. As a matter of fact, many of the people who have been eating at Govinda’s for almost 20 years still don’t know something I am just anxious to Once and for All make very clear in this article. The truth about Govinda’s is the whole operation is there to serve prasadam. Everything you ever ate there, if you ever ate at Govinda’s, was offered on an altar before God. This is done on the order of the founder of the International Sodiety for Krishna Consciousness, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
Thanks to him, my duty as cook has never once been about hash slinging. We rise early in the morning to engage in japa yoga (chanting on beads,) and kirtan (singing,) and a forty-five minute class in Bhagavad-Gita philosophy. Then, fully armed with our sadhanna bhakti, (daily devotional practice,) we are prepared to enter the kitchen. Our kitchen, Swami Prabhupada instructed us, is an extension of the temple altar. The execution of the cooking must be in the topmost devotional consciousness as well as “revolutionary clean.”
Our gurudeva, Prabhupada, taught us personally how to cook, as he was an expert at many fancy dishes. He prepared exquisite recipes for his Lord Krishna, which converted our hearts and stomachs as well. He dubbed his Hare Krishna movement of the sixties, “the kitchen religion.” Devotees strictly follow recipes as though they were sastra, (scripture.) No tasting or unnecessary speaking is permitted in the kitchen, lest meditation be broken.
My favorite part of the day is when the food preparation is complete and we carry it to the altar. The food is brought on beautiful silver plates covered by embroidered cotton cloths that are designated for this purpose. We offer the bhoga, literally, “God’s enjoyment,” to a small brass figure of Govinda and His eternal consort Radha. Silver serving bowls on the plates contain each and every preperation that will be served to the people that visit that day. This is a special moment for me, because it is a time when the Lord’s personal service feels very real. Sometimes we sing mantras to the Deity or pray for His benediction at this time, that we may continue our service. What could be more pleasing to Govinda than to receive our earnest offering and distribute His love in the form of prasada, spiritual food, to the people of Los Angeles?
Thank you for sharing our secret.