Why is food itself called as Brahma?


1. Food itself is Brahma (annam Brahma)

हे न जाणावे साधारण ।
अन्‍न ब्रह्मरूप जाण ।
जे जीवनहेतु कारण ।
विश्‍वा यया ।। – श्री भावार्थदीपिका (श्री ज्ञानेश्‍वरी ३:३३)

Saint Dnyaneshvar says, ‘Food itself is Brahma’ The whole universe originates from, sustains on and merges into Brahma. Similarly, all living beings originate from, survive on and merge into food.

1.1 Lord Vishnu – the deity of food

Lord Vishnu is the deity who controls the production, digestion and utilisation of food. In the Vishnu Sahastranam, ‘bhojan (food)’ and ‘bhokta (the one who consumes it)’ are also included in the thousand Names of Lord Vishnu as ‘भोजनाय नम:’, ‘भोक्‍ताय नम:’. That is food as well as its consumer are respected as Lord Vishnu.

1.2 Importance of food as a vehicle for the subtle body (linga deha)

In the cycle of life and death, an individual is reborn on the earth after experiencing the results of his good deeds in heaven.

। क्षीणे पुण्‍ये मर्त्‍यलोकं विशन्‍ति ।। – गीता

The entire process of descending on the earth from heaven can be explained as follows – The subtle body (linga deha) launches itself on the clouds. From the clouds it enters the earth through rain and from the earth it enters the foodgrains. When an individual consumes foodgrains, it enters into his body. In males, it enters into one of the sperms in the semen while in females it enters into the maturing ovum. During sexual intercourse if the sperm fertilises the ovum, it leads to conception only if the sperm or the ovum contains the subtle body. This is the actual birth of a human being wherein the body consists of only one cell. If the subtle body is present in the ovum then a girl is born whereas a boy is born if the subtle body is present in the sperm.

1.3 Food provides the structural components and energy

At the time of conception, the body of all living beings comprises of a single, minute cell. This cell then undergoes mitotic cell divisions till 50 billion cells are formed. The formation of these cells and their constituents depends on food. After birth, the baby gradually grows into an adult through tremendous increase in the number and the size of the body cells. Additional energy, i.e. extra food is required for extra growth and development.

The lifespan of different cells in the body varies. The white blood cells (W.B.C.s) in blood have a lifespan of a few hours while the red blood cells (R.B.C.s) have a lifespan of 100 days. In an accident, injury or ailment, the cells and the tissues of the body are directly or indirectly damaged. The newly formed cells replace the dead ones and thus the tissues are repaired. This process continues till one dies. The non-functional particles, i.e. molecules from the old cells are converted into waste products. After digestion and absorption, food particles are utilised to form new particles in the cells and replace the old ones.

Every activity of the human body requires some amount of energy. Food is the source of this energy. Food supplies energy for activities like walking, playing, digestion of food, beating of the heart, etc. which are essential to live. In fact in every living cell, energy is utilised as a continuous process. The moment the body or the cell stops utilising energy, it can be termed as dead. The cells derive energy from food.

1.4 The body is derived from food

The millions of cells in the body are formed from food and food provides the energy required for the functioning of the body. Hence the Taittiriya Upanishad mentions the body as ‘annamaya kosh’, i.e. the sheath derived from food.

Charakacharya states that the body is derived from food (देहो आहारसंभव). All living beings are formed from food. They sustain and grow on food. Thus food is indispensible for living creatures. Hence the Taittiriya Upanishad mentions that food (anna) itself is Brahma. Hence according to the Upanishads, everyone should realise the importance of food and none should criticise it.

औषधिभ्‍यो अन्‍नम्‌ । अन्‍नात्‌ पुरुष: ।
अन्‍नात्‌ भूतानि जायन्‍ते । जातानि अन्‍नेन वर्धन्‍ते ।
अन्‍नं भूतानां श्रेष्‍ठं ।
अन्‍नं ब्रह्मेति व्‍यजानात्‌ ।
अन्‍नं न निंद्यात्‌ । – तैत्तिरीय उपनिषद्‌

The word ‘anna (अन्)’ is derived from the Sanskrut verb ‘ad (अद्‌)’ which means to eat. Thus anna means that which is eaten. All the substances in the universe are directly or indirectly the food of another, e.g. plants prepare food from the five cosmic elements (panchamahabhutas), namely earth (pruthvi), water (apa), fire (tej), air (vayu) and ether (akash). Plants constitute food for animals and human beings. The human body is formed from food. After death, the body merges into the five cosmic elements, i.e. the body becomes food for the five cosmic elements. Thus the cycle continues.

1.5 Definition of food

Food is defined as an essential substance having a pleasant appearance, aroma and taste, that which is capable of being digested, absorbed and utilised when consumed in a proper manner and in an appropriate quantity so as to help living organisms to replenish the wear and tear of body tissues, produce new body components and that which imparts energy, strength and happiness.

Plants can manufacture their food from simple chemicals derived from soil, water and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere with the help of sunlight.

Animals including man do not have the ability to manufacture food from simple chemicals. Hence they use plants or other animals as food. Hence it is mentioned in the scriptures (shastras) that one living organism is the food for another (जीवो जीवस्‍य जीवनम्‌ ।). Substances included in the category of food, vary from animal to animal, e.g. grass is food for a cow but not for man as man cannot digest grass.

1.6 Properties of food

Food provides life, building material for the body, strength, enthusiasm, a sense of satiety, colour, lustre, memory, intellect, inspiration and helps in conception and propagation of the species. Food provides energy required to carry out the life activities which can lead one to heaven or help one to attain the Final Liberation (Moksha), i.e. eternal Bliss. Health and happiness depend on food. A beneficial diet gives happinesss, health and prolongs one’s lifespan. A harmful diet promotes diseases and makes one depressed.

1.7 Importance of a beneficial diet

An individual taking a beneficial diet is healthy and one taking a harmful diet succumbs to various illnesses.

पथ्‍ये सति गदार्तस्‍य किम्‌ औषधनिषेवणम्‌ ।
पथ्‍येऽ सति गदार्तस्‍य किम्‌ औषधनिषेवणम्‌ ।।

Meaning: Even if the patient does not take medication, the disease can be cured by taking a beneficial diet and avoiding a harmful one. If the patient does not follow the diet advised by the physician, medication alone will not cure him. This is because we consume food in a large quantity while medicines are taken in a very small quantity.

We do not live to eat. The ultimate and important aim of our life is to attain the Final Liberation. Hence a healthy body and a sattvik (sattva predominant) mind are necessary to undertake spiritual practice and follow the path to the Final Liberation. It is essential that the seeker (sadhak) should not adopt wrong means to earn his livelihood and procure food. He should always use the energy obtained from food to perform good deeds.

While preparing food, e.g. grinding, cooking, etc. several living organisms including animals, plants and germs are killed. Hence unknowingly one becomes a sinner. To get rid of these sins one should repeat (chant) The Lord’s Name with every morsel and eat food as The Lord’s holy sacrament (prasad).

2. Meals

2.1 Arrangement of food items in a plate

Arrangement of food items in a plate

Rice, roti and bhakari should be served in the centre of the plate. Fruits and dry food items should be served on the right side of the plate and all liquid food items, i.e. those with gravy should be served on the left side of the plate. Raita, chutney and food items prepared from jaggery, pickles, etc. should be served in front of the rice on the left side.

2.2 When should a person dine ?

The ideal time to eat is when a person feels hungry. However in cities, one has to adjust one’s meal time according to the office hours. Even children have to adjust their meal time according to school hours. After some time however, one gets habituated to these timings and feels hungry at that time. It is necessary to adjust the quantity and the time of taking a meal in such a way that we automatically feel hungry by the next meal time.

When habituated, one feels hungry at a particular time even if one’s stomach is not empty. Similarly, after one sees or gets the aroma of tasty food, one cannot overcome the temptation to eat even when one’s stomach is full. One should not succumb to such temptations.

After passing stools, urine, flatus and burping, the baby feels light and hungry. These signs indicate that the initial food is digested. Only then should the baby be given more food. One should not eat until the previous meal is digested.

An adult should never eat any food within three hours of his lunch or dinner. A labourer should not remain without food for more than three hours.

During the day, the blood is diverted to the active muscles hence the intestines receive comparatively lesser quantity of blood. At night, more blood is diverted towards the intestines. Hence food is digested best, at night. Therefore one should take a light dinner if the lunch is not digested well. If the dinner is not digested well, one should have a late lunch or skip the lunch.

One should not eat food at midnight or early in the morning. However, young, growing infants are an exception to it. They should be fed whenever they are hungry.

2.3 Before meals

Before meals, one should have a bath and wear clean clothes. One should use perfume and ladies should decorate their hair with flowers. One should wash the hands, feet, face and rinse the mouth before eating. One should see that the elders, children, guests, the cook and servants have eaten their meal and that all the animals and birds in the household are fed properly. One should offer a prayer and a little food to the deities and one’s ancestors. Eating food is itself a good deed and it helps to sustain our life and health which are instrumental in all our good deeds.

2.4 Is it advisable to take an appetiser before meals ?

A person with a good appetite need not take any appetiser before meals. Persons with a weak digestive power should take the following appetisers before meals. Appetisers should have sour, pungent and salty taste. A combination of fresh ginger, lemon and saindhav salt is a good appetiser. It exerts a cleansing action on the tongue and throat. Ginger is pungent, hot and stimulates the digestive power. It breaks scybalous faecal mass and subdues vata and kapha. Saindhav stimulates the digestive power. It makes food tasty and subdues all the three humours (doshas). Fruits and soups are also used as appetisers.

Fruits : Fruit juices or fresh fruits like pomegranate which increase the appetite and secretion of digestive juices should be eaten before meals. It cleanses the tongue and throat. One should avoid eating heavy fruits like banana and pineapple before meals. One can take panha prepared from raw mango, kokam sharbat, etc. before meals.

Soup: A normal person should not start his meal with soup. Persons with a weak digestive power should take soup with pungent, sour and salty spices which stimulate the secretion of digestive juices, e.g. tomato soup with sunth (dry ginger) and pepper.

2.5 Is it advisable to have an alcoholic drink as an appetiser before meals ?

Alcoholic drinks like beer and wine are often taken as appetisers before meals. Though alcohol is an easily available source of energy, it is not a food item. It is quickly absorbed when taken in small quantities. It stimulates appetite. It gives a feeling of relaxation and helps a person to forget his misery. However, logical thinking and the ability to take an appropriate decision are affected under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol should not be consumed by individuals suffering from hyperacidity, peptic ulcer, jaundice, diseases of the pitta humour (dosha), bleeding disorders and fever. Individuals with a weak and unstable mind get addicted to alcohol easily. Individuals with a hot temperament cannot tolerate alcohol. Prolonged and excessive consumption of alcohol leads to obesity, damages the stomach and liver and decreases the appetite and digestive power. Alcohol should not be consumed in summer. One should avoid drinking fresh (immature) wine while old wine should be drunk. Rajasik (raja predominant) and tamasik (tama predominant) people have no control over their mind so they get addicted to alcohol soon. Hence consumption of alcoholic drinks should be avoided by them.

2.6 Selection of food

One should select the quality and type of food after considering one’s age, constitution, season, time, digestive power, health, etc. One should feel hungry and eat the right type of food at the appropriate time in an adequate quantity. One should be habituated to the type of food eaten. The food should be fresh, warm, palatable and easily digestible. One should be in a happy state of mind while eating food. One should not take food which one does not like or which one cannot tolerate. One should be carefree and should focus the mind on eating and enjoy the taste and flavour of food.

Food should be cooked properly and should have good aroma and taste. It should contain some amount of oil and ghee. The food should be warm but should not be heated or fried again. One should have food of all the six types of taste, i.e. sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent and not food which is dominant in only one or two tastes. However sweet food items should be eaten in a greater quantity.

2.7 How should one serve the courses of food ?

One should follow the regional traditions regarding courses of food. However the general guidelines are as follows –

  • The first course should consist of sweet, heavy, solid, oily or fatty and hard food items which are difficult to digest. Sweet food items subdue vata.
  • The middle course should consist of sour, pungent, salty and soft food items which increase the secretion of digestive juices.
  • The last course should consist of pungent, bitter, astringent, light, liquid, dry and soft food items. Pungent, bitter and astringent food items subdue kapha.

One should eat half a stomachful of food, drink one quarter of a stomachful of water and leave the remaining quarter for air. One should have respect for food and should never criticise it. If one consumes excess of hard and dry food, one should drink a lot of water. Heavy substances such as poha and satu, starchy food items such as rice and tubers should not be taken towards the end of a meal or after a meal. Amalaka should be taken in all the three courses. If one takes excess of sour, salty and pungent food, one should drink milk at the end of a meal. Similarly, weak persons and persons with hyperacidity should take milk at the end of a meal. A person who has no control over his tongue should eat his favourite food item at the end of his meal.

2.8 When should one drink water during a meal?

One should sip water while changing from one course to another so that the taste of the previous course does not mask the taste of the next one. One should drink small quantities of water while eating food. An obese person should drink water at the beginning of a meal, an average person when halfway through a meal and a thin person at the end of the meal. One should not drink too much water after food as it dilutes the digestive juices and impairs digestion. One should not eat food when one is thirsty or drink water when one is hungry.

2.9 Eating slowly or eating fast

One should not eat too fast or too slow. One should avoid talking too much or laughing excessively while eating. If one talks or laughs too much or eats food very fast, the food is not chewed properly. Hence it is not digested well and one does not enjoy its taste. In addition, one may not notice foreign bodies in food such as stones, hair, flies and the food may get aspirated. If one eats very slowly, one tends to eat more. The food becomes cold and is not easily digested. One is not satiated after eating food too slowly.

2.10 Avoid the following types of food items

One should avoid very hot or very cold food items, food kept overnight, stale, bad, fermented, putrefied, undercooked or overcooked food, burnt, very sticky food items or those which are heated again. One should see that the food is hygienic and not contaminated with dirt, stones, hair and flies. One should not eat uncovered food. One should avoid a combination of dietary items which are incompatible with one another. Very hot food items decrease the digestive power.

Eating stale, unclean, putrefied food items and food items which are heated again, leads to infection and can cause vomiting and loose motions. Uncooked and burnt food items are heavy to digest.

Leafy vegetables, pippali and sour food items should be taken in a limited quantity and should not be consumed in excess. One should eat rice, wheat, yava (barley), jangal meat, mung (green gram), masur, chavli, raw radish, amalaka, grapes, phalsa, pomegranate, milk, ghee, honey, sugar and saindhav daily.

One should avoid intake of curds, ksharas (alkaline salts), e.g. soda-bicarb, sprouted cereals, old radish, pork, beef, meat of sheep and buffalo, fish, udid (black gram) and fermented food items in the daily diet.

2.11 Quantity of food

Food when eaten in an adequate amount is digested within proper time and makes one happy, healthy and bestows a long life.

When food is taken in less quantity one does not get a feeling of satisfaction. One feels hungry earlier and adequate energy is not supplied. The strength of the body, sense organs, mind and intellect decreases and the person becomes weak. Generally in diseased states, a person is advised to take a light diet in less quantity because initially the digestive juices from the intestines and the tissues will digest the food. Later on as there is no food, they will digest the increased vata, pitta and kapha humours (doshas). But if one continues to eat very little, the digestive juices will digest the tissues and the organs of the body after digesting the food and the person may die.

When one takes food in a greater quantity than required, the stomach becomes heavy and one feels discomfort in the stomach. One suffers from distension of the abdomen and rumbling noises are produced in the stomach due to formation of flatus. It promotes lethargy and increases all the doshas. When a greater quantity of food is taken for several days, one gains weight and it leads to obesity.

On taking an adequate diet, the weight is maintained in adults while there is an adequate increase in weight in children.