Vanity thought #527. A square meal

What is the most important meal of the day? Breakfast, of course. We’ve learned this in our childhood from our mothers who would not let us out without a huge pile of pancakes or whatever, and later, if we were lucky enough to live in a temple, the tradition continued.

Actually, the wisdom at the time was that we shouldn’t eat too much and we shouldn’t sit down after breakfast but go straight out to distribute books or do other service, the idea was that the sitting down to digest a large meal would drain our energy and make us lazy. So lunch was arguably bigger.

Sankirtana devotees, however, often didn’t have time to return for lunch and they ate in their vans so lunches weren’t particularly big for them. It probably wasn’t the best practice for one’s health but it prevented slipping into siesta mood and kept us on our feet for the rest of the day.

There were no dinners and that was unusual for me but I got used to it. The reason given was that the going to bed with a full stomach led to oversleeping and a host of other problems. Later I saw Indian devotees often having a meal at night but my metabolism was nowhere near theirs.

Anyway, what I’m leading to is that this two-three meal a day schedule is not as natural as we assume. In fact modern science recommends eating even more often but in smaller quantities as not to overload our stomachs. It makes sense but, I’m afraid, it goes against tradition.

In Brihad Bhagavatamrita there’s a description of Krishna’s dinner: “He ate very sweet warm milk mixed with sugar and ghee, jallebis, pupa cakes, phecika sweets, capatis, many other delicious foods cooked in ghee, and many sweets made of milk and yogurt, in the middle He ate many exquisite, sweet, warm, fragrant, soft foods, vataka cakes, parpata cakes, soup, spinach, other vegetables, many milk preparations of the sweet and bitter kinds, and many other spicy, bitter, and salty foods, at the end He ate curds with sugar, many kinds of curd and yogurt preparations, and buttermilk with hing”, and that was only “in the beginning” as gopis fed Him even more stuff later on.

Reading this one would think that eating at night was acceptable and maybe it was, for wealthy vaishya or kshatriya families. We should take our cues from sannyasis and renunciates who developed control of their tongues. Reading about their daily routing suggests that they ate only once a day.

Actually, it wasn’t only renunciates, a couple of months ago I saw an article of eating habits in ancient times all around the world and one meal a day was a norm. People woke up very early and went straight to work, animals and crops needed to be tended and there was not time for cooking.

Likewise, no one would cook in the evening because there was no electricity and so there were no dinners. The article documented how all the modern customs of lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and supper came into existence. What is important for us, however, is that traditionally people had only one big meal and maybe they had some snacks to keep them going through the day.

While in Vrindavana Krishna ate very sumptuously but when He moved to Dwaraka He stopped having breakfasts, as evidenced from His morning routine described in Srimad Bhagavatam and Krishna book (KB ch70). He meditated, He gave charity to brahmanas and everyone else, and then there was time to attend to His managing duties and His driver was already waiting. No time for morning meal.

Among our acharyas I think Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura had all the meals customary for Bengali society of that time but Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji most certainly not. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati most likely followed the schedule he set for Gaudiya Math (probably very light breakfast and lunch but also supper), and our Srila Prabhupada set our schedule for us that we all know.

We obviously should follow it but we should also keep in mind that our “two meal plus milk” routine is meant for maintaining a busy life in active service and as we grow older and become useless we might reconsider it.

Look at the lives of Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji and Vamshidasa Babaji – they went for bhiksha in the morning then cooked whatever they got, offered it to Krishna and that was it. I suspect that was the renunciates’ routine for thousands and thousands of years.

In addition, Srila Vamshidasa Babaji was so meticulous in his food preparation that just this one meal took most of his day. It’s not that he cooked something very exquisite but he selected only the best vegetables and best rice grains for his Deities and that took time.

From Chaitanya Charitamrita it would also appear that Lord Chaitanya and His associates also ate only once a day, even when they had huge feasts. Govinda would deliver maha prasadam to Haridas Thakur only once, and Raghunatha Dasa Goswami would famously collect rice rejected even by cows when it was already dark.

The main point is that one should not eat until he has finished his daily duties, be it collecting alms or chanting a large number of rounds, so no breakfast. This, of course, is not applicable to devotees actively engaged in a preaching mission who need a lot energy to convince the entire world to take to the message of Lord Chaitanya.

What about the rest of us, though? Why do we need to have a large breakfast? Just because we are hungry? That’s not a good reason, our feeling of hunger would eventually adjust to our new schedule, it’s a minor inconvenience only.

Sadly, we need big breakfasts to exert more energy in service to our employers who need our work for their superior sense gratification. If this is the way that we have to maintain our bodies we should accept it but with full knowledge that this is a far from perfect situation. Developing detachment to our jobs is beyond the scope of this post but developing detachment from our big meals is something we should seriously consider.

Simply eating prasadam is not enough to gain control over our tongues if it doesn’t lead to automatic reduction of our daily intake. Like with chanting, we need to consciously strive to overcome our anarthas, too. This desire comes naturally but we should also act on it, not just notice its presence.

After all, control over our tongues is absolutely necessary for our spiritual development, we should not neglect it. If we remain slaves to our bellies chances our we will be in slavery to our sexual desires, too, even if subtle ones.

This is something that must be done, there are no two ways about it.

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