Vanity thought #918. Eating is overrated

That’s my main conclusion after three days of fasting. Headaches are almost gone, other symptoms of toxins in the blood are gone, too – white coating on the tongue, bad breath etc. Hunger hasn’t shown up either.

It appears I’m moving onto the next stage of fasting – body switching itself from digesting to using energy stored in fat cells. The transition should not be entirely smooth so there were minutes of lightheadedness and general weakness but once the switch is over everything should be okay.

All I had to eat today was an apple and a glass of juice, and before bed I’ll have another glass of warm milk. Even this I ate only because body needs vitamins, not because I was hungry, which is a very good sign on one hand but leaves me worried on the other.

Once the body gets used to fasting and settles into a new rhythm, which is how it feels already, there will be no need to eat at all, not for a long long time before it burns all the fat. This means that I have no reason to resume eating. I’m sure I can rekindle interest in sabjis and dahls but should I? I will have to find a new diet for myself, one that is not aimed at pleasing senses but only at maintaining health. Am I ready for it? Not really.

Psychologically, I still have fond memories of the days when food mattered to me and I feel a bit apprehensive about not enjoying food ever again. It feels a bit like taking brahmāchari vows – you always have the possibility of marriage in the back of your mind, if you take sannyāsa, however, there’s no coming back. Resuming eating is nothing like breaking vows of celibacy, of course, but, on the other hand, there’s no “marriage” for eating, eating doesn’t lead to progeny, there’s no justification for it but personal sense enjoyment and I don’t want that.

Ultimately, I’ll leave it to my karma. I will eat whatever it is destined for me to eat, I can’t eat more and I can’t eat less, the only change should be in my consciousness and only on the deepest level where modes of nature can’t reach it.

This isn’t a battle with hunger, this isn’t a battle with gluttony, this isn’t a battle with weight, this isn’t a battle with desire to taste delicious things – it’s the fight to become detached from all of it, no matter what happens.

There are precedents from Lord Caitanya’s pastimes for me to follow in this regard. He was a voracious eater and everybody loved to see Him stuff Himself up to the neck but that’s not what He appreciated in His followers and in His own behavior as well.

Lots of times I mentioned the episode with Amogha, son-in-law of Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya. He famously sneaked in on Lord Caitanya enjoying a feast prepared by Sārvabhauma and criticized Mahāprabhu for eating way too much for a sannyāsī. Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya threatened to kill him but the Lord said that the criticism was well deserved and so there was no fault in it. He still cured Amogha of his attitude but He didn’t reject the accusation.

On another occasion Rāmacandra Purī, a disciple of Mādhavendra Purī, godbrother of Īṣvara Purī who was Lord’s spiritual master, came to see the Lord. Mahāprabhu treated him with respect despite Rāmacandra Purī being rejected by Mādhavendra Purī himself, which is a lesson for many of our ISKCON devotees, but not for today.

Rāmacandra Purī had one particular habit – he’d encourage people to eat more than they want and then heavily criticize them for being sense enjoyers. He did this to Lord Caitanya, too. At that time the Lord was invited to take prasāda in homes of different devotees everyday, he was booked for weeks ahead, and everyone knew how much food to prepare for Lord’s party, it was a fixed sum for those who bought Lord Jagannātha’s prasāda from the temple. After hearing criticism from Rāmacandra Purī, however, the Lord has decided to cut His daily food in half.

No one was happy about it but this was the new rule and it went on as long as Rāmacandra Purī was present, only after his departure from Purī the Lord resumed taking his usual quantity.

What does it tell us? That the amount of prasāda the Lord was taking everyday didn’t depend on His own needs but on the needs of His devotees. When pressed, the Lord easily reduced it, and even that was probably to the level where His companions and hosts were not still hungry after the meal. On His own the Lord didn’t need much, if any prasāda at all.

Another episode is the story of Raghunatha Dasa Gosvāmī arrival in Purī, which I wrote about earlier. What is relevant to me today is that Raghunatha could have eaten as much prasāda as he wanted, supplied by Lord’s personal servant, yet he thought it would have been sense enjoyment.

He went on from taking food sent to him by the Lord to begging at the temple gates, then to begging at “soup kitchens”, then to collecting prasāda discarded even by the cows. Why? Wouldn’t it have been enough for him to simply take prasāda as Mahāprabhu personally arranged for him? Obviously not, he didn’t see it as rejecting Lord’s mercy either.

Did the Lord chide him for reducing his food intake to ridiculous levels? Not at all, he got praised instead. Did the Lord chide him for not taking a proper care of his body, giving it all the necessary nutrition that comes from balanced diet? Not at all. Just rice with some salt, that’s it.

Later on, in Vṛndāvana, Raghunatha Dasa Gosvāmī ate even less than that. He lived only on a cup of buttermilk every other day. Was he neglecting his own body? Not at all. Was this eating so little harmful to his health? Not at all, he lived to a hundred. Was it disruptive to his daily service? Not at all.

The thing is – eating is overrated. We can live on very little food without any negative effects. Of course we won’t be able to enjoy our senses as much as we can now but that is not our goal anyway. By enjoying senses I don’t mean only tongue and stomach, I mean how we use all the energy that comes from eating so much food – we waste it on trivial pursuits like work, maintaining family lives etc. etc. This energy fuels our aspirations in life whatever they might be but they are not service.

If our service requires us to have strong and powerful bodies then it’s okay, we can eat more to sustain that level of work but if all we do is chant and read books then we don’t need to eat at all, maybe a morsel of food here and there.

And that’s the reality that scares me at the moment, that I’ve done with eating food for good and will always feel guilty about it from now on. Last week I thought it was necessary and prescribed in the śāstra but now I see that it isn’t, that actual amount of food needed for my body maintenance is surprisingly little.

I will pray for the courage to accept this new reality.

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