Eating a meal the Hindu way
The purpose of consuming food is for longevity of life, strength, health and happiness. The body functioning of every human being is controlled by five life forces- respiratory, circulatory, digestive, excretory and a life force that reverses all these functions. The energy required to propel the life forces is through the consumption of food. We eat food to provide the body nutrition and energy so that human presence on earth continues without decimation. Fruits and grains are considered to be pure as they naturally drop from their source on ripening. In the preparation of food a large number of seen and unseen organisms are killed. Food prepared by killing is considered impure as it increases the sins of the consumer. True devotion towards God can be achieved only through purity of food we consume and true service towards God. Food that we eat makes our mind. Therefore it is important that the food consumed is in the right amount, clean as well as renders good vibrations to both mind and body.
Hinduism, categorizes foods into three types - Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic. Whole grains, fruits, milk and milk products are Sattvic in nature. They calm down the mind. Rajasic foods include meat, spices and oils. They agitate the mind and cause the mind to become hyperactive. Tamasic foods are the lowest grade of foods. Stale, putrefying and fermented foods are tamasic in nature. Tamasic foods impregnate the human mind with envy and greed.
According to the Hindus, food goes beyond just nourishing the body, it also nourishes the mind. Keeping the importance of mental and spiritual nourishment, the sages developed mantras or prayers that are recited before consuming any meal as an act of purification. Prayer cleanses the food of the three types of impurities- purity of the cooking process, since the thoughts of the cook are unknown to us. The impurity in the act of culling and killing plants for food and finally the impurity of killing countless organisms in the process of cooking. Therefore, offering food to God in the form of prayer, becomes mandatory to avoid the mind getting afflicted by impurities. One organism lives at the cost of another. Life to one being is death to another. It is impossible to maintain the life of this body without taking the life of millions of germs, food grains, fruits, leaves, seeds, plants, animals, etc.
India has developed a vast vegetarian cuisine. Milk products are essential to a vegetarian diet. Spices provide taste, aid digestion and promote good health. A typical Indian meal consists of roti or flattened bread, savory vegetables or sabji , spiced pulses or dahl.
Food offered to God is thought to bestow considerable religious merit, purifying body, mind and spirit. The consciousness of the cook enters the food and influences the mind of the eater. Consumption of food offered to God also known as prasada inclines the mind towards spirituality.
Eating only food offered to God is the perfection of vegetarianism. From vegetarianism to a diet of prasadam, our eating becomes helpful in achieving the goal of human life which reawakens the soul's original relationship with God. In the Bhagavad-gita Krsna states that unless one eats food that has been offered to Him in sacrifice, one will suffer the reactions of sinful karma.
Most Hindus first sprinkle water around the plate as an act of purification before eating their meal. Five morsels of food are placed on the side of the table acknowledging debt owed by us to the Divine forces for their benign grace and protection. Another morsel is for our ancestors for giving us their lineage and the family culture. The third morsel is for our sages as our religion and culture have been realized, maintained and handed down to us by them. The fourth morsel is offered to our fellow beings who constitute society without the support of which we could not live as we do and the last one to other life forms which serve us selflessly.
Cleanliness of both the food as well as the mind consciousness of the preparer are mandatory in the preparation of a meal. Good sattwic foods makes the mind think and perform positive actions. The orderliness in society, evolution of beings and harmony in society can be controlled by what we eat and as well as our mind state. The realized sages of the Aryan civilization must be given merit as we traverse back unraveling why life was much simpler, healthier and pure in the yesteryears.