Appetite of the Absolute
The first necessity of the human species, like any other species, is self preservation. Thus we need to eat in order to live. But under scrutiny we find that human life is unique and that it has another primary necessity. It needs to love. While we eat to live, we live to love. Unfortunately our eating does not always foster loving. However, if we learn to spiritualize our diet, we will be well on our way to living in love.
According to the bhakti-yoga tradition, spiritualizing one’s diet is accomplished by offering one’s food for God’s pleasure and then living on God’s remnants. This ritual of offering and then honoring the remnants is a developed form of thanking God for the bounty of life—the so called “saying of grace.” In fact the Sanskrit term for such a diet is “prasada,” which means “grace.” However, in bhakti-yoga the devotee learns not merely to thank God for his or her food, but to prepare food for the satisfaction of God. By eating only the remnants of such offerings, one’s diet becomes divine—one eats only food fit for God.
One might justifiably ask what God eats, or if God eats at all. Does God get hungry? God’s perspective is an enlightened one. Thus God is free from exploitation on one hand and filled with love on the other. What then is God’s food? One’s food corresponds with one’s appetite. God has no appetite for exploitation and God lives to love and thus lives only on love. The act of offering food for the pleasure of another is an act of love. God does not hunger for the food the devotee offers, but for the love with which one makes the offering. Why? Because God wants us to enjoy the bounty of love through which we become God-like, through which we become lovers.
At the same time, in order for it to be palatable, that which is offered must be food that causes the least harm or exploitation in the course of gathering it. Although it is not possible to gather food without causing some harm, when that which we gather with a view to cause as little harm as possible is offered, the ingredients of such offerings, rather than being exploited for our own selfish purposes, are spiritualized. Thus as the Gita informs us, the act of offering, the offerer, and that which is offered all become sacred (Brahman), as is that to which the offering is made. It is sometimes said that we are what we eat. If what we eat is an act of sacrifice, we ourselves become the offering, as it should be. Only to the extent that we give of ourselves do we live on, for we can take to the grave only what we gave.
In a life without grace, we are left to create havoc in the environment, exploiting others in the name of self preservation. If we learn to plant, cultivate, prepare, and offer food to God before taking any ourselves, we will convert our primal animal necessity into spiritual experience and realize the zenith of human potential. The act of offering our food brings our primal material necessity of self preservation in conjunction with our spiritual capacity for love, and this then has the power to transform our entire life—to uproot our domination over others and replace it with dependence upon God. All of the karmic reactions for our life of domination—our habitual consumption—can be overcome by this practice of growing (ideally), collecting, preparing, and offering ingredients for the satisfaction of God. This is the first consideration, the substance of the transaction. Secondarily, when we see our entire life—as much as food is life—as an offering unto God, our entire being is spiritualized as God’s remnants energize our efforts. Not only will no adverse reaction (karma) come to us if we conduct our lives in this manner, but moreover we will become agents of good will for others.