The Cooking Lesson
Everyday Guruji had us cook with him. This is how the lessons began. First there was silent meditation on the I-AM for an hour then he would shift to teaching Sanskrit. He taught mantras, grammar and etymology. His devotion and enthusiasm for Sanskrit excited us all. It was his love of the subject which gave us an entry point to delve deeper into the meaning of the mantras. Ah Sanskrit! No matter whether we were chanting verb endings, sutras or Devi verses, her eternally resonant sounds cascaded in the mind and harmonized the atmosphere.
Around noon Sanskrit class finished so Guruji would return to his modest cottage to begin cooking the afternoon meal. As always when you were in Guruji’s presence you found you learned so much about life. Studying under him was like engaging life as a lila (divine play). In order to understand one lesson that he taught one had to grasp many other surrounding lessons. Guruji’s teachings worked much as sutras do.
Sutra as a Metaphor
In order to comprehend a single sutra generally one will need to understand nine other sutras to grasp the one in focus at the time. Furthermore, to understand the surrounding nine sutras, the student will need to understand nine more for each of those and so on and so on into infinity…Sutra study shows us much about how Guruji’s life and teachings unfolded. In this way, each teaching was subtle and rich.
The Simple Act of Cooking
Guruji imparted his Shakti (energy) in the simple act of cooking. Just as a scientist carefully adds the needed items to his concoction, so Guruji prepared the meals in this way. As we added different items to the particular dahl or potato dish i.e., tumeric, ghee, salt, pepper, chilies and hing powder, I was always amazed to see how the ingredients came together. I had no idea what the particular dish would taste like. It was all a great mystery, but when the time came and he felt that enough fire, water, ingredients and attention had been added to the particular dish he would ask me to taste it and see how it was. With one bite a nourished feeling came over me…he stood looking at me waiting, with his eyes bright…as if asking Did I like it? I would return the glance with a kind of look that said, My lord, this is incredibly delicious. He would smile and I knew for him the lesson was passed.
It was not until after several months of helping him cook that I decided one Saturday to try to cook Indian food for my family on my own. After I returned to the ashram the following Sunday Guruji asked me excitedly, “So how did it go? How did your family like your meal?” I looked less than enthused and said somewhat hesitantly, “Oh yeah…well they thought it was OK, but I know it wasn’t that good. I added all the spices the way you taught me and I carefully cut everything placing all the ingredients in at the appropriate time, yet it didn’t turn out like yours.” I continued, “I don’t know how you do it Guruji? How you always make the most amazing meals.” He listened intently and then as was his custom he took his opportunity to share the lesson of the hour. He said, “I never talk socially when I cook. I always chant mantras and you do not. This is the difference. Food takes on the mind of the one that is cooking. Mantras quiet the mind and that tranquility is absorbed by the food.” Here it was, Guruji’s secret to creating an incredible meal.
Luminous Soul Lesson
In order to make a delicious meal one needs the skill of how and when to combine the food elements, and most importantly one needs an attentive and quiet mind to guide that cooking process. When we chant or listen to mantras while we cook, our mind becomes focused, energized and peaceful.
To understand Guruji’s teaching, think of the sutra metaphor – to grasp a single sutra one needs to see its application play out in many other sutras and vice versa. Our sutra here is a yummy dahl or potato dish and the fulfillment of its aim is found when we properly engage the simple act of cooking. Through cooking a meal Guruji was able not only to teach us how to prepare food and nourish ourselves, but also that any action we take will absorb the vibration of the mind of the one who performs it. When the mind is thoughtless and quiet then your real nature shines. This quiet is aided through chanting or listening to mantras. When the mind is quiet and attentive then all the meals of your life will bring great nourishment to you and to others.
Sanskrit Studies Mantra & Meditation Exercise
A. Close your eyes and sit quietly for a few minutes in silence. Afterwards open your eyes and note in a journal the quality of your mind.
B. Then begin again after sitting for a moment, start chanting the Mangala Mantra (see below). Chant the mantra with the conscious intent that all beings everywhere be happy and free – Repeat the mantra successively for two minutes. Then sit quietly for five minutes in thoughtless motionless contemplation.
Afterwards open your eyes and note in a journal the quality of your mind and the vibration in the space within and around you. Ask yourself does chanting a mantra affect my meditation practice. If so how? Describe.
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
May all beings everywhere be happy and free.
Note: Invoke this mantra to quiet the mind and heart. Chant this mantra while cooking in order to bring a tranquil vibration into the food.
© 2014 Luminous Soul/Sanskrit Studies & Manorama