There’s been an explosion in my garden--a bursting forth of huge green leaves, and the lush tangle of vines. The small, delicate blossoms bring the promise edible delights, and the sweet curve of pea pods dangle abundantly around me. Every year at this time I am in continual amazement. I sprinkle a few little seeds in the ground, and the earth gives them back to me, a hundredfold. I take these greens and fruits into my body, and somehow they are transformed by the Agni (fire) within me into prana that moves through me into the world. I offer these fruits to others-- as action, as ideas, as song, as teaching, as attention, and love. It’s a beautiful cycle of receiving and giving.
There’s a Hindu prayer that is often said before a meal. It comes from the fourth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, and it’s actually about sacrifice. The word “sacrifice” comes from the same root as “sacred,” and it has to do with making something holy. It is an offering of oneself to God. Food partaken in this way becomes Prasad (consecrated offering), and eating is lifted into a new realm of experience. Here is the prayer:
Brahmaagnau Brahmanaa Hutam
Brahmaiva Tena Gantavyam
Brahma Karma Samaadhinaha
The act of offering is Brahman. The offering itself is Brahman. The offering is done by Brahman in the sacred fire which is Brahman. He alone attains Brahman who, in all actions, is fully absorbed in Brahman.
Aham Vaishvaanaro Bhutva
Praanaapaana Samaa Yuktaha
Pachaamyannam Chatur Vidam
This verse is a sort of acknowledgement and assurance to us from Brahman: "I am Vaishnavara, existing as fire God in the bodies of living beings. Being associated with ingoing (prana) and outgoing (apaana) life breaths, I will digest all the four different types of food (that which we bite and chew; that which we masticate with the tongue; those which we gulp; that which we swallow) and purify them."
Harir Daatha Harir Bhoktha
Harir Annam Prajaapatih
Harir Vipra Shareerastu
Bhoonkte Bhojayathe Harih.
Oh Lord Hari, You are the food, You are the enjoyer of the food, You are the giver of food. Therefore, I offer all that I consume at Thy Lotus Feet.
The first two lines of the mantra remind us that, as we take in our food, the food itself is part of Brahman, the unmanifest primordial essence that lies behind form. And, the fire in which you offer the food (the sacrificial fire of your hunger, your desire, your digestive system) is part of Brahman, too. You are feeding Brahman into Brahman.
And since YOU are also Brahman, when you partake of the food, you are actually offering it to Brahman. So, it’s Brahman pouring Brahman into Brahman. There isn’t anything that isn’t God. As Ram Dass writes:
So, it turns out that you are Brahman feeding Brahman to the fire of Brahman and offering it to Brahman—which means nothing is happening at all. See? The whole thing is an illusion—it’s all Brahman playing with Brahman. It’s all the play of the Lord, it’s all Divine Lila. And you thought you were just going to eat a meal!
Another way of thinking about this, from a different spiritual perspective , is the concept of “interbeing”, as taught by the Vietnamese Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh. Interbeing is a word that he coined which speaks of the interconnectedness of everything in the universe. A plate of food can be a portal into the understanding of this web of life, if we practice looking deeply, with awareness and gratitude.
A few years ago, I wrote and recorded a song called "Many Hands" that was inspired by these teachings, and I offer you here are the lyrics to the song. I am honored to say that Thich Nhat Hanh’s publisher, Parallax Press, has recently included this song in a book and CD for children entitled Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children. The song is also available for download through iTunes. Enjoy!
On this plate there are many hands
The hands that sowed the seeds, the hands that plowed the land
The hands that worked the harvest, and brought it to the stands
Yes, on this plate are many hands
In this bowl are sun and rain and air,
The garden soil and all the tiny creatures that live there
The delicate balance of beings great and small
Yes, in this little bowl we have them all
In this meal are many hearts and souls
Some may be our families who served it in our bowls
Some may be migrant workers whom we will never know
who can’t afford to buy the food they grow
In this room there are many hands
Let’s join them all together in a circle, if we can
And in this sacred silence, let there be gratitude
for the many hearts and hands that made this food
©2003 In the Moment Productions, lyrics and music by Jody Kessler