Sadhana is being present with everything we do, especially in the kitchen – the most sacred space in every home. It’s where there’s the greatest opportunity for daily nourishment and blessings.
“Make your kitchen into a sacred sanctuary. The practice of ahimsa (non-violence) leads us to inner harmony.” [Maya Tiwari]
The Upanishads are an ancient set of yogic teachings dating back hundreds of years. The Sanskrit word ‘upanishad’ means ‘to sit at the feet of’ which I find such an evocative image for receiving spiritual teachings. Whenever I read or hear the word upanishad I have this beautiful image spring up in my mind of a group of humble students sitting underneath the shelter of a large, noble tree receiving teachings from their holy guru. My favourite verse from the Upanishads offers a teaching about the value of all beings. It states that, “the vital force which is this material universe and all it contains is equal to an ant or an elephant.” All living things are animated by prana, the life force of universal energy. They are as necessary and valuable as all others.
We can compare this reverent attitude towards animals and the Earth herself found in Eastern literature with the modern-day image and attitude we find projected onto animals in the arts or on television. Mostly we are taught that animals are something to be used and that they are ‘less than’ human.
Underpinning our society’s ideas and perceptions about the value of animals is a system that says, ‘we are better’. However, we can see through many examples that we are the problem. I offer this insight to encourage you to think about your relationship to animals as food. Factory farming and the horrors of animal abuse for food production sees animals as ours to be used. The practices of sadhana cannot sit in alignment with this attitude. If we wish to practise sadhana in action, one key step is vegetarian or vegan diet.
Eating is remembering
My Ayurveda teacher Maya Tiwari (Mother Maya) says, “Food is memory – eating is remembering.” For years this statement puzzled me. What do we remember? In time, I came to understand that part of what we remember is our ancestral lineage. And also that food connects culture and family. The importance of this is enormous in our communities, especially if the food is pure in nature and prepared with love.
But ‘eating is remembering’ actually means much more than that. It is a teaching which points to the memory that an acorn has to become an oak tree. Or the memory a baby has to inhale as she is born. When we eat wholesome and sattvic (pure) food we remember who we really are – compassionate beings born to be of service. We are custodians of the land and sky, and, as such, implicitly caretakers.
When we prepare food with loving awareness, we enhance the positive vibrations of the bounty Nature has provided and remember our symbiotic connection to Mother Earth. In the practice of food sadhana, we are awed by Nature’s intelligence. We learn and improve our inner medicine capacity for healing ourselves and maintaining balance on the planet.
Sadhana practices see us in the kitchen grinding spices and kneading bread, while chanting a healing mantra, building a devotional space and offering prayers and gratitude. These are not new ideas, but they may not be part of your current rituals and routines.
Sadhana is being present with everything we do, especially in the kitchen –the most sacred space in every home – considered as such because the greatest opportunity for blessings and nourishment can happen there several times each and every day. We are taught to use our hands (according to Ayurveda the five elements course through our hands to each of our fingertips) to measure our food out. One handful of rice, for example, is called an ‘anjali’. We also use our hands to knead and grind and prepare food so that the process of cooking is an all-sensory experience that connects us deeply to the food source itself. This is very different from unpacking something wrapped in plastic and putting it in a microwave! The sadhana kitchen minimises the use of equipment as much as possible.
Another reason that we avoid using unnecessary electronics and electrical energy is that it can easily tamper with the core vibration and energetic configuration (tanmatra) of Nature’s food.
What we do use are pots and utensils made of stone, straw, wood, crystal, brass and copper to remind us that these majestic materials are produced by the earth. Cooking with them ‘grounds’ our food, maintaining the connection with the source of food as coming from the earth. Using implements or kitchen items handed down through the family line is precious. Like our ancestors, we grow into reverence for the infinite number of gifts Mother Earth provides us.In this way, food preparation first becomes an offering to Mother Earth. This awareness sets the tone for investing our good and loving energy into the food. Food prepared the sadhana way teaches us how to live simply and love completely.
Sadhana is a universal prayer
When we approach the sanctuary of our kitchen, our very being becomes a sankalpa – a prayer. In our kitchens we can set an intention to heal the farmers, the land, the sky, water, air. To heal everything and everyone.
Sadhana is central to the principle of ahimsa. In an ayurvedic lifestyle we live with the seasons, close to the earth, aware of the well-being of all of Nature’s creatures that surround us. Sadhana teaches us that wholesome food is the birthright of every person, animal, and tree. And that human beings are caretakers for that birthright (although many of us have lost full connection to this). Healthy food created from the action of sadhana creates a healing body and serene mind.
Simplify your palette
Part of the process of seeing food as sadhana is simplifying our palettes. We’ve become used to a rich array of multi-cultural and multi-ingredient cuisine. While that can be fun occasionally, it is bad for digestive health. It also can rob us of the joy of simple food.
There is magic in food prepared with care, love and respect. This also brings to mind the stories of Srila Prabupada when he first arrived in America in the 1960s as a penniless elderly man to spread the teachings of Krishna consciousness. One of the first things he did was to personally prepare the vegetarian Sunday feasts for his followers. Can you imagine how sweet that prasad (blessed food) must have tasted! These days millions of meals are served every Sunday at Krishna temples all over the world, from the seeds sown in that humble beginning and a desire to share the power and sustenance of blessed food.
Setting up your kitchen in sadhana
Here are some guidelines for simplifying your kitchen, in line with the protocols of Ayurveda and sadhana :
- Have a sharp knife. An ancient vedic teaching suggests a sharp knife in the kitchen is not only good for preparing food, but also for cutting through negative emotions and frustration. It fills the food with love.
- Avoid lots of what my teacher Mother Maya calls ‘gizmos and gadgets’. Keep your kitchen clutter free. From the utensils, pots and pans and crockery you do have, choose the best quality and those that make your heart sing. Most of the kitchen items I treasure I either found in charity op-shops or received as a gift. My two favourite items are my mother-in-law’s mortar and pestle, and a hand coffee/spice grinder that was handed down from my great-grandmother, who lived in the Austrian Tyrol.
- When you are making big batches, or doing physical jobs like kneading and grinding, if the mood takes you place a colourful cloth on the floor and work on the earth. Even better, go outside for this work. Connection to the earth connects us to our food in a special and unique way. Also squatting while working in this way is good for your health and hips!
- You could chant as you prepare food, or play gentle chant music in your kitchen. Keep your kitchen clean and ordered. Offer a small amount of food to God once you have prepared it. Before you eat it yourself or serve it to others. If you can, have a small sacred space with a tiny bowl and a candle in order to do this offering. You can say a blessing at this time, and/or later, when you serve the food.
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