Feeding the real hunger
One of the main problems of life we all face is filling our bellies. We have to eat and this hard fact forces most of us out of bed and off to work every day. However, while almost a billion people worldwide are struggling to solve the eating problem and are suffering malnutrition, here in the affluent West many of us have found a new predicament in the shape of too much food. Eating disorders and obesity are reaching epidemic levels in today’s society. Here in the UK obesity causes 30,000 deaths and is estimated to cost as much as seven and a half billion pounds each year. In the US some 25 million suffer from binge eating, while 11 million have anorexia or bulimia.
There is no medical cure for these problems although plenty of supposed treatments are touted by those hoping to make a fast buck. Millions of our hard earned pounds are spent on largely useless diet pills, slimming drinks and even hypnosis, as growing numbers of people grapple with their expanding waistlines. As a last resort there is the more drastic recourse of liposuction, another burgeoning industry cashing in on our desire to have that perfect beach body in spite of our excesses.
Although for the most part remedies promising rapid weight loss serve to lighten only your pocket, it seems something has arrived that actually works. Called the Mandometer, this device measures the type and amount of different foods you require and with its friendly electronic voice lets you know when you are eating too fast and exceeding those amounts. Its makers claim a seventy five percent success rate.
Good news for those of us addicted to food, which is hard to kick. Food is often sought as comfort amid the stress and strain of modern life, and this is not about to vanish anytime soon. Or we may binge due to the impulsion of traumas inflicted on us in childhood, which again are difficult to overcome.
Many of us occasionally glut out, of course, whether or not we have a recognized disorder. Eating is one of life’s pleasures that we all enjoy, but Vedic wisdom tells us that it is a material attachment. Dysfunctional or not, the pleasure of eating helps to keep us in the bodily concept of life, an awkward condition that lies at the root of all our problems.
Although we are spiritual beings, when we forget this fact we identify with the material body. As we wish to enjoy and be happy we naturally try to please the body and mind, as this is what we think we are. But by grasping such pleasures, immersing ourselves in bodily feelings, we also have to accept the pains that inevitably afflict all material bodies. It is the other side of the coin. The consequences of overeating are just one example of those bodily afflictions.
Vedic sages therefore recommend detachment from the body and its attendant pleasures. But that brings us back to our original dilemma, how to stop doing something we really enjoy? Or that is providing us comfort in a harsh time of suffering. To this the sages respond by suggesting that there is a far greater pleasure to be had than anything offered by worldly enjoyment.
The great contemporary sage, Srila Prabhupada, writes in his Srimad Bhagavatam that we are “misrepresented by material hunger.” He goes on to say, “The whole material world is full of hungry living beings. The hunger is not for good food, shelter or sense gratification. The hunger is for the spiritual atmosphere.”
In other words, as spiritual beings it is only spiritual pleasure that can truly satisfy us. Material hunger, whether for food or anything else, is only a symptom of the deeper longing of the soul. This hankering is for the unlimited ecstasy that is found when we unite with the Supreme.
In Vedic parlance this sublime and ever-increasing pleasure is known as the “higher taste”. One who has tasted this sees all material enjoyment as pale by comparison. No matter how much enjoyment we may get from food it has its limits, as does the amount of it we are able to imbibe without incurring painful side effects. But we can actually experience blissful ‘side effects’ if we spiritualise our food by offering it to God. By consuming reasonable quantities of such nutritious, tasty vegetarian food, known as prasadam, we can be both physically and spiritually healthy.
Spiritual enjoyment is an experience beyond the body and even the material mind; the pure spirit connecting in love with the ocean of divine bliss that is God. We need only chant His names, especially the Hare Krishna mantra, and take prasadam to begin experiencing that ecstasy.
Stick to that regime for a while and watch every addiction, dysfunction, stress and misery gradually start to melt away. And the mandometer? Well, maybe it can be reprogrammed to remind us from time to time who we really are.