Eat Your Way to Wisdom

Naughty Krishna holding a piece of candy

One afternoon in the 70s or 80s, I wandered from shelf to shelf in a bookstore in Paris’s Latin Quarter. The sound of the cars outside on the Boulevard Saint Michel drifted through the door, and the thin subtle smell of books lingered around the shelves.

Soon I came upon a book of proverbs from around the world. “Interesting,” I thought. So I bought it, took it home, and began reading it.

A certain proverb from Mongolia caught my eye: “The wise man talks about what he sees and hears; the fool talks about what he eats and drinks.”

I laid the open book on a table, leaned back in my chair, and looked up at my wall and the picture of Lord Krishna  playing with a parrot. “That’s a good proverb to remember,” I thought.

At that time, I worked as an accountant for a company in Paris. Now all employees in France have the right to a month’s vacation every year. Really. A whole month. And with pay.  So when summer came, my co-workers disappeared, one by one, and came back a month later.

Me too. I waved bye-bye to my accounting journals and bank statements and disappeared for a month.

But during the times when I sat there and scratched numbers in the debit and credit colums, I heard the same conversation repeated over and over again. And I would laugh under my breath.

“How was your vacation?”

“Oh, it was wonderful. The first night, we ate [this]. The second night, we ate [that]. The third night, we ate [this].”

And on and on it went. A gulp-by-gulp account of every leaf of lettuce and spoonful of gravy the person had ingested during the month. And I would remember my Mongolian proverb: “The fool talks about what he eats and drinks.”

My dear co-worker, did you go on vacation just to eat? Then why bother going anywhere? With the money you save by not traveling, you could dine at the finest restaurants in Paris. Makes more sense, doesn’t it?

Want to try something posh? Why not go all the way upscale to Maxim’s? Yes, and thrill your tongue with the same steak and wine-marinated rooster and baked snails as on the plates of the visiting kings and queens at the tables around you.

But fine dining has its cost. Money, of course, but karma too. Srimad Bhagavatam tells us:

O ruler of the citizens, my dear King, please see in the sky those animals which you have sacrificed, without compassion and without mercy, in the sacrificial arena. All these animals are awaiting your death so that they can avenge the injuries you have inflicted upon them. After you die, they will angrily pierce your body with iron horns.(4.25.7-8)

Srila Prabhupada explains:

“Such punishment of animal killers may take place under the jurisdiction of Yamaraja [the lord of death] on [his] planet. In other words, one who kills an animal or who eats meat undoubtedly acquires a debt to the living entity who has contributed his body. …

The meat-eater must pay his debt by contributing his own body to be consumed in the next life.

“But I don’t kill the animal,” you say as you sprinkle a little black pepper on your forkful of steak.  “I simply take part in a food chain.”

But what does Srila Prabhupada say about it? He continues:

When animals are killed in a slaughterhouse, six people … are responsible for the murder:

-the person who gives permission for the killing,
-the person who kills,
-the person who helps,
-the person who purchases the meat,
-the person who cooks the flesh, and
-the person who eats it.

“Oh yeah?” you say as you guzzle down some champagne to help your digestion. “Vegetarians have to kill plants. Doesn’t that also count as killing? Huh? So where do you get off talking so high and mighty?”

Srila Prabhupada answers:

Sometimes the question is put before us: ‘You ask us not to eat meat, but you are eating vegetables. Do you think that is not violence?’The answer is that eating vegetables is violence, and vegetarians are also committing violence against other living entities because vegetables also have life….

But here, significantly, it is stated that every living entity has to live by killing another entity; that is the law of nature. Jivo jivasya jivanam: one living entity is the life [food] for another living entity. But for a human being, that violence should be committed only as much as necessary.

“Just wait a minute,” you say. “So I can’t eat animals and I can’t eat plants. What am I supposed to do? Eat air?”

Prabhupada answers:

“A human being is not to eat anything which is not offered to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Yajna-sistasinah santah: one becomes freed from all sinful reactions by eating foodstuffs which are offered to Yajna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. (3.29.15)

“O.K.”  you say. “Then I’ll just offer my steak to God.”

Prabhupada continues:

A devotee therefore eats only prasada, or foodstuffs offered to the Supreme Lord, and Krsna says that when a devotee offers Him foodstuffs from the vegetable kingdom, with devotion, He eats that. …

If the Supreme Lord wanted foodstuffs prepared from animal food, the devotee could offer this, but He [Krishna] does not order [us] to do that.We have to commit violence; that is a natural law. We should not, however, commit violence extravagantly, but only as much as ordered by the Lord.”

“All right, All right,” you say. “So I should be a vegetarian. Enough already! I don’t want to spend the rest of my life living on bread crumbs and lettuce. Now go away and let me enjoy my steak.”

Ah, my dear co-worker, but who ever said you have to live on bread crumbs and lettuce? Just put your fork down for a minute and push your plate away from you. Take the napkin and wipe your mouth.

I’ll light some sandalwood incense to drive away the meat smell. Now listen to me.

How many kinds of vegetables can we find? Has anyone ever counted?

How many kinds of fruit? How many kinds of grain? Of spices?

Think of all the combinations. Now add the things you can do with milk: fresh cream, sour cream, yogurt, butter, ghee. And the different kinds of sugar.  The possibilities stagger the imagination.

It goes into the hundreds  and, I have been told, even the thousands. I have gone to vegetarian feasts with so many different dishes I could not even sample them all.

Now come close and I will whisper a secret that only vegetarians understand. Ready? OK. When you give up meat, not only do you lose the taste for it, but you begin to hate the smell of it, even the sight of it. Yes. The human nose in its natural state spurns the odor of rotting flesh. The tongue spurns the taste.

So now, my dear co-worker, do you still want to talk about what you eat and drink? Then throw away the bad and offer the good stuff to Krishna. Don’t know how? Well you can always talk to Krishna because he lives in your heart. He says so in the Bhagavad-Gita:

I am seated in everyone’s heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness.

So if you don’t have an altar and don’t know the procedure, just ask Krishna to accept the food before you eat it. And no book of proverbs can call you a fool then, because you’ll talk about what Krishna eats. And that’s wisdom.

—Umapati Swami, May 10, 2023

Eternally touching my head to the floor at the lotus feet of my spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, for showing me all this.

(Note: The opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any organization or any other person.)

Photo top: Naughty Krishna holding a piece of candy (Jishnu Das)

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© Umapati Swami 2023

Srila Prabhupada

His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is the teacher who brought Krishna Consciousness from India to the West and then to the rest of the world. He is the founder of the worldwide Hare Krishna Movement as well as the author and compiler of many works of Vedic knowledge. He left this world in 1977.

Umapati Swami

One of the first American devotees of the Hare Krishna Movement, he became Srila Prabhupada’s disciple in 1966. Since then, he has preached Krishna Consciousness in many countries and is the author of “My Days with Prabhupada,” available from Amazon. Now 86 years old, he has started this blog to share what he has learned.

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