The Mahaprasad or ‘the Great Favour’ I


Eating is supposed to be a physical or mundane affair and to have no connection with the soul. I set forth below certain considerations that underlie this ordinary view regarding eating.

We eat to live. It is necessary to take the proper quality and quantity of food in order to remain in sound health and have strength of body and mind. A sound mind in a sound body enables us to perform our duties in the proper manner in this world. It is of course not possible to be strong and healthy by mere regulation of the diet. Other factors e.g. temperate and regular habits, cheerfulness of mind etc. etc. are also involved. The whole matter belongs to the jurisdiction of the medical science. We expect to be healthy and strong by obeying the principles of that science. The medical science itself is a codification of the experience of the race confirmed and elaborated by experiments. But its theories are constantly changing and much more rapidly than probably those of any other science. It may, therefore, be described as at once the most progressive and the least satisfactory of the sciences.

The researches of medical science have failed to find out the real nature of the vital principle in terms of material causation. Our mind understands nothing but matter. It, therefore, takes it for granted that life is the result of material conditions and then proceeds to find out those conditions with the help of experience, observation and experiment. It similarly tries to find out the cause of diseased and healthy states of the body and mind. But it has failed utterly to find any causal connection between the material conditions of the body and the states of health and disease. It has failed to find out the material cause of birth, death and life.

We may therefore, pertinently enough ask, “Why are we required to place any reliance on the medical science at all?” A diseased person naturally seeks relief. Medical science contains our experience on the subject of disease and its proper treatment. If we are to attempt to render any help at all to a person afflicted with disease it is reasonable to avail of such experience although it is admittedly and extremely defective. We are not even sure whether the medical science is even on the whole a help to us.

The part of the science that deals of diagnosis of disease is no less unsatisfactory than that which treats of the treatment of the disease. We do not know the relation of the medicine to the disease even when a cure is apparently effected by it. The medicine cannot be correctly administered for uncertainty as regards diagnosis. Patients are too often given the wrong medicine and even when the proper medicine is given the cure is wholly uncertain. There exist analogous uncertainties in the matter of food. The growing tendency among physicians is to leave the choice of diet to the judgement of the patient himself except in very exceptional circumstances. In the case of persons in normal state of health the scientific advice is to be guided by one’s own experience in the choice of articles of food and the method of taking it. So in regard to food at any rate one gets practically no help from science and is compelled to use his own judgement on the basis of past experience. Certain principles are found to be almost generally applicable. It is found harmful to over-eat or to eat when one is not hungry etc. etc.

Then there is the important culinary aspect. How is the food to be prepared? Is it necessary to make it palatable? On this subject opinions differ most widely.

There is another point. Does the moral disposition of a person depend on the quality of the food? This is closely connected with the religious aspect in the opinion of those who consider religion to be identical with morality.

The conclusion to which it is possible to arrive is that hunger is appeased by taking food. If food is not taken when one is hungry he feels uncomfortable and prolonged starvation is productive of disease and even death. The body is maintained and grows apparently by taking food. The growth of the body is accompanied by the development of the mind. A sound body appears to be a necessary condition for the existence of a sound mind. One who is anxious for the well-being of the mind cannot ignore the body. One who confounds the soul with the mind cannot ignore these apparent needs of the body. Empiricism which does not admit the existence of a soul apart from the mind should not, therefore regard eating as irrelevant or unimportant in the practice of religion which according to it aims at securing the welfare of the mind. But although he may be compelled by logical necessity to admit the importance of the subject of eating the empiricist has not been able to find out any definite principle for the regulation of taking food in such manner as to be beneficial for the mind in all cases. The mind is uncontrollable like the wind and defies all the efforts of empiric thinkers for its spiritual reform. The empiric speculations on this as on every other subject are thus found to end in describing the proverbial vicious circle which terminates after a long sojourn at the point from where the start was made and make us no wiser than we were.

The proved futility of all empiric effort for the ascertainment of the truth should incline us if only for this negative reason to lend our ear to the representations of the transcendentalists. Let us assume that the soul has a real existence and that it is categorically different from the body and the mind. Then let us hear what the transcendentalists have to say in answer to such questions as the following. Is the soul benefited by eating? Are the activities of the body and mind of any concern to the soul? Is a strong and healthy body or a sound mind undesirable?

The transcendentalist looks at the whole question from an altogether different point of view. He declares that all jivas in the state of bondage to the Illusory power live only to eat, sleep and gratify other needs of the body through the mechanism of the mind. There is and can be no other purpose of life regulated by the mental speculations. All mental speculation has its root and its termination in the pursuit of material needs which is regarded by the mentalist as identical with spiritual activity. As a matter of fact it is not possible for the mind to conceive of anything else except the tangible, gross physical body in terms of its relations with the mundane world of which it is a constituent part. The Soul as categorically different from matter cannot be a subject of empiric thought. Matter in the subtle form of thought is the condition of the substantive existence of the mind. Mind is the producer of thought which is only a subtle form of matter and the complement of its gross form. The conscious principle itself is incapable of being the substance of mental thought. The mind has no idea of an immaterial, conscious, eternal principle except by way of abstraction or denial of the positive aspect of matter and material thought. The spiritual claims of the abstractist is the hollow vanity of a rabid obscurantism absurdly proud of his utter ignorance. As the soul does not practically exist there can be and is no duty towards it. This is the true position of all bound jivas who identify themselves with the mind and body.

But can a rational being be really satisfied with an ideal of life consisting exclusively of the perishable and mechanical activities of eating drinking sleeping etc. etc.? It is no doubt fashionable to say ‘No’. But there are very few persons, indeed, who according to the view set forth above are capable of doing anything else. In order to avoid making a confession of this unpleasant fact even to themselves they turn abstractist or denialists. They maintain that there exists an undefinable and inexpressible sphere of spiritual activities which are not material but mental. This is of course, self contradictory. A mental activity should be fully capable of being described in terms of matter as the two are really identical. But as the generality of cultured mentalists consciously or unconsciously belong to the class of denialists they affect to be surprised when they are asked to believe that the act of taking food can and ought to be no less a spiritual function than any other form of activity. If it be possible to prove really that eating is incapable of being a spiritual function then it should be impossible by parity of argument to prove that any activity can be spiritual. This is, in fact, the conclusion to which all mentalists needs must to be driven by the pitiless force of their own logic. If they look down upon eating, drinking, etc. and pretend to hold that they are not part of religion they thereby deny the principle of existence itself which is the proper definition of atheism. It is not without a very good reason that atheism has been eupheuistically termed free-thinking or thinking freed from the conditions of rationality.

The transcendentalist admits the real existence of this world as well as of the Soul. He says that the soul is not a thing of this world but has a substantive existence of its own on a different plane to which the mind has no access. The fallen soul wrongly identifying itself with the mind embarks upon a course of activities for extending the scope of mental speculation which it supposes to be its proper function. These speculations mislead the soul into the futile attempt to establish, consolidate and extend its supposed relationship with the material world. The body enables the Soul to come into apparent tangible contact with the gross physical world. The body and mind thus join in a conspiracy to prevent the Soul from realising that it has no real affinity with them or with their naturalistic or material activities. Once the soul awakes to a perception of the real truth it easily gets rid of this unnatural domination of body and mind. It now becomes the master in its turn and compels the mind and body to obey itself. Under these circumstances the mental and bodily activities of the jiva undergo a radical change and become spiritualised or dominated by the soul.

(To be continued.)