SAI BABA AND FOOD
(SHRI SAI LEELA SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 1993)

By Lt. Col. M. B. Nimbalkar (Retd.)

 

Sai Baba in His teachings had given great shocks to then current customs and beliefs. His teachings, especially those about food, were quite revolutionary and reformatory; but of course very correct and truly beneficial.

NON-VEG FOOD

In our Hindu and Jain, Buddha religions especially, there is a belief that unless one gives up eating non-vegetarian food, one cannot attain emancipation or knowledge of the Supreme Spirit. Sai Baba Himself was an emancipated soul and had full knowledge of the Supreme Spirit and was capable of giving such experiences to others. However, He not only had no objection to non-veg food; but never insisted that His devotees, used to non-veg food, should give it up. Actually, in His early days, He used to cook non-veg food Himself in a big pot and after consecrating it through a Moulvi by reciting fatia, used to send as prasad to Mhalsapati and Tatya Kote Patil before distributing to others. (Ch. 38, Shri Sai Satcharita).

There might be two reasons for this. One could be that Sai Baba for His mission of achieving unity amongst Hindus and Muslims, had adorned Muslim Fakir type of dress and style of living. Hence, accepting non-veg food was quite appropriate. Secondly, if we carefully consider the teachings of our scriptures, it will be clear that not to eat non-veg food is only one of the means to attain emancipation or knowledge of the Supreme Spirit and not a goal in itself. Most of the famous suktas in Vedas have been authored by kshatriya or warrior caste. Sages such as Vishwamitra, kings like Janaka, who were famous as Brahma-jnani or knowcr of the Supreme Spirit, were also of warrior caste and non-veg food was not taboo for them. To give up non-veg food, to avoid killing of innocent animals for the sake of one's enjoyment of tasty food or because non-veg food becomes hindrance in achieving .concentration of mind during meditation by increasing attributes of passion (Rajo-guna) and ignorance (Tamo-guna), is of course commendable.

But, to say that without avoiding non-veg food one cannot achieve emancipation or knowledge of the Supreme Spirit is not correct. Otherwise great seers, like Mohammed Paigamber and Jesus Christ in other religions, where non-veg food is normally consumed, would not have been born at all. Moreover in India, do those castes and communities do not take non-vcg food, do so because they believe in the principle of .non-injury or not to allow the attributes of passions and ignorance to increase? They are vegetarians; because it is customary in their castes for generations, not to eat non-veg food. These persons have never tasted non-veg food; and hence they have disgust or aversion to such food. However, now-a-days, young men and women of these castes, having tasted it, have started enjoying it in restaurants and hotels. Similarly, amongst those having vegetarian food also, fried items, full of pepper and condiments and difficult to digest sweets, although adhering to the principle of non-injury, do tend to increase attributes of passion and ignorance, which arc obstacles for concentration in meditation.

In fact, as a person progresses in his sadhana, his attraction for non-veg and rich food automatically gets dwindled and is ultimately lost permanently. Just because one gives up eating meat, fish and eggs as a result of attending bhajun-melas or visiting temples in old age, he does not attend eminence amongst the sadhakas. On one side to give up non-veg food and on the other side to get upset and get tempted looking at such food or to eat heavy and rich veg food or in business dealings not to hesitate to rob or cheat a person or to drive away even by hitting cows and buffalos or birds! Isn't such vegetarianism useless?

Sai Baba's ideas must be on the same lines probably. That is why He never advised His devotees to give up non-veg food. Sometimes jokingly as in Ch. 38, He used to ask an orthodox Brahmin, like Dada Kelkar to go and buy mutton from the market or as in Ch. 23, His order to His great Brahmin devotee Kakasaheb Dixit to kill a goat with a knife.

But, this was only to test their readiness to execute, whatever order given by Him, their Guru; and, therefore, before the person started acting, He used to stop them. Similarly, to the devotees, in whose religion or caste only veg-food, was in vogue, He never tempted or encouraged to eat non-veg food. Baba's method of resisting His devotees from eating non-veg food was quite different and unique. He oft and on used to tell His devotees that He was present in every creature, moving about. In Ch. 9 to Mrs. Tarkhad He said,

"The dog, which you saw before meals and to which you gave the piece of bread, is one with Me; so, also the other creatures (cats, pigs, flies, cows etc.) are one with Me. I am roaming in their forms. He, who sees Me in all these creatures, is my beloved. So, abandon the sense of duality and distinction and serve Me as you did today."

Once, one is thoroughly convinced of this idea, who will dare to eat non-veg food? Will it not be given up automatically? Thus, Sai Baba also preached 'non­violence' in food, but in a very realistic, practical and tactful manner.

ONION

What applies to non-veg food also applies to onion. Sai Baba, Himself, used to eat onion with bread daily and did not like anybody expressing disgust towards it or not eating it; because of its bad smell. His incidents of teasing and ridiculing Dada Kelkar, Das Ganu and Kusha Bhau are well-known. He also once surprised a student of yoga by eating bread and onion in front of him and later gave a proof to him of His Super Yogic Powers. As if Sai Baba wanted to tell people that.because of baseless customs and beliefs, you are depriving yourself of onion and garlic, which are greatly praised by the ayurveda (Indian medical science) and are excellent health-giving foods. Isn't the poor and hard-working farmer able to perform labourous task of ploughing his field by eating bread and onion only? If a person faints, a crushed onion is the quickest and simplest first-aid in the far off villages. Recently, the western countries, after research, have declared garlic as excellent cure for heart disease and high blood pressure and since then we Indians have started buying costly tablets (Lasona) containing essence of garlic.

FASTING

Other important advice of Sai Baba concerning food was that of fasting. Sai Baba never kept a fast Himself, nor did He allow others to do so. In Ch. 32, Mrs. Gokhale wanted to keep a fast for 3 days at Shirdi; but Baba asked her to go to Dada Kelkar's house to cook, as Kaka's wife was in menses and not permitted by custom to cook. Further, He not only ordered her to feed Kaka and his family members with sumptuous and delicious 'puran polies' (sweet-stuffed breads) but asked her to feed herself also to heart's content by giving up the fast. Baba used to say :

"The mind of the person fasting is never at ease, then how could attain the Paramartha (goal of life)? God is not attained on an empty stomach; first the soul has to be appeased. In short, when all organs get their proper nutrition and are sound, we can practise devotion and other sadhanas to attain God.

Therefore, neither fasting nor over-eating is good. Moderation in diet is really wholesome both to the body and mind." (Ch. 32, P. 177-178, Shri Sai Satcharita)

Also in Ch. 19, Baba persuaded Mrs. Radhabai Deshmukh, who had determined to remain without food and water unto death so long as Baba did not give her Upadesh Mantra, to give it up and narrating His own experience with His Guru, explained to her a simplest method of achieving oneness in the God -"You,look at Me and I look at you."

The Sanskrit word for fasting is 'Up + vaas', which means seat near. Since the fasting is done for religious purposes, it means seating near God. In other words on that day one has to think and act with pure mind and meditate on God's form. But, we hardly do this. On the contrary, on that day since we continue to attend to our normal secular business and other duties, we also continue to indulge in immoral activities such as telling lies, cheating others etc. There are many methods of observing fast, narrated in our religious books. But, at present the following methods are in vogue:

(i) To accept only fruits and milk avoiding meals both by day and night.

(ii) To accept only fruits and milk by day and eat the meal after sunset.

iii) To eat the meal once by day and accept only fruits and milk at night.

But, do we observe these also correctly? Whatever you eat during fasting days must be in small quantities. The idea is to give rest to our digestive system. But, instead, what do we do? Fruits we hardly eat. But, other so called permitted items we eat in full and a number of times. One meal also, which we eat, is not only over-eaten; but is also extra rich, The result is indigestion. Thus there is neither any religious nor health benefit. Sai Baba probably had realised this and that is why He stopped His devotees from observing such fasts in the name of religion.

NOT TO DISREGARD OFFERS OF FOOD

Sai Baba advised that while going out for some job, if it is meal time, do not go out on empty stomach, disregarding any offer of food. On the contrary it should be regarded as auspicious sign of success. Moreover there is also a strong reason for this. To do any job perfectly, one requires energy, which can only be acquired by eating food. Secondly, refusing something offered by somebody lovingly, means hurting that person's feelings, which is certainly not a proper mood, while going out for an important task. In Ch. 32, Sai Baba has narrated His own experience as to how He and His companions lost their way in the woods because they disregarded the Vanjari's offer of food and guidance. However, later, when Sai Baba accepted the Vanjari's food and guidance, He was able to carry out the quest successfully. Similarly, in Ch. 33, Appasaheb Kulkarni was not able to find the Fakir, when he rushed out of home in hurry without his meals. However, later when after taking his meals, he strolled out with his friend, the Fakir Himself was seen approaching him and demanding dakshina.

NEVER EAT ANYTHING WITHOUT SHARING IT WITH OTHERS

In Ch. 24, Sai Baba has conveyed this principle very effectively by making fun of Annasaheb Dabholkar, the author of Shri Sai Satcharita, when some grains of gram were seen stuck in the folds of his coat's sleeve. Sai Baba further explained that, when no person or animal is present nearly, one should offer it to Baba by remembering Him. This will result in the devotee avoiding food, which is impure and not fit to be enjoyed. He further explained that this method should be employed not in case of the sense of taste only but in case of all senses viz. sight," touch etc. also.

To illustrate this, Hemadpant in the same Chapter, has narrated the story of Sudama - a co-student of Shri Krishna and Balaram in the ashram of their Guru Sandipani. Once when these students were collecting firewood in the forest, Krishna was thirsty and asked for some water. Sudama advised him not to drink water without eating something. Shri Krishna, therefore, rested his head on Sudama's lap and slept. After sometime Shri Krishna woke up and heard Sudama chewing something. Shri Krishna asked Sudama as to what he was eating. But, Sudama, although he was eating grams, told Shri Krishna a lie that he was not eating anything; but his teeth were chattering because of cold. Later, as a result of this, Sudama, although a churn of Lord Krishna, had to pass his life in utter poverty.

However, when he later offered Shri Krishna a handful of parched rice, earned by his wife with her own labour, Shri Krishna was pleased and gave him a golden mansion to live and enjoy.

Baba Himself never ate anything without sharing it with others. Everyday He used to go out begging and whatever food was collected. He used to place it in the earthen bowl in the Masjid. Some beggars used to pinch 3-4 breads and dogs and birds used to eat out of it; but Baba never drove them away. Whenever any devotee offered Him fruits and richly cooked food, He hardly tasted it and distributed amongst the devotees present. Every afternoon, when in the Dwarkamai, the meal was served and ready to cat, Baba used to call out for Bade Baba (a Fakir from Malegaon) and used to make him seat next to Him on His left respectfully as an honoured guest. Not only this, but after the meal, Baba used to pay him Rs. 50 as dakshina and walk with him upto 100 paces to see him off.

In the Taittiriya Upanishad, Anuvak 11, it is slated 'Atithi Devo Bhava1 (May the guest be, to thee, a God). In Bhagvat Geeta also Shri Krishna in Ch. 3, says, Yadnyashishtashinaha santo muchyante sarvakilbishaih | Bhujjate te twagham papa ye pachantyatmakaranaat ||13|| (The virtuous, who partake of what is left after sacrifice, are absolved of all sins. The sinful ones, who only cook and eat for themselves eat only sin.) Thus Sai Baba taught this principle of not partaking any food without sharing with others both by precept and example very effectively.

'Atithi' (guest) literally means'without date'. Hence a guest in the above context should mean, one, who appears unexpectedly and stays not more than one day or date. In the present days of towering prices and food rationing, therefore, this meaning would have to be borne in mind to ensure that an unwanted and persisting person docs not take advantage of our generous nature.

CHARITY OF FOOD

Last, but an important advice about food, given by Baba, is about charity :

"Different sadhanas (means of accomplishments) are prescribed in our scriptures for different Ages. Tapa (penance) is recommended for Krita Age, Jnana (knowledge) for Treta Age, Yajna (sacrifice) for Dwapara Age and Dana (charity) for Kali (present) Age. Of all the kinds of charities, giving food is the best one. We are much perturbed, when we get no food at noon. Other beings feel similarly under similar circumstances. Knowing this, he, who gives food to the poor and hungry, is the best donar or charitable person. The Taittiriya Upanishad says that "Food is Brahma, from food all the creatures are born and having been born by food they live and having departed into food they again enter." Other kinds of charities viz. giving away wealth, property, clothes etc. require some discrimination; but in the matter of food, no such consideration is necessary. Let anybody come to our door at noon, he should be served forthwith; and if lame, crippled, blind and diseased paupers come, they should be fed first and the able-bodied persons and our relations afterwards." (Ch. 38, P. 208-209)

We remember, how in Ch. 9, Sai Baba expressed His great pleasure, when Mrs. Tarkhad fed a hungry dog during her meal lime. He further said,

"Ever act like this and this will stand you in good stead. First give bread to the hungry and then eat yourself!" (P. 55, Shri Sai Saicharila). Similarly, we know, what Baba said to Laxmibai Shinde, who was annoyed because Baba gave the bread and vegetable, cooked urgently for Baba, to a nearby dog,

"Why do you grieve for nothing? The appeasement of the dog's hunger is the same as Mine. Though some speak and others are dumb, the hunger of all creatures is the same. Know for certain that he who feeds the hungry, really serves Me with food." (Ch. 42, P. 233)

In this regard also, Baba Himself had set an example. In early days, He on and oft used to feed the poor and helpless by cooking food Himself in big pots (Handi). He used to buy the grains and spices from bazaar and do the grinding also Himself, Later, devotees started thronging to Shirdi in large numbers and cooked food in the form of naivedya started coming in large quantities, so there was no need for cooking the food by Baba. However, He never stopped distributing this naivedya food to all and sundry. He Himself hardly tasted it.

Conclusion

Sai Baba was always practical and realistic in His advice. While eulogizing charity, He also warned not to do it in excess and become a debtor (Bhakti Leclamrit, Ch. 32, by Das Ganu Maharaj). The crux of His advice regarding food was to learn to control one's tongue and be satisfied with whatever food is served. This will not only ensure good health but also help one in one's efforts for attaining emancipation.