So, what is Brahman? Maybe, thousands of slokas in Vedas and Darshanas have been dedicated to describe the nature of Brahman. Most of our principal Upanishads are primarily about Brahman. What I mean is – it is very difficult to define it in a few sentences. But some indications can be given.
Recently scientists were searching for something called the Higgs particle, popularly known as the god particle. What led them to search for the god particle?
Everyone who has passed class VI understands the concept of electron, proton and neutron. For sometime it was thought that atoms were the basic building blocks of the universe. Then they discovered electron, proton and neutron which were the building blocks of the atoms. So it was assumed that electrons, protons and the neutrons were the final frontier. Then we discovered the sub-atomic particles like quarks. Then scientists suspected there must be something beyond quarks, or there must be a field that makes it possible for the production of quarks. So, this proverbial god particle, as of now is the final frontier of the sub atomic particles. Let us understand thus from a layman’s perspective.
However, this proverbial god particle is not Brahman. For that matter scientists are not sure if Higgs particle is the final frontier. But, if you have understood the concept of god particle you have some what come nearer in developing the interest to understand Brahman.
But as if to simplify the nature of Brahman the ancient Rishi at one place in the Upanishads declared – Know that food is Brahman (Annam Brahmam iti byajanat). Taken out of context this statement may seem very strange.
What the ancient rishis are indicating is that whether you are a person only with worldly interests or, you are a person devoted only to spiritual pursuits, the importance of food cannot be ignored.
Suppose you have developed an intense desire to understand the nature of Brahman. Of course you know that it may take years of study and contemplation and sadhana. Now you are given this challenge. You will be locked up for one month. You are given the choice to take inside only one of the two packets which will be your companion for the entire period. Once chosen you cannot reverse it. One packet contains food for one month and another the best book on Brahman.
In Chhandogya Upanishad itself there is a story to drive home the point, even though the Chhandogya Upanishad is primarily about the the nature of Brahman. Sage Uddalaka taught his son Shwetaketu about the nature of Brahman over a period of time. During this period once he told his son not to eat anything for a period of fifteen days and sustain himself during this period only with water.
As directed, Shwetaketu did not eat for fifteen days. After that he went to his father and told, “What should I say?”
Uddalaka said, “O Radiant One, read the Vedas.”
Shwetaketu – “I cannot comprehend anything”
Uddalaka – “O Radiant One. Out of a great fire if only one piece of coal is left burning, it cannot effectively burn anything. Similarly only one sixteenth of your capacity of comprehension or expression is left out now. Hence you are not able to comprehend the Vedas. Now go and take food. You will understand what I say.”
Food is closely connected with our mind. In our culture a lot of importance has been given to the quality of food. Food has been divided into categories based on the effect they have on our mind, body , attitude and the overall quality of our consciousness. But first the quantity. We can think of quality only if we have enough quantity of sustainable food first of all.
Vedas contain a lot of hymns praying and wishing for plentiful of food and resources that help in production of food. Our national song Vande Mataram – describes our land to be sujala, sufala shasya shyamala – plentiful of water, fruits, anna, and greenery.
Other than the man made famine caused during the British rule and the subsequent after effects that caused shortage of food grain till perhaps end of the last century, we never had shortage of food grains. Historically, Bharat had been a land of plenty. In fact that was one of the reasons for its violent subjugation and later colonialization. But it is heartening to see that Bharat is once again becoming a land of plentiful food grains.
Of course the GDP crazy economist would advise to go for more industrial output even at the cost of agriculture. Even when it comes to agriculture, farmers may get tempted to go for more cash crops at the cost of anna giving crops. But, it is important that a country becomes self sufficient in production of food grains. Imagine what would have been the situation of India during the Pandemic if India were to depend upon other countries for food. The situation in some of our neighboring countries should serve as a warning to us as to what happens when we neglect anna giving agriculture at the cost of cash crops.
In ancient times the Rishis used to provide rules of conduct or dharma for both citizens and the rulers. The dharma for the rulers used to be more stringent. It is a different matter that many kings did not follow and turned tyrannic. A king was considered the worst ruler if anyone in his kingdom was forced to sleep with an empty stomach. Well, forms of governance have changed. But even in this age the same rule should be applicable as far as providing sustenance to the citizens is concerned. Some governments of the poorer states in Bharat have given priority to providing free or subsidized food at the cost of reduced budget towards development. Seen in this context this seems to be a step in right direction.
Now that we have the slight advantage of plenty, perhaps it is time to discuss about the qualities of food. Well that would be for another day.