Seeing a sign outside a Hare Krishna eating house made me think. What exactly might ‘Karma-free food’ mean?  Humanitarian concerns for not eating meat, concerns for the conditions that animals are reared in and the karma that eating animals may bring, are often acknowledged in the West. Many different cultures and customs, however, adopt eating rituals that govern their experience of food. What purpose do these rituals serve, do they change the eating experience, and what benefits are there in cooking with consciousness?

Lexi Kriel, who lived in an Indian temple for 10 years, where she trained in spiritual cooking methods explains some of the Krishna spiritual principles governing food. These principles bring an awareness of how food can enrich and nourish on a spiritual level.

Krishna devotees are very careful about who prepares their food.

In accordance with Bhakti yoga (the yoga of devotion) the consciousness and mood of the person preparing the food, can positively or negatively affect the person eating.

Food given with resentment can cause indigestion, and even influence the dreams you have at night. Lexi explains that food is a receptacle for exchange with other people and that cooking with love and good consciousness can bring healing and heightened spiritual awareness.

Certain Brahman priests are so influenced by this principle that they only eat food that they have prepared themselves.

Believing that the kitchen is sacred, the Krishna cook adheres to strict cleanliness principles and is required to cook food with the right intention. Gossip or excessive chatter is not allowed in the kitchen, nor is eating, drinking or tasting of the food permitted during preparation. Focus must be solely on the specified activity and any angry thoughts should be replaced with thoughts of God or with prayer.

Traditionally, the first portion of food is firstly offered to Krishna, or one of the Krishna deities with the leftovers being served to the family. Eating the remnants of food from a saintly person further magnifies the nourishing properties of the meal, and the cook is then effectively preparing food ‘fit for the gods’. Importance is also placed on separating the food preparation and the eating, usually this is done with a meditation.  

Examine your own principles with regard to cooking and eating, do you habituate restaurants and then experience a longing for a home cooked meal? Do you eat with focus and good intention, filling your dining room with flowers, music and candles or do you eat on the run, or in front of the television, hardly realising what’s on your plate?

Lexi advises that regulative principles regarding food purposefully encourages awareness and brings consciousness into daily activities, enabling more intelligent choices to be made.
Lexi Kriel introduces these concepts into the Indian cooking classes that she runs in Johannesburg. She can be reached on 011 887 8755.

Dr Robert E Svoboda author of  ‘A fleeting glimpse of Ayurveda, The Science of Life and Health’ (Paperback) brings us some guidelines for eating with consciousness.

1. Eat with your hands, not only will your skin send temperature and texture cues to your brain, the tips of the fingers have enzymes that assist with digestion. 
2. Avoid eating when the digestive system is not at its best, i.e. when angry, depressed, bored or emotionally unstable.
3. Remain seated during a meal and if possible face East, the direction of the sun and  source of heat and fire.
4. Satisfy all your sense organs by playing music and burning oils, incense, or putting out flowers.
5. Wash hands, face and feet before eating and eat alone or with people you know and trust.   Only eat food cooked by someone who loves you.
6. Make sure that the right nostril is functioning while you eat, this will increase your digestive fire. Lying on your left side for a few minutes before a meal will help it to function. Block your left nostril and breath through your right nostril for a few minutes or hook your left arm over the back of a chair.
7. Give thanks to God and nature.
8. Approach each item of food with reverence and love. Eating something you don’t like will carry hatred deep into your system and disturb your balance.
9. Respect each meal and it will carry harmonizing good energy into your system.
10. Before eating, feed someone else. Traditionally in India a five-fold offering is made, to the sacred fire, a cow, a crow, a dog, and another human being. This ritual is a gesture of gratitude and controls the ego of self gratification.
11. Concentrate on your meal, be silent, put the television off and chew each mouthful slowly and attentively.

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