Vedic Wisdom behind eating with your hands

The Master once told me this regarding eating with hands: (he told me this in Tamil which I am translating below in English from memory)

"We "vaideekaas" eat with our hands. Before we sit down to eat a meal, we make sure we have thoroughly cleansed ourselves both physically and spiritually. We rinse our hands and limbs and mouth. This is outward hygiene. We also utter the preliminary "anna shuddi" and "pari-seshana" mantras before we begin a meal. This is inward and more important hygiene. So it is not right for anyone to criticize those like us who eat with our hands as being ignorant or unmindful of hygiene.

It is important for those unfamiliar with Vedic lifestyle-values to appreciate that the consumption of food in our tradition is not mere biological compulsion. We look upon the act of eating not as daily belly-filling activity but as a deeply symbolic ritual too.

Eating a meal for us is solemn and daily communion with a larger universal force in Nature which we call "Sustenance". We call that Force .... in Sanskrit, as "annam". We revere the food we eat as being "annam", the source of all sustenance in the universe, a great spirit that nourishes and balances everything living and breathing in the world. That force, that "annam", is what the supreme Brahman of the Upanishads Himself verily reveals himself to be ..... Please recals that famous line in the "Brughuvalli" of the Taittiriya Upanishad : "aham annam, aham annam, aham annam..... aham annaa' dO.... haman'naa'dO... " etc....

In and through such Vedic passages we are all trained to adopt and cultivate an attitude of worship to the Deity of Sustenance and Nourishment in this world... Srimann Naraayanan. There is another famous Vedic hymn known as "anna sooktham" which extols this great all-encompassiong spirit and Deity from which all creatures on this planet derive nourishment.

The food that we "vaideekaas" eat is mostly grain such as rice. The common name for rice in India is "annam". We regard "annam" as nothing but the dietary manisfestation of Srimann Narayana. We consider the rice that we eat as His gift of daily sustenance to us. This gift must we believe must be received by us reverentially and gratefully. A gift that must be received with reverence, humility and gratitude must be received by hand only. If it were received in any other way, it would mean lack of courtesy and bad spiritual attitude. Look at it this way: If someone were to gift you a bouquet of beautiful flowers out of genuine affection and care for you, how would he or she feel if you were to receive it by asking him or her to place the bouquet on another platter, or on the table beside you, from where you picked it up? It would be insulting, isn't it?

We "vaideekas" believe that it is improper "body-language" and, worse still, that it is reflective of insolence and ingratitude to be seen to be receiving a gift of God (annam) from the Almighty Himself (Sriman Narayana) except than with and through our own hands in a gesture of utmost worship and humility. The use of metal spoons, forks and knives to feed ourselves we regard it as an wholly improper way of receiving and handling God's gift, "annam". To receive the supreme gift of sustenance from God with a metal spoon or fork --- we consider it as insult to the beneficence of the Almighty.

There is another reason why we "vaideekaas" do not use metal forks, knives or spoons to eat our meals.

We consider "annam" to be "saatvikam".... "Saativika" refers to the pure essence of the food that we consume. True nourishment we believe is always pure goodness. And the essence and source of of rich and pure goodness is what we call "saatvikam". "Annam" we consider is perhaps the most physical, the most palpable form of "saatvikam" in the world.

Metal implements like knives, forks and other western forms of meal-time cutlery we regard as the anti-thesis of "saatvikam". A knife is meant to cut, shear, tear away, make incision, cleave or chop..... All these acts are essentially un-"saativika"... They are not acts reflective of a quality of "pure or essential goodness". We do not therefore like to bring to the meal table, on which wholesome and good "annam" is served, metallic cutlery such as forks and knives which to us are deeply symbolic of violence. We tend to regard these as reflective of un-saativika qualities.

If the food we eat is pure "annam" and if we regard it as a gift of God, it must be "saativikam" i.e. it must be held with reverence since it symbolizes "pure and essential goodness". And what is "saativikam" cannot -- and must not --- be handled in ways that are wholly un-saativik such as eating with forks and knives. This is what we "vaideekas" believe as "un-aachaaram". Our own humble hands, instead, are the most appropriate media through God's gift of "annam" should be received and handled; and it is with our own grateful hands should we consume the essence of goodness residing in God's gift called "annam".

I hope I have explained to you why we "vaideekas" use our hands to eat our meals in a clear way shorn of religious jargon. I hope you will agree with me when I say that our view of food, of food-habits and food-hygiene is in fact more evolved, more meaningful than that of those who look down or frown upon us.

I hope you will therefore respect our choice to eat with our hands. I say our choice is the greater one not on the strength of any polemical argument but because of our humility: we regard food as sacred. We regard every meal as divine gift. And we know and acknowledge that a gift received humbly with one's own hands has been received indeed with one's heart too.

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Best Regards,
Sudarshan MK

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