Saturday 21 July 2007

BHAGAVAN IN THE KITCHEN

By Sampurnamma


IN 1932 I went to Tiruvannamalai with my sister and her husband Narayanan. We found Bhagavan in a palm leaf hut built over his mother's Samadhi. Dandapani Swami introduced me to Bhagavan saying, "This is Dr Narayanan's wife's sister". The days that followed were days of deep and calm happiness. My devotion to Bhagavan took firm roots and never left me. I was able to sit for long hours in Bhagavan's presence without any mental activity and I would not notice the passing of time. I was not taught to meditate and surely did not know how to stop the mind from thinking, It would happen quite by itself, by his grace. I stayed for twenty days. When I was leaving, Bhagavan took a copy of Who am I? and gave it to me with his own hands.

A thing done well, with love and devotion, is its own reward. What happens to it later matters little, for it is out of our hands.
I came back to Ramanasramam after a period of absence and I was asked to help in the kitchen. Bhagavan helped us in the kitchen, I soon learnt with his guidance the Ashram way of cooking. Bhagavan's firm principle was that health depended on food and could be set right and kept well by proper diet. He also believed that fine grinding and careful cooking would make any food easily digestible. So we used to spend hours in grinding and stewing.


He paid very close attention to proper cooking. He was always willing to leave the hall to give advice in the kitchen. He would teach us numberless ways of cooking grains, pulses and vegetables. He would tell us stories from his childhood, or about his mother, her ways and how she cooked sampurnam (sweet filling).

Yes, Arunachala is our only refuge. Keep your mind on him constantly. It is His light that fills all space.
He was very strict with us in the kitchen. His orders were to be obeyed to the last detail. No choice was left to us to guess or try on our own. We had to do blindly as he taught us and by doing so, we were convinced that he was always right and that we would never fail if we put our trust in him. When I think of it now, I can see clearly that he used the work in the kitchen as a background for spiritual training. He taught us that work is love for others, that we never can work for ourselves. By his very presence he taught us that we are always in the presence of God and that all work is His. He used cooking to teach us religion and philosophy.


In the kitchen he was the master cook aiming at perfection in taste and appearance. One would think that he liked good food and enjoyed a hearty meal. Not at all. At dinner time he would mix up the little food he would allow to be put on his leaf -- the sweet, the sour, and the savoury -- everything together, and gulp it down carelessly as if he had no taste in his mouth. When we told him that it was not right to mix such nicely made up dishes, he would say, "Enough of multiplicity, Let us have some unity".

It was obvious that all the extraordinary care he gave to cooking was for our sake. He wanted us to keep good health and to those who worked in the kitchen, cooking became a deep spiritual experience. "You must cover your vegetables when you cook them," he used to say, "Then only will they keep their flavour and be fit for food. It is the same with the mind. You must put a lid over it and let it simmer quietly. Then only does a man become food fit for God to eat".

One day he gave me a copy of Ribhu Gita and asked me to study it. I was not at all anxious to pore over a difficult text good only for learned pandits, and asked to be excused, saying that I did not understand a single word of it. "It does not matter that you do not understand," he said, "Still it will be of great benefit to you".

He would allow nothing to go to waste. Even a grain of rice or a mustard seed lying on the ground would be picked up, dusted carefully, taken to the kitchen and put in its proper tin. I asked him why he gave himself so much trouble for a grain of rice. He said, "Yes, this is my way. I let nothing go to waste. In these matters I am quite strict. Were I married no woman could get on with me. She would run away". On some other day he said, "This is the property of my Father Arunachala. I have to preserve it and pass it on to His children". He would use for food things we would not even dream of as edible. Wild plants, bitter roots and pungent leaves were turned under his guidance into delicious dishes.

Once someone sent a huge load of brinjals on the occasion of his birthday feast. We ate brinjals day after day. The stalks alone made a big heap which was lying in a corner. I was stunned when Bhagavan asked us to cook the stalks as a curry. Bhagavan insisted that the stalks were edible and so we put them in a pot to boil along with dry peas. After six hours of boiling they were as hard as ever. We wondered what to do and yet we did not dare to disturb Bhagavan. But he always knew when he was needed and he would leave the hall even in the middle of a discussion. As usual he did not fail us, and appeared in the kitchen. He asked, "How is the curry getting on"? "Is it a curry we are cooking? We are boiling steel nails", I exclaimed laughing. He stirred the stalks with the ladle and went away without saying anything. Soon after we found them quite tender. The dish was simply delicious and everybody was asking for a second helping. Everybody except Bhagavan praised the curry and the cook. He swallowed one mouthful like medicine and refused a second helping. I was very disappointed, for I had taken so much trouble to cook his stalks and he did not even taste them properly. The next day he told somebody, "Sampurnam was distressed that I did not eat her wonderful curry. Can she not see that everyone who eats is myself? And what does it matter who eats the food? It is the cooking that matters, not the cook or the eater. A thing done well, with love and devotion, is its own reward. What happens to it later matters little, for it is out of our hands".

In the evening before I left the Ashram for the town to sleep, he would ask me what was available for cooking the next day. Then, arriving at daybreak the next morning, I would find everything ready -- vegetables peeled and cut, lentils soaked, spices ground, coconuts scraped. As soon as he saw me he would give detailed instructions as to what should be cooked and how. He would then sit in the hall awhile and return to the kitchen. He would taste the various dishes to see if they were cooked properly and go back to the hall. It was strange to see him so eager to cook and so unwilling to eat.

As a cook, Bhagavan was perfect. He would never put in too much or too little salt or spices. As long as we followed his instructions, everything would go well with our cooking. But the moment we acted on our own we would be in trouble. Even then, if we sought his help, he would taste our brew and tell us what to do to make the food fit for serving. Every little incident in our kitchen had a spiritual lesson for us. We thus learnt the art of implicit obedience while perfecting our culinary skills under Bhagavan's guidance.

On my way from the town to the Ashram and back, I had to walk in the dark along a jungle path skirting the hill and I would feel afraid. Bhagavan knew this and once said to me, "Why are you afraid, am I not with you"? Chinnaswami, Bhagavan's brother and the manager of the Ashram once asked me whether I was not afraid to travel alone in the dark. Bhagavan rebuked him saying, "Why are you surprised? Was she alone? Was I not with her all the time?"

Once Subbalakshmiamma and myself were going round the hill early in the morning chatting about our homes and relatives. We noticed a man following us at a distance. We had to pass through a stretch of forest, so we stopped to let him pass and go ahead. He too stopped. When we walked he also walked. We were quite alarmed and started praying, "Oh Lord! Oh Arunachala! Only you can save us"! The man said suddenly, "Yes, Arunachala is our only refuge. Keep your mind on him constantly. It is His light that fills all space". We wondered who he was. Was he sent by Bhagavan to remind us that it was not proper to talk of worldly matters when going round the hill? Or was it Arunachala Himself in human disguise? We looked back but there was nobody on the path. In so many ways Bhagavan made us feel that he was always with us, until the conviction grew and became part of our nature.

Those were the days when we lived on the threshold of a new world -- a world of ecstasy and joy. We were not conscious of what we were eating, of what we were doing. Time just rolled on noiselessly, unfelt and unperceived. The heaviest task seemed a trifle. We knew no fatigue. Commenting on our early completion of work in the kitchen on one occasion, Bhagavan pointed out, "The greatest spirit, Arunachala is here, towering over you. It is He who works not you".

Bhagavan's Sayings

A traveller in a cart has fallen asleep. The bullocks move, stand still or are unyoked during the journey. He does not know these events but finds himself in a different place after he wakes up. He has been blissfully ignorant of the occurrences on the way, but the journey has been finished. Similarly with the Self of a person. The ever-wakeful Self is compared to the traveller asleep in the cart. The waking state is the moving of the bulls; samadhi is their standing still (because samadhi means jagrat-sushupti, that is to say, the person is aware but not concerned in the action; the bulls are yoked but do not move); sleep is the unyoking of the bulls for there is complete stopping of activity corresponding to the relief of the bulls from the yoke.


Referred Resources: Who am I?

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