Full Moon vol 34: The Nourishing Power

Living Sanskrit Mythology, Newsletters

Tonight’s full moon is the jayanti – the birthday – of two great beings in the tradition. The first is Dattātreya, who is a unified representation of the divine powers, and who is also a form of ādi-guru, the primordial teacher of sacred wisdom. He represents, amongst other things, the unity and core principles behind different dharma lineages. You can read more about him here.

The second jayanti is of Annapūrṇa-devī, the goddess of food and nourishment. She is normally depicted seated, holding a limitless pot of food in one hand and a large serving spoon in another. One leg touches the earth, which is both an extension of and foundation for her power.

There’s a wonderful story about her origin:

Once, Lord Śiva wanted to reveal the true power of his beloved Śakti. So one day, he started to pick a fight with her. He proclaimed loudly that he was the strongest and most important power in all the realms – that he was the one who held everything together. He kept boasting about how he was the one that everyone worshipped, and how she was nothing without him. In fact, what did she contribute, if anything at all?

As he kept on ranting, the goddess stormed off, furious and humiliated. As soon as she disappeared, everything fell silent. All movement and activity ceased. Everything was in a gray, lifeless limbo. Nothing happened, and nothing changed. There was nothing to see, learn, or experience. No color, no sound, no sensation.

All creation was trapped in a lifeless and dull prison, starving for any kind of experience. They began to cry out for mercy and release. Out of compassion, the goddess took form as Annapūrṇa, with her eternal bowl of nourishment and large spoon. All beings limped forward and lined up in front of her.

To each creature, she offered total nourishment – not just physical food, but mental, emotional, and spiritual food. She offered them karma that they could experience and digest. She offered them wisdom and things to learn and discover. She offered them a svadharma – a unique, individual purpose that they could play out throughout their life. She offered them virtue, and different sacred qualities. She gave each person a path forward.

As each being soared back to life, the universe started to shimmer and pulse once again. Creation now had something to do, something to learn, something to experience, and somewhere to go. Out of her generous compassion, she kept feeding each creature until it was full in every way.

Finally, at the end of the long, long line, stood one last beggar, dressed in a tiger skin and with a cobra wrapped around his neck. He had three eyes and the light of the crescent moon and river Gaṅga flowing through his thick dreadlocks: Lord Śiva.

He humbly bowed before her, and said, “Mā, won’t you feed me too?” She smiled graciously and filled his bowl. Lord Śiva, delighted, took her hand and lovingly led her back to their home on Mt. Kailasa.

This story is ripe with insight and meaning. One thing that really stands out is the profound understanding of what nourishment really is. What do we need to feel full and satisfied with our life? Clearly, it’s much more than just physical food.

We have a deep, essential need to experience the full range and vibrancy of life – to learn and to grow and to go through different sorts of experiences. Unfortunately, when life actually presents us with these unique experiences, our mind’s tendency is to resist and become afraid. It’s at these times that we need to remember that our soul longed for something more interesting – that only having things be one simple and predictable way is actually a form of hunger and suffering.

If we had nothing to learn and nothing to do, we’d be just as starved as if we had no food. In fact, it might be possible that the rising rates of depression in urbanized, modern societies is precisely because of this. As more and more of our work becomes automated, and information is readily available, it can seem like there’s very little left for us to go out and learn or create on our own.

Thankfully, this is not true – the universe is a vast place and there is always something for us to taste, learn, and create. On this day, we can offer our gratitude for all the forms of nourishment in our lives, and the vibrancy and richness that they bring. And, as we would after any good meal, we can let ourselves experience deep satisfaction and joy, receiving whatever life brings to us as a colorful blessing.

Practice: Give Thanks to the Nourisher

Traditional practices for today include:

-Perform pūjā, ritual worship, to Annapūrṇa. If you don’t have an icon of her, you can also worship her in the form of a bowl of rice or grain. Give your thanks for the nourishment life offers you – in the form of food, learning, virtue, experiences, adventures, challenges, and the accumulated body of your karmas.

-Chant the Annapūrṇa Stotram, which is a short and lovely hymn to her.

-As you eat, experience gratitude for the food you are eating. Let your senses fully engage with the food and understand that you are not just feeding your physical body, but your mind, heart, and soul. Recognize that this is prasāda, a blessed gift, from the divine to you. Make the commitment that you will use the power you receive from this nourishment to fulfill your dharma.

-As you meditate, understand that you are digesting your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Give thanks to Annapūrṇa for giving them to you and filling your life with color and vibrancy.

-Whatever you experience, understand that it is a form of nourishment from the goddess. Hold the prayer in your heart that you are able to extract the pure and living sacred essence from each moment in your life.