Full Moon Newsletter vol 16: Food is Life

Living Sanskrit Uncategorized 2 Comments

Happy Full Moon – Pauṣa Pūrṇimā! It’s the last full moon of the traditional winter season.

You might be wondering what the practices are for the day. Well, the tradition is so balanced, it’s even balanced about balance!

In other words, even extremes have a time and place. For example, right now, thousands of freezing pilgrims are bathing in the icy waters of Gaṇgā (the Ganges River). In some places, it’s melted snow, just warm enough to be liquid.

There’s a belief that the water of the river is sacred and absolutely pure. Even one dip can free you from the mistakes and brokenness of lifetimes.

But why do it now? Why not just wait till summertime?

The tradition is deeply, DEEPLY keyed to nature and natural cycles. And nature is the epitome of balance: every day, the sun rises and sets. The moon, the seasons, the entire cycle of life follow a balanced and harmonious rhythm.

That said, we still have storms, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. Without those extreme displays, it’s hard to say if we would be able to recognize the extent of her power.

That’s the beauty of extremes – they reveal what’s there. No one makes you swim in an icy river. But in doing so, you reveal (to yourself most of all!) how strong your longing to experience wholeness and inner purity is.

There’s another gorgeous practice associated with this full moon, and also keyed to nature. Here’s the story:

Once upon a time, there was a demon who had acquired a terrifying magical power. He could make everyone forget the sacred teachings. This prevented anyone from performing dharmic activity, such as praying or singing the Lord’s name.

As a result, they were unable to connect with the sacred, and this blocked natural cycles. As a result, the rains didn’t come, and there was a historic drought. Because there was no water, there was no food. All living beings were suffering and starving.

Lost and terrified, they cried out for help. The always merciful Goddess heard their cries and saw their situation. She was so overcome with compassion that She herself began to weep tears of love.

These tears became sweet rainfall that soothed the parched land. Later, She took form on the earth in the form of the forests (and was called Vaṇaśaṇkarī). She also became vegetation so that living things could eat (Śākambharī). In this way, she was able to provide food, water, and shelter to all beings.

There’s a verse from the Devī Bhāgavatapurāṇa that describes Śākambharī-devī:

Śākambharī Verse

bāṇamuṣṭiṁ ca kamalaṁ puṣpapallavamūlakān |
śākādīnphalasaṁyuktananantarasasaṁyutān || 35 ||
kṣuttṛṅjarāpahānhastairbibhratī ca mahāddhanuḥ |
sarvasauṁdaryasāraṁ tadrūpaṁ lāvaṇyaśobhitam || 36 ||

She was holding a great bow, arrow, a lotus, and flowers, sprouts, roots, green vegetables, and fruits, all consisting of an endless supply of juice, capable of removing hunger, thirst, and weakness. Her form was shining with loveliness and was the essence of all types of beauty. (v. 35-36)

There’s so much marvelous depth and wisdom in this simple story, both spiritual and practical. We already know that deforestation – largely driven by our food choices – is a major factor in global warming, and contributing to historic droughts and water shortages around the world.

We also know that that our current food preferences (especially for red meat) are dangerously unsustainable and require huge quantities of water to produce. Research shows that even slightly increasing plant-based consumption can have huge environmental benefits.

The point of sharing all this isn’t to get depressed or push for a particular agenda. It’s to celebrate the wisdom and insight of our ancestors, who recognized that the forests – which protect so many living things, as well as our climate and water supply – are physical embodiments of divine grace. They also recognized the value of plant-based food, which is a beautiful and a sustainable way of nourishing life for many generations.

Practice: Recognize Food as Life

Food has a HUGE role and significance in this tradition. It is both a symbol for and a physical embodiment of divine power, which protects and empowers all beings. In fact, the Taittirīya Upaṇiṣad, a major scripture, says “annaṃ prāṇaṃ” – food is life. It also proclaims “I am food!”, meaning that the Self and food are one.

Suggested practices for this full moon include:

-Create an altar and representation for Śākambharī-devī (see example above) using fruits, flowers, and vegetables. It can be as small or big as you like. Offer her your prayers, traditional ritual offerings (such as kumkum, turmeric, rice, incense, waving a flame) songs of praise and gratitude, or your silent meditation.

-You can also do prayers and practices for Annapūrṇa, the goddess of food and the nourisher of all beings.

-Eat plant-based food today, and try to to include it in your diet on a regular basis.

-Visit a forest and do prayers and practices there. Offer your gratitude and respect for the divine goddess in the form of the forest. You can also contribute money or time to help preserve and protect the forests.

-Conserve and respect water. Reflect and give thanks for the relationship between water, food, and life.

-If you have a garden, you can do some ritual worship of your fruit and vegetable plants. If you don’t, consider getting a plant and resolve to caring for it as a form of both the sacred and the natural.

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