Feb 25, 2015

Food As Sacrifice

The Hidden Dimension in the Act of Eating

Theosophy


  
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The following article was first published
at “Theosophy” magazine, Los Angeles,
USA, December 1927 edition, pp. 65-69.

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“This immortal thinker having such vast
power and possibilities, all this because of
his intimate connection with every secret part
of Nature from which he has been built up,
stands at the top of an immense and silent evolution.”

(“The Ocean of Theosophy”, by William Q. Judge)



Man, having broken the harmony of life and brought about a descending cycle, has made himself blind to the oneness of all things. It has been markedly so in that very mundane function of life - eating. Mediaeval ascetic despised food and would-be aesthetes; ascetics of our modern day have affected to follow their example, though they do not know how to fast as the others did. 

What has this modern age not made of meals, from the extreme of banquets of many courses, with dishes concocted to tempt surfeited gourmands, to the other extreme of nothing to eat, when the mother, for example, alone at home, says, “I can’t be bothered to make a meal for myself with no one else here to cook for.” Dinners are made functions for “entertaining” people who exchange small talk, useless when not injurious to the reputations of others. In the family, its members bicker and squabble around the table. How many students of Theosophy, even, comprehend the part of food in life, and why the preparation of a meal has been termed a sacred function? Yet hints as to why are multiplied in the teachings, whether in the Laws of Manu or the Bhagavad-Gita, in the lore of Pythagoras, in the writings of the Neo-Platonists, of Paracelsus, of H.P. Blavatsky, or W.Q. Judge. 

“And in the first place, indeed, they endeavored to learn the indications of symmetry, of labour, food, and repose. In the next place, with respect to the preparation of food, they were nearly the first who attempted to employ themselves in it, and to define the mode in which it should be performed.” (Life of Pythagoras, Iamblichus.) 

Food is necessary to the body. In this regard at least its importance is being more and more understood in the world at large, as witness the developments in the last decade in those circles concerning themselves with “public health.” Nutrition research in the various laboratories of the greatest American universities has been giving out some facts which certainly approach what has been known for ages in occultism about the relation of food to well-being, the influence of thought and feeling on assimilation, the close link between sunshine and “vitamins.” It is even approaching the fringe of the mystery of the path to rebirth in its investigations of what was once designated Vitamin A, now assorted into Vitamins A, D, and E, with various functions to perform in the human organism, the last bound up with sterility. 

Terms may vary from age to age but the underlying ideas remain ever the same, truth being consistent and eternal: 

“No one who does not eat has strength to do works of holiness, strength to do works of husbandry, strength to beget children. By eating every material creature lives, by not eating it dies away.” (Zend Avesta, Vendidad - Sacred Books of the East.) 

Man’s body is composed of mineral, vegetable, and animal substances which borrowed from the three kingdoms below him and are returned to them. [1] From that food, eaten and transmuted, are the organs materially formed. They are composed of different kinds of elemental lives, all having their relations to different parts of nature. [2] 

“Man was considered a macrocosm, and every element in him (writes James Darmesteter in a footnote, p.187, Vendidad, Sacred Books of the East) was supposed to come from a similar element in nature. Why does man want to eat, to drink and to breathe, but because he is related to the elements of the earth, water and air, and must attract these things to his constitution?”  (Life of Paracelsus, Franz Hartmann.) 

A two-fold reason is already evident for the eating of food. By it man builds up his body but also he affects the elemental lives that he takes in to send out again, raised or degraded: 

“From his body innumerable forms go forth, which constantly impel the multiform creatures to action.” (Laws of Manu, Chapter XII, Verse 15, Sacred Books of the East.) 

Man alone is not the sole concern in this function of life, though our ahamkaric tendency has made us think only of the benefit to ourselves by the taking of food, which builds the various elements into the different organs. There is a benefit to the body, yes; but there should also be a benefit to the elemental lives which thus make entry. All too little is it heeded that as we eat we are affecting those lives, and even by the very manner in which meals are taken. 

Some measure of our responsibility to the elemental lives is indicated in that twelfth chapter of the Laws of Manu, so much misunderstood by the Orientalists, who have confused “the whole system of transmigrations” with the reincarnation of the Ego. The two-fold purpose of taking food is brought out by Iamblichus when Anebo writes:

“…. The Demiurgos does not by any means set food abundant and in reach for all living things in the earth and sea but has implanted want of the same in the races superior to us. Nor has he furnished to the other living things a natural abundance of the necessaries of life. But to the demons he gives food of a quality adapted to their nature, which is contributed by us human beings. Hence, if we, through laziness or some other pretext, as is likely, should neglect such contributions, the bodies of the demons will be in want of food, and will experience both privation and disorder.”  (The Egyptian Mysteries)
  
Man does not eat for himself alone, to paraphrase words attributed to a great sage. Another factor is also ignored, which Paracelsus emphasizes together with the others already cited: 

“There is something like a fire (energy) within ourselves which continually consumes our form, and if we were to add nothing to our body to supply the waste caused by that combustion, our form would soon die. We continually eat our own selves; we eat our fingers, our heart, our brain, etc.; but in each morsel of food which we eat, there is contained the material required to replace that which has been consumed by that internal fire. Each part of our organism selects what it needs, and that which is superfluous or useless is rejected. The Master in man, who superintends the building up of the organism, supplies every organ with that which it needs. We need not eat bones to cause our bones to grow, nor veins, ligaments and brain, to have those things formed within us.” (Life of Paracelsus, Franz Hartmann) 

“It is the Master in man who superintends the building up of the organism” - but how many of us consider that Master in man when at meals? 

Mr. Judge was once asked a question on a quotation from the “Upanishads”. He replied that the self does not exist by reason of food but in that state causing the body to be visible and to act through the food used. The translation that caused the obscurity he rephrases thus: “The self exists in close proximity to the heart and causes the body to exist by reason of the food which it takes in for its subsistence.” It means, he goes on to say, that if the self were not there, the body would not exist, and that the self procures vital airs from the food which the one life causes to be digested. [3] 

“Some call him Agni (Fire), others Manu, the Lord of creatures, others Indra, others the vital air, and again others eternal Brahman.”  (Laws of Manu, Chapter XII, Verse 123 - Sacred Books of the East.) 

Or in the immortal words of the fifteenth Gita

“I enter the earth supporting all livings things by my power, and I am that property of sap which is taste, nourishing all the herbs and plants of the field. Becoming the internal fire of the living, I associate with the upward and downward breathing, and cause the four kinds of food to digest.” 

Most food is eaten heedlessly as to its higher nature. The Master in man - the spiritual power of concentration - cannot, then, be there superintending this function of the building up of the organism. When a meal proceeds along the lines of thoughtless automatism, how can the elemental lives making sacrifice receive due benefit? How can the self procure vital airs from the food which only the one life can cause to be digested

Our twentieth century way of taking meals is therefore one more place for change and betterment with those to whom Theosophy is first in life. They, indeed, can “try and set up a habit in that material unit whereby we may as incarnated beings know the self.”[4]

In proportion as the unity of the One Life in all creatures is comprehended by those to whom food may become sacrifice, the cycle rises. 

Significant words are italicised by H.P.B., in a quotation she makes from Homer’s Seventh Odyssey: 

“Our gods appear to us when we offer them sacrifice … sitting themselves at our tables, they partake of our festival meals. Whenever they meet on his travels a solitary Phoenician, they serve to him as guides, and otherwise manifest their presence. We can say that our piety approaches us to them as much as crime and bloodshed unite the Cyclopes and the ferocious race of Giants.”  (“Elementals”, reprinted in “Theosophy” magazine, Vol. V, pages 407-408.) 

To help the smallest creature upon its upward way is the sacred duty of every student of Theosophy. Food taken when the Master in man presides at a meal is one of the means of serving the whole of Life. 

“Nourish the Gods,” says the third Gita, “that the Gods may nourish you. A thief is he who enjoys what has been given unto him but offers not a portion unto them. Those who dress their meat but for themselves eat the bread of sin being themselves sin incarnate.” As we understand at each meal that food is indeed sacrifice, due portion is offered to the gods, for the Master in man is there. The manifold meaning of that much discussed sentence from the same discourse is more apparent: 

“Beings are nourished by food, food is produced by rain, rain comes from sacrifice, and sacrifice is performed by action.” (Bhagavad-Gita, Theosophy Co. edition, p. 24.) 

In man as in nature it is the action which is sacrifice that makes to arise the Waters of Life producing the food by which beings of all classes are nourished when the Sun is there.

“Anon the gods descend, and then they return to heaven” wrote Mr. Judge on one occasion.[5] Elsewhere, he points out how in a descending cycle when the ideal family life becomes rare, learned and great adepts retire to other spheres. But the case will begin to be reversed by the action of one philanthropist who becomes unselfish and intelligent enough to set an example. The way is paved for the advent of an ascending cycle because the Akasha becomes affected by the impulse forcing itself gradually, with accumulated interest and redoubled power, upon others. The noble example becomes a precedent. And -“Gnanis bless the noble man.” [6]  

“Knowing that under the great cyclic laws which govern us periods arrive even in the worst of ages when good examples of living imprinted on the astral light cause effects ever increasing in intensity until at last the ‘gods’ before referred to begin in distant spheres to feel the force of those good actions and to return again to help mankind on the recurrence of a better age, he implores Arjuna to be the very first to set the good example.”

“In such an age as this, the ritualistic sacrifice of a different age which has indeed a magical effect becomes a sacrifice to be performed by each man in his own nature upon the altar of his own heart.” (W. Q. Judge, Notes on the Bhagavad-Gita.)

NOTES: 

[1] W. Q. Judge, “Notes on the Bhagavad Gita”, Theosophy Company, Los Angeles, p. 205.  

[2] Robert Crosbie, “Mental Healing and Hypnosis”, “Theosophy” magazine, Vol. IX, pages 280 and 283.

[3] W. Q. Judge, “Letters That Have Helped Me”, Theosophy Company, Vol. II, p. 40. 

[4] W. Q. Judge, “Letters That Have Helped Me”, Vol. II, p. 40. 

[5] W. Q. Judge, “Letters That Have Helped Me”, Vol. I, p. 34. 

[6] “Living the Higher Life”, Reprinted in “Theosophy” magazine, Vol. I, p. 301. Also Vol. XII, p. 446.

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On the role of the esoteric movement in the ethical awakening of mankind during the 21st century, see the book “The Fire and Light of Theosophical Literature”, by Carlos Cardoso Aveline.  


Published in 2013 by The Aquarian Theosophist, the volume has 255 pages and can be obtained through Amazon Books.

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