The Festival of the Peak of Food
From SREE SAJJANA-TOSHANI
The festival of the Peak of Food was celebrated in the new Buildings of the Gaudiya Math on the 22nd of October. An immense variety of the choicest kinds of food in vast quantity was offered to the supreme Lord on the occasion. The remains of the Lord’s meal were then distributed among all the people. The most well-to-do persons competed for a particle of the Mahaprasad (the great favour) on this most auspicious occasion.
The offering of the Peak of Food is essentially different both as regards its object and procedure from poor-feeding. Feeding of the poor has for its object the appeasement of hunger of those who are in want of food. This is a meritorious form of activity and has its advantages if it be considered from the point of view of the material and moral well-being of society. It is not our purpose here to go into that subject. It will suffice to observe that the object as well as the method of “feeding the poor” refer exclusively to the temporary amelioration of the physical and mental state of the persons who are fed. The relief sought and offered is limited and questionable.
The offering of the Peak of Food to the Supreme Lord is not inspired by any considerations of mental or physical well-being. It is a performance on the plane of the soul who is free from all physical and mental wants and defects. Those who do not believe in the soul and spiritual activity will not therefore, be able to understand or sympathise with the principles of the devotional function. If they try to abbreviate it from the utilitarian point of view they will commit blunders for which they should thank only themselves.
The institution is the revival of a practice established by Sri Madhabendra Puri when he organised the worship of Gopala (Boy-Krishna) at the Mount of Gobardhan. Madhabendra Puripad was a Tridandi Sannyasin of the order of Sri Madhvacharya. He was directed by the Divine Child in a dream to establish His worship. The Holy Form was according to this direction removed from a grove in the midst of the dense forest and the inhabitants of the surrounding villages were invited to undertake to arrange the regular daily service of the Lord.
Gopal had told Madhab that He was indeed very hungry and had been looking forward to the day when Madhab would make his appearance for relieving His hunger. Acting on this suggestion Madhab told the villagers to make the offering of a Peak of Food to Gopala on the occasion of the installation of the holy form in the Temple which was hastily made by putting a few blocks of stone. The response to the Madhab’s invitation was marvellous. All the people of the surrounding country came with their offerings. Every variety of food was quickly prepared on an immense scale and offered to the Lord. The supreme Lord was so hungry that He ate up all the food with great satisfaction. But this was seen only by Madhab. Others could not see this because the touch of the Lord’s hand, as He ate the food, restored the piles as soon as they were eaten up.
The remains of the meal were distributed among the people. The villagers thereupon undertook to continue the forms of worship thus initiated by Madhab. The inhabitants of each separate village taking upon themselves to provide the offering of food for each day in succession, the offering of the Peak of Food continued daily.
In the code of devotion there is no place for appeasement of the hunger of the worshipper. Bodily needs are completely ignored for the reason that the soul who alone can worship Gopala, is wholly free from all bodily cravings and infirmities. The acceptance of the remains of the Lord’s meal by the devotee is not an act of eating for the appeasement of hunger but the reverential acceptance by the soul of the favour of the Lord. The soul has no want of his own. It is his nature to desire perpetually to please the Supreme Lord by means of all his faculties. The Lord is pleased to accept the homage of the soul. There is no question of want in the unwholesome mundane sense in such affair. It would be sacrilegious to seek to find the idea of bodily hunger in devotional activity.
In this spirit the remains of the Lord’s meal are honoured by His devotees. There is no question of rich and poor, hunger or thirst. The quality of the food as food does not interest the devotee. The Lord’s remain is His great favour. It is not food that can be eaten. It is no longer any earthly eatable. It is a spiritual entity. It is an object of worship. It is served with the tongue. It is not eaten for the appeasement of hunger or for the gratification of the palate. If it is served in this manner it rewards its votary by relieving him from the clutches of all sensuous appetites.
If the question is nevertheless asked why the remains of the Lord’s meal should be regarded as a spiritual entity? The answer is that it is so laid down in the scriptures. It is not possible for conditioned souls like ourselves to worship the Lord on the plane of the soul. The Lord is merciful. He accepts our offerings which are things of this world when they are offered to Him. But His acceptance of them makes them acquire the spiritual quality. He accepts the offering of food for the purpose of favouring His devotee. The devotee also in his turn accepts the favour of the Lord with submission and respect and distributes this favour among all the servants of the Lord.
This affords a chance for the conditioned soul to avoid the function of eating and drinking. The act of eating and drinking is the root cause of all sensuousness. It is necessary to control this function if one is anxious for the regulation of his sensuous appetites. The clamorous demands of the senses make it impossible for the conditioned soul to attend to the needs of himself. The act of eating and drinking cannot, however, be got rid of altogether. So the Shastras counsel the practice of moderation. They tell us to avoid indulging the palate. It is only the simplest kinds of food that do not unduly excite the palate that are recommended for those who desire to acquire proper control over the senses.
But no arrangement can undo the consequences of eating and drinking which is a sensuous act and is bound to re-act on the senses by way of stimulation. This stimulation will be mild if one practises plain living. But certain reliance can really be placed on the method. It is found that no form of eating can wean us from the state of sensuousness in the long run. The person who lives on the simplest of food may in a moment of temptation launch on a career of the modest dissipation. Such re-action is by no means rare and is a part and parcel of the law of Nature. The sensuous appetite grows by indulgence as also by the practice of enforced self denial. The senses may be artificially brought under one’s seeming control for the time being. But no manipulation of food and drink can produce a lasting and natural disinclination to sensuousness. It is beyond the power of any object of this world to do any thing but augment the tendency to sensuousness. The abstemious method involves the sure risk of a violent reaction in no distant future. Such artificial treatment only serves to aggravate the malady. The method of regulated living is nevertheless of value as it serves to keep the appetite within bounds and postulates a desire for salutary control of the senses.
The method of eating plain and bland food is recommended by the scriptures for producing a habitual disposition in favour of total abstinence. But the goal of total abstinence cannot really be re-acted by the method itself. There is a process by which the object of regulated eating is properly realised. This process is no other than that of honouring the remains of the Lord’s meal.
The food must not be taken for any earthly purpose. For example it must not be eaten for the purpose of nourishing the body or the mind. It must not be taken even for the purpose of maintaining life. It is not the act of eating in itself which is really the cause of bodily or mental health or preservation of life. Had it been so there would have been no loss of health or life. No manner of regulation of the process of eating can prolong either health or life to eternity. These processes operate successfully only so long as it is the desire of Krishna that they should. This underlying and real cause of all well-being is stubbornly overlooked by most people in practice, although all of us admit the operation of the Divine Will in theory.
The attitude that chooses to regard the act of eating as a necessity which is mechanically productive of good result by means of a little intelligent regulation, misses the real object of the activity. Such attitude tends to confirm us in the atheistic outlook which may at first be adopted through sheer thoughtlessness. The connection with Krishna must not be overlooked. Nay, the process of eating must be actually regulated in such a way that it may help us to be confirmed in the theistic attitude.
This can be attempted with or without the consciously received help of Krishna. But it is necessary to realise His constant and conscious connection. It is also possible to do so. As soon as this connection is properly realised the act of eating automatically ceases to be a sensuous operation involving sensuous consequences. The recollection of our relationship with Krishna in every act however trivial is the only method of getting rid of its mundane consequences. This is not contrary to our present experience. If no result can be produced except by the will of the Divinity the eternity and self-sufficiency of the causal principle need not be admitted.
At this point the value and necessity of scriptural testimony becomes of positive help. Is it really the desire of Krishna that we should adopt a particular method and should attempt thereby to realise the ideal of our conditional existence. The scriptures claim to be the Word of Godhead. It is, of course, open to us to accept or reject this claim of the scriptures.
It is the function of the devotees who are privileged to realise the truth of the scriptural claim to try to produce the same conviction in us. As soon as we pay our serious attention to the teaching of real Sadhus we find that it has power to solve all our doubts and difficulties by making the knowledge of the real Truth available to us. It is by the grace of the servants of the Supreme Lord that we learn to realise the connection with Krishna in every act of our ordinary worldly life. As soon as this connection is consciously realised we are relieved for good from the evil consequences of sensuous living.
The ceremony of the offering of the Peak of Food to the Supreme Lord emphasises the necessity of the universal adoption of the spiritual process to be enabled in our individual as well as communal intercourse to carry out in a conscious way the Will of Krishna. There cannot be a greater Divine Mercy than this. The remains of the Lord’s meal are, therefore, appropriately named Mahaprosad or the great favour.
But this great favour itself is made available to us only by the even greater mercy of the servants of the Lord. The Lord does not accept any offering that is made by one who does not possess the perfectly pure heart which is the free from the least taint of self-seeking. In other words the Supreme Lord only accepts the offering made by His devotees.
The Acharya is the best of the devotees. By the acceptance of the Acharya any offering is rendered fit for the Lord’s acceptance. By accepting from the people their offering of the Peak of Food to the Supreme Lord the Acharya affords all persons a chance of learning to make the offering to the Lord with a pure heart by associating them in his service of the Lord. By the distribution of the remains of the Lord’s meal among all persons the Acharya enables all associated worshippers to attain to the level of doing real good to all animate beings. This is the real significance of the ceremony of the offering of the Peak of Food to the Supreme Lord originally instituted by the grace of Srila Madhabendra Puri.