Wednesday, May 12, 2010

eat to live, not live to eat - ब्रह्मार्पणं ब्रह्म हविः

the instrument, the object, the doer and the act - of offering are all brahma; (one who considers thus) state of brahma alone is the destination worthy of such who is steadfast in such selfless deeds.

brahmArpaNaM brahma haviH brahmAgnau brahmaNA hutam ।
brahmaiva tena gantavyaM brahmakarmasamAdhinA ।।

ब्रह्मार्पणं ब्रह्म हविः ब्रह्माग्नौ ब्रह्मणा हुतम् ।
ब्रह्मैव तेन गन्तव्यं ब्रह्मकर्मसमाधिना ॥

brahmārpaṇaṃ brahma haviḥ brahmāgnau brahmaṇā hutam ।
brahmaiva tena gantavyaṃ brahmakarmasamādhinā ॥

this is another mantra/shloka that is very well known, very simple sanskrit and far reaching meaning. appearing in the bhagawad-gItA 4.24, this is a shloka commonly recited before eating food.

there are multiple parallel meanings here, and we can benefit from this at all levels.

when a yaGYa (yaj~na), a fire ritual is performed, there is the performer, the fire, the offering (ghee) and the ladle used to offer (the ghee). all of them are simultaneously the same supreme principle, the brahman, the parama-brahma.

now think of the act of eating. there is the eater, the digestive fire, the food and the hand used to put the food in the 'fire'. it is similar to the act of yaGYa (yaj~na).

why is it important or even relevant here? eating is a specific example of consumption. where we don't create, but consume. we take away from the system. we may do this with a sense of pride - 'see, i am eating at a 7-star hotel, 12-course meal, i am so great and powerful and successful.' or we could be eating a simple loaf of bread with no milk, just water to push it down!

why do we eat? the primary reason is to get energy, and maintain the life force. but over time, and with our ever wandering mind, we have devised delicious cuisines, that are the subject of the tongue, more than that of the stomach! we have levels of cutlery, food, ambiance, where and how we eat. the act of eating is an event in itself, and a symbol of our position in the society. it was customary for rich (royalty) to leave some food in the plate, as a sign of abundance and opulence.

but, at the end, we all have a small stomach that needs nutrients to sustain the life force. we should not get distracted in the act of eating, it is not the destination, but just a means to survive. [this is meant in the broader sense, not the in the moment sense.] we should not pay too much attention to what we are eating, and our status and importance because of what, where and how we are eating.

when animal sacrifices used to be performed, this was a means to be level headed. i am not any superior because i killed this animal, i am just doing this to survive. life force is using life force to sustain life force! we should have no pride because of what we eat.

at the level of eating, we should be guided by the stomach (nutrition) than by the tongue (taste).

eat to live, not live to eat.

taking this to one level up, and expanding it to any act of consumption, our importance is not based on what we can consume, afford to consume. it is all brahman, nothing special about us. this attitude grounds us a bit, good therapy for the ego!

taking this to one more level, to any deed, action, karma (not just consumption) -
there is the doer, the deed, the instruments of doing and the energy of doing. all of them are brahman. you may cut wood and make a chair, you, the saw, the wood and the energy used - all four are brahman. nothing special!

when we do things with this attitude - eat to live, not live to eat - then we are selfless. we don't consume more than needed. environment, planet everything automatically takes care of itself. if you take care of the minutes, the hours will take care for themselves. if we develop this attitude of being a part of the system, and not above it, not something special, it would not only help our spiritual progress but the physical 'system' as well.

for such a person, who is always ego-less, aware that everything is brahman, does niShkAma karma (karma without desire), such a person reaches the state of brahman automatically.

the object, subject, verb and the adverb - all are brahman!

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and now the language aspects of the shloka -

the key word here is brahman. we should first be clear on the various similar words that have different meaning.
brahman (brahma) = ब्रह्मन् (ब्रह्म) = supreme divinity, beyond classification, the source of all, the all!
brahmaa = ब्रह्मा = the creator aspect of the divine
brAhmaNa = ब्राह्मण = one of the four varNa (classes) of the society that was thought-centric - the scholar, philosopher, thinker etc. [based on qualities and deeds]

brahmArpaNaM = brahma + arpaNam = instrument of offering is brahma
arpaNam = the ladle, instrument of offering

haviH = offering, that which is being offered
the sandhi would make it havirbrahmAgnau, but for simplicity, i broke the sandhi.

brahmAgnau = brahma + agnau
agni = fire
agnau = in the fire

brahmaNA = [the act] by brahma

hutam =  offering;
So this means, the act of offering is by brahma, is also brahma.

tena = by that
brahmakarmasamAdhinA = brahma + karma + samAdhin + -A
brahma-karma = karma that is steadfast in brahma, selfless deeds
samAdhin = one steadfast in samAdhi
samAdhinA = by the samAdhin
= by the one who is steadfast in brahma-karma

brahmaiva = brahma + eva = only brahma

gantavyaM = destination
gam = to go
gantavyam = where one should go, the destination

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(c) shashikant joshi । शशिकांत जोशी । ॐ सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः ।
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  1. Wonderfully expalained.

  2. thank you, please do add your name and place in comments, gives it a personality :)

  3. Can you please explain the literal meaning of " brahmaiva tena gantavyaṃ"

  4. brahma-karma-samAdhinA, tena gantavyam brahma eva (asti)

    those steadfast in 'karma as brahma' (selfless karma), destination (achieved by them ; -ena suffix) (is) brahma only.

    brahma only is the destination achieved by them (those in selfless karma)

    tena = (achieved, reached, etc) by them
    gantavyam = destination
    brahma = state of brahma
    eva = only

    hope this helps.

  5. Kara gra vasta is a beautiful prayer now with Gauri a new perspective. In the article there is mention of another mantra for morning what is that manta and where can I read about that second manta you talk about.
    in gratitude for explaning it so clearly

  6. very well explained - why do we eat and how should we eat. Keep up the good work

  7. found this latin maxim by Quintilian - "Non ut edam vivo, sed vivam edo" which explicitly means 'i don't live to eat, but eat to live.',_sed_vivam_edo

  8. I am elated to discover this blog. I shall keep coming back.
    S K Sengupta, Kolkata

  9. very clear explanation .Thanks

  10. Thanks a lot........U did a great a thing....

  11. Thanks a lot......U did a great thing

  12. The way of explanation worth each words meaning is Simply superb...


  13. Hari OM Namaste
    Thanks for trying to educate us in Sanskrit.
    Stumbled upon your site while trying to learn Sanskrit. What is the gender of Brahma as used in this shloka? What is the derivation of the word "arpaNam"? How is "gantavyam" derived? Explain how "karma that is steadfast in Brahma" = "selfless karma". What does "selfless" really mean in this shloka? Is there any mention of selfless, or is that a "customary" interpretation of the phrase? I ask because I wonder if anything we do is really "selfless", even when we are trying to "reach" Brahma. By merely having the thought that "I" want to attain the state of Brahman, implies that "mind" is at work. It is the mind that drives the desire to get to Brahman. Atma cannot, since Atma is without properties of Prakrti. Infact, Atma, some may argue IS Brahman, viz Isha Upanishad. So if we engage in selfless actions, the implication is that we are doing for others, not ourselves. If we do that, how can the Atma of the individual attain Brahman? My understanding is that to attain Brahman, one has to go "inwardly", and to be engaged in selfless actions, implies we are doing actions for the "outter".
    Just some thoughts, and some queries. Your esteemed reply would be most graciously welcomed
    Hari OM
    Student of Sanskrit

  14. नमस्ते Student of Sanskrit,
    > What is the gender of Brahma as used in this shloka?

  15. Very beautiful explained. Thank you very much.

  16. Thank you for making it applied to daily life. I would like to learn similar vyakhyanam of a few other slokas. I am an atheist-scientist. I find that the great knowledge is often for people like me too! Making it for all human beings would be a great service!

  17. Hari ohm. You clearly explain so no question arises. Guru kriypa hi kebalam

  18. Thanks Sashi for the beautiful explaination. Also Rays63302 has raised a pertinent question. What does the act of 'selfless' actually mean? To Answer this is bit difficult, but only till the time you understand. Realistically and ultimately both the selfish and selfless student try to perform to their potential in the examination hall so that they come first. By the way,Who wants to be missed out? The point to understand is you can come first only if you clear the paper in style; And, to clear the paper, you have to study well. Then what's the big deal about being a selfless student? Well he is the Yogi and part of the Brahmam. He is tireless in action, because he is not unduly perturbed about the results, although he is doing the best.He is not nervous and is bold in doing. Similarly after the results also he continues to work well whether he has come first rank or not. Also if he has achieved a good result, he gives/shares innediately the extra or the needless wealth to the poor and needy without any hesitation.

  19. Good endeavour to explain the shaloka meaning. Sanskrit is marvelous language to which we have deliberately deprived by our politicians so that we may remain illiterate culturally despite getting education degrees from the universities.

  20. Very neat and descriptive explanation. Thanks a lot.

  21. thanks for your efforts,it seriously gives a brief , effective and factual description

  22. Literally beautifully explained but what I didn't understood is that reaching to the state of brahman, isn't a desire? How this shows we are selfless? Means actually if we have to acquire brahmaism we have to have a desire and if we desire of anything then we have to be a bit selfish so how come selfless.
    By the way, I do work on the fact
    "Eat to live not live to eat"
    If you can then please clear me of selflessness, I think I merely know of selflessness.

  23. Pranams !! Very nicely explained with examples that is helping a very wide subject understand in a practical manner. It is also helping me in imbibing and memorizing this verse. Dhanyavad !!.

  24. Hari Om,

    Wonderful explanation, very clear !!

    Thank you

    United States


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