A nice story from the life of Buddha, which shows the degree of impact food can have on our mental and psychological structure, and the thoughts that food can evoke in our subtle mind.

It was along this self-same road that the Maha-karunika had walked two thousand five hundred years ago…(Maha-karunika – the greatly compassionate one; one of the epithets of the Buddha.) If so, he would have appeared to be a perfectly ordinary monk  like so many other who then wandered along the roads in India; and like them too, he probably stooped from time before a village doorway to utter his usual formula: “Biksham dehi”, (Alms, alms!), holding out his bowl or perhaps, quite simply, his hands. At night, doubtless, he slept under a tree, fearless of the tigers, which roamed these plains.  After all, what could he possibly fear after having lived so many years in the forest of Uruvela, full, as he tells us, of hair-raising horrors for anyone who was not a Samyami (one who has attained complete self-mastery). For six years in this forest he had taken upon himself the most painful austerities; but at last in a flash of illumination he had understood that it was a mistake to mortify the flesh, deliberately to afflict one’s self. Enlightenment would be reached no sooner along such a path than along that of indulgence in wordly pleasures.His mind was ripe now and no doubt he knew intuitively that with one supreme effort he could attain illumination. And so he started out in search of a suitable spot, a solitary place with beneficent influence, where he could give himself up entirely to his meditations. A wandering monk, begging for his food, seeking a Tapasya-Sthan (a favourable place for spiritual discipline) – it was a common place thing at the time and indeed is still so, in India today. Nevertheless the physical beauty of this son of a King, with his athletic carriage and his countenance so noble and so pure, must surely have drawn attention. Perhaps they came to him with offering, prostrating themselves before him and asking his blessing.

It must have been the people of Gaya, already a centre of pilgrimage at the time, who told him about the solitary spot, not far out of the town, towards which he took his way. Other ascetics, no doubt, had also found a dwelling place there… there was shade and water and a village not for away… The people are simple, pure and charitable to monks.

It was only rarely that the monk Gautama tarried in human habitations. His favourite dwelling-place was the foot of a tree-one of those grand giants so often seen in India. It was at the foot of a tree that he had been born, it was there that he had his great revelation, and it was there too, that at the end of his life, he left his physical body and entered into Paranirvana.

Buddha-Gaya, at that time must have been a tiny little village, perhaps only a few isolated farmsteads surrounded by fields. It is scorching hot in summer on the Indian plains. A tree with luxuriant branches providing ample shade from the rays of the implacable sun became the monk’s dwelling place. It was an Ashwata (ficus religious), a sacred tree. Perhaps even, the Deva (spirit) of the tree had welcomed the noble ascetic and had entreated him to come and to shelter in its shade.

One day in the month of Vaishak (around May) a young woman by the name of Sujata came to prostrate her–self before the monk  and, with great devotion, laid an offering before him.It was no ordinary offering, but an offering of payasam made only to gods and under special circumstances. From rice of the very best quality; every grains had been handpicked and then boiled for some hours in cow’s milk until all the liquid had evaporated. Then the mixture had been sweetened, perhaps with honey; spices, almonds, pistachios and raisins had been added to make an offering fit for the gods. Gautama asked the young woman the reason for this unexpected gift. Sujata was married, rich and fortunate, but there was one thing lacking to her perfect happiness. She had a desperate desire to have a son.

It was not proper for monks to converse with women, especially with women who are young and beautiful. Nevertheless, Siddhartha seems to have prolonged this conversation for in the course of it he made a strange discovery. He had always believed that the world was a scene of universal misery, and that all living creatures groaned under the intolerable burden of the “three kinds of suffering”. ( The three kinds of suffering: (1) Adhibhautika: suffering caused caused living creatures (wild animals, men etc.) (2) Adhidavika: suffering caused by natural phenomena (earthquakes, floods etc.) (3) Adhyatmika: suffering growing out of our bodies or minds (illness, worry etc.).

Yet here before him was a young woman who was happy, who wished both to live and to give life. It was strange indeed.

The Buddhist chronicles tell us that this meal of rice boiled in milk had a most extraordinary affect on the man who was later to become the enlightened one. It was as if an intense flame was lit within him, permeating all his being and granting him no respite. One longing alone possessed him entirely, the longing to achieve the great Enlightenment, immediately, without further delay. Sitting under the tree he pronounced the words now become famous:

“My skin, my sinews and my bones may wither; my flesh and my blood may dry up within me; but I shall not quit my seat in this spot until I have achieved perfect Enlightenment”.

But what was it exactly that happened? How could this perfectly simple food have had such an extraordinary effect? The Hindu sages teach that not only does the food we eat have a powerful effect on our minds, but that the mental structure is in fact, constituted of the most rarified part of the nourishment we ingest. “As your food is, so is your mind”, is a popular Hindu saying. Now, the payasam offered by Sujata, being a from of nourishment that was highly satvika (Pure), the mental reaction it provoked was correspondingly so – producing a determination which is the characteristics of sattva.

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