What are we digesting?
Multiple explanations of verse XV:14 Bhagavad Gita
om aham vaisvanaro bhutva
praninam deham asritah
pacamy annam catuvidham
om santih, santih, santih
becoming the fire of life; in the bodies of living creatures,
and mingling with the upward and downward breaths.
I digest the four kinds of food.
bhagavad gita XV:14
Part of the daily routine at the Gedong Gandhi Ashram is reciting the meal blessing before the process of digestion starts. Because we eat more than only the good in our plate. As with most ancient scriptures, this verse can have multiple explanations. It probably depends on the angle of view, your perspective, and none are wrong.
The most common Indian Hindu explanation is probably;
Rudra Vaisnava Sampradaya
Sridhara Swami’s Commentary
Continuing on Lord Krishna affirms that His potency is vaisvanara or the digestive fire within the physical body that combing with the prana or exhalation and the apana or inhalation digests the four types of food eaten by jivas or embodied beings which are chewed, sucked, licked or drank. The first is that which is chewed by masticating the food into small pieces so it can be swallowed such as bread and vegetables. Next is that which can be licked by the tongue and swallowed without chewing like honey or molasses. After is that which can be sucked like the juice within sugarcane and finally is that which can be swallowed without chewing such as soups and liquid beverages. Hence they are all different.
The Balinese Hindu explanation would be that taste can be categorized into 4 flavors;
“sweetness, sourness, saltiness, and bitterness”. And these flavors have to be represented in every dish, to please the gods. And it these flavors, these essences that we are digesting.
In a side track, an interesting fact; “Taste perception fades with age: On average, people lose half their taste receptors by the time they turn 20.”
Western contemporary science recognises 5 basic tastes. “The sensation of taste can be categorized into five basic tastes: sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness, and umami. Taste buds are able to differentiate among different tastes through detecting interaction with different molecules or ions. Sweet, umami, and bitter tastes are triggered by the binding of molecules to G protein-coupled receptors on the cell membranes of taste buds. Saltiness and sourness are perceived when alkali metal or hydrogen ions enter taste buds, respectively.”
An Ayurvedic/yogi view would be more something like this;
Ayurveda, the ancient Indian healing science, has its own tradition of basic tastes, comprising sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter & astringent. The basic tastes contribute only partially to the sensation and flavor of food in the mouth — other factors include smell, detected by the olfactory epithelium of the nose; texture, detected through a variety of mechanoreceptors, muscle nerves, etc.; temperature, detected by thermoreceptors; and “coolness” (such as of menthol) and “hotness” (pungency), through chemesthesis.”
This first what we digest is the actual food on our plate, the gross, that what is matter. Which can be one taste or multiple. We also digest with our senses, how it looks, smells, feels etc. Hence a dish shouldn’t only taste nice, it should look and smell good too. And be at correct temperature.
As the verse mentions the upward and downward breaths it refers to the prana in the body; the winds, vayu, or the energies in the body. Those energy manifest in the most gross matter as the good in our plate. And it feeds our most gross part of our being, the physical, gross, body. But we are more than that, our senses, their input, what we feel, is a more subtle, though still gross, part of our “emotional” or “sensual” body. The energies of our being also manifest in our mind, as thoughts. Which is another level of subtlety of our prana. We digest thoughts, hence “food for thought”. The reason why there is the food blessing is to create positive thoughts to digest during the meal. And this is the reason not to discuss topics like politics or any kind of heavy conversation, and often to keep silence during the meal.
The most subtle energies are on level of intention and the connection with the totality. Yoga means; “union”, “to yolk”, it is letting go of our little self and merging with the totality of life. We are digesting that intention, that subtle energy. Is the food prepared with love? Did it grow locally, naturally? Has it been produced in a non-violent and truthful way? It is the relationship we have with the world that we take in to us, and also what we give back to the world. This is probably the most important part of what we digest. Which can bring us more appreciation for what we eat, and who we are.
The four kinds of food we eat, an all locally grown dish of vegan Kitcheree, easy to digest and wholesome for the physical body. Together with some food for thoughts; the daily readings of the Bhagavad Gita. In a pleasant outdoor setting with fresh air to breath, and prepared with loving kindness. And a beautiful cup of organic chai with coconut milk.
for the recipe; https://ahimsakasatya.wordpress.com/2013/11/09/kitcheree-2-vegan-variations/