California, USA — February 21st, 2013

Grains on ekadasi

I was rummaging through a trunk filled with some of my old books, looking for the context of a quote that I wanted to use, when I came across this passage in Nikos Kazantzakis' novel, Zorba the Greek:

"Well, boss, this is a fine way of going on!" [Zorba] cried. "Here I've been looking for you for hours, but how could I know where to get hold of you?" Seeing I remained silent, he continued:

"It's gone midday, the hen is cooked; the poor thing'll be dropping to bits, you know!"

"Yes, I know, but I'm not hungry."

"Not hungry!" Zorba exclaimed, slapping his thighs. "But you've not had a bite since morning. The body's got a soul, too, have pity on it. Give it something to eat, boss, give it something; it's our beast of burden, you know. If you don't feed it, it'll leave you stranded in the middle o' the road."

When I was living alone, shortly before I was introduced to Krishna consciousness, I used to be too lazy to cook (whatever I ate had to go from freezer to microwave to stomach in ten minutes, tops :)  so I can readily empathize with this next paragraph,

I had despised the pleasures of the flesh for years, and, if possible, I would have eaten secretly, as if committing a shameful act. But so that Zorba did not grumble I said: "All right, I'm coming."

but perhaps because today is ekadasi, and it seems like I'm always inordinately famished, craving rice, beans, bread and other forbidden grains on ekadasi, my mind flashed to this snippet from a darshan recorded in March 1981, where Srila Guru Maharaj says:

My Guru Maharaj's maxim was: take full prasadam and do full seva. "Take whatever is necessary for the cause of Krishna, not for your own cause. You are Krishna's; if you grow weak, your service will be hampered, and you will be the loser. I will lose too: my soldiers must be well-fed to work well."

We are told that Srila Saraswati Thakur felt so strongly about this that he would sometimes even go so far as to admonish his disciples to eat grains on ekadasi if they were engaged in strenuous physical labor or traveling all day for the service of our mission.

Now — before your eyes light up and you say, "I have to go over the hill to San Jose today, so I'm going to make myself a sandwich!" — let's not get carried away. This is not a license to eat grains on ekadasi. (It's only a twenty-minute drive to San Jose :)

Observing ekadasi is compulsory. Srila Gurudeva made numerous concessions for his Western disciples because we are so lackadaisical in our approach to Krishna consciousness, but he never compromised on ekadasi — no matter how much we wheedled and whined.

But this exception proves the rule; religion means proper adjustment. We are encouraged to do whatever is necessary for Krishna's service (mam ekam saranam vraja), even if that means disregarding a scriptural injunction occasionally (sarva-dharman parityajya).

Service is so important that, as Srila Gurudeva said when he inspected the new temple in Veracruz in 2004: "We have no right to eat if we do not do service; we should eat only to get energy to do our service."

This is the point of Zorba's argument: the body is 'our beast of burden,' the mule that does the heavy lifting for the soul. If we don't feed this animal, it will have no energy to do the soul's work; it will leave us stranded in the middle of our service...

And then where will we be?

Tags: Ekadasi · Service · Slokas


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