Shri Datta Swami

Posted on: 20 Nov 2020


Can we consider our act of eating food also as the fire-worship called homam?

[An online spiritual discussion was conducted on November 01, 2020, in which several devotees participated. Some of the questions of devotees answered by Swāmi are given below.]

[Reply to a question from Śrī Pavan] Swāmi replied: Homam means eating food alone and not burning the food in the physical fire. You eating the food is also homam, which is burning food in your hunger-fire, but it is not yajña, which means sacrifice. Only when you serve food to the Sadguru and to real devotees can it be called sacrifice (yajña). There is no sacrifice when you eat your own earned food. You are giving the food earned by you to your family members also. You have to treat God at least as your family member, if not as your issue. If you fail in this practical aspect of sacrifice (yajña), you should not lie in your prayer that God is everything for you (Tvameva sarvam mama deva deva…Gītā). When we pray to God, we should verify whether there is at least a trace of truth in the prayer.

It is said that a person should not perform yajña without one’s wife. This means that the wife is supposed to take care of the cooking of the the food using ghee. There are three parts in a yajña: (1) Conducting a seminar or conference on spiritual knowledge, which is called satsaṅga. It is headed by the Sadguru and attended by devotees. (2) Lighting the physical fire and cooking various food items containing plenty of ghee. (3) Doing homa, which is feeding that food to pacify the hunger-fire of the Sadguru and devotees. The host or the owner can also eat after first sacrificing the food to the five categories of recipients. Sacrificing food to these five types of recipients constitutes the pañca yajñas or the five stages of yajña: (1) Brahma yajña is feeding the Sadguru. (2) Deva yajña or ṛṣi yajña is feeding the devotees participating in the seminar, who are like angels (devas) or sages (ṛṣis). (3) Pitṛ yajña is feeding the elders of the family and other elders among the guests. (4) Manuṣya yajña is feeding all the other guests and beggars in the end and (5) Bhūta yajna is feeding hungry animals and birds. After doing these five types of sacrifice, the owner eats the food and this is called ātma yajña.

The wrong interpretation of homa is burning ghee alone in the physical fire. The correct interpretation is to burn the food containing plenty of ghee in the hunger-fire of the guests attending satsaṅga. The first hymn of the first Veda (Ṛg Veda) says that the fire (Agni) and the person (hotā) offering the ghee-food to the hunger-fire are one and the same. This reveals the total picture. The person possessing the hunger-fire in the stomach himself is treated as fire or agni and the same person eating the food is treated as the hotā or the one who offers the ghee-food into the fire. If this interpretation is not understood, one has not learnt even the first alphabet of the Veda or the spiritual knowledge!

Yajña or sacrifice is the practical devotion involving two practical parts. The first part is the process of cooking food which is service. It is called karma saṃnyāsa. The second part is the owner or the host of the sacrifice purchasing and providing food ingredients. It involves the sacrifice of the person’s wealth and is known as karma phala tyāga or the sacrifice of the fruit of the person’s work. Thus, the ritual called yajña is karma yoga and performing it is the path of karma (karma mārga). This is the path followed by the Pūrva Mīmāṃsakas, but unfortunately, they follow it without touching the preceding steps namely, knowledge and devotion. Before doing karma yoga, it is necessary to have discussions of spiritual knowledge (jñāna yoga) and prayers to God with devotion (bhakti yoga).

In the spiritual seminar (yajña), the expert in the Ṛg Veda is called the hotā, the expert in the Yajur Veda is called the adhvaryu, the expert in the Sāma Veda is called the udgātā and the expert in the Atharva Veda is called Brahmā. Hotā is also a general word meaning every hungry person eating food. The ultimate fruit of this entire sacrifice goes to the host or the owner (along with his wife) since it is he who is performing the sacrifice of the fruit of his work. The owner who is a householder, is also the one who pays the priests and other people rendering service. In this way, karma phala tyāga stands in the highest place as told in the Gītā (Tyāgāt śāntiḥ…—Gītā). Hence, yajña means all the three aspects namely, āna (knowledge), bhakti (devotion) and karma (practical service and sacrifice) in that sequence.

The main essence is that yajña means sacrificing food to living, deserving receivers and not sacrificing food to inert items like fire. Those who sacrifice food to inert items like fire become an inert item in their next birth. Importance should be given to the seminar involving knowledge and devotion and not to the mere eating of food together as is done in a function like a marriage. In this light, the knowledge-seminar is said to be more important than the mere eating of the food (Śreyān dravyamayāt…—Gītā). But providing food after the satsaṅga has the highest value since it alone gives the divine practical fruit. Śaṅkara stressed on knowledge (jñāna yoga) and Maṇḍana Miśra stressed on service (karma yoga), whereas, Kumārila Bhaṭṭa stressed on both knowledge and service. The Gītā also says that one should perform practical service and sacrifice after finishing the knowledge part (Jñātvā kurvīta karmāṇi).