Ramakrishna's Love for Food
In my favorite picture of Ramakrishna he is eating Indian sweet called laddu. Standing in a temple with the idol of Goddess Kali behind him, he has bitten into a laddu. He is now chewing it. The remaining half of the sweet is in his right hand. On his outstretched left hand there is a tray full of laddus. He is not dancing but it appears that he is. His munching mouth exposes his front teeth. His eyes are lit with laughter and focused far beyond. Joy is reflected all over his face. He seems to be intoxicated. This type of ecstatic mood is typical of Ramakrishna.
Ramakrishna loved all foods, not just sweets. Perhaps he experienced the divine through his sense of taste. Not strange. Isn't food the giver of life, and therefore Brahma? As food went past his taste buds and entered his stomach a sense of joy radiated and filled his entire body. At times he would become unconscious and remain so for hours. Sometimes he would walk out of a gathering of disciples, run to the kitchen, smell or taste what was ready, and dart back. His wife, Ma Sharada, at times felt embarrassed wondering what people would think. But Ramakrishna was oblivious, for he knew that some mysterious power was in control and he was doing its bidding. He never talked about his weakness for food because he said he did not wish to attract a following of gluttons!
Anyway, Ramakrishna enjoyed food all his life, experienced great joy, and kept quiet about it. His followers reverently ignored his weakness. Toward the end of his life he suffered cancer of the throat. He was unable to eat or drink for he could not swallow. Yet he was joyful as ever despite acute pain and denial of food. Calcutta's best doctors tried their best but failed to cure him.
One day Vivekananda and some other disciples were sitting with Ramakrishna. Vivekananda said to him: "Parmahamsa, your suffering is unbearable to us. Doctors have tried and failed to help you. It is a very difficult situation. Since you are so close to God, why don't you seek His help? I am sure your prayer will not be ignored."
Ramakrishna grinned and replied that he did ask Ma Kali to cure him.
"But do you know what she said to me?
'Ramakrishna, you have eaten and enjoyed enough food; it's time to stop. From now on you should relish what others eat. As food touches their taste buds and goes down their throats, you should feel as if you are eating it. Become one with your brothers and sisters.'
That I think is good advice, for I am the gainer. Earlier, I relished only what touched my taste buds; now I enjoy what all of you eat. My enjoyment is multiplied a thousand fold!"
Parmahamsa Ramakrishna left his body after about 8 days of fasting. His enchanting smile stayed on his face every minute of those days and it remained imprinted on it even after he departed from his body.
July 8, 2006