The Magic of Cooking

by Sharon Gannon |
September, 2014
The Magic of Cooking
Brahmarpanam Brahma-Havir / Brahmagnau Brahmana Hutam / Brahmaiva Tena Gantavyam / Brahma-Karma-Samadhina

See God everywhere: God is the ladle; God also is the food; God is the fire; God is the preparer; and God is the eater of the food. God is the reason for eating and God is the goal to be reached.

Bhagavad Gita 4.24

I asked my first spiritual teacher, the alchemist Randy Hall, “How do I become enlightened?,” and he responded, “First, learn how to cook, clean, and garden.” I was incredulous at his response; it disappointed me, and at the time I wasn’t able to embrace his advice seriously as it didn’t seem “spiritual enough” for me. Cooking? I was an impatient, skinny girl who found disdain in eating and was trying to reduce her food to a minimum and eventually live on air: how did he think that I could get into cooking? What could possibly be the point? I felt similarly about cleaning and gardening.

Over the years I’ve come to see the extraordinary wisdom of this advice. Preparing and cooking food is a magical act, a potent, alchemical process, through which one form is transformed into another form: varied ingredients are deftly combined and subjected to the elements of water, fire and air in just the right proportions, with just the right timing and with appropriate spells—consisting of good mental intentions, with no gossip or small talk in the kitchen—to manifest a delicious meal that satisfies both body and soul. A cookbook can be seen as a book of formulas for this magical process, complete with how-to instructions, suggestions, and advice, which, if followed with a cheerful heart and sense of adventure, could result in the most delightful culinary experiences manifesting on the dinner table. Food prepared in this way can even produce a shift in perception of oneself and others, yielding hope and encouragement to move forward through life.

To make this magic happen most effectively, it is essential to bring consciousness to what we eat and how we prepare it. When we eat meat, eggs and dairy products, we are buying into a cultural conditioning that has disconnected us from the natural intelligence of our bodies for the purpose of generating profits for the animal-user industries, we are destroying the health of our bodies and our environment, and we are participating in horrific enslavement, exploitation and slaughter of other animals, which will eventually, but inevitably, come back to us. When we adopt a vegan lifestyle, we bring kindness into our lives—kindness to our bodies and to our relationships with others. Yoga teaches that whatever we want in life we can have if we are willing to provide it for others. If we want to be free, then depriving others of freedom and utilizing so many resources that others are left impoverished, cannot lead us to our goal. Making kind choices when it comes to the food we eat is one of the most basic ways to begin to ensure our own happiness and freedom.

Our state of mind when we cook is also important to the outcome. If we are in a bad mood, it is best to stay out of the kitchen. To cultivate the highest intention and clear any negativity we may feel, we can pray or chant a mantra before we start to cook, while cooking, and before we eat. To pray is to set a high intention, to implore the Divine forces to come to our aid for a good and selfless end. As we approach the cooking process and then the eating of the food we have cooked, we make sure that our minds and hearts are centered in an elevated intentional mood. This purifies the whole experience, ridding the kitchen of toxins, both subtle (like anger and impatience) and gross (like dirt and bacteria). See the kitchen as part of God’s abode, as sacred space, as a doorway to enlightenment. The kitchen is a temple, and all the pots, pans, spices, grains, fruits, and vegetables, as well as the stove, spoons, knives, bowls, and plates, are all Divine objects, full of consciousness, waiting to become part of the Divine, alchemical process of creating a meal. Allow the fire of your soul to become part of the heating element that cooks your food.

The most courageous act any of us can do at this time is to dare to care about others—other animals, the Earth, and all beings. To be more other-centered than self-centered is the first step to happiness. Choosing vegan ingredients and cooking them yourself with a pure intention will not only help you create tasty meals but will help you start your own radical movement of peaceful, joyful coexistence with all of life.

Adapted from Sharon Gannon’s cookbook Simple Recipes for Joy.

Teaching Tips

  • Explain that the verse from the Bhagavad Gita in this essay can be used as a blessing or prayer over food. Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu can also be used, and is particularly good for repeating mentally throughout the entire cooking process to maintain an elevated mood.
  • When mantras and prayers are used as a blessing over food, the result is that the preparing of the meal, the ones who are preparing and offering the meal, and the eating of the offered meal all become merged and the experience exudes a magical potency that can actually bring one closer to the knowledge of the transcendental Divine Reality. Offered food is known in the yogic literature as prasad—which means blessed food. The so-called simple act of preparing and eating food can be a spiritual experience if the intention is there.
  • Allow me to share with you what I personally say while I am offering the food I am about to eat: Om Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu, Om shantih shantih shantih, Hari Om. Jai Shri Krishna! I offer this lovely meal to you as an offering of my devotion. May you please accept it and may I be blessed by your prasad and when I eat it be filled with your light, your love and your grace and be able to enhance the lives of others and increase your bliss in this world and any other. Radhe Shyam!
  • When every action we take is taken in remembrance of God, as an offering to God, then we are acting with the highest intention. The purpose of our life according to yoga is to become God realized. We can purify our karmas (our actions) through dedicating every action to God. To become God’s instrument—an instrument for unconditional love—is the intention of the yogi. The practice of yoga is the perfection of action.
  • As teachers you are mainly going to be working with students and focusing on asanas. You could remind students that what they eat and how that food is prepared will affect them physically as well as mentally and spiritually. Just as we take care of our body through various exercises, we also need to care for our body through how we eat. Asanas and cooking are both physical practices that affect us on my levels beyond the physical.
  • You might want to read something from the introduction, foreword or cooking tips from the book, Simple Recipes for Joy.
  • Since it’s obviously not practical to do an actual cooking exercise in class, here is one recipe from my cookbook that you can mention to students is in these tips which are available freely on the website. Encourage them to try it at home—it’s easy, fun and very delicious!

Spirulina Millet

This is the Jivamuktea Café’s signature dish. You won’t find this at any other restaurant, because I developed it in my own kitchen and have been serving it to dinner guests—including my cats—for about 30 years. It has everything—protein, omega-3 fatty acids, chlorophyll . . ., and, of course, incredible taste! It’s great as a side dish and even as a spread on toast, where the taste evokes an aged cheese.

  • 1 cup uncooked millet
  • 2 cups water
  • 4 tablespoons flax seed oil
  • 4 tablespoons powdered spirulina algae
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce, tamari, or Braggs Liquid Aminos

Place the millet and the water in a medium pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes, until most of the water is absorbed. Turn off the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Transfer the cooked millet to a large bowl, and let it sit uncovered for about 10 minutes to dry out some. Add the flaxseed oil and, using a large fork, mix well to coat the millet. Little by little add the spirulina, using the fork to mix. Add the soy sauce, mixing well until the millet is bright green. I like to use a fork to mix all of the ingredients, but some people might prefer to use their hands.

Serves 2 to 4