Meditation on the Seven Forms of Food, the Objects of Desires, Manifestations of the Supreme


The word ‘food’ in the Upanishads has much wider connotation than what is normally understood by it. ‘Food’ stands for all the inputs required to sustain life both at the individual and cosmic levels.

The Creator, Prajapati, by means of knowledge and contemplation (medha and tapas) produced seven kinds of foods viz., 1. solid food, what we generally call as food for consumption by all 2. milk (liquid food) 3. sacrifice (yajna) 4. symbolic offerings to gods 5. speech 6. mind and 7. life-breath. The first four, ‘gross foods’, sustain our physical life. The last three, ‘subtle foods’, are significant for our metaphysical life both at the individual and cosmic levels. The supply of these seven foods is never exhausted. Like Prajapati Himself, man continues to produce them through work. Their significance is brought out by many descriptions like three worlds, three Vedas, spirit of gods, ancestors and men, father, mother and children in a family, as also what is known, what is to be known and what is unknown.

Finally, the Upanishad enumerates the cosmic equivalents of speech, mind and life breath. Speech has earth as its body and fire as its luminous nature. Mind has heaven as its body and sun as its luminous nature. Life breath is born from a union of heaven and sun. In other words, life originates from cosmic mind. It is said to have water as its body (support) and moon as its luminous nature.

The idea behind these mantras is that by the absorption of the whole universe into one’s Self, the individual “I" becomes the Cosmic “I”.


The object of desire, in the language of the Upanishad, is generally called 'Anna', 'food'. It is a peculiar term used in the Upanishads. Anna means food, or a diet of the senses. So, the diet of the senses is the object of desire. All objects of desire are the food for the senses and the mind. The whole world of manifestation may be regarded as the food for consciousness. All that is material is a food for the spiritual contemplating principle. Prakriti is thus the 'food' for Purusha. Now, what is this food? What is an object, and how many kinds of objects are there towards which the desire moves, the Upanishad answers in the following mantras.

We are told that there are seven kinds of food which God has created for the satisfaction of the individuals. The ordinary food that we eat every day is one kind of food. The milk that comes out from the breast of the mother is another kind of food, natural to children, whether they are human or otherwise. The sacrifices offered to the gods or the divinities called Darsha and Purnamasa, the offerings that we make to gods especially during the new moon and the full moon occasions, are two other kinds of food that sustains the gods, because that is the way we establish a connection between ourselves and the celestials. There is then a threefold food which is psychological in nature, called in the Upanishadic language as speech, mind and Prana. These are the internal apparatus of the individual to come in contact with things outside and therefore they are called the instruments of food. 

By means of entanglement in this sevenfold food, the subject-individual gets caught up in the object-atmosphere or the outside world. The objects catch hold of the subjects by attracting them towards themselves and making the subjects depend on them. Anything on which you depend is the food of yours, and all these seven things are mentioned as things on which individuals depend for their sustenance.

People consume food of various types endlessly, for ages, over centuries, and yet, the food is not exhausted. Why is it so, is the question raised in the Upanishad. How is it that food is not exhausted despite its being eaten for centuries. If anyone knows the reason why food is not exhausted in spite of its being consumed endlessly, such a person goes to the gods and partakes of the immortality, or ambrosia of the gods. He rejoices in the nectarine realm of the celestials. This is the thesis, mentioned in an outline, in the first Mantra of this section, whose meaning is explained in greater detail in the following mantra.

Now the question, why food-stuff is not exhausted, is answered. It cannot be exhausted because the desire of the human mind or any mind for that matter is inexhaustible. As long as a desire is present, its object also will be present. You cannot exhaust the object of your desire as long as the desire itself is not exhausted. The presence of an object of desire is implied in the presence of the desire itself. So, as long as there is an inexhaustible reservoir of desire in people, there would be an inexhaustible reservoir of supply also. So, no food in this world can be exhausted as long as there is a need for food. When the need is there, fulfillment has to be there, in one form or the other. It is the presence of desire, or longing, or requirement that is the cause of the presence of the counterparts of these requirements in the form of objects of desire, or food-stuffs etc. The individual person is an inexhaustible source of desire, and therefore the universe of objects will not be exhausted for that person with such desires. To put it in the language of economics, as long as the demand is there, there will be supply also.

Again and again you create the objects of desire by the intensification of your desires. By your actions you create circumstances for fulfillment of desires; and actions are nothing but manifestation of desires. It is desire operating in the form of action, and action is the movement of desire, in one way or the other, towards this object of fulfillment. So, by actions which are propelled by desire, the objects of desire are sustained. One who knows this truth will not be bound by the sting of desires.

In other words, if desire is to be absent, the world itself would become absent. The world in front of you exists because of your desires. If the desires of all created beings get absorbed into their own sources, the universe will vanish in one second. It cannot exist. So, if the desires are not present, there will be no objects of desire and the world would have immediately extinguished itself.
This whole passage is a very complicated structure, the meaning of which is manifold which ultimately point out to the fact that a desire is not an unspiritual activity of the mind, when its meaning is properly understood and its purposes are directed towards the Supreme Fulfillment which is its aim. But it becomes a binding factor if its meaning is not understood, and if one merely hangs on to the literal meaning of desire, without knowing its spiritual implication.