I was initiated into Upanayana in early teens, as was customary for my community. It was a ritual for me for long, till I started looking behind the acts to see the actor.
One of the ritual that I was initiated into was to recite mantras ‘Om pranaya swaha, Om apanaya swaha,Om vyanaya swaha, Om udaanaya swaaha, Om samanaya swaaha’ before taking food. I was told to do that, and I did. I never questioned, and thought about the rationale. As time passed, ritual lost its appeal to me, inspired by ‘scientific’ reasoning, and I dumped it.
Decades later now, as I look back, the spirit (rather than the act) is appealing to me. It appears now to me that the actual rationale behind the mantras recited before taking food was to tell myself that food being taken is for pranas, the five life-sustaining vital forces. It, in turn, means that food intake is not so much to satisfy our taste buds but rather for basic sustenance of life.
It indicates an approach of social life based inherent satisfaction of every individual rather than of a rat race, that we see now, chasing never ending dreams. It comes from a tradition in which every living being, including lives of animals (even snakes) and trees were respected, as our own. It encapsulates spirit of healthy co-existence and ecological balance into which the world is waking up, in the context of climate change.
World is coming a full circle with the realization that we are very close to annihilating ourselves from the world. It may be late but, hopefully, not too late to get back to the basics and get our acts together