Making the Body a Temple for Service
There are many practices and analogies which are given to help us see the body in perspective. First, we mark our body with sacred clay or tilak on the forehead and eleven other places to designate it as a Temple, meant for spiritual practice. Therefore, we must respect the body and take care of it as part of our service to Guru and Krishna. This is very important to acknowledge due to the tendency to artificially deny the body without realization of the soul. In the name of spirituality we may do things that may be counter productive for us in the long run. Although we are “not the body” we must take care of our physical necessities and be compassionate to ourselves and others for our shortcomings. We do want to "stretch" spiritually, but not break by taking on more than we can handle.
The body is our foundational carriage. It carries our mind, senses, intelligence and soul and must be carefully guided by spiritual intelligence gained from Vedic scriptures, saints and our experience, lest our horse-like senses run wild and drag us down. Another “vehicle” view of the body given in the Upanishads, compares it to a suitable boat to cross the ocean of the material world. The pure devotee is compared to the qualified captain who guides the vessel, whereas the Vedas are considered favorable breezes.
The Gita describes the soul as the “master” of the figurative bodily “city” which has nine gates (the various “holes” like nostrils, ears, eyes, mouth etc). Although as Krishna’s devotees we are all trying to realize that we are servants of God, and not master, supreme controller or enjoyer, we ARE “master” of the body in terms being responsible for our life’s direction.
We have the capacity to choose to serve God consciously, or to serve him in forgetfulness, indirectly forced through the physical world and our bodily necessities and lust, greed and anger. As the marginal energy of the Supreme, we are truly a product of our environment, whether material or spiritual. Since we are very small we tend to be overcome by ignorance unless we are able to return to the shelter of Krishna. An example often given of the soul apart from God is that of a spark leaving the fire, and thus losing its fiery nature.
The bare bone necessities of the body are proper food, water, air, activity and rest. Proper food for devotees is “Prasadum” or lacto-vegetarian foods offered to Krishna. “If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it. Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer or give away, and whatever austerities you perform -- do that, O son of Kunti, as an offering to Me.” [Bg 9.26-27] These foods ideally have the energy or quality of goodness, without any type of meat, fish or eggs, and are prepared with love. “Foods dear to those in the mode of goodness increase the duration of life, purify one's existence and give strength, health, happiness and satisfaction. Such foods are juicy, fatty, wholesome, and pleasing to the heart.” [Bg 17.8]
With types and quality of food established, comes the obvious discussion of quantity. Do we eat to live, or live to eat? How much food or Prasadum we eat or “honor” (since “Prasad” is a manifestation of Krishna) depends on our age and how much energy we are using. Overeating is not considered a good spiritual quality for a devotee and Shrila Prabhupada’s guru, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur criticized his overweight disciples.
Though the six Goswamis [disciples of Lord Chaitanya) hardly ate or slept, this was a byproduct of their spirituality. Just eating less or sleeping less doesn’t in and of itself bring spiritual progress. Only devotional service or bhakti gives us bhakti. It doesn't come merely from tapa, austerity or jnana, knowledge. While we serve Krishna we also have to be tuned into our body to understand what it requires, and eat, drink and sleep accordingly. Therefore we shouldn’t be artificial in our bodily necessities, but eat according to our need and what we can digest.
The sanskirt word “atma” can refer to body, mind or the soul in different contexts. Thus it should be no surprise that we need to address these aspects of our life in the material world in order to be balanced and make spiritual progress. The most important use of our body is in relationship with God or Shri Shri Radha and Krishna as revealed to us by Lord Chaitanya and his followers.
By using our body, mind, words, money, relationships and life in devotional service to Krishna or God we become purified and “spiritualized”, and our body becomes a Temple by practical activity. Krishna conscious practices such as hearing, chanting, and remembering about Krishna and serving him and his devotees, are how we can live in the world but not identify with it. We may have families, jobs, home, and possessions. Yet, if we endeavor to remember that we are first and foremost a "das" or dasi" servant of Krishna, offering him our life, then we are not really living in the material world.
"Therefore, Arjuna, you should always think of Me in the form of Krishna and at the same time carry out your prescribed duty of fighting. With your activities dedicated to Me and your mind and intelligence fixed on Me, you will attain Me without doubt." Bhagavad-gita 8.7
"In all activities just depend upon Me and work always under My protection. In such devotional service, be fully conscious of Me." Bg 18.57