The Vegan Way ~ Spiritual Calling of Pramoda Chitrabhanu

by on March 5, 2016

Just listening to Pramodaben seems like a spiritual experience. She has found her life’s calling in promoting veganism as a non-violent way of life. The softly spoken words she utters have the power to transform hearts.
Her recent cookbook, Rainbow Food for the Vegan Palate, is not only about innovative vegan recipes but is the distilled essence of all she believes in, laying the foundation for spiritual peace and joy nurtured through cooking and eating right.
At 73, Pramoda Chitrabhanu is agile in mind and body, and is elegance personified. Her life partner and companion is none other than Gurudev Shri Chitrabhanuji, a spiritual master who has propagated the philosophy of Jainism to the masses.

Pramoda Chitrabhanu

Pranam Pramodaben. Congratulations on your new cookbook. What inspired you to conceptualise and publish this book?
I consider it my duty to make people aware of the fact that a vegan diet—a plant-based diet—can be nutritious, wholesome and delicious. Very often, people have asked me where one gets required nutrients without consuming dairy? Well, a plant-based diet is packed with nutrients, so we do not need to seek nutrition in meat, fish, poultry, eggs or dairy. Several disciples and students have often requested me to share my vegan recipes and so I decided to write this cookbook. It is a totally different compilation from my first cookbook, Foods of Earth: Tastes of Heaven, which was a vegetarian cookbook.
What brought about the transformation from vegetarianism to veganism?
About 20 years ago in Las Vegas, a few American friends of one of our hosts brought to my notice how the calf is separated from its mother so her milk can be used for human consumption. One of them said that the dairy industry has become a milking machine. The cruelty imposed on animals is inhumane. She also said that most of us assume that just because cows are not being directly slaughtered for their milk, dairy products are somehow less inhumane. At that time, I did not realise how her words would have an impact on our lives. When we returned to our home in New York, I mentioned the discussion to Chitrabhanuji. He said he had also been thinking about this. One morning a few days later, he asked me for black tea and told me that he had decided not to consume any dairy products henceforth. Later in the day, when I went grocery shopping, my mind subconsciously kept noting all the non-dairy options of milk available in the store. Upon my asking, the shopkeeper said these options had been around for over five years. I was amazed at the fact that I had never noticed them before. I brought back one carton. That, perhaps, was my moment of transition as I gradually gravitated towards veganism.
It is really commendable how the two of you have found a common vision which has culminated into a powerful mission in life. Are you both Jains by birth?
Yes, we are both Jains. Chitrabhanuji embraced monkhood in 1942. In 1970, he was invited to the Second Spiritual Summit Conference to be held in Geneva, Switzerland. But Jain monks are not permitted to travel overseas. He then renounced monkhood, but continued to spread the message of Ahimsa of Lord Mahavira across the seas.
Thank you for sharing this. How did your interest in religion develop?
I have always been inclined towards the spiritual path. As a child, I spent a lot of time with Jain nuns. My parents were religious, but my way of thinking was more spiritual than religious.
You have spent most of your life in the US….
Yes, we moved to New York in 1971 at the invitation of Harvard Divinity School. In 1973, Chitrabhanuji founded the Jain Meditation International Centre in Manhattan, New York City. We have lived in the US for almost 40 years.
What is your typical food at home?
We prefer Indian food—it is simple, nutritious and sattvik. We never really subscribed to fried or spicy food. Actually, I left India and went to the US when I was 28. Until then, I did not even know how to cook. At home, we always had a cook and my mother firmly believed I would learn when the need arose.
And yet, you are an accomplished cook today with two cookbooks to your credit.
Anything is possible when you have the right support and attitude. I was an introvert and quite a shy person. But Chitrabhanuji acknowledged my potential and inspired me. Initially, I was reticent but, over time, things change.
If you have to describe your relationship in one word, what would that be?
Kalyanmitra. We are spiritual companions. We are working on the same path without compromising or interfering with each other. The true purpose of any relationship is sahadharmachaar, which means helping each other in rightful conduct. I tell young couples that all the problems emerge when we live in conflict. If we learn to accept things, conflicts cease.
How well expressed! How did your cooking adventure take wings?
My American students always wondered how we got all the nutrients from vegetarian food. That is how I started conducting cooking classes back in the 1970s. We used to have monthly retreats at our meditation centre. At that time, around 50 to 60 residents had to be fed. I cooked the food at my place with the help of a few students. There was much appreciation from them, which encouraged me further. We would make a salad and a one-pot dish which included dal and vegetables. My cooking classes became quite popular and, at that time, The New York Times gave me two-page coverage.
How would you define the mission of your life?
The purpose of our life is to set free the imprisoned splendour within oneself. The path to this is nonviolence and non-accumulation. To release that splendour, one has to work towards it in a secular manner.
Kindly elaborate on what you mean by secular.
We are not dogmatic, and sincerely believe religion should not divide but unite hearts. We have always invited spiritual leaders from other religions to our home, which led to having open discussions that were always very enlightening.
Your advice to youngsters….
Don’t remain silent when you see wrong things around you. I always say: Be a whisper or be a scream, but be a voice for the voiceless being. It is not violence that we should fear as much as silence. The world suffers not because of those who commit violence, but because of those who remain silent.


Photo Courtesy: Harmony Magazine


Part-2 of this post is the recipe of Tofu Pudding, a delicious and sattvik kheer with soy milk, from Pramoda Chitrabhanu’s kitchen.
First published in ‘Heart to Hearth’ – a column in Harmony Celebrate Age magazine. A series about elders who believe in nurturing the body and mind as the key to joy.


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