If you’ve ever attended a Hare Krishna love feast, you’re probably familiar with the wonderful smell of Vedic spices, varieties of colored dishes, sweets and treats beyond your imagination, and an accompanying vibrant spiritual atmosphere, complete with Krishna devotees dancing in ecstasy and the happy vibrations of the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna/ Krishna Krishna Hare Hare/ Hare Rama Hare Rama/ Rama Rama Hare Hare.”
Krishna prasadam, the food offered to and tasted by the Supreme Lord, Sri Krishna, is one of the Hare Krishna movement’s most famous and important aspects. Who can resist a hot, fresh samosa with a spicy and sweet tomato chutney, paired with gulab-jammun (a deep fried milk-bread ball soaked in a flavoured sugar syrup) and a fresh sabji (vegetable stew)? Practically no-one, save those who misunderstand spiritual life to be avoidance of sense enjoyment. When Krishna enjoys first, his devotees enjoy like anything. What actually makes the prasadam taste so wonderful is the fact that Krishna himself has tasted the offering with his transcendental senses. Because Krishna is absolute, he can just look at the dish and taste the offering with his eyes. For Krishna, his body being all spiritual and absolute, there is no difference between any of his senses. In conditioned life in the material world, where we currently reside, we are bound to the laws of relativity: none of our senses can perform the actions of the other senses. Our nose can’t hear, our tongue can’t see, etc. This taken into account, Krishna can, without a doubt, accept the food even though may not be present to our current blunt material senses. He is present in his picture or deity, because he can be anywhere by his various potencies, which are non-different from him. Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita, Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego—all together these eight constitute My separated material energies. (Bg 7.4)
All energy must have a source. We can see that a light acts because it is connected to a powerhouse, or that sun-rays comes from the sun, as do so many other forms of energy. Ultimately, there must be a source of all energies. Because these are Krishna’s energies, and he is absolute, Krishna can appear even in what may seem to us as just a statue made of marble, wood, metal or paint. And because he is the controller of both the spiritual and material energies, he can change matter into spirit, or vice versa, at his will. By his tasting the bhoga (ingredients prepared with love and devotion) the food becomes spiritualized and thus transforms into prasadam. When one tastes prasadam, he also immediately becomes spiritualized, and the food incurs no karma, or in other words, it produces no reaction.
This is part of the reason why that when people taste prasadam, they rarely can give up the nectar of it’s transcendental taste. Krishna is the reservoir of all pleasure, so his prasadam is similarly unlimitedly tasteful, and one becomes elevated in spiritual life just by eating it.
These all seem like nice things, but the question might still arise, “Why should we offer anything at all to Krishna? It seems like kind of weird thing to ring that bell in front of an altar and wait 15 minutes for someone I can’t even see to taste my food before I eat it.” Well, dear reader, that is a good question, and to answer it, Krishna smashes our whole conception of reality in the Bhagavad-gita when he says, “As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Bg 2.13) We are not the body. We are the consciousness, the eternal self within the ever-changing material vehicle. Even though the body is changing, the person within remains the same. Now, if we’re not the body, why should we accept a temporary body? The body isn’t just temporary, it’s prone to become diseased and old. The mind torments us with a constant raging river of thoughts and desires. The muscles ache, the bones crack, the blood boils, and the skin dries. We feel all kinds of pains, and worst of all we have to die. How come we’ve donned such a rubbish material vehicle? Because we’ve forgotten our eternal relationship with God, Krishna. When the little consciousness wants to become the super-consciousness, or the super-soul, the supreme person, he has to become covered with the material body, which gives him the illusion that he is independent, and that he is the enjoyer. In reality, however, Krishna is controlling everything, and he is the only enjoyer. That means that Krishna’s pleasure is what matters in reality, as opposed to our currently selfish understanding that our own happiness is what the world revolves around. He is the center-point of everything, and everyone is his servant, because everything comes from him and is maintained by him. Of course, not every soul likes to hear this. Every soul is a part and parcel of Krishna, and therefore possesses a fractional proportion of the qualities of the Lord, which includes independence and the propensity for enjoyment. Thus the little souls also sometimes want to misuse their independence; they want to become Krishna themselves and envy the Lord when He is glorified. So that’s why we’re here in this material world, trying to be the enjoyers. The only way to get out of this world of death and sorrow and rediscover our true, eternal, blissful nature is to revive our original harmonious relationship with Krishna. This process is called in Sanskrit Bhakti-yoga, and while it has no proper English translation, it roughly comes out to “linking oneself up to God through devotion.” The whole thing is flip our present consciousness of trying to be Krishna into becoming his loving servant by glorifying him instead of ourselves, serving him and his devotees instead of our own senses, and always thinking of him instead of meditating on how wonderful we think we are. The process begins with the tongue, which has two functions; vibrating and tasting. Vibrating is transformed into Krishna activity by chanting the holy names of Krishna: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna/ Krishna Krishna Hare Hare/ Hare Rama Hare Rama/ Rama Rama Hare Hare. Tasting is the subject matter for this article though, and that’s spiritualized by simply preparing and offering Krishna palatable foodstuffs with love and devotion. Palatable foodstuffs might be a bit hard to ascertain right off the bat, as your uncle might prefer some weird, fermented Scandinavian fish from a can, while you like vegetarian food. Good news! Krishna makes it very easy to know what to offer him, as he tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita;
If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it. (BG 9.26)
Anyone, whoever he may be, and wherever he might reside, can find a least one of these four items and offer it to Krishna with love. We can offer any combination of these foodstuffs, while avoiding a couple of no-nos like alcohol, onions and garlic (these foods are in lower modes of nature and agitate the mind and senses) and few other items that you’ll be able to find in Offering food to Krishna, an e-book compiled by His Grace Sriman Purujit Dasa, available now on our website. By following this simple process, anyone can make progress in spiritual realization and develop his dormant love for God. An important thing to note is that Krishna doesn’t desire our food. Krishna is always enjoying a quality of foodstuffs beyond our wildest dreams, prepared by goddesses of fortune in the spiritual world of unlimited bliss, where one can approach trees called cintamani-prakara-sadmasu kalpa-vrksa, which means that those trees can give you any kind of food that you like. (Brahma-samhita 5.34). So Krishna doesn’t need our offering, but He does desire our devotion to him, and that causeless loving attitude will make us very happy. When Krishna is pleased by our love, being that we are his part and parcel, we automatically feel loved. Krishna says in the fifteenth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita; The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind. (Bg 15.7) If the finger serves the whole body, the finger becomes healthy. If the finger tries to eat separately from the stomach, he will become weak and unhappy. We can also understand that if something doesn’t belong to us and we take it, we’ll be subject to a punishment. For instance, if a thief takes some bread from a merchant, he’ll be pursued by the government for his unlawful act. That’s a material example, and of course, people can escape government laws. No one can escape the laws of God, however. The Sri Isopanishad, one of the Vedic scriptures, says isavasyam idam sarvam (Iso Mantra 1), everything belongs to God. Nothing that we take to nourish our body can be manufactured in one of our modern industrial facilities. No-one can create water, grains, milk, fruits, vegetables or even meat in a factory. We can can conclude, therefore, that they are gifts of God. So, if we take these foods for our own pleasure without even recognizing that they come from God, are we not thieves? If some builder of a house, for example, were to claim the house as his own simply because he put the materials together, does that mean he now owns the house? Of course not. In the same way, we are growing crops, raising livestock, collecting water, all while claiming it for ourselves, without inquiring as to who the actual proprietor of these things are.
As a result, we are punished by the laws of nature. This is a natural consequence of taking what does not belong to us. Actually, Krishna is providing the foodstuffs for our benefit, but for us to offer in sacrifice to him so that we might be free from the law of karma. Srila A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains this concept very explicitly in his 3.14 purport in the Bhagavad-gita:
“The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vishnu, who is known as the yajïna-purusa, or the personal beneficiary of all sacrifices, is the master of all the demigods, who serve Him as the different limbs of the body serve the whole. Demigods like Indra, Candra and Varuna, are appointed officers who manage material affairs, and the Vedas direct sacrifices to satisfy these demigods so that they may be pleased to supply air, light and water sufficiently to produce food grains. When Lord Vishnu, who is the expansion of Krishna, is worshiped, the demigods, who are different limbs of the Lord, are also automatically worshiped; so there is no separate need to worship the demigods. For this reason, the devotees of the Lord, who are in Krishna consciousness, offer foodstuffs to Vishnu and then accept them for eating—a process which nourishes the body spiritually. By such action not only are past sinful reactions in the body vanquished, but the body becomes immunized to all contamination of material nature. When there is an epidemic disease, an antiseptic vaccine protects a person from the attack of such an epidemic. Similarly, food offered to Lord Vishnu and then taken by us makes us sufficiently resistant to material affection, and one who is accustomed to this practice is called a devotee of the Lord. Therefore, a person in Krishna consciousness, who eats only food offered to Krishna, can counteract all reactions of past material infections, which are impediments to the progress of self-realization. On the other hand, one who does not do so continues to increase the volume of sinful actions, and thus prepares his next body to be that of a hog or a dog, to suffer the resultant reactions of all sins. The material world is full of contaminations, and one who is immunized by accepting prasadam of the Lord (food offered to Vishnu) is saved from the attack, whereas one who does not do so becomes subjected to contamination.” (Bg 3.14)
If we take the life of even a vegetable, or steal from a cow, we are subject to the laws of God. But if we offer to Krishna, the original proprietor of these things, then karma cannot touch us.
Karma is a system that keeps us in the material world on account of our desire to enjoy the senses without restriction and devoid of relationship with the Supreme Lord. When we want to enjoy, as previously discussed, we come to this world and accept a body with senses that can enjoy matter and provide us the illusion that we are the enjoyers, rather than Krishna. So the attitude of enjoying food without a hint of offering it to Krishna is the sure-fire way of bondage to this world of illusion. Krishna confirms this in the Bhagavad-gita in the following sloka,
The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin. (Bg 3.13)
It’s a very simple thing to offer one’s food to Krishna. It just requires a cool head to understand it’s necessity, and an open heart to offer with love and devotion. The prayer is simple: “Krishna, you are so kind as to provide everything for me.” Krishna is supplying all these foodstuffs, as well as the heat and light of the sun, the cooling rays of the moon, and even the digestive fire in the body by which we process the food. Krishna maintains our very existence. “As you are providing all this, please taste a little sample of it before I do.” We should adopt the attitude of a loving son, who, out of respect and veneration and love for his father, gives him a bite of his candy or whatever he might have. The father has paid for the sweet, but he accepts such a humble offering, and the relationship between the father and the son brings both much pleasure.