More on prasadam

Sep 19 2002 - Krishna Talk 35

Devotee: In a recent Krsna Talk you mentioned that we should appreciate prasadam more deeply, but I have also heard you say that everything called 'prasadam' may not actually be prasadam. This seems to be inconsistent, so can you please explain this more clearly?

Swami Narasingha: There are gradations in all things, prasadam included. There are many things to consider. It is easy to say it is prasadam because it comes from a 'temple,' but in fact the offering may not have been accepted by Krsna.

In the Hyderbad temple it so happened that Srila Prabhupada once asked to taste the prasadam that was being distributed to the guests. When he tasted the prasadam he was upset and he called for the leaders of the temple. He asked them, "What is this?" To which they replied, "It is prasadam Srila Prabhupada." Then to everyone's dismay Srila Prabhupada said, "This is not prasadam, this is garbage! You cannot offer just anything to Krsna. Krsna is not a garbage disposal."

It was discovered that the cook was not a qualified Vaishnava and he was then removed from that service. Srila Prabhupada did not forget about that incident for a long time. A few days later while taking prasadam in the home of Sri Bogilal Patel, a prominent life member, Srila Prabhupada commented to Bogilal that, "These boys eat garbage. Before I came they ate all garbage."

There had been a controversy in the Hyderbad temple for some time and some of the devotees were saying that the 'prasadam' was not actually prasadam. Something was wrong and some devotees could sense that. But, whoever said that was called an offender. Later when Srila Prabhupada gave his opinion they were of course vindicated. [Editors Note: The devotee who had pointed out to the temple president that the offerings were improper was Swami B. G. Narasingha]

The offerings in the Hyderbad temple had not been prepared properly and therefore the offerings were not accepted by Krsna. Many things are required for the preparation of an offering to Krsna. The consciousness of the cook is very important in preparing an offering. The consciousness of the one who makes the offering is also important and also the consciousness of the person distributing the prasadam and also the consciousness of the person taking the prasadam is important.

If one takes prasadam of the Deity but does so in the mood of enjoyment then he does not get the full benefit of prasadam, but rather he falls victim to his senses. This has been explained by Srila Prabhupada as follows:

"However, if one accepts prasada only because of its palatable taste and thus eats too much, he also falls prey to trying to satisfy the demands of the tongue. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu taught us to avoid very palatable dishes even while eating prasadam. If we offer palatable dishes to the Deity with the intention of eating such nice food, we are involved in trying to satisfy the demands of the tongue. In Caitanya-caritamrta (Antya 6.227) it is stated:

jihavara lalase yei iti-uti dhaya
sisnodara-parayana krsna nahi paya

'That person who runs here and there seeking to gratify his palate and who is always attached to the desires of his stomach and genitals is unable to attain Krsna.'"

Even the selling of bona fide prasadam may be an offense against prasadam. The accepted tradition is that a temple may sell maha-prasadam to the temple visitors and the revenues from those sales are to be directly utilized in the service of the Deity. However, if the prasadam is sold to a third party who in turn sells the prasadam for a profit and uses that revenue for material sense gratification then an offense to prasadam is created.

The power of prasadam and maha-prasadam is always transcendental, but if allowed to be exploited by anyone for material purposes then an offense is created.

There is a story in this regard that once Ramanujacarya fed a fish the maha-prasadam of the Deity. The fish jumped out of the water to grab the prasadam in its mouth and before it could enter the water again the fish assumed a Vaikuntha form and entered the Vaikuntha planets. The disciples of Ramanuja saw this and inquired from their guru as to why they had not yet received a Vaikuntha form since they had received maha-prasadam many times. Ramanuja replied that his disciples were trying to enjoy the prasadam which is an aparadha, offense. The fish he said made no such aparadha and therefore he attained Vaikuntha.

There was also once an incident wherein some devotees came to Srila Sridhar Maharaja to ask him about the "prasadam cookie distribution" in Los Angles. They informed Srila Sridhar Maharaja that thousands of people were taking the 'prasadam cookies' and they wanted to know if by taking such prasadam the people were guaranteed at least a human body in their next life? Srila Sridhara Maharaja said that would depend on what type of prasadam it actually was. He commented that there is gradation in all things and that there are considerations about the prasadam, such as who cooked it, who offered it, who distributed it, and in what consciousness it was honored, etc. Srila Sridhara Maharaja did not simply accept that anything in the name of 'prasadam' was actually prasadam or that all 'prasadam' was the same.

Sridhara Maharaja spoke the following in regard to this issue:

"The current must be there. Only wiring has no value. Do you follow? Connecting wiring but no current. So Vaikuntha nama grahane, the Vaikuntha connection, transcendental connection must be there. Otherwise form is form, useless. But the spirit must be within the form. Form is also necessary, wiring also necessary to utilize the electric current. But mere wiring has got no utility. The current must be there. So prasad distribution, all these external exhibition. But if the real connection with divinity otherwise all trade. Otherwise ulterior motive may be there as a business. Yati Goswami, the Bhagavata reading, taking money and reading Bhagavata is a class of trade. That may be trade but if the man who is at the back he has got sincere connection with the Lord then the connection coming and pervades everywhere, that is prasadam. Otherwise imitation. Imitation is not a real thing. So Bhaktivinode Thakura's congregation sankirtana. At least one man, the leader of the party must be suddha bhakta, pure devotee, the kirtana party guided under the pure devotee. Then we shall otherwise we will be dancing and jumping in the mundane plane. Connection must be there the electric connection."

"One may perceive that connection who has got eye. For that we have to get eye, om ajnana timirandhasya jnananjana salakaya. Our own realization will be the guarantee, our own knowledge. We see that sort of eye, that is given by gurudeva. The cataract is removed by gurudeva, gives the divya darsana, divine eye. Divya caksu diksa, diksa means transcendental knowledge imparted."

Similarly, we try to maintain that same discrimination, at least as far as our disciples are concerned. This is the prerogative of a bona-fide guru in teaching his disciples proper discrimination. Sometimes the guru may advise his disciples not to associate with a certain group of devotees or even to accept so-called prasadam from them if he thinks that such association is not good for their Krsna consciousness. We have seen similar instructions from Srila Prabhupada, instructions which he changed according to different circumstances. Of course a neophyte disciple may reject the order of his guru thinking that he knows more than his guru. Such disciples are usually attached to the society of guru-bhogis (enjoyers of the gurus property and mission), friendship, and mundane love, but such a guru-tyagi (one who has rejected his guru) has no real access to the realms of pure devotion.

There was once an incident wherein one of my disciples informed me that he was attending a temple in which all varieties of apasiddhanta were being preached from the Vyasa-asana. He informed me that there were varieties of strange things happening in the temple, such as punk-rock kirtans, excessive womens-lib, different types of mentally imbalanced persons living in the temple and many other improper activities. He even once informed me how on Nrsimha Caturdasi a Deity of Lord Nrsimha Deva was placed in the fire with firecrackers in it’s belly. The firecrackers ignited and the Deity was blown to pieces. This was stopped upon our pointing out it’s offensiveness, but reveals a total lack of discrimination. After some time I instructed this disciple to stop attending that temple and stop associating with those devotees, at which he showed me his guru-tyaga, revealing his deep attachments to social life and desiring to be the guru himself, rather than to take instruction from his guru.

If one is an offender to the pure devotees of Krsna then we do not accept their so-called prasadam. One may not directly be an offender, but if he resides in an institution wherein grievous offenses have been committed to the Lord's dear-most servants then to a certain extent even the innocent devotees will be affected by the offenses. This is called institutionalized aparadha. We may then consider their so-called prasadam and association as undesirable.

It is mentioned in chapter thirteen of Caitanya-bhagavat as follows:

"Such company, where Vaishnavas are offended may consist of highly pious persons still all their mercy is depleted. If Vaishnavas are offended even by an assembly of sannyasis such an assembly is more irreligious than a group of drunkards. For the drunks there is still a chance for salvation but for those who are critical of Vaishnavas there is no hope for liberation."

The Deity also may withdraw from the association of the offenders. Krsna may not accept to be present or remain where the pure devotee has been offended.

It has been mentioned in Bhaktiratnakara that whenever Sri Abhirama Thakura offered his dandavats before a Deity that was being worshipped by an offender that the Deity would burst into pieces. This is of course an extreme example, but the lesson is universal - Krsna does not reside where the Lord or his pure devotees have been offended.

Of course there are many original Deities in Vrindavana and elsewhere that are no longer being worshipped by pure devotees, some are even being worshipped by offenders. However, when going to such temples on a holy pilgrimage we may honor the prasadam of such Deities remembering that these were the Deities of Sri Rupa Goswami, Sri Sanatana Goswami, Srila Prabhupada and so forth. That is a special case.

In the case where, for example, a 'ritvik' (one who has rejected the guru-parampara) establishes a temple to worship the Deity, accepting only the previous Acharya - that too is not authorized. Even if that temple cost millions of dollars we do not regard that Krsna is present there in His Deity form. Krsna is only present where his pure devotee and the parampara are in full regard. Simply following rules and regulations and reading books of the previous Acharya does not constitute pure devotional service or even an honest attempt to follow in the line of pure devotion.

There was an incident during the time of Srila Prabhupada wherein the Deity of Subhadra in San Diego burned on the altar leaving only a pile of ashes behind. On the left and right stood Krsna and Baladeva but They were unaffected by the fire. When the news of this incident reached Srila Prabhupada he commented that Subhadra has departed due to aparadha, offenses being committed in the temple. Again this is an extreme case and we should not think that such is the only proof that Krsna has withdrawn.

For example there are many references in the sastra to offenders being stricken down with leprosy etc. Yet we should not think that just because an offender has not contacted leprosy that he is not an offender. The main punishment for the offenders of pure devotees is that they are deprived of the association of a Mahabhagavat or pure devotee of Krsna. There are some temples in the world wherein not even a single person in those temples has ever come in proper connection with a Mahabhagavat other than by reading books. Thus a bona fide guru, considering the neophyte nature or offensive nature of persons in such temples, might instruct his disciples to avoid that type of association.

Another example of the Deity withdrawing from a temple due to offenses made against the Lord's pure devotee can be cited in relation to the Mayapur temple wherein the Radha Krsna Deities (worshiped by Srila Prabhupada in his childhood) and the main Deity of Srimati Radharani left the altar under the plea of being carried away by the dacoits and never returned. This unpleasant event took place during the height of offenses being committed against Srila Sridhar Maharaja. This was indeed an extreme example of the Lord's dissatisfaction, but historically the blame was placed on the dacoits and the members of that institution never considered a deeper meaning behind that most unfortunate and unprecedented event.

Without proper discrimination a devotee will fall from the path of pure devotional service and become a hodge-podge devotee like so many Hindus. We are to honor prasadam, maha-prasadam and the association of real Vaishnavas but in doing so we must accept the instruction of our spiritual master. If he tells us to avoid a particular association we should accept that and always remain humble and obedient to his order. The presence of the Deity, the Holy Name, the potency of prasadam and some many things in Krsna consciousness always depend on the dispensation of the director, the good will of the higher Vaishnava.