We are living in the Age of Kali. Devotees would ask Śrīla Gurudeva, “How should we live in this despicable day and age? Everything seems impure and it is very difficult to follow varṇāśrama-dharma.” Śrīla Gurudeva told the devotees that it is almost impossible for the people in general to follow proper varṇāśrama-dharma. Their mind and senses are uncontrolled. One of the main reasons for this degradation of people’s consciousness is the impure food that they eat.
The Chāndogya Upaniṣad (7.26.2) states:
sattva-śuddhau dhruvā smṛtiḥ
smṛti-lambhe sarvagranthīnāṁ vipramokṣaḥ
By eating pure food one’s mind becomes purified and sāttvika. When the mind is purified, one attains a stable memory. When the memory is stable, all the knots of the heart are untied.
Even modern scientists, doctors, and nutritionists have concluded that we are what we eat and people desiring a healthy life should eat organic food. Unfortunately, these days, pure organic food is both rare and expensive. The majority of the people can only afford non-organic, harmful eatables.
The food, the water, and the air are polluted now, and consuming impure substances has brought about so much suffering for the living beings on this planet. If you can manage to have a pure diet and environment, then all activities of your life will be favorable and healthy. There is a saying: If your wealth is lost, nothing is lost; if your health is lost, something is lost; but if your character is lost, then everything is lost. However, your life in all three of these activities will flourish if you insure that what you eat and drink is pure. But, as I already mentioned, finding pure ingredients to offer is becoming more and more difficult as Kali-yuga progresses. What then can we do? How can we insure purity of our body, mind, and atmosphere in order to practice bhakti seriously?
Advaita Ācārya observed the critical state of Kali-yuga and began to search in scripture for the answer to this question. He thought, “Is there nothing pure left in this world?” He was satisfied when he found the verse:
jalasya culukena vā
vikrīṇīte svam ātmānaṁ
The Supreme Lord, who is affectionate to His devotees, gives Himself to the bhakta who offers Him merely a Tulasī leaf and a palmful of water.
The Tulasī plant is always perfectly pure. It cannot be grown with chemical processes. Tulasī alone is enough to satisfy Kṛṣṇa.
Advaita Ācārya concluded that Tulasī and Gaṅgā are the two infallibly pure objects available in the world. Most other substances, although pure in nature, are contaminated. Examination of Gaṅgā water has left many scientists amazed. It is, after all, liquid transcendence. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī says—brahma-dravatvam apagacchati nīra-dharmaiḥ—the purity of Gaṅgā water—which is itself the liquid form of Divinity—is never lost.
If you find yourself in a situation in which you cannot arrange completely pure ingredients for offering to Kṛṣṇa, then offer what you have with Tulasī, Gaṅgā water, a small amount of pure ghee or honey, and—most importantly—love. Then, distribute the prasāda to Vaiṣṇavas and everyone around you. Serve and feed God’s family members with respect, and if there is something left, eat that to maintain your life. By this practice, you will become spiritually strong. The Guru-varga recommends this practice for brahmacārīs, gṛhasthas, vānaprasthīs, and sannyāsīs alike.
Śrīla Bhaktinoda Ṭhākura has mentioned the rules for all āśramas in his book Śrī Caitanya-śikṣāmṛta. These primary rules are essential and are the foundation of spiritual progress. We must not disregard these fundamental rules and assume we are mahā-bhāgavatas.
Prasāda should be distributed to everyone. On large festival days in Mathurā, Śrīla Gurudeva used to have me distribute prasāda first to the ordinary people, and then the maṭha’s residents. All beings are in God’s family and thus have a right to Kṛṣṇa’s prasāda. I often advise you to sponsor feasts in Jagannātha Purī, Vṛndāvana, and Navadvīpa, because by doing so, you will receive sukṛti.
Śrīla Jagannātha dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja once called his sevaka, Bihārī dāsa, and told him that there were 200 rupees in a container that was nearby. It was a mystery how the blind Bābā knew this.
“Buy some rasagullās,” he said. “There will be a feast today.”
When Bihārī dāsa returned from the market with rasagullās, Bābājī Mahārāja said, “Give them to the cows.”
“Yes, and the dogs. They never get rasagullās. We will serve these dhāmavāsīs today. There is no need to serve the bogus Bābājīs. All they think of is bodily comfort.”
Śrīla Gurudeva taught us to first serve the guests of the temple no matter who they were.
We should give prasādam to all souls around us. If we don’t they will be harmful to us. This is the world in which one living being gains from the suffering of another. However, if we give the souls prasādam, they will become favorably disposed to us and will even help us in our spiritual progress. Our bodies themselves contain many jīvas. The proper way to maintain this body is to offer bhoga, serve prasāda to everyone around, and then finally take what remains. It will not do to hide in a room with only a few chosen friends and to eat ice-cream and pizza.
Some people say, “I am a Vaiṣṇava, my wife is a Vaiṣṇava, and my children are Vaiṣṇavas. We can eat together and this will be vaiṣṇava-sevā.” Being a miser will keep us entangled in karma. We should share whatever God gives us. If we try to enjoy it for ourselves we will partake in the karma related to those things. The Lord mercifully gives us the chance to receive sukṛti. But if we always waste this chance, why should He continue to give it. If a gṛhastha understands this and serves those around him, then he becomes very powerful.
Most of Mahāprabhu’s associates were gṛhasthas. They exemplified perfect householder life. Every year, the devotees from Bengal brought many gifts and edibles for Mahāprabhu, Jagannātha, and the devotees in Purī. This tradition continues today.
These Bengali devotees that have come here for Ratha-yātrā are poor, but they still brought mangoes, jackfruits, and coconuts for the temple. Some devotees from Uttara Pradeśa put aside a handful of flour every time they make capatis for their family. They reserve that flour for Gurudeva’s temple and when there is a substantial amount they bring it to the temple as bhikṣā.
I used to advise devotees that would come to Keśavajī Gauḍīya-maṭha to put aside one rupee of every hundred rupees they earned and reserve it for donating to the temple. This is mādhukarī. If I were to use that money for myself, my life would be destroyed. But because I used it in the service of Guru and Vaiṣṇavas I was safe.
Śrīla Gurudeva told me that 60% of the donations I received were to be given to him, and the remaining 40% were for the temple maintenance and taking care of the brahmacārīs. “None should be for yourself,” he said. “I will worry about your maintenance.”
You should be generous and open-hearted. Don’t think, “This sannyāsī has so much money, and facility for prasāda; why should I give him anything?” Or, “This man is poor but he takes intoxication, I should not give any prasāda to him.” This is not a good mentality. Offer bhoga and distribute the prasāda to everyone without discrimination.
Śrīla Gurudeva used to tell the following story: Once there was a man who lived with his wife, two children, and his old parents. He was a government official and worked hard all day in the city. One evening, as he passed the fruit market on the way home, he noticed that there were many ripe mangoes for sale. He purchased a bag of mangoes and brought them to his wife. “Please, cut these mangoes and give some to my parents, and the children. Then take some yourself and give me some also.” Saying this, he retired to bathe and rest for the night.
The next morning, the man asked his parents, “Did you like the mangoes?”
“What mangoes?” they asked.
The man asked his children, “Did your mother distribute mangoes last night?”
“No, father,” the children replied.
Upset, the man went to his wife. “Hey,” he said. “What did you do with the mangoes I brought?”
“Mangoes? Bah! Those rotten things you brought back were infested with worms. I threw them out.”
The man recalled the mangoes seeming fine. “I must have not been careful enough,” he thought. In reality, there was nothing wrong with the mangoes. His wife was used to him bringing back money, which she could use to shop herself and also hide for her own secret use. She was angry that instead of giving her money he gave her mangoes.
That evening, the man brought 5 kilos of mangoes home. He was sure to check each and every one of them carefully. Before entering his bedroom, he said to his wife, “I have brought good mangoes today.
I am sure of it.” He pretended to go to sleep, and then got up in the middle of the night to see what his wife would do with them. He was surprised to see that she had hidden herself in a room and was eating them alone.
God gives us facility and waits to see what we do with it. He wants to know if we will utilize what He gives us in selfish pleasure or if we will share it. When we chose to share, we take the path of auspiciousness, and if we accept only what is left after distributing prasādam to everyone, it is as if we are drinking immortal nectar.
bhuñjate te tv aghaṁ pāpā
ye pacanty ātma-kāraṇāt
Wise persons become free from all sins by accepting the nectar-like remnants of sacrifice, whereas reprobate persons who cook and eat for their own sake alone, eat naught but sin.
Sin is inevitably attached to the wealth you earn by work. If you use that wealth only to fill your own stomach, ill-effects will certainly befall you. If you offer what you have to God and his family members, it is called yajña. And if you only accept the remnants of that yajña for sustenance, then you are partaking in amṛta, nectar.
When Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Mahārāja went to the West, he cooked gulābjāmuns, laḍḍus, halavā and many other dishes and distributed them with his own hand. He also distributed the peḍā that Śrīla Gurudeva sent from Mathurā.
kṛtvaiva tṛptiṁ bhajataḥ sadaiva
vande guroḥ śrī caraṇāravindam
Śrī Gurudeva delights in seeing Śrī Hari’s devotees relishing the four kinds of foodstuffs that have been offered—namely, those which are chewed, sucked, licked, and drunk—to their full satisfaction. I offer prayers unto the lotus feet of Śrī Gurudeva.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Trivikrama Gosvāmī Mahārāja used to live in a temple in Cuṅchurā called Uddhāraṇa Gauḍīya-maṭha. The building was old and had many cracks, crevices, and corners in which many animals lived. He would spend most of the day on bhikṣā, riding his bicycle sometimes up to 40 kilometers away. Aside from rice and donations, some people would give him fruits or a few sweets. He saved these things in his bag. When he returned to the temple, he would ring the bell on his bicycle. As soon as they heard the bell, all the cats, dogs, mice, birds, mongooses, and squirrels that lived in the area surrounded him. None of them were afraid of him or each other.
Mahārāja knew exactly what each animal preferred. First, he gave sandeśa to the mongooses, all of which climbed unto his body and clung to his cloth. Next, he gave some puffed rice to the pigeons, broken pieces of laḍḍu to the mice, and fruit to the squirrels. The cats waited patiently at a distance. After bhoga was prepared and offered, and all the devotees had taken prasāda he gave some milk and rice to the cats and the remaining prasādam to the dogs. He would accept some prasādam after everyone around him was fed. If Śrīla Trivikrama Mahārāja was a sannyāsī, and he practiced in this way, this means that gṛhasthas should surely do this also.
Distribute prasada to everyone and eat only the remnants of that sacrifice. If we do not pursue the well-being of our souls, then what is the difference between our lives and the lives of animals? All souls are ultimately Kṛṣṇa’s servants. Thus, we can say that they are all Vaiṣṇavas. If someone is not acting like a Vaiṣṇava now, he will later. Devakīnandana Ṭhākura sings:
hoiyāchena hoibena prabhura jata dāsa
sabāra caraṇa vandoṅ dante kori’ ghāsa
Holding a straw between my teeth, I offer obeisance to the feet of all the servants of Mahāprabhu that were or will be.
We must understand that serving the Vaiṣṇavas is our path to spiritual welfare. This is the instruction of Mahāprabhu.
prabhu kahena,—‘kṛṣṇa-sevā’, ‘vaiṣṇava-sevana’
‘nirantara kara kṛṣṇa-nāma-saṅkīrtana’
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 15.104
The Lord said, “Serve Kṛṣṇa and the Vaiṣṇavas and perform kṛṣṇa-nāma-saṅkīrtana incessantly.”
As all souls are servants of Kṛṣṇa, they also have the right to His mercy—His prasāda. When Kṛṣṇa sees that you are serving His devotees, He will shower you with blessings. Give without worrying about where more will come from. For so many years, I arranged prasādam for thousands of people at the time of Navadvīpa Parikramā. Śrīla Gurudeva told me to never stop this service.
I asked Śrīla Gurudeva, “Where will the necessary money come from?”
Gurudeva called me close.
“Here,” he said, holding out his closed hand.
I held out my hand. He made a gesture of giving me something—but nothing was in his hand.
“What is this?” I asked.
“Don’t worry,” Gurudeva said. “Gaurī-sena will provide whatever you need.” He always spoke about this Gaurī-sena.
“Who is Gaurī-sena?” I asked, but he did not answer.
Gaurī-sena is Śrīmatī Rādhikā. Gurudeva was assuring me that Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa will take care of everything.
We must ree all Vaiṣṇavas, and never find fault in them:
kāhāre nā kare nindā, `kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa’ bale
ajaya caitanya sei jinibeka hele
Caitanya-Bhāgavata, Madhya 10.312
One who chants the names of Kṛṣṇa without criticizing anyone will easily conquer the unconquerable Śrī Caitanya.
Mahāprabhu says that the chanting of the holy name, coupled with vaiṣṇava-sevā, will bring about rapid progress towards Kṛṣṇa. He also says:
khecarānna piṭhā-pānā, apūrva prasāda nānā,
jagannātha dilo tomā sabe
ākanṭha bhojana kori’, bolo mukhe ‘hari hari’,
avidyā-durita nāhi robe
Jagannātha has given all of you khicarī, piṭhā-pānā, and many other kinds of wonderful prasāda. Take all this prasāda until you are filled up to your neck, and chant ‘Hari! Hari!’ In such a transcendental atmosphere, ignorance and sin cannot remain.
“Eat mahā-prasāda up to your neck. Leave no room for anything
else—not even digestives. How will you digest it? Just dance in saṅkīrtana. I will personally be with you, if you eat only My prasādam.’
Srila Gurudeva ki Jaya! (Excerpted from the Bhaktabandhav book publication, “Sri Guru Darshan”. Available from [email protected] )