SOMETIMES WHEN my family and I prepare for the arrival of guests, our home becomes a flurry of activity. We all like to take part in some way. As we clean, cook, decorate, put flowers in vases, do extra shopping, and discuss where our guests will stay, the atmosphere in our cottage is surcharged with giving, excitement, and cooperation. The day soon becomes a festival.
Any stresses and strains between me and my wife, Radha Priya, or between the children become eased (or at least postponed). My heart becomes enlarged and relaxed in a mood of abundance, and I feel happy.
The children are happy too because they know there will be something special cooking in the kitchen. Food is about the nub of it. There is something special, anywhere in the world, when people invite you into their home and share their food with you.
I once saw two Chinese illustrations of heaven and hell. In heaven many people were sitting around, each with a bowl of rice and long chopsticks, happily feeding each other. In hell they just tried to feed themselves.
In the Vedic tradition it is customary to invite guests for the main meal of the day. If by chance a man has no guest, Vedic custom prescribes that he should go into the street and call out, "If anyone is hungry, please come and dine with us!" In Vedic society every guest, even an enemy, is seen as Krsna's representative. An unexpected guest (atithi) especially provides the host the opportunity to think, "Maybe this guest has been sent by the Lord Himself."
Sharing prasadam, food prepared for and offered to Krsna, helps expand our consciousness from seeing only the needs of the immediate circle of our own family to seeing that every living being belongs to the wide, wide circle of Krsna's family. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura sings, krsnera samsara kari cadi anacara: If you want to enter the spiritual world, practice being in Krsna's family in this world.
Grhasthas, married people who are advised by the Bhagavad-gita to give charity especially have a great opportunity to taste the ecstasy of being in Krsna's family by taking care of Krsna's guests. The guests are Krsna's guests because our homes belong to Krsna and we are His servants. When we openheartedly welcome and take care of the needs and comforts of our guests, we certainly draw their good wishes and blessings. And if our guests are pleased by our Krsna conscious reception, we can assume that Krsna is pleased. Apart from chanting Hare Krsna, what is a more enjoyable way to make spiritual progress?
Rohininandana Dasa lives in southern England with his wife and their three children. Write to him in care of Back to Godhead.