One of the more important public services of the Krsna consciousness movement is to hold festivals. Our Sunday festivals usually consist of a discourse, a drama, or the celebration of a special event, such as the anniversary of the appearance of Lord Krsna or the victory of Lord Rama over Ravana. But at the heart of every Sunday festival is a feast of krsna-prasadam, vegetarian food offered to Krsna. This is the original design for Sunday festivals as conceived and implemented by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder-acarya of the Hare Krsna movement.
The first Sunday feasts were in New York. They were called "Love Feasts." Now, twenty years later, they are held at Hare Krsna centers the world over. But the format has changed little: The food is offered in love to Lord Krsna and is distributed with love by His devotees. Whoever eats this food which is no longer ordinary food but spiritual substance can become filled with love for God and love for all creatures. Prasadam is a powerful spiritual purifier. As stated by Lord Krsna in the Bhagavad-gita, the devotees of the Lord are released from sinful reactions because they eat prasadam. People who prepare food simply for sensual enjoyment "verily eat only sin."
The great British playwright (and vegetarian) George Bernard Shaw stated, "You are what you eat." Even vegetarians, however, incur sinful reactions if they do not offer their food to God with devotion. The worst reactions come from eating slaughtered animals especially the cow, which Lord Krsna says is very valuable and dear to Him. To cat the cow implicates one in the murder of that animal. Even plants and fruits the foods that are given by God to be eaten by human beings must be sanctified before they are eaten. Therefore, we should offer our vegetarian food first to Krsna. When we eat such food, our sins are washed away and we develop love of God.
Even in material relationships, food is offered in love. The mother prepares and offers food to her children out of love for them. The exchange of food between friends is one of the most widespread exchanges of love. So why should one not offer food to the supreme beloved, Krsna? Offering food to Krsna increases one's devotion: "Please, Lord Krsna, take this food. You have provided all the plants and fruits and vegetables as food, so we want to offer this to You." Although God is never hungry and has no need to eat our tiny offering. He enjoys His devotee's expressions of love. So when we offer food to Him with love. He is very pleased.
Suppose a father is the provider of the food his family eats. If the father's little son, out of his own spontaneous feeling, wishes to offer some of the food on his plate to his father, his father is very pleased. Although the father provides all the food for his family, he appreciates his son's sentiment. Similarly, Krsna, the Supreme Father, relishes His children's offerings.
But to please Krsna in this simple way, we must know what Krsna wants. He explains 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). When such simple vegetarian foods, together with milk and grains, are offered with love, the Supreme Person is satisfied. Abominable, untouchable foods such as meat cannot be offered to God. To avoid eating unsanctified foods, we must offer to Krsna those foods He will actually eat.
The remnants of such offerings have enormous spiritual potency, as revealed in many incidents from Vedic times. The Srimad-Bhagavatam, for example, tells how the great sage Narada Muni first embarked on the path of spiritual life simply by tastingprasadam from the plates of certain exalted devotees of God.
The great sixteenth-century Bengali religious classic Sri Caitanya-caritamrta describes a similar incident. Lord Caitanya spent most of His life in the pilgrimage place of Jagannatha Puri, in Orissa. Every year His devotees in Bengal would make the long journey on foot to visit Him. The devotee in charge of caring for the needs of the pilgrims was always Sivananda Sena.
One year, as Sivananda Sena led the pilgrims out of Bengal, a dog followed along. Sivananda was very kindhearted, and he thought, "Here is a living entity who wants to go with us to see Lord Caitanya. All right." He took care of the dog throughout the journey, and each night he would give him some of his rice. When a greedy boatman told Sivananda that if he wanted to bring the dog on board he would have to pay the dog's fare, Sivananda agreed.
One day, Sivananda became involved in a lengthy discussion with an official who wanted to see his papers and ask a lot of questions. Sivananda spent so many hours presenting documents that he didn't eat that day. On returning to the camp that evening, he asked about the dog: "Did you give him his rice?"
"Oh," the servant said, "I forgot."
"Where is the dog?" Sivananda asked. But the dog had already run away.
Sivananda sent ten men out to look for the dog. Feeling responsible for the dog's safety, he fasted out of sympathy. In the morning the dog still had not returned, but the party proceeded toward Jagannatha Puri. Everyone on the pilgrimage was astonished that Sivananda Sena had become so fond of the animal.
When the pilgrims finally reached Jagannatha Puri, they immediately went to see Lord Caitanya. Lord Caitanya took them to see Lord Jagannatha, and then He sat with them and shared the Lord's prasadam. Much to the surprise of Sivananda and the other pilgrims, there among the assembly of devotees was Sivananda's dog. With His own hand Lord Caitanya was feeding the dog green coconut pulp. As Lord Caitanya fed the dog He would say, "Chant the name of Krsna!" In response the dog would say, "Krsna! Krsna!" and then eat. Sivananda Sena thought, "This is very wonderful."
The next day the dog could not be found. But this time all the pilgrims knew the dog had not just run away. They could understand that, by accepting Lord Caitanya's prasadam, the dog had received a spiritual body and had been transferred to the spiritual world. The compassion of Sivananda Sena and the mercy of Lord Caitanya had brought a dog to perfection.
If even a dog can chant "Krsna" and receive a spiritual body by eating krsna-prasadam, then certainly our lives also can be transformed.
In the Krsna consciousness philosophy, we advise everyone to offer their food to God. For example, you can prepare a small altar in your home with a picture of Srila Prabhupada and a picture of Lord Caitanya or Lord Krsna. Before that little altar, place the cooked vegetarian food and say a prayer. You can simply say, "Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare."
Another good prayer is namo brahmanya-devaya go-brahmana-hitaya ca/ jagad-dhitaya krsnaya govindaya namo namah: "I offer my obeisances to Lord Krsna, the well-wisher of the cows, the brahmanas, and the entire human society." In this way our lives will become happy and peaceful, and more and more we'll develop our love for the Supreme Person. SDG