SHOPPING FOR KRSNA with your children can be a rich spiritual event, provided you have their cooperation and plenty of time. We had neither the last time our family trundled along the synthetic aisles. As I rushed about, one child wriggled in the supermarket trolley, and the other dawdled behind.
I thought of a time I had peeked into the Deity kitchen ** (A kitchen especially meant for cooking the seven or so offerings made daily in the temple.) at the temple. I remembered the calm concentration, soft meditational prayers, and neat tilaka of Krsna's cook as he scooped a steaming preparation into a silver bowl. In the temple they don't use tinned, frozen, pre-cooked, or manufactured foods, and here I was, scurrying along narrow passages lined with the stuff. Irritated, my head beginning to ache, I was trying to decipher long lists of words like "hydrolyzed protein," "maltodextrin," and "monosodium glutamate."
In Europe, to make matters worse (or better, depending on your point of view), such words are interspersed with "E" numbers, which stand for stabilizers, emulsifiers, anti-oxidants, artificial colors, preservatives, and flavor enhancers. E321, for instance, means "butylated hydroxytolene," and E341(a), "calcium tetrahydrogen diorthophosphate."
Years ago I wasn't concerned about these lists; if something looked vegetarian, it was OK for me. Now, because we're offering our food to Krsna, I worry about what exactly is on the lists. The other day I unwittingly bought a product containing E471, which sometimes has a vegetarian source and sometimes doesn't. My wife phoned the manufacturer. In this product the E471 came from lard.
What to do? I couldn't return the offending item by now it was past the "sell by" date and I didn't feel like throwing it away. So I fed it to the birds with their regular prasadam scraps and hoped they, or their guardian angel, would not be offended.
Back to the supermarket …
Somehow I ran the gauntlet of a pounding head, the distracted children, the mysterious ingredients, and the long queue at the cash register and made it to the lift up to the car park. I collapsed against the wall. A fellow shopper glanced with sympathy. "It's a tough life," I gasped. He agreed.
In the car home I again thought of the temple with its organic garden. I thought of Lord Krsna's home, Vrndavana, and all the wonderful preparations Krsna's mother, Yasoda, cooks for Him. And then I thought of all the things I'd just bought. Was anything really suitable to offer Krsna?
All I could do was take solace in Krsna's assertion in the Bhagavad-gita that in this world every endeavor is covered by fault, just as fire is covered by smoke. Fortunately, Krsna is mainly interested in our intentions. TheGita exhorts us to strive for the perfection of always thinking of the supreme perfect being, Lord Krsna, even in the midst of provocation and imperfection. Of course, I can always improve the way I do things for Krsna, and I intend to. But it's a relief to know that in our helplessness, in our exasperation, Krsna is on our side.
We returned home. Entering the back door of our rustic cottage, the children clamored, "Where's supper? We're starving!"
As I was wondering whether there was time to sort out the bags of shopping or clean up the kitchen a bit before cooking, I heard a tearful "Father!" I looked around to see my three-year-old standing in a puddle of urine.
Well, what about Krsna's offering? Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura sings, "O Krsna, my mind, my body, my house, my family all belong to You." Everything can be done as an offering to Krsna, including mopping up a puddle on the floor. Devotional service, being transcendental, can never be stopped by any material conditions. Still, it's natural and correct for an aspiring devotee to want to cook something as nicely as possible for Krsna's pleasure.
I quickly offered a snack to the picture of Srila Prabhupada we keep in the kitchen for such occasions and sat the children down at the table in the next room. I hoped they would eat and then play together till dinnertime without fighting. They were welcome to come back into the kitchen, of course, and help stir a pot or cut up a carrot.
Next I put on a bhajana ** (A devotional song.) tape and quickly cleaned the kitchen. With sleeves rolled up, a clean apron on, and the holy name on my lips, I was ready to start.
Cooking for Krsna is not only great fun; it's also purifying, because it absorbs our wandering minds, especially when two or three preparations are on the go and we're planning another. I felt peaceful and happy.
We usually cook rice, dal, vegetables, and sometimes capatis and a sweet pudding. But since it was late and I was tired, I made spaghetti, with a sauce of tinned tomatoes and cheese. I threw together a salad and began to make up the Lord's plate.
We keep a special plate for Krsna with His own bowls and spoon. I filled a cup with water and placed it on the plate along with a little bowl of salad and another of spaghetti. I added a couple of small mounds of salt and pepper. I carried the plate into the temple room and placed it on the altar, after sprinkling three drops of water where I would set the plate. ** (A small spoon and cup with water are kept on the altar for this purpose. Sprinkling three drops of water on an object purifies it.)
I also sprinkled three drops of water onto the bell and was just about to recite the offering prayers when one of my young sons rushed in. He speedily touched his head to the floor, came toward me, and held out his hands for three drops of water. Then he took the bell and rang it merrily as I recited the prayers.
My wife and I try to encourage any devotional tendency a child may show, even at the expense of the rules of Deity worship. If he's got the spirit right, we never try to stop or correct him, and gradually he is getting to know the right behavior.
The offering prayers can be simple: "Hare Krsna. My dear Lord, please accept this offering." Or you can recite traditional prayers in Sanskrit or English. ** (Devotees in the Hare Krsna movement generally recite the following prayers three times each: namah om visnu-padaya krsna-presthaya bhu-tale srimate bhaktivedanta-svamin iti namine I offer my respectful obeisances unto His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who is very dear to Lord Krsna, having taken shelter at His lotus feet. namas te sarasvate deve gaura-vani-pracarine nirvisesa-sunyavadi-pascatya-desa-tarine Our respectful obeisances are unto you, O spiritual master, servant of Sarasvati Goswami. You are kindly preaching the message of Lord Caitanyadeva and delivering the Western countries, which are filled with impersonalism and voidism. namo maha-vadanyaya krsna-prema-pradaya te krsnaya krsna-caitanya- namne gaura-tvise namah O most munificent incarnation! You are Krsna Himself appearing as Sri Krsna Caitanya Mahaprabhu. You have assumed the golden color of Srimati Radharani, and You are widely distributing pure love of Krsna. We offer our respectful obeisances unto You. namo brahmanya-devaya go-brahmana-hitaya ca jagad-dhitaya krsnaya govindaya namo namah I offer my respectful obeisances to the Supreme Absolute Truth, Krsna, who is the well-wisher of the cows and the brahmanas, as well as the living entities in general. I offer my repeated obeisances to Govinda, who is the pleasure reservoir for all the senses.)
The idea behind the offering is to offer the food to a spiritual master, who offers it to his spiritual master, and so on, until it reaches Krsna. Anyone can easily be linked to the Lord in this way. Otherwise, lacking devotion, most of us would be unable to offer anything to Krsna. He accepts even the simplest offering from His pure devotee, but He refuses even the most elaborate offering from a nondevotee.
After my son and I had made the offering, we sang Hare Krsna together for a couple of minutes as the Lord ate His meal. Then we quickly went into the next room, loudly reciting sarira avidya jal … ** (A Bengali song by Bhaktivinoda Thakura glorifying prasadam. Srila Prabhupada taught his disciples to sing this song before meals.) The "starving" children quickly took their places at the table. After they had been served, I went back to the temple room, removed Krsna's plate, and put the maha-prasadam on another plate. ** (Lord Krsna's plates should be kept separate from our own eating utensils. When transferring the maha-prasadam (food that has been directly offered on the altar), you can put it on either a special "transfer plate" or at least a clean plate, or you can put each item into the appropriate cooking pot. Once one portion of a preparation is offered, the rest becomes prasadam.) In our house whoever makes the offering waits to eat until the offering plate has been on the altar for ten minutes and then washed and put away.
Some householder devotees have a rule that they make a certain number of offerings every day, regardless of the changing needs of the family. Others, like us, make only one special offering a day that's just for Krsna. Home altars are, of course, functional, in that we cook what the family requires, doing our best to cook as a service to Krsna. But it's also a good practice to prepare something, such as a little fruit and milk, especially for the pleasure of the Deity. ** (A picture of the Lord is a Deity form and can be worshiped in a manner similar to the method in the temple. The best home altar to start with is known as a "Guru-Gauranga" altar-a picture of Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityananda (or the Panca-tattva) and a picture of Srila Prabhupada.)
In this little story I have described some things we do as a family to try to keep Krsna in the center of our lives. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please let me know.
Rohininandana Dasa lives in southern England with his wife and their three children. You can write to him c/o BTG.