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 realizat