Kåñëa Prasäda: Cooking, Distributing and Honoring
(Prasada means "mercy," and refers to remnants of food, cloth, flowers, etc. from the Supreme Lord and His pure devotees. In normal usage, unless otherwise qualified, prasada refers to food remnants of the Lord. This section of the book deals mainly with prasada in the form of foodstuffs.)
The preparation, offering and distribution of prasäda are central to the Vaiñëava way of life. Indeed, Çréla Prabhupäda called Krsna consciousness "the kitchen religion."
The Glories of Prasada
The Brahmanda Purana states that with every bite of Krishna prasada, one derives more piety than from performing a hundred candrayana vratas. And according to the Brahma-vaivarta Purana, if one respectfully eats Visnu's prasada as soon as he gets it, he delivers one hundred generations of his family and becomes liberated even in this very life.
Therefore Skanda Purana advises that whether one is a brahmacari, householder, vanaprastha or sannyasi, a person must eat Sri Visnu's maha-prasada, irrespective of his asrama.
Even in the relative terms of the materialist, prasada is the best food in the universe. Krsna-prasada is the perfection in purity, nutrition and taste. Often guests to ISKCON temples or restaurants comment that the prasada is unlike anything they have ever tasted before—even if it is just simple dal, rice and vegetables. Because prasada is Krsna’s mercy, it is not ordinary food—it is absolute, and absolutely wonderful.
Prasada Is Always Pure
Because krsna-prasada is transcendental, it is not subject to material considerations of purity and impurity.
The Vow of Taking Only Prasada
Prasada is a powerful purifying agent. Conversely, to accept any other type of foodstuff is sinful. As stated in Bhagavad-gita (3.13):
bhuïjate te tv aghaà päpä
ye pacanty ätma-käraëät
The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin.
Brähmaëas and Vaiñëavas do not accept any foodstuff which is not first offered to the Personality of Godhead. Foodstuff offered to the Lord is accepted by the devotees as the mercy of the Lord. After all, the Lord supplies all kinds of foodstuff, both to the human being and to other animals. SB 3.2.28 purport
The devotee of the Lord, or the Vaisnava, does not take anything without offering it to the Lord. Since a Vaisnava dedicates all the results of his activities to the Lord, he does not taste anything eatable which is not first offered to Him. sb3.16.8
We have taken the vow that we are not going to eat anything except Krsna prasada. 690524SB.NV
For the Krsna consciousness movement, there are three sinful activities which are prohibited—namely illicit sex, intoxication, and eating food other than the prasada offered to Krsna. Srimad-Bhagavatam Canto 3: Chapter Sixteen, Text 22
The Brahmanda Purana states that leaves, flowers, fruits, water, foodstuff, medicine, and whatever else one eats should not be taken without being offered to the Lord. If one takes anything without offering it to the Lord, he is supposed to atone for that. Therefore, everything must first be offered to Sri Visnu.
When a person is attached to Kåñëa’s lotus feet, he does not eat anything not offered to Kåñëa. CC Madhya 19.213 purport
You should take prasada…Otherwise the tongue will dictate, "Give me this kind of food, give me this kind of food." Krsna-prasada means to control the tongue. Our main enemy is the tongue. In another place it is said sevon mukhe hi jihvadau svayam eva sphuraty adah. God realization becomes by keeping the tongue engaged in the service of the Lord…So if you do not control your tongue, if you feel inconvenience in taking prasada, that means you are not making progress. This is the formula. Çrémad-Bhägavatam 6.1.18 Denver, July 1, 1975
Cooking is an extension of Deity worship, for the product must be offered to the Supreme Lord with devotion. Like a pujari, the cook must maintain optimum cleanliness and a mood of devotion in executing his service.
In order to cook for the Lord in best devotional consciousness, the cook’s mind should be purified. This means that he should seriously engage in sadhana by attentive hearing and chanting about Krsna. Cooks should be initiated devotees who adhere to the regulative principles and are in good consciousness, i.e., desirous of serving Krsna to their best ability by cooking very nicely for Him. Once Srila Prabhupada, appreciating a perfect puri, congratulated the cook, saying, "Thank you very much for following the rules and regulations. I can understand that to cook such a nice puri you are following all the rules nicely."
For those whose cooking service begins early in the morning, it is best to rise very early and chant at least some rounds before cooking, rather than starting to cook without chanting and having all their rounds left to do later.
As the preparations are meant to be offered to Krsna, the cook should not smell, taste, look upon, or even think of them with a desire for enjoyment. Nor should the cook think of how the other devotees or his family members will enjoy the prasada later.
When Krsna’s offering is being prepared, no one should meditate on enjoying the foodstuff. To ask the cook what he is preparing, so as to start relishing it in advance, is offensive. A devotee thinks that if Krsna desires, He will leave His remnants for His devotees—but that is not to be taken for granted. That is the very meaning of the word prasäda.
The terms bhoga and prasada should be understood and not intermixed. Bhoga literally means "enjoyment" or "that which is to be enjoyed." In relation to prasada, it refers to food preparations or raw ingredients meant for the Lord, but not yet offered to Him. Therefore, it is incorrect to speak of "cooking prasada" or "offering prasada."
The kitchen is an extension of the altar, because whatever is cooked there is for offering to the Deities. So all activities in the kitchen should be done with care and attention for the Deities. Just as one should not be frivolous, angry, etc. in the Deity room, so one should not be in the kitchen.
In Deity worship, all activities are begun by offering obeisances and prayers. These help the pujari to focus his attention on the awesome service he is about to begin: of serving the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Devotees given the opportunity to serve Krsna to cook for Him may also precede their service by offering obeisances to Him, preferably in the temple (if the Deity curtain is open), and praying for the ability to prepare something that will be pleasing to Him.
Just as the Deity’s paraphernalia must be cleaned before performing arati, so in cooking all utensils and the kitchen must be clean and purified. Even utensils that are free from any spot should be rinsed before use, to clean off any traces of dust and also in case any insects or animals have contacted them.
The cooking platform, stove, sink, etc. should be thoroughly washed before and after cooking. Çréla Prabhupäda showed the standard of how cooks should clean as they cook, so that if a person walks in at any point during the preparation of the bhoga, he will think that the cooking has just started. In other words, the cook should not simply make a mess and wait until the cooking is finished to clean, because in such a tamasic environment one cannot cook in the required consciousness.
Before starting his service, the cook should bathe, dress in pure cloth and apply tilaka. The cook should know what is pure and impure, how contamination spreads, and the proper methods of purifying different articles. His hands should always be clean, and he should not have the habit of touching any holes of the body.
Only clean, uncontaminated clothes may be worn in the kitchen. Nondevotee clothing or Western dress should not be allowed in Krsna’s kitchen. Shoes should not be worn in kitchens. Çréla Prabhupäda wrote that, "Nobody should wear shoes in the kitchen". However, in some ISKCON temples wooden or plastic footwear is allowed in kitchens to protect feet from cracking due to constant contact with cold and wet floors. If at all shoes are worn in kitchens, they should be kept for that purpose only and not worn elsewhere.
Hair is highly contaminating. Therefore women should keep their hair well covered while cooking (men are supposed to be shaved and with sikhas tied back), lest a hair fall in a preparation and contaminate it. The cook’s fingernails should be clean and clipped, and he should wash his hands before beginning cooking. He should wash his hands again if he touches the dustbin, floor, lower part of the body, or any other contaminated substance.
No one should not put anything in their mouth while in the kitchen, or rinse their mouth or spit in the kitchen sink. At least previously in some temple kitchens in India the cooks and other kitchen staff had their mouths covered with a cloth band while cooking to prevent contamination from inadvertent spitting. According to some Sri Vaisnavas in South India, chanting prayers while cooking has to be done within the mind to avoid spitting on the preparations. In Manipura even today those serving prasada often have their mouths thus covered. This practice could beneficially be adopted in ISKCON by those punctilious to improve standards of hygeine and purity. Chanting while cooking was, however, approved of by Çréla Prabhupäda. When Çréla Prabhupäda heard a devotee singing while he cooked the Deity offering, he commented that it was very nice. And he wrote:
Anything that has fallen to the floor cannot be put on the counter or table without being washed. If a raw vegetable falls on the floor it may be washed and used.
Kitchens should be fully cleaned after each offering. A new offering cannot be prepared with even slight remnants of previous offerings still remaining in the kitchen. All utensils, stoves, cooking surfaces and the floor must be fully clean before starting to cook for Krsna. Garbage should never be allowed to accumulate in the kitchen.
Nondevotees and children should not be allowed in Krsna’s kitchen, as neither can understand the rules necessary to be followed, both have the tendency to hanker for food meant for Krsna’s pleasure, and both tend to be contaminated also.
Krsna’s kitchen is meant only for cooking for Krsna. No-one should cook for himself, his family or friends there. Even if whatever is thus cooked is first offered to pictures of Krsna, the real standard is that everything cooked in Krsna’s kitchen should be offered to the Deities.
The above rules, and some additional ones, are summarized in the following letter written by Srila Prabhupada in the early days of ISKCON, when he was first establishing brahminical standards for cooking.
Standards for Cooks
Cooking for Krsna is a sacred activity, and cannot be entrusted to those who are unfamiliar with the rules of cleanliness and purity, or do not accept that Krsna is the Supreme Enjoyer. Cooking should only be done by initiated devotees.
The right thing is that only twice initiated brahmana disciples cook in the temple. Letter to: Kirtanananda, 23 November, 1974
In our Kåñëa consciousness society, unless one is twice initiated—first by chanting Hare Kåñëa and second by the Gäyatré mantra—he is not allowed to enter the kitchen or Deity room to execute duties.
Regarding the cooking, a non-brahmana may assist but he cannot cook. Letter to: Sukadeva, 24 November, 1974
As far as possible non-initiated devotees may not enter the kitchen or Deity area. They can help from outside. Letter from Srila Prabhupada, April 4, 1971
The strict standard in temples of only offering to the Deities that which is cooked in the temple kitchen by authorised devotees, may be relaxed on festival days such as Janamastami, Rathayatra and Govardhana Puja. On such days, all devotees (at least those initiated and following regulative principles) may be encouraged to cook some preparations at home and bring them to offer in the temple. The best way to offer such preparations is to place them on the floor or on tables just in front of and outside the Deity room. They can then be offered either by the pujari or informally from outside by those who cooked the items.
Even if devotees are constrained to take food not offered to the Deities, the general principle is that nothing should be eaten that is not cooked by devotees.
In India, professional cooks are hired for large-scale cooking at weddings and other social functions. As a matter of pragmatism, Çréla Prabhupäda sometimes allowed (although not very enthusiastically) such cooks to prepare food for devotees in temples, or for mass prasada distribution in India.
Mahäàça: What about professional cooks?
Prabhupäda: Real brähmaëa.
Mahäàça: Professional cooks?
Prabhupäda: Profes...? They are brähmaëas.
Mahäàça: Yes, but they... Even though they are brähmaëas, they have this habit of smoking, and if we try to find a professional cook who doesn’t smoke, it is very difficult.
Prabhupäda: Hm. As far as possible, our men should cook, a professional man who is in good habit, who has promised that they will not do this smoking. We have to manage somehow. Room Conversation -- December 12, 1976, Hyderabad
In the 1970's, most professional cooks in India were brahmana by caste, and were strict in upholding the principles of purity. Nowadays standards have fallen, and most hired cooks in India have no objection to cooking meat or anything else, just as long as they get paid. Now that ISKCON has many more devotees, including congregational members who can help on special occasions, there should be no question of having to hire unclean people to cook. The proper standard for devotees is that "one should not offer foodstuff which is cooked by a non-Vaiñëava."
Women and Contamination
As nothing touched by a contaminated person can be offered to the Deity, it is best if a woman not cook during her menstrual period.
Bhoga to Krsna
.....offering with love and devotion - "L'nD"
Prasada means that which is offered with love and devotion to Krsna. It is not that anyone should stick anything in front of Krsna and call it prasada, as if the Deity were an "offering machine." Krsna does not need food, but He hungers for devotion. So everything should be offered to Him with genuine feeling.
Above all, the offering should be made with an attitude of love. Kåñëa has no need of food, since He already possesses everything that be, yet He will accept the offering of one who desires to please Him in that way. The important element, in preparation, in serving and in offering, is to act with love for Kåñëa.
Real love and devotion is accepted by the Lord. Many valuable foodstuffs may be presented to a person, but if the person is not hungry, all such offerings are useless for him. Similarly, we may offer many valuable items to the Deity, but if we have no real sense of devotion and no real sense of the Lord’s presence everywhere, then we are lacking in devotional service; in such a state of ignorance, we cannot offer anything acceptable to the Lord. SB 3.29.24 purport
The main thing is that whenever prasadam is offered to the Lord, everything should be very respectfully and cleanly presented and prepared. In Jagannatha Puri, the Lord eats 56 times. So the Lord can eat as many times as you can offer. But only thing is whatever is offered must be with respect and devotion. (He is neither hungry nor poor, nor unable to eat, but He accepts everything, when such eatable is within the groups of vegetables, fruits, flours, milk, water, etc. is offered to Him with love and devotion, and faith. He wants our love only, and that makes Him hungry for eating as many times as you may offer. He is absolute, therefore, all contradictory points coincide in Him. He is hungry and satisfied simultaneously. So the purport is that everything should be offered very cleanly and pure things should be given.) Letter to: Aniruddha, 16 June, 1968
What is Suitable for Offering?
Çréla Prabhupäda writes:
Best is to offer Krsna foodstuffs personally grown by devotees on their own land.
Anything grown in the garden, that is hundred times valuable than it is purchased from the market. 760803rc.par
The milk used for cooking for Krsna should be cow’s milk. Ghee (especially cow’s ghee) is the standard cooking medium for cooking for Kåñëa. During Çréla Prabhupäda’s personal presence, there was no question of using any other cooking medium in ISKCON temples. For devotees living at home for whom the high price of ghee is prohibitive, oil may be used. Traditionally acceptable oils are mustard oil and sesame oil. But as these oils are also relatively costly, many devotees living at home cook with other oils, such as groundnut or sunflower oil.
The skins from potatoes, carrots, apples, and so on should be peeled before cooking for Krsna. This may be time consuming when cooking preparations in large quantities, but it is a higher standard.
Fruit, once cut and offered, cannot again be offered to Krsna. Even part of a huge melon should never be stored for a later offering.
In the modern age it is almost impossible to assemble ingredients of the full level of purity demanded in Vedic culture. Even if, for instance, devotees organically cultivate their own foods, they are liable to be contaminated by acid rain. Understanding the abominable situation, Çréla Prabhupäda made several concessions for modern life and insisted that Krsna be offered what He likes, even if it be produced by ghastly methods. For instance, even though purchased milk is mostly extracted from mistreated cows, and even though white sugar was (at least previously) produced by filtering through animal bones, Çréla Prabhupäda insisted that because such foods are dear to Krsna, they must be used for offering to Him. Hopefully, however, devotees will gradually produce more of their own foodstuffs, and thus become free from dependence on nondevotee food products.
Offering Krsna What He Likes to Eat
The Hari-bhakti-vilasa states that devotees may offer varieties of food that they personally like. Srila Prabhupada upheld this (see quotes below). In the early days of ISKCON, Srila Prabhupada was more concerned with getting his followers to limit their diets to prasada only, and allowed his disciples to offer Krsna dishes prepared according to their own taste.
It was so kind of you that you have sent me a birthday cake, and you will be pleased to know that Govinda dasi and her husband Gaurasundara, decorated the bread with nice different kinds of candles, and it was offered to Krishna and then I enjoyed the bread, part of it, and the rest was distributed to the devotees. It was very nice. Letter to: Balai, Advaita, 19 August, 1968
I have listed the ingredients which may use for preparing prasada but these various varieties of foodstuffs may be prepared either in the given recipes or if you like you may invent nice new formulas for offering. The important thing is that your preparations be palatable for Lord Krishna and that the ingredients be within the groups of ingredients already listed. Letter to: Harer Nama, 1 December, 1968
However, as ISKCON developed and Srila Prabhupada brought it closer to the standard of Vedic culture, he made it clear that he preferred his disciples to offer Krsna traditional "Indian" preparations than to offer Him speculations or Western-style food.
To offer Krsna what He prefers to eat is an expression of love.
We have invited Kåñëa, Caitanya Mahäprabhu, as our guest, and He has consented to come here. So we must offer foodstuff, what He wants—not that according to my whims. That is not etiquette. If some respectable guest comes to your house, you ask him, "What shall you eat, sir? What kind of food I can give you?" So whatever he orders, you have to supply. That is real receiving the guest. 750302LE.ATL
Devotees may like pasta, french fries, soyaburgers, tomato sauce, apple pie, custard, and Western style cakes and biscuits, but these things are not on the menu in Goloka Vrindavana, and it is questionable how eager Radharani will be to offer them to Krsna. It is better that devotees adjust their eating habits to be like Krsna's than to expect Krsna to adjust His diet to suit them. Bhakti means satisfying Krsna by offering Him what He wants. Offering Him what we like may be called karma-yoga, but not pure devotion.
Offering Krsna Vedic cuisine also helps devotees to remember Krsna. Different types of food can awaken remembrance of Krsna: "Here is rice mixed with yogurt. Mother Yasoda gives this to Krsna to carry for His lunch when He goes to herd the cows. And this type of spinach is so dear to Lord Caitanya that Mother Çacé cooks it for Him again and again with great pleasure."
(Iskcon's) Standard Offering Procedure
A special plate and cup are kept exclusively for offering food to Kåñëa. The bhoga is placed on the plate, along with a cup of fresh drinking water. A little salt should also be placed on the plate, and if possible some pieces of lime or lemon from which the seeds have been removed (the small variety of lime prevalent in India should be cut in halves or quarters; large lemons should be cut in easy-to-squeeze crescents, not sliced). Liquid items (such as dal) can be placed in small dishes (katoris) kept only for offerings. A tulasé leaf is placed on each preparation. In climates where tulasi does not flourish, it is acceptable to place a single tulasi leaf on the whole plate, or, if tulasi is wholly unavailable, to offer tulasi leaves by meditation only.
The plate, thus made up, is placed either on the altar, on a table in front of the altar or (if there is no altar arrangement) in front of a picture of Kåñëa. Sitting in front of the altar and meditating on how Kåñëa will enjoy the offering, the devotee rings the bell while softly reciting each of the following mantras three times (the first mantra three times followed by the second mantra three times then the third mantra threee times):
çrémate bhaktivedänta-svämin iti nämine
namas te särasvate deve gaura-väëé-pracäriëe
2) namo mahä-vadänyäya kåñëa-prema-pradäya te
kåñëäya kåñëa-caitanya-nämne gaura-tviñe namaù
3) namo brahmaëya-deväya go-brähmaëa-hitäya ca
jagad-dhitäya kåñëäya govindäya namo namaù
The devotee meditates on offering the foodstuffs to his guru, who then offers it to his guru, then up through the parampara to Srimati Radharani, who offers it to Kåñëa. He does not presume himself qualified to offer anything directly to Kåñëa.
As a mark of respect to Krsna, prasada should be distributed only after the offering is transferred and the Lord's plate washed. Under some circumstances this rule could be suspended, such as when book distributors have to leave as soon as possible, or if many guests are waiting for prasada. In some cases, Srila Prabhupada allowed prasada to be distributed before the plate was washed, or even while the offering was going on. Indeed, in the first days of ISKCON, devotees regularly followed this practice.
Offering all Food to the Deity
Where Deities are installed, everything should be offered to Them, just as in an aristocratic establishment, all nice foods are cooked according to the pleasure of the master and enjoyed later by the servants. It is not a good standard to offer the bhoga just to pictures of Krsna or His devotee, or other Deities kept mainly for offering bhoga to. Srila Prabhupada often emphasized that devotees living in temples should only take food offered to the Deities.
The standard that Srila Prabhupada established and that was followed during his manifest presence was that everything temple devotees ate was first offered to the Deities. Since then, it has become a norm in many temples that food meant principally for feeding temple devotees is not offered to the Deities, and in many cases is cooked by non-initiated devotees, or even those whose chanting of sixteen rounds and following of the regulative principles is doubtful. This is substandard and, considering the effect of food on the consciousness, detrimental to devotional progress. It is also inherently nondevotional, for if food is not offered to Deities, the consciousness that "This is meant to be enjoyed by Krsna" is lost and it becomes more like just cooking ordinary food.
However, sometimes it is difficult to coordinate the Deity cooking schedule with that for distribution to the devotees so that they may both be offered at the same time. However if the prasada for feeding the devotees is cooked by brahmanas, and the kitchen is not too far away from the temple, then there is no reason it cannot be offered to the Deities. If necessary, the offering can be done seperately from the regular offerings. The pujari can offer it whenever it is ready as long as it not at the time of the Deities rest or arati.
Devotees sometimes speak of "devotees’ prasada", or "guests’ prasada", but actually it is all Krsna's prasada.
Other Types of Offerings
When traveling, or while away from a temple or their home Deities, devotees may buy fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts or milk products, and personally offer them. Srila Prabhupada said that fruit can be offered in the mind, and that in awkward circumstances (such as traveling in trains), food can be offered mentally. But better than a mental offering is to offer to pictures of Krsna and the spiritual master. Cooked items should certainly be offered before pictures, and not just in the mind. As much as possible, however, temple resident devotees should avoid buying foodstuffs separately and making their own offering—where the Deity is present, everything should be offered to Him.
Another abbreviated type of offering is to simply offer the foodstuffs to the spiritual master (generally in his picture form), who will then offer them to Krsna.
Some devotees think that substandard and unorthodox foods that cannot be offered to the Deity may be offered to the guru in his picture form. But if an item is not offerable to Krsna, how can the guru accept it (since he will not eat food not offered to Krsna)? Nor should anything be offered to the picture of the guru that would not be offered to him when personally present. Therefore it is best if devotees eat only that which is truly offerable, and not make the guru a receptacle for third-class foods. That will save devotees both from useless junk foods and from offenses.
It sometimes happens that a traveling preacher is given a bag of fruit or other food when leaving a place, but in the flurry of departing he forgets to ascertain whether or not it is offered to Krsna. In such a circumstance, he may pray to Krsna to protect him from the effect of unknowing transgressions, and offer it mentally to his spiritual master with a similar prayer.
Serving prasada may seem to be straightforward and easy, but to do it properly requires culture and training. Those who serve prasada should be peaceful, pure in mind, body, habits and dress, and should be able to serve quickly, quietly, and efficiently. It is therefore best that prasada be served by initiated Vaisnavas rather than inexperienced new bhaktas.
Sometimes it is advised that servers eat before serving, or make and keep a plate on the side, so that they may not be in anxiety—for instance, if they are to serve an opulent feast after they have been fasting all day. This is not the traditional standard, but it may be a concession allowed in the modern age.
If possible, servers should be arranged in advance, and there should be enough so that devotees honoring prasada are not inconvenienced. In temples where there is not much spontaneous enthusiasm to serve, a schedule may be made so that the duty of serving prasada is equally allotted to all. Even temple leaders and senior devotees may at least occasionally serve prasada, to remind themselves that they are the humble servants of the devotees.
Servers should wash their hands before beginning to serve.
Prasada should not be served in cooking pots, but transferred to vessels used only for serving. After transferring prasada into serving pots, the Deity’s pots should immediately be washed and stored. Leaving them unwashed is unclean and invites rats, cockroaches, flies and other vermin. If at all possible, the prasada should be served while it is still hot, as hot food is more pleasing, tasty, and digestible.
The best system of serving is to sit people down to empty plates, then promptly serve them each item one by one. If plates are made up in advance, the preparations become cold and flies may settle on them. When serving to persons sitting on the floor, sitting mats should be provided. Seats should be arranged neither too close together, nor directly against a wall; sufficient space should be left both at the side and the back so everyone can sit comfortably. The plates, cups etc. to be eaten from must be scrupulously clean. It is a great blemish to give eating utensils that have even a little dried dahl or greasy surface left over from the last meal. Eating utensils should be cleaned just prior to meals as well as just after them; re-rinsing them before meals removes any dust or unseen contamination caused, for instance, by insects crawling on them. A little salt and, where available, pieces of lemon cut in halves or quarters with the seeds removed, should be placed in the top right corner of each plate. Water and/or slightly sweetened lemon juice should also be poured out just prior to or upon the arrival of those to be served. In India, fresh chilies and achars (pickles) are often put on the plate before the meal or offered shortly after serving begins.
There is a science to eating foods in a particular order so as to enhance digestion and enjoyment. However, different styles of cooking require foods to be served in different orders. Çréla Prabhupäda preferred the traditional Bengali system. In this system, maha-prasada is served first, then rice, then bitter preparations like sukta and bitter melon, then spinach and other astringent items, then fried preparations and dal, then various spicy vegetables (wet before dry), then sour items, and finally sweets. Sweets should not be served until the devotees have almost finished all the other items on their plate. And once a devotee has started taking sweets, he should not be offered other (savory) items.
Hari Bhakti Vilasa gives the following alternate method of serving: one should start by eating a little sweet, then take salty and sour items, and then pungent and bitter preparations. Liquid foods should be taken at the beginning and end of the meal and solid foods should be taken in the middle. This system is current in South India.
In North India, where both capatis and rice are usually served at a meal, capatis should be served before rice. When a person starts to take rice, he is not given further capatis. Servers should be alert that either rice or capatis are always on a person’s plate, as other items (except sweets) are meant to be eaten with them.
Generally one item should be taken at a time until it is finished, and then the next—instead of, for instance, eating a little yogurt, then some sweet, then rice and dal, then again sweet, and so on.
Two servers should not offer different preparations simultaneously, for this will make it difficult for the served to indicate how much he wants.
Servers should ensure that everything that has been cooked is brought out to serve, and not forgotten. Servers should never stand idly, but bring all the items around continually until the devotees are satisfied. They should not be stingy—holding back certain items because they want to take them later. Traditionally, servers would distribute all the prasada freely, even if it meant they had to cook again. The happiness of the servers is in seeing others happy taking prasada.
Prabhupäda would sit at the head of the two rows of devotees and encourage them to take prasädam: "Give him more!" Prabhupäda would praise Änanda's cooking, smiling with pleasure to see his disciples accept prasädam. The devotees would finish, having been induced to eat as much as they possibly could, and Çréla Prabhupäda would say aloud the prema-dhvani. Then all the devotees would shout in response, "Jaya!"
After one such feast, Prabhupäda called the devotees into his room and remarked, "See how he is cooking. He cooks everything, he serves it, and then he doesn't eat until everyone is fully satisfied. This is Vaiñëava, how he should act. He is more satisfied to serve than to enjoy himself."
If one who is offered an item requests a little but is given a lot, the excess may cause indigestion or may not be eaten and may thus go to waste. Serving a little at a time also helps to keep hot preparations hot, as they tend to stay hotter in the serving vessel than on a plate.
Both servers and served should also consider how much is available to serve to others. Those being served should not press servers to give them more and more of a preparation if it means that others will be deprived. In such cases, servers may politely remind those who demand more of the need to serve others also.
All preparations should be offered in equal quantities to all devotees and guests present—not that special dainty dishes are served to seniors present and not to others. It is also against the Vaisnava spirit for those being served to request servers to pick out the most delectable item in a preparation (e.g. the cauliflower pieces in a mixed cauliflower/potato preparation), thus depriving others of an equal share.
Servers should be especially careful not to give too much prasada to children, or guests who do not know the value of prasada, as both tend to leave excess prasada to be thrown away in the end. Children often demand more than they can eat, but should be trained from a young age not to do so, and not to throw away prasada.
Especially when serving a feast, servers can encourage and induce the served to take plenty of prasada—for example by describing the wonderful qualities of an item as they offer it. A transcendental competition often develops, with the servers trying to get the guests to take more and the guests politely refusing, often not very successfully. But the servers should know how to interpret refusals. A weak "no" means the person could take more if pushed to do so, but when the refusal becomes firm, the pressure should stop. If someone really doesn't want something, it should not be forcibly served to him out of a false sense of pleasing him. Similarly, the server has to be expert enough to know that if a person asks for a little of an item, if giving more than a little will please or annoy him.
A server should not sit down until the whole group is finished, unless he is invited to sit down. Sometimes servers who are too anxious to begin eating sit down after serving all the items one or two times, and then in the course of the meal someone is obliged to get up again and serve prasada.
The spoons, ladles, etc. used for serving should be only used for serving prasada. It is low class to distribute prasada with or from utensils (plates, spoons etc.) that are usually used for eating.
Servers should execute their service quietly. They should only speak when necessary, not drag pots along the floor, and avoid banging and clanging the utensils.
Only the right hand should be used to serve prasada. Servers should take care to place prasada on a free area of the plate. Dal and other liquid preparations, if not put into katoris (steel bowls) or patuyas (leaf dishes), may be poured on the rice. Other items should not be served one on top of another, or on top of the salt. Even worse is when servers carelessly slop prasada here and there, even on the floor. Prasada should be served on the plate, not near or around it.
Prasada should be served from slightly above the plate so that the prasada being served is not simultaneously in contact with the server (or the utensil he is serving with, such as a spoon), and a plate that is being eaten from. If this happens, then the server and his utensil both become contaminated, and the server must wash the utensil and his own hands before continuing to serve. If, without washing the contaminated utensil, it is replaced in the serving vessel, all the prasada it comes in contact with becomes equivalent to the remnants of the person just served, and thus becomes improper to serve to anyone else. A serving spoon should not be banged onto a plate to dislodge prasada stuck to it, or used to flatten or press down a pile of rice on a plate. An exception is if serving on leaf plates that are yet to be eaten from, that are therefore still pure and do not contaminate anything in contact with them. Serving from slightly above the plate means to gently drop each item, neither causing liquid items to splash or solid items to bounce or scatter. Traditionally, water and other liquid items are served from a spoon, not a jug, and little by little so that they are not simultaneously in contact with the spoon and the cup or plate they are being served into.
The server and the serving utensils also become contaminated if they touch the plates and other utensils, hands or other parts of the bodies of the people who are eating. If this happens, the server should wash his hands and the contaminated utensil before serving again. Therefore, a server should not pick up someone's cup to pour water into it (especially if it has been touched after the person started eating), but should leave it where it is and pour water into it. Similarly, he should not take an eating vessel away to fill it up with prasada, but should bring the prasada to the person where he is seated and serve it to him there.
Those being served should not hold up their plates, cups or bowls, but should leave them on the floor for the servers to serve into. It is particularly despicable to hold a bowl or cup over a serving container. Although this may prevent prasada being served from spilling on the floor, it is likely that pieces or drops of prasada thus served will touch the contaminated bowl or cup and then fall back into the serving vessel. This renders the rest of the prasada in the serving vessel as equivalent to the remnants of the person just served, and thus improper to serve to others.
Prasäda should not be served directly into the hand of a person eating, although it is acceptable to do so when distributing morsels of mahä-prasäda at other than meal times.
Serving pots should not be kept close to the plates of those who are eating. Otherwise those who are eating may inadvertently touch them, or their spit or food from their plates may come in contact with them.
The servers should not touch anything impure (such as their mouth, feet, hair, or lower body) nor should they yawn, sneeze or spit. Both servers and those honoring prasada should be careful never to touch prasada, plates, serving vessels, or other utensils, with their legs or feet, or to step over them. Similarly, plates and other such items should not touch asanas.
Those honoring prasada may facilitate the server by moving other preparations aside to make space on their plate, or make a space in the middle of the mound of rice in which to pour the dal. If the server drops some prasada on the floor, the person honoring prasada may pick it up and put it on his plate, so that it will not get stepped on or go wasted.
When an item is not being served, it should be kept covered so that it remains hot. When the server takes off the cover to serve that item, he should place it upside down on the floor. If he places the cover the other way on the floor and then puts it back on top of the pot the same way, dust and other contamination from the floor may fall into the prasada. (Diagram)
Most items are served with spoons, but others that cannot be served very well by spoon are served by hand or with tongs. In the latter category are capatis, samosas, papads, pakoras, and sweets such as sandesa and laddu. Items served by hand or tongs should not be served in threes, but one, two or four at a time.
Seating and Order of Service
In Vedic culture, honored persons are served before others. In ISKCON temples and functions, senior devotees may sit at the head of a line and thus be served first; unless they (the senior devotees) choose to serve others first. In large gatherings with restricted space, it may be appropriate that the most senior devotees be served in a separate room from the other devotees. However, whether senior devotees sit with or separate from others, sufficient servers should be alloted so that other devotees and guests are not left neglected while most of the servers concentrate on serving the seniors.
In most circumstances men and women sit seperately when eating in large groups. In ISKCON centers and functions, it is best that women and men be served simultaneously. This requires an arrangement for two sets of servers and buckets. Young children should preferably sit with the women. It is best that men serve men and women serve women.
Hungry young children should not be kept waiting. At feasts, Prabhupäda was always careful to see that the children were fed first. Mothers may keep some prasada snacks to feed them before others, lest they become too fretful and disturbed.
Those seated should not touch each other while eating.
Those with special diets may eat separately or to the side of others being served. This is for their own convenience and that of the servers.
Other Systems of Serving
Another system for distributing prasada is to have guests sit down to plates that are already made up. Those who do not want to eat everything on a made-up plate may request a separate plate to transfer the excess amount before starting to eat.
In events where many prasada items are served to large groups, such as at weddings, a system is for servers to stand in a line behind a table, one server being allocated to each preparation. Guests queue up with a plate, on reaching the table are served each item, and then take their plates and sit down wherever thay can find a spot. Similar is the buffet system, where people line up to serve themselves. Although these methods may seem to be practical, it is antithetical to Vedic culture. Making people stand in line puts them in the position of beggars. It is better that devotees and guests be treated like kings: seated comfortably and served.
The proper system of service requires sufficient space to sit those who are to be served in lines. Insufficient space may necessitate uncultured systems of service, but it is always better that devotees and guests be sat down and served. Even if only one person is to take prasada, it is best that someone else serve him. If, however, a devotee is eating alone, it is best that, before he starts to eat, he make up his plate with exactly as much as prasada as he will require. Otherwise he has two alternatives for serving himself more. He can either get up in the middle of the meal, wash his hands and serve himself again, or serve with his left hand. Although neither of these are very good, the former solution is better.
Taking prasada is as sacred an activity as chanting the holy name or worshiping the Deity. Therefore devotees speak of "honoring," not "eating" prasäda. (It is also suitable to speak of "accepting" or "taking" prasäda.) Accepting kåñëa-prasäda is a great privilege, because Kåñëa is so kind that He helps us to make spiritual advancement even by eating. Kåñëa-prasäda is nondifferent from Kåñëa, and should be honored in a mood of service.
It is called prasada seva, not prasada enjoyment. Seva means giving service. Prasada is as good as Krsna. Therefore prasada should be respected as good as Krsna. As soon as one gets prasada immediately he touches on the head because it is Krsna, absolute. In this way we have to be trained up as it is prescribed in the sastras. Çrémad-Bhägavatam 6.1.18 Denver, July 1, 1975
In the Båhad-viñëu Puräëa it is stated that one who considers mahä-prasäda to be equal to ordinary rice and däl certainly commits a great offense. Ordinary edibles are touchable and untouchable, but there are no such dualistic considerations where prasäda is concerned. Prasäda is transcendental, and there are no transformations or contaminations, just as there are no contaminations or transformations in the body of Lord Viñëu Himself. Thus even if one is a brähmaëa he is certain to be attacked by leprosy and bereft of all family members if he makes such dualistic considerations. Such an offender goes to hell, never to return. CC Madhya 3.99 text/purport
Those who are honoring prasäda, accepting the remnants of food offered to the Deity, must always remember that prasäda is not ordinary food. Prasäda is transcendental. We are therefore reminded:
viçväso naiva jäyate
Those who are not pious cannot understand the value of mahä-prasäda or the holy name of the Lord. Both prasäda and the Lord’s name are on the Brahman platform, or spiritual platform. One should never consider prasäda to be like ordinary hotel cooking. CC Madhya 11.209 purport
When taking mahaprasada one should not consider the food ordinary preparations. One should consider mahaprasada a favor of Krsna. CC Antya 11.20
Prasäda is best honored in a peaceful, happy and relaxed mood. A pleasant atmosphere and good mood are as important to proper digestion as the quality of the food. A devotee should not be in a rushed or anxious frame of mind while taking prasada. The Visnu Purana warns that whatever one eats in an angry mood will turn to poison.
Devotees need not think that because prasada is meant to be honored, it should not be enjoyed.
After offering to Kåñëa, you’ll enjoy. After offering nice prasäda, Kåñëa is full, Kåñëa is not eating—you’ll enjoy. That is Kåñëa consciousness. Don’t reject anything. Lecture, Los Angeles, November 13, 1968
Since prasada is to be honored with the consciousness that it is Krsna's mercy and non-different from Him, one should generally maintain silence while eating. ''Heavy'' subjects should not be discussed. Traditionally, sadhus do not talk at all while eating, but from Caitanya-caritamrta we see that Lord Caitanya and His associates did. Particularly Lord Nityananda used to joke a lot during prasada. When talking with or serving guests, Srila Prabhupada would foster a light or jovial mood. But generally Srila Prabhupada liked to take prasada alone, in a meditative mood, and saying only what was needed to the server. After all, honoring prasada requires that the mouth be used for eating. It is difficult to both chew and speak at the same time, and impolite for the mouth to be open while eating.
Although talking while taking prasada is not forbidden, a hullabaloo during prasada service is most unpleasant. It is better if a devotee is assigned to read aloud during prasada time. Reading Krishna's pastimes is more suitable than heavy philosophy. Hearing a lecture or kirtana on tape at this time is also suitable, provided devotees listen to it and do not talk over it.
Devotees may call out the holy names while taking prasada, or—especially on festival days—intersperse their honoring of prasada with calls of maha-prasada ki jaya!, or similar exultations.
Devotees may express their appreciation of the prasada, to the cooks or among themselves: "This chutney has been cooked very nicely; this sweet rice is pure nectar." Such appreciation should not be in a mood of sense gratification, but with respect for the transcendental nature of prasada and for the service of those who prepared it. If there is any apparent fault in the prasada, it should be brought to the attention of the cooks and temple authorities so that the standard of cooking be improved.
Regulations from the Dharma-sastras
One should take his meals in a clean state, with peaceful mind. One should not wear only one piece of cloth while eating, but should wear a chaddar along with his dhoti. One’s cloth should not be damp. Nor should one wear cloth on his head, or shoes on his feet. (Shoes should be kept well away from food, cooking pots, etc.) The sikha should be tied.
Before eating, one should purify himself. As stated in Manu-smrti, "If one eats from a plate on the ground, making five places wet, that eating is like fasting; it does not produce any sickness. The five wet places refer to the washing of hands, feet and mouth, the giving up of anger and the smearing of the place with cowdung." (It is not possible everywhere to smear with cowdung, but at least the place sat in should be clean.)
One should sit on a pure, unbroken asana, with his legs folded (not spread out). One should not receive foods directly in his hands, nor place food directly on the floor, but should take his meal from a an unbroken plate (Eating or cooking utensils that become cracked should not be used as they are considered impure). The plate should not be kept on the lap (Manu 4.63), or held in one hand. It may be placed on the floor or on a table. In India, there are low tables suitable for honoring prasada while sitting on the floor.
Sastra states that one should not eat, or even drink water, while sitting on a bed. (Manu 4.74) One must also avoid taking food in the darkness, as this may attract ghosts.
Manu-smrti states that one should not make noises while eating or drinking.
While eating a man should place his left hand on his lap and concentrate his mind on the food. If one keeps his left hand on the ground while eating, all the energy he derives from the foodstuffs will be sapped by the earth.
Sastra forbids eating from the same plate with another, even if he be of equal rank. Similarly, after beginning eating, one should not take prasada from another’s plate, nor transfer prasada from one’s plate to that of another.
One should not eat any food that has been prepared by a woman in her menses, or eat without giving a portion to persons who wistfully gaze at the food that he is taking.
Among the varieties of foodstuffs that are not for consumption and should be rejected are that in which a hair or insect is found (Manu 4.207), or which has been sneezed on (Manu 4.208). Although prasada inherently cannot be contaminated, germs that thus mix with it may still infect the eater, who may therefore decide not to take it. Food in which hairs or dead bugs are found cannot be considered as prasada, even if they have inadvertantly been offered with such contaminations in them; for Krsna is not obliged to accept such defiled preparations.
Manu also proscribes food that has been pecked by birds or touched by a dog (Manu 4.213), or which is given without respect.
Direction and Setting
Srila Prabhupada said that "A Vaisnava never eats in public." A symptom of the age of Kali is not following the rules and regulations for eating and drinking, and performing such anywhere and everywhere. Until recently, pious Indians were particular not to eat in public (i.e. in front of unknown people who they were not eating with). As far as possible prasada should be honored either in a private place, or where everyone else present is either taking or serving prasada.
It is generally advisable not to eat in the presence of others who are not eating, especially unknown or inimical persons, those who are envious of one’s eating, or people who are themselves hankering to eat. If other people watch a person eat, they may become desirous of eating his food. In that case he is obliged to offer it to them or suffer a sinful reaction.
The Nectar of Devotion states that, "One should not accept prasäda before the Deity." It is best if prasada is not even taken in the temple room.
It is best that prasada be honored in a place that is spacious enough so that servers can move easily, those who are served are not cramped together, and serving utensils can be kept away from plates that are being eaten from. It should also not be a busy place where there are many distractions—such as a corridor. The scriptural injunction forbidding eating in a vehicle is often broken in the modern, hasty world, but still it is better to follow it and take prasada peacefully, rather than when rushing from one place to another.
To honor prasada, a devotee should be fully dressed in devotional clothing, with tilaka, and preferably having taken bath. To take prasada improperly dressed, for instance in a gamcha, is not the proper way to receive Krsna’s mercy.
Devotees should always sit to honor prasada. This makes the mind more peaceful, and is more respectful. To stand or walk while eating is highly uncultured.
To prevent small pieces or drops of prasada falling or splashing on one’s clothing, devotees sometimes place a protective cloth over the lower part of the body (where, if one is sitting cross-legged, such small pieces of prasada are most likely to fall) before starting to honor prasada. Less protective but easier is to pull the dhoti up to the knees. When wearing a long-sleeved shirt or jacket, it is a good idea to roll up the right sleeve at least a little, to prevent it from touching prasada on the plate while eating and thus becoming stained and contaminated.
No-one should start eating until everyone in the group has some prasada on their plate, and everyone can begin honoring together. If a devotee considerably senior to others is present, no one should start honoring until he has. When a group of Vaisnavas honor prasada together, all wait until the most senior starts to eat; then only may others begin. If two or more devotees of equal seniority are present in a group, they may start to eat simultaneously.
If a devotee comes late for prasada, after others have started eating, he should sit down and wait for the servers to come to him, rather than helping himself or going up to the servers to get served by them.
It is best to eat by hand, rather than with a spoon or other utensil. Ayurveda states that even before tasting food, the digestive system is stimulated by touching it.
The right hand should always be used for eating (even if eating with a spoon). After one has begun eating prasada, the right hand is considered contaminated (even when one eats with a spoon or similar utensil), and one should not touch anything else with it, including other parts of the body. In this regard, Hari Sauri Prabhu recalls:
Western devotees are often not familiar with how to eat simple Indian foods like capatis and rice. Capatis should not be rolled up and chewed on bit by bit like a hot dog. Even the lowest class people in India don't do that! A small piece is torn off, then a little subji or dal is taken in it, and together they are placed in the mouth—not that one eats some capati, then subji, and mixes them in the mouth. Capatis and rice should not be eaten together, as capatis and subji are. Papad, on the other hand, may be crushed into small pieces and taken with rice that is mixed with dal, sambar, etc. Rice is mixed on the plate with subji, dal, chutney etc., formed into a ball, then placed in the mouth. The rice should be mixed only gradually with the different items, as it is needed—and not all at once. Bengalis go on mixing the rice, dal, etc. as they eat. They say it improves the flavor.
Prasada should be ingested in small mouthfuls, and well masticated before being swallowed. Shoveling food in without properly chewing it is a sure formula for indigestion. Çréla Prabhupäda ate prasada slowly and carefully.
It is improper to hold a plate or bowl in one hand and eat from it with another, except if necessary to scrape the last remnants from it. Among Bengalis, it is also acceptable to pour milk too hot to be drunk from a cup into a plate and drink it from the plate. Pouring out a little at a time quickly cools it.
To scatter food around the plate while eating is unclean, undignified, and offensive.
One should never take food from another’s plate while they are eating, or, having started to eat, give food to another.
Belching after a meal is said to be indicative of the stomach having accepted the meal (i.e., that it will digest it nicely). Contrary to North European and North American table manners, belching after a meal is considered a good sign in Bengali culture. Repeated or loud belching, however, is not considered very dignified. Belching also indicates that the stomach is as full as it needs to be, and that one should therefore discontinue eating, or at least not take more food on his plate.
When one is finished eating, he should not rise until everyone in the group is finished and satisfied. (If prasada is being served to many, this means that one should wait for those in his line to finish.) In Vedic culture, the moment one person in a row finishes his meal and rises to go, the meal has ended, and all of the remaining food is considered ucchista (leftovers). Therefore in assemblies of brahmanas, when one person rises after taking prasada, everyone else will rise at the same time, following the lead of the seniormost person present, who will usually look to see if all in the line are finished and satisfied. Sometimes it may not be practical to wait for everyone to finish, especially if devotees have urgent services to perform, or devotees come intermittently, and thus finish at different times. But at least as far as is practical, all persons in the group should wait for the seniormost person to finish before rising to go.
After sitting to eat, a person should only stand again when he has completely finished his meal. Getting up in the middle of the meal, or sitting down to eat again after having stood up, is uncultured and inhibits digestion. It is particularly uncultured for a person to get up in the middle of a meal and serve himself, being too impatient to wait for the servers to come. As long as there is food in the mouth one should not get up. And, having got up, one should not eat any more. After finishing his meal, a person may sit for one or two minutes before rising—he does not have to rush off immediately upon finishing. However, sitting for an extended period without washing the hands after finishing the meal is also not good.
After finishing the meal, one should take the plate in the right hand and discard it (if disposable). When eating as a guest, it is normal for the host to insist that the guest leave his plate where it is, to be cleaned by the host. If, however, the host does not indicate as such, the guest should pick up his plate and clean it himself. While getting up after eating, one who does not pick up the plate to clean it should take care not to step over it.
Contaminated leftovers and leaf-plates should not be given to animals, because allowing other living entities to take one’s remnants means accepting part of their karmic reactions. Giving one’s remnants to cows (or bulls) is sinful, for the cow is worshipable and should only be given food that has not been given to others. Reusable plates should be washed immediately, and not left for later.
The Offense of Throwing Away Prasada
Some devotees have the bad habit of leaving pieces of prasada—or even mounds of it—on their plate to throw away. This is offensive. Indeed, to even throw away ordinary food is sinful—what to speak of kåñëa-prasäda. When Srila Prabhupada saw a grain of rice on the prasada room floor, he said, "Whoever dropped that will have to suffer. Prasada is non-different from Krsna." (Told by Gauridasa Pandita Dasa)
Srila Prabhupada advised to, "Take as much prasada as you want but eat everything that you take. Not one grain of rice should be wasted." (Told by Srutakirti Dasa) If a person leaves prasada on his plate, it means he has piled on to it more than he could eat, which is a sign of greed. It also means to take prasada as an object of personal enjoyment, instead of accepting it as Krsna's mercy. Furthermore, taking prasada but not eating it denies someone else the opportunity to take it.
Therefore, one should not take on his plate more than he can eat. One who takes a large quantity on his plate may realize midway through the meal that he it will be difficult for him to finish it all. Better is to accept repeated servings, taking small portions as desired until satisfied, and finish the meal by carefully cleaning the plate down to the last grain and remnant of prasada. This should be done with the fingers, not by licking the plate.
Items such as lemon peels, potato and tomato skins, unwanted chilies, and preparations that are inedible due to being grossly oversalted, overspiced, burnt, or undercooked, may be kept at one side of the plate, or just to the side of the plate, and later disposed of. Items that are totally inedible are not considered as prasada, even if they have been formally placed in front of the Deity.
In India some people finish their meal by pouring water on their plate and drinking it, so as to ingest even the fine particles of prasada. Then they swish their mouths with the water from the plate, so that the particles in their mouths are taken down into the stomach, and not spat out when they wash their mouthes.
It is also not a good practice to save half-eaten prasada to be honored later.
The principle should be that you should not leave remnants of food. As soon as it is used, it should not be used more.
Not Liking Prasada
A devotee may not like or may not be able to digest some prasada preparations. This is discussed in the following exchange.
Bob: I found specifically that what I mean—that some are too spicy, and it hurts my stomach.
Çréla Prabhupäda: That is also due to not appreciating, but the cook should have consideration. Kåñëa must be offered first-class foodstuffs. So if he offers something last class, he is not performing his duty. But Kåñëa can accept anything if it is offered by a devotee, and a devotee can accept any prasäda, even if it is spicy.
Bob: Let us say some devotee has some trouble and does not eat a certain type of food—like some devotees do not eat ghee because of liver trouble. So these devotees, should they take all the prasäda?
Çréla Prabhupäda: No, no. Those who are not perfect devotees may discriminate. But a perfect devotee does not discriminate. Why should you imitate a perfect devotee? So long as you have discrimination, you are not a perfect devotee. So why should you artificially imitate a perfect devotee and eat everything?
The point is, a perfect devotee does not make any discrimination. Whatever is offered to Kåñëa is nectar. That’s all. Kåñëa accepts anything from a devotee. "Whatever is offered to Me by My devotee," He accepts. The same thing for a devotee. Don’t you see the point? A perfect devotee does not make any discrimination. But if I am not a perfect devotee and I have discrimination, why shall I imitate the perfect devotee? It may not be possible for me to digest everything because I am not a perfect devotee. A devotee should not be a foolish man.
The system of only serving a little of each preparation on the plate at a time forestalls the possibility of a person taking a large amount that he cannot or does not want to honor.
After finishing eating from a leaf plate, it should be folded inwards, with the bottom on the outside. On rising after the meal, those who have eaten should pick up their dirty plates and other utensils, taking care not to touch them to any other part of their own body, to the bodies of others, or to the bodies and clothes of others. They should, without dallying, proceed to the washing place, being careful not to go near the still-present serving pots. They should then wash their utensils, or in the case of disposable plates, cups, and spoons, throw them away. In Bengal, when an honored guest rises after his meal, the host will request him to leave his plate there on the ground. Even if the guest tries to take his plate with him, the host will insist that he leave his plate, to give a further chance for the host to serve the guest.
A nice practice when serving a small group, especially of honored persons, is for the servers to pour water from a jug for those who have eaten to wash their hands and mouth with.
By eating a person becomes contaminated, and should immediately wash his hands, mouth and feet before performing any other activity. The mouth should be rinsed at least three times.
Srila Prabhupada said that the best system is for everyone to wash his own plate—not that they should accumulate and one person is assigned to wash them.
After the Meal
To assist proper digestion, it is recommended not to take rest, perform strenuous physical or mental work, or travel, directly after a meal. It is advisable to sit, remembering Krsna by chanting His name or discussing His pastimes. The vajräsana, or yoga kneeling posture, helps in digestion. An alternative is to walk (not vigorously) for ten to fifteen minutes after eating.
One should not eat again until the food has digested. This means one should wait at least three hours after a light meal, and five after a heavy meal. Nor should one drink water soon after eating, for this will douse the fire of digestion. One should wait at least an hour (preferably two) before drinking any liquids.
Proper Times for Eating
Ayurveda recommends that the main meal be taken at solar midday, when the sun is highest and the body’s digestive power is strongest. Heavy meals early in the morning or late at night are detrimental to health. Before sunrise, even light food should not be taken. In Vedic culture, people do not eat anything until they finish their morning puja and sadhana. This rule may be broken in exceptional circumstances—for example, if a diabetic has to eat for health reasons.
Srila Prabhupada said that devotees should not eat very much at night. It is difficult for the body to digest at night or to sleep properly after large meals, so those who eat much at night tend to awake feeling unrefreshed. Traditionally, sadhus in India do not to eat after sunset, or they take only a cup of milk at night. However, Srila Prabhupada recognized that this may not be possible for everyone and did not insist that devotees not eat at night. He was pleased when a feast was prepared for devotees and guests to enjoy after his evening lecture every night in Melbourne. Çréla Prabhupäda also wrote:
However, if given maha-prasada, especially from a distant place, one should honor it immediately without consideration of time or place.
"I have not finished chanting my regular number of rounds. How, then, can I eat? But you have brought mahä-prasäda, and how can I neglect it?" Saying this, he (Haridäsa Öhäkura) offered prayers to the mahä-prasäda, took a little portion, and ate it. CC Antya 11.19-20 text
Cleaning the Eating Area
Directly after the meal, the eating area must be thoroughly cleansed with water (or better still, a mixture of water and cow dung), since the area has becomes impure by the act of eating.
If, due to limited facilities, two or more batches of prasada service are necessary, the first batch should be completely cleared and the service area cleaned. Then only should the second batch should come in a group. One should not sit to eat in a contaminated or dirty place. It is insulting to offer a contaminated place to sit for prasada. Sastra states that one who eats in such a place is liable to attack by demons and ghosts.
After everyone has finished taking prasada, the pots should be taken away and immediately cleaned. If smaÿl quantities of prasada remain in large serving pots, it should be transferred to small pots and the large pots washed. Leaving half-eaten food or unwashed plates or dishes lying around is tamasic. To protect against contamination by dust, animals, birds, and insects, leftover prasada should not be left uncovered.
When serving an honored person, the proper order of cleaning activities after a meal are as follows:
Although sastra states that even water should be offered before taking it, not many Vaisnavas observe this. Srila Prabhupada would drink water without offering it, and did not instruct his disciples to do so. If it is available, devotees may honor water offered to the Deities. Otherwise, they may mentally offer water meant for their own consumption, or simply remember that Krsna is the taste of water.
Water should be drunk from a cup without touching it to the lips. If the cup touches the lip, it and the hand holding it become contaminated, and both need to be rinsed for purification. Therefore it is best to pour the water into the mouth by holding the cup above the lips, preferably well above to avert accidental touching. This may require some practice for those unaccustomed to it. Water is best served in a suitable cup, that is not too full; if drunk from a bowl or wide-rimmed cup, or a completely filled cup, it is difficult to drink without spilling.
The right hand should be used for drinking. In Bengali Vaisnava culture the practice for drinking water during meals is to hold the cup in the right hand, and the cup may be put to the lips. In South India, water is drunk at meals (only) with the left hand, but the cup should not touch the lips.
Water should not be drunk directly from a water source, such as a tap, tubewell, or water cooler, but should either first be transferred to a drinking vessel or drunk from the right hand or (less good but more practical) from both hands cupped together. The hand should be at least well rinsed, and if necessary cleaned of dirt or other contaminations, before drinking from it. It is standard practice in India that before taking or drinking water from a tap or other water dispenser, to rinse both the regulator and spout several times to purify it of germs and other contaminations left by previous users.
In Indian culture it is considered proper to sit, rather than stand, to drink water.
Water from a bathroom or other contaminated place is unfit for drinking.
Water is contaminated if a fly or dust gets in it, or if it is touched by a fingernail. Such water should be thrown away. Although mahaprasada water is always sacred, the dust or germs that may get in it are not. Therefore water containers should always be covered. Çréla Prabhupäda said that, "An uncovered water container means death."
Excessive water should not be taken with meals, as this diminishes the fire of digestion.
Traditionally, preferred materials for cooking pots are clay (used once and then thrown away), brass, bell metal (an alloy of copper and tin), or añöa-dhätu (a particular mixture of eight metals).
Aluminum pots are widely used among the less affluent in modern India, but they poison food cooked in them, thus rendering it unofferable to God and His devotees. Aluminum utensils should be banned in all ISKCON kitchens and removed from all devotee homes. Iron is considered impure and unfit for cooking or eating from. According to rigid traditionalists, steel is also impure, because it mostly consists of iron. However, iron is impure because it rusts and stains easily. However, quality stainless steel is free of these defects, and therefore, taking the spirit of the law rather than the letter, may be considered pure. Stainless steel cooking and eating utensils are now widely accepted in high-class Indian homes.
Wooden utensils (such as cutting boards and spoons) are better than plastic. Scientific anaysis shows that germs breed significantly faster on plastic than on wood.
In India, leaf plates are considered high class. Best are the leaves of the lotus, then the banana tree, then others, such as those made from çäla (an indigineous tree in India). Such plates are used once then thrown away. Similarly, cups and dishes for liquid items are cheaply produced from clay or leaves, used once, and then thrown away.
According to sastra, re-usable eating utensils are those made from gold, silver, stone, bell metal, añöa-dhätu and brass. Nowadays gold utensils are almost unheard of, but silver is not uncommon among aristocratic people. Eating utensils of brass and añöa-dhätu are still commonly used in Bengal. A drawback of these is that they chemically react with acidic foods such as lime, yogurt and tamarind. Many Bengali Vaisnavas prefer stone plates, which are considered highly pure. Srila Prabhupada's personal eating utensils were of silver, but he sometimes ate from stainless steel also.
Srila Prabhupada commented:
As it is unpleasant to eat with utensils that have been used by meat-eaters and others of impure habits, it is a good practice for devotees to keep their own plate and cup, for communally used eating utensils are likely to have been used at some time by those of unclean eating habits. If necessary, a devotee may lend his plate and cup to another devotee, but generally he will reserve them for his own use. It is also a good practice for temples to keep a separate set of eating utensils for visiting spiritual masters and sannyasis to use.
Broken utensils are considered impure and should be replaced.
In India it is said that for every bit of food wasted in times of plenty, an equal amount will be lacking in times of need.
Regarding prasada, leftovers should always be taken if they have not spoiled or if they have not been touched by diseased persons. We should never waste Krishna prasada. Best thing is to cook only what is required and then give each person what he wants. Letter to: Kirtiraja, 27 November, 1971
All food, offered or unoffered, should be covered unless it is to be immediately used. Otherwise germs, insects, and dust may go in it, and its freshness and (especially in the case of spices) aroma and flavor will diminish.
Should Prasada be Reheated?
The general rule is that prasada is not to be reheated.
Upon reheating, many edibles lose their nutritional value, capatis become hard and indigestible, and some (such as rice and spinach) become poisonous. On the other hand, some items (like dal) are much more appetizing when served hot. GBC Guideline 524 advises that, "Temple president and book distribution department heads shall see that book distributors have quality prasada served warm and in a timely manner." Certainly, devotees in cold countries who come in hungry from preaching or working in the fields, will be more satisfied and enlivened to get piping hot prasada rather than cold leftovers. Of course, devotees should be content to honor prasada however it comes, but it might be a good idea to give devotees reheated prasada if it can’t be provided fresh and hot.
To preserve nutritional value, reheating is best done indirectly by steaming. It should definitely not by be done by microwave, which alters the molecular structure of food and renders it carcinogenic.
Throwing Out Prasada
In general, prasada should not be thrown out. Even the leftovers of guests and children is completely pure and should not be thought of as something to be discarded.
It is good to apprise new guests of the sanctity of prasada and request them not to take excess and to eat all they take. Nevertheless, nondevotees may leave remnants that need to be disposed of. Such leftovers are still prasäda and therefore sacred, and should never be put in the garbage or just left to decompose. A better alternative to throwing prasada in the trash (a serious offense) is to keep a separate bin for throwing leftovers. However, this will tend to encourage the bad habit of taking excess on one’s plate and throwing it out. It is suggested that such a bin be kept for the convenience of nondevotee guests, and that devotees be strongly discouraged from using it. Such thrown out prasada could be fed to animals such as dogs and cats. It should never be given to cows, for cows are worshipable and to give them remnants is offensive. If none of these alternatives are practicable, prasäda that for some reason has to be disposed of may be buried.
Prasada, or food byproducts (such as potato peels) should never be thrown down a toilet. Raw vegetable scraps and peelings make excellent compost; cooked food does not.
When asked if it is alright to take prasada that is old and stale, Srila Prabhupada replied, "If you have faith."
Honoring the Remnants of Advanced Vaisnavas
Taking the food remnants of Vaisnavas is highly praised in scripture, and forms an integral part of Gaudiya Vaisnava culture. Devotees should seek the opportunity honor the remnants of more advanced devotees.
After the Vaiñëavas finished eating, they would throw away their dishes or leaves, and Kälidäsa would come out of hiding, take the leaves and lick up the remnants. He would also take gifts to the homes of Vaiñëavas born in çüdra families. Then he would hide and eat the remnants of food they threw away in this manner. There was a great Vaiñëava named Jhaòu Öhäkura, who belonged to the bhüìimäli caste. Kälidäsa went to his home, taking mangoes with him. Kälidäsa presented the mangoes to Jhaòu Öhäkura and offered him respectful obeisances. Then he also offered respectful obeisances to the Öhäkura’s wife…
Upon returning home, Jhaòu Öhäkura saw the mangoes Kälidäsa had presented. Within his mind he offered them to Kåñëa-candra. Jhaòu Öhäkura’s wife then took the mangoes from their covering of banana tree leaves and bark and offered them to Jhaòu Öhäkura, who began to suck and eat them. When he finished eating, he left the seeds on the banana leaf, and his wife, after feeding her husband, later began to eat. After she finished eating, she filled the banana leaves and bark with the seeds, picked them up and threw them in the ditch where all the refuse was thrown.
Kälidäsa licked the banana bark and the mango seeds and skins, and while licking them he was overwhelmed in jubilation by ecstatic love. In this way Kälidäsa ate the remnants of food left by all the Vaiñëavas residing in Bengal...
When Kälidäsa visited Jagannätha Puré, Néläcala, Çré Caitanya Mahäprabhu bestowed great mercy upon him. Having offered obeisances to Lord Nåsiàhadeva, Çré Caitanya Mahäprabhu visited the temple of Lord Jagannätha. Then He returned to His residence, finished His noon duties and took His lunch. Kälidäsa was standing outside the door, expecting the remnants of food from Çré Caitanya Mahäprabhu. Knowing this, Mahäprabhu gave an indication to Govinda. Govinda understood all the indications of Çré Caitanya Mahäprabhu. Therefore he immediately delivered the remnants of Çré Caitanya Mahäprabhu’s food to Kälidäsa.
Taking the remnants of the food of Vaiñëavas is so valuable that it induced Çré Caitanya Mahäprabhu to offer Kälidäsa His supreme mercy. Therefore, giving up hatred and hesitation, try to eat the remnants of the food of Vaiñëavas, for you will thus be able to achieve your desired goal of life. CC Antya 16.8-59 text
Sastra states that sannyasis should not leave remnants. However, Bhakti Ratnakara gives the example of a guru keeping remnants of food for his disciples to accept as prasada. Hari Bhakti Vilasa advises that the disciple take permission from his guru before taking remnants—although there is no offense to do so without permission.
Before distributing the guru’s mahaprasada, one should transfer it from his plate and wash the plate (if it is reusable). The spiritual master leaves remnants on his plate specifically for disciples to take, so it should be given to disciples first. Usually if others than disciples want remnants they should come and ask. It should not be offered to them in a way that makes them feel obliged to take it. One should especially avoid offering the spiritual master's remnants to his Godbrothers, or those equal with his godbrothers.
Disciples should be careful not to give guru remnants to people who are not practicing devotional service. When they take the mahaprasada, some of their sinful reactions will be assumed by the guru, who will be unnecessarily overloaded with them. Guru mahaprasada is best not distributed or honored publicly in the West, or the practice of doing so not even spoken about among nondevotees, who do not understand the value of devotee remnants and usually consider it disgusting to eat another person’s leftovers.
Upendra dasa and another devotee once took the contents of Srila Prabhupada’s spitoon and drank it as remnants. When Srila Prabhupada found out he called them in and told them "This is not necessary." He was pleased with their faith in him but felt that they had gone too far in demonstrating it.
To give one's remnants to a godbrother is a great transgression of etiquette.
Devotees Honoring Prasada Together
Srila Prabhupada wanted that even his householder devotees living outside take prasada in the temple with the rest of the devotees. In the following letter, Brahmananda Swami elaborates Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on this matter.
Srila Prabhupada has asked me to issue a letter to "inform them of my desire." The subject matter is separate cooking amongst householders who live both within the temple and within the vicinity of the temple.
Srila Prabhupada no longer wants separate cooking to go on—we are trying through bhakti yoga to curb down sense gratification. The process is to control the tongue first and that is done by taking prasada. Because of the tendency for sense gratification, cooking separately, even though it may be offered on a household altar, encourages the tendency to prepare for one’s own taste. Furthermore, separate cooking and separate taking of foodstuffs leads to independence, which is not conducive for progress in Krsna consciousness, and will lead us back to material life.
On this morning’s walk, one brahmacari devotee asked Prabhupada, "Why is it that even within our society, there is a tendency amongst us not to want to follow all of the devotional practices, as they should be done?" Prabhupada explained that this reluctance is due to past bad habits, and these bad habits can be surmounted simply by associating with other devotees. He thus spoke against separate cooking, because it precludes a very important devotional activity, which is taking of prasada in the association with other devotees. Prabhupada asked "Why do you invite the public to your Sunday Love Feast? We want them to associate with us by taking prasada, but if we do not do it ourselves then it becomes a farce." Prabhupada further stated that the reason that we have purchased housing apartments in Los Angeles is so that our householders can live just near the temple so that they can attend the temple functions, especially the prasada taking. If they do not take prasada in the temples, Prabhupada said they might as well live in a distant place.
All housewives, who in many cases are the best cooks in the movement, should cook in the temple kitchen for the Deity. Also a proper place for taking prasada has to be arranged in the temple. Prabhupada remarked that in Bengal there are families consisting of 500 family members who all take prasada together.
One boy remarked that he required to take mostly fruits, rather than grains, Prabhupada said, "that is all right if there is some special consideration but the fruits can be offered to the Deity in the temple."
Providing Quality Prasada for Devotees
Prabhupada further explained that only for those who are very advanced can they eat prasada regardless of the taste, but in our stage prasada is enjoyed because it is palatable. Jagannatha Puri is an example of one temple where their prasada is so palatable that thousands of people come and even pay for it. Also in the Jagannatha Puri temple the pilgrims who come there do not cook separately. Brahmananda Swami Letter
To eat too much opulent food is not good, either for health or for sense control.
The eating program should be nutritious and simple, not luxurious. That means capatis, dahl, vegetables, some butter, some fruits and milk. This is necessary for keeping good health. But we should not indulge in sweetballs or halavah or like that daily. Too much first-class eating may stimulate our sex desires, especially sweet preparations. Anyway, eat Krishna Prasada, but be careful that we may not indulge in luxury. For Krishna we can offer the most beautiful preparations, but for us Prasada should be very simple. Letter to: Gargamuni, 20 November, 1969
A devotee does not accept anything to eat that is not first offered to Kåñëa. All the rich foods offered to Kåñëa are given to the gåhasthas, the householders. There are many nice things offered to Kåñëa—garlands, bedsteads, nice ornaments, nice food and even nicely prepared pan, betel nuts—but a humble Vaiñëava, thinking his body material and nasty, does not accept such preparations for himself. He thinks that by accepting such things he will offend the lotus feet of the Lord. CC Madhya 3.70 purport
In India it is common that cooking be with heavy spices and fiery chilies. But Srila Prabhupada did not want cooks in ISKCON to adopt this rajasika style.
Srila Prabhupada's program was for devotees to daily take a main meal of capatis, rice, dal, and subji, with a feast on Sundays. But that simple daily fare should be nicely prepared. If the prasada is neglectfully prepared, naturally devotees will feel dissatisfied.
Nonetheless, it is best that devotees be satisfied with whatever prasada Krsna provides for them, and not have a complaining, nitpicking attitude.
Çréla Prabhupäda: You should not do that. The perfection is that whatever is offered to Kåñëa you should accept. That is perfection. You cannot say. "I like this, I don’t like this." So long as you make such discrimination, that means you have not appreciated what prasäda is.
A devotee: What if there is someone speaking of likes and dislikes? Say someone is preparing some prasäda...
Çréla Prabhupäda: No disliking, no liking. Whatever Kåñëa likes, that’s all right.
Prasada should be taken even if you think it doesn't taste good. (ISKCON in 70's V.1 p.42)
Simple farina (semolina) cereal with nuts and raisins
Steaming hot milk (Or yogurt in the summer)
Raw chick peas, soaked overnight
Raw ginger root
Oranges, apples, or bananas
Dal (made with freshly ground ginger root and freshly ground spices)
Sabji (made with ghee, freshly ground ginger root and freshly ground spices)
Before Taking Rest at Night
Steaming hot milk and bananas
However, diet and timings may be varied according to facilitate devotees’ service and schedules. Nowadays many ISKCON temples serve full meals of prasada both morning and evening, to facilitate preachers and others who remain busy outside the temple during the day.
Cow’s milk is an essential item in a devotee’s diet, and devotees should preferably take it every day (except during the one month milk fast during caturmasya).
No brain can assimilate the subtle form of knowledge without fine brain tissues. For such important brain tissues we require a sufficient quantity of milk and milk preparations. LOB 27
The body can be maintained by any kind of foodstuff, but cow’s milk is particularly essential for developing the finer tissues of the human brain so that one can understand the intricacies of transcendental knowledge. SB 3.5.7
Çréla Prabhupäda recommended that devotees eat simply and not in excess, yet he also knew the value of feasting in attracting people to and helping keep them in Kåñëa consciousness. Srila Prabhupada once quipped, "This movement is nothing without its feasts." Feasting on krsna-prasada is not material sense enjoyment, if taken in the spirit of gratefully accepting the nectar mercy of Krsna. Such feasting is an essential part of the bliss of Kåñëa consciousness. In the spiritual world every day is a feast, but that is not recommended for aspiring devotees in the material world, neither for their health nor their spiritual advancement. Therefore Çréla Prabhupäda introduced a daily simple but tasty diet and an opulent Sunday feast, plus feasting on special festival days also.
In Vaiñëava culture, feasts are meant as part of festivals. Therefore feasts should always be part of a larger program of kirtana, dancing, bhajanas, lectures and so on.
2-3 types of rice - Puspanna, white etc.
1 wet subji, usually cauliflower and potato
1 dry subji
Samosas, using cauliflower and peas, and spicy
2 types of pakoras
Puris made from white flour
3-4 chutneys – such as plum, apple, raisin and pineapple
But a feast can also be just a few opulent preparations. Prabhupäda once said, "Feasting means puré and halavä and a vegetable and chutney. That's all—four things. Make it simple."
That which is directly offered on the plate to Krsna is called maha-prasada.
It is very bad if a cook, pujari, or anyone else hoards maha-prasada, i.e., keeps substantial quantities for himself, maybe clandestinely, so that others who would also like to honor it cannot, or only get tiny pieces. Such hoarding demonstrates the consciousness to enjoy that which is meant for Krishna's enjoyment. To avoid developing such a mentality, some pujaris have the policy not to honor the prasada they offer. A good policy for those cooking for Krishna is just to take only a small sample of the special items (after they are offered!) to test the quality of his cooking. No one should request the pujari or cook to save certain delicious items for him before they have even been offered.
Actually a devotee’s attitude is not to take the opulent prasada for himself, but to share it with others.
When maha-prasada is distributed, devotees should accept it as Krsna’s mercy, and not be overly picky as to which item they want.
Although maha-prasada is special, all prasada is also special, and in another sense prasada not offered directly to Krsna should not be considered inferior to that put on His plate. In traditional sampradayas in India, no special distinction is made between prasada offered directly before the Lord or that kept in the pot while the offering is made, nor is a difference maintained between the nomenclatures "prasada" and "maha prasada"—both terms may be applied to that directly offered or that kept in the pots. Once Srila Prabhupada said that there is absolutely no difference between prasada on the Deities' plate and that in the pot. "It is all prasada and all just as spiritually potent. The distinction made between maha-prasada, the remnants of the Deity offering, and maha-maha-prasada, the spiritual master's remnants, is for reference only. It is all prasada."
When prasada touches bhoga the latter becomes what is known in Bengali as prasadi. Generally, unoffered preparations and ingredients should not be mixed with, touched to or placed in proximity to items already offered. If an unoffered item happens to touch prasada, it becomes unofferable as it is considered the Lord's remnants, which like any other prasada cannot again be offered to Him. Even a hand that has touched prasada and has not subsequently been washed, when touched to bhoga renders it unofferable, as is bhoga placed on a spot where prasada was kept before and was not washed since then. According to some Vaisnavas, bhoga also becomes unofferable if it comes in contact with a spot that a Vaisnava's feet were touching (for dust from a Vaisnava's feet is also considered prasada; also, a Vaiñëava would not want anything touched by his feet to be offered to Krsna); and touching bhoga with one's japa mala (or with the hand that touched the mala). In all such cases, after touching prasada or one’s japa mala, the hands should be washed before touching bhoga meant for offering.
However, sometimes prasada is deliberately mixed and distributed with other food as prasadi.
When prasada accidentally touches bhoga, it is better to honor such prasadi (if it is already prepared and suitable for eating) rather than waste it. If raw ingredients such as flour and sugar come in contact with prasada, they may be prepared separately, mixed with prasada properly offered to the Lord, and distributed together. However, in ordinary circumstances, if a supposed devotee touches prasada to bhoga, being too lazy and lacking in desire to properly prepare and offer food to Krsna, such so-called prasadi is more like bhoga due to the consciousness that goes with it. After all, prasad is mercy received from Krsna in reciprocation for loving service. It is similar to the understanding that the recitation of the syllables of the holy name by materialistic people for materialistic purposes is not the name at all: Krsna is not obliged to manifest Himself to be used by pseudo-devotees.
Transcendentalists are meant to eat simply and to restrict their intake of food, for there is no possibility of being a yogi for one who eats too much or too little.
We should eat frugally and keep the body fit for advancing in Kåñëa consciousness.
Srila Prabhupada said that one should eat as much as he can digest, but that will vary from person to person. For one devotee it may be one or two capatis, and for others, ten.
If you eat a little more than you can digest, immediately there is disease.
Once, Çréla Prabhupäda noticed that Srutakirti dasa was trying to reduce his eating. Prabhupäda said, "What is this? You have service to perform. You can't, this is nonsense. You shouldn't cut down on your eating. You have to be giving massage and doing so many things. You should eat. Don't cut down. You should eat whatever you can digest."
Children and pregnant and lactating women should be fed well and never encouraged to cut back on eating. New devotees, too, may be encouraged to take prasada to their full satisfaction, or more. Especially in the early days of ISKCON, Çréla Prabhupäda personally encouraged new devotees to take plenty of prasada.
Çré Caitanya Mahäprabhu was not accustomed to taking prasäda in small quantities. He therefore put on each plate what at least five men could eat. CC Antya 11.82 verse
Everyone was filled up to the neck because Çré Caitanya Mahäprabhu kept telling the distributors, "Give them more! Give them more!" CC Antya 11.88 verse
But since prasada is transcendental and purifying, and honoring prasada is a form of devotional service, how is it possible that one could honor too much? Srila Prabhupada answered this by saying that only if one sees prasada as nondifferent from Krsna, then he can honor large amounts. But Srila Prabhupada humbly considered himself unqualified to see prasada in such a transcendental way—what to speak of us!
Prabhupäda: Up until he comes to this point. Not only this point, but up to this point [up to the neck]. Eat as much as you like. We are not misers. You eat. As much you want I shall supply. But don’t waste. Eat. Don’t waste.
Hari-çauri: This morning you were saying that fasting is very good. (laughter)
Prabhupäda: No. Not prasädam. I never said. One who has not developed Kåñëa consciousness—for him fasting. And one who takes pleasure, "Oh, it is Kåñëa’s pleasure, or Kåñëa’s food. I’ll take." This is the idea. So we are not devotees, therefore we should first fast. And those who are devotees, they’ll take as much as they like. I was telling fasting because I am not a devotee. [laughs] For me fasting is good. If I eat more—atyähäraù. Atyähäraù prayäsaç ca, ñaòbhir bhaktir praëaçyati. 760906gc.vrn
Regarding the attitude for taking prasada, if you think it is something palatable, so let me take more and more, then that is sense gratification. But, still it is prasada so it will act. Prasada is transcendental, but one should not take too much. Caitanya Mahaprabhu was taking, but on principle he was avoiding. Letter to: Vedavyasa, 4 August, 1975
According to Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s philosophy, prasadam should be taken up to the neck, äkaëöha.
Vaisnavas are more interested to take Krsna prasada than in faddish diets, as described in the following letter, written on the order of Srila Prabhupada.
It was pointed out that the advocates of special diets claim that Srila Prabhupada has said, "grains are for animals." Srila Prabhupada became astonshied and said, "But I take grains. Am I an animal?" (Srila Prabhupada’s daily lunch consists of rice, dahl, vegetables and capatis).
He said this health food fad should stop! One GBC member said to Prabhupada, "We feel it is lack of faith in Krsna. We would rather die eating prasada than eat so called health substitutes not offered to the Deity." Srila Prabhupada agreed with this and said devotees are being influenced by reading mundane literature on what is healthy food, and they should stop reading such books or listening to doctors advice which says not to eat the regular daily prasada. He noted that such mental speculators even say milk is not good. Srila Prabhupada said that those who have special health problems, where they may have to eat only fruit, may do so, as long as the fruit is offered to the Deity.
White sugar is much frowned upon by health food aficionados, for its apparently highly deleterious effects. However, Srila Prabhupada had no qualms about using white sugar, and it considered it generally better for cooking for Krsna than less processed varieties. When Srutakirti dasa told Srila Prabhupada that,
"Some devotees think that white sugar is not healthy and that it is better to avoid it,"
Srila Prabhupada replied,
"If they don't want to eat sugar, they don't have to. But Kåñëa likes sugar very much. This is nonsense. They must use sugar when they make preparations for the Deities."
Nevertheless, Srila Prabhupada was not against the use of "more healthy" substitutes. When questioned in this regard, he replied,
If you have honey, why not use instead of sugar but I think it is too expensive to be practical.
Note: in some countries they do use animal bones to process the sugar check locally
Srila Prabhupada said that (herbal) tea is for taking if one has a cold and is not to be taken otherwise. He also forbad the use of tulasi leaves in tea, even after they had been offered.
Distribution of prasada is a major part of the Krishna conscious program to re-spiritualize the world. Srila Prabhupada said that one who simply offers bhoga to Krsna, but does not distribute the prasada to other living entities, has not understood the presence of the Lord in everyone’s heart.
Temple means feeding them with prasädam. 761113rc.vrn
What is the use of a temple if there is no prasada distribution? Prasada distribution on a large scale must be resumed. Such a temple where there is no such distribution has no value. Letter to: Tamala Krsna, 11 January, 1974
Meat, fish, eggs, wine and other intoxicants, onions and garlic are foods in the lower modes of nature, and are forbidden to Vaisnavas. Some other forbidden foods (according to various sastras) are: masür-däl (red lentils), milk from animals other than the cow, milk from a cow without a calf, milk taken from a cow during the ten day period after bearing a calf, milk from a milch cow that has been mated, milk mixed with buttermilk, milk in a copper vessel, and milk mixed with salt.
Salt mixed with milk is poisonous, and is forbidden by Ayurveda.
Other foods forbidden for Gaudiya Vaisnavas include chocolate, which contains caffeine and is therefore an intoxicant, and vinegar.
Brown rice is generally considered unfit for offering.
Mushrooms are not a standard Vaisnava food.
Regarding yeast, Çréla Prabhupäda wrote:
Frozen and canned foods are also not good. Çréla Prabhupäda comments:
Offering prasada to Vaisnavas and accepting prasada from them are two of the primary exchanges of love between devotees (C.f. NOI 4). Srila Prabhupada wanted householder devotees to adopt the Vedic custom of inviting renunciates into their home and offering them sumptuous prasada.
When a devotee distributes prasäda, remnants of food offered to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, in order to maintain our spirit of devotional service we must accept this prasäda as the Lord’s grace received through the pure devotees. We should also invite pure devotees to our home, offer them prasäda and be prepared to please them in all respects. This is called bhuìkte bhojayate caiva.
Brähmaëa-bhojana, feeding of the brähmaëas, is also recommended, for when the brähmaëas eat sumptuous remnants of food after yajïa, this is another way that Lord Viñëu Himself eats. Therefore the Vedic principles recommend that in every festival or ceremony one offer oblations to the fire and give sumptuous food for the brähmaëas to eat. SB 8.16.9 purport
The Vedas state, ähära-çuddhau sattva-çuddhiù: If one’s food is pure one’s whole existence is pure. In the modern age people are often too lazy to cook, but even for physical health food prepared in the temple or home is best—what to speak of spiritual health. Traditionally the followers of Vedic culture were strict about where and what they ate, because prepared or cooked foods, particularly grains, transmit the karma and consciousness of the donor and cook.
As Lord Caitanya said: "When one eats food cooked by a materialistic person one’s mind becomes contaminated, and when the mind becomes contaminated one is unable to think of Kåñëa properly."
Çréla Bhaktisiddhänta Sarasvaté Öhäkura suggests that people who are materialistically inclined and sahajiyäs, or so-called Vaiñëavas who take everything very casually, are both viñayi materialists. Eating food offered by them causes contamination, and as a result of such contamination, even a serious devotee becomes like a materialistic man. Antya 6.278 purport
Grains cooked by nondevotees are particularly contaminated. The Kurma Purana says that all the sins of a man remain in the grain; therefore when one eats the foodstuff offered by another, he eats his sins as well. Once Srila Prabhupada was given bread cooked by nondevotees. Next day he requested, "Please do not give me bread cooked by nondevotees. It gave me nightmares. All the vibrations and thoughts of those who cook grains enter into it." When Srila Prabhupada was asked if sankirtana devotees in Germany could eat karmi bread, he replied that this is not permitted except in an emergency (TD 1 p.330.) This also applies to karmi biscuits, cakes and similar foods. In Mayapura Srila Prabhupada allowed purchased puffed rice to be offered and distributed—but this should not be taken as a license for devotees to eat all kinds of breakfast cereals.
Even non-grain foods prepared by nondevotees, such as jam and pickles, are best avoided. Even if made with pure ingredients, they have not been made for the pleasure of Krsna and therefore, even if offered to Him, cannot give Him pleasure and are therefore not offerable. Therefore the general standard is that, "Nothing should be offered to Krishna unless it is prepared by the devotees themselves."
If devotees do feel constrained to buy prepackaged foods, they should beware of nonvegetarian ingredients that may be in them. Bread, biscuits, ice cream, canned foods (and in the Western countries cheese and yogurt) often contain egg derivatives or other nonvegetarian ingredients such as gelatin. Sometimes the list of ingredients on the packet says "shortening," "lecithin" or some chemical name. These may or may not be vegetarian. In such cases it is better to be safe than sorry.
Srila Prabhupada said that if devotees buy food outside they will fall down.
Eating in nondevotee restaurants should be avoided.
A Vaisnava should be careful about accepting invitations to eat in others’ homes. According to the Kurma Purana, a Vaisnava should never take food from a nondevotee because his food is contaminated, even if he is a brahmana. Similarly, the Padma Purana says that food coming from nondevotees or fallen people and foodstuff that has not been offered to Visnu are like the meat of a dog.
Srila Prabhupada warns about the perils of accepting invitations from materialists.
If we take food from the houses of others, such as karmés, we shall have to share the qualities of those from whom we take alms. The members of the Kåñëa consciousness movement are advised not to take food from anywhere but a Vaiñëava’s or brähmaëa’s house where Deity worship is performed. Çré Caitanya Mahäprabhu has said, viñayéra anna khäile duñöa haya mana: if a devotee takes alms or food from the house of a karmé who is simply interested in money, his mind will become unclean. CC Antya 3.101 purport
A Vaiñëava should not even accept charity or food from persons who do not follow the rules and regulations of the Vaiñëava principles. CC Adi 12.50 purport
So far accepting water, no, practically from one who is not initiated we should not accept any eatables or drinkables. This should not be discussed, but you should remember it. But if there is dire necessity, there is not question of prohibition. Letter, 72-05-09
The laws of nature are very subtle. For example, if one eats in a place which is very sinful, he shares in the resultant reaction of the sinful activities performed there. (It is a Vedic system, therefore, for a householder to call brähmaëas and Vaiñëavas to eat at ceremonial performances in his house because the brähmaëas and Vaiñëavas can immunize him from sinful activities. But it is not the duty of rigid brähmaëas and Vaiñëavas to accept invitations everywhere. There is, of course, no objection to taking part in feasts in which prasäda is distributed.) SB 4.21.24 purport
If an avaiñëava offers food in the name of mahä-prasäda, it should not be accepted. Such food cannot be prasäda because an avaiñëava cannot offer anything to the Lord. Sometimes preachers in the Kåñëa consciousness movement have to accept food in a home where the householder is an avaiñëava; however, if this food is offered to the Deity, it can be taken. Ordinary food cooked by an avaiñëava should not be accepted by a Vaiñëava. Even if an avaiñëava cooks food without fault, he cannot offer it to Lord Viñëu, and it cannot be accepted as mahä-prasäda. Kåñëa can accept anything offered by His devotee with devotion. An avaiñëava may be a vegetarian and a very clean cook, but because he cannot offer the food he cooks to Viñëu, it cannot be accepted as mahä-prasäda. It is better that a Vaiñëava abandon such food as untouchable. CC Madhya 9.53 purport
Following Srila Prabhupada's example, devotees may honor outside invitations, especially among the Indian community, who, although not always fully understanding the devotional principles, are nevertheless pious enough to want to invite devotees to their homes.
Visiting Indian homes almost inevitably means being offered some food or at least something to drink. Rules of etiquette dictate that a guest should accept at the very least a little water. But before taking any cooked food, a devotee should ascertain that the hosts are pure vegetarians. In a house where meat, fish, eggs, or alcohol are consumed, it is best to take only water from one’s own glass, or a soft drink from the bottle. Fruit may also be taken if it is served uncut and is cut with one’s own knife. Better is to ask the hosts to give uncut fruit to take away to offer to Deities. If pressed to take food in a nonvegetarians home, a devotee may explain that he only eats cooked food that is offered to Deities, thus politely avoiding embarrasing his host by mentioning his nonvegetarianism (the devotee may mention it in another context, but it is best not to directly cite it as the reason for refusing his food). Another ploy is to tell a white lie that one is fasting. Overnight invitations with nonvegetarians should not be accepted, for then one be expected to eat a meal in their home. A refusal would be an insult to the host, and acceptance of such food is forbidden and highly detrimental for devotees.
Bhakti Caru Swami once asked Srila Prabhupada if invitations could be honored from members of a certain religious community in India that eat beef, because some members of that community were friendly to ISKCON devotees and sometimes invited them for meals. Srila Prabhupada replied, "You should not even take water from them." (This stricture may possibly apply only to the social climate of India, for Srila Prabhupada himself often took water from nondevotees in the West.) Srila Prabhupada did not, however, object to eating in homes where tea, coffee, garlic, onions, betel, or tobacco were consumed.
However, Srila Prabhupada’s general policy was to take meals only in Life Members’ homes. Non-members who extended invitations were asked to enroll first, and then only would their invitation be accepted.
Srila Prabhupada taught that different types of food transferred different degrees of karma from the donor to the consumer. The most reactions are transferred by käìcä or raw food, such as rice, dal, and boiled vegetables; less severe than that is päkä food, or that cooked in ghee.
In homes where there was not a regular arrangement for offering food to the Deities, Srila Prabhupada would either have a disciple make an offering, or simply recite the prayer beginning sarira avidya jala before eating. Such food is considered prasada, at least inasmuch as it has been acknowledged as being mercifully given by Krishna to nourish the body and keep it fit for devotional service.
But even if such foodstuffs cooked by outsiders are formally offered to the Deities, there is certainly a difference in transcendental quality between food cooked in the homes of pious materialists or materialistic devotees, and that cooked and offered exclusively for the pleasure of Krsna. Devotees who regularly take food cooked in Life Members’ homes may, after some time, feel their consciousness being affected by it.
Of course, powerful transcendentalists may be able to eat food from all types of sources and remain pure.
A sannyäsé is not affected by eating food from anywhere and everywhere. CC Madhya 12.190 text