Calcutta, West Bengal, India — Monday, May 29th

A touch of grace

Some weeks ago, a devotee who was about to leave the temple here in Calcutta to return to their home country, came up to the veranda to say farewell to Srila Gurudeva...

Srila Gurudeva, as he often does when a devotee is leaving, wants to give his disciple some sort of parting gift. He asks Gopal Prabhu, in Bengali, to get one of the exotic snacks from the tall cabinet that is mounted on the wall near the entrance to the veranda.

Gopal selects a packet of crackers and hands it across the desk to Srila Gurudeva. Srila Gurudeva touches it to his forehead, swivels around in his chair, and holds it up to the devotee: "Take this."

With an emphatic shake of the head and a gesture to Srila Gurudeva, the devotee says, "You take one first."

Srila Gurudeva continues to hold the crackers out at arm's length. "I have taken," he says.

"No, take one from this packet."

Srila Gurudeva smiles: "It is for you."

"Can you take one first?"

"I am giving it to you," Srila Gurudeva says affectionately, still patiently proffering the packet.

But the devotee insists: "No, if you take one first, then it will be your remnants."

Srila Gurudeva (whose arm must be tired by now) obeys. He opens one end of the tightly wrapped plastic package with some difficulty, pulls out one of the little individually wrapped packets of crackers, puts it on his desk, and extends the now opened package once more.

Satisfied, his disciple smiles, takes the crackers, thanks him, offers obeisance, and leaves...

So often our narrow, shortsighted focus prevents us from recognizing Sri Guru's grace. We zoom in so tightly on the formality and the ritual that the substance becomes blurred...

What is prasadam?

Our first, basic understanding is that prasad or prasadam is "the mercy of Lord Krishna." When Krishna accepts an offering of food prepared for His pleasure with love and devotion, that food becomes sanctified, and spiritually purifies anybody who eats the remnants.

Later we learn that there is gradation of prasadam. More potent than prasadam is maha-prasadam: the unconsumed remains on the plate that is offered directly to the Deity of Krishna. And most beneficial of all is maha-maha-prasadam: the leftover food of a pure Vaishnava.

Why is that?

Because the potency of the prasadam — the quality of that mercy — depends on the consciousness of the devotee making the offering. Our offering will not be up to the same standard of the pujari exclusively serving the Deity in the temple under the guidance of Srila Gurudeva. And anything Srila Gurudeva eats will be prasadam of the highest order because he experiences reality directly (jnaninas tattva-darsinah) and everything is automatically adjusted on that absolute plane.

It is this connection with reality that is important, because as Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita (9:26), He responds not to the ritual offering, but to the exchange of love on the transcendental platform:

patram puspam phalam toyam / yo me bhaktya prayacchati
tad aham bhaktyupahrtam / asnami prayatatmanah

"If anything (patram puspam phalam toyam) is offered to Me with love and devotion (yo me bhaktya prayacchati), I accept (aham asnami) that (tad) devotion (bhaktyupahrtam) from My pure-hearted devotee (prayatatmanah)."

In other words, Krishna says it is not so much the formal, ritualistic offering (patram puspam phalam toyam) that He responds to, but the devotion with which the offering is made (bhaktya prayacchati). He reciprocates (asnami) the loving exchange (bhaktyupahrtam) with His pure devotee on that transcendental platform (prayatatmanah).

That is why we offer everything to Krishna through the intercession of Srila Gurudeva. What qualification do we have to offer anything directly to the Lord? We are not living on that pure transcendental plane, but Srila Gurudeva is. This is substantiated in Bhagavad Gita (4:34):

upadeksyanti te jnanam / jnaninas tattva-darsinah

"The self-realized guru (jnaninas) sees and interacts with Me directly (tattva-darsinah) and [if you serve him] he will show you how to have a similar relationship with Me (upadeksyanti te jnanam)."

We offer everything to Srila Gurudeva, and he accepts our sincere offering, because we have a relationship with him as his disciples. Similarly, Krishna accepts Srila Gurudeva's offering because he is a pure devotee (prayatatmanah) who has an intimate loving relationship with Krishna on the transcendental plane (jnaninas tattva-darsinah).

But prasadam is more than just the remnants of food. It is the grace, the favor, the gift of the Lord and His devotees. Anything that is given by Krishna to His devotee, by Guru to his disciple, by the Vaishnava to his servitor, is prasadam. It is their mercy towards us, and it can take the form of a book, instructions, an article of clothing — anything that is given with their grace, their goodwill in the background of the transaction, for our benefit.

Prasadam is transcendental, and it descends from the spiritual world to this material world through the agency of the guru. Srila Gurudeva is our medium between this world and that world. Everything that he does is on the transcendental platform because his consciousness is always absorbed in that plane of reality (jnaninas tattva-darsinah) and he draws our consciousness up into that super-subjective conscious plane (upadeksyanti te jnanam) by his mercy, by his prasadam.

Srila Gurudeva is Krishna's prasadam to us (acaryam mam vijaniyan) and it is only by the grace of that prasadam (Srila Gurudeva) that we get the grace of Krishna (yasya prasadad bhagavat-prasado).

When Srila Gurudeva gives us something, the potency of that thing comes from his grace, his goodwill, his compassion, and his affection towards us. He does not have to eat something in order for it to become prasadam. His touch transforms it, purifies it, transubstantiates it, spiritualizes it. He graciously bestows that favor, that mercy — that prasadam — on us, for our spiritual advancement.

This morning Srila Gurudeva finally opened that little packet of crackers (that has been sitting on his desk all this time), and ate one. I think it is reasonable to assume that the original packet of crackers that Srila Gurudeva gave to that devotee has long since been consumed...

So tell me... whose prasadam did Srila Gurudeva eat?

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Layout by iMonk — May 29th, 2006.