By Taru das Prabhu
The Agony and the Ecstasy
In this material world everyone needs some-thing to look forward to because generally no one is satisfied with his present condition.
They are hoping that in the future, in some other situation or with some other person, they will experience happiness. The working man is always waiting for payday, the student is looking toward summer vacation, the lover is wishing to meet his beloved, the little boy can’t wait to grow up.
The materialist becomes so attached to achieving this or that goal that he endures all kinds of miseries without complaint. This is a type of insanity, because the goal they are all seeking is simply another type of misery. Real happiness is achieved only when we give up all these vain goals and aspirations and try to return to our home in the spiritual world.
Devotees also have their goals. Those who are completely pure have no other desire than to serve Krishna. Factually, this is the strongest of all desires because it is our natural constitutional position. The pure devotee remains fixed in his determination to serve Krishna in all situations. No one else can be this determined. Therefore, the pure devotee is able to accomplish so much more, by Krishna’s grace, than any materialist.
The neophyte, however, cannot remain always fixed up. He may have realized that the ultimate goal is to surrender to Krishna, but he hasn’t quite gotten around to doing it yet. So he has mixed desires, some spiritual and some material. As long as he remains steady in discharging his devotional service, these material desires gradually fade away. But this “gradual” process sometimes appears to take a long time.
Even though one may be chanting 16 rounds a day, following four regulative principles, hearing from the Bhagavad-Gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam every day, and engaging enthusiastically in devotional service – still he may be aspiring for something other than pure, unmotivated devotional service. And if he’s a real neophyte, the chances are pretty good that what he is looking forward to more than anything else is the Sunday feast.
Now we have stated many times already that prasadam is spiritual, that in fact, it is non-different from Krishna. Still, there is a prescribed method for realizing this fact and that is “to accept only as much as is necessary to keep body and soul together”. It is not that since prasadam is the same as Krishna, I can go on eating and eating, mound after mound, at every available opportunity. This is not a fact, but it is a common belief, or hallucination that occurs to prasadam addicts.
I’m sure any amateur psychologist could come up with an explanation that sounds feasible. A rough approximation of that explanation is that the prasadam addict, while realizing that it is imperative to control the senses, experiences vast feelings of inadequacy when faced with opulent prasadam. Therefore, he transfers his natural affection for the Supreme Personality of Godhead to His prasadam incarnation.
Thus the eternal attachment we all have for God becomes sublimated and re-expressed as an intense yearning for eating prasadam. Due to this attachment, his mind distorts all the truths of Vaisnava philosophy and reinterprets them to substantiate his feelings that taking prasadam is the ultimate goal of life.
For instance, Srila Prabhupada has stated that, “The first sense you will realize Krishna with is your tongue”. The meaning is clear. All of our advancement in spiritual life comes from chanting Hare Krishna. Therefore, by this process of chanting Krishna’s names, one will eventually learn to see Krishna everywhere. But for the prasadam addict, the statement has another meaning.
He thinks, “The more I eat, the closer I come to God”. Or again, there is the statement that one should try to see Krishna in everything. The prasadam addict takes this to mean that wherever I am, I should seek out some prasadam. The super addict will even construe the injunction to be always engaged in Krishna’s service to mean that he should be taking prasadam twenty-four hours a day.
Finally, when he hears that advanced devotees become mad after Krishna, he understands that anything he can do to get his hands on prasadam is authorized and righteous.
My dear readers, it is so hard to be objective about oneself. I am only trying to let you know what it’s like to go crazy over prasadam. There may be others like myself and maybe they can be saved. As for me…
Once I heard that Srila Prabhupada told a boy that it was alright for him to simply eat prasadam all day as long as he said “Hare Krishna” after each bite. I was always hoping to be given the same instruction.
Other than that, all I can remember from my early days in New Vrindaban, i.e., the first three or four years, is looking forward to the Sunday-feast. That was my life and soul. I could consume huge quantities of whatever was put in front of me during the week. In that respect, I was very equipoised and tolerant. I never complained about how it tasted. I only complained if there wasn’t enough. From my perverted point of view, there usually wasn’t enough.
But that was alright. I could tolerate it. Take chapatis, for instance. Now I’ve heard devotees from other temples say that if there’s no butter on it, it’s not a chapati. In New Vrindaban, butter was something you just didn’t run into, except at feasts. So it goes without saying that our chapatis were characteristically un-buttered. what to speak of being frequently un-cooked, unrolled (”bread balls”) and even non-wheat (the famous corn-meal variety made from horse feed). Still, I never met a chapati I didn’t like. I always ate a lot of them. There was no duality there: chapatis were absolute.
This equanimity was only on the surface, however. I mean it was a fact that I just liked all kinds of prasadam, even if simple: dahl, rice, oatmeal, night popcorn, milk – the standard daily fare. But the actual truth behind this truth was that I was simply biding time, getting in shape for Sunday. I lived only for that feast.
On Sundays, I ate enough rich foods for a week. Only in that way could I subsist on the relatively austere diet in-between. Sometimes guests would come on week days and remark that it would be difficult for them to be satisfied with such simple prasadam. Sometimes new devotees here would try to procure foodstuffs from town with which to prepare supplementary prasadam meals. Others relied on care packages from home. I didn’t get into these practices. I just made sure I got enough on Sunday to get me through the next week.
I don’t think a so-called normal person could ever understand the intensity of the craving I experienced in regards to the Sunday Feast. Even if I could express it lucidly, no one would believe. Another prasadam addict will know, others cannot. Still, I am driven to try and reveal my mind.
Looking forward to Sunday was a process that usually began on Thursdays. Up until then, I would still be recovering from the last feast. Actually, it is a fact that these bodies are not made to eat a lot of opulent foodstuffs. Krishna can do like that, accept hundreds and thousands of offerings daily, each of them full of the most glorious types of prasadam imaginable, and feel no reaction. We get reactions, though, and so we find there are things like Alka-Seltzer everywhere in the world.
Anyways, by the time I’d wake up on Thursday mornings, I was ready for another feast. You see, just like a car has different levels of circulating fluids: oil, gasoline, brake fluid, etc., the human body maintains different amounts of ghee, sugar, rice and dahl. You might be hungry for rice and dahl, but your ghee and sugar capacity levels are all the way up. They go down slower than the levels on the other, simpler varieties of prasadam. Like rice — there’s always room fur rice or popcorn. That’s why we eat rice and dahl every day, but feast only on Sundays.
Srila Prabhupada said that once. He had just finished taking from his feast plate and said, “This prasadam is very nice. All the devotees should be able to eat like this, but only once a week”.
So not only were the old ghee and sugar levels sinking by Thursday but that was also the day the cooks would start talking up the next feast. What they were going to make, who was cooking what, how much there would be, looking for recipes, etc. And even though, up until the day before, I’d been suffering from last Sunday, that was all completely forgotten now. Now my mind had me convinced, firmly convinced that I was really going to enjoy in three more days. I would count down the hours until 2 p.m. on Sunday.
Countdown to enjoy
By Saturday, the feast was starting to “materialize”. I mean nothing’s material in New Vrindaban, but the feast started coming into being. Amburish would be cooking sweet rice somewhere. Some cooks would stay up all night. Some people would be grinding spices for the next day. Someone would make sure all the pots were going to be clean. And Kripamaya was making sure there would be enough firewood down by the kitchen so that nobody would have to come looking for him in the morning.
By Saturday afternoon, I’d be so much into the idea of feasting that I’d eat twice us much for lunch as I would on any other day, simply out of nervousness.
And then all of a sudden, it was Sunday morning, the most blessed event. For once I was glad to wake up. Maybe not right away, but as soon as I realized it was Sunday, I was glad to wake up. FEAST! TODAY! Oh boy. Run out and shower, stay awake through all the morning functions, and sail through to breakfast. At breakfast, I’d think, “Better save room for the feast”. Still, out of the excitement of expectation, I’d put down more oatmeal than usual. Then I’d go outside and try to work hard to burn it all off.
At noon everybody would quit work and head for the bath house. On Sundays, everybody attended bhoga aratik at 1:00 p.m. Everybody. All the devotees who lived on the other farms — Madhuban and Vrindaban — would show up for it. The temple would be real crowded.
Of course, now it wouldn’t seem crowded with only fifty or sixty people. But that was crowded then. The kirtan was really enthusiastic. Everybody would be singing so loud and dancing so hard that for half an hour, I would forget that it was…SUNDAY! Kirtanananda Maharaj would always give a wonderful lecture after that kirtan. It would be real down home.
I can’t remember too much what he said exactly, but it was always about just how nice it was to be in Vrindaban, to serve Krishna, how nice Krishna looked with forest flowers, how nicely the community was developing, how he was glad to see more and more devotees coming. Everyone always liked those lectures the best out of the whole week. I would love to just hear the melodic quality of his voice. He was really relishing speaking the philosophy of Krishna consciousness. I could sometimes get a little glimpse of what spiritual life was about.
But then it would creep in. From the back of my mind, extending out, killing off all other thoughts, clouding over all my senses, conquering my entire being. I remembered it was Sunday and suddenly I wanted to run outside to the feast. I was shredded entirely to pieces by this wild desire. I knew it was May a; I tried to be satisfied sitting in the temple, looking at Krishna, listening to Kirtanananda Maharaj.
But dog that I am, everything else turned into a blur and I could only think of eating. There was the choice so clearly, right in front. Krishna consciousness on the one hand, sense gratification on the other. I mean usually there was some question: Is this all I need? Am I taking more than my quota or is it alright? But now there was no question, my senses were clearly in control.
By the time the lecture ended, I would be in a complete frenzy. Run into the prasadam room and sit down and begin to wait. It seemed like such a long wait until they would begin to serve. Just sitting there looking at all the prasadam and waiting for it to come around.
At long last, we’d repeal the words to Bhaktivinode’s prasadam prayer. I could hardly think rationally by now, couldn’t focus on the prayer. Just some words slipped through, “Ignorance … death … senses … uncontrollable … tongue… conquer”. Somehow or other, there was a process of yoga going on. Somehow or other, my senses were being conquered by some higher force, somehow or other, my dormant love for Krishna was getting a little more uncovered. But I didn’t know that. All I knew was that the sweet rice was coming down the aisle.
Finally, it hit! Cold white sweet rice. I hardly got a chance to see it before it disappeared from my bowl. A quick flash of celestial flavor gliding across the tongue for a fraction of a second and then, gone forever. And then look to see what the next preparation would be.
I always stayed ahead of the servers. There was never more than one prep on my plate at a time, at least for the first round. The first would be gone so fast. Actually, if I could have thought at the time, I would have been able to see, at that point, that I had already tasted everything and I wasn’t any happier than before, that there was nothing more to look forward to, that I should just be satisfied and go back to work …
But I still wanted some more. I had just gotten a taste. Slowly, seconds would start coming around. Seconds on vegetables, seconds on puris, seconds on rice. I would take everything that came by, but I was looking for the big preps, “Is there any more sweet rice? What about halavah? Can I get another sweet ball? And they would also come. Another ladel of sweet rice, more halavah. Still I wanted more.
A few devotees were already done eating. Some of them were getting up to go. Others would still be sitting, motionless, with mounds of prasadam on their plates. “Hey, you gonna be able to finish that, prabhu?” “No, you want it?” A score! A whole other serving of halavah. Half a bowl of sweet rice. A big serving of the vegetable. I used to eat a lot of veg and breads just to stay engaged while waiting for the sweets to come around.
“Of course”. By now, if anything was left, you could get as much as you wanted. All the more advanced and leaner devotees were more than satisfied, but I’d collect still more heaps of prasadam. Still more leftovers from others’ plates. Maybe once more around and all the servers were done. There were half a dozen plates around me that I had finished off, people were walking by offering me more prasadam they couldn’t handle.
I was fully absorbed, enjoying like anything…Just like an intoxicated man thinks he can fight anybody, I thought I could eat anything. Within my limited experience, it seemed to be true. I ate all I was served, everything I was given and then, long after all others had stopped, I went over to the pots to see if anything was left. By now, even the servers were finished eating and I would take what they didn’t want. Then I’d go and tip the sweet rice can upside down and drain out another half a bowl of sweet rice.
I’d walk around and find a few unfinished plates in the corner. After about an hour and a half of feasting, all the prasadam would be gone. There were times when I would even go get the leftover oatmeal from breakfast and down a few more bowls of that just to “get full”. When I would finally cease, I would sometimes try to imagine how big a mound of prasadam I had eaten. I couldn’t.
“Let’s see, about, uh, eighty ounces of sweet rice, two full plates of halavah, four or five heaping plates of that potato prep, a couple bowls of yogurt, six or seven puris, about four laddus, uh, what else was there? …Oh yeah, chutney, four or five shots of that, a few poppers, countless pakoras…”
My mind reeled. Where had it all gone? How come I hadn’t expanded to twice my normal size? HOW COULD ANYBODY EAT THIS MUCH? I never figured it out. I just did it.
Sliding against a wall, feeling like a stuffed grain-sack about to rip, I would half-recline and feel the waves of digestion overcome me. Because of all the sugar we’d taken in, the devotees would be laughing and rolling around and talking about how marvelous Krishna consciousness is. A few would run to the temple and sing some Vaisnava songs. Many would go to sleep, even right there in the prasadam room. Somebody would read from Krishna book.
I could hardly move. At first, I’d talk a lot, mostly about how good the feast was. I could hear in my ears the high-pitched sound of the sugar catching fire. I could feel in my brain the butter and ghee making it hard to think. I wanted nothing else but to go to sleep. But it was four o’clock. Time to milk the cows.
And thus ended round one. It was only the first phase of the feast. During milking, we usually had some refreshments. Somebody invariably came into the barn with a half-bucket of sweet rice or something. In between cows, we’d hit it up. Then it would come to be time for evening aratik. That was a pretty ecstatic affair, everybody who could attend being powered with super-feastly energy. Next, Maharaj would hold Isthaghosti, answering all the devotees’ practical and philosophical questions. After Isthaghosti, if anything was left from the feast, we’d hit it up.
Monday morning. Some devotees didn’t get up on time. A number are missing after mangal aratik. A lot don’t show up for work. What is it? It’s a rare disease which strikes, once a week, in epidemic proportions all over New Vrindaban
Missing in inaction, looking for out-of-the-way sleeping places, a large segment of the population disappears.
But not the barn crew. The milking must go on! And before milking Monday morning — another feast! Four or five milkers managed to make stashes the day before and it’s Sunday all over. By this time, I didn’t really feel hungry anymore. But just to experience the tastes again, I’d dive in. Sometimes I had to skip lunch on Monday. You can only do so much.
And thus, somewhere in the morning hours of a sleepy Monday, the weekly feast ends. I can’t say that I’m any happier for it, but at least I’m not thinking about eating any more. At least until Thursday or so. Sometimes I’d find myself swearing never to eat again or at least not so much. I’ll never believe that anyone who eats normal, material food could ever get so full. Long past any idea of hunger, just stuffing in more and more prasadam because the taste is new, different, exciting.
But what a hangover! It almost seems masochistic to suffer so much from something you did to yourself. But you could never see it coming. You could never sit down on Sunday and think of what you’d feel like on Monday. And even though you suffered all day Monday and Tuesday and part of Wednesday, by Thursday it was all forgotten. Somehow or other, it always seemed like it was Thursday; that was the point of rest. Recovered from last week, looking forward to the next one. And that, my friends, is what material life is all about, hankering and lamenting.
But like we said before, somehow or other, it is all part of the yoga path. Somehow or other, even the hardest addict can be cured and learn lo take just a little prasadam, enough to enable him to do his service nicely. That’s why this kind of addiction is nice.
Because the only place to get Krishna prasadam is at Krishna’s temple. And if you stay at Krishna’s temple, you’ll have to chant Hare Krishna and associate with all the devotees and by doing that, you’ll become a devotee, too. Even me, someday I’ll become a devotee too. Because it’s not dependent upon us. It’s just dependent on this process of devotional service, the mercy of the spiritual master, and the Hare Krishna maha-mantra.
So if you’re already engaged in devotional service, alright! But if you aren’t, then you might as well become a prasadam addict like me because in that way, you can free yourself from the Big Habit, namely getting born and getting killed. Hare Krishna!