So the spiritual master is satisfied when he sees devotees eating Bhagavat-prasad, so this is one of the ornaments of a devotee, as he advances he is happy to see others eat. So those who become happy in seeing others eat or at least who are in a positive mood of tolerating other people eating, only they should be actually dealing with prasadam, cooking and serving. Anyone can eat, right? But even then, those who know properly how to eat should be taken care of very nicely and those who don’t know properly how to eat should be put in another place, so they don’t disturb everybody. So even eating, there is a science, we’ll get to that.
So the point is is that one of the qualifications of advancement is that one takes pleasure in seeing others eat. This is one of the qualities of advancement. So the policy that we generally find where prasad is served by the newest of new persons, you know, and those who cook is the guy who wouldn’t go out on Sankirtan, you know, like that. Then this means a lack of this spiritual understanding. Means, we overlook this or neglect this aspect. Only those who are advanced should be cooking and serving prasadam. Others are not qualified, because they don’t take pleasure in others eating. If they don’t take pleasure in others eating, how are you going to serve prasad nicely? How are you going to cook nicely? Right? You won’t care, you just slap it together, because it’s a duty, you have to cook, so you cook something for the devotees, like lunch is popcorn and dhal, you know. You did it. No one can say you didn’t cook lunch, right? You did it. But you didn’t really seem to care so much about the satisfaction of devotees. And besides that, you only cooked two out of four delicious foodstuffs. You only cooked chewed and depending upon how thick or thin the dhal is, drunked or sucked. So you left out licked and, whichever one the dhal wasn’t. Ok?
So therefore in the Gaudiya culture we see that there is such an importance put on honoring of prasad. We see in the Caitanya Caritamrta, it’s full of stories of taking prasad. Constantly the Lord is eating at different devotees’ houses. And it could, just like it just says, ‘the Lord did his noon ablutions,’ or, ‘He went and took His bath in the sea.’ It didn’t say, ‘He went down, offered His obeisances to the sea, took some water, sprinkled it on His head, offered some prayers, went in first with His right foot, went in up to His waist, you know, then dipped His head into the water, then rubbed Himself nicely, dipped Himself again, like that, while thinking of Jagannath, and then offered tarpanas and like that, then came out, then did this that, dried Himself off in this way with His cloth, rinsed it, then dried Himself, rinsed it again, put it out to dry, and then like this, then He did His Gayatris,’ it doesn’t get into that. Caitanya Caritamrta is written for the Paramahamsas. They’ve been doing that for since they were little kids, so everybody know what noon ablutions are? That’s what’s going on. So it’s not written for learning rules and regulations, it’s written for learning the taste.
But we see, when it comes to Prasad Seva, it’s right into the details: what was the preparation, how it was served, what was the conversation when they were discussing that preparation, because this has some taste. This has some devotional Rasa, that’s why it’s one of the main principles of the Pancaratra, honoring and taking prasad. Otherwise it would have just said, yes, ‘Lord went to Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya’s house, He took prasad along with Nityananda Prabhu, They had some pleasant conversations, and all that, and then afterwards then the Lord was… He washed His hands and, cleaned Himself after honoring prasad, Jagannath-prasad and then He rested in the house there,’ you know, and then it would get into something else. But no, it gets right into the conversations, and what Nityananda said and what Advaita Acarya said and what Lord Caitanya said, and even got into how, like Advaita Acarya, how He cooked, how His wife helped Him, how when they finished cooking the kitchen was totally clean. When they finished the last preparation, the kitchen was already clean. They weren’t sitting there looking, staring at a mountain of dirty pots. As they washed it, you put this on the pile, you used this knife to cut this, you wash the knife, knife’s clean, you know. You used this spoon for doing this thing, now you’ve finished it, you wash it, finished, clean. Last preparation the pot came off, it’s washed immediately, the next pot goes on. So that’s a very important principle of cooking. And Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami found it important enough to put it into Caitanya Caritamrta, and up to now I’ve never heard anyone complain that, you know, ‘Why has he put this point into it?’ And as we notice, Advaita Acarya cooked Himself. So wasn’t just, you know, He just told His wife to get the maidservants, the hired ladies from outside to come and cook, wrestle up some rice and spinach for Lord Caitanya. He did it Himself personally. So this is what creates the atmosphere.
Lord Caitanya, after Haridasa Thakura’s disappearance, He Himself personally wanted to serve the prasadam, personally. But because of His ecstasy of distributing prasada and seeing the devotees eating prasadam, He was serving enough for five people on one plate. So then Svarupa Damodara told Him, ‘You sit down because Paramananda Puri, Brahmananda Bharati, they are not going to take prasada until You sit. So therefore, we don’t want to keep them waiting, You sit down.’ It was just a trick to get Lord Caitanya to sit. One, because they wanted Him to eat, and two, because no one could take enough for 5 people, only He could do that. So He sat down, and then it says, very expertly and in a very organized way then the devotees served the prasada, and they saw that everyone got. And they knew, those who are leading service, they know who likes what and this and that, and then making sure that they got more of those. And everybody was satisfied, it gets into that much detail. It tells how they brought the pots on their head. They did not just throw them in a rickshaw and dragged them over there, or just get some hired coolie to do it. No, they carried it on their own head because it’s prasada, it’s Jagannatha.
So if we look at these things, these are the culture, and if we look at ourselves, we find we don’t follow these things. And then we complain there is no taste. Devotees just come in, dum-dam, take some prasadam like that, eat as quickly as possible because it’s all maya and then rush off. And then they wonder, ‘How come there is no sadhu sanga and no one talks to anybody, no one deals with anybody?’ Because you don’t follow the example given in the Caitanya Caritamrta. The devotees sit down, they have pleasant conversations, they may discuss philosophy that’s light – no issues, no heavy things. They like to serve prasada. You notice, there is always somebody serving prasada, you don’t see one time in the Caitanya Caritamrta – Lord Caitanya goes to someone’s house, and they find that there is a smörgåsbord . Did I pronounce it right? Smörgåsbord , I think it’s a Swedish thing, means, you take all the preparations and you put them in pots, and you put a spoon in each pot, and then everybody comes by with their plate… Yeah, self-service, buffet… So, you just come, and Lord Caitanya – it’s all just self-service, everyone just goes there and takes whatever they want, and everybody stood around with their plate in their hand, and they were talking to each other about something, like that… No, you see that they were served and they were served by senior persons. So, this is the culture.
It used to be, when I joined, that was the culture. So, this is what goes on. So if we want to be satisfied, we follow that culture. Otherwise, we shouldn’t complain there is no culture, but at the same time not follow the culture that we are already given. Culture has been given to us, it’s there, we don’t follow it, then we comlain that ‘No interaction with devotees, no this, no that.’ Right? No love and care. Why? Dadati pratigrhnati, guhyam akhyati prcchati, bhunkte bhojayate – six ways of interrelating with devotees. So we drop off one third of it, then ‘guhyam akhyati prcchati’ means we sit around and argue issues. And then, what’s that? Dadati pratighrihnati – I don’t know, I don’t see a whole lot of charity going on these days. And if somebody does give charity to someone else then, ‘Ehh, why he has? Grihasthas should have all the money, why he has got the money?’ Grihastha gave it to him! ‘No, but why he has?’ It’s business like that, it’s crazy. So even following the tradition that Rupa Goswami says are the loving exchanges between devotees is not appreciated or tolerated. And then at the same time we say, ‘We have to have some culture, some way to relate!’ So it’s not logical, it’s not logical, it cannot be supported by logic because it isn’t.
We take the wonderful Gaudiya Vaishnava culture that has been given to us, reject that and then try to dream up a new culture that’s going to satisfy us. So then instead of reading Caitanya Caritamrta for getting cultural inspiration, we should read ‘Snowhite and the Seven Dwarves’ or something. I mean, they were all nice, they found this girl in the forest and they took care not to exploit her or anything like that, and then Prince Charming came along, he kissed her and then she came back to life and everyone lived happily ever after. Like that, there is so many stories. So we can take our cultural inspiration from there. Of course, we may not be overly enlivened at what they served for edibles, or you can take it ‘Through the Looking Glass.’ You have the Mad Hatter and the tea party and all that. And when their cup got dirty, they just moved over to the next cup over, that’s how you get a new cup, is you move to the next seat over, like that. You know what I am saying? In these ways you can learn some, get some inspiration, get some ideas for creating a new world order. But the whole point is is, it’s already been given to us by the acaryas. Now it’s a matter of understanding it and trying to apply it. Simple, very simple.
If you would find in the temple, if instead of new bhaktas coming along, serving out the prasada almost once and then sitting down and then nobody else can get anything more , and then they got to wait till the next person walks in, and then immediately, ‘Hey, give me this, this, this,’ and then he serves that out as quickly as he can and then sits down as soon as he can, as soon as no one is asking for something, and then they wait for the next guy to walk in and then go through the whole thing again.
So if those who were mature and understood how to satisfy devotees, served prasadam, the whole atmosphere in the temple would immediately go up, and if the atmosphere goes up, problems go down. It may sound simplistic, but let us see anyone come forward with another idea. It’s an open challenge. Anyone come forward with another idea, other than following the very simple straightforward culture given to us by the acaryas. What is the alternative? Because it’s not working for the karmis, any alternative, it won’t work for us. It’s that simple. And we see in the Caitanya Caritamrta, simple thing, senior devotees serve prasada and it changes the whole atmosphere. We have been serving with new bhaktas for years, and it creates a lousy atmosphere, for years. And so, you adjust that. But that means, the problem is is, we want a solution without any surrender, without any commitment, without any authority. Therefore we want to leave the Vedic culture, leave the Gaudiya Vaishnava culture. Because it means surrender, it means that I as a senior devotee have to serve prasada. I can’t just sit behind my computer and be the big man. When it comes time for prasada I got to go downstairs and serve all the new bhaktas and everybody else, and the Matajis prasada. So we don’t want that, we got bigger more important service like sitting behind the computer on email, and then in this way we have no communication with the devotees, there is no opportunity for that, there is no interaction between the devotees, and then what are we doing on the email? Trying to work out all the problems in our temple because there is no interaction with the devotees.
So it’s very simple thing. This is just one thing here. That’s just one aspect, there is so many aspects, just taking prasada, we are just talking this one thing. So we have to be very, very careful of these things to understand when the scriptures tell us this, they mean it. And Lord Caitanya set example Himself, Srila Prabhupada set example himself. Prabhupada used to serve prasada when devotees didn’t know beans about what prasadam was, how to serve it. All they could figure out was to get it from their plate in their mouth. And then he taught his leading men how to cook, right? Kirtanananda was the first devotee, he was the first one to learn. He didn’t teach the new guys, he was teaching him. And then the leading men, they were serving prasada, right? So now, we may say, ‘Okay, well, and then it goes like that,’ but then we you have a temple, then instead of Prabhupada serving then those men were serving. And the natural thing is is they become more senior, then the next one down, next one down, till it gets to the new bhaktas. So it’s a natural logic in the world. But the point is is, it’s out of respect for certain persons, they may be more senior, or most senior in the assembly, they may be sat. But the next down from them, they do the serving. Like we see, Svarupa Damodara was, basically, after Lord Caitanya was most leading, he was His secretary. But he is telling Lord Caitanya, so Lord Caitanya is sitting, Brahmananda Bharati is sitting, Paramananda Puri is sitting. Like that, is sitting. And then, your general devotees are sitting. And then leading devotees, they are serving the prasada. Svarupa Damodara is serving, Mukunda Datta, Jagadananda Pandit, Kashi Mishra, Gopinathacarya. Gopinathacarya just happens to be Paurnamasi. So here you have the one who is orchestrating the whole scene, he is not sitting back, he is out there serving prasada. So this is there, is that maybe your top rang is not serving prasada. They may, as long as they don’t put enough for five people to eat on each plate, then you can allow them to serve. But if they start in ecstasy putting enough for five people to eat on one plate, then best is to ask them to sit down. But the point is is then those just below them serve. So it’s especially on feast days. Feast days, special occasions, this that. And then on regular days still as much as possible the senior men should be serving, but they shouldn’t be the brand new men who know nothing about prasadam.
Traditionally, the minimum standard is those who are second initiated serve prasada. Best is those who are senior amongst those, but whatever, at least that. And if you don’t have enough of those, okay, those who have first, but who are in good standing and deal nicely with devotees and have proper attitude, proper service attitude, that’s the standard. One may also if it’s very very big and that, take advantage; those who have good standing and service attitude, maybe they are guests or others who have, they may also be able to take part, but then they must be up to that mood of enthusiasm and attention and care that they can properly distribute prasada, not that they just drive people nuts. Enthusiasm is not enough. I think Prabhupada mentioned that besides sincerity there must be intelligence.
(From Deity Worship seminar given by H.H. Bhaktividya Purna Swami Maharaja in Sridham Mayapur, Lecture 9, 28th Apr 1998, starting about 58:50)
Photo from Tasty Travels in India – Mayapur Gurukula by H. H. Bhaktividya Purna Swami