The Hidden Lord of the Dire Situation of this Age
The desperate condition in which the world finds itself has been recognized by many philosophers. It was perhaps best expressed by Friedrich Nietzsche, who wrote a little story about a madman. In his madness, he suddenly rushes out into the marketplace, and shouts to everyone who is present: “God is dead, and we have killed him!” Usually, the second half of what he has said is not quoted, only the first part, “God is dead…” Why? Because we have killed him.
In modern society, we have collectively denied the existence of God, therefore, Mahaprabhu says: “Okay, I will not come as God, because you will deny that I exist. I will come as a devotee. Is that okay?” And He does. He has His purposes: one of these, the deepest purpose, is very well explained by Madhavananda Prabhu, who has been inspired by his Gurumaharaja, Gour Govinda Swami: Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu has come because Krishna has taken on a debt to the gopis, and therefore, He confesses to them: “I cannot repay you. Your payment will have to be your own goodness, sadhutva, sadhuna…” But still, He feels the need to repay and therefore, He comes as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to accept the austerity of giving up all worldly pleasures, just as the gopis had given up their families - which are so difficult to give up. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu accepts that debt.
There are two kinds of debt, and two kinds of value. We talked about two kinds of value the other day: the kind that you can pay for, with money or with other physically valuable things, and the other kind of value, which cannot be measured. I like to cite Oscar Wilde, who gave a definition of the cynic. A cynic is one who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
The value of that for which Krishna is saying, “I cannot repay you,” Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu wants to repay by coming Himself and taking on the gopis’ mood and experiencing it all the way down. Therefore, in the last chapter of Caitanya Caritamrita, in Madhya-lila, Chapter 20, we hear the Siksastakam. In this context, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu experiences the mood of the gopis by saying:
śūnyāyitaṁ jagat sarvaṁ
The original primordial and transcendental sunyavadis are the devotees, who are feeling the absence of Govinda—that feeling of absence, when everything is empty, when this whole universe is empty. Śūnyāyitaṁ jagat sarvaṁ govinda-viraheṇa me … By viraha, or by the absence of Govinda, everything is empty. Gambhira is the place where Caitanya Mahaprabhu is feeling that emptiness of the world in his own desperation. There is a desperation about the condition of the age of Kali. But Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s desperation is different, it is transcendental.
I think we all should be especially grateful to Srila Prabhupada for translating Caitanya Caritamrita. Many of you know how eager he was to translate and get it published - so much so that he insisted that devotees publish it in seventeen volumes in two months! If we did not have this translation, we could ask ourselves, where would we be now? Let us be grateful to Srila Prabhupada for this.
—From a class on the appearance of Advaita Acarya, on January 27, 2023, at the Gambhira in Puri (Odisha), India
The Glories of Prasadam
The practice of prasada-seva is very much celebrated in Vaisnava literature. There are so many pastimes that have to do with prasadam. There is, for example, one sort of activity that is done with prasadam, namely hiding it. Have you ever hidden prasadam?
Well, that was not the case of Sudama Brahmana. He brought something to Krishna that wasn’t particularly considered very special because it was just some broken flat rice, which wasn't even from his household; his wife begged it from the neighbors. The amount was so small that he could roll it in some cloth and put it in his dhoti so that nobody would notice it.
Another example of the hiding of prasadam in Caitanya Caritamrita is Khira Cora Gopinath hiding prasadam. Kuliya. Who has been to Remuna? Have you had kuliya-prasadam? The nectar of this kuliya offering is very special. We know the story. Khira Cora Gopinath has acted as a thief. Later, however, he came to the priest in a dream: “You forgot one of the pots.”
And of course, sometimes prasadam gets stolen. Did you ever steal prasadam? Confess! Let's be honest, you have stolen prasadam! This is authorized theft, I declare, speaking from the vyasasana. It is bonafide, at least in certain circumstances. We have to be careful; we cannot generalize completely. But the general point of prasadam is that it is something very special.
We always have plates of prasadam, full plates, if not buckets. We have had mountains of halava, at least when we are younger - so we have no sense of lack of prasadam. But the traditional idea is that if you have just a morsel of prasadam, then you are good, you are back home, back to Godhead, basically. It is honored as a very rare and special thing. It is mercy. It is a vehicle, even anthropologists would say that prasadam is a vehicle for exchanges of love.
What I want to suggest is that we go further and think of the whole cycle. In some Vaisnava communities, we have gardens, and cows, who give milk. In recent years we started to think more seriously about providing for ourselves in being independent of the global food system. When we eat a pineapple, we know that it is not grown here, in our garden. Where does it come from? I don't know. The shop assistant doesn't know either. It comes from the other side of the planet. How? By ship. A sailboat? No, a ship that is run by oil. Interesting to consider is how long we will have this oil. But, think how nice it would be if you could grow your own food, harvest your own vegetables and offer them to Krishna: how wonderful that prasadam would taste!
Let’s think in broader terms about the cycle of food. How everything is interdependent, and how our lives are fully dependent on food. Krishna speaks about a cosmic cycle involving food in Bhagavad-gita:
annād bhavanti bhūtāni
yajñād bhavati parjanyo
Yajna is always situated in transcendence and through yajna anna (which Srila Prabhupada translates as food grains) is ultimately coming. We know that and we conclude, well, what kind of yajna? Sankirtan yajna! Absolutely true, no doubt about it. And it is also nice that we think of what Prabhupada spoke a lot about, the importance of farming. As communities, we want to develop the whole cycle from beginning to end, and then back to the beginning. Krishna says in one of the next verses (BG 3.16), that a person lives uselessly unless one is engaged in that cycle. If one is not involved in that cycle then it isn’t good for one’s human existence.
There are three nice quotes that give an insight into the mood of a devotee who is not receiving prasadam, but is offering bhoga to the Lord. What facilitates the process of offering? That entire cycle with Krishna himself in the center. While offering bhoga we want to remember the mood in which to do it. These verses give a very nice idea of how we might make such an offering. They come from Srila Rupa Goswami’s Padyavali, and they form a part of the padati, the daily service procedure, of the Sri Radharaman temple in Vrindavana. In that temple pujaris are directed to recite these verses. Here are translations in English:
O enemy of Mura, Krishna, that love which is invested in the food offered by Vidura to you, in the things offered by Kunti, which is contained in the food offered by the residents of Vraja, on top of Govardhan, which is in the flat rice offered by Sudama, which is in the breast milk of Yasoda, which is in the 56 item offerings of Bharadvaja Muni, which is in the offering of berries by the tribal woman, which is in the nectar of the Vraja-maids lips, which is in the food offering by the wives of the yajna-brahmanas—kindly imbue my offering to you with such love.
It is such a nice memory, reflection, and connection of the mood in which all these devotees are making offerings to Krishna. The prayer is: May my offering have such love. Isn’t it nice? I will continue:
O enemy of Mura, as you found pleasure in the devotion of the brahmins’ wives, in the delicacies offered by Vidura, in the milk of Vraja’s cows, in the offering found in the open fist of your friend Sudama, in the breast-milk of Yasoda, in the nectar offered by the girls of Vraja, so may you be pleased with this gift.
This is kind of the same prayer, but shifting the attention to the pleasure of Krishna. And then finally:
May the pleasure you find in the milk of Syamala, the sweets offered by Kamala, the laddu offered by Bhadra, and the nectar offered by Somabha (Candravali), may this nectar be had by you a hundred-fold in my offering placed before you, prepared under the order of Radha.
The mood is: I am preparing this under the order of Sri Radha. And because I am doing this under the order of Sri Radha, it is being blessed by Her, and so it should be pleasing to You, my Lord. And if it will be pleasing to You, then You could be so kind as to possibly leave some of it, just little remnants, for us.
Don’t be surprised when one day you make a bhoga offering to the Lord and you make your nice prayers in some quiet place, where the Lord can eat peacefully with His associates, and after some time you come back and find that the plate is empty. Don’t be angry! It means Krishna has indeed accepted your offering! When it is all left on the plate (which is usually the case) you may have a doubt, did Krishna actually accept my offering? Prabhupada reassures us, yes, Krishna is so kind, He has accepted, because you have offered it with love. Asnami, Krishna says, I will accept it. He actually says “I will eat, consume.” He consumes and leaves it there, for us.
We occasionally need this reminder of how fortunate we are. In Caitanya Caritamrita Antya Lila 16.93 we read: To Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu the prasādam tasted millions upon millions of times better than nectar, and thus He was fully satisfied. The hair all over His body stood on end, and incessant tears flowed from His eyes.
Just imagine having that response to taking prasadam. Your hair standing on end, and incessant tears flowing from your eyes… Sri Jagannath prasadam ki jay! Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu ki jay!
—From a class on Caitanya-Caritamrita Antya-lila 16.98 by Krishna Kshetra Swami, on April 24, 2022, in Radhadesh, Belgium