“Without distribution of food, no function is complete, and that is the way of Vedic culture.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.11.15 Purport)
You can never go wrong distributing food for free to guests. Should a person not be hungry they still might indulge in a few delicacies if they are offered them without charge. If the food items look delicious, if they stimulate the taste buds upon first glance, then why not at least try some of the food, see if it is worth tasting? This tendency in the human being can be used to the advantage of the sincere spiritualist looking to revive God consciousness within the society at large. Everyone is hungry, so why not feed them the remnants of sanctified food, items which are offered in a mood of love and devotion? This sort of consumption can start a spiritual revival whose benefits spread throughout the population.
The cable television network ESPN years back started running a series of now famous commercials to promote its nightly highlights show called Sportscenter. These advertisements showcased some of the on-air talent, depicting mock scenes from within the offices where the personalities would interact with each other and sometimes with professional athletes. In one of the commercials, one of the anchorpersons for Sportscenter is sitting at his desk, which is in a sort of cubicle area, and watching people run by him, one after another. In a quiet office environment a person running through the halls will garner attention. Similar to hearing the wailing sirens of ambulances, fire trucks and police cars out on the streets, the person whizzing by your desk will not go unnoticed.
After a few moments, the man sitting at his desk starts to wonder what the commotion is about. Are people playing a game? Are they running to try to catch the person running away? Is there an emergency situation that one should know about? Next thing you know, the man at the desk checks his email. He has a new note that was sent to the entire office. It reads something like, “Leftover muffins and donuts in the conference room.” As soon as he reads the email he jumps out of his seat and runs towards the conference room, essentially following the same behavior of the other workers in the office.
Good humor always has an element of truth to it, and there is no doubt that if you announce that there is free food available to an office full of employees, there will be a mad dash towards the area where the food is sitting. Should you have already eaten your lunch or breakfast, there is no matter, for how often do you get free food? Plus, you better take advantage, as you don’t know when this perk will come around again. Someone else is paying for it, so you wouldn’t want their money to go to waste, would you?
In Vedic culture, this tendency in the human being is fully accounted for and taken advantage of at the same time. Yet, just as with the Christmas season it is said that it is better to give than to receive, the initial offering in these Vedic functions is what matters most. The cycle is complete when the remnants are distributed to as many people as possible. So what is the difference between giving out this food right after it is cooked versus offering it to someone else first?
The act of love and devotion is what makes the remnants taste so nice. The food turns into a healing potion through the love that goes into the preparation and offering process. The person accepting the offering is pleased not by the amount of food nor its exact makeup but rather by the underlying sentiment. That’s because the person accepting the food is not hungry at all. He has everything He needs; hence one way to describe Him is atmarama, or completely satisfied in the self.
If He is in need of nothing, why does He recommend we offer Him things? In the Bhagavad-gita, this recommendation is made by Him in His original form of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Offer Krishna a leaf, a flower, fruit or water with love and devotion and He will gladly accept it. No need to go to great lengths if you don’t have the time. Rich or poor, young or old, anyone can make a simple and sincere offering and purify their consciousness in the process.
“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.26)
But Krishna is the superior entity. He possesses the largest wealth, as everything in this world belongs to Him. If He’s got it all, shouldn’t He be the one giving gifts? Shouldn’t we pray to Him to offer us kind rewards such as beauty, good birth, and intelligence? Actually, these kinds of gifts are already available without an explicit request. The animals don’t have the ability to pray, but nature provides for their necessities regardless. The human being also has an abundant supply of water, milk and grains, which are generally easy to procure and relatively inexpensive.
The offering is made to Krishna for the benefit of the person doing the offering. As the living entity is the constitutionally subordinate entity, humbly submitting before the superior Krishna is the natural order of things. Through this method one finds the happiness they are looking for. If you think that you’re superior and don’t need to surrender to God, why do you offer so much service to other people already? If you didn’t have the service mentality within you, you wouldn’t be inclined towards the behavior even in the absence of a spiritual awakening.
With the process of offering food to Krishna, the service propensity is purified. At the same time, those who may not be willing to hear the truths of Vedanta - whose final conclusion is that one surrender to God in a mood of love and be delivered from all negative reactions - can gradually progress in consciousness by partaking of the remnants of the offerings made to Krishna. Thus the devotee who serves Krishna simultaneously does the best service to mankind through their love. Opening a hospital primarily affects those who will use the facility. The same goes for opening a school. Donating food to the poor and helping the distressed have a temporary influence only on the affected parties.
With bringing what remains of offerings to Krishna [prasadam] to as many people as possible, the right consciousness is gradually instilled within the consumers. From a proper consciousness one learns how to shape their activities so that they can simultaneously keep in line with piety and receive repeated happiness. That proper consciousness can then be spread to others as well. At the end of life, the cycle of birth and death is finished for the God conscious soul. If the catalyst for this awakening is the smelling of a flower offered to Krishna or the eating of foodstuff kindly prepared for the Lord, then the person making the offering deserves so much credit for their kind and influential work.
This tradition of offering food to Krishna and then distributing it as part of a formal function has been carried out since time immemorial. When the Lord was present on this earth the tradition was also followed. One time He returned home to Dvaraka from Hastinapura, and the citizens laid out all sorts of offerings in His honor. They lived in an opulent city populated by the Yadu dynasty, so no one spared any expense in the celebration. When Krishna arrived to His city, He saw so many nice decorations and offerings of flowers and curd preparations laid out in front of the houses.
The same style of offering was seen many thousands of years prior when Krishna in His form of Lord Rama returned home to Ayodhya. That celebration later turned into the tradition known as Diwali, which is still celebrated today. The “festival of lights” as it is known now, Diwali sees the homes of devotees decorated with many lamps, flowers, and food offerings made to the Supreme Lord.
These offerings never go to waste. The people setting them up get to think of their beloved Bhagavan during the work. We have to apply work to support an end, so depending on the nature of that supported structure, our consciousness will have a specific object to focus on. If our work is to support our family, we will have one kind of consciousness. Better than this is to work to support a lifestyle focused on bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Through this method even routine work such as bathing in the morning and commuting to the office helps to support a purified consciousness.
In addition to the purification in consciousness within the workers making the offerings, there is the benefit received from distributing the remnants. In temples devoted to Shri Krishna and His non-different Vishnu forms there is regular distribution of prasadam. Chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and eat prasadam. This formula is simple enough that it can be followed by anyone, and pleasurable enough that it can be repeated day after day. The offerings made to Krishna upon His return to Dvaraka weren’t the first ones He ever accepted, but He still enjoyed them so much because of the love that went into them. To find happiness in this life and the next, think of your home as situated in Dvaraka and pretend that Krishna is returning there today from Hastinapura. Welcome Him nicely with kind offerings and then distribute them to as many people as possible. In this way stay connected with the charming Shyamasundara, from whom the bountiful gifts of nature emanate.
Everyone running to room meant for a break,
So that leftover muffins and donuts they can take.
Free food always to put a smile on the face,
Sumptuous food to delight buds of taste.
Vedas take advantage of this tendency in man,
With prasadam distribution help society you can.
Take simple flower, water, or make a luscious cake,
With love and devotion to Krishna offering make.
With sincerity in emotion Lord offering will accept,
The kind attention of loving devotees He will never reject.