“And that sacrifice performed in defiance of scriptural injunctions, in which no spiritual food is distributed, no hymns are chanted and no remunerations are made to the priests, and which is faithless - that sacrifice is of the nature of ignorance.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 17.13)
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Friend1: You have to eat this.
Friend2: What are you talking about?
Friend1: You don’t say “no” to prasadam.
Friend1: You can’t throw it away, either. That’s a great offense.
Friend2: I’m assuming you have been told these things many times.
Friend1: A lot when I was a kid. The rebellious side of me wanted to ignore what was being said. I never understood it anyway.
Friend2: What would you do?
Friend1: I didn’t like the fruits. I was allergic to some of them. Not sure exactly why. Maybe because they weren’t ripe.
Friend2: So you would not eat it?
Friend1: Are you kidding? I would feel too guilty, like something bad would happen to me if I didn’t.
Friend2: Interesting. The elders know how to scare the children, that’s for sure.
Friend1: I kind of understand better now. Especially since I know what the Sanskrit word “prasadam” means.
Friend2: Yes. It is God’s mercy.
Friend1: Spiritual food offered to the Supreme Lord. He glances over it and infuses it with His potency. Similar to how the devotee gradually acquires all the qualities of the demigods, the remnants of offered food have tremendous power, especially to shape consciousness.
Friend2: Very good. I’m sure you know that prasadam doesn’t have to be only food.
Friend1: Oh, really?
Friend2: It’s the Lord’s mercy. It doesn’t have to be an offering necessarily. The term is properly applied to offerings that get returned, but it can be any type of mercy. There is mention of it in the Ramayana as well.
Friend1: Really? There was an offering of food made to Rama?
Friend2: Well, the family members offered food to Shri Rama, the Supreme Lord’s incarnation appearing as a warrior prince thousands of years ago. There is that painting showing Rama and His brothers sitting down and eating in the palace, being fed by the mother. The close-up of Rama and Lakshmana sitting together might be my favorite image of all-time.
Friend2: Even if He doesn’t eat, there is prasadam. The Nishada chief Guha made nice offerings to Rama, but the Lord didn’t accept it directly since He was observing a vow. Still, the offering became prasadam due to Rama’s mercy. Anyway, the word is mentioned in relation to Lord Shiva as well.
Friend2: Yes. It is well-known that Shri Rama worshiped Lord Shiva prior to entering Lanka in the final battle with Ravana, the fiendish king who had taken away Rama’s wife Sita. Since the incident is not found in great detail in the Ramayana of Valmiki, people mistakenly think that other authors of Rama’s life, like Goswami Tulsidas, made up the incident. But in fact, the reference is there in the original Ramayana. While flying back home to Ayodhya on the aerial car, Rama points out to Sita the location where He received Shiva’s mercy, his prasadam.
Friend1: Oh, that’s interesting.
Friend2: This prasadam is a great way to tell if a sacrifice is bona fide or not.
Friend1: What do you mean, like if the sacrifice will bring the intended result?
Friend2: The Sanskrit word is yajna. It is actually synonymous with Vishnu, who is the same Rama. Yajna essentially means God, but in the strict definition, it is sacrifice. Since the sacrifice is meant for pleasing Vishnu, the word is synonymous with Him.
Friend1: I see.
Friend2: Shri Krishna, who is the same Vishnu and Rama, describes in the Bhagavad-gita that even a yajna can be in the mode of ignorance.
Friend1: Okay. How do you tell?
Friend2: It’s all about motive, if you think about it. If you’re sitting in front of a fire and chanting mantras, but doing so at the wrong time and place, and for your own benefit, then you’re in the mode of ignorance. Prasadam is a key indicator.
Friend1: But aren’t all yajnas for getting a benefit? Like with Rama worshiping Shiva, that was for success in the upcoming mission. Obviously as God, Rama doesn’t need to worship anyone. I understand He was simply showing respect. Still, the benefit was for Him alone, no?
Friend2: That’s where prasadam comes in. In a bona fide yajna, there is the distribution of spiritual food. This automatically means that others benefit. Krishna says that in the yajna in the mode of ignorance, no food is distributed.
Friend1: Oh. That’s interesting.
Friend2: Yeah. Just another way of knowing that with devotional service, you are safe on all fronts. You are obviously benefitting yourself, through the advancement of the consciousness. Simultaneously, you are doing the best service to others. You are distributing the Lord’s mercy to everyone, who desperately need it. Even in the sankirtana-yajna there is distribution of prasadam. Through the chanting of the holy names, Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, you are giving the Lord’s mercy in the form of sound to anyone who is within audible range.
Yajna for Vishnu another name,
Sacrifice in His honor thus to Him the same.
For proper yajna to see,
Distribution of food should be.
Prasadam, the Lord’s mercy bestowing,
Benefit to all who partake going.
In ignorance otherwise effort is known,
Since no respect for Lord is shown.