By Western standards, if your offering were returned to you, you might think it had been rejected. Not so in the case of prasad—though there is a great old story of an offering that was not returned to the one who offered it.
One day, when the poet saint Namadeva was a small boy, his father couldn't make his usual offering of food to Panduranga Vitthala, the deity the family worshiped, so Namadeva's mother asked her son to take an offering of rice in his place. Namadeva went to the temple and asked the idol to eat. Being so young, he did not realize the idol would not literally eat the food, so he implored it to eat in front of him, believing that Vitthala did this for his father. When Vitthala heard the plea, his heart went out to the boy, and the idol manifested himself and ate the food offered.
When Namadeva's father asked him what had happened to the prasad that had been offered to God, Namadeva innocently told him that "God had eaten it" and was met with total disbelief.
When we offer food to God, we are usually the ones who do the eating. And why not, if we ourselves are part of the divine totality, the Brahman? The purpose of prasad is to remind us of this connection. Eating is something we do regularly, and unless we reflect on the moment, it confirms everything that is commonplace about our lives. If instead we cook and eat with intention, it is believed that the total field of divinity will be enlivened within us.
Swami Sivananda, who counted Swamis Vishnu-devananda, Satchidananda, and Sivananda Radha among his devotees, wrote this about prasad: "Live for a week in Vrindavana or Ayodhya or Varanasi or Pandharpur. You will realize the glory and the miraculous effects of prasada. Many incurable diseases are cured. Many sincere aspirants get wonderful spiritual experiences. Prasada is a spiritual elixir. Prasada is the grace of the Lord. Prasada is a cure-all and an ideal pick-me-up. Prasada is an embodiment of Shakti. Prasada is divinity in manifestation. Prasada energizes, vivifies, invigorates, and infuses devotion. It should be taken with great faith."
On a recent trip to India, my mother organized a havan, or fire prayer ceremony, for me. Sweets were offered at the beginning of the prayers, and once the priest had lit the havan fire, chanted his mantras, and watched the flames die toward the end of the ceremony, we were given the sweets to eat. In other words, our offering was returned to us. Throughout our offering process, we repeated in Sanskrit: "I do this not for myself," yet at the same time, we were receiving blessings, together with prasad. The differences between giving and receiving were transcended with the recognition that there is only one totality, one Brahman.
Not surprisingly, prasad tastes divine and is also sublimely sweet. Before it becomes blessed food, it is purchased from the local shop and paid for with ordinary hard cash. The most common sweets used as offerings are different variations of barfi—a treat usually made of condensed milk that has been solidified and mixed with almonds, cashews, pistachios, or coconut. But many types of sweets can be offered as prasad.
In a Western context, a simple blessing on cookies, chocolates, or even dinner will turn ordinary food into prasad. This blessing can be more subtle than an out-loud prayer, because what you are offering and gaining, after all, is awareness, directed through intention.
Does food offered as prasad and eaten after a ceremony taste any different from the nonblessed variety? Well, take a bite and see for yourself.
(Article by Bem Le Hunte—half Indian half English—Author of The Seduction of Silence, a story about five generations of an Indian family.)Prasad Book – To Order: 12,-€ (e-mail) firstname.lastname@example.org
The Sanskrit word "Prasada" translated means: "the grace of the Divine" - and it is this that we can attain by partaking of food first offered to God. But before one can receive this grace through God offered food, someone must prepare it. And it is this step that this small booklet attempts to deal with! 38 pages. 12 € / e-mail address to order / email@example.com