Prasadam Addict: Section 2

(Second in a series of five or six continuing articles (Sections) by Taru as taken from old Brijabasi Spirits, from the 1970s)

Adventures in Prasadam Land:

In one sense, New Vrindaban never changes. Radha Vrindaban Chandra are always here, Kirtanananda Maharaj is always telling us to give up our sense gratification, surrender to Krishna and get to work. The same old devotees keep hanging in there. But in another sense, things are so different from when I first came that it’s hard to remember what really happened. Especially when it comes to prasadam. In a few short years, it has all taken on the quality of a legend. Nobody really believes the stories of what we used to eat, how much we used to eat, the austerities of cooking outdoors. It all seems like a myth.Sometimes new devotees still come up to me and say, “I hear you used to eat ninety chapatis a day”. I just kind of shrug my shoulders and smile and mumble that everybody used to eat a lot more then. (The truth of the matter is that one time I kept count up to seventy and then gave up counting).But who’s going to believe that. anyways? Better to let it remain a myth. That goes for everything you’re going to read in this article. Maybe it happened and maybe it didn’t. Actually, it did happen, but it’s better to believe it didn’t. Everyone at Bahulaban used to live in the Temple building, except for the householders and women. Amburisha and his wife were the householders and there were just two other women. And Siddhababa, the only child. So upstairs was the brahmacari ashram, which is now two rooms, the store and the old sewing room.

Old New Vrindaban:

It was just one big ashrama and there were 14 brahmacaris, counting myself, staving up there. Across the hallway, where the darkroom is now (1979), was Kirtanananda Maharaj’s room where he lived with one servant. Altogether, counting the other two farms, there were maybe fifty devotees in New Vrindaban. Now there are two hundred and fifty. So all the other details have changed just about as much. Coming to New Vrindaban from the city temple where I joined was at least as big of a change as it was to come to the temple for the first time. The temple in the city was like a lush oasis in the middle of the desert. The world of maya was all surrounding. All you had to do was look out the window and there it was: the car wash, doughnut store, six lanes of traffic, crowds of people in a mad rush back and forth for no reason. The same insane, monotonous drone and whiz of materialistic life that I had been engulfed in since the time I was born.To be sure, the temple was a complete shelter against all of that. But all you had to do was look out the window and there it was.By the time the car with Kirtanananda Maharaj and the other boy and me got to New Vrindaban. I had lost all bearings. Half or full asleep most of the way, I started opening my eyes toward the end as we made our way through the hills of West Virginia. Being a city boy, I wasn’t used to seeing so much unused space. Hill after hill with nothing on them but trees and grass. I tried to imagine what it would be like living here. It didn’t even seem like farm country, just as wilderness.

Deep in the Jungle:

Actually Srila Prabhupada once wrote in a letter to Kirtanananda Maharaj, “So you are all living peacefully in the jungle”.Finally, we stopped at the bottom of another hill and that was New Vrindaban. There were just a few buildings there. It didn’t look like a community, it just looked like Farmer Jones’ place. There was a house and a barn, a corn crib, a shed, and a couple of one-story buildings made of cement block. I can’t really remember what I was expecting to find, if I had any idea at all. But my reality was changing too fast for me to be able to retain past ideas, doubts, or ambitions. Each minute something new was coming up.

Of course, I arrived on Sunday. I got there just in time to catch the end of the feast. All the other devotees had taken prasadam already. I just look a little of what was left in the pots. Actually, my mind wasn’t on the prasadam so much. Everything was so different. There was nothing but Krishna consciousness everywhere. Everyone was a devotee. There weren’t any “karmis” around, there was hardly any traffic going by on the little road and you couldn’t even see a neighbor without get-ling up and taking a walk. Was this the spiritual world?

The next day Kirtanananda Maharaj asked me, “Well, how do you like it here?” “It’s incredible. There’s just no maya here. It seems that you can’t help but think of Krishna.” “That will pass in a few days”, he cautioned me, but still, you should slay here.” Thus, with my head in the clouds, I began to become absorbed into the daily life of New Vrindaban. By some unimaginable good fortune, I had entered into a society of wonderful devotees of the Lord.Still, internally I was in a complete fantasy land, mixing up all the bhogy-yogi books I had read along with my experiences of taking drugs and imagining what spiritual life was like. But gradually I was learning what was what.One of the biggest gulfs between reality and my imagination was my conception of myself. I took myself to be a very advanced, spiritual person, who was already far ahead of most of the other devotees. I was always expecting to be recognized as such and singled out from the ranks of the “ordinary” devotees. Actually, I was simply the basest of neophytes with little knowledge of God and even less love for Him. I had a lot lo learn.

According to most yogis, about the most spiritual thing one can do is abstain from eating for long periods of time. Before meeting the devotees, I used to fast for two or three days at a time. I was also very diet conscious, eating mostly uncooked vegetables and fruit, avoiding milk products, grains, and especially sugar, which was taken to be as deadly as arsenic by most so-called experts on healthy diets. Consequently, I was getting pretty skinny and I took this as a sign of my advancing spirituality.Joining up with the Hare Krishna devotees splattered these conceptions apart, although I kept trying to maintain them. In the first place, prasadam was so rich. Everything was full of butter and milk and the deadly sugar. And although I tried to restrain myself and select only those foodstuffs which I thought were proper, my uncontrollable tongue forced me to indulge in eating not only anything and everything, but also as much as I could consume without bursting apart.

Needless to say, I was a trifle embarrassed, being used to thinking that the whole proof of and means for spiritual advancement was fasting. I tried to compensate by making incredibly senseless and difficult arrangements. For instance, I wouldn’t eat lunch with the devotees but would spend that time reading Bhagavad-Gita. As a result of this, I was incredibly hungry at night and would eat three or four lunches right before the evening program of aratika and Bhagavad-Gita class which I would usually sleep through being so stuffed.Gradually, I began to crawl out of my shell and started to perceive something of the real world.

New Vrindaban was incredible. It was very, veryintense. In the city there are so many adjustments, even in a temple, to counteract all your little problems. Too cold, turn up the thermostat. Hungry, check out the refrigerator. Have to go somewhere, get in the car. All these devices are there.Of course, there’s always some breakdown. So life is a series of trying to fix the things which make it easy to do what you have to do. In Vrindaban, there was a startling absence of some basic gadgets I had lived with all my life. Like hot water faucets, flush toilets, bathtubs, sidewalks, gas furnaces, and electric ranges. In addition to that there was an overabundance of exposure to the elements: cold, wind, rain, mud, hunger, darkness and so forth.It was a whole different style of living.

It wasn’t so fast moving, like jump in the sankirtan van, drive fifty miles, gel out and run around trying to talk to a few hundred or thousand people, get back in the van, ride home, jump in the shower and go to aratrika. It was more like put on your shoes, which were frozen from standing outside all night, walk over to the bath house where then; was ;t fire and gel your shoes thawed out, then walk out lo the woods and cut down trees with a two-man saw and carry logs back to the farm on your back. Once a week, Paramananda would even bring the horses out and haul in a whole sled full!

This working outside all day all is quite a new experience for me. It was terrifying in fact. Out in the woods alone or with just one devotee, nature seemed so vast and powerful and I seemed more and more like some little bug. It got too cold, you could easily freeze to death. If it got too dark, you wouldn’t be able to find your way home. If a tree fell the wrong way, you could get crushed. I could see that in the material world, death is lurking everywhere.We’re always on the verge of getting snuffed out. So my idea of being a yogi began to fade. I felt like I was struggling to survive.

Cold weather, hard work:

After spending all day in the woods, we’d return home, but it was almost as cold inside as out. There was no thermostat, just a big wood furnace that didn’t really heal the whole house up too well. It was about fifty degrees or so in the temple room, maybe sixty, I don’t know. I just remember being cold all the time except when I got in my sleeping bag. So all this cold weather and hard work sure did wonders for my appetite. It increased about a hundredfold.

Now back in the city temple there was a refrigerator you could always get into in case you got hungry between meals. But it wasn’t like that in New Vrindaban. You could only eat at meal times, which was another type of regulation that I had never experienced before. Therefore, I had to compensate by eating enough to last until the next meal. From breakfast to lunch was only about four hours. But for me, it seemed like days. So I’d start off the day with a big breakfast.

New Vrindaban Prasadam:

Prasadam in New Vrindaban was just like the life-style. It had its own flavor and a character I wasn’t used to. In the city, we used to have nice buttery, sweet halavah with some fruit and milk sweets for breakfast. In New Vrindaban, halavah was something you only saw at Sunday feasts, if you were lucky. Breakfast consisted of one course – oatmeal which weighed about twelve pounds per cubic inch. It was so heavy that if the server dropped it into your bowl from a little too far away, it would knock the bowl right out of your hands. Usually, you’d be holding your bowl out over the serving bucket, so the fallen bowl would vanish into the mass of oatmeal like a boulder fallen into a pit of quicksand. The oatmeal was so sticky that sometimes, when the server turned the ladle upside down, the oatmeal would sit right in there and refuse to fall out.

Still, it was prasadam, the “Lord’s Mercy”. And I started to see the other side of the word, mercy. Mercy was a word to explain how you had to learn to transcend material difficulties. “Somebody took my shoes”. “That’s Krishna’s mercy, prabhu”. I began to tremble when somebody would come up and tell me, “Hey, I got some real mercy for you”. Anyhow, foodstuffs offered to the Lord are always transcendental and full of spiritual potency, even if you can’t understand it with your material senses. You just had to preach a little to yourself when the cereal was burnt, or there was too much salt in the dahl, or when the potatoes weren’t quite cooked.What I lacked in spiritual vision, however, was made up for by the fact that I was starving and there was nothing else to eat. Therefore, I dove into every meal with savage enthusiasm. I’d eat at least five or six bowls of cereal every day. Sometimes, if it was thin, I’d have ten or more. Then there were especially cold mornings…I still remember one day when Kirtanananda Maharaj came up to me and said, “I heard you ate twenty bowls of cereal this morning. Is that true?”

“Well, Maharaj, I think it was more like seventeen or eighteen”.

“That’s CRAZY. I mean, five or six bowls, that’s one thing. But this is INSANE”

Insane was a good word for me after a few weeks on the farm. Materially, I was completely freaked out. I hated working outside and would count the minutes until it was time to quit. To offset this, chanting Hare Krishna sometimes seemed so wonderful that during a big kirtan, I would feel almost ready to jump out of my material body altogether and enter directly into the spiritual sky. Getting up in the morning, chanting my rounds, attending aratrika and dancing before the Deities, hearing the wonderful philosophy of Srimad-Bhagavatam — this was all wonderful. Work seemed terrible, but the morning program kept me going.

I knew I had to do austerity to make spiritual advancement. Then at night, more chanting and dancing and another class on Bhagavad-Gita. Lots of nectar and lots of work. Like I said before, it was all intense, going up and down on an incredible roller coaster ride. In my manic-depressive rush into spiritual life, I began taking more and more shelter in the process of prasadam. I was always looking forward to the next meal. I was always worried that there wouldn’t be enough. I was transcending the conception of “what is there to eat”. I didn’t care what, only how much. It was all prasadam. At lunch everyone’s plate was served out ahead of time. A couple of chapatis, a pile of rice, and a bowl of dahl. Then, if there was anything left over, that was served out. There usually wasn’t much left over, maybe some dahl. So I would be in complete anxiety from the start. “Only two chapatis? Will there be any more rice? How come the dahl is so thin?”

But then somebody wouldn’t want all his rice and would offer to give it away. I’d take it. And someone else wouldn’t want one of his chapatis. Then the guy next to me couldn’t finish it all. Then there would be an extra plate left over. Somehow or another, everyday, no matter how little prasadam there seemed to be in the beginning, I would wind up eating mounds. It was like mystic power. After some time, I even developed a little confidence, I knew that if I just sat there and didn’t say anything, I’d get everything I wanted. But it was some time before I gave up my anxiety. I think it was about two and a half years. After I realized that I’d completely stuffed myself to the gills three times a day for two and a half years, I understood that actually there was no lack of prasadam. It’s unlimited. It’s spiritual. Prabhupada used to say that the ant is getting his daily quota, which is one grain, and the elephant is also getting his quota although it’s a hundred pounds. Stuck in between there someplace, I would also get my daily quota.

Then it was back outdoors for a few more hours, wondering how I had managed to eat so much at lunch and swearing to cut down. All the time I was worrying about if there would be enough prasadam I was still realizing that I was eating too much. I mean Kirtanananda Maharaj gave class every morning and he was constantly talking about giving up sense gratification and controlling your senses and so on. I was fully convinced that my outlandish appetite was the biggest obstacle on my path toward self-realization. But I couldn’t stop; I was an addict. I needed more and more prasadam. At six o’clock at night, we’d quit work and come in for our evening snack which was usually bread and milk. The bread was unpredictable. Sometimes it was like a cake with honey poured over it and sometimes it was so hard you couldn’t really chew it. You just kind of broke off little bits with your spoon and swallowed them whole. Sometimes they didn’t get cooked all the way through.

Five or ten pounds:

But still it was prasadam, the mercy of the Lord, and I ate five or ten pounds of it, no matter what. Again, they’d only give everyone one or two pieces, but I’d just hang in there and wind up eating eight or ten, Somebody right next to me would complain that he hardly got anything after I’d just taken a ton. I knew it was his purity. He didn’t really want to eat too much. But I did, more than anything else, so Krishna was fulfilling my desire.“If only I could desire to become Krishna conscious as much as I desire to eat”, I thought, “then I’d be a pure devotee in no time.” Instead, I just kept looking forward to the next meal.

After this huge evening snack, we’d bathe and go to aratrika and dance and sing. Then it was time for Bhagavad-Gita class. That was pretty funny. Hardly any of us could stay awake, having worked all day and then just eaten. But if anyone did make it through, there was the Krishna Book reading after that. The only person awake by that time was the reader, who would sometimes doze in the middle of a sentence. We took turns reading and staying awake, while the others passed out. Finally, it was time to take rest, which I did with great enthusiasm, By this time, there was no hope for me ever returning to a “normal” life with Mom and Dad and all the rest. Whatever this new life was, I liked it.

After I got over a few hallucinations, like thinking I was an advanced devotee, I could see that actually Krishna consciousness had all the answers to everything. There are so many truths you hear every day, which just aren’t to he found anywhere else in the world. Of course, realizing all that may take some time. But at least the answers were there, the ultimate goal was clear, the pathway was open. It required some work, some austerity and a lot of chanting Hare Krishna.

Prasadam truths:

In the same way, there are many truths to be realized about prasadam. The first truth is that it is so much more wonderful that anything ever imagined by materialistic cooks. Even skinny little yogi boys can be attracted to prasadam as well as dope-crazed hippies, old people, foreigners, and people from outer space. That is the first truth.After that you have to learn to see that even if the prasadam does not taste good to you, still it is Krishna’s mercy and you are very fortunate to get it.Then there is the ultimate realization that one should eat only as much as he requires to keep body and soul together. I don’t know if I’ll ever make it to that stage in this lifetime. Raghunatha das Goswami used to eat only a pat of butter every few days. I may sound ridiculous, but I always wanted to be like him. Because he also knew how wonderful prasadam was, but he gave up eating very much.

Therefore, he was addicted to something even higher — pure love of Krishna. We may become attracted to Krishna in so many different ways. But in the end, one develops pure and unalloyed attachment for the Personality of Godhead Himself. Then he can transcend all material conceptions; can do without a so-called material necessity like eating and sleeping. And he can see Krishna every moment, face to face. I’d like lo be like that, someday. And it’s not hopeless, either. Because the process for coming to that platform is lo just go on taking prasadam. Eat as much as you have to, but just don’t eat anything else.

Just twice as much:

No meat or fish or eggs or anything that is not offered to Krishna. Go on eating prasadam and you will become purified to the point that you will only take as much as you need to maintain the body. In fact, even I, who am the most addicted, have been allowed to cut down to the point that I only eat twice as much as the average new devotee. But it takes a while to get to that point. It gets darker before the dawn, you know. I’ll have to continue this story in another issue, again.

Hare Krishna!

Part 1

Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

Information and Links

Join the fray by commenting, tracking what others have to say, or linking to it from your blog.

Write a Comment

Take a moment to comment and tell us what you think. Some basic HTML is allowed for formatting.

You must be logged in to post a comment. Click here to login.

Reader Comments

[…] (Part Two) […]

[…] (Part 2) […]

[…] Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part […]

[…] 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part […]