Confessions of a Prasadam Addict: Section 5

Breaking and Entry

by Taru

“And when the spiritual master sees the devotees are taking bhagavat prasadam, he is satisfied” —Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakur.

If there is any other instruction which the devotees of New Vrindaban have taken up more seriously than the one above, I have yet to run across it. In their undaunted endeavors to obtain bhagavat prasadam, devotees have crossed over the difficult ocean of contraptions, locks, chains and booby traps grouped together under the heading of maha cabinets.

According to Webster, a maha cabinet is “any device or container, usually a box, a safe, cupboard, or so forth, which is used to preserve maha prasad, i.e., to protect it from being stolen, hidden or ingested from the time of its being lawfully distributed.” A little further on down, mention is made of the fact that as of the present, there are no fool-proof models available.

Daily, huge quantities of prasadam like rice, dahl and chapatis are prepared to feed the members of our growing community. But apart from all that, there is another, totally separated program of cooking just for the pleasure of Their Lordships Sri Sri Radha Vrndavana Candra and all Their expansions. Needless to say, the maha prasadam, or those foodstuffs which are offered to the Deities, are the most delectable and sought-after preparations within the three worlds, it is only fair, then, that each devotee has a chance to sample a small portion of these other-worldly delicacies.

Maha is as Good as Gold

The difficulty lies in the fact that the Deities are offered prasadam about nine times a day whereas the devotees generally eat only twice. So all the maha prasadam is put away until the next morning when each devotee receives a small quantity of it. These “maha plates” are a medium of reward and punishment. Someone who is delinquent in the execution of his duties is fined by having his maha taken away. Similarly, it is customary to repay some favor by giving your maha plate to the person. In other words, maha is as good as gold.

Now there will always be a class of men who are not content with their own lawful share of the maha prasadam and take to illegal means for satisfying their lust and greed. As the horse thief was universally condemned throughout the Old West, the maha thief is equally despised amongst members of the Vaisnava community.

As Kirtanananda Swami succinctly put it, “Any brahmacari caught stealing maha should be severely chastised”. Local panditas have analyzed the meaning of this verse to be that one should take great care and attention to avoid being caught while he is stealing maha.

The Horrible Truth

You see, the horrible truth to the matter is that every devotee is a potential maha thief. It is hard to trust anyone, save and except the self-realized souls, to be alone in the same room with maha prasadam. That is why the maha cabinet is necessary. Without it, none of the maha prasadam would ever live to see the sun rise.

I believe that the situation is much more acute at New Vrindaban than in other temples around the world. I remember that in the first temple I stayed, there was a refrigerator full of left-over prasadam that was always open to the public. But in New Vrindaban, it is pretty hard to come up with anything in-between meals.

Another factor is that practically no one here cooks at home, everyone is dependent upon the temple for their maintenance. Finally, there are just a lot of people here, compared to a smaller center which still has six or eight offerings a day and only ten or twenty devotees to distribute the maha amongst. Apart from that, Maharaja remarks on occasion that the inhabitants of Vrindaban are generally lustier than everyone else. Whatever the case, stealing maha has always been as prominent in New Vrindaban as robberies and muggings are in the big cities.

Maha Cabinets

The first maha cabinet I remember seeing here was a simple little cupboard over the sink in the prasadam room. It was only two or three feet square and about a foot deep with two shelves in it. Back in those days, I never dreamed of breaking into it. I would just steal the plates of people who were late for breakfast. The idea of getting into the reserves themselves had not yet occurred to me.

It must have been somebody from the barn crew who first showed me how it was done. The door to the maha cabinet was closed by a hasp half-way up the door and sealed with a lock. All you had to do was to grasp the lower corner of the door away from it with one hand and pull it towards you. This created an opening of an inch or two, just enough space to stick your other hand in up to the wrist and snag whatever goods that were in reach. We were so adept at it that it became a regular daily function. As I have slated before, the barn crew ate later than everyone else. So by the time we came in for breakfast, not only were all the other devotees gone, but the first offering of the day had just been locked up in the maha cabinet. Thus, we would avail ourselves of the opportunity to augment our daily maha rations.

Everything went on smoothly for awhile. Finally, just too many people knew the system and something had to be done. So our carpenter drove some nails through the door in such a way that when you stuck your hand inside, it got scratched up by the nail points. This didn’t stop the stealing, but it decreased it some. Only the hard core addicts endured the pain just like the camel who chews on thorns. I, for one, always bore the tell tale scars on the back of my right hand.

One time, Maharaja told one of my barn accomplices that in ancient times, a thief would get his hand chopped off. That cured him, I believe, at least for the time being. But I passed over the incident by thinking, “Well, he didn’t tell me that”. You see, the mind is capable of supplying sufficient answers to justify almost anything. That intelligence is also coming from Krsna. He is the source of all knowledge. He is telling the thief how to steal and He is telling the householder how to guard his possessions. But a devotee, one who actually knows Krsna, he has the best intelligence because he knows how to obtain Krsna. And once having achieved Krsna, there is nothing else left to achieve.

But I was hardly on such an elevated platform. I was always on the lookout for an opportunity to snatch some maha. And sure enough, those opportunities came. For instance, we once instituted a schedule where someone would be reading Prabhupada’s books in the temple all day long. We would take shifts, two devotees for one hour at a time. I had a shift with another barn boy in the afternoon and one day he discovered that at the particular time of day when we finished, nobody was in the pujari room. And the key to the maha cabinet was hanging right there, in the pujari room, every day, right on the same nail.

Another regulated source was there for awhile. That same boy was once given the job of cleaning the Deities plates after the last offering at night and locking up the maha. It didn’t last too long, though, before his propensities were discovered. As for me, everyone knew better than to stick me in such a position.Now, I don’t want you to get the idea that barn boys are the only ones who steal maha. Lots of other people are into it. There are so many ways, like going up to the pujari and saying, “I need a maha plate for a guest” when there is really no guest. Or else getting three plates for two guests, or even finding the guest doesn’t want anything and getting him a big plate anyway.

I found so many ways and so many different classes of men – like night guards, for instance. Today, we have the same man on guard every night. But it used to be that no one could get into staying up every night, so there was a rotation, one night a week. Thus with no one else awake, it was pretty simple to get away without being caught if you just exercised a little restraint. As long as you didn’t take the whole cheesecake, or all the laddus, the chances were good that no one would ever suspect anything.

As you may have already guessed, I was also a night guard Wednesday nights, sitting on the front porch, waiting for the last pujari to go to bed. It was so quiet at night, not like in a city. There were no cars going by, no light anywhere. A very nice atmosphere to just sit and chant Hare Krsna. But I wouldn’t have known about that. I was getting impatient. Finally, all the lights would be turned off inside. I’d wait a little longer to make sure everyone was good and asleep and then creep into the prasadam room, pull the old door back as far as possible and slide the old right claw in gently, gliding right over the old nails. I think the door was getting loosened up or something.

Maybe it was just expertise, but you didn’t have to get your hand all chewed up if you were careful. The maha containers were these little rectangular plastic trays without tops. The sides on them were about three or four inches high. So you had to work one over with your finger tips to the edge of the shelf, then stretch out your fingers as far as possible and tip it up on its side. Then the maha could drop right out the bottom of the cabinet where you were holding the door open. It would take about five minutes altogether.

Hunting in the Dark

One time, upon tipping up a container, a warm sticky liquid cascaded down over my hands and all over the table below. What a mess! I had hit the Jalebis. Jalebis are little spirally pastries which float in sugar water. The sugar water was now all over everything and I had to do some mopping up before beating it with the jalebis. That was one of the dangers of hunting in the dark.

My Wednesday night raid was curtailed when about four or five boys started taking rest right in the prasadam room. I was rather disappointed about the arrangement and would sit outside on the porch, pondering alternatives. Once, in just such a mood, I was startled by a distinct crack-bang sound from inside the prasadam room. I ran in to see what was up. There, I found one of the boys with a hammer and chisel in his hand standing in front of a wide-open maha cabinet. He had pried the hasp right out of the door! Afraid of being apprehended but with nowhere to go, he stood there frozen, staring at me frightfully. “Well, don’t just stand there”, I said quickly, “make up a couple of plates,” After finishing, he pushed the nails back into their original position. A flimsy job of repair, but maybe it would work.

To my surprise, no one said anything the next morning. They merely opened the lock and served out the maha, as usual. Then, as usual the cow boys came in for breakfast. And, as usual, someone tugged on the door when all of a sudden, the door popped wide open. Five cow herders jumped up in unison and stormed the cupboard. Handfuls of maha disappeared in a matter of seconds. One humble sage stood there with his palm extended, not taking anything. ”Go ahead and grab something,” he was told. “I don’t want to steal anything,” he replied gravely, “but if somebody gives me something, I will accept it as Krsna’s mercy.” Unfortunately, this prompted somewhat of an investigation and the whole truth became revealed. Things were starting to get hot. My name was just coming up too often in these sort of circumstances. Still, I had no thought of curbing my tendencies.

What was to be done with me? Well, for one thing, I was eventually removed from the night guard program. In the meantime, New Vrindaban continued to grow. The size of the Deities’ offerings grew right along with it. Pretty soon, the little cabinet didn’t suffice any more. Tired of seeing so much stealing, Maharaja decided that the maha should be kept up at his house, right in his own back room.

An air-tight system, right? Not hardly! Maharaja had as his servant that year one boy who was performing caturmasya. Caturmasya means, among other things, that you can only eat once a day. Of course, there is also an injunction that one can accept maha prasadam whenever it is offered, and this is considered transcendental to all other rules and regulations.

Sarvabauma Bhattacarya set the example when he immediately accepted prasadam from the hands of Caitanya Mahaprabu early one morning, before he had even taken a bath or performed any of his daily religious duties. So this boy who was pretty much constantly starving, the same boy who had pried the hasp off the old maha cabinet, was the only one with the key to Maharaja’s back room. I personally saw him enter that room to put away an offering and spend twenty minutes doing it. I was enthused to see that he took such great care to do his service nicely. He could really put the maha away!

Maha Mice

This introduced a whole new species of thieves, ‘the maha mice. A bunch of little fellows took up residence in Maharaja’s house at that time and became so addicted to maha prasadam that even after the maha left, the mice stayed. Once, one of the devotees offered hunting in the dark to get rid of them but Maharaja stopped him. “I can’t kick them out. They are all my relatives. There is my grandfather, uncle and cousins. I have to allow them to stay.”

So the Vaisnava is compassionate upon all the living entities.

After serving Maharaja prasadam, his servant would put his tray on a shelf in the back room. If you peeped around the corner, you could see the maha mice peeking around, sneaking up to the plate for a nibble. After a while, devotees took great delight in the antics of the maha mice. They didn’t usually run across the floor, but instead would circle the room, keeping on top of the baseboard which was about half an inch wide.

Mad after Prasadam

They were very tiny. Sometimes, scampering from one room to the next, they would be running so fast that when they turned the corner, they would just sort of slide around the curve on their sides, instead of on their feet. They weren’t like ordinary mice. They were mad after prasadam.

The next place the maha took up residence was back in the good old prasadam room. Now, the old broom closet was emptied out, cleaned up, shelved and thus became the new home of the maha prasadam. There was a big lock. There was no question of sliding your hand in. So it was burglar proof, right? Of course not. All you had to do was pull the pins out of the hinges and take the whole door off the cabinet. Admittedly, a rather bold move, the type which you only dare attempt in the night time.

As fate would have it, this was the time Maharaja decided we should have kirtan all night long. For some reason or other, Maharaja picked out two men for the job. Actually, I remember the reason quite well. Maharaja asked, “Who do we have around here who is useless?”

Answer: 1) your humble narrator and 2) the caturmasya drop out. Only in the spiritual world!

So there we were, the two topmost maha thieves on the farm and the all-night guard who was never averse to accepting maha and who always carried a pocket knife which was just suitable for popping out the hinge bolts. As he later disclosed to us, the first time it was very difficult to get the bolts out. But after he oiled them up and did it a few more times, things went very smoothly. In fact, he could flip all three pins out in about fifteen seconds. Prabhupada writes in one place that all you have to do is dance, chant Hare Krsna. and if you feel tired, take Krsna prasadam. So we immediately put this program into effect. Every once in a while we would feel tired and would take some prasadam.

One of the more joyous occasions that I can recall from that period was right during a kirtan. We never stopped singing. The guard pulled the pins while we were chanting. Hu brought tray after tray of maha out and placed them on the floor. We danced in a circle around the prasadam and had a feast. Then we put everything back and kept on chanting. Krsna never lets this sort of thing go on for long. By and by, we started to feel pretty guilty about the whole thing. So we stopped going for the maha. Instead, if we felt hungry, we’d go get some mung dahl. Anyway, we only had the job for a month or two and then it was turned over to Radhanatha, a truly saintly soul who never stole any maha, at least not while I was looking.

As for the maha cabinet, everyone got wise to the old pull the bolts routine pretty quick. I think it happened one day when they lost the key and everybody was in anxiety because they couldn’t get the maha out to serve it. All of a sudden, someone (maybe our friend the guard) stepped up and said, “No problem, look all you have to do is take these pins out…” There were some realizations at that time. So the next idea was to get a refrigerator and put a lock on it. This had the extra advantage of keeping the maha fresh, because in the summer, sometimes vegetable preparations turn sour in one day. Actually, we thought of that later.

First, we just locked up the maha in an old broken refrigerator and then later somebody came up with the idea of using one that was actually cold. That system has been carried out down to the present day, so it would seem a bit improper to get into any detailed description of how to burglarize it. Suffice it to say that, like all good maha cabinets, it is imperfect.

Anyhow, you can always try the old, “There’s a guest outside” routine. One of the best ways, though, of obtaining Radha-VrndavanCandra’s maha prasadam is to visit New Vrindaban as a guest. Of course, that’s a hard one to pull off if you happen to be living here.

Just Ask for the Prasadam Addict

But if you’re from another temple or from no temple at all, just come on by and I guarantee you’ll be amazed both by the quality and quantity of indescribably wonderful delicacies which will be showered upon you. And if somehow or other, you find some difficulty in obtaining all that you desire, look me up. Just stop any Brijabasi and ask him, “Where’s the prasadam addict?”

They know who I am.

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