Q&As Prasadam
16 April 2009

April 16 2009

Here’s a good question about prasadam from Padmanabha prabhu at Govinda Valley, a highly successful yoga retreat center run by devotees an hour south of Sydney Australia.

“As you know at Govinda Valley we cook first class prasadam for our guests, which they greatly appreciate.

govindas-prasadam.jpg

Its a real art though to cook the right quantities. On the one hand we don’t want to waste and on the other hand we don’t want (not even) one guest to go without. Because there’s all kinds of different groups, some very yoga who eat very little, others who eat much more, the kind of weather it is, etc.. etc… So many factors that make it really difficult to discern how much to cook.

We have many discussions about it and have very different opinions about what should be done with leftovers. Some say : Srila Prabhupada said that after two, three hours one shouldn’t eat the prasadam anymore and one should definitely not warm up prasadam.

So I wanted to ask you for clarification: ‘How did Prabhupada deal with:
-the amounts to cook?
-what to do with leftovers?
-how long can you keep eating the same prasadam?

At the moment we have ‘a standard’ on non retreat days that we cook every day fresh but add to it prasadam maximum one day old and maximum one time reheated. On retreat days we can turn a kichari or a sabji into a blended soup, if its from the same day. But we still have discussions and differences of opinions.

Can you help us out, Prabhu?
Thank you very much.

Your servant,
Padmanabha Dasa
Govinda Valley Retreat
www.govindavalley.com

Answer:

This is a good question about how prasadam left overs should be used. There is an interesting story in this connection.

In 1975 the whole Caitanya Caritamrta was published. In Australia we received it a little later than other places but we read it eagerly. After the GBC Madhudvisa Swami read about the reactions to offenses to prasadam, he decided on a new policy for Sunday feast left-overs. This does not mean the prasadam that was left in the pots. It means the prasadam that visitors left over on their plates.

The previous policy was to dump it in bins and then take it to the ocean and throw it in the sea for the fishes to eat. We had been doing this for many years. When I joined in 1972 in Sydney, we used to take a dustbin full out to the Gap or some other such cliff top place, crawl out along a ledge so we were directly above the ocean and then dump the bin’s contents, paper plates and all, into the sea.

gap-sydney.jpg

It was difficult to separate the food from the plates so we used to throw the lot in. However it was troublesome and, apart from the guilty feelings of dumping garbage into the sea, we were always apprehensive about being caught.

Sometimes we would bury the leftovers in a shallow pit in the back yard. After the pit was full we would cover it with earth. That seemed to work quite well and in fact, we noticed after some months that the place where the remnants had been buried became very luxurious with fresh green grass growing, whereas the rest of the yard was usually dry and barren.

Anyway, in Melbourne in 1975 Madhudvisa decided that it was an offense to throw away prasadam, even if it had been already eaten by karmis at the feast. So his new policy was that on Monday morning, all the left overs, including the remnants from the visitors plates, would be put on trays, re-heated and served out for breakfast.

Needless to say this was the cause of much contention and debate with some devotees flatly refusing to eat it.

Their rationale was that while the food was prasadam, the saliva from the mouths of the karmis was not. Others felt that the refusniks were seeing prasadam in a material way and were being offensive (not too many took this position). They took the transcendental position and felt that any prasadam is purifying no matter who or what had handled it.

Some referred to a famous story about Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura and his disciples who had prepared some prasadam for a feast. A dog came up and ate some of it, so the disciples felt that it all had to be thrown away. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta went forward and ate the same prasadam that the dog had touched, thus demonstrating that prasadam can never become contaminated (you’d have to check the details of this story but this is the gist of it).

And there is the story of Srila Raghunatha dasa, who used to collect the rotten remnants of Jagannatha prasadam, even the refuse that the cows refused to eat, and then wash it and eat the tiny kernals of rice that were left.

I don’t know how the story ended in Melbourne because I moved to India right after that. I went to live in Vrndavana and became the temple commander there. Then Srila Prabhupada came for the Janmastami through Radhastami festivals.

The first day he arrived we all went into his room for darshan. He recognized me from Australia and asked me how things were going there. So I took advantage to ask about the prasadam issue in Melbourne. I asked whether Madhudvisa’s policy was correct or were the devotees who refused to eat the leftovers correct.

Srila Prabhupada thought for a moment and then told me that it was a question of realization. Devotees should not be forced to eat the left overs if they didn’t want to and there was no offense on their part for doing so. But if someone did eat them, that was fine also because it is prasadam and cannot be contaminated.

So as far as the devotees living on the property go, it should be left to them to decide what leftovers they will eat or not. There is no restriction on reheating prasadam leftovers as far as I know, and most temples do this. Only maha-prasadam should be taken as it is, and not reheated, the idea being that the remnants that come directly from the Lord’s plate should be taken as His mercy and exactly as they are, and not as a matter of taste.

Now, as far as your dilema with your guests goes, I think you have to be practical. First of all, because you are charging your guests for the food you supply, you may be governed by the local food health laws, which are generally quite strict. They may not allow you to reheat food and serve it out again. And you may find that your mixing fresh cooked food with reheated food into a soup blend is also in contravention to the health laws. So you should ascertain what you can do legally first and I think this should be your main guideline.

If there is no law governing this, then it seems to me that a ‘one day’ policy is OK, provided that the left over prasadam is kept under proper preservation conditions. You have to be very careful that noone gets food poisoning, or diarrhoea, or salmonella poisoning or whatever. If you have an outbreak of hepatitis or some other disease due to serving foodstuffs that have gone off (materially speaking), your reputation will be ruined and noone will take your prasadam after that.

The bottom line is use some commonsense. After all, if some prasadam is left over, you can simply dump it on some area of the property for the animals and insects to eat, and they will get the benefit. Or you can bury it etc. Some living entity will get the benefit.

I hope this is of some help (let me know what you decide).

Your humble servant,
Hari-sauri dasa



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