Q. It is said that to receive the full merit on Ekadasi one has to fast from food and water and stay awake all night. This is quite difficult, so how can a devotee get the full benefit of Ekadasi if he or she is not able to do this? Since Ekadasi begins at sunrise can one eat grains before sunrise on that day?
A. You can get the full benefit of Ekadasi by following the directives of a satguru. Guru and scripture ask all devotees to fast from grains. This will please Hari and guru very much, but of course you can gain more devotional merit by fasting from all food and water and by staying awake all night chanting Hari Nama. However, one should only observe such added austerities if this promotes your remembrance of Hari and time spent glorifying him. This is what Ekadasi is all about.
Yes, technically one can eat grains before Ekadasi begins, but traditionally this is not done. Indeed, Hari-bhakti-vilasa speaks of beginning one’s fasting the night before Ekadasi.
Ekadasi: The Day of God
Q. I heard a tape of you singing Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s song “Kali-kukkura” (Prabhati-gita). To me your singing sounded “nomadic,” which in this case is a word that might not make sense to some people. What I mean by this is that your bhajans have a unique quality that is very authentic, a quality uninhibited by the environment. Do you plan on making your bhajans available to the public?
A. My first kirtana CD called Audarya Seva is now available to the public through Audarya Audio, and I will take your comment on my singing as a compliment—nomadic sounding. Vraja as a verb means “to go.” The residents of Vrindavana (Vrajavasis) could be considered nomadic. They are on the “go.” The Sanskrit word “go” means cow. The Vrajavasis with their cows moved from Gokula to Vrindavana for greener grasses and the advantages of Go-vardhana hill. To become residents of Vraja, we will have to be nomadic as well. We will have to move from the plane of exploitation to the plane of dedication. Furthermore, to experience our changeless nature we must be willing to change. In material life the endless cycle of birth and death forces us to move and change regardless, but when we move from here (material life) in consideration of going there (to Vraja), we are moving in the right direction. Otherwise merely moving within the material world is to follow the call of the wild, the senses (go)—another sense of “being on the go.”
Q. I’m a vegan so I don’t eat any animal products. I question the need to offer milk products to Krishna because of the horrendous things modern factory farming does to cows in order to make them produce more milk. Most of the milk served today comes from these farms where cows are slaughtered when their milk production diminishes. Considering this, it seems to me that it would be better if devotees did not support the factory farming system by using milk products. My question is does one have to drink milk or offer milk to Krishna in order to be a devotee?
A. Scripture says that Krishna is fond of milk products. Still, one does not have to drink milk or offer milk to Krishna in order to be a devotee. Bhagavad-gita says, patram puspam phalam toyam, that if one offers to Krishna with devotion a leaf, flower, water, or fruit, then he will accept it. The main ingredient mentioned in this verse is devotion, bhaktya prayacchati. It is the bhakti in the offering that satisfies Krishna. Therefore, if someone refrains from offering milk to Krishna because of conscientious objections over inhumane dairy farming methods, there is no harm.
On the other hand, I don’t believe that all devotees should be mandated to boycott milk in opposition to factory farming; rather they should follow their conscience in this regard. However, I do feel that whenever possible devotees should avoid buying milk from companies that grossly mistreat cows, even if milk from more humane companies is costlier. Here at Audarya our cows provide all of our milk products. Fortunate are those who can alter their lifestyles to have the same situation. Otherwise, one does not necessarily need to offer and consume milk in order to practice devotional service. A person can be vegan and still be a devotee of Krishna, but he or she should aspire to be a bhakta first and foremost, and a vegan, vegetarian, fruitarian, or whatever second. A bhakta is a person who values devotion above all else.
Q. Devotees are supposed to offer whatever they eat to Krishna beforehand. It’s a nice principle to offer everything, but I wonder how the Deity feels about being offered foods not mentioned in scripture such as tofu burgers or chocolate. Does he just accept the sentiment of letting Krishna eat first?
A. This is an interesting question. I don’t remember reading that Krishna does not eat chocolate or tofu. I can assure you that he has eaten them. How can I say this? Because scripture says that he accepts vegetarian food that is offered to him in love. Of course, one can argue that there is more bhakti in offering him things that one knows he likes to eat, things mentioned in sastra. While this may be helpful for bhajana at some point, we have the example of the most merciful Sanatana Goswami, who offered unleavened bread with no salt to his Deity Madana-Mohana because this was all he could come up with in terms of ingredients. Madana-Mohana did of course ask for salt at some point, but even without salt he relished Sanatana Prabhu’s offerings because the offerings were made with love. One can still get that unsalted bread at Sanatana Goswami’s bhajana kutira at the Madana-Mohana temple in Vrindavana, where devotees have been offering it to the Deity of Krishna for the last 500 years. The lesson is that if we lovingly offer food to Krishna that has been made from ingredients readily available, Krishna will eat.
In some places such as the Jagannatha temple in Puri, foods that were not growing in India when Sri Krishna was present are not offered, including green chilies. However, Pujyapada Sridhara Maharaja commented on this saying that this idea was more or less a physical conception. There are now many vegetables readily available in India that originally came from other parts of the world. These include eggplant, tomatoes, and potatoes, all of which came from the Americas. We see that Krishna adapted his eating habits to the many cultures that exist within India. In the South he seldom gets chapattis; in the North rice is rare; in Punjab he is offered corn rotis. Jagannatha means “Lord of the Universe” not just “Lord of India”; therefore, why wouldn’t Jagannatha adapt his eating habits to other cultures? After all, bhakti is what he truly eats.
Many years ago when I first visited Italy the devotees there served me many wonderful pasta dishes. I commented that their offerings were delicious, but they replied that they only offer these dishes to visitors because they had been taught to only offer Indian cuisine to the Deity of Krishna. I suggested they reconsider, as I doubt their version of Indian cuisine was quite as palatable as their pasta.
Q. Didn’t Srila Prabhupada write that devotees should not eat chocolate?
A. I found one letter in which Srila Prabhupada wrote that devotees should not eat chocolate because it was an intoxicant. However, in a letter written later by his secretary, who had asked him as to whether chocolate could be offered to the Deity, the response was “Yes, if it was not intoxicating.” Thus the perennial debate among Srila Prabhupada’s disciples about eating chocolate. Once in San Francisco, Srila Prabhupada noticed that one of his householder disciples was eating a chocolate bar, which she then tried to hide. Prabhupada asked, “You are not offering me any?” She smiled and offered it to him and he ate some. Afterwards word spread that devotees could eat chocolate, but later when the devotees became abusive, eating it in excess, Srila Prabhupada told them not to eat it. The main concern about chocolate is its intoxicating properties, but to be affected by that one would have to eat quite a lot. Other items such as sugar, ghee, certain spices, and honey are also potentially intoxicating and addictive substances. Among these honey has the added complication of being made by bees who use their long tube like tongues to suck the nectar out of flowers that they store in their special “honey stomachs.” Gathering bees return to the hive and pass the nectar to worker bees that then chew the nectar until it becomes honey. But in spite of the fact that it passes through the mouths and stomachs of bees and has intoxicating qualities, honey is regularly offered to Krishna in Vaisnava temples. Indeed, the Bhagavatam says that Balarama drinks “Varuni,” an intoxicating beverage sometimes said to be made from honey.
Scripture tells us that Balarama and Krishna do take intoxicants, like pan, honey, and other such items. Most Gaudiya Vaisnavas do not use pan, but pan is offered to Krishna in many Vaisnava temples. As for eating chocolate, do not eat it in excess and it will not hurt your bhakti, but if you are addicted to it, that is a problem. In general I believe it is best to avoid it altogether other than perhaps in the form of hot chocolate made with milk and whipped cream, which is delicious. While speaking of mixed devotion, Bhagavad-gita says that whatever you eat should be offered to Krishna. One has to start somewhere. Start with the spirit of offering and everything else will follow in due course.