Spiritual Vegetarianism and Krishna Prasadam

In this material world, all living beings are part of a food chain; one is food for another. Of all the links in that chain, humans uniquely have the developed consciousness required to question life’s purpose, explore life’s spiritual dimension, make educated moral and ethical choices, conduct research into the existence of a Supreme Being, and to make menu choices based on considerations beyond hunger and taste preference.

Traditional spiritual wisdom supports the view that higher intelligence carries with it a greater degree of responsibility. Vedic teachings especially say that human beings’ eating habits are uniquely subject to laws of karma, right and wrong. This is why human societies generally set guidelines for what can and can’t be eaten. Most genuine spiritual traditions also recommend making offerings of food in gratitude—sacrifice—to the natural and supernatural forces giving us life.

For example, those following the path of Krishna-bhakti, approaching the Supreme Person in the mood of devotional service, offer their food to the Supreme Person before eating. Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita that if we eat things that haven’t been offered in sacrifice, we’re liable to be punished for eating other living beings. But He also says that offering everything we eat to the Supreme Person—Krishna Himself—frees us from karmic reaction. Such offerings need not be elaborate or costly; Krishna accepts even a leaf, a fruit, a flower, and water if offered with love.

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Krishna categorizes meat, fish and eggs in the mode of ignorance—not meant for human consumption—so they are never to be offered to Krishna. The vegetarianism of Krishna’s devotees is a by-product of their spiritual commitment; their goal isn’t to avoid meat but to please Krishna. They take vows to avoid eating meat, fish and eggs not only because such things aren’t offerable to Krishna, but eating them also severely diminishes one’s capacity for mercy and for perceiving spiritual reality.

Scriptures like the Srimad-Bhagavatam and Chaitanya Charitamrita contain descriptions of some of the many wonderful dishes Krishna’s devotees offer Him, and cooks in Krishna temples today strive to prepare the finest offerings for Krishna’s pleasure based on such writings. Cooking is one of the most essential devotional arts of the Krishna-bhakti tradition, and many who have tasted such extraordinary devotional cooking credit that dining experience with inspiring them to pursue a more spiritual lifestyle.

Krishna devotees maintain high standards in cooking. They prepare and offer meals to Krishna, with gratitude and affection, and eat only after the offering ceremony is complete. Food offered to Krishna becomes spiritualized by Krishna’s glance, and is then called prasadam, the “mercy of God.”

The food we eat replenishes our body’s cells, so on a purely physical level we literally are what we eat. And the quality of consciousness with which our food is prepared affects us in deeper ways. Those who only eat Krishna-prasadam are freed from all karma and get profound spiritual benefit.