Chocolate – the nectar for which we are always anxious?
By Sita-pati das
A Prabhupada Nectar Story
“For me, personally, the definitive Prabhupada take on chocolate comes from an anecdote reported by Vyoma:” One devotee had recently joined the temple in India. He recalls that he was addicted to eating chocolate, even though he knew that devotees did not take it. One day he had just bought a chocolate bar and was walking down a corridor in the temple with it in his hand. Suddenly, to his horror, he saw Srila Prabhupada coming down the corridor in the opposite direction. Looking around desperately for an escape he realized that there was nowhere to go. Thinking on his feet he quickly stuffed the chocolate bar into his bead bag. As Srila Prabhupada approached, the devotee offered his obeisances. Srila Prabhupada glanced benevolently at him. As the devotee rose he saw that Srila Prabhupada’s gaze did not rise: he continued to look at the floor. Looking down, the devotee was aghast to see that the chocolate bar had fallen from his bead bag as he had bowed down.
“Hmmm? What is this?” asked Srila Prabhupada, reaching down and picking up the chocolate bar. He examined it slowly, turning it to and fro. Finally he arched his eyebrows at the devotee: “Oh, we do not eat these things!” He put his hand on the devotee’s shoulder in a fatherly way and said, “We have so many nice sweets that we offer to Krishna. You do not know how to make them? Come with me.” Taking the devotee with him he went downstairs to the temple kitchen, where he proceeded to personally cook and instruct him how to make halava. When Srila Prabhupada had finished preparing it he offered it and personally gave it to the devotee to take.
Chocolate and Caffeine – two great tastes that taste great together
Generally, it seems, devotees consider that “we should not eat chocolate because it contains caffeine”. Since I always knew it didn’t contain caffeine, I never thought this. My understanding of why we don’t eat chocolate is based on a number of other considerations.
First of all, although chocolate does not contain caffeine, it contains other chemicals, such as theobromine, which *are* stimulants. At my work they provide chocolate, coffee, and Coca-cola to the employees to help them to work. These three things stimulate the body and mind and help the mode of passion to flow. Some of my co-workers are caught in such a dependency cycle that they cannot function without caffeine in the morning. While chocolate does not contain caffeine, it is part of this group of foodstuffs, taken for their stimulating effect rather than their nutritional one. Chocolate is well known as an aphrodisiac, and advertising for chocolate accurately reflects and plays on this.
Krishna baro doya moy…sva prasada anna dilo bhai
Devotees are about developing Krishna Consciousness, not simply enjoying “pleasurable” sensations. It is said that the tongue is the most difficult of the senses to control, and therefore Krishna has mercifully given us His prasadam to control it. Devotees therefore take the remnants of foodstuffs offered to Krishna as their sustenance. Except in unusual circumstances where they need to maintain their body for service and have no other recourse, devotees who are advanced in Krishna Consciousness and those who are serious aspirants to attaining that experience and realization do not offer foodstuffs that have been prepared by non-devotees, whether karmis, jnanis, yogis, or machines
(operated by non-devotees). Instead, devotees prepare something according to their means and offer it with love and devotion.
Buying a chocolate bar prepared by non-devotees and offering it in order to make it “bonafide” does not fit within this. Cadbury, Nestle, and Lindt will never be bonafide! (hammers fist on lectern, Adolf Hitler-style). It may be that a devotee has trouble controlling the tongue and does indulge the senses by taking chocolate, but this is a devotee having trouble and indulging the senses. We can acknowledge it with understanding and compassion without altering our standard, or condemning the person.
Another Prabhupada anecdote
Srila Prabhupada was neither liberal nor conservative. He was concerned about creating a favourable environment for the progressive cultivation of Krishna Consciousness. While discussing the Krishna Balarama mandir guesthouse Srila Prabhupada told devotees to provide a room for people who were addicted to smoking. Whenever they saw someone smoking, they were to tell them: “Dear sir, please go to the smoking room.” In this way Srila Prabhupada acknowledged people’s conditioning and created a concessionary position which did not change the core values of the organisation.
In this way, while we may not be about Taliban-style fanaticism, neither are we about losing clarity about our ideals, and our institutional standards. Ok, so people do eat chocolate. It’s not going to kill anyone or necessarily send them to hell. At the same time it’s probably good to retain the understanding that we should be working towards giving it up by developing a taste for things associated with Krishna. Our ideal is the bhava of Madhavendra Puri, who ate a clay pot because of its association with Krishna, and Raghunatha das Goswami, who would eat the blackened rice remnants of Lord Jagannatha. Or for me, personally, the devotee lady in the early days who ate the discarded remnants of the Sunday feast while crying.
Cooking the raw cocoa beans that are used to make chocolate and making chocolate from scratch to offer to the Deities, either at the temple or at home, is another avenue.
This was not done in the time of Srila Prabhupada, and now it is reportedly being said that “since Srila Prabhupada was incorrectly told that chocolate contained caffeine, now that we know that it doesn’t, we can cook it”. I’m a little concerned with the underlying subtext: “Srila Prabhupada was misinformed about X, therefore let us now change Y.” That’s a dangerous path to start down whatever the case, but especially if it’s combined with: “Actually, we rather like the idea of doing Y”.
As mentioned previously, however, while there is no “caffeine”, there is no doubt that chocolate does contains stimulants that modify our neurochemistry and that it creates dependency. It’s not sattvic. I know this for a fact. I sometimes use the chocolate at work to stay awake. It does function to keep me awake to keep up with my mode-of-passion-infused, caffeine-fired, late-rising co-workers, but I don’t think it is so good for my Krishna Consciousness, or my figure. It’s not as strong as the coffee or Coca-cola that they take, but there is no doubt in my mind that it is a stimulant, and a reliever of anxiety; in fact it’s precisely because of this that I take it in this situation. For the first year at this job I just gritted my teeth and fell asleep at my desk. I got by without it. Once you give in to it the first time, however, it starts to call out to you: “Take me, I’m yours”. You find that you start to justify giving more concessions to it just a little more with each passing week.
That’s what goes on in my workplace. I don’t take it outside work or when I am not nodding off at my workstation after a late night and an early morning. Outside the workplace I have greater access to prasadam, and can take a nap if I need it. It’s just a fact of life that working a full-time job amongst non-devotees exposes you to all types of situations that are not the ideal, and I’m not in ecstasy about it, or clamouring to have it rubber stamped as “bonafide” Vaisnava-acara. However, when I go to one of our temples I expect to get some relief from that. My hope is to be exposed to the highest ideals of Krishna Consciousness, to see my highest aspiration manifest. How many people rave about our halava? We even have a term: “Halava Bhakta”, for someone who became a devotee because of halava. Ours is a “cultural conquest”. We have so many nice sweets that can be prepared and offered to Krishna, and that can help people to appreciate a more sattvic alternative to their present culture and lifestyle. Distinctive flavours and exotic ingredients.
I would become despondent to come to a temple and see chocolate bars for sale, or Coke or soft drinks in the fridge, or have to tell my four year old son that he can’t have any of the “karmi icrecream” when it’s served out during prasadam. It will be a sad day when we have to avoid the temple in order to maintain our personal standards. We need to be able to go there to get relief and be uplifted. Please, we are already being heavily attacked on one side.
To me it seems unnecessary to prepare chocolate. Why “accept something from them”, when we should be “offering them the positive alternative”? Where is the need to do this? For so many years during Srila Prabhupada’s manifest presence and afterwards, we have not admitted chocolate in the organisation. Has there been some great loss to our missionary effectiveness because of this? Or just to our need to feel that we are ok in our desire for sense experiences disconnected from Krishna?
Purity is the Force
I think that all chocolate should be offered to Krishna, outside the temple environment. This will be favourable to making advancement. And that advancement should lead us to giving chocolate up. Srila Prabhupada told one alcoholic to think that “Krishna is the taste of the wine”. He didn’t endorse drinking it, however. Austerity is the wealth of the brahmanas. People want to see that we are different, that we are offering something different. Not that we are the same as everyone else, addicted to a program dictated by our senses, controlled by the sense objects. As Srila Prabhupada said when he saw Syamasundara Prabhu’s packet of cigarettes sitting on top of the deity of Lord Jagannatha that he was carving: “Such a small thing that keeps us from Krishna”.
Perhaps I should have started this article by saying: “Hi, I’m Sita-pati, and I eat chocolate.” Having made my confession that I eat chocolate, I now intend to figure out some other strategy to stay awake at work, one that doesn’t have the attendant consequences that eating chocolate has. I’m not a Vaisnava, but I understand to some degree what one is, and I’d like to work toward that gradually and realistically. We may not be there yet, but let’s keep working toward getting there, and not try to move the goal posts back to where we are to make ourselves feel like we’re getting closer, or in fact, have nowhere to go. Let people eat chocolate as they wish, but please don’t endorse it in the organisation. I don’t believe that Srila Prabhupada wanted that, whether he was misinformed about its caffeine content or not.
Sita-pati “irregularly eats chocolate but feels guilty, and votes to keep it banned” das