By Taru dasa
Being addicted to Krishna prasadam is not the same as being addicted to anything else. Prasadam is completely spiritual and if anyone tastes it, he makes spiritual advancement. Still, if we eat too much and fail to control our senses that is not good for spiritual life.
Naturally, a devotee of Krishna wants to become free from material contamination. So there is always a kind of moral dilemma for a prasadam addict. He doesn’t want to eat too much. But at the same time, prasadam is so wonderful that there is no way to control yourself.
The only hope one is left with is the promise that if he only eats Krishna prasadam and nothing else, then Krishna will help him take less and less. As for myself, even that consolation seemed like a remote possibility. The whole situation was completely out of control. There was no question of returning to the old material world, where I was always miserable and given to attacks of suicidal depression. Nor did there appear in be any question of controlling my eating habits.
The superexcellent quality of the Lord’s prasadam did not help my predicament any. I used to imagine that if all there was to cut was something very simple, like porridge or plain rice, then after some lime, you wouldn’t want to eat too much. Instead, prasadam was always delicious and there was always some new fantastic preparation that 1 had never tasted before.
Take, for instance, the laddu. Who is there who can sufficiently describe the wondrous attributes of this illustrious sweet ball? One indication of the potency of this preparation is given by a famous painting of Krishna taking lunch near the Yamuna river. The Srimad-Bhagavatam describes how Krishna, surrounded by His cowherd boyfriends, appeared just like the whorl of a lotus flower and all the boys appeared like the leaves of the lotus. By Krishna’s mystic opulence, although the boys sat around Him in a large circle, each one of them was seeing Krishna face to face.
Busy Eating a Laddu
In the picture, all the boys look very ecstatic just to have this opportunity to sit and look at Krishna’s moon-like face. All of them are absorbed in looking at Krishna with great affection, except for one boy, who is busy eating a laddu.
This must surely be Madhumangala, who is mentioned in many Vaisnava books and songs as a great lover of laddus. Being a brahmana boy, he used to promise to give Krishna benedictions in exchange for laddus. So if a laddu is so potent as to be able to distract the attention of one of Krishna’s most intimate friends, who can calculate its effect upon an ordinary conditioned soul in the material world?
If it helps any, we can tell you that a laddu is made by slowly cooking chick pea flour in butter and then adding powdered sugar and sometimes nuts. But to describe the taste is impossible.
There is the wonderful richness of the butter, the tantalizing sweetness, the pleasant nutty flavor. But there is something else, the laddu-ness of it, which just isn’t comparable to anything. When you taste one, all you can do is say, “What is this?” And all anyone can do is tell you, “This, my friend, is a laddu”.
So although I was already totally addicted to prasadam, the first time I tasted a laddu, I developed a special fixation. This is one unique feature of prasadam addiction, that there is so much variety. You can be addicted in general, addicted to sweets, addicted to maha-prasad (that which is offered on the very plate the Lord eats from), addicted to taking the remnants of great devotees, or simply addicted to one of many thousands of different preparations.
I was addicted to everything, from the simple chapati to maha cheese-cake with cooked-down milk topping. But my affection for laddus surpassed everything else. Whenever there was any opportunity for obtaining laddus, I forgot all other considerations.
Once, the devotees prepared several hundred laddus to distribute at a college engagement. Unfortunately, not too many people showed up, so the bulk of them were returned It) New Vrindaban. They were stored away in I he back room of Maharaj’s cabin and were to he saved for the feast on the following Sunday.
When I found out there were a couple hundred laddus put away, my mind went berserk. Dreaming of laddus, hoping for laddus, remembering laddus, that was one thing. But to know there were hundreds of them just sitting there was too much to bear.
At this particular time in history, we used to take turns on guard duty. One person would stand watch during the night and also during the evening and morning temple program while all the devotees were in the temple. Now I’m not going to tell you that I betrayed my post by stealing into the laddu room when I was supposed to be on guard duty. I did think of it, but I wanted lo be a good guard.
What I did was wait until one of my God-brothers, who was also quite fond of laddus, was on duty, At 4:25 A.M., when all the devotees were in the temple just before mangala aratika, I slid outside into the darkness. No one was in sight except my friend who was to alert me in case of danger. I went up to the cabin and slid in through the back window, since the doors were locked.
Fumbling in The Darkness
There, in the darkness, I fumbled around. Finally, pushed under a small table, I discovered that the rumors I had heard were all true. My pulse quickened as I realized u hat I was holding in my hands a box of several hundred laddus. On top of the laddus were a couple layers of lugglus, another incredibly delicious sweet ball.
Having to move them aside anyways, I stuffed several dozen in a paper sack. Then I was down to the laddus. Layer after layer of firm, round laddus. I stuffed handfuls of them into the sack. Altogether, I got about a hundred laddus and twenty lugdus in the bag and then slipped out the window. After stashing the prize in the hayloft, I coasted back into the temple room in time for mangala aratik – a clean get-away.
For the rest of the day, I was in complete ecstasy. It was the culmination of a dream. At a Sunday feast, only once in a while there would be laddus. You might get two or three. Now there were a hundred. After the morning program, I returned to the hayloft accompanied by the guard who was now off-duty. We started tossing down the laddus, one after another, laughing a lot and feeling wonderfully exhilerated.
After we had eaten all we could, the bag was still over half full. We divided up the remainder and stuffed them into our pockets.
My next duty was to milk the cows. The boy who had been on guard duty was also a milker. In this way, the infamous “barn crew” came to develop a black reputation. The laddu caper was never really detected. After all, there were still plenty left in the box and nobody had really counted them the week before. But there were many similar episodes which were discovered and the barn boys were always suspected whenever anything was missing.
Generally speaking, they were right. It was somebody from the barn who had made off with the goods, although no one could ever find the evidence, which we always quickly consumed.
There we were in the barn squatting down to milk the cows, our pockets full of laddus. We used to have two boys on one cow. My milking partner was Radhanath (now Swami) and as he reached under to grab hold of a teat, I slid a laddu into his hand.
“Where did you get this?” he asked in amazement.
“Just eat it”, I told him. He didn’t ask any more questions. After five or six cows, my pockets were emptied. In this way, one of the largest prasadam crimes ever enacted in New Vrindaban got by unnoticed by the general mass of devotees.
The Biggest Crime
The biggest “crime” however, did not escape attention. In fact, it was this one bold maneuver which, more than any other incident, called all scorn and condemnation down upon the heads of the infamous barn crew. It was the unforgettable Rasa-Lila sweet rice caper.
Every year there is a nice festival to observe Krishna’s rasa dance with the gopis. As part of our tradition, a can of sweet rice is placed out in the woods for Krishna and His gopis and the next morning the devotees partake of these blessed remnants.
But, as a background to this tale, the substance of which any alert reader has already grasped, we must take a little time to glorify the celebrated sweet rice of New Vrindaban. If there is one preparation for which New Vrindaban is known, it would have to be sweet rice. You cook sweet rice by boiling milk with rice in it until the milk thickens up a little, not quite as much as condensed milk, just until it’s very creamy rich. Then you add a lot of sugar, two and a half cups per gallon.
Again, the mere description of those ingredients does nothing to convey the actual experience (if sweet rice. Srila Prabhupada writes in the Nectar of Devotion that sweet rice gets better the colder it is served. Everyone is attracted by ice cream. Even Srila Prabhupada was very fond of the ice cream devotees made for him, especially mango, though we can hardly imagine that he ever had any ice cream all the years he lived in India. But still, cold sweet rice is much more ecstatic than ice cream. One Maharaj has many times commented that “It isn’t a feast if there’s no sweet rice”. Why New Vrindaban sweet rice is so incredible has to do with the fact that this was the first ISKCON farm. So, while other temples were cooking with A&P milk, which undeniably undergoes some transformation on its way from the cow to the store, we were using real, live milk from Krishna’s own cows.There was no competition. I remember that in my first few weeks at the city temple, I had tasted sweet rice and liked it, but it didn’t really stand out in my mind the way some other preparations did. When I first came to New Vrindaban, I was working with a boy who was very much opposed to eating too much sugar.
So, at the Sunday feast, when they served out sweet rice, I wouldn’t take any since I wasn’t too attached to it. When the other devotees saw this, they would ask me to accept my share of it and then give it to them, which I was glad to do. After all, I was always receiving so much from others, so I welcomed this opportunity to give something back to them.
After a few weeks though, I became intrigued to see just how much everyone else liked the sweet rice. At first, I hadn’t noticed it. But as weeks went by, I started to see that the sweet rice was the most sought-after preparation at the feast. And there was so much of it! In the city, they prepared a little pot full, about a gallon or so, for some twenty devotees.
But here at New Vrindaban, there was a big ten gallon milk can full of sweet rice. Everyone had huge sized bowls and would fill them up two or three times with sweet rice. I had to find out what the meaning of all this was.
Sweet Rice Glories
I had already given away my first helping. But when the server came back, I accepted another bowl and kept it to myself. What I tasted had nothing at all to do with my memories of city sweet rice. This was so cold it lowered your body temperature about ten degrees at once, so sweet that it made your teeth hurt and so delicious that anyone would be content to eat nothing but sweet rice and ignore the rest of the feast.
Actually, I have done that on occasion. One time I stayed in the temple long after the devotees had gone to the feast. When I came outside. they had finished taking prasadam, although a lot was left over. The first thing I saw was a bucket with about three gallons of sweet rice. I filled my bowl up and downed it all at once. It was especially wonderful that week and I took a quick refill. Then another and another.
Now usually it was pretty hard lo keep count of how much I ate. Most of the time I couldn’t remember, or even imagine how much prasadam I had taken into my body. But on this particular day, there was nothing else on my plate to distract me, there was no server coming around now and then. It was just me and the bucket full of sweet rice. So I distinctly remember keeping track, up to fourteen bowls. Each bowlful was about twelve ounces. So twelve times fourteen is one hundred sixty-eight ounces, or about five quarts, which is the most sweet rice I can remember swallowing at one sitting.
Srila Prabhupada tasted the sweet rice here in 1974 and said, “I haven’t had anything like I his in sixty years”.
It was also commonly accepted that Sriman Amburisha prabhu, our premier sweet rice cook, makes the best sweet rice in all the three worlds. And hundreds and thousands of ISKCON devotees, initiated bhramanas and first-class Vaisanavas, who have come from all parts of the world to visit New Vrindaban, have all given their testimony that they have never lasted sweet rice like ours anywhere.
This will maybe give the reader some appreciation for the glory and splendor of the sweet rice of New Vrindaban, although unit unfortunately, it cannot begin to give him any conception at all of its actual taste. For further information, please visit New Vrindaban.
As we were saying earlier, the can of sweet rice was put out into the woods the night of Rasa-lila. Our schedule was to milk the cows while everyone else was taking breakfast and then eat breakfast later. So as we were getting ready to milk, we were naturally discussing the fact that there was going to be some sweet rice for breakfast.
Band of Burglars
Some anxiety was expressed that there might not be any left by the time we got done. Actually, it often happened that there was little or no breakfast when we got done milking. Maybe this was one reason that the barn crew turned out to be such a band of burglars. Anyway, upon hearing our comments, the illustrious president of our community, whose name we shall not mention, out of respect for his high post, and who also worked in the barn during these questionable years.
“You mean you guys didn’t take it? Last year in New York, Sudhanu and I ripped off all the sweet rice!”
Taking this as a direct instruction, two of us directly ran off to the prasadam room. I explained to the servers that we were going to save the sweet rice until lunch. No one objected and at least fifty devotees watched us take the milk can past them, although I don’t know if they realized what was in it. At least no one realized what was going on.
There was no such thing as a refrigerator anywhere in New Vrindaban at the time. To keep the sweet rice cold, you had to stick the cans in a little pond the stream flowed through. As soon as the two of us got the can down to the pond, out of sight of everyone, we popped the top off and guzzled to our hearts, tongues and stomachs content.
I believe this was the second greatest quantity of sweet rice I ever consumed. When we were full, we filled up a three gallon milk pail and carried it to the barn where the rest of the milkers feasted. It just so happened that Radhanath had been chosen to serve out the huge plate of Deity sweets, which was also offered on the altar the night before. Radhanath had split the offering in two, half for the barn and half for everyone else. So we had quite a feast going.
Suddenly, a couple of irate devotees stormed into the barn. Seeing them coming, I slid the bucket of sweet rice under a cow and began to pretend I was milking her. But they were not after the sweet rice. You see what Radhanath had done was to place one of the sweets in each devotee’s maha bowl, so it all got mixed in with their regular daily quota.
No one understood that they had already received some of the Rasa-Lila sweets. So when they asked, “Where are the remnants from last night’s feast?”, all that could be answered was, “They were given to Radhanath to be served out”.
Although we explained that actually they had already-gotten some, the devotees weren’t buying it. I think it was then that they begun to question the whereabouts of the sweet rice. Anyhow, it was starting to get hot. So after finishing off the three gallons of sweet rice, we brought back what was left in the can.
Nobody ever forgave us for that one. The next year the devotee in charge threatened that if anything happened to the sweet rice, he was going to have something drastic happen to all of us. Two years later, I was living at the other farm with the brahmacaris. I cooked the sweet rice, hid it in the woods and told Parambrahma where it was.
The next day, though, he forgot all about it. So at breakfast, they were asking where the sweet rice was and immediately they were ready to have me lynched. Three years later, I also cooked the batch and divided it amongst three farms. I put it all in the water to be cooled and went up lop to Vrindaban. What happened then was that the president of Madhuban, where there were twenty devotees, took the bucket intended for Bahulaban, where there were about sixty devotees.
Again, I was immediately blamed. Only during recent years, where there has been an influx of one or two hundred new devotees who weren’t around then, have I been able to escape the reaction for that initial offense.
One additional tale will further elucidate the character of the notorious barn crew. We used lo have a couple parties of incense salesmen out on the road. Now when they would return home, it was a well-known fact that there would be some goodies stashed away in the vehicle. This was usually in the form of fruit, nuts, honey or peanut butter, which for some reason was very much sought after by us neophytes.
I haven’t taken any of that stuff in ages, but it used to be a major craving. On Ekadasi, we would regularly prepare peanut butter burfi. Now, burfi is a most wonderful preparation, made only of pure milk and sugar, which is cooked down until it forms a white, soft, solid candy, which is much more sublime and relishable than the materialistic version which has been given the gross name “fudge”.
Peanut butter burfi, on the other hand, consisted of peanut butter, scraped out of five-gallon cans and mixed with enough milk to enable you to stir it a little bit. Sugar is added and the whole sticky substance is molded into squares. Still, we used to go crazy for it.
As the community has advanced in Krishna consciousness, however, this penchant for peanut butter has completely disappeared. At the time, peanut butter was more sought after than gold. On one particular occasion, I raided the back of an incense-man’s truck and came back to the barn with not only a half-full tub of peanut butter, but also about half a quart of honey. We mixed the two together and placed it on the hot plate to warm it all up.
Now it was about ten o’clock in the morning and we were finished milking the cows. The barn was empty and we were cleaning up, waiting for the peanut butter and honey to get cooked. Nobody but nobody would ever come into the barn when the cows were out. A local sannyasi used to come by regularly during every milking, and a few devotees would come in often to check out the cows. But no one ever came to visit the empty barn.
Just to prove that Krishna is in everyone’s heart and is giving all instructions to His pure devotee, Maharaj walked right into the barn at that time. For some reason or other, everyone saw him coming except for me. I was standing there all alone and my lower jaw must have dropped about a foot.
Caught by The Boss
Not only did Maharaj walk in for apparently no reason, but without even blinking an eye, he marched right over to the obscure corner of the room where the hot plate was. Not only did he walk right up to the hot plate, but he immediately looked into the can.
Then he shot a fiery glance at me and demanded,“What is THIS?”
What could I say? I had to answer him and I here was nothing to tell him but what he already knew.
“It’s peanut butter, Maharaj”.
“What’s it doing here?”
“We’re heating it up, Maharaj”. (I said “we” although it was ridiculously obvious that I was the only one in the barn).
“Oh, for the cows?” (How long was this painful interrogation to go on?)
“No, Maharaj, it’s for the cowherd boys”.
“That’s MAYA! He roared and sharply turned and strode out of the barn.
Nevertheless, although I should never have touched it, I dove right into the old peanut butter as soon as Maharaj was out of sight. What’s more, I figured that since I had taken the whole rap for the affair, I was entitled to all the spoils myself.
I had eaten about three-quarters of what was in there by the time the other boys had figured out that it was safe to return. They wrenched the can out of my hands and polished off the rest, all the while laughing and asking me what Maharaj had said.
As I left the barn, I felt pretty sad. I hadn’t enjoyed the peanut butter and honey at all. Actually, I thought it was Krishna’s special arrangement to take the enjoyment away. If Maharaj hadn’t come in, I would have thought I was enjoying like anything. As it turned out, I was simply lamenting my inability to follow his instructions and please him.
Maharaj often gave us the example of how Srila Prabhupada would tell the early devotees how to quit smoking. “Instead of smoking two packs a day, just smoke two cigarettes. And when you do that, you should be thinking how much this is displeasing to my spiritual master”. Maharaj tolerated us in that way. He knew he couldn’t expect too much from us.
But he never compromised the philosophy. From the beginning, he only spoke of the goal we were to achieve: to give up all sense gratification, even the desire for sense gratification, and to learn to completely control the senses. Inside, he may have been laughing at our childishness, but he never Jet on like that. He always preached sternly.
Still, we were always provided with plenty of prasadam. You could eat as much as you wanted, but you were never free to think that it was alright.
So we all had an incredible desire to obtain prasadam by any means, especially the barn crew. But there was also, somewhere, deep inside maybe, often completely covered over, but still continuing on, some burning desire to control the senses and become just like Srila Prabhupada.