Food For Life or Food For Death?


Please help by sharing these articles on facebook:

(This was originally written by me sometime around 2001.)

The following article has been written in response to claims by several senior ISKCON leaders that distribution of prasadam to poor people is an offense to Srila Prabhupada and is against his wishes (hence they have given it the name “Food For Death”). For those who do not have the time to go through the entire article, I have included a few quotes at the top to at least balance the accusations made by these people. For anyone who is interested to know the truth of the matter, I request you to read through this entire article, as these ISKCON leaders have been using deception to mislead the public on this subject.

Introductory Quotes

“Those who think that devotion to God and kindness to the jivas are mutually different from each other, and perform accordingly in their life, such persons will not be able to follow the devotional culture. Their performance is only a semblance of devotion. Therefore, all the types of beneficence to others, like kindness, friendliness, forgiveness, charity, respect, etc. are included in Bhakti. Charity of medicines, clothes, food, water, etc. shelter during adversities, teaching of academic and spiritual education, etc. are the activities included in the devotional culture” – Bhaktivinoda Thakura

“Please accept my blessings. I am in due receipt of your letter dated June 25, 1975 and have noted the contents. The Gurukula and poor feeding programs should be developed and it will make us very popular.” – Srila Prabhupada

“The rich man should distribute prasadam through Krishna consciousness to the poor man, and the poor man should not be envious of the rich man. Then there will be happiness prosperity.” – Srila Prabhupada

“It is the duty of a householder to feed first of all the children, the old members of the family, the brahmanas and the invalids. Besides that, an ideal householder is required to call for any unknown hungry man to come and dine before he himself goes to take his meals. He is required to call for such a hungry man thrice on the road. The neglect of this prescribed duty of a householder, especially in the matter of the old men and children, is unpardonable.” – Srila Prabhupada

“That prasadam is also Isa [God]. The prasadam accepted by Krishna, offered to Krishna, is also Krishna. So if we give prasadam, then he is getting the opportunity of associating with Krishna. This is our idea. But people very much appreciate poor-feeding. So that, you can take it.” – Srila Prabhupada

“Just like poor-feeding. This program we also follow. In our temple, especially in India, any man can come and take his food. Yes. We have got arrangement.” – Srila Prabhupada

“Generally people make a plea that why are there so many hungry and naked. So we invite all hungry and naked people to come to us and we will give them food and clothing and Krishna consciousness as well. This will attract the general public and there will never be any shortage of food-stuffs, so continue regularly. In Bombay there are many generous persons who like food distribution programs, and actually, our temple should be the via media for feeding the poor with food and spiritual knowledge.” – Srila Prabhupada

“Just like feeding the poor. It is also yajna. But the same thing, if it is dovetailed in consciousness, that becomes perfect. People are very much inclined to feed the poor with sumptuous food, but it can be done in a little different way, that the foodstuff offered to Vishnu, prasada, that distribution foodstuff is better than ordinary distribution of foodstuff. Ordinarily, that is punya, pious activities, but when it is connection with Krishna, this is called yajna.” – Srila Prabhupada

“Everywhere. In the hospitals, charitable societies, Industrial places, everywhere – distribute this prasada and chant this Hare Krishna. Just see what is the result. You want peace? These are the processes of peace.” – Srila Prabhupada

“Food For Life” or “Food For Death”?

Every year this argument comes up on different ISKCON related forums, always being pushed forward by the same two or three people, most notably Swami J. and Swami B. They follow the same tactics each time. Post two or three short controversial quotations (nicely clipped and edited) from Prabhupada that make it appear that distribution of prasadam to poor people is a great offense, but offer no further explanation on the matter. They purposely don’t offer any context for the quotes, nor do they offer any explanation of what they could possibly mean. They want to fool the readers into thinking that the one or two sentences they posted summarize every thing that can be known in regards to Prabhupada’s view on prasadam distribution for all times and all places. It is certainly dishonest on their part.

In an attempt to offer a more balanced view of Prabhupada’s actual instructions, I will refute some of their arguments and show in what context Srila Prabhupada made various statements. Again, I would like to mention that this argument comes up each year, and they know all of these refutations, but they continue to misrepresent Prabhupada to fulfill their ulterior motives (we will go into what that is later). First let us outline a few of the main arguments presented by Swami J. in his “Food for Death” seminars that he conducts regularly in ISKCON. We should note that Swami J. considers feeding spiritual food (prasadam) to poor people to be such a terrible and dangerous activity that it necessitates him conducting 5 day seminars to devotees explaining the need to avoid this offensive activity. Yes, believe it or not, his very words are that it is an offense to guru and an offense to the holy name of Krishna to feed prasadam to poor people. Compare this view to the Bhagavatam, which states:

bhuktavatsu ca sarveshu
dinandha-kripanadishu
vishnos tat prinanam vidvan
bhunjita saha bandhubhih

“One should distribute vishnu-prasada to everyone, including the poor man, the blind man, the nondevotee and the non-brahmana. Knowing that Lord Vishnu is very pleased when everyone is sumptuously fed with vishnu-prasada, the performer of yajna should then take prasada with his friends and relatives.”

The Bhagavatam specifically mentions the need to distribute prasadam to the poor, blind, and lowly peoples; this makes Lord Vishnu very pleased. Why the poor are specifically mentioned? The Bhagavatam could have simply said distribute prasadam to “everyone”, but it goes on to also specify the poor, blind and lowly. This is because all Vedic ritualistic ceremonies require giving charity to the brahmanas followed by giving charity to the poor. Even Lord Ramachandra followed this standard at the time of his marriage by giving his dowry of jewels away to beggars and poor people.

Charity to the poor is an essential aspect of the entire Vedic culture, not just Vaishnava culture. Every day in India thousands of smartas and Vaishnavas alike chant the following verse from Bhaja Govindam, outlining these principles:

geyam gita nama sahasram
dhyeyam shripati rupamajashram
neyam sajjana sange cittam
deyam dinajanaya ca vittam

“The Bhagavad Gita and the Vishnu Sahasranama should be sung; the form of the lord of Lakshmi (Vishnu) should always be meditated on; the mind should be led to the company of the saintly; and your wealth should be distributed in charity to the poor and the needy.”

In the writings of Bhaktivinoda Thakur we find the same instruction conveyed:

“It is an utmost duty of every householder to honor his guests, help the poor and fallen, and try to associate with saintly persons. Due to the lack of proper education and training nowadays people do not consider honoring guests and helping the poor as a duty.”

“It is a duty of every householder to serve the guest who has no shelter and help the fallen and poor according to their capacity. One cannot estimate how many people take shelter of the householders for help due to so many reasons. To help the poor, fallen, and guests according to one’s ability is the desire of the auspicious creator. If you exhibit indifference in such activities, then you will certainly incur sin.”

The same thing is repeated in Srila Prabhupada’s Srimad Bhagavatam purport (1.14.43):

“It is the duty of a householder to feed first of all the children, the old members of the family, the brahmanas and the invalids. Besides that, an ideal householder is required to call for any unknown hungry man to come and dine before he himself goes to take his meals. He is required to call for such a hungry man thrice on the road. The neglect of this prescribed duty of a householder, especially in the matter of the old men and children, is unpardonable.”

Swami J. and his supporters make the following claims, which we will deal with below:

1) That prasadam feeding directed to the poor should not be done as it is discriminating based on their material circumstances.

2) That distribution of prasadam may only be conducted in ISKCON temple compounds, and that we should never take prasadam to villages or slums for distribution.

As “evidence” Swami J. and his supporters offer countless quotations from Srila Prabhupada where he criticizes “daridra-narayana” seva, a concept of the Ramakrishna mission that poor people are directly “God” – something contrary to Vaishnava beliefs. They fail to see why Srila Prabhupada criticizes the social service of the Ramakrishna mission, and instead try to compare it to the Food For Life program of ISKCON, implying that Prabhupada would offer the same criticism to both.

The obvious reasons as to why Srila Prabhupada criticizes the social service of the Ramakrishna mission are as follows:

1) They consider that poor people are God, and call them by the name daridra-narayana, or “poor Gods” which is contrary to Vaishnava teachings for several reasons (the jivas are eternally different from Bhagavan; Bhagavan is never poor, being served by unlimited Lakshmi Devis; etc.).

2) They believe that service to man is service to God, which is contrary to Vaishnava beliefs. The Bhagavatam teaches that all forms of service are incomplete unless they are centered on Bhagavan.

3) They consider material social activities (punya karma) to be the ultimate spiritual activity, whereas Vaishnavas consider devotional service to be the topmost, being transcendental to material activities.

Thus when Srila Prabhupada speaks harshly about daridra narayana seva and its associated social activities (such as feeding the poor ordinary food, opening hospitals, etc.) it should not be applied to distribution of spiritual food (prasadam), nor even to proper charitable activities devoid of philosophical misconceptions (the ideas of daridra narayana, etc.).

The fact that such quotations are cited as evidence against feeding prasadam to the poor shows that these people are either dishonest (purposely misusing unrelated quotations that appear to be relevant when read by new devotees), or they consider prasadam to be mundane food – not Krishna Himself.

Noting the difference between “daridra narayana seva” and the distribution of Krishna prasadam, all of the quotations where Srila Prabhupada criticizes daridra narayana seva can be dismissed as unrelated to the subject matter at hand and therefore irrelevant in this discussion.

As far as Srila Prabhupada’s criticism of mundane welfare activities, we should compare whether distributing prasadam has the same defects. All mundane welfare activities only help the material body of the individual, they do nothing to liberate the person from ultimate suffering – the cycle of birth and death. No matter how many meals you give to a poor person, he will again and again take birth in the material world and be subjected to repeated sufferings in each life. Thus what is the use of just trying to help the material body while neglecting the soul of the individual. Srila Prabhupada says it is like trying to save the dress of a drowning man while neglecting to save him. Thus Srila Prabhupada was often critical of mundane welfare activities that did not solve the people’s ultimate problems of suffering. Is the distribution of prasadam also equally mundane and deficient? Does it do nothing to bring about permanent spiritual relief to the conditioned souls? Srila Prabhupada describes the effects as follows:

“That prasadam is also Isa [God]. The prasadam accepted by Krishna, offered to Krishna, is also Krishna. So if we give prasadam, then he is getting the opportunity of associating with Krishna. This is our idea. But people very much appreciate poor-feeding. So that, you can take it.”

When we give spiritual food to the poor, the purpose is not just to fill their stomach but to give them the opportunity to directly associate with Krishna Himself. The fact that their stomach is also filled and their hunger is relieved is a side benefit – a benefit that each of us enjoy several times a day. Swami J. and his supporters believe that when they eat prasadam, it is devotional service to God, but when poor people eat prasadam it is just mundane filling of their stomachs. They like to call it as “karma-kanda” or pious material activities, as opposed to bhakti-yoga – the linking of the soul with God.

In the following conversation Prabhupada further explains the difference between prasadam distribution to the poor and distribution of ordinary food. He says that even though we are feeding poor people it is not simply poor feeding. Our real purpose is in giving them prasadam so that they will receive the light of Krishna consciousness. Other organizations consider their goal simply feeding ordinary food to poor people, but neglect their spiritual welfare. Prabhupada draws a clear distinction between our prasadam distribution and their food distribution:

“Krishna is not so easy to be understood, but we are giving you facility to eat krishna-prasadam so that one day you can understand this movement. This is the policy. Actually, that is the policy. We are not poor-feeding. That is not our philosophy. Like Vivekananda. Daridra-narayana-seva. No, we are not after that. We are giving you prasadam. And that is fact, that by eating, eating, eating, eating, you one day will become Krishna conscious. Simply by eating. Because you are so dull, you cannot understand the philosophy. You know the belly like the animals. So therefore we are giving facility, ‘All right, fill up your belly, fill up your belly. And you’ll be infected.’ As you take foodstuff from a infected area, you become infected with some disease, so this is Krishna infected, prasadam. You take it, and one day you’ll be diseased with Krishna consciousness. And that is a fact. Some way or other, let him come in contact with Krishna. He’ll be benefited. Some way or other, let him come to the light. May be dim light or very big light. Light is light.”

Prabhupada says some way or other let them come in contact with Krishna. When we feed prasadam to poor people we are somehow bringing them into the light of Krishna consciousness – direct contact with the Lord. We do not suggest that others are not in need of this spiritual light. Everyone needs the spiritual light of Krishna consciousness. But we deliver Krishna to the conditioned souls in the form that they can appreciate. For those who like music, we give them Krishna in the form of bhajans and kirtans; for those who are educated, we give them Krishna in the form of His Bhagavad Gita teachings; and for those who are hungry we give them Krishna in the form of spiritual food (prasadam). What better way to get a hungry person to appreciate and love Krishna? The fact that their material sufferings are automatically reduced when they eat Krishna prasadam is just an added benefit for them, the ultimate benefit is that they have again been brought in contact with the light of Lord Krishna. And as Prabhupada says, they will become devotees simply by eating:

“We are giving you prasadam. And that is fact, that by eating, eating, eating, eating, you one day will become Krishna conscious. Simply by eating.”

Swami J. claims that the distribution of prasadam to poor people is the same as other organizations’ material welfare work? Srila Prabhupada disagrees with this view:

“Our poor-feeding and their poor-feeding is different. We give prasadam–by eating he’ll become Krishnaized. He’ll become a devotee. And ordinary eating means he will eat and go to hell.”

And elsewhere:

Karandhara: No, they say if we find poor and starving people, we must go and feed them.

Prabhupada: So you feed them. But we also feed them. But we feed them with Krishna prasadam. That is the difference. You do this. That will be actually beneficial. By distributing Krishna’s prasadam, you will be benefited, they will be benefited.

Prabhupada’s conclusion is simple – our poor feeding is different from their poor feeding, they are not the same. Then why would Swami J. and his supporters say they are the same and then go on to use quotes that condemn material social work as evidence against distributing prasadam to needy people? The answer is simple, they are trying to deceive you, to trick you, and to cheat you. Their game is simple, Prabhupada criticizes daridra narayana seva – they try to imply that it refers to prasadam distribution to the poor; Prabhupada criticizes material food distribution as incomplete and deficient – they try to imply that it refers to prasadam distribution to the poor. Should we honestly believe that they don’t know the difference between “daridra narayana seva”, material food distribution and the distribution of Krishna prasadam? They do know the difference, but they are being dishonest and deceptive with the readers.

Now let us look at the two main claims made by Swami J. and his supporters:

1) Prasadam feeding directed to the poor should not be done as it is discriminating based on their material circumstances.

Swami J. suggests that to consider one’s status as poor or rich when giving prasadam is material vision and mundane discrimination. Furthermore they suggest that since everyone is spiritually poor, one should not take into consideration their material poverty when distributing prasadam. Yet when Prabhupada was asked if ISKCON’s prasadam distribution money could be spent partially in America, rather than say, “yes, everyone is spiritually poor,” he instead said:

“So preference should be given in India. They’re poor.”

Here is the conversation:

—–

Ramesvara: Srila Prabhupada? I had a question about the prasadam distribution money that I am hoping to get from the record sales.

Prabhupada: Yes.

Ramesvara: I would like to know if some of it can be used for distributing prasadam in America.

Prabhupada: Why not?

Ramesvara: Say, at Ratha-yatra time.

Prabhupada: Oh, yes.

Ramesvara: Big parades.

Prabhupada: But America has money. Here they have no money. So preference should be given in India. They’re poor.

—–

Srila Prabhupada was interested in giving prasadam to everyone, as the spiritual effects are needed by all people, rich or poor, yet he said, “But America has money. Here they have no money. So preference should be given in India. They’re poor.”

When Swami J. was shown this statement he admitted “so Srila Prabhupada said apparently different things at different times”. He admits that Prabhupada gave preference to distributing prasadam to poor people, yet still he tries to stop this activity from going on.

Actually Prabhupada didn’t say different things at different times. When we take his instructions in whole and in context, time and time again he makes the same points. It is only when people like Swami J. use selective quoting and misquoting does it appear that Srila Prabhupada was against feeding prasadam to the poor. Prabhupada himself sent money specified specifically for “poor feeding”:

“Please accept my blessings. In Bombay I have paid in advance Rs. 25,000/- to Bhavananda Maharaja for Food Relief poor feeding; so whatever you have collected for poor feeding may be sent to Bombay Bank of America.”

And elsewhere he says we should develop and increase the poor feeding programs as it will make us very popular:

“Please accept my blessings. I am in due receipt of your letter dated June 25, 1975 and have noted the contents. The Gurukula and poor feeding programs should be developed and it will make us very popular.”

Many other places Srila Prabhupada took consideration of the poverty and need of the people. For example, here Srila Prabhupada says we especially distribute prasadam to the poorer men:

“Everywhere we have got temples we distribute prasadam especially to the poorer men.”

He repeats the same thing in a report on one of his temples:

“Prasad is being distributed to the poor, and others are purchasing prasada (pakki) to the extent of Rs. 100/- per day.”

“Just like poor-feeding. This program we also follow. In our temple, especially in India, any man can come and take his food. Yes. We have got arrangement. In the U.S.A also, Los Angeles, New York, we invite anyone, ‘Come and take food.’ We don’t want to see that anyone is hungry.”

And elsewhere:

“If we open a branch in Madras, actually there are so many poor children there. Spiritual education and food, that is proper.”

Prabhupada saw there were so many poor children in Madras, and wanted to distribute prasadam to them and give them spiritual education. The idea that spiritual vision means we are blind to the material circumstances of people is foolishness. We must utilize proper discrimination to identify the perfect way to engage each person in Krishna consciousness taking into account their material situation.

Prabhupada taught that the rich should utilize their money for feeding prasadam to the poor, and he wanted ISKCON to be the tool for distributing it:

“The rich man should distribute prasadam through Krishna consciousness to the poor man, and the poor man should not be envious of the rich man. Then there will be happiness prosperity.”

Elsewhere Srila Prabhupada said ISKCON should be the via medium for people to feed the poor:

“Generally people make a plea that why are there so many hungry and naked. So we invite all hungry and naked people to come to us and we will give them food and clothing and Krishna consciousness as well. This will attract the general public and there will never be any shortage of food-stuffs, so continue regularly. In Bombay there are many generous persons who like food distribution programs, and actually, our temple should be the via media for feeding the poor with food and spiritual knowledge.”

Swami J. suggests that Srila Prabhupada wanted us to lie to the donors that we were feeding poor people, but actually distribute prasadam to the general audience (rich visitors, etc.). He even suggests that Prabhupada himself misused funds for poor feeding. In his seminar “Food For Death” he offers the following accusation:

>How SP actually used ISKCON Food Relief funds
>
>Letter to Ramesvara, 1 Oct 74:
>The Dollars 5,000 which you have collected
>for Food Relief may be sent for the
>construction of the Prasadam Distribution
>Pavilion here at Mayapur temple. One thousand
>people will be able to be fed at a time and
>it will cost Dollars 25,000. Gargamuni
>Swami has pledged to provide one half of
>the funds. Hamsaduta Prabhu has just sent
>Dollars 4,000 for Food Relief which will
>also be used for this project.

He implies that Srila Prabhupada ACTUALLY used the food relief money for other purposes than feeding the poor (i.e. construction in Mayapur). This is clearly a misrepresentation of the facts. Srila Prabhupada utilized some of the relief money to build a prasadam hall in Mayapur where poor villagers would come and receive prasadam every day, 1,000 people at a time. The U.S. government was supplying the grains for this distribution on the grounds that ISKCON would use them to feed the poor villagers who came:

“We have worked so hard for so long to get this foodstuff donated by your government and now we are neglecting? And if you expand this program to their satisfaction, they will give so much of different varieties of foodstuffs and we can expand this program widely throughout India and become very much popular with the people as a whole.”

Do you think the U.S. government gave the food donations because it was going to be offered to Krishna and distributed without discrimination to spiritualize society, or do you think they gave it to help the starving villagers in India? In other words, what do you think the concerned devotees said to the U.S. government representatives that they would do with the food?

In case there is any doubt as to why the U.S. government gave the food to ISKCON, Prabhupada writes the following in a letter:

“The Secretary may secure food grains and powder milk from U.S.A. Government for distribution to the poor people in India for expanding Seva-Puja department in the matter of ‘Prasad’ distribution.”

Do you think Prabhupada appreciated that these devotees had acquired the food supplies for prasadam distribution to the poor? Of course Srila Prabhupada was happy, he says, “we have worked so hard for so long to get this foodstuff donated by your government”; and he states that he wants to expand this program throughout India.

Prabhupada explains the principle of utilizing poor feeding in Krishna’s service as follows:

“Therefore we give them prasadam or isa-sanga. That prasadam is also Isa. The prasadam accepted by Krishna, offered to Krishna, is also Krishna. So if we give prasadam, then he is getting the opportunity of associating with. Krishna. This is our idea. But people very much appreciate poor-feeding. So that, you can take it.”

People want to feed the poor and will anyway feed the poor through so many other organizations, so Prabhupada expertly devised a system to utilize them in spreading Krishna consciousness through prasadam distribution to the poor. Prabhupada explains this perfect system of dovetailing charity as follows:

“So charity, or sacrificing your possession for the benefit of others, this is also yajna. But they are called karma-kanda yajna, fruitive activities. By such performance of yajna, one can elevate his material position. Just like feeding the poor. It is also yajna. But the same thing, if it is dovetailed in consciousness, that becomes perfect. People are very much inclined to feed the poor with sumptuous food, but it can be done in a little different way, that the foodstuff offered to Vishnu, prasada, that distribution foodstuff is better than ordinary distribution of foodstuff. Ordinarily, that is punya, pious activities, but when it is connection with Krishna, this is called yajna. Dravya-yajna. To distribute food and cloth, that is called dravya-yajna, but yajna can be said when it is done, dovetailing the activities with Krishna consciousness.”

That Swami J., a senior ISKCON leader, wants to portray Prabhupada as someone who misused funds, lied to donors, and cheated the U.S. government is terribly alarming. This is the farthest from the truth. Just see from the following quotes how strict Prabhupada was in regards to ISKCON Food Relief funds:

“I just saw your film last night and it was very nice. We can collect a lot of money with this film, for ISKCON Food-relief program. But not a single farthing of that money should be used for any other thing. It should all go to our ISKCON food-relief fund, nothing else.”

“Don’t use these UNICEF cards, that will not be good. You can make ISKCON FOOD RELIEF cards. But the money collected using this card must be sent to India where we are actually feeding people.”

“Money collected for feeding people in India should be collected under the name ISKCON Food Relief. Not any other name. And every farthing of that money must be sent to India, or better yet, buy food grains there and ship them here and we will distribute. But every farthing collected for that purpose must be used for that purpose.”

“All money that is collected on behalf of the Food Relief program should be sent to India. (or if possible, send grains) Why has this not been done? That money (700,000 dm) that has been blocked up in the bank account there, as soon as it is freed, you should send whatever portion of it was collected on behalf of food distribution program to India.”

“Why is it that money that has been collected on behalf of ISKCON Food Relief program has not been sent to India? Where is that money? This is not good. If you are not intending to send for food distribution, then do not collect in the name of Food Relief. Whatever is collected for India food distribution, must be sent as soon as it is collected, to India.”

In his seminar on “Food For Death” he uses another cheating technique by suggesting Food For Life is bogus because the phrase was coined in 1981 after Srila Prabhupada’s departure. He suggests that distributing prasadam to the poor was a later day addition to ISKCON not approved by Srila Prabhupada. But the fact is Food For Life was founded by Prabhupada under the name ISKCON Food Relief, and ran under that name for many years. In 1981 the name was changed from ISKCON Food Relief to Food For Life. Now let us ask ourselves what do the words “Food Relief” mean? It is obvious to any honest person that you are targeting the needs of the poor. Food Relief means you are providing food to those who lack it; thus you are giving them relief from their hunger through food. As Prabhupada taught, everything can be used in the service of Krishna. Thus he found an innovative way to spread Krishna consciousness through food. And for the poorer class of men, ISKCON Food Relief was the perfect vehicle to deliver Krishna to them. Already prasadam distribution was going on in ISKCON temples, in ISKCON restaurants, on college campuses, etc. But ISKCON Food Relief targeted a new audience to deliver Krishna to, namely the poorer class of men. Prabhupada utilized in Krishna’s service people’s inherent desire to give charity and help the needy. Prabhupada teaches everything, even missiles, can be used in Krishna’s service: “Whatever is there, whatever we have, should be used for Krishna. We can use everything: typewriters, automobiles, airplanes, missiles–anything.” So why can’t people’s good nature, philanthropy, kindness, etc. be likewise utilized in Krishna’s service?

The following conversation shows how Prabhupada took consideration of the economic problems of places to preach through prasadam distribution:

Hrdayananda: This food relief program that you started in India could also be used in other countries where there are also economic problems.

Prabhupada: Why not? But prasadam, not ordinary food. From all our
centers you can distribute food, prasadam, because that prasadam means they will gradually become Krishna conscious. Otherwise if you give them ordinary food, they will get strength, and they will increase their sex desire, that’s all, problems.

Thus we see in regards to Swami J.’s first claim, namely that Prabhupada was against distribution of prasadam to the poor, that his position is not supported by Srila Prabhupada’s instructions. He has built his position solely on misquoting, cheating and deception.

In summary, let us remember the famous story of Srila Prabhupada when he saw children fighting with dogs to eat the left-over prasadam from discarded leaf plates. After seeing this he was so moved that he instructed all temples to organize prasadam distribution so that no one in a 10 km radius should go hungry. After seeing all of the statements from Prabhupada above, and remembering this pastime of Srila Prabhupada, I think all of you will agree that Prabhupada was taking into consideration the hunger and poverty of these children when he gave that instruction.

In any society there are different departments that focus on different activities, wherein we incorporate intelligent discrimination. We have departments that focus on cultivating the rich donors and life members. For them there is special free prasadam, often brought to their house or shop. No one has objected to this discrimination. Prabhupada himself has said we may give special free prasadam to the “big men” and donors. For the devotees there is prasadam distributed in the temple regularly, and as many of us have seen, there too we have discrimination; “Where is your prasadam coupon?” The senior swamis and gurus in ISKCON also have special prasadam distributed to them, often cooked by private cooks exclusively for them; again discrimination. If a poor stinking dirty man comes, will any sannyasi or guru have him sit next to them and eat prasadam? To be honest, I know that I can’t even sit next to the ISKCON gurus and sannyasis. In other words there is discrimination on every level, and that discrimination is based on material circumstances. But if someone tries to distribute prasadam to poor people, they are suddenly accused of using material discrimination and in engaging in a mundane activity because of it (“prasadam is not for rich or poor, it must be distributed without material discrimination”). It is hypocrisy to be engaged in material discrimination at every level of one’s actions, and then accuse others of the same thing when it is going to benefit the poor instead of ourselves. First let there be no distinction between the food Swami J. eats, the food bhakta Joe eats, the food the life member eats and the food the poor beggar eats when he comes to our temple. Then let them speak about freedom from mundane discrimination.

Just as there is a department that gives special prasadam to the rich (donors) and special prasadam to the devotees, why shouldn’t there be a department that distributes prasadam to the poor – those people whom wouldn’t be allowed in our temples anyway. In this way we touch all areas of society with Krishna consciousness, not just the devotees, the rich, and those living next door.

What is wrong in using discrimination (i.e. “this prasadam is for the poor”)? In preaching we should give the recipient the form of Krishna they will appreciate the most. We should give the conditioned souls that form of the Lord which they can understand and relate to. For an educated person, he will be attracted to the philosophy in our books. For an musically inclined person, he will be attracted to the chanting of the mahamantra. For a hungry person, he will be attracted to Krishna in the form of prasadam. Isn’t it proper intelligence to give them that form which they will appreciate, and thereby increase their devotional service?

When we sell books to the public, we look for people who will buy the book. We discriminate. We don’t ask every Tom, Dick and Harry to buy the book. Do we go to the poor and homeless to sell our books? No, we go to the rich, because they can pay us better for the book. This is also discrimination. Intelligent discrimination must be there to properly direct our efforts to where they will be most beneficially received.

Who is more qualified to receive prasadam then someone who will appreciate it? In the Sunday feasts our trash cans are full of Krishna prasadam, but when we distribute to the poor villagers in India, they will even eat the plain rice that is left, without any subji or dahl. Some have said the poor may confuse the prasadam for mundane food, but what have the devotees done? Do they actually understand that prasadam is Krishna, or do they eat to remove their mundane hunger?

In the Upanishads we find the following statement:

ahara-shudhau sattva shudhi
sattva shuddhau dhruva-smritih
smriti-lambhe sarva granthinam vipramokshah

“By eating sanctified foods, one’s existence becomes purified. By the purification of one’s existence finer tissues in the memory become sanctified. When the finer tissues of remembrance become sanctified, all the knots within become untied.”

Can anyone say that giving Krishna prasadam to people is a mundane activity? If it is not a mundane activity, then why should it be stopped? Shouldn’t transcendental activities be encouraged and increased? Lord Krishna states that sacrifice, charity and penance should not be given up. In commentary to this Srila Prabhupada writes, “The Lord says here that any sacrifice which is meant for human welfare should never be given up.”

If someone said, “Let’s go perform harinama in the poor slum.” Will there be any objection? No. But if someone says “Let us distribute prasadam in the poor slum.” There is objection. So who is seeing Krishna as mundane? It is the devotees who object to this distribution of Krishna prasadam. They see the prasadam as food, not as Krishna, and therefore they confuse it for a mundane activity.

The second claim made by Swami J. and his supporters is as follows:

2) That distribution of prasadam may only be conducted in ISKCON temple compounds, and that we should never take prasadam to villages or slums for distribution.

Srila Prabhupada clearly refutes this in the following statements. Prabhupada says he wants prasadam distributed everywhere, in the hospitals, charitable societies, industrial places – not just in ISKCON temples:

“Everywhere. In the hospitals, charitable societies, Industrial places, everywhere – distribute this prasada and chant this Hare Krishna. Just see what is the result. You want peace? These are the processes of peace.”

Srila Prabhupada wanted prasadam distributed widely in the villages of India through traveling parties, not just in the temples:

“Now I am especially concerned to distribute grains, rice, wheat in the form of dal and rice prasadam to hungry people all over India… If the people do not even have sufficient food they will not even be able to receive spiritual instructions. So I am hopeful that if we can widely distribute free food-stuffs to the people of India, by giving it out at our centers, as well as our traveling parties to villages, we will win over the whole country and the whole world by this activity on Krishna’s behalf.”

Srila Prabhupada is open to distributing prasadam “all over India, in factories, schools, and so on”; not just within the ISKCON temples:

“If you can persuade them to give us foodstuffs directly, then we shall use it properly and America’s prestige will be widely spread throughout India. We can organize for distribution of prasadam all over India, in factories, schools, and so on. If we simply have kirtana and distribute nice prasadam, everywhere there will be good respect for us. So I hope you will stick very closely to this matter of acquiring surplus foodstuffs from your government and seeing to it that the food is distributed widely throughout India by our Krishna Consciousness devotees.”

So then why does Srila Prabhupada sometimes mention otherwise? On a few occasions Prabhupada mentions that the devotees should just distribute the prasadam in the temple. Here is a letter where Srila Prabhupada explains this:

“The idea of distribution of Prasadam is long standing, and I suggested this from the very beginning of my missionary activities, both in New York, and in San Francisco. But it has never come to any practical shape till now. Therefore, if you can actually start a Prasadam distribution program, it will be very very nice. But to start a separate restaurant for this purpose does not appeal to me. If we have Prasadam distribution program it is to be done in the temple premises, not separately. Separate attempt will require separate energy diverted from the temple management. Therefore if you do at all start Prasadam distribution, try to do it in the temple itself.”

The reason is simple, a “separate attempt will require separate energy diverted from the temple management”. His instruction was based on the particular situation the temple was in at that time taking into account the resources, the number of devotees, etc. To take such instructions, and to hold them up as Srila Prabhupada’s final conclusion on a subject for all time is intentionally misleading. Today ISKCON has grown in capacity and in professionalism; much different than it was in 1970. For example, the Bangalore ISKCON temple feeds prasadam to more than 80,000 children a day throughout India – in places as far off as Vrindavan, Jaipur, Mysore, Bangalore, Hossur, Mangalore, etc. If Prabhupada were here today, he would be happy to see that his disciples were so capable and expert at distributing prasadam. But Swami J. and others, rather than appreciating this are busy fighting to have it stopped. Never mind the fact that they are not distributing any prasadam themselves, unless the luxurious private meals they have prepared for themselves count.

Let us address some of the main quotations offered by Swami J. and others to support their claim that feeding prasadam to poor people is offensive to Prabhupada.

1) First Quote

“Regarding food distribution, they may come to take at our Temple. With travelling sankirtana we can distribute wherever we go, but not to the emergency spot, like that.” –letter to Jayapataka Swami, 09/28/76

This is the quote offered most commonly by Swami J. as a universal blanket statement against distributing prasadam in emergency areas for all time to come, in all areas of the world, and in all circumstances. This also happens to be the “evidence” he offers against distributing prasadam outside of ISKCON temple compounds. Prabhupada said “regarding food distribution, they may come to take at our Temple,” thus according to Swami J. there is really nothing more to be said about it. Anyone who distributes prasadam outside of an ISKCON temple is disobeying Srila Prabhupada and committing offenses against him.

But what of all the times Srila Prabhupada says we should distribute prasadam in the hospitals, factories, schools, charitable societies, etc.? Those are certainly outside ISKCON temple compounds? Or what of this letter, where Srila Prabhupada says it is fine to distribute prasadam at the businessmen’s club:

“I very much liked the report of prasadam distribution at the club for the businessmen.” – Letter to Amogha dasa, 5th August, 1974

What Swami J. is suggesting is that it is fine to go to the rich man’s club and distribute prasadam to them, but it is offensive to go to the poor areas or to the emergency sites and distribute prasadam – all because one sentence in a letter written to a particular person in a particular situation.

Let’s look at the quote again:

“Regarding food distribution, they may come to take at our Temple. With travelling sankirtana we can distribute wherever we go, but not to the emergency spot, like that.”

This is an instruction to a temple president taking into account the temple resources, available devotees, and other circumstances. Under those precise circumstances, Prabhupada advised them that the temple should distribute prasadam within the temple compound. Remember Prabhupada’s explanation: “Separate attempt will require separate energy diverted from the temple management. Therefore if you do at all start Prasadam distribution, try to do it in the temple itself.” This is not a universal rule for all times and places to be followed regardless of circumstances. This is a management decision Prabhupada gave taking into consideration the situation at the time. In that particular situation, when there were few devotees in Mayapur, and not so many resources, Prabhupada advised them to distribute prasadam in the temple. Yet still he gave an exception:

“With travelling sankirtana we can distribute wherever we go, but not to the emergency spot, like that.”

Since the traveling sankirtan party will anyway be traveling to different villages, they could distribute in those places as well. This would not require any additional strain on the temple manpower. But at the same time, the sankirtan parties were traveling to preach and distribute books – not to run relief programs – thus Prabhupada tells them “but not to the emergency spot.” Why should a bus of book distributors who have no experience in relief activities go to an emergency spot? Thus Srila Prabhupada gave the perfect managerial answer for this particular situation:

1) Distribute prasadam from our temples to reduce the resource needs and manpower needs required for an outstation distribution effort.

2) Since traveling sankirtan parties are anyway going out to preach, let them also distribute prasadam where they go as there will be no additional manpower needed and no loss of manpower for the temple.

3) But since the primary service of the traveling sankirtan party is preaching and book distribution, they should not divert their path to go to emergency spots.

Swami J. takes this two sentence quotation and tries to establish it as the universal instruction of Prabhupada on prasadam distribution which prohibits the distribution of prasadam outside of our temples for all time.

2) Second Quote

“So far the Fiji [ISKCON] constitution is concerned, where it says: ‘supplying needs to the sick, poor, and orphans, etc.’ That is not our program. We distribute prasadam to everyone, not particularly to the needy. We make no discrimination, rich or poor.” –Letter to Upendra dasa : 76-06-30

This letter is in regards to the registration of the ISKCON temple in FIJI. Everyone is spiritually in need, and ISKCON tries to provide Krishna to all people. The above constitution suggested that ISKCON only distribute prasadam to the poor and ignore the other areas of society. Thus Prabhupada took objection to it. This is a legal document that establishes the legal structure of ISKCON Fiji and governs all of their future activities. To specify in the constititution that ISKCON Fiji would provide prasadam only to the poor would prohibit them from distributing prasadam to other areas of society. It is essential to keep a society’s constitution broad enough so that it doesn’t limit one’s activities unnecessarily. Why write a very narrow constitution when you can keep it broad and all inclusive? Take for example Srila Prabhupada’s original seven purposes of ISKCON. They are so broad, that they allow for the future expansion and development of preaching activities even beyond what may have been in his mind at the time of registration.

Furthermore, ISKCON’s purpose is to provide prasadam to people, not simpy to cloth them or build hospitals for them. It is not that we are against people building hospitals and distributing cloths, but ISKCON’s particular purposes are on another level.

ISKCON does not discriminate between the rich and poor in regards to prasadam distribution, but still there are different departments and different programs to get prasadam to all people. For the rich there are restaurants where they pay for the prasadam, in some places there are distributions on college campuses specifically for students, and in some places there is ISKCON Food Relief to provide prasadam to the poor. Prabhupada took objection to the Fiji ISKCON constitution because it only allowed for distribution of prasadam to the poor, neglecting all other areas of society.

3) Third Quote

“So far prasada distribution, it is not a question of rich or poor. That will be Karma Kanda. Our program therefore is that we offer prasada to everyone. Make our temple so nice that everyone who comes is offered some prasada. Not that we are after poor men. It is nice that we are feeding 200 daily, but gradually try to increase. But do not advertise, we shall be self-advertising. And do not go to poor areas, this is not our philosophy. Our philosophy is prasada distribution, without discrimination rich or poor.”

Again this is similar to the above explanation. ISKCON provides prasadam for all people. ISKCON is not established to provide prasadam only to poor people, anymore than it is established to provide prasadam only to rich people. Still there are different departments that distribute prasadam in different ways. Prabhupada recommended that rich donors should be given special prasadam, and most of our ISKCON temples carry packets of prasadam to the donors when they go to visit them. Prabhupada was also happy to hear of prasadam distribution being held for rich people in a “businessmen’s club”. Swami J. wants us to believe that it is our philosophy to go to the rich areas to distribute prasadam, but it is against our philosophy to go to the poor areas and distribute prasadam. To understand the quote above properly, we should see what were the exact circumstances and the question asked to Prabhupada. This letter was written in regards to the prasadam distribution being conducted at our temple in Bombay. Prabhupada wanted that every visitor to the temple should be given some prasadam. He was asked if instead the prasadam should be given only in the poor areas (rather than to the guests visiting the temple) and in reply he stated “do not go to poor areas, this is not our philosophy. Our philosophy is prasada distribution, without discrimination rich or poor”. This was a case of one temple considering whether to stop feeding prasadam to visitors and instead only feed poor people – again the same case as the Fiji ISKCON temple’s constitution. Our philosophy is prasadam for everyone.

Now compare this with the following quote, where Prabhupada advises giving free prasadam to rich people:

“Make many palatable things such as jhury, dal-mot, jalebis, raita, and many other nice dishes. You can keep a nice stock of these things, so that when a big man comes you can give him a nice plate of free prasada. In this way, our temple will become very popular, because everyone will know if they come to our temple they will receive very nice prasada. For the other guests, continue to sell the prasada daily. This is very nice program.” – SPL to Dhananjaja and Aksayananda Swami, 18th June, 1975.

So if we take these letters as absolute instructions for all circumstances we have a philosophy where we should give very luxurious prasadam to rich people for free, but to others they should have to pay for ordinary prasadam. What happened to the arguments that prasadam is for all, not a question of rich or poor? And then take the other letter where Prabhupada is happy that devotees are distributing prasadam in the rich businessmen’s club. But never go to a poor area, that’s not our philosophy”. This misquoting and misapplying of Prabhupada’s letters creates a madman’s philosophy.

The above three quotes are the only evidence that Swami J. bases all his claims on. After reading through this article and seeing the many times that Prabhupada showed compassion not only for people’s souls but also for their material suffering, it is clear that these three quotes do not contradict Srila Prabhupada’s other many instructions on this subject. For example:

“Please accept my blessings. I am in due receipt of your letter dated June 25, 1975 and have noted the contents. The Gurukula and poor feeding programs should be developed and it will make us very popular.”

Srila Prabhupada’s letters were personal instructions to individuals for particular circumstances. They should not be held up and isolated from Prabhupada’s other teachings. By selective quoting one can make Prabhupada appear to say almost anything. Let’s take the following example:

“I don’t follow what you mean by that they are starting to sell somosas. We should not sell any prasadam, we shall distribute prasadam and we can ask for contributions. That should be the method.” -SPL to Jadurani, january 14th, 1970

So from this quote it is “clear” that prasadam should never be sold. Some people may now claim that Govinda’s restaurants are “Food For Death” because we are disobeying Srila Prabhupada’s instructions and selling prasadam. There is even more evidence to support this view:

“According to our Vedic system prasadam distribution should not be on the line of hotel or canteen business. Whatever prasadam we can distribute, that should be free of charges. So to summarize, you should distribute free prasadam.” -SPL letter to Giriraja, April 12th, 1972

Yet, we find Prabhupada stating something quite opposite here:

“I’m pleased to know the restaurant is again doing nicely. If palatable dishes are available people will certainly come. Srutakirti is a good boy. You can trust him. Cooperation must be there. It is a nice idea to sell prasadam at the beaches from a vehicle.” – SPL to Gurukripa, 14th December, 1976

Just see how by selective quoting (especially of Prabhupada’s letters to individuals) we can completely change Srila Prabhupada’s teachings. Prabhupada was giving personal instructions to individuals for their particular circumstances. We cannot hold these as universal instructions that must be followed by everyone in all circumstances. One minute “Prabhupada’s teachings” are that prasadam should never be sold, the next minute “Prabhupada’s teachings” are that selling prasadam makes him happy. This is the danger of selective quoting. And when this style of quotation is employed while fully knowing Srila Prabhupada’s other instructions on the matter, it becomes deception and cheating. The “Food For Death” seminar by Swami J. is a clear example of such deception.

Let us take a few cases of the deceit from the “Food For Death” seminar. We’ve all heard the story of Prabhupada sitting in Mayapur seeing children fight with dogs over the discarded prasadam leaves. Prabhupada was moved to tears and instructed us that every ISKCON temple should distribute prasadam so that for 10 km no one would go hungry.

Swami J. tries to discount the value of this story by saying:

“Sometimes I’ve read that the story and quotation are in Srila Prabhupada Lilamrita. In fact they’re not. I searched the entire Folio Vedabase — Srila Prabhupada Lilamrita – for ‘mile,’ ‘miles,’ ‘kilometer,’ ‘kilometers,’ and ‘garbage.’ Nothing. ‘Hungry child,’ ‘hungry children,’ ‘starving child,’ ‘starving children.’ No story.”

Yet, after trying to discredit and devalue the story, still he concludes: “Still, I believe the story is true. I think perhaps I read it in one of Syamasundara’s newsletters when he was Srila Prabhupada’s secretary.” If he believes it were true, then what is the point in trying to discredit it or show that its not in the lilamrita?

It’s just another case of the deceit and cheating that he employs in debate. Even though he believes the story to be true, he first tries to cast doubt on the authenticity of the story, and show that it can’t be found in the folio (despite many eyewitness accounts to the event having occurred). It’s the same system of debate he employs everywhere:

1) He tries to suggest Prabhupada misused ISKCON Food Relief Funds for something other than poor feeding. He wants to imply that Prabhupada wasn’t actually interested in feeding the poor, but was interested in collecting money in their name. (“What Prabhupada ACTUALLY used the Food Relief funds for.”)

2) He tries to discredit feeding prasadam to poor people because the phrase “Food For Life” was coined in 1981 after Prabhupada left, yet he fully knows that it existed in Prabhupada’s time as “ISKCON Food Relief”, and that Prabhupada personally sent money for “poor-feeding”.

3) He tries to first discredit the authenticity of the famous story of Prabhupada instructing us that no one should go hungry within 10 km of an ISKCON temple; then he admits that its probably true.

The pattern is the same in each case. He tries to present something sensationalistic through deception and half truths, and then misuses three quotes from Prabhupada’s letters to try to establish a universal law for all to follow, wherein all devotees are prohibited from distributing Krishna prasadam to the poor.

Why would senior leaders of ISKCON try to stop devotees from helping the poor? Let us look at the example of Swami H. who is no longer in ISKCON. He also discouraged feeding the poor in favor of running “prasadam businesses”. This is truly a wonderful philosophy: It is offensive to go to a starving village in India and give them free prasadam; but if you go to the same starving village and SELL them prasadam it is fine. Why would a guru and leader instruct his disciples to stop feeding the poor and instead earn money by selling prasadam? Things become clearer when we see that Swami H. later bought a $1,000,000 Riviera holiday home in Europe.

Reason One:

They see feeding the poor as a waste of money. There is only expense and no gain; whereas selling prasadam earns money. And where does that money ultimately go? The disciples give it to the gurus and Swamis. Swami H. discouraged people feeding the poor and instead advised them to sell prasadam because ultimately the money would come to him – and he used it for a good cause, buying a luxury home in a vacation resort city. If instead of running prasadam businesses they fed the poor, it would have been a drain on the funds and how would he be able to buy the vacation home?

There are plenty of other examples that we can look at. There was Swami Bh. who one morning told his secretary to book an urgent first class Concorde flight from Paris to London. After arriving in London he went to a costly shop and bought a $1,000 writing pen (the “urgent work”), and immediately took the next flight back to Paris. On arrival in Paris, the first thing he did was go to a bridge and throw the pen into the water below, declaring to his secretary, “Just see how renounced I am. I have flown around the world to get the most costly pen, and now I am throwing it into this river. This is renunciation.”

Or how about the other Swami who drank from the $20,000 gold cup? The gold cups may be gone in ISKCON, but still there are countless gurus and sannyasis who eat off of special silver plates every day. It is just a one-step downgrade, from gold to silver. When such people suggest we should not feed prasadam to the poor we should immediately see that there is a conflict of interest involved, and there is an ulterior motive in their preaching against prasadam distribution.

Reason Two:

Once you accept that devotees have a social and moral responsibility to help the needy, naturally people will expect the rich and wealthy to feed the poor. That was Prabhupada’s formula as well, with ISKCON being the via media by which the rich would feed the poor prasadam. With such a social view, how could “renounced” sannyasis justify luxurious lifestyles while the needy suffered for lack of food? By convincing people that devotees are not concerned with rich and poor, nor with social service and charity, we protect our lifestyle from comparison to that of the poor. We proclaim that we as devotees are “not interested in mundane welfare work that only helps the material body”, yet we live a luxurious lifestyle where our material bodies are comfortable and without inconvenience. If someone establishes our moral duty to help the needy, we can no longer maintain our luxurious lifestyle while the needy undergo suffering. It would become our social and moral responsibility to live a life compatible with the belief of helping others. Thus any philosophy that supports indifference to the sufferings of the poor will protect our own luxurious lifestyle of comfort and material opulence.

In a society that accepts a moral duty to help the needy, it is only natural that the people to stand out the most will be those who claim to be renunciates (bikshus, or beggars), the sannyasis and gurus of our society, who live very sheltered and luxurious lifestyles. They will not be able to justify how someone who has taken a vow of renunciation and poverty is able to maintain bank accounts, large houses, properties, etc., while ignoring their human duty to help those less fortunate.

Thus when we hear such sannyasis, who themselves live a luxurious life, speak against feeding prasadam to the poor, it is clear they have ulterior motives behind their preaching. If devotees accept our moral duty to help the poor, it is natural that householders will give their donations to help those in the greatest need – the poor, not the sannyasis. But if the sannyasi preachers can convince the householders of the futility of prasadam distribution (what they call “mundane welfare work”), then it is only natural that the householder’s donations will be given by default to the senior leaders and preachers – the sannyasis and gurus.

Reason Three:

Those making these absurd claims against giving prasadam to the poor live a far too sheltered life. They are no longer in touch with reality. Anyone who has luxurious food prepared for them by private cooks, who have private servants to wash their clothes and clean their rooms, who travel around the world by first class flight and A/C cars, who have the latest electronic gadgets and computers, and who live off the donations of their disciples (all while claiming to be a renunciate), has no right to speak against helping the poor – neither the work of spiritual nor material institutions. As Prabhupada said, it is far better to be a sweeper in the street than to be a charlatan meditator. The armchair theorizing against helping relieve other’s sufferings in a spiritual manner while oneself enjoying a luxurious material lifestyle is hypocritical.

After 30 years of devotional practice, these people are left with only theory. They don’t have a practical way of creating a vaisnava culture in every facet of society, and when they see other’s working towards that they become disturbed. One day the entire world will be Krishna conscious, and we will find devotees with tilak among the judges, police, politicians, and even the charitable societies. The teachings of Prabhupada provide perfect solutions to all problems of society, and by properly applying them all these problems will be solved. This won’t happen by living in our little cocoons of ISKCON temples and pretending the rest of the world doesn’t exist. It will happen when our vaishnava culture and philosophy come out and are applied in all aspects of society. The society’s problem of poor and hungry people is perfectly solved by Srila Prabhupada’s recommendation for converting poor feeding into prasadam distribution:

“People are very much inclined to feed the poor with sumptuous food, but it can be done in a little different way, that the foodstuff offered to Vishnu, prasada, that distribution foodstuff is better than ordinary distribution of foodstuff. Ordinarily, that is punya, pious activities, but when it is connection with Krishna, this is called yajna.”

By this system society’s problems are solved, the poor are offered relief, and the individuals who partake prasadam are reconnected with the light of Krishna consciousness.

I believe if the Swamis objecting to feeding prasadam to the poor actually had to mingle with the “dirty” poor, their hearts couldn’t be so hard that they wouldn’t help. Their problem is they are just living a too sheltered and comfortable life.

Suppose you find someone lying in the street starving to death and he asks you for a glass of water. Who wouldn’t give them some water? Any ordinary human being would try their best to help them get some water. But instead our Swamis say “You are not this body. You are not thirsty. Here drink this Bhagavad Gita it will quench your thirst.” Well, maybe give him a glass of water first, and some prasadam to eat, then he’ll be able to read. Prabhupada felt the same way:

“Now I am especially concerned to distribute grains, rice, wheat in the form of dal and rice prasadam to hungry people all over India… If the people do not even have sufficient food they will not even be able to receive spiritual instructions. So I am hopeful that if we can widely distribute free food-stuffs to the people of India, by giving it out at our centers, as well as our traveling parties to villages, we will win over the whole country and the whole world by this activity on Krishna’s behalf.”

But perhaps the Swami’s solution for alleviating world poverty is better: just advise the starving villagers to go find some rich disciples to maintain them, cook for them, wash their clothes and clean their rooms. That way they can spend their valuable time philosophizing in their A/C rooms about the illusory nature of material suffering.

—-

1) Other Arguments

>These hungry people appreciate the food but
>nothing significant has been achieved.

These hungry people are brought into direct contact with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna, in the form of prasadam. They begin their journey on the path of devotional service, which according to the Gita protects them from the “greatest fear”. How can you say nothing significant has been achieved? We have brought Krishna’s forgetful servant back in contact with his eternal Lord. He is no longer on the path of bondage, he has begun his path towards liberation and devotion.

2) Other Arguments

>If we collect money and food for just feeding
>prasadam it will be a mundane activity but if
>also actively tell them about KC then it becomes
>spiritual.

We are giving them Krishna Himself in the form of prasadam. Whether or not they are preached to, they are already receiving Krishna and their path back to Godhead has begun. If you can only see it as food, then what more can be said?

We should note the following statement from Srila Prabhupada:

“The devotee takes prasadam in Krishna consciousness, whereas the nondevotee rejects it as material.”

Those who reject prasadam as material are nondevotees. Swami J. says that distributing of prasadam to the poor is a mundane material welfare activity with no spiritual results. He further says it is an offense to Srila Prabhupada to distribute prasadam to the poor. Ask yourself who is failing to see prasadam as Krishna Himself and is instead seeing it as mundane food?

Just see the following case, where Prabhupada preferred to feed prasadam to the poor rather than build a temple:

“You write that members of the Gujarat community would like to contribute $10,000.00 toward a temple there, but at this time I think the money could be better spent by contributing to shipping grains to India for distribution. If they wish to donate for this noble project they can send money directly to the following account: ‘ISKCON Mayapur-Vrindaban Trust’, account no 668, the Punjab National Bank, Vrindaban, Mathura, U.P., India.”

3) Other Arguments

>We are not interested in cheap popularity
>by doing poor feeding.

“Please accept my blessings. I am in due receipt of your letter dated June 25, 1975 and have noted the contents. The Gurukula and poor feeding programs should be developed and it will make us very popular.”

4) Other Arguments

>Prasadam distribution must be accompanied
>by preaching or it is a mundane activity.

Regarding the argument that prasadam distribution must be accompanied by preaching of philosophy, Srila Prabhupada disagrees:

“Lord Caitanya never spoke philosophy in public. When he met big scholars like Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya he spoke philosophy, otherwise for the mass of people, kirtana and prasadam distribution. So continue this program, it is very pleasing to Lord Caitanya.”

5) Other Arguments

>The devotees don’t waste valuable time on
>less important activities such as prasadam
>distribution. We must therefore focus only
>on college preaching, book distribution and
>Harinama.

“This prasadam distribution item is very, very important, and it is so much pleasing to me that in the beginning so many children are coming for taking prasadam, and that supply of rice has come automatically. Please continue this program rigidly. By prasadam distribution you will do service to the Lord, and the public will be pleased upon you as well.”

—-

Lessons in Vedic culture from the writings of Bhaktivinoda Thakur:

“Those who think that devotion to God and kindness to the jivas are mutually different from each other, and perform accordingly in their life, such persons will not be able to follow the devotional culture. Their performance is only a semblance of devotion. Therefore, all the types of beneficence to others, like kindness, friendliness, forgiveness, charity, respect, etc. are included in Bhakti. Charity of medicines, clothes, food, water, etc. shelter during adversities, teaching of academic and spiritual education, etc. are the activities included in the devotional culture.”

“Assistance to others is of two kinds: relieving others of distress and helping others make progress. should help others as much as possible without distinguishing whether they are relatives or not. The same distress that befalls ourselves also comes to others. When a person is in difficulty, he thinks that others should give him relief. Thus one should try to relieve distress as if it were ones own. A person must attempt to relieve distress by putting aside ones own self interest, which may prevent one from acting. One should try to remove other peoples’ bodily, mental, social and spiritual difficulties. Examples of bodily distress are sickness and hunger. Examples of mental distress are anxiety, envy, lamentation, and fear. Examples of social distress are inability to support the family, inability to give education to ones children, inability to get them married, and lack of resources for cremation. Examples of spiritual distress are lack of faith, atheism, and desire for sinful acts. Just as one must relieve a person of distress, one should also try to elevate him. One should help people progress physically, mentally socially and spiritually by offering monetary, physical, and verbal assistance, and by engaging that person’s relatives as well.”

“Charity (dana) refers to giving money or materials to a suitable person. Giving to an undeserving person is a worthless expense, and is considered a sin. There are twelve varieties of charity: making water bodies or wells, planting trees to give shade and air, supplying lights, dispensing medicines, giving education, giving food, building roads, building ghatas, building houses, giving materials, giving the first portion of a meal, giving a daughter in marriage.”

“One should give water to those who are thirsty. If a thirsty person comes to ones house, one is obliged to give him drinking water. Digging wells and ponds for drinking water, after selecting a suitable place, is also an act of punya.6 Wherever water is necessary, for instance at tirthas where there is no river or water body, wells should be dug. One should plant huge trees such as asvattha on the sides of the road or river or at places of relaxation. One should also plant tulasi and other holy trees in ones own house and at pure places. These trees assist in bodily and spiritual health. Lights should be installed at ghatas, on roads and narrow paths to assist night travelers when there is no moonlight. By giving light in charity a person earns heaps of punya. Raising lights during Kartika month is for beauty but does not aid the traveler, as they are too high to light the path.”

“In giving medical relief, a person can go to the house and distribute medicine, or can have the sick persons come to a designated shop and receive free medicine. A person should perform this punya with sincerity. Students may be given education at ones expense. Educating children is a very important service. Food distribution may be done at ones home or at designated place for the public. Roads should be constructed to places difficult to approach or to places which are inaccessible. Ghatas should be constructed on river banks or the banks of other water bodies for use by the general public. If a person also constructs resting place at the ghata, or plants gardens, roof coverings or temples, he gains addition merit. Building a house for a person who has no money and nowhere to live is a punya karma. Giving materials should be done to qualified or deserving persons. Before taking ones own food in the house one should offer the first portion to another person. One should give ones daughter along with ornaments to a suitable person of the same varna.”

“A person should show hospitality towards his guests and society as a whole. The householder should take care to serve guests when they arrive at his house. In the scriptures it is directed that after preparing food the householder should go to his door and call out three times for persons who have not eaten. If anyone appears, he should feed that person first, and later eat along with his family. There is a rule that one should call out about an hour after noon, but in modern times it is difficult to remain without food till then. Therefore whenever the food is ready, the householder should call out for hungry persons. This does not refer to feeding professional beggars. Social hospitality is performed by acts beneficial to society in general.”

“Selfishness is a great sin. Though all endeavors for gaining material assets in this life or the next are for ones own benefit, there is no injunction forbidding pursuit of those interests, for God has sanctioned personal and universal benefit to occur simultaneously. But if we ignore God’s interest, we can do no good to the world. That self-interest which lives at the expense of others’ welfare is condemned. From such selfishness arises undue miserliness towards ones family members, reluctance to do charity, argument, theft, frustration, egotism, envy, violence, lust and extravagance. According to the degree of selfishness in a person, one can measure his disservice to himself and the world. If no attempt is made to remove selfishness form the heart, the human being can not perform any beneficial activity.”

“Every householder should give in charity according to his capacity. To give a huge charity at a time is beyond the capacity of many householders, therefore the householders are aversed to such a form of charity. If a householder desires to give in charity and if it is impossible for him to give that charity at a time then he should give charity in installments and easily attain the result of his previously desired charity. If the householders become habituated to give in charity in this way then by the combine charity of the householders a great auspicious activity can be performed. Yet the householders will not have to suffer the distress of giving a huge charity. If they want to act like this then the householders should form a charitable committee in their respective villages or cities and with the accumulated money with that committee they should help the poor householders, fallen and poor people. If need arise they can also execute other auspicious activities without any obstacles. The committee belongs to ordinary mass of people, therefore it is the duty of everyone to keep an eye on the committee so that its activities can be carried out properly.”

“Giving charity and performing yoga, when connected to devotional service, are activities that lead to devotional service.”

“It is an utmost duty of every householder to honor his guests, help the poor and fallen, and try to associate with saintly persons. Due to the lack of proper education and training nowadays people do not consider honoring guests and helping the poor as a duty. One cannot say that no human being honor any guest or help the poor. Even today there is no scarcity of kind-hearted persons, but the fact is that they are very rare. A householder has so many duties, but generally people often neglect those three above-mentioned duties.”

“It is a duty of every householder to serve the guest who has no shelter and help the fallen and poor according to their capacity. One cannot estimate how many people take shelter of the householders for help due to so many reasons. To help the poor, fallen, and guests according to one’s ability is the desire of the auspicious creator. If you exhibit indifference in such activities, then you will certainly incur sin. The thoughtful sages have ascertained this as the duty of the householder. If a householder fails to execute these duties, he commits grave sin.”

Instructions from the life of Bhaktisiddhanta:

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada was traveling trough Orissa with his disciples. On one day as he was coming back from Saksi Gopal temple, some people on the way asked for alms from the married men who accompanied Srila Prabhupada, but none of them gave anything. Srila Prabhupada, in seeing this, stopped, sat down and started to talk about the duties of married men. During his chat he said:

“If married men think: ‘I must not give any of my money, which I consider reserved for Krishna, to the poor and deprived’, then they are really showing symptoms of wretchedness, cruelty and lack of compassion for others. They should not consider that giving charity to the poor is a fruitful activity. This kind of mentality shall make their hearts hard and they will suffer of greed. As a result of this they shall not want to spend their money, not even on the devotional service to the Supreme Lord, which is the ultimate goal in life. This will invite offenses in the service. To save ourselves of this kind of deceit and sinful concept, Sri Gaurasundara used to give money and things like that to the poor people during His pastimes as a married man.”

Other people’s views:

Message posted to PAMHO by Madana-mohana das (Chechnya FFL):

I happened to be involved in FFL relief effort in Chechnya (that is, by all considerations in an emergency zone) for some 4 months out of 18 months years.

I can attest here that during that 1.5 years:

– not only did we get some “cheap popularity”, when both Muslims and Russians, armed rebels and troops, governments and international charity workers, reporters and local clergy — in other words literally EVERYBODY swore that “Hare Krishnas” were living saints (which they really were, living in ruins for 18 months while feeding 3.000 people every single day with no sources of money and food),

– not only would all local Muslims knew and loved devotees to the point of folding hands and saying “Hare Krishna” whenever they saw us,

– not only did book distribution throughout Russia surge by leaps and bounds, when affluent people would get out of their limousines just to shake hands with a sankirtana devotee and ask him for one of those books “which makes people so selfless and humane”,

– not only did we get a tremendous amount of most positive publicity throughout the world extolling devotees as the only Russians who risked their lives to save their own brethren,

– not only did other international charities start requesting us to teach them effective emergency relief strategies, techniques and public relations, and consider it an honor for themselves to give our program some bulk food or logistic assistance,

– not only UK Overseas Development Agency, impresses with our work, offer us some $380,000 for six months to support prasadam distribution,

– not only did UN, OSCE and other international bodies include us in their reports as examples of most positive impact on the war-ravaged country and its people, which they tried so hard to get together,

– not only would our beneficiaries come begging us to please reveal to them the recipe of “that miracle porridge”, which tasted so wonderfully — and which in actuality contained nothing but millet, water, hardly any salt, no butter or sugar, but an abundance of Lord Caitanya’s mercy,

– not only would local Muslim leaders protect and respect our program so much so that when some scoundrels took our only van away at gunpoint, they threatened them to immediately return the car to us or else “Allah will never forgive you”,

– not only would they come respectfully asking our view on different theological issues and would sit politely conversing with us about philosophy of the BG and the Koran,

– BUT also that we — a handful of junior devotees — felt there so intensely ecstatic and blissful, so inspired and infused with the mercy of Lord Caitanya helping desperate people, that we were literally pleading with our authorities to never take us away from the dangers of the Chechen war back to our quite and peaceful ashrams.

SB 8.7.39: “People in general, being bewildered by the illusory energy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, are always engaged in animosity toward one another. But devotees, even at the risk of their own temporary lives, try to save them.”

Are we now to consider the above just some “mundane charity”, which displeases Srila Prabhupada and goes against his explicit instructions and desires? And what else should have we done there amidst raging war save and except a massive and intelligent prasadam distribution at governmental expense?

Of course, I can also fully sympathize with the apprehension that such charitable activity can potentially degrade to mere mundane work. But what possibly cannot?

Even giving lectures on Srimad Bhagavatam, worshipping the deity, chanting Hare Krishna and distributing books, as we all know just too well from Srila Prabhupada’s books and our own experience, can be performed for completely materialistic purposes.

I could witness myself that in India in some ISKCON temples this has already started to happen — when food for distribution, although nicknamed “prasadam”, is not even offered, is cooked by non-devotees and distributed just for the sake of creating good reputation and helping to collect more donations. I think THIS is what we should be concerned with as a downright deviation from Srila Prabhupada’s teachings and should try to change or stop it by all means.

But the same vigilance applies to any other insincerely performed anga of devotional service, which in that case becomes no less of a mundane activity that mundane food distribution. So, with this danger in mind, are we supposed to get rid of all angas of devotional service altogether — or just to perform them correctly.

With your kind permission would like to conclude with a very clear and self-evident quote from Srila Prabhupada’s purport on SB 4.12.10 — which, according to Srila Jayadvaita Maharaja’s brilliant essay “The VedaBase: What to make of what you find”, hold the ultimate level of authority exceeding that of quotes from his letters:

“Somehow or other, everyone can manage to perform such a yajna and distribute prasada to the people in general. That is quite sufficient for this age of Kali. The Krishna consciousness movement is based on this principle: chant the Hare Krishna mantra at every moment, as much as possible, both inside and outside of the temples, and, as far as possible, distribute prasada. ***This process can be accelerated with the cooperation of state administrators and those who are producing the country’s wealth.*** Simply by liberal distribution of prasada and sankirtana, the whole world can become peaceful and prosperous”.

As we see, the quote above gives full scope for all forms of vast and massive prasadam distribution that can secure governmental and business community’s support. And if we come to conclude that all we have to do to secure their full cooperation in our devotional service to Krishna is just to be organized, reliable AND socially relevant — what’s wrong with that?

Please forgive me for my being so long-winded and brazen here.

—-

Message posted to PAMHO by Kirtana rasa dasa:

The quote offered by BV Swami does not apply to Rupa’s program. It is a misapplication of Prabhupada’s teachings. I call it this because Food for Life and the Sandipani Muni school cannot be fairly classified as merely mundane “humanitarian” work or “relief institutions”. And, while we are on the topic of the word “humanitarian”, doesn’t Prabhupada repeatedly state that KC is the best humanitarian work? We know from Prabhupada’s example, from his letters, and from his books, that he approved of and encouraged prasadam distribution at and in our temples. We know that SP has taught us that devotional service is absolute and that one form of service should not be perceived as superior to another. Prasadam is Krishna, just as He is also His name. Rupa’s programs are not meant for just polishing the bird cage–they are nourishing the bird within. The children are taking prasadam, worshiping the Deity, chanting Hare Krishna and learning sastra. How is this a mundane “relief” program? Prabhupada was compassionate. There are letters where he stated that we would let the poor come naked to our temples and then feed them and cloth them. Do you think that they will not be grateful to us and to Krishna? Do you think that they will not be touched by the mercy of the vaisnavas and so become vaisnavas themselves? Do you think that little of the potency of the Holy Name and prasadam? We can be like the old Gaudiya Math and sit in our nice temples and argue over who gets what room, or we can find new fields for preaching like Srila Prabhupada did. The poor of the world and of India are ripe for becoming devotees. They know better than most of us that the material world is a miserable place. Let’s give them Krishna consciousness. But you can’t preach to a starving, sick person. Fill the belly with prasadam, the ears with the Holy Names, and the mind with sastra. That is what Rupa is doing, yet he is being criticized for doing mundane welfare work. His critics are thinking in a superficial manner. I’m sorry for being blunt, but it is absurd that this debate is even happening. We can stand back and be critical of these programs like Prabhupada’s godbrothers were critical of him (while doing almost nothing in comparison), or we help these programs and so spread KC.

—-

Message posted to PAMHO by Rupa Raghunath das (Vrindavan FFL):

But how are you planning to convince them to take to Krishna Consciousness? By ignoring them, by pretending they do not exist, by building big big marble temples, by having SB classes in our temples attended by a handful of committed devotees, by telling them you feed poor children and then give them a BBT book, by eating in the MVT restaurant while they are outside the gate begging, by having programs in reach people’s home. You cannot understand that for these people there is no present and there is no future, but WE have the power in our hands to make them devotees, to have them chant Hare Krishna and to live a life of dignity, or we can choose to ignore them and let them rot in the name of religion. In our Sandipani Muni school we have 450 poor destitute children wearing tilak and chanting hare Krishna every day all day, also reciting Bhagavad Gita slokas by heart every day, they are worshipping deities and they are chanting sarira avidya jan before taking prasada. is that Maya? would SP disapprove of that? In the villages with our social development programs hundreds of women are chanting “nama om vishnu padaya” every time they meet, all of them have japa and most of them are chanting at least 1 or more rounds every day. YES people are without Krishna consciousness because we are to damm locked up in our little world (sorry I should say little comfortable world)! You are still quoting Srila Prabhupada and we can also keep quoting him in an incredible positive way. Where are we gonna end up? maybe the conclusion is that SP just confused us by giving dual instructions? Instead of burying our heads in books all the time, we should look outside, there is a reality out there and that is that people are suffering and before you can bring them to Krishna you will have to show some compassion and care to them or they will not hear you at all.

—-

Message posted to PAMHO by Braja Sevaki devi dasi:

HG Priyavrata prabhu was recently in Mayapur, and spent some time in the courtyard, showing everyone what he was doing with FFL through brochures and photo albums. It was actually very inspiring to see the work they did in Sri Lanka: hundreds of children were left orphaned and homeless, but are now living in the Hare Krishna orphanage, attending school, taking prasad, chanting, wearing tilak, and receiving a Vaisnava education and upbringing. There is nothing mundane about this, though externally it seems that we are performing charity work. These children are devotees, pure and simple. They weren’t before, but they’re now devotees. Their upbringing in Krishna consciousness will remain with them for the rest of their lives. That’s preaching, not charity. And we are, first and foremost, a preaching mission.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *