By His immense transcendental energies, Krsna can convert matter into spirit. If we place an iron rod in a fire, before long the rod becomes red hot and acts just like fire. In the same way, food prepared for and offered to Krišna with love and devotion becomes spiritualized. Such food is called Krsna prasadam, which means "the mercy of Lord Krsna."
Eating prasadam is a fundamental practice of bhakti yoga. In other forms of yoga one must artificially repress the senses, but the bhakti-yogi can engage his or her senses in a variety of pleasing spiritual activities, such as tasting delicious food offered to Lord Krsna. In this way the senses gradually become spiritualized and bring the devotee more and more transcendental pleasure by being engaged in devotional service. Such spiritual pleasure far surpasses any kind of material experience.
Lord Caitanya said of prasadam, "Everyone has tasted these foods before. However, now that they have been prepared for Krišna and offered to Him with devotion, these foods have acquired extraordinary tastes and uncommon fragrances. Just taste them and see the difference in the experience! Apart from the taste, even the fragrance pleases the mind and makes one forget any other fragrance. Therefore one should know that the spiritual nectar of Krsna's lips must have touched these ordinary foods and imparted to them all their transcendental qualities."
Eating only food offered to Lord Krsna is the perfection of vegetarianism. In itself, being a vegetarian is not enough; after all, even pigeons and monkeys are vegetarians. But when we go beyond vegetarianism to a diet of prasadam, our eating becomes helpful in achieving the goal of human life--reawakening the soul's original relationship with God. In the Bhagavad-gita Krsna says that unless one eats only food that has been offered to Him in sacrifice, one will suffer the reactions of karma.
How To Offer Your Food To The Lord?
As you walk down the supermarket aisles selecting the foods you will offer to Krišna, you need to know what is offerable and what is not. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krišna states, "If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water, I will accept it." From this verse it is understood that we can offer Krišna foods prepared from milk products, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and grains. Meat, fish, and eggs are not offerable. And a few vegetarian items are also forbidden--garlic and onions, for example, which are in the mode of ignorance. (Hing, or asafetida, is a tasty substitute for them in cooking and is available at most Indian groceries.) Nor can you offer to Krišna coffee or tea that contain caffeine. If you like these beverages, purchase caffeine free coffee and herbal teas.
While shopping, be aware that you may find meat, fish, and egg products mixed with other foods; so be sure to read labels carefully. For instance, some brands of yogurt and sour cream contain gelatin, a substance made from the horns, hooves, and bones of slaughtered animals. Also, make sure the cheese you buy contains no rennet, an enzyme extracted from the stomach tissues of slaughtered calves. Most hard cheese sold in America contains rennet, so be careful about any cheese you can't verify as rennetless.
Also avoid foods cooked by non-devotees. According to the subtle laws of nature, the cook acts upon the food not only physically but mentally as well. Food thus becomes an agent for subtle influences on your conscious. The principle is the same as that at work with a painting: a painting is not simply a collection of strokes on a canvas but an expression of the artist's state of mind, which affects the viewer. So if you eat food cooked by non-devotees-employees working in a factory, for example--then you're sure to absorb a dose of materialism and karma. So as far as possible use only fresh, natural ingredients.
In preparing food, cleanliness is the most important principle. Nothing impure should be offered to God; so keep your kitchen very clean. Always wash your hands thoroughly before entering the kitchen. While preparing food, do not taste it, for you are cooking the meal not for yourself but for the pleasure of Krišna. Arrange portions of the food on dinnerware kept especially for this purpose; no one but the Lord should eat from these dishes. The easiest way to offer food is simply to pray, "My dear Lord Krišna, please accept this food," and to chant each of the following prayers three times while ringing a bell:
1. Prayer to Srila Prabhupada:
nama om vishnu-padaya Krišna-preshthaya bhutale
srimate bhaktivedanta-swamin iti namine
namas te saraswate deve gaura-vani-pracharine
nirvishesha shunyavadi pashchatya desha tarine
"I offer my respectful obeisances unto His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who is very dear to Lord Krišna, having taken shelter at His lotus feet. Our respectful obeisances are unto you, O spiritual master, servant of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami. You are kindly preaching the message of Lord Caitanya deva and delivering the Western countries, which are filled with impersonalism and voidism."
2. Prayer to Lord Chaitanya:
namo maha-vadanyaya Krišna-prema-pradaya te
Krišnaya Krišna-chaitanya-namne gaura-twishe namaha
"O most munificent incarnation! You are Krišna Himself appearing as Sri Krišna Caitanya Mahaprabhu. You have assumed the golden color of Srimati Radharani. and You are widely distributing pure love of Krišna. We offer our respectful obeisances unto You."
3. Prayer to Lord Krišna:
namo brahmanya-devaya go-brahmana-hitaya cha
jagad-dhitaya Krišnaya govindaya namo namaha
"I offer my respectful obeisances unto Lord Krišna, who is the worshipable Deity for all brahmanas the well-wisher of the cows and the brahmanas and the benefactor of the whole world. I offer my repeated obeisances to the Personality of Godhead, known as Krišna and Govinda."
Remember that the real purpose of preparing and offering food to the Lord is to show your devotion and gratitude to Him. Krišna accepts your devotion, not the physical offering itself. God is complete in Himself--He doesn't need anything--but out of His immense kindness He allows us to offer food to Him so that we can develop our love for Him.
After offering the food to the Lord, wait at least five minutes for Him to partake of the preparations. Then you should transfer the food from the special dinnerware and wash the dishes and utensils you used for the offering. Now you and any guests may eat the prasadam. While you eat, try to appreciate the spiritual value of the food. Remember that because Krišna has accepted it, it is non-different from Him, and therefore by eating it you will become purified.
Everything you offer on your altar becomes prasadam, the mercy of the Lord. The flowers, the incense, the water, the food--everything you offer for the Lord's pleasure becomes spiritualized. When we offer the Lord something with genuine love and devotion, He enters into the offering, and thus the remnants are non-different from Him. So you should not only deeply respect the things you've offered, but you should distribute them to others as well.