Prasad, Charanamrita and Acts versus Knowledge


Prasad  and Charanamrit     
By Swami Shivananda
Divine Life Society, Rishikesh
The word ‘prasad’ means that which gives peace. During any form of worship, ritual or ceremony, Hindus offer some items of food to the Lord. Puja is done with Bael leaves, flowers, Tulasi (Basil plant), Vibhuti and these are given as Prasada from the Lord.
Prasada is that which gives peace. Prasada is the sacred food offering of the Lord. During Kirtans (Singing hymns), worship, Puja, Havan and Arati, the devotee offers sweet rice, fruits, jaggery, milk, coconut, plantain and such other articles to the Lord, according to his ability. After offering them to the Lord, they are shared between the members of the house or the Bhaktas (devotees) in a temple.
Water, flowers, rice, etc., are offered to the Lord in worship. This denotes that the Lord is pleased with even the smallest offering. What is wanted is the heart of the devotee. The Lord says in the Gita :
"Patram Pushpam Phalam Toyam Yo Me Bhaktya Prayacchati;
Tadaham Bhaktyupahritamasanami Prayatatmanah" –
Whoever offers a leaf, a flower, a fruit or even water with devotion, that I accept, offered as it is with a loving heart".
It is not necessary that one should offer gold, silver and costly dress to the Lord. The devotee offers these according to his ability and position in life, thereby denoting that the whole wealth of the world belongs to the Lord. A rich man offers costly things to the Lord. He feeds the poor and serves the sick, seeing the Lord in his fellow-beings.
The mental Bhava (attitude) of the devotee offering Bhog to the Lord has very great effect. If an ardent devotee of the Lord offers anything to the Lord, that Prasada, if taken, would bring very great change even in the minds of atheists. The Grace of the Lord descends through Prasada. Go through the life of Narada. You will realise the greatness of the sacred leavings of the Lord as well as those of advanced Sadhakas and saints.
Namadeva offered rice etc., to Panduranga Vitthala and He ate the food and shared it with Namadeva as well. If the food is offered with an yearning heart, sometimes, the Lord takes that food assuming a physical form. In other cases, the Lord enjoys the subtle essence of the food offered, and the food remains as it is in the shape of Prasada. While feeding Mahatmas and the poor people, that which is left behind is taken as Prasada. When a sacrifice is performed, the participants share the Prasada which bestows the blessings of the gods. When Dasaratha performed Putrakameshti (a sacrifice performed wishing for a son), he got a vessel full of sweetened rice that he gave to his queens, by taking which they became pregnant.
A special form of prasad is the Charanamrit, which is the water or milk used to wash the feet of the idol, or of a holy saint. The Charanamrit has tremendous powers. It can change the outlook of a devotee entirely. It has the power to cure diseases. There are cases where it brought back life to the dead. Charanamrit is a tonic or medicine for misery, pain and anxiety. Intense faith is the all-important necessity for taking it. Without faith it brings very little benefit. The benefits of Prasada and Charanamrita are beyond description. They have the power to change entirely the outlook of a man’s life. There have been ever so many instances in the past in this holy land of ours (India) which bears witness to the potency and efficacy of Prasada. Prasada destroys all pains and sins. It is an antidote for misery, pain and anxiety. Faith is the important factor in testing the accuracy of this statement. For faithless persons, it brings very little effect.
Those who are brought up in modern education and culture have forgotten all about the glory of Prasada. Many Western educated persons do not attach any importance to Prasada when they get it from Mahatmas. This is a serious mistake. Prasada is a great purifier. As they are brought up in the Western style of living, they have imbibed the spirit of Westerners and forgotten the spirit of true children of Indian Rishis of yore. Live for a week in Vrindavana or Ayodhya or Varanasi or Pandharpur. You will realise the glory and the miraculous effects of Prasada. Many incurable diseases are cured. Many sincere aspirants get wonderful spiritual experiences from mere Prasada alone. Prasada is a panacea. Prasada is a spiritual elixir. Prasada is the Grace of the Lord. Prasada is a cure-all and an ideal pick-me-up. Prasada is an embodiment of Sakti. Prasada is Divinity in manifestation. Prasada energises, vivifies, invigorates and infuses devotion. It should be taken with great faith.
The prasad of the Lord is very sacred and purifying. If it is taken with faith and devotion, it brings miraculous results to the devotee.
The Lord enjoys the subtle essence of the food offered. The food is then eaten as prasad by the devotees.
While feeding Mahatmas, Sannyasins and the poor, that which is left over is also taken as prasad, because in feeding them, we feel that we are feeding God Himself.
When a ceremony is performed all the devotees should share the prasad and thus receive the blessings of the Deities. Prasad is extremely sacred. There is no restriction of any kind in taking prasad. Time, place or condition does not affect one. Prasad is all purifying.. Prasada is the most sacred object for a devotee. One should consider himself lucky to take the Prasada, and there is no restriction of any kind in taking Prasada. Prasada is all purifying.
Abhisheka – The meaning

By Swami Shivananda
The Divine Life Society, Rishikesh
Abhisheka is a part of the worship of Lord Siva. Without it, the worship is incomplete. It is the ceremonial bathing of the Siva Lingam in Siva temples.
A pot made of copper or brass, with a tiny hole in the centre, is kept hanging over the image or Lingam of Siva. The water drips (falls) on the image throughout the day and night. Pouring water, milk, ghee (clarified butter), curd, honey or coconut water over the Lingam is also Abhisheka. Whilst this is done, the Rudram is chanted loudly with devotion and love. Lord Siva is invoked by performing this Abhisheka.
Monday is a very important day for worshipping Lord Siva. The thirteenth day (Pradosha) of the bright and dark fortnights is also considered sacred. On these days, devotees of Lord Siva offer special worship with plenty of prasad.
The water of the Abhisheka is considered very sacred. It is known to grant great benefits on the devotees who take it as the Lord’s prasad. It purifies the heart and destroys countless sins. You should take it with intense faith and devotion.
When you perform Abhisheka with devotion, your mind is concentrated. Your heart is filled with divine thoughts and with the image of the Lord. You forget your body and your surroundings. Egoism vanishes. When the body is forgotten, you begin to enjoy and taste the eternal bliss of Lord Siva. The recitation of Mantras during the Abhisheka purifies the mind.
The greatest and the highest Abhisheka is to pour the waters of pure love on the Lingam in the lotus of the heart. The external Abhisheka with objects is intended to lead to this internal Abhisheka, wherein there is a flow of pure love.
The sacred prasad of the Lord and the holy water of the Abhisheka purify the heart if taken with faith and devotion. They can bring peace and prosperity.
Incurable diseases are cured by performing Abhisheka. It bestows health, wealth, prosperity, peace of mind and purity of heart. It expands the heart. It calls for self-sacrifice and self-surrender. There must be a natural feeling in the heart. "I am Thine, my Lord. All is Thine, my Lord."

Biodance - Natraj
The Dance of Shiva

We renew our physical body just as we regrow hair and nails. We are on the move. Five years ago we didn't exist, all our atoms having been replaced in the interval. Here today, completely gone in five years, renewed down to the last single atom, we endure only in the shape, form and pattern that are assured by our genetic blueprint.
Our replacement parts come in constant flow from the earth itself.  The carbon atoms in my body were once of the earth and shall be again, only to be exchanged for more of the same. After leaving my body they may re-enter me at a later time. Or they may be fixed for a while in the body of someone else- or something else- in this unending round of "biodance," this dance of life.

BIODANCE- the endless exchange of the elements of living things with the earth itself - proceeds silently, giving us no hint that it is happening. It is a dervish dance, animated and purposeful and disciplined; and it is a dance in which every living organism participates.

These observations simply defy any definition of a static and fixed body. Even our genes, our claim to biologic individuality, constantly dissolve and are renewed. Our dissolution is a silent flow occurring outside our awareness. we are in a persistent equilibrium with the earth.
It is not only our genes that renew themselves. The entire body participates in this astonishing dynamism. Radioisotopic techniques allow us to trace the chemicals that enter and leave the body. Aebersold has concluded that 98 percent of the 10 to the power of 28 28 atoms of the body are replaced annually. Some tissue, such as bone, is especially dynamic. Each body structure has its own rate of reformation: the lining of the stomach renews itself in a week; the skin is entirely replaced in a month; the liver is regenerated in six weeks.
Yet the boundary of our body has to be extended even farther than the earth itself. We know that certain elements in our body, such as the phosphorus in our bones, were formed at an earlier stage in the evolution of our galaxy. Like many elements in the earth's crust, it was cycled through the lifetime of several stars before appearing terrestrially, eventually finding its way into our body.
A strictly bounded body does not exist. Our roots go deep; we are anchored in the stars.
The biodance, the constant renewal of our body from the world outside, stands in playful contrast to our ordinary idea of death. We do not wait on death, for we are constantly returning to the earth while alive. Every living moment a portion of the billions of atoms in our body returns to the world outside. This constant streaming is so pronounced, so necessary for life, that the very notion of 'boundary' begins to appear as an arbitrary idea rather than a physical reality.
The dance of Shiva is considered an act of creation. It arouses dormant energies.This productive energy of the Absolute in its pristine strength represents the forces of evolution and involution, the appearance and disappearance of the universe.
Every aspect of life has two opposite entities. Deva is the divine principle and Bhuta is matter. Deva is light , truth and immortality; Bhuta is darkness, untruth and death. One is positive and the other is negative; one is life and the other is inertia. The cycle of life and death can only proceed when these two basic opposite forces, represented by the Devas and the Bhutas are finally reconciled. These two opposite principles are eternally in conflict (Daivasuram) but become reconciled in the body of Shiva. Their co-existence is expressed in the rhythm of Shiva's dance.
Natraj - the cosmic dancer - represents the constant biodance of life- creation, maintenance and transformation and indicates the perfect balance between life and death. Shiva's dance is the most inspiring and pragmatic act typifying the eternal rhythm which is the cause of the infinite creative process. Shiva is the presiding deity of the mind. The entire universe created by Shiva is his SHAKTI (Prakriti, or Nature) or energy. Shiva's dance movements represent the movement of his SHAKTI or energy.
Bhagavad Gita, Ch.13, Verse 29:
"He sees, who sees that all actions are performed by Nature alone and that the Self is actionless."

Acts versus Knowledge
(The religion of ) Pravritti Dharma and Nivritti Dharma

"In this world there is a two fold path; the path of knowledge
of the Sankhyas and the path of action of the Yogis."
--The Bhagavad Gita, Ch 3, Verse

"The Vedic dharma (religion) is verily twofold, characterised by
Pravritti (social action) and Nivritti (inward contemplation),
designed to promote order in the world; this twofold dharma has
in view the true social welfare and spiritual emancipation of
all beings."

-Sri Shankaracharaya (A.D. 788-820)
One of the greatest philosophers of India.

From The Bhagavad Gita
Chapter 18, Verses 5, 6, 7 & 11

Acts of sacrifice, gift and austerity should not be abandoned, but should be performed ; sacrifice, gift and also austerity are the purifiers of the wise.
[Note: There are three types of Sacrifice,gift and austerity; Sattwic, Rajasic and Tamasic.]

But even these actions should be performed leaving
aside attachment and the desire for rewards.

Verily the renunciation of obligatory action (acts of sacrifice, gift and austerity) is not proper ; the abandonment of the same from delusion is declared to be Tamasic.
Verily, it is not possible for an embodied being to abandon actions entirely ; but he who relinquishes the rewards of actions is verily called a man of renunciation.

From the Mahabharata
Santi Parva, Section CCXLI
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli
Addressing his father, Suka said:
The declaration of the Vedas are twofold. They once lay down the command, "Do all acts." They also indicate the reverse saying, "Give up acts." Where do persons go by the aid of Knowledge and where by the aid ofActs? Indeed, these declarations about knowledge and acts are dissimilar and even contradictory. I desire to hear this. Do tell me this.
Vyasa said: I shall expound to thee the two paths, viz., the destructible and the indestructible, depending respectively upon acts and knowledge.Listen with concentrated attention, O child, to me, as I tell thee the place that is reached by one with the aid of knowledge, and that other place which is reached with the aid of acts. The difference between these two places, is as great as the limitless sky. These are the two paths upon which the Vedas are established; the duties indicated by Pravritti and those based on Nivritti.
By acts, a living creature is destroyed. By knowledge, however, he becomes emancipated. For this reason, Yogis who behold the other side of the ocean of life never betake themselves to acts. Through acts one is forced to take rebirth, after death, with a body composed of the six and ten ingredients.
Through knowledge, however, one becomes transformed into that which is Eternal, Unmanifest, and Immutable.
One class of persons that are however of little intelligence, applaud acts. In consequence of this they have to assume bodies (one after another) ceaselessly. Those men whose perceptions are keen in respect of duties and who have attained to that high understanding (which leads to knowledge), never applaud acts even as persons that depend for their drinking water upon the supply of streams never applaud wells and water tanks.
The fruit that one obtains of acts consists of pleasure and pain, of existence and non-existence. By knowledge, one attains to that where there is no occasion for grief; where one becomes freed from both birth and death; where one is not subject to decrepitude; where one transcends the state of conscious existence. By knowledge, one attains to Brahman, which is Supreme, Unmanifest, immutable, ever-existent, imperceptible, above the reach of pain, immortal, and transcending destruction; where all become freed from the influence of all pairs of opposites (like pleasure and pain, heat and cold, insults and compliments, happiness and unhappiness etc., where all become freed also of wish or purpose.
Reaching that stage, they cast equal eyes on everything, become universal friends and devoted to the good of all creatures. There is a wide gulf, O son, between one devoted to knowledge and one devoted to acts. Know that the man of knowledge, without undergoing destruction, remains existent forever like the moon on the last day of the dark fortnight existing in a subtle (but undestroyed) form.
As regards the man devoted to acts, his nature may be inferred from beholding the newborn moon, which appears like a bent thread in the firmament (subject to growth and decay). That person of acts takes rebirth with a body with eleven entities for its ingredients, that are the results of modification, and with a subtile form that represents a total of six and ten. The deity who takes refuge in that (material) form, like a drop of water on a lotus leaf, should be known as Kshetrajna (Soul), which is Eternal, and which succeeds by Yoga in transcending both the mind and the knowledge.
[Note: The soul resides in the body without partaking of any of the attributes of the body. It is, therefore, likened to a drop of water on a lotus leaf, which, though on the leaf, is not yet attached to it, in so much that it may go off without at all soaking or drenching any part of the leaf.]
Tamas, Rajas, and Sattwa are the attributes of the knowledge. The knowledge is the attribute of the individual soul residing within the body. The individual soul, in its turn, comes from the Supreme Soul. The body with the soul is said to be the attribute of jiva (embodied soul). It is jiva that acts and cause all bodies to live.

Of knoweldge, there is no end
From The Mahabharata
Aswamedha Parva, Section XLIV
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Brahma (Prajapati) said: All actions end in destruction, and all that is born is certain to meet with death. Every mobile and immobile thing in this world is transient. Days end with the sun's setting and Nights with the sun's rising. The end of pleasure is always sorrow, and the end of sorrow is always pleasure. All accumulations have exhaustion for their end, and all ascent have falls for their end. All associations have dissociations for their end, and life has death for its end. Sacrifice, gift, penances, study, vows, observances, - all these have destruction for their end. Of Knowledge, there is no end. Hence, one that is possessed of a tranquil soul, that has subjugated his senses, that is freed from the sense of meum, that is devoid of egoism, is released from all sins by pure knowledge.

From The Mahabharata
Aswamedha Parva, Section XXXI
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

The Brahmana said: There are three foes in this world. They are said to be ninefold, agreeably to their qualities.
Exultation, satisfaction and joy ;
these three qualities appertain to Goodness (Sattwa).

Cupidity, wrath and hatred ; these three qualities are said to appertain to Passion (Rajas).
Lassitude, procrastination and delusion ; these three qualities appertain to Darkness (Tamas).
Cutting these with showers of arrows, the man of intelligence, free from procrastination, possessed of a tranquil soul, and with his senses under subjection, ventures to vanquish others.
Kshetrajna (Supreme Lord) is eternal and is destitute of qualities as regards its essence. Kshetra (Prakritii or the manifest or matter) is that in which the qualities are produced and absorbed. Hence one who understands duties, casting off qualities and the understanding, and having his sins destroyed, and transcending the qualities, enters the Kshetrajna.
[Note: The realisation of the Self is attained when one transcends or annihilates the three gunas or qualities (Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas). Spirit is devoid of qualities or attributes; matter is endowed with qualities or attributes. The qualities of Sattwa,Rajas and Tamas appertain to matter or Maya. Exultation, satisfaction and joy, although these are Sattwic qualities, are nevertheless qualities or attributes. With the aid of the Sattwic qualities, one transcends all the qualities and discards all the qualities, as when an athlete, pole-vaulting with the aid of a long pole, goes over (transcends) to the other side of the bar, but it is impossible for him to take the long pole with him over the bar, just so, likened to the pole are the Sattwic qualities which (casting off) have to be transcended along with the other two qualities of Rajas and Tamas.

From The Mahabharata, Santi Parva
Section.CCXXXI :

Mind is identical with the manifes

From The Mahabharata
Santi Parva, Sec.CCXXXII :
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

The Creator creates with the help of Avidya (Maya or prakriti) this universe. At first springs up that which is called Mahat. That Mahat is speedily transformed into Mind which is the soul of the Manifest

From The Mahabharata
Aswamedha Parva, Sec. XXXI
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

In days of old, king Ambarisha had acquired a tranquil soul. When diverse kinds of faults were in the ascendant and when the righteous were afflicted, Ambarisha of great fame put forth his strength for assuming sovereignty. Subduing his own faults and worshipping the righteous, he attained to great success and sang these verses:
'I have subdued many faults. I have killed all foes. But there is one, the greatest vice, which deserves to be destroyed but which has not been destroyed by me! Urged by that fault, this Jiva (embodied soul) fails to attain to freedom from desire. Afflicted by desire, one runs into ditches without knowing it. Urged by that fault, one indulges in acts that are forbidden.
Do thou cut off that cupidity with sharp-edged swords.

From cupidity arises desires. From desire flows anxiety. The man who yields to desire acquires many qualities that appertain to passion (Rajas). When these have been acquired, he gets many qualities that appertain to Darkness (Tamas). In consequence of those qualities, he repeatedly takes birth, with the bonds of body united, and is impelled to action. Upon the expiration of life, with body becoming dismembered and scattered, he once meets with death which is due to birth itself. Hence, duly understanding this, and subduing cupidity by intelligence, one should desire for sovereignty in one's soul. This is true sovereignty. There is no other sovereignty here. The soul, properly understood, is the king. Even these were the verses sung by king Ambarisha of great celebrity, on the subject of sovereignty which he kept before him; that king who had cut off the one foremost fault viz., cupidity '.

The Religion ordained for the householder
From the Mahabharata
Anusasana parva, Section CXLI
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Maheshwara said: The religion ordained for the householder is said to have Pravritti for its chief indication. Auspicious and beneficial to all creatures, I shall expound it to thee. The householder should always make gifts according to the measure of his power. He should also perform sacrifices frequently after the same manner. Indeed, he who wishes to achieve his own good should always achieve meritorious acts. The householder should acquire wealth by righteous means. The wealth thus acquired should be carefully divided into three portions, keeping the requirements of righteousness in view. With one of those portions he should accomplish all acts of righteousness. With another he should seek to gratify his cravings for pleasure. The third portion he should lay out for increasing. Of all the modes of life, that of the householder is the first. Of this there is no doubt.
Abstention from injury, truthfulness of speech, compassion towards all beings, tranquillity of soul, and the making of gifts to the best of one’s power, are the foremost duties of the householder. Abstention from sexual congress with the spouses of other men, protection of the wealth and the woman committed to one’s charge, unwillingness to appropriate what is not given to one, and avoidance of honey and meat, - these are the five chief duties. Indeed, Religion or Duty has many branches all of which are fraught with happiness. Even these are the duties which these embodied creatures who regard duty as superior should observe and practice. Even these are the sources of merit.
The conduct of husband and wife should be equal
The conduct of husband and wife, in the case of householder, should be equal. He should every day make offerings of flowers and other articles unto those deities that preside over domesticity. Well cleaned and well rubbed, his house should also be every day fumigated with the smoke of Homa (ghee or clarified butter poured on his sacred fire in honour of the deities and the Pitris or ancestors). [Related articles "Mantras–Sacred fire" See column on the left]. Even these are the duties appertaining to the householder’s mode of life as observable by a regenerate person. Those duties really uphold the world.
Householders of pure mind are capable of earning very great merit. Indeed, he who cleanses his soul by the performance of the five sacrifices (yajnas; the five yajnas or sacrifices are Deva yajna, Rishi yajna, Manushya yajna, Pitri yajna, and Bhuta yajna).
[Related articles Mantras-Sacred Fire topic "Sacrifice"]
He who is truthful in speech, who is free from malice, who makes gifts, who treats with hospitality and honour all regenerate [Note:Regenerate is twice-born (Dwija):mother gives physical or genetic birth; teacher gives spiritual birth] guests, who lives in well cleansed abodes, who is free from pride, who is always sincere in his dealings, who uses sweet and assuring words towards others, who takes pleasure in serving guests and others arrived at his abode, and who eats the food that remains after the requirements have been gratified of all the members of his family and dependants, wins great merit.
That householder who rises at dawn, and serves food to his guests, and having honoured them duly bids them farewell by following them (as mark of honour) for a little distance, acquires eternal merit. Hospitality towards all, and the pursuit of the aggregate of the three (Religion, Wealth and Pleasure), are the duties of the householder.
(The religion of Nivritti is different. It exists for emancipation from re-birth by absorption into God).

Om Tat Sat


(My humble salutations to Swamy Sivananda Saraswathi and  Brahmasri Sreeman K M Ganguly   for the collection)


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