Vegetarianism : A Mean to A Higher End
By Mr. Adiraja Dasa
This is a practical cookbook, designed to help you prepare authentic Indian meals in your own home and to acquaint you with the tradition behind India's great vegetarian cuisine. It explains not only the techniques of Vedic, or classical Indian vegetarian cooking, but also the Vedic art of eating, which nourishes both the soul and the body and mind.
The word vegetarian, coined by the founders of the British Vegetarian Society in 1842, comes from the Latin word vegetus, meaning "whole, sound, fresh, or lively," as in homo vegetus-a mentally and physically vigorous person. The original meaning of the word implies a balanced philosophical and moral sense of life, a lot more than just a diet of vegetables and fruits.
Most vegetarians are people who have understood that to contribute towards a more peaceful society we must first solve the problem of violence in our own hearts. So it's not surprising that thousands of people from all walks of life have, in their search for truth, become vegetarian. Vegetarianism is an essential step towards a better society, and people who take the time to consider its advantages, will be in the company of such thinkers as Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Clement of Alexandria, Plutarch, King Asoka, Leonardo da Vinci, Montaigne, Akbar, John Milton, Sir Isaac Newton, Emanuel Swedenbourg, Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, Jean Jacques Rousear, Lamartine, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, George Bernard Shaw, Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer, and Albert Einstein.
Let's examine some of the advantages of becoming vegetarian.
Health and Nutrition : Can a vegetarian diet improve or restore health? Can it prevent certain diseases?
Advocates of vegetarianism have said yes for many years, although they didn't have much support from modern science until recently. Now, medical researchers have discovered evidence of a link between meat-eating and such killers as heart disease and cancer, so they're giving vegetarianism another look.
Since the 1960s, scientists have suspected that a meat-based diet is somehow related to the development of arteriosclerosis and heart disease. As early as 1961, the Journal of the American Medical Association said: "Ninety to ninety-seven percent of heart disease can be prevented by a vegetarian diet." Since that time, several well-organized studies have scientifically shown that after tobacco and alcohol, the consumption of meat is the greatest single cause of mortality in Western Europe, the United States, Australia, and other affluent areas of the world.
The human body is unable to deal with excessive amounts of animal fat and cholesterol. A poll of 214 scientists doing research on arteriosclerosis in 23 countries showed almost total agreement that there is a link between diet, serum cholesterol levels, and heart disease. When a person eats more cholesterol than the body needs (as he usually does with a meat-centered diet), the excess cholesterol gradually becomes a problem. It accumulates on the inner walls of the arteries, constricts the flow of blood to the heart, and can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and strokes.
On the other hand, scientists at the University of Milan and Maggiore Hospital have shown that vegetable protein may act to keep cholesterol levels low. In a report to the British medical journal The Lancet, D.C.R. Sirtori concluded that people with the type of high cholesterol associated with heart disease "may benefit from a diet in which protein comes only from vegetables."
What about cancer? Research over the past twenty years strongly suggests a link between meat-eating and cancer of the colon, rectum, breast, and uterus. These types of cancer are rare among those who eat little or no meat, such as Seventh-Day Adventists, Japanese, and Indians, but they are prevalent among meat-eating populations."
Another article in The Lancet reported, "People living in the areas with a high recorded incidence of carcinoma of the colon tend to live on diets containing large amounts of fat and animal protein; whereas those who live in areas with a low incidence live on largely vegetarian diets with little fat or animal matter."
Rollo Russell, in his Notes on the Causation of Cancer, says, "I have found of twenty-five nations eating flesh largely, nineteen had a high cancer rate and only one had a low rate, and that of thirty-five nations eating little or no flesh, none had a high rate."
Why do meat-eaters seem more prone to these diseases? One reason given by biologists and nutritionists is that man's intestinal tract is simply not suited for digesting meat. Flesh-eating animals have short intestinal tracts (three times the length of the animal's body), to pass rapidly decaying toxin-producing meat out of the body quickly. Since plant foods decay more slowly than meat, plant-eaters have intestines at least six times the length of the body. Man has the long intestinal tract of a herbivore, so if he eats meat, toxins can overload he kidneys and lead to gout, arthritis, rheumatism and even cancer.
And then there are the chemicals added to meat. As soon as an animal is slaughtered, its flesh begins to putrefy, and after several days it turns a sickly gray-green. The meat industry masks this discoloration by adding nitrites, nitrates, and other preservatives to give the meat a bright red color. But research has now shown many of these preservatives to be carcinogenic. And what makes the problem worse is the massive amounts of chemicals fed to livestock. Gary and Steven Null, in their book, Poisons in your Body, show us something that ought to make anyone think twice before buying another steak or ham. "The animals are kept alive and fattened by continuous administration of tranquilizers, hormones, antibiotics, and 2,700 other drugs. The process starts even before birth and continues long after death. Although these drugs will still be present in the meat when you eat it, the law does not require that they be listed on the package."
Because of findings like this, the American National Academy of Sciences reported in 1983 that "people may be able to prevent many common types of cancer by eating less fatty meats and more vegetables and grains."
But wait a minute! Weren't human beings designed to be meat-eaters? Don't we need animal protein?
The answer to both these questions is no. Although some historians and anthropologists say that man is historically omnivorous, our anatomical equipment - teeth, jaws, and digestive system-favors a fleshless diet. The American Dietetic Association notes that "most of mankind for most of human history has lived on vegetarian or near-vegetarian diets."
And much of the world still lives that way. Even in most industrialized countries, the love affair with meat is less than a hundred years old. It started with the refrigerator car and the twentieth-century consumer society.
But even in the twentieth century, man's body hasn't adapted to eating meat. The prominent Swedish scientist Karl von Linne states, "Man's structure, external and internal, compared with that of the other animals, shows that fruit and succulent vegetables constitute his natural food." This chart (under construction) compares the anatomy of man with that of carnivorous and herbivorous animals.
As for the protein question, Dr. Paavo Airo, a leading authority on nutrition and natural biology, has this to say: "The official daily recommendation for protein has gone down from the 150 grams recommended twenty years ago to only 45 grams today. Why? Because reliable worldwide research has shown that we do not need so much protein, that the actual daily need is only 35 to 45 grams. Protein consumed in excess of the actual daily need is not only wasted, but actually causes serious harm to the body and is even causatively related to such killer diseases as cancer and heart disease. In order to obtain 45 grams of protein a day from your diet you do not have to eat meat; you can get it from a 100 percent vegetarian diet of a variety of grains, lentils, nuts, vegetables, and fruits."
Dairy products, grains, beans, and nuts are all concentrated sources of protein. Cheese, peanuts, and lentils, for instance, contain more protein per ounce than hamburger, pork, or porterhouse steak.
Still, nutritionists thought until recently that only meat, fish, eggs, and milk product had complete proteins (containing the eight amino acids not produced in the body), and that all vegetable proteins were incomplete (lacking one or more of these amino acids). But research at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and the Max Plank Institute in Germany has shown that most vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, and grains are excellent sources of complete proteins. In fact, their proteins are easier to assimilate than those of meat-and they don't bring with them any toxins. It's nearly impossible to lack protein if you eat enough natural unrefined food. Remember, the vegetable kingdom is the real source of all protein. Vegetarians simply eat it "direct" instead of getting it second-hand from the vegetarian animals.
Too much protein intake even reduces the body's energy. In a series of comparative endurance tests conducted by Dr. Irving Fisher of Yale University, vegetarians performed twice as well as meat-eaters. When Dr. Fisher knocked down the non-vegetarians protein consumption by twenty percent, their efficiency went up by thirty-three percent. Numerous other studies have shown that a proper vegetarian diet provides more nutritional energy than meat. A study by Dr. J. Iotekyo and V. Kipani at Brussels University showed that vegetarians were able to perform physical tests two to three times longer than meat-eaters before tiring out-and the vegetarians fully recovered from fatigue three times more quickly than the meat-eaters.
Economics : Meat feeds few at the expense of many. For the sake of producing meat, grain that could feed people feeds livestock instead. According to information compiled by the United States Department of Agriculture, over ninety percent of all the grain produced in America goes to feed livestock-cows, pigs, sheep, and chickens-that wind up on dinner tables. Yet the process of using grain to produce meat is incredibly wasteful. Figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that for every sixteen pounds of grain fed to cattle, we get back only one pound of meat.
In Diet for a Small Planet, Frances Moore Lappe asks us to imagine ourselves sitting down to an eight-ounce steak. "Then imagine the room filled with 45 to 50 people with empty bowls in from of them. For the 'feed cost' of your steak, each of their bowls could be filled with a full cup of cooked cereal grains."
Affluent nations do not only waste their own grains to feed livestock, they also use protein-rich plant foods from poor nations. Dr. Georg Borgstrom, an authority on the geography of food, estimates that one-third of Africa's peanut crop (and peanuts give the same amount of protein as meat) ends up in the stomachs of cattle and poultry in Western Europe.
In underdeveloped countries, a person consumes an average of four hundred pounds of grain a year, most of it by eating it directly. In contrast, says world food authority Lester Brown, the average European or American goes through two thousand pounds a year, by first feeding almost ninety percent of it to animals for meat. The average European or American meat-eater, Brown says, uses five times the food resources of the average Colombian, Indian, or Nigerian.
Facts such as these have led food experts to point out that the world hunger problem is artificial. Even now, we are already producing more than enough food for everyone on the planet-but we are allocating it wastefully.
Harvard nutritionist Jean Mayer estimates that bringing down meat production by only ten percent would release enough grain to feed sixty million people.
Another price we pay for meat-eating is degradation of the environment. The heavily contaminated runoff and sewage form slaughterhouses and feedlots are major sources of pollution of rivers and streams. It is fast becoming apparent that the fresh water resources of this planet are not only becoming contaminated but also depleted, and the meat industry is particularly wasteful. Georg Borgstrom says the production of livestock created ten times more pollution than residential areas, and three times more than industry.
In their book Population Resources, and Environment, Paul and Anne Ehrlich show that to grow one pound of wheat requires only sixty pounds of water, whereas production of one pound of meat requires anywhere from 2,500 to 6,000 pounds of water.
And in 1973 the New York Post uncovered a shocking misuse of this most valuable resource-one large chicken-slaughtering plant in the United States was using one hundred mission gallons of water daily, and amount that could supply a city of twenty-five thousand people.
But now let's turn from the world geopolitical situation, and get right down to our own pocketbooks. A spot check of supermarkets in New York in January 1986 showed that sirloin steak cost around four dollars a pound, while ingredients for a delicious, substantial vegetarian meal average less than two dollars a pound. An eight ounce container of cottage cheese costing sixty cents provides sixty percent of the minimum daily requirement of protein. Becoming a vegetarian could potentially save you at least several thousand dollars a year, tens of thousands of dollars over the course of a lifetime. The savings to America's consumers would amount to billions of dollars annually. And the same principle applies to consumers all over the world. Considering all this, it's hard to see how anyone could afford not to become a vegetarian.
Ethics : Many people consider the ethical reasons the most important of all for becoming vegetarian. The beginning of ethical vegetarianism is the knowledge that other creatures have feelings, and that their feelings are similar to ours. This knowledge encourages one to extend personal awareness to encompass the suffering of others.
In an essay titled "The Ethics of Vegetarianism," from the journal of the North American Vegetarian Society, the conception of "humane animal slaughter" is refuted. "Many people nowadays have been lulled into a sense of complacency by the thought that animals are now slaughtered 'humanely', thus presumably removing any possible humanitarian objection to the eating of meat. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the actual facts of life...and death.
The entire life of a captive 'food animal' is an unnatural one of artificial breeding, vicious castration and/or hormone stimulation, feeding of an abnormal diet for fattening purposes, and eventually long rides in intense discomfort to the ultimate end. The holding pens, the electric prods and tail twisting, the abject terror and fright, all these are still very much a part of the most 'modern' animal raising, shipping, and slaughtering. To accept all this and only oppose the callous brutality of the last few seconds of the animal's life, is to distort the word 'humane'."
The truth of animal slaughter is not at all pleasant-commercial slaughterhouses are like visions of hell. Screaming animals are stunned by hammer blows, electric shock, or concussion guns. They are hoisted into the air by their feet and moved through the factories of death on mechanized conveyor systems. Still alive, their throats are sliced and their flesh is cut off while they bleed to death. Why isn't the mutilation and slaughter of farm animals governed by the same stipulations intended for the welfare of pets and even the laboratory rat?
Many people would no doubt take up vegetarianism if they visited a slaughterhouse, or if they themselves had to kill the animals they ate. Such visits should be compulsory for all meat eater..
Pythagoras, famous for his contributions to geometry and mathematics, said, "Oh, my fellow men, do not defile your bodies with sinful foods. We have corn, we have apples bending down the branches with their weight, and grapes swelling on the vines. There are sweet-flavored herbs, and vegetables which can be cooked and softened over the fire, nor are you denied mild or thyme-scented honey. The earth affords a lavish supply of riches of innocent foods, and offers you banquets that involve no bloodshed or slaughter, only beasts satisfy their hunger with flesh, and not even all of those, because horses, cattle, and sheep live on grass."
In an essay titled On Eating Flesh, the Roman author Plutarch wrote: "Can you really ask what reason Pythagoras had for abstinence from flesh? For my part I rather wonder both by what accident and in what state of mind the first man touched his mouth to gore and brought his lips to the flesh of a dead creature, set forth tables of dead, stale bodies, and ventured to call food and nourishment the pets that had a little before bellowed and cried, moved and lived... It is certainly not lions or wolves that we eat out of self-defense; on the contrary, we ignore these and slaughter harmless, tame creatures without stings or teeth to harm us. For the sake of a little flesh we deprive them of sun, of light, of the duration of life they are entitled to by birth and being."
Plutarch then delivered this challenge to flesh-eaters: "If you declare that you are naturally designed for such a diet, then first kill for yourself what you want to eat. Do it, however only through your own resources, unaided by cleaver or cudgel or any kind of ax."
The poet Shelly was a committed vegetarian. In his essay A Vindication of Natural Diet, he wrote, "Let the advocate of animal food force himself to a decisive experiment on its fitness, and as Plutarch recommends, tear a living lamb with his teeth and plunging his head into its vitals, slake his thirst with the steaming blood...then, and then only, would he be consistent."
Leo Tolstoy wrote that by killing animals for food, "Man suppresses in himself, unnecessarily, the highest spiritual capacity-that of sympathy and pity toward living creatures like himself-and by violating his own feelings becomes cruel." He also warned, "While our bodies are the living graves of murdered animals, how can we expect any ideal conditions on earth?"
When we lose respect for animal life, we lose respect for human life as well. Twenty-six hundred years ago, Pythagoras said, "Those that kill animals to eat their flesh tend to massacre their own." We're fearful of enemy guns, bombs, and missiles, but can we close our eyes to the pain and fear we ourselves bring about by slaughtering, for human consumption, over 1.6 billion domestic mammals and 22.5 billion poultry a year. The number of fish killed each year is in the trillions. And what to speak of the tens of millions of animals killed each year in the "torture-camps" of medical research laboratories, or slaughtered for their fur, hide, or skin, or hunted for "sport". Can we deny that this brutality makes us more brutal too?
Leonardo da Vinci wrote, "Truly man is the king of beasts, for his brutality exceeds theirs. We live by the death of others. We are burial places!" He added, "The time will come when men will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men."
Mahatma Gandhi felt that ethical principles are a stronger support for lifelong commitment to a vegetarian diet than reasons of health. "I do feel," he stated, "that spiritual progress does demand at some stage that we should cease to kill our fellow creatures for the satisfaction of our bodily wants." He also said, "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."
Religion : All major religious scriptures enjoin man to live without killing unnecessarily. The Old Testament instructs, "Thou shalt not kill." (Exodus 20:13) This is traditionally misinterpreted as referring only to murder. But the original Hebrew is lo tirtzach, which clearly translates "Thou shalt not kill." Dr. Reuben Alcalay's Complete Hebrew/English Dictionary says that the word tirtzach, especially in classical Hebrew usage, refers to "any kind of killing," and not necessarily the murder of a human being.
Although the Old Testament contains some prescriptions for meat-eating, it is clear that the ideal situation is vegetarianism, In Genesis (1:29) we find God Himself proclaiming, "Behold, I have given you every herb-bearing tree, in which the fruit of the tree yielding seed, it unto you shall be for meat." And in later books of the Bible, major prophets condemn meat-eating.
For many Christians, major stumbling blocks are the belief that Christ ate meat and the many references to meat in the New Testament. But close study of the original Greek manuscripts shows that the vast majority of the words translated as "meat" and "trophe, brome," and other words that simply mean "food" or "eating" in the broadest sense. For example, in the Gospel of St. Luke (8:55) we read that Jesus raised a woman from the dead and "commanded to give her meat." The original Greek word translated as "meat" is "phago," which means only "to eat." The Greek word for meat is kreas ("flesh"), and it is never used in connection with Christ. Nowhere in the New Testament is there any direct reference to Jesus eating meat. This is in line with Isaiah's famous prophecy about Jesus's appearance, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call him name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good."
In Thus Spoke Mohammed (the translation of the Hadith by Dr. M.Hafiz Syed), the disciples of the prophet Mohammed ask him, "Verily are there rewards for our doing good to quadrupeds, and giving them water to drink?" Mohammed answers, "There are rewards for benefiting every animal."
Lord Buddha is known particularly for His preaching against animal killing. He established ahimsa (nonviolence) and vegetarianism as fundamental steps on the path of self-awareness and spoke the following two maxims, "Do not butcher the ox that plows thy fields," and "Do not indulge a voracity that involves the slaughter of animals."
The Vedic scriptures of India, which predate Buddhism, also stress nonviolence as the ethical foundation of vegetarianism. "Meat can never be obtained without injury to living creatures," states the ,manu-samhita, the ancient Indian code of law, "Let one therefore shun the use of meat." In another section, the Manu-samhita warns "Having well considered the disgusting origin of flesh and the cruelty of fettering and slaying of corporeal beings, let one entirely abstain form eating flesh." In the Mahabharata (the epic poem which contains 100,000 verses and is said toe be the longest poem in the world), there are many injunctions against killing animals. Some examples: "He who desires to increase the flesh of his own body by eating the flesh of other creatures lives in misery in whatever species he may take his birth."; "Who can be more cruel and selfish than he who augments his flesh by eating the flesh of innocent animals?"; and "Those who desire to possess good memory, beauty, long life with perfect health, and physical, moral and spiritual strength, should abstain form animal food."
All living entities possess a soul. In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna describes the soul as the source of consciousness and the active principle that activates the body of every living being. According to the Vedas, a soul in a form lower than human automatically evolves to the next higher species, ultimately arriving at the human form. Only in the human form of life can the soul turn its consciousness towards God and at the time of death be transferred back to the spiritual world. In both the social order and the universal order, a human being must obey laws.
In his Srimad-Bhagavatam purports, Srila Prabhupada says, "All living entities have to fulfill a certain duration for being encaged in a particular type of material body. They have to finish the duration allotted in a particular body before being promoted or evolved to another body. Killing an animal or any other living simply places an impediment in the way of his completing his term of imprisonment in a certain body. One should therefore not kill bodies for one's sense gratification, for this will implicate one in sinful activity." In short, killing an animal interrupts its progressive evolution through the species, and the killer will invariably suffer the reaction for this sinful behavior.
In the Bhagavad-gita (5.18) Krishna explains that spiritual perfection begins when one can see the equality of all living beings, "The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana (a priest), a cow, an elephant, a dog, and a dog-eater (outcast)." Krishna also instructs us to adopt the principles of spiritual vegetarianism when He states, "Offer Me with love and devotion a fruit, a flower, a leaf, or water, and I will accept it."
Karma : The Sanskrit word karma means "action", or more specifically, any material action that brings a reaction that binds us to the material world. Although the idea of karma is generally associated with Eastern philosophy, many people in the West are also coming to understand that karma is a natural principle, like time or gravity, and no less inescapable. For every action there is a reaction. According to the law of karma, if we cause pain and suffering to other living beings, we must endure pain and suffering in return, both individually and collectively. We reap what we sow, in this life and the next, for nature has her own justice. No one can escape the law of karma, except those who understand how it works.
To understand how karma can cause war, for example, let's take an illustration from the Vedas. Sometimes a fire starts in a bamboo forest when the trees rub together. The real cause of the fire however, is not the trees but the wind that moves them. The trees are only the instruments. In the same way, the principle of karma tell us that the United States and the Soviet Union are not the real causes of the friction that exists between them, the friction that may well set off the forest fire of nuclear war. The real cause is the imperceptible wind of karma generated by the world's supposedly innocent citizens.
According to the law of karma, the neighborhood supermarket or hamburger stand (the local abortion clinic too, but that could be the subject for another book) has more to do with the threat of nuclear war than the White House or the Kremlin. We recoil with horror at the prospects of nuclear war while we permit equally horrifying massacres every day of the world's automated slaughterhouses.
The person who eats an animal may say that he hasn't killed anything, but when he buys his neatly packaged meat at the supermarket he is paying someone else to kill for him, and both of them bring upon themselves the reactions of karma. Can it be anything but hypocritical to march for peace and then go to McDonald's for a hamburger or go home to grill a steak? This is the very duplicity that George Bernard Shaw condemned:
We pray on Sundays that we may have light
To guide our footsteps on the path we tread;
We are sick of war, we don't want to fight,
And yet we gorge ourselves upon the dead.
As Srila Prabhupada says in his explanations of Bhagavad-gita, "Those who kill animals and give them unnecessary pain-as people do in slaughterhouses-will be killed in a similar way in the next life and in many lives to come...In the Judeo-Christian scriptures, it is stated clearly 'Thou shalt not kill.' Nonetheless, giving all kinds of excuses, even the heads of religion indulge in killing animals and, at the same time, try to pass as saintly persons. This mockery and hypocrisy in human society brings about unlimited calamities such as great war, where masses of people go out onto the battlefields and kill each other. Presently they have discovered the nuclear bomb, which is simply waiting to be used for wholesale destruction." Such are the effects of karma.
Those who understand the laws of karma, know that peace will not come from marches and petitions, but rather form a campaign to educate people about the consequences of murdering innocent animals (and unborn children). That will go a long way toward preventing any increase in the world's enormous burden of karma. To solve the world's problems we need people with purified consciousness to perceive that the real problem is a spiritual one. Sinful people will always exist, but they shouldn't occupy positions of leadership.
One of the most common objections non-vegetarians raise against vegetarianism is that vegetarians still have to kill plants, and that this is also violence. In response it may be pointed out that vegetarian foods such as ripe fruits and many vegetables, nuts, grains, and milk do not require any killing. But even in those cases where a plant's life is taken, because plants have a less evolved consciousness than animals, we can presume that the pain involved is much less than when an animal is slaughtered, what to speak of the suffering a food-animal experiences throughout its life.
It's true vegetarians have to kill some plants, and that is also violence, but we do have to eat something, and the Vedas say, jivo jivasya jivanam: one living entity is food for another in the struggle for existence. So the problem is not how to avoid killing altogether-and impossible proposal-but how to cause the least suffering to other creatures while meeting the nutritional needs of the body.
The taking of any life, even that of a plant, is certainly sinful, but Krishna, the supreme controller, frees us from sin by accepting what we offer. Eating food first offered to the Lord is something like a soldier's killing during wartime. In a war, when the commander orders a man to attack, the obedient soldier who kills the enemy will get a medal. But if the same soldier kills someone on his own, he will be punished. Similarly, when we eat only prasada, we do not commit any sin. This is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita (3.13) "The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal enjoyment, eat only sin." this brings us to the central theme of this book: vegetarianism, although essential, is not an end in itself.
Beyond Vegetarianism : Beyond concerns of health, economics, ethics, religion, and even karma, vegetarianism has a higher, spiritual dimension that can help us develop our natural appreciation and love of God. Srila Prabhupada tells us in his explanations of Srimad-Bhagavatam, "The human being is meant for self-realization, and for that purpose he is not to eat anything that is not first offered to the Lord. The Lord accepts from His devotee all kinds of food preparations made from vegetables, fruits, milk products, and grains. Different varieties of fruits, vegetables, and milk products can be offered to the Lord, and after the Lord accepts the foodstuffs, the devotee can partake of the prasada, by which all suffering in the struggle for existence will be gradually mitigated.
Krishna Himself confirmed the divinity of prasada when He appeared in this world as Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, 500 years ago: "Everyone has tasted these material substances before, but now, these same ingredients have taken on extraordinary flavors and uncommon fragrances. Just taste them and see the difference. Not to mention the taste, the fragrance alone pleases the mind and makes one forget all other sweetnesses. It is to be understood therefore, that these ordinary ingredients have been touched by the transcendental nectar of Krishna's lips and imbued with all of Krishna's qualities."
Offered food, traditionally called prasada, "the mercy of God," offers not only the healthy life of a vegetarian, but also God realization; not just food for the starving masses, but spiritual nourishment for everyone. When Krishna accepts an offering, He infuses His own divine nature into it. Prasada, therefore, is not different from Krishna Himself. Out of His unbounded compassion for the souls entrapped in the material world, Krishna comes in the form of prasada, so that simply by eating, we can come to know Him.
Eating prasada nourishes the body spiritually. By eating prasada not only are past sinful reactions in the body vanquished, but the body becomes immunized to the contamination of materialism. Just as a antiseptic vaccine can protect us against a epidemic, eating prasada protects us from the illusion and influence of the materialistic conception of life. Therefore, a person who eats only food offered to Krishna, can counteract all the reactions of one's past material activities, and readily progress in self-realization. Because Krishna frees us from the reactions of karma, or material activities, we can easily transcend illusion and serve Him in devotion. One who acts without karma can dovetail his consciousness with God's and become constantly aware of His personal presence. This is the true benefit of prasada.
One who eats prasada is actually rendering devotional service to the Lord and is sure to receive His blessings. Srila Prabhupada often said that by eating prasada even once we can escape from the cycle of birth and death, and by eating only prasada even the most sinful person can become a saint. The Vedic scriptures speak of many people whose lives were transformed by eating prasada, and any Hare Krishna devotee will vouch for the spiritual potency of prasada and the effect it has had on his life.
Eating only food offered to Krishna is the ultimate perfection of the vegetarian diet. After all, pigeons and monkeys are also vegetarian, so becoming a vegetarian is not in itself the greatest of accomplishments. The Vedas inform us that the purpose of human life is to reawaken the soul to its relationship with God, and only when we go beyond vegetarianism to prasada can our eating be helpful in achieving this goal.