Is there a scientific explanation of the benefits of eating prasad?
Transcribed by: Sushit Gupta
Question: Is there a scientific explanation of the benefits of eating prasad?
- Benefits of prasad can be explained both at material and spiritual levels.
- At a material level, we can understand prasad as food which is cooked hygienically and it is healthy for the body.
- At a spiritual level, prasad has God’s grace which has the potency to transform our hearts. Such a phenomenon is subtle and experiential in nature.
- We can see through example of prisoners in jail, or children in schools, how their behaviors changed for better after regular partaking of prasad.
Answer (long): Yes, there is a scientific explanation of the benefits of eating prasad.
There should not be a conflation of science and spirituality. Science offers material explanation but spirituality offers trans-material explanation. For example, Arjuna faught and won the Kurukshetra war after hearing the Bhagavad-gita. Now did he win that war with the knowledge of Bhagavad-gita or the knowledge of archery that he had learned throughout his life? It is both. The knowledge of archery is the practical skill which empowered him to fight the war but the knowledge of Bhagavad-gita gave him the direction and the vision of why he should fight the war. So, there is a “how” question and a “why” question. Science answers the “how” question but spirituality answers the “why” question.
What I just mentioned is a broad categorization and applies to prasad as well. Prasad’s benefits also can be explained both at the material as well as spiritual levels. Prasad is a food that is cooked hygienically. Bhagavad-gita mentions about prasad as food to be in the mode of goodness (sattva-guna). When we eat prasad, it is healthy for the body. This is the benefit of prasad at the material level. However, the very word prasad itself focuses on something trans-material. Prasad means the mercy of the Lord that is coming through food.
What does mercy coming through food means? When we offer food to God, to Krishna, what happens? One may say when you keep the food in front of the Deities, the food remains as it is. Nothing happens. Keeping the food in front of Them is just a blind faith. No, it is not like that. Food is the medium by which we offer our devotion. For example, sometime when we go to meet a relative we carry some box of sweets for them. Normally, in cultured families if we are giving a gift they also give some gift back. They will also pack the box and will give us some sweets. An outsider who is watching us going inside and then coming outside from the house might think, “You entered with a box of sweets, but when you came out you had the same box of sweets, so what is a big deal?”
Here it is important to understand that the content of the box is not important, but what was reciprocated through that is more important. Actually, through that box of sweets we offered our affection to the relatives and by return gift the relatives also offered their affection back to us. In a similar way, when we offer bhoga to Krishna, we are actually offering our devotion to Him. The Lord accepts our devotion and in return He puts back His mercy. It is this mercy that we receive. Externally, the food may seem the same but internally we will find that prasad has a delicious taste and most importantly it also has Krishna’s grace that can transform our heart.
In India, ISKCON distributes prasad in jails and schools. In one of the jails where prasad was distributed, a prisoner was released. After being released, he again committed a crime, but he did not run away and stayed back at the place of crime to be caught. He was put back in the same jail. In the jail when he was asked, “Why did you not run away?” He said, “I didn’t run away because in the jail there was this Hare Krishna kitchen. I don’t get such good food outside that is why I wanted to come back!” In other case something else happened. There was a school in which children from slums and poor families would come. These children were rough and tough and would give tough time to their teachers. In the school they started providing prasad. The children ate prasad for about six months. After that they just calmed down. The children became so well behaved that the teachers from private schools (where children are from wealthy background) started asking that kids from the poor schools are behaving better than ours. Somehow, these wealthy schools, which don’t need free food, they requested to provide them prasad on a payment basis so that their kids also become well-behaved!
Ontologically, we may not see the difference but functionally we see that just by taking prasad regularly, there is a change that happens — the heart gets transformed. The transformation happens in terms of people becoming gentler, better behaved, less prone to anger, less self-centered, less insensitive etc. That is an empirical test which we all can try to check the effect of prasad. Of course taking prasad is bhakti, but it is not the only form of bhakti. If we take prasad and also chant Hare Krishna, also do the other limbs of bhakti, we will experience a transformation in a much more powerful and faster way.