I walk into the kitchen, where my seventeen-year-old son and his friend are making a snack—using the pesto* I had painstakingly made the week before with fresh basil from our garden. I had picked a large stainless steel bowl full of aromatic leaves and had even been stung by a bee collecting nectar from the flowering buds. Despite my swollen finger, I had carefully prepared a large quantity of pesto ready to offer to the Lord. Since I had made so much, I froze some to be used during the winter. So to see the boys using the pesto I had kept as a special winter treat, I snapped at my son. I told him he should have asked me first before using things in the freezer. If he wanted pesto, he should have gone out to the garden, picked some leaves, and made his own. After my harsh words to the dumbfounded boys, I felt very ashamed and angry with myself. “What kind of reaction was that?” I asked myself. I reacted to my son like a miser. “Is that the mentality I want to cultivate?”
Since our thoughts at death transport us to our next body, I could well be on my way to the body of a squirrel, who diligently collects nuts for the winter and protects them carefully, just as I had done with my pesto. As an aspiring devotee, I recognized the folly of my mentality and prayed to Krishna to help me correct my misguided thinking. With tears in my eyes, I remembered Prabhupada’s words to a disciple who had asked about married life. Prabhupada replied that when a householder cooks prasadam, he should go outside and loudly request, “Does anyone want prasadam? Please come.” He should do this three times, Prabhupada said. And if no one replies, then he can eat. When the disciple heard Prabhupada’s answer, he thought that perhaps Prabhupada had misunderstood the question, so he asked again. Shrila Prabhupada gave the same answer. Why out of all the things in the scriptures about married life did Shrila Prabhupada choose this particular instruction to capsule how married couples should live?
In light of the pesto incident, I’m pondering Prabhupada’s words, trying to understand how important those instructions are for a householder’s spiritual life. Before getting married I lived in a women’s ashram for five years. I had a sleeping bag and a footlocker filled with my possessions. I could have been packed and ready to move in about five minutes. After I got married and had a child, my family’s household possessions gradually increased. Our first move out of the temple community took a couple of trips in a station wagon. For the next move we rented a small trailer, for the next one a big trailer. If we have to move again, we’ll need a large moving van.
When living as a single woman in the temple, I didn’t worry much about my maintenance. Our needs were simple, our wants few. We depended on Krishna to provide everything, and He clearly did. As my possessions increase, my anxieties about protecting them increase too. In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna describes the mentality of a person devoid of God consciousness: “So much wealth do I have today, and I will gain more according to my schemes. . . . I am the lord of everything. I am the enjoyer. I am perfect, powerful, and happy. I am the richest man, surrounded by aristocratic relatives. There is none so powerful and happy as I am.” My reaction in the kitchen today borders on this kind of thinking. It is a warning signal to me that something is awry in my consciousness. I want to have a deeper understanding of what created my response, the quick anger and the feelings of strong attachment for a container of pesto.
I grew up in a fairly stable and functional family. My mother was frugal. My parents worked hard to save money to send their three children to college. My mother denied herself and her children the frills of life to give us what she thought was important: a good education. She taught me how to forgo immediate pleasure for long-term gain. I’m grateful to her for that lesson. But she also taught me to be afraid of not having enough. As a result I developed a mentality of lack and limitation, neither of which is spiritual. For the Lord and His devotees there is only unlimited abundance.
The Inexhaustible Pot
To illustrate the unlimited nature of the Lord, Shrila Prabhupada told the story of a boy from an impoverished family. One day the child’s brahmana teacher asked all his students to bring some food for a program. Hundreds of people were to attend. Since brahmanas received no pay for their services, to ask charity from their students was quite befitting. When the little boy asked his mother what he could bring to his teacher, she said that they were too poor to provide anything. On seeing her child’s disgruntled face, she suggested he go to the forest to find Krishna, who is known as Dhina Bandhu, “the friend of the poor,” and ask Him to help. The child left for the forest in search of the Lord, repeatedly calling out, “Dhina Bandhu! Dhina Bandhu! Please come!” When the Lord did not appear, the child cried piteously. Then, because of the child’s intense desire, the Lord appeared before him.
When the child expressed his desire, Krishna told him to return the day of the program. He would supply yogurt. The boy happily left and told his teacher that he would bring yogurt. The teacher thanked the child for his offering. The day of the event, the child returned to the forest to find Krishna, who appeared and gave him a quart of yogurt. The child took the yogurt and presented it to his teacher. Seeing the small container of yogurt, the teacher snatched the yogurt and exclaimed with indignation,“What? This is all you have brought? There will be hundreds of people here!” Angered, the teacher threw down the pot, and the yogurt spilled out. But when the teacher picked up the container, he saw that it was still full. The teacher again dropped the container, spilling the yogurt, but to his amazement it remained full. From this he could ascertain that it was spiritual. As Shrila Prabhupada says, in spiritual arithmetic 1 – 1 = 1 and 1 + 1= 1. Krishna is never diminished.
Giving What Krishna Gives
Meditating on this pastime, I reflect on how a devotee should never be afraid to give in charity. It is the duty of a householder to give in charity. Giving softens the heart and destroys the illusion that the money or thing is mine. In reality any possession we have belongs to Krishna, given by Him to be used in His service. As we use the gifts and opulence in His service, He gives us more and more. If we squander the resources the Lord gives us, or use them to enjoy ungodly sense gratification, we can expect to see lack and limitation. We see evidence of this fact in the current state of affairs. Mother earth has the capacity, by Krishna’s grace, to supply unlimited resources to the world. But because of the lack of God consciousness and the misuse of her abundant gifts, people are suffering in so many ways. Every experience in life contains an opportunity for us to learn and grow, as long as we are open to learning. When situations in my life evoke negative emotions like anger, greed, and fear, I know I need to take time out and ask Krishna to help me understand the lesson. Today’s experience inspires me to pray to Krishna to have a giving heart and to be free from the fear of lack and limitation. And the next time I make pesto, I’ll go outside and loudly shout, “Does anyone want prasadam? Does anyone want prasadam? Does anyone want prasadam?”
Reprinted from Back to Godhead Magazine 34-04, 2000 © BBT International; all rights reserved.