“One cannot satisfy the Supreme Lord by his riches, wealth or opulent position, but anyone can collect a little fruit or a flower and offer it to the Lord. The Lord says that if one brings such an offering in devotion, He will accept it and eat it. When Krishna eats, the entire world becomes satisfied.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 9.44 Purport)
The old adage, “Tis better to give than to receive”, is invoked quite often, especially during the Christmas holiday season. In America especially, Christmas brings with it the frantic search for gifts, with young children standing to benefit the most from the receipt of heaps of presents. Those who are able to anticipate such an event start to ponder over what they will receive and how they will enjoy it. In such circumstances, the parents and other wise elderly members of society will remind everyone that the act of giving is actually the greatest gift, for receiving doesn’t result in as much pleasure as bringing a smile to someone else’s face. If this principle holds true in our worldly dealings, it most certainly must apply to our relationship with the most loveable object, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna.
Why do we enjoy receiving gifts? The answer is quite obvious. For starters, a gift will have some value to us. In our youth, the annual “back to school” season, which signaled the end of the summer holiday, meant it was time to go shopping for new clothes. In some states, this time of year brings discounted prices and relief from sales tax. Parents make sure their children are well-equipped with the latest clothing, outerwear, and footwear. But when we get older, there really isn’t a need to buy new clothes. The body stops growing at around eighteen years of age, so if our clothes don’t wear out, there is no reason to buy new ones, save for fashion considerations.
In adulthood, the gift-giving times of the year are when we’ll likely receive new clothes such as sweaters, dress pants, and dress shirts. Gifts are always nice to receive because the act of giving shows that someone else cares about us. In addition, there is a use for the items we receive. For children, the annual occasions which call for the giving of gifts bring about enjoyable presents such as new toys, video games, bicycles, and other entertainment items. More humbling than the actual gift is the thought that goes into it. If too many extravagant gifts are given, the receiver will likely become spoiled. If we get something very expensive as a gift in one year, the next year we will expect something even better. Therefore it is wiser for the gift-giver to present something from the heart, an object whose sentimental value exceeds its worldly value.
Goswami Tulsidas, the great devotee of Lord Rama, accurately notes that the worldly value of an object, i.e. what society deems to be valuable or worthless, generally remains steady, despite what a particular individual’s estimation might be. For example, if something very expensive such as jewelry and gold is tossed aside by one who is not very intelligent, the worldly value of the object doesn’t change. On the flip side, something which is used by Lord Krishna, God Himself, doesn’t necessarily increase in worldly value due to its association with the Divine. Lord Krishna regularly wore peacock feathers in His hair and black ointment around His eyes, yet these items remain relatively inexpensive on the open market.
More important than worldly value is sentimental value. When a gift is given from the heart, it takes on more meaning, especially when the flickering nature of material happiness brought on by association with objects which have a high worldly value is understood. In the famous American television sitcom Cheers, there was one episode in particular which dealt with such gift-giving issues. One of the main characters on the show, a bartender named Woody, started dating a girl named Kelly who was from a very wealthy family. Woody was invited to one of Kelly’s birthday parties and he was worried about what to bring as a present. At the party, Kelly opened up all her presents, which included lavish items such as a new Mercedes automobile, while Woody’s gift to her was a song that he wrote and performed in front of her. After hearing the song, Kelly asked Woody where his real present was.
Long story short, Woody finally explained to Kelly that he didn’t have money and that the song was his gift to her. Understanding the true sentiment behind the gesture, she realized that his gift was more valuable than anything else she had ever received. The appreciation of the pure motives behind a kind act unlocks the secret to gift-giving; it’s the thought that counts. The more thought and emotion you put into a particular gift, the greater the value it will have to the receiver. This rule applies especially to our dealings with the Supreme Lord.
God is indeed a person. Depending on the scriptures that are read and a person’s angle of vision, the Lord may be taken as an impersonal effulgence whose attributes are not clearly defined, a powerful localized spirit, or a grand personality full of every opulence. This last viewpoint is the most accurate, for it includes the other two. Under the most complete angle of vision, the liberated soul sees God for who He is: Bhagavan. The Supreme Personality is not the sole property of any group of individuals, and neither is He a figment of anyone’s imagination. Though our bodies always change, Bhagavan’s does not. He remains transcendentally situated for all of eternity, with His various energy expansions taking care of what we deem as vital functions such as creation, maintenance, and dissolution.
There are different scriptures and religious systems, but the variety of spiritual traditions doesn’t indicate that there are different Gods. For example, if someone were to write our biography, the accounts would vary depending on who was writing the book. Our mother would tell our life’s story from a certain perspective, as would our father. Our siblings would have a completely different viewpoint of our activities and nature. Along the same lines, liberated souls view the Lord in different moods of transcendental love, thus there are various scriptures which detail the Lord’s attributes and activities. Some individuals are even devoted to the Lord through an inimical attitude; hence they author books which put forth philosophies that are grounded in atheism.
“They [the asuras] say that this world is unreal, that there is no foundation and that there is no God in control. It is produced of sex desire, and has no cause other than lust.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.8)
Since only the works compiled and authored by the bhaktas describe the Lord in His original forms that are full of potent features, taking to philosophies written in the moods of enmity and envy will lead the followers astray. The difference in the two paths can be thought of in this way: Krishna’s multitudinous energy expansions generally belong to one of two categories: spiritual and material. Association with spirit brings spiritual rewards, while association with matter brings results of the material variety. Spirit is permanent, immutable, and blissful, while matter is impermanent, mutable, and the source of misery. Both are energies of Krishna’s, but only the spiritual side leads to association with Krishna and thus positive results.
Krishna’s feature as Bhagavan is the most complete because it allows for interactions between the individuals souls and the Supreme Soul. It is the nature of the individual spiritual spark, the atma, to crave companionship and enjoyment through association with other spiritual entities. The tendency towards divine love is an intrinsic property of the soul, therefore taking to acts of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is the natural engagement of the individual.
When the natural loving propensity is covered up or redirected elsewhere, activities of altruism and affection for friends, family and nation take effect. The loving nature of spirit is actually responsible for the practice of gift-giving. Since everything in this world is a reflection of the purified version of the same object belonging to the spiritual world, even the practice of giving gifts to others is something that is seen in Krishna’s land. As such, we can most certainly have the same exchanges of heartfelt gifts and their resulting emotions with the Supreme Lord.
“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.26)
But what can we give Krishna? Can we give him money? Who do we send it to and how do we offer it? He created everything in this world after all, so why would He accept anything we gave Him? Lord Krishna is the seed-giving father of this universe; thus everything, including vegetation, grains, fruits, water and milk are coming from Him. In the conditioned state, however, one is forgetful of this fact. Gathering seeds in the hand, one puts them into the ground, tills the soil and then regularly waters the surrounding areas to bring about growth in the form of plants, which eventually bear fruits that are enjoyed. The bewildered spirit soul, conditioned by the three modes of material nature [goodness, passion and ignorance] views himself as the doer of activities. The individual certainly takes the impetus for action in the seed-planting scenario, but wherefrom did they get the water and soil needed to grow the plant? Where did they get the sunlight necessary for photosynthesis? These things are taken for granted, for the sun and earthly elements existed long before our present birth.
Yet just as we came from somewhere, namely the womb of our mother, the elements of this world, including the incomprehensible sun, have a source: God. Therefore instead of being proud of their abilities to secure fruits through worldly activity, a wise person will realize that nothing is possible without the intervention of God. Not even a blade of grass can move without Krishna’s intervention. The pandita, a learned man who views all living entities equally, sees the hand of Supreme Spirit in everything. Therefore, even when eating sumptuous food, the humble sage will make sure to offer up such items to the Supreme Lord first.
“I consider that this quantity of chipped rice will not only satisfy Me, but will satisfy the whole creation.” (Lord Krishna speaking to Sudama Vipra, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 26)
How do we know if Krishna will accept such items? How can the offering be made to Him? Fortunately for us, the Lord has appeared on this earth many times in the past. While roaming the earth in the guise of a human form – one so enchanting that others mistakenly took it to be the body of an ordinary, but beautiful, mortal being – Krishna gave practical evidence to support the statements of the Vedas that glorify His nature. In the Bhagavad-gita, the most complete and authorized Vedic text, Krishna assures Arjuna that He accepts simple things such as fruit, water and flowers when offered to Him with love and devotion. This is not simply a theoretical statement, but a fact substantiated by Krishna’s personal dealings with others. A poor brahmana named Sudama once visited Krishna and only brought with him a small bag of chipped rice. Since it was not a very extravagant gift, the brahmana was so ashamed to present his offering to Krishna, but the Lord, as antaryami, or the omnipresent witness, knew of the chipped rice and snatched it away from the brahmana and began to eat it. Krishna enjoyed this rice more than any ordinary elaborate preparation since it was brought to Him with love and devotion.
Krishna doesn’t even have to perceivably partake of the offering to accept it. In a previous time, Bhagavan roamed the earth in the guise of a pious prince named Rama. In accordance with an order given by His father, Rama traversed the expansive wilderness located in the area today known as India for fourteen years, living the life of a mendicant. Early on in His journey, He was greeted kindly by the Nishada chief, Guha. Guha was so pleased to have Lord Rama visit him that he offered the Lord wonderful food to eat. Shri Rama, appreciating Guha’s sentiments, informed him that He had taken a vow to live the life of an ascetic and thus He couldn’t partake of the nice preparations. A vow is a vow after all, so it shouldn’t be broken even if someone else is offering us gifts out of kind sentiments. Lord Rama informed Guha that if he could take care of the group’s horses, which were driven at the time by the royal charioteer Sumantra, He would be equally as pleased. Rama also made sure to tell Guha that his offerings, though not eaten, were wholly accepted by Him.
The dedicated, faithful and unwavering servants of Bhagavan are His representatives on earth. Just as the pleasure of the horses brought satisfaction to Shri Rama, the pleasure of the brahmanas, the saintly class of men, brings the greatest joy to the Lord. If we want to offer something nice to God, the proper etiquette is to first present the offering to a bona fide brahmana, a guru who teaches us about Krishna and His glories. When simple offerings such as fruits, water and milk are offered to the guru, the gifts eventually make their way to Krishna. Usually the offering is presented in front of a deity representation of the Lord, the non-different archa-vigraha expansion which brings the divine vision of Bhagavan and His pleasure potencies. But even if we only offer our food to the guru, the kind gesture will still please Krishna just the same.
“That thing which comes to Me at the destruction of friends or relatives I do not accept, just like food mixed with poison.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 97.4)
The key is to make an offering with love and devotion. While our gift to Krishna can be something as simple as water, the idea is that we should offer whatever we are capable of preparing and giving up. Sacrifice performed with the mood of love and devotion, keeping in mind what Krishna likes and what He doesn’t like, is what matters. Krishna especially prefers milk products and sweets, so usually the best offerings are those which combine both aspects. The Lord doesn’t accept meat, for it involves violence towards animals. Other divine figures, such as the demigods in charge of the material creation, may accept meat offerings from time to time, but such worship is not in the mode of goodness. Bhakti transcends all the material modes of nature, thus there is no need for harming anyone while practicing the religion of love. The Lord will not accept anything that comes at the expense of another innocent living entity.
Bhakti is available for every single person. Even the poorest man can take some water and offer it to Krishna. The Lord is bestowing His gifts upon us every day, but giving is more satisfying than receiving. By viewing every day as a new opportunity to give back to Krishna, we can take the necessary steps to rekindle our eternal loving relationship with the ultimate reservoir of pleasure. When Krishna eats, the whole world eats, so the potency of the process of transcendental gift-giving should not be overlooked.
Gift-giving is also a reminder of how others feel towards us. Even a married couple which has successfully raised multiple children and been faithful to each other still can be doubtful of the level of affection harbored by the spouse. “Does he still love me the same way? Does she not love me now that I’m older?” Such doubts are quite natural, so the gift-giving season helps lovers solidify their relationship and reestablish their dedication and love. Similarly, though we are natural lovers of God, sometimes the loving propensity is forgotten. In fact, the forgetfulness of our relationship to the Supreme Spirit is the root cause behind the existence of the phenomenal world. Therefore it is vital to take the necessary steps to remind Krishna just how much we love Him. Through acts of bhakti, which involve hearing, chanting, remembering, and worship of the deity, we can remind the Lord every day just how much He means to us. Such a practice will solidify our relationship with Him and allow us to return to the spiritual sky after our time on earth is finished.