“Do you seek the mercy of this Rama, who is very much affectionate towards the surrendered souls. Always keeping proper attention with me, please do return me to Him.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.21-22)
prasādayasva tvaṃ canaṃ śaraṇāgatavatsalam ||
māṃ cāsmai niyato bhūtvā niryātayitumarhasi |
Prasadam is a Sanskrit word that means “the Lord’s mercy.” It typically refers to remnants of offerings directly made. Say that you have a flower that you think is pretty. Before getting a whiff of its nice aroma, you place it on an altar in front of a picture or statue of the Supreme Lord, as He is defined in Vedic texts. He is all-pervading for sure, and He does have a formless aspect, but there are personal forms as well, which directly represent Him. When these offerings are made in an authorized manner, what gets returned is known as prasadam.
Of course the trick is to figure out how to make the offering authorized. If you stole the flower from a store and brought it home to be offered, it is tainted. If you smelled the flower first, used it for a few days, and then made the offering, the intention is opposite of what it should be. You’re essentially giving God your mercy, which He doesn’t need. He is complete in Himself. He is described as atmarama, which means one who is self-satisfied. There is nothing He needs from us, because He has everything. And still He is so kind to accept our offerings, which are tiny in the grand scheme. Nevertheless, He happily looks upon us when we want to give Him something nice.
“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)
If the offering is at the expense of another living entity, then there is no prasadam. This explains why meat cannot be offered to the Supreme Lord. Animal flesh comes at the expense of an animal’s life. According to higher knowledge, all living beings are souls at the core. Therefore the animal is a soul too; it just looks different to us because of the body type that covers that soul. The plant is a soul too, but its body type has been designated for the consumption of the higher species. This consumption shouldn’t be without restriction, however. The food should be eaten in a controlled way, for the purpose of maintaining the body. The best way to control eating is to offer food to the Supreme Lord; hence the procedures for deity worship and the honoring of prasadam.
In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Sita Devi tries to persuade the King of Lanka, Ravana, to seek the mercy of the Supreme Lord, in His form of Shri Rama. Rama is also Sita’s husband. She tells Ravana for the second time that Rama is very affectionate towards those who are surrendered to Him. This fits with the concept of prasadam. Though Rama doesn’t need anything, He still accepts offerings made with love. This is a sign of affection. The offering shows surrender, and so the affection is automatic from Rama’s part.
Sita also says that Ravana should keep proper attention on her. This means that surrendering to Rama after treating Sita poorly is not an authorized way. Ravana took Sita away from Rama in secret. If he were to surrender, he would have to bring Sita back in the same condition. If he did something bad to her, why would Rama consider his approach surrender? The affection from the Supreme Lord is contingent upon the devotee’s having the proper mood when making the offering.
All of this bears mentioning due to the incredible potency of prasadam. It has a wonderful taste, a transcendental one at that. Thus whatever can be done to get that mercy should be undertaken. In Ravana’s case, it required a proper handling of the Supreme Lord’s wife. In the case of the conditioned souls in general, the requirement is a change in consciousness, a shift from master to servant. Rather than constantly seek new ways to enhance the pleasure from eating, sleeping, mating and defending, the mind can shift towards meeting the desires of the Supreme Lord. His foremost desire is to have association of His friends and well-wishers. This should make sense, as we like to have the same kind of association. Rama, or God, is the best well-wisher of everyone, and those who are devoted to Him inherit that trait. Thus to keep association with devotees, follow regulative principles, and always chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” is the surefire way to capture the wonderful taste of prasadam.
From that potent mercy the son of a maidservant was transformed into a famous travelling reformer named Narada Muni. Through making such kind offerings, the female ascetic Shabari was granted liberation. Through making an offering of hospitality, the village-dweller named Guha received the full blessings of Shri Rama. From a kind offering of a piece of chipped rice, the poor brahmana named Sudama gained the world through the grace of God in His original form of Krishna. Therefore the opportunity to offer is there for anyone, as we also learn from Sita. Ravana unfortunately didn’t choose wisely. Instead of the Lord’s mercy, He received His wrath, which rescued Sita in the process. The outcome was always known. Sita would reunite with Rama. She gave Ravana the chance to get some of the credit for it, in the process tasting the wonderful mercy of God. Therefore she can never be blamed for the king’s misfortune.
Since on sinful ways mind set,
Ravana Rama’s mercy not to get.
Wrath from fatal arrows’ blow,
This merciful to Sita ever so.
Water, flowers, fruit, or milk thick and dense,
Suitable offerings not from another’s expense.
Matters most what you have in mind,
Seeing devotion forever Rama to be kind.
Categories: ravana threatening sita