pure vegetarian


January 1997 was a time of serious introspection.  In hindsight I would say it was a fast-forwarding of Krishna’s mercy, a breakthrough. 

On the 13 January I watched a television documentary on John Paul Getty.  His life both extraordinary and sad.  He was wealthy but poor in spirit.  On one occasion he had a servant present his son with a $1.50 invoice for eating a hamburger at Getty’s home!  I watched the grainy black-and-white figure in the documentary work through about 20 locks to get into his house!  A house that looked more like Fort Knox than a home.  All aspirations in me to become Alexander the great were crushed.

I carried on with my strict regimen of swimming and exercise in January and February.  My notebooks contained aphoristic entries such as – selfhood involves a sloughing off of illusion.  Around this time, I saw another documentary about a cold-hearted hitman named Klukinsky.  Klukinsky left his family at the dinner table on Christmas day to go out on “business”.   He froze the bodies of his victims in freezer-containers so the forensic detectives would be unable to ascertain when they had died.  When the judge asked him why he had killed so many people he gruffly replied, ‘It was business’.  The interviewer asked him if he had ever regretted his actions.  Klukinsky replied, ‘I can’t change yesterday’.  Then he paused.  There was an occasion where he felt a little bad.  He was about to kill a man with a chainsaw when he called out, ‘Jesus!   Jesus!  Save me Jesus! Oh, Lord Jesus, save me!’  Klukinsky said, ‘After that, I found it difficult to finish my work’. 

On the 9th of February I read from the Book Of Daniel.  The Angel Gabriel told Daniel, ‘I am here to tell you what is written in The Book Of The Future‘.  I took it that The Book Of The Future dealt with the ‘extended present’ of the Eternity and not really past, present and future as we know it.  That night I dreamt of  two large volumes, with gilded Roman lettering –  The Book Of Jewels and The Ancient Book.  I found out later that later that The Bhagavad-gita is sometimes called the ‘Jewel of the Vedas’; and the Srimad Bhagavatam is called Bhagavata Purana or the ‘Ancient History of God’.

On 11 February 1997, I decided to give up eating meat for Lent.   On the 12th of February, I meta Hare Krishna monk, Nicholas.  Nicholas had a book table outside the Standard Bank in Rondebosch.  When I told him I had become a vegetarian the day before, he gave me a copy of the Hare Krishna cookbook,  The Higher Taste.  He also gave me a book called The Science Of Self Realization.  He answered my questions about the devotees’ lifestyle.  I was impressed by their simplicity.  They shared rooms and slept on camping-mats.  They chanted the Hare Krishna mantra ‘all the time’ and served God in all their actions.  I wanted to know more.

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There used to be a Horse Meat Butchery next to the Canberra Cafe – around the corner from our house. I asked my mother why there was a horse meat butchery and she told me that they fed horse meat to dogs. The pavement smelt of blood. We tried to avoid the wet puddles of blood and scabby patches as we walked to the shop. The blood, the flies and the hanging carcasses at the back of the butchery made it unpleasant.

One sultry summer’s day my best friend Craig Ballard and I took a walk to the Canberra Cafe. There was a sheet-metal horse trailer on the kerb filled to a pinnacle with what appeared, from a distance, to be dung. Drawing closer, we could see what the trailer was carrying – decapitated horse heads! Red and sticky with blood. Flies everywhere. I turned around and retched, but nothing came out. I staggered backwards – the way we came – sickened by the horrific spectacle. I wanted to throw up the whole way home.

Some years later my parents sent me and a friend to a farm in the Free State to improve my Afrikaans. The labourers came out one morning in their overalls and gumboots and slaughtered a cow right in front of me. Two men held her down, while a third slit her throat. They also slaughtered a pig, but the pig ran around the farm squeeling before it met a similar fate. I stood and watched, unfazed. Somehow I never connected the killing of these animals to the eating of meat. It was only later that there was a change of heart and I realized, by the grace of God, what exactly it is we are doing when we eat animal flesh.

We only consider harm to human beings as a crime.

This article is dedicated to Colleen

I was finishing-up my Master’s dissertation on the abolition of the slave trade in January 1997.  I stayed at my friend Andrew’s house in Sun Valley, Cape Town.  My schedule was intense.  Andrew and his wife, Teena, would drop me at the University of Cape Town every morning at about 6:30am; and I would finish around 8:45pm.  I’d then take the 9:15pm train to Fish Hoek.  Their house was about half-an-hour walk from Fishoek Station.  I’d get in at 10:45pm.  I usually had a piece of toast and some juice and take rest at 11.

My friend, Andrew, had adopted a dog which he later named Justerini (“Justerini and Brooks” (J&B) is a South African whiskey).  She was what South Africans call a brak.  She was a mongrel.  Teena and Andrew had another dog called Killer.  Killer was cute, but a brak – or in Andrew’s words, a “pavement special” – of even lesser pedigree than Justerini.  Andrew’s wife Teena liked to spoil the dogs by giving them biscuits, odd bits of meat and sometimes even chocolate.  Justerini and Killer were, in my opinion, just pampered dogs.  This sentiment was exaggerated by a basic disliking, within me, of dogs – especially when they licked me or came close to me while eating. If Teena and Andrew were not at home I would have to let the dogs in the house.  I’d open the door, and the dogs would come scrambling into the living room, sliding and scratching the parquet floor.  I was usually hungry after my fourteen-hour days in the Postgraduate Art Student’s computer lab.  I’d let the dogs in, then grab a snack from the kitchen.  The whole thing was becoming a ritual.  The dogs would follow me into the kitchen yelping, shuffling and wagging their tails.  They would rub their cold, wet noses against my legs.  Oh, how this would irritate me!

One night I arrived home and it was the same scene – the dogs flanking me into the kitchen.  I was quite hungry so I was annoyed that the dogs were begging food from me again.  I noticed a barbecued lamb ‘chop’ (cutlet) on top of the microwave.  The thought of eating the lamb-chop flashed through my mind.  Justerini, however, continued to brush against me with affection.  I thought, ‘Stupid dog.  Just wants some food.’  I’d get rid of her by throwing the meat down on the ground.  After all, the stupid animal just wants to eat.  To my amazement, however, she did not seem to notice the piece of meat!  Yet she was being so affectionate.  I cynically waved the meat in front of her nose, hoping to get rid of her.  But she just looked at me with her big, dark eyes.  I was touched.  I realized that this animal, this dog, had feelings and emotions just like me.  For the first time in my life I considered seriously that this dog had a soul – just like me.  Why was I so hard-hearted?  If our meat supply ran out would we put this poor creature on the table?  It suddenly dawned on me how cruel it was to eat meat.  To take the life of an animal who has feelings and emotions and so many other attributes.  I had the distinct feeling that meat-eating was an act of cannibalism – since animals have feelings, thoughts and emotions just like human beings.  I broke down and cried.  What kind of person had I become? I had, strangely enough, considered giving up meat for Lent (the Catholic fasting month).  My reasons, however, were based on health issues (I was doing a lot of exercise and noticed that meat had a dulling effect on my body).  But now I was taking up vegetarianism for ethical and spiritual reasons.  It was a major step forward for me in terms of the development of my consciousness.  And Justerini was my guru!

The next day, by Krishna’s grace, I met a Hare Krishna monk in Rondebosch.  He was selling Vedic Literatures (Indian spiritual writings) from a book table.  We spoke for about four hours.  I wanted to buy an Isopanisad but he thought it would be better if I got a copy of the Higher Taste.  ‘You’ll need this more…’, he said, ‘…now that you have become vegetarian.’  As we parted, Nicholas gave me a Science of Self-Realization.  His explanations of Krishna consciousness convinced me that Prabhupada’s teachings were giving the true culture and meaning of the Bhagavad-gita.  A door had opened in my life…and I walked through it….

What Is Prashadam?

Krishna is the Supreme Lord (isvara) and the Supreme Enjoyer (purusa).  The living entity, or the jiva, is the enjoyed (prakriti).  It is the jiva’s eternal function to serve God.  That is called sanatana-dharma, or ‘eternal religion’.  We are all servants of God.

Since Krishna owns everything, it is only proper to honour His proprietorship by offering everything back to Him.  The Supreme Lord does not need our meagre offerings.  What He wants is our devotion.  The Bhagavad-gita, therefore, describes the process of sanctification of food – patram puspam phalam toyam/yo me bhaktya prayacchati/tad aham bhakty-upahrtam/asnami prayatatmanah – ‘If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit or water, I will accept it’.  Sanctified foodstuffs are called prasadam, the ‘mercy’ of the Lord.  Krishna is also known as bhava-grahi janardana – in other words, He sees the intent behind our offering.  Our offerings, therefore, should be imbued with love for Him.

Offering Food To Krishna 

The process of offering foodstuffs to the Deity of the Lord in the Temple is restricted to brahmana-initiated Vaishnavas. Devotees, however, understand that everything should be offered to the Lord.  Therefore, a simple process for offering foodstuffs to the Lord is prescribed for the uninitiated or the lay-person.  Such offerings are made before pictures of one’s personal guru, Srila Prabhupada, the disciplic succession and Deities of the Lord.

Vaishnava Kitchen Etiquette

I read an interview one of Prabhupada’s female chefs in a Back To Godhead magazine where Prabhupada emphasized three important factors in the preparation of devotional offerings – cleanliness, quality of ingredients and consciousness.

1.  Our kitchen should be suci or clean.  The cooking paraphernalia of a suci kitchen is the exclusive property of the Lord.  The Lord also has a separate plate, cup and various thalis (bowls) to eat from.  Strict devotees make sure their own condiments (spoons, cups and plates) are not mixed with those reserved for the Lord.  This generally means that our own condiments, and those reserved for guests, are stored outside of the kitchen.

Devotees do not taste food until it has been offered.  Nor do they eat from the Lord’s pots, or with the Lord’s cooking equipment.  If the Lord’s equipment is used by mistake, it is considered contaminated and should not be used cooking or offering to the Lord again. Eating, which is considered unclean, is also prohibitted in a suci kitchen.  We do not use the sink to wash our plates or hands after eating.  The kitchen sink is for washing vegetables, cleaning the Lord’s pots and running water for cooking.  Devotees generally wear shoes reserved kitchen use only (‘kitchen shoes’) as a further standard of cleanliness.  Women (and men with long hair) generally cover their hair while cooking.

The cook should, ideally, be suci or clean.  On the strictest level this means that cook should have showered and should be wearing clean cloth.  If you eat, evacuate, go outside or enter a toilet then you are considered ‘dirty’ again.  If you touch your eyes, nose or ears you should wash your hands (in a suci basin outside of the kitchen).  Women should not enter the kitchen while they are “off the altar” (ie. during their monthly period).  We are also considered contaminated if we take rest for longer than 45 minutes.  If we do so, and we want to follow the highest standards of cleanliness, then we should take bath and put on fresh clothes.  We should not eat with an apron from the kitchen on either.

2.  We should use the best quality foodstuffs if we can.  If possible, we should use organic vegetables, pure cow’s ghee, non-irradiated spices, sea salt or pure salt.  Ideally, we should grow our own fruit, vegetables and shrubs for Krishna and milk cows bred exclusively for the pleasure of the Lord.  This is not always possible in modern cities.  Soya, mushrooms, cakes made with flour, bread and canned foods are not offered to installed Deities in the Temple.  They can, however, be offered to pictures of the Lord at home (in the case of mushrooms they should be growing naturally in a field, not on stool).  According to the Manu Samhita and Hari Bhakti Vilasa (a Vaishnava manual for etiquette), we cannot offer Krishna onions or garlic.  A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, however, permitted the offering of brinjal, tomatoes and carrots which are often excluded from a strict Vaishnava diet.

3.  The quality of our consciousness is the most important factor in the preparation of foodstuffs for the Lord.  Cleanliness and quality of ingredients are servants to the principle of good consciousness.  We should be Krishna consciousness ie. situated in spiritual consciousness.  How do we achieve this?  We should, if possible, be chanting a minimum of 16 rounds of the Hare Krishna Maha Mantra.  Our kitchen should be clean, like the altar of our Temple.  We should not cook if we are in bad consciousness (for example if we are angry or feeling lusty thoughts).  We should listen to spiritual discourses or devotional music and only discuss spiritual subject-matters or subjects related to our cooking service with the other cooks.  We can also chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra.

A Simple Food Offering

The following is a very basic method of offering, usually within a devotee’s kitchen or on a simple altar with pictures of the Lord.  In a more sophisticated Temple set-up, the devotee would close the curtain of the alter while offering food, and perform a more elaborate ritual before offering food to the Lord.

Devotees perform acamana (pronounced ‘ah-cha-mun’) before the process of offering.  Acamana is a purificatory process involving mantras and the sipping of water from an acamana cup and acamana spoon.  (This process need not be followed by beginners).  The devotee takes the acamana spoon in his right hand and pours three drops of water on the same right hand.  The devotee then pours three drops of water on the left hand and chants ‘Om keshavaya namah’, then sips the water from the base of the palm of the hand.  Having done this, the devotee pours three drops of acamana water on the bell and then takes the bell in his/her left hand.  The bell has to be rung while the mantras for offering are recited.  The bell is only stopped when the final mantras have been chanted.  Devotees usually take off their socks, aprons and head-coverings when offering bhoga to the Lord.

Devotees do not feel themselves qualified to offer foodstuffs directly to the Lord.  The devotee, therefore, offers the food to the Spiritual Master, all the time reciting the Spiritual Master’s mantras.  The devotee then offers the food to Lord Chaitanya, reciting Rupa Goswami’s prayers (namo maha vadanyaya).  The devotee finally offers the bhoga to Radha and Krishna, reciting the relevant mantras.  While offering the bhoga to Lord Chaitanya and Radha-Krishna, the devotee thinks himself the servant of his guru and understands that his guru is actually performing the offering.  The offering will be offered from disciple to guru, through the entire guru succession, until it finally reaches Krishna.

The following mantras are recited three times before the pictures of (1) Srila Prabhupada; (2) The Pancha Tattva/Gaura-Nitai; and (3) Radha-Krishna:

1.  Prayers To The Spiritual Master (Srila Prabhupada Pranati)

nama om vishnu-padaya/krishna-presthaya-bhutale/srimate bhaktivedanta/svamine iti namine‘I offer my respectful obeisances unto His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who is very dear to Lord Krishna, having taken shelter at His lotus feet’

namas te sarasvate-deve/gauravani-pracarine/nirvesesa sunyavadi/pascyata-desa tarine‘Our respectful obeisances are unto you, O spiritual master, servant of Sarasvati Goswami.  You are kindly preaching the message of Lord Caitanyadeva and delivering the Western countries, which are filled with impersonalism and voidism’

2.  Prayer To Lord Chaitanya (Sri Gauranga Pranama)

namo maha-vadanyaya/krishna-prema-pradayate/krishnaya krishna-caitanya/namne gaura-tvise namah‘O most munificent incarnation!  You are Krsna Himself appearing as Sri Krishna Caitanya Mahaprabhu.  You have assumed the golden colour of Srimati Radharani, and You are widely distributing pure love of Krishna.  We offer our respectful obeisances unto You’

3. Prayer To Lord Krishna

namo brahmanya-devaya/go-brahmana hitaya ca/jagad hitaya krishnaya/govindaya namo namah‘Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto Lord Krishna, who is the worshipable Deity for all brahminical men, who is the well-wisher of cows and brahmanas, and who his always benefitting the whole world.  I offer my repeated obeisances to the Personality of Godhead, known as Krishna and Govinda.’

hare krishna hare krishna/krishna krishna hare hare/hare rama hare rama/rama rama hare hare

On reciting these mantras the devotee humbly beseeches the Lord to accept these offerings, ‘Please, my Lord, accept these offerings from Your servant.’  The devotee then stops ringing the bell, and leaves the altar room.   The devotee then bows at the side of the altar.  The Lord may now accept the devotee’s offering.