There was an Indian spiritual Master who had lived and taught in the West for many years. One evening after a meditation meeting, the Master wanted to offer his disciples some very special prasad that had been given to him by a seeker who had just returned from a visit to India. But when the Master went downstairs to tell his disciples that he was about to distribute prasad, everybody was talking so loudly that nobody heard him. A few disciples noticed the Master by the door and went to take prasad from him, but most of them paid no attention to him. They were eating and talking to their friends. Finally the Master became furious and asked some of his close disciples to direct everyone back upstairs to the meeting room.
When everyone was seated, the Master said, “In India when we receive prasad from the Master, it is the best form of meditation, the greatest blessing. Taking prasad means an immediate increase of devotion. It is a great help to the seeker’s life of discipline and to his inner progress. Seekers cry and pray for days and months to be able to go to the temple to receive prasad from their favourite deity. When they finally do get prasad, they take it as the highest blessing and grace. But here, when I offer prasad, the correct inner attitude is missing on the part of my disciples. Prasad is not something to be taken lightly, for you to accept or reject at your sweet will.”
“But Master,” one young man said, “I have never understood why food prepared by human beings can be so special.”
The Master made no attempt to conceal his annoyance with this question. “How many times have I told you that when food is soulfully offered to a deity, the food becomes blessed and purified. Even if someone has quarrelled or fought while cooking it, since he has faith in that particular god, that particular god blesses him and his food. Here in the West we do not have that kind of implicit faith. After we cook, we could ask God to purify the food, but we do not even think of offering it to the Supreme for protection, purification or extra grace. We should, but we don’t do it.”
The wife of the young man stood up. “Master, you have made everything very clear to us. From now on, I shall consciously offer the food that I cook to the Supreme for His blessings. But why are you so annoyed with my husband’s question?”
The Master said, “For years I have been offering you people prasad, but when I am giving it to you, the husband will send his wife, like a proxy, to take the blessing for him, and the parents will send their children. Now, the reason that these people cannot come is not because they are doing something most urgent or important. No, they are gossiping downstairs, they are indulging in the most ordinary kinds of conversation; but they can’t come upstairs for the prasad. Sometimes, to catch everyone, I stand by the stairs as everyone is leaving the meeting room, but even then, some people don’t take it from me. They don’t give it any importance.”
One disciple protested, “Master, today was an unfortunate exception. Usually most of us take it from you.”
“Yes,” the Master said, “there are many who come, who do take it from me, but they do not take it seriously and soulfully. They receive prasad casually, while looking at somebody else or talking or eating. In every possible way they show disrespect. Out of sixty or seventy, hardly three or four persons receive prasad from me devotedly.
“But Master,” one disciple asked, “how is it that many people look extremely, extremely devoted to you at that time, and you still say that we don’t show enough respect?”
“Yes, some people are clever; they show false devotion as much as possible. Their hands literally tremble when they come to receive prasad. They are showing others that they are about to collapse at my feet. But I wish to tell you people that devotion has nothing to do with the hands; it is a matter of the heart.”
All the disciples felt miserable that they had been disappointing the Master in this matter for so many years. An older disciple said, “Master, you are right and we are sorry that we were so ignorant. But in a way you have to forgive us. We are so unfamiliar with your Indian customs such as prasad, which you have just explained to us, or other things you sometimes mention, such as the correct way to take something from the Master.”
“True,” said the Master. “When it is a matter of taking prasad or anything else from me, I have told my disciples again and again not to use the left hand. You can say anything you want to, you can call me superstitious or ignorant, but I know that if you cannot use both hands — which is what I prefer — it is better to receive something with your right hand. Left and right hand are equally God’s creation, true; everything is God’s creation. But why do I use my head and not my feet to touch the feet of my Master? I know that it is the best in me, and it is this that I want to humbly offer to the Master.”
One young girl said, “Master I am left-handed. Will that make any difference in what you just said?”
The Master couldn’t help smiling. “What am I going to do with my Western children? If you are left-handed and you happen to have an Indian Master who wants you to use your right hand when you accept something from him, please listen to him. You should feel that the Master is working very hard to please you, to bring down Peace, Light and Bliss in abundant measure. The Master’s task is much more difficult than your task, which is to use your right hand instead of your left hand. Since this request is so simple for you to follow, you should feel that you must try to please your Master at least in this way. How many requests I have made to my disciples to use either both hands or their right hand, but still it is too difficult for them to remember.”
“Master,” one disciple said, “part of the reason we may forget is that this is so foreign to our culture.”
“It is not a matter of custom or culture,” the Master said. “It is a matter of devotion and soulfulness. Even a child, when he remains in the soul, knows what is the best thing to do. He knows what devotion is. Last week I was playing with a four-year-old child for about half an hour. Suddenly he came and stood in front of my chair and said ‘I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you only.’ Then he took my foot, lifted it to his face and kissed my big toe. Now look, instead of lifting my foot to his face, the child could have played football with my leg or just kicked me. Children often do things like that when I am playing with them. But this child, when he became one with his soul, knew the meaning of devotion.”
“That’s quite remarkable,” one disciple said.
“Yes,” the Master replied. “The other night I had a very different experience. When I was blessing a five-year-old child, she put her hand on my head as if she were returning my blessing. Look at her consciousness. Unlike the young boy, she did not show any devotion. Devotion has to be spontaneous. I wish all my spiritual children to cultivate inner and outer devotion.”
The director of the Master’s ashram stood up and bowed to the Master. “Master, you have made everything very clear to us,” he said. “Please forgive our past insensitivity and ignorance. From now on we will show you the inner and outer devotion and respect that you deserve.”
Then the disciples came up to the Master one by one and devotedly received his blessing and prasad.
30 July 1974