PRASADANA: Consecrated offering

This article was written by Srivatsa Ramaswami and is reproduced here with his kind permission:

‘Prasāda is a word in normal usage even now in India, in almost all the Indian languages. It indicates something purified/sanctified. It indicates something offered to the Lord and then distributed among the devotees in temples. My Guru would say that food prepared as per ācāra (tradition) should be then offered to the Lord. Thus consecrated, the food becomes sātwic and then one should partake of the Lord’s prasāda.

‘Many Indians have the name Prasad or Prasāda both as first name and also family name. Names like Sivaprasād, Muraliprasād, Deviprasād are quite common. It indicates that they are born with the grace of the personal deity like Siva or Vishnu. God’s grace is prasāda

‘The generic meaning of the word is ‘to become clear’. This term is especially relevant to the mind or citta. Prasāda of the citta would mean the clearing of the muddle of the mind. Those specific yogic activities that were prevalent in olden times were termed ‘cittaprasādana’ or those that enable the muddied (vikshipta) mind to become clear. Patanjali mentions a few of these well accepted yogic procedures of his time as “cittaprasādana” and “sthiti nibandana” or those that help to clear the mind and keep it stable, basic requirements for yoga sādhana.

‘A superior yogi (uttama adhikāri) may be alone most of the time, in deep samadhi, blissfully oblivious to the maddening world around her/him. However he is not a misanthrope. He would be happy if others could be happy like her/him. Like Sage Viswāmitra he would like to be the friend of the Universe, helping others with the yoga that helped him. One method adapted by yogis is to develop an attitude of “maitriyādi”, friendship, and other attitudes towards others. This particular approach recognizes four attitudes of the yogi and classifies other people into four groups. The four attitudes are friendship (maitri), compassion (karuna), mudita (sense of appreciation) and upekshā (avoidance). The word upeksha is iiksha or seeing and upa meaning aside. So upekshā would be ”looking away”.

‘A Yogi may not be gregarious but usually is friendly. But then he would choose his friends. A businessman is likely to prosper if he has friends from the Chamber of Commerce, but it is not the best Sangha for a serious yogi. A yogi’s friends should promote contentment which are the vibrations that emanate from a sukhi or someone whose mental environment is agreeable. A contented mind produces a favorable ‘state of mind’ and an unagitated mind is home for contentment (santosha). A yogi would do well to seek the friendship of such people, such a satsangha would be the most desirable for him. Then, secondly, a Yogi is also compassionate. Just as a compassionate wealthy person would be happy to give away charity, a yogi would like to give what he has, that is yogic knowledge and experience. As Patanjali indicates in II-15, a viveki, like the consummate yogi, is able to see a lot of unhappiness among all the beings. He would endeavor to remove the unhappiness among human beings by imparting the appropriate yogic knowledge and practices to the second group of people called dukkhis or sufferers. He is thus compassionate (karuna).

‘He is not morose, he quietly rejoices (udita) on seeing good people doing good karmas,punya karmas. There is a sense of appreciation of good people and their good karmas. Not all good people are appreciated by the general populace, many are even jealous of them. But the Yogi has the right attitude towards good people and good deeds, which after all helps the Yogi maintain a good internal environment.

‘The last group of people are those who indulge in acts that are forbidden, going against basic tenets of good karma (dharma). Theirs is apunya karma. A yogi is advised to maintain an attitude of indifference towards such people and acts. Dharmic people would like to correct them or punish them but the yogi maintains a stoic silence when confronted by such people. If any time they change their attitude and approach him and seek his guidance to overcome their duhkha, he would certainly help them. These four lofty attitudes or tenets of the yogi have to be properly matched with the right group of people which would help the yogi’s mind remain very clear, or prasāda. These four properly paired attitudes are called prasādanas.

‘These find reference I understand in some Buddhist literature also and they are called Brahmavihara. In fact reference to these are found even in the puranas. One of the oft chanted prayers is the Lalitā Sahasranāma from the Mārkandeya purāna. Mantra number 570 of the 1008 mantras is ”maitriyadi vāsanā labhyā” which means the One who could be reached by the observance of the traits of maitri and others (karuna, mudita and upeksha). This indicates that even Bhakti yogis would do well to keep their citta in the pristine condition of prasāda with these. It could also be interpreted as ‘the One by whose grace the yogi obtains these lofty traits’.

‘There is another well established, very old system that is credited with citta prasādana or cleansing the mind. Yoga is fundamentally about mind control: citta prasadnāa, citta nibandhana, citta nirodha or whatever, it is about the mind. A normal person is usually under the control of the mind, if it says, “go to Timbaktu” he goes there, the mind controls the person. But a Yogi has his mind under complete control. And that is the main difference between a yogi and a non yogi. In India during the last century there lived a great saint of the Sankara tradition, the Paramacharya of Kanchi. He lived for a hundred years and attained Mahāsamādhi in the 1990s. He was adored, respected and loved by thousands of devotees. He preached, discoursed, discussed several aspects of vedas and vedic life all his lifetime. He brought the vedic concepts,made more complicated by the vedic scholars, down to ordinary people to understand and follow. Some of his discourses and discussions were compiled into a few volumes titled “deivattin Kural” in Tamil or the ‘voice of the divine’. An English translation of part of his work is available on line:

‘There is an episode relating to him. I think once someone asked him about vairāgya and how can an ordinary person understand that. He then requested a sweet dish very popular in South India called wheat Halwa, made of wheat flour, sugar, cow’s ghee, saffron, cashews, etc to be prepared and brought to him. It looks like a jelly and is a thousand times tastier. It was brought to him on a plate and kept in front of him. He looked at for ten minutes and then asked the Mutt staff to take it away without touching it. You can resist anything but not Halwa. It was a simple way of showing mind control which ordinary people could understand.

‘The maitri and other attitudes discussed earlier are said to make the mind crystal clear and bring it under control. The other method is well known Prānāyāma, some specific aspects of it, the quintessence of Hathayoga. Two aspects of prānāyāma, the long complete exhalation and the breath holding after exhalation are considered by Patanjali to be conducive for citta prasādana. After a good inhalation and a short hold, the yogi exhales very slowly. As the exhalation starts the Yogi preferably starts the mulabandha, extends it gradually to uddiyana bandha and then as the exhalation is complete the two bandhas (and the Jalandhara of course) would be in place. One stays in Bāhya kumbhaka for a while before going for the next inhalation. Here the emphasis is on pracchardhana or complete exhalation and vidhārana which may be translated as breath holding after exhalation. Dhāranā would be to hold the breath a la Kumbhaka and the prefix ‘vi’ would be in this context “without” meaning holding breath ‘without’.

‘There is a view that the vedic pranayama and hatayoga pranayama emphasize different aspects of prānāyāma. Normally when one does prānāyāma in vedic rituals and in Sandhyā it is usually inhalation, holding the breath while the prānāyāma mantra is silently recited and then exhalation with very little bāhya kumbhaka, whereas here Patanjali, following the more important hatayoga practice, emphasizes exhalation and bahya kumbhaka. These two procedures will help the Yogi to keep the mind clear like a crystal or cittaprasādana.

‘My Guru would point out that the Yogasutras are structured to deal with the needed approach to different levels of yogabhyasis,– what is appropriate to highest group may not be suitable for the beginning level yogi. According to him the first chapter, the Samādhi pāda, addresses the superior yogi, the born yogi, who need not be taught how to get into Samādhi. That capability is taken for granted in the first chapter. The uttama adhikari has already acquired that capability perhaps by the yogic karmas in the previous human incarnations. Such a person can get into Samādhi at the drop of a hat. So the first chapter deals with different types of Samadhi, the sampragnyata, asampragnyata, savitarka and nirvitarka, savichara and nirvichara, sabija and nirbija culminating in Nirodha samādhi.

‘Through samādhi he understands all the prakritic principles, transcends them all to arrive at and directly experience his true nature, pure unwavering consciousness, the purusha. This leads to a state called Kaivalya following a complete transformation of his citta called nirodha parinaāma. This abhyāsa or practice using his Samādhi capabilities and the consequent vairāgya or dispassion towards all the prakritic manifestations is the means. However, during the process, this yogic process, the Yogi, even the highest one, would have to maintain a clear mind or cittaprasāda.

‘And towards that end Patanjali suggests these two means described above. This is the safety net. The second chapter starts with Kriya Yoga which will help reduce the klesas and prepare one to acquire samādhi skills whereas the more involved ashtānga yoga helps the yogi to attain the samādhi skill needed to achieve kailvalya and put the ashtānga yogi on par with the samādhi yogi of the first chapter. Patanjali also refers to 5 other yoga practices to keep the mind under complete control in the first chapter like “yetabhimata dhyanad va”, but we may take it up some other time. It is clear that one has to keep the citta on a leash with the appropriate practices until the citta completely transforms to a nirodha citta. So even the born yogi has his work cut out for him. These two yogic practices described may be attempted by all even as it is mentioned in the first chapter.’

(c) Srivatsa Ramaswami,


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