Beyond concerns of health, economics, ethics, religion, and even karma, vegetarianism has a higher, spiritual dimension that can help us develop our natural appreciation and love of God. Srila Prabhupada tells us in his explanations of Srimad-Bhagavatam, “The human being is meant for self-realization, and for that purpose he is not to eat anything that is not first offered to the Lord. The Lord accepts from His devotee all kinds of food preparations made from vegetables, fruits, milk products, and grains. Different varieties of fruits, vegetables, and milk products can be offered to the Lord, and after the Lord accepts the foodstuffs, the devotee can partake of the prasad, by which all suffering in the struggle for existence will be gradually mitigated.”
Krishna Himself confirmed the divinity of prasada when He appeared in this world as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu 500 years ago: “Everyone has tasted these material substances before, but now, these same ingredients have taken on extraordinary flavors and uncommon fragrances. Just taste them and see the difference. Not to mention the taste, the fragrance alone pleases the mind and makes one forget all other sweetnesses. It is to be understood therefore, that these ordinary ingredients have been touched by the transcendental nectar of Krishna’s lips and imbued with all of Krishna’s qualities.”
Offered food, traditionally called prasad, “the mercy of God,” offers not only the healthy life of a vegetarian, but also God realization; not just food for the starving masses, but spiritual nourishment for everyone. When Krishna accepts an offering, He infuses His own divine nature into it. Prasada, therefore, is not different from Krishna Himself. Out of His unbounded compassion for the souls entrapped in the material world, Krishna comes in the form of prasad, so that simply by eating, we can come to know Him.
Eating prasada nourishes the body spiritually. By eating prasad not only are past sinful reactions in the body vanquished, but the body becomes immunized to the contamination of materialism. Just as an antiseptic vaccine can protect us against an epidemic, eating prasad protects us from the illusion and influence of the materialistic conception of life. Therefore, a person who eats only food offered to Krishna, can counteract all the reactions of one’s past material activities, and readily progresses in self-realization. Because Krishna frees us from the reactions of karma, or material activities, we can easily transcend illusion and serve Him in devotion. One who acts without karma can dovetail his consciousness with God’s and become constantly aware of His personal presence. This is the true benefit of prasad.
One who eats prasad is actually rendering devotional service to the Lord and is sure to receive His blessings. Srila Prabhupada often said that by eating prasad even once we can escape from the cycle of birth and death, and by eating only prasada even the most sinful person can become a saint. The Vedic scriptures speak of many people whose lives were transformed by eating prasad, and any Hare Krishna devotee will vouch for the spiritual potency of prasada and the effect it has had on his life. Eating only food offered to Krishna is the ultimate perfection of a vegetarian diet. After all, pigeons and monkeys are also vegetarian, so becoming a vegetarian is not in itself the greatest of accomplishments. The Vedas inform us that the purpose of human life is to reawaken the soul to its relationship with God, and only when we go beyond vegetarianism to prasad can our eating be helpful in achieving this goal.