"Prasāda" is a many-layered concept, which acquires an increasingly wider meaning depending upon the aspirant’s spiritual progress. In the elementary stage of the spiritual course the word "Prasāda" refers only to the food offered to Linga or guru or Jangama. The food that is offered (arpita) [ಅರ್ಪಿತ] is not holy; nor is the devotee who offers it. But after the offer the food is conceived to become holy and the eater of the holy food is believed to become holy. As gurus and Jangamas and the Linga are superior to others, the food that is offered to them is not normally ordinary food, but special, like the food that is prepared on festive occasions. However, whatever may be the nature of the offered food, a Lingayat must not eat anything that is not offered to Linga (or Jangama or guru).
The concept of Prasāda presupposes a philosophical doctrine, that we must be grateful to Parashiva for having created our body, senses, internal organs, and placing the whole world at our disposal. We must, therefore, necessarily regard everything as a gift or debt given to us and, whenever possible, try to return the debt. The best way of repaying the debt is to gratefully offer food, milk, water, etc., to begin with. What is thus offered is a Prasāda (God-given or grace).
The Lingayat concept of Prasāda is in a way superior to the traditional Hindu conception. According to traditional Hinduism, the devotee cannot offer anything directly to God. A priest does such an offer; whereas in Lingayathism any man or woman can offer food and drink to God and make it Prasāda. Secondly, according to traditional Hinduism, in order to convert food into Prasāda one has to go to a temple where the specially appointed priest worships the idol at a specific time, whereas every Lingavanta, man or woman, can worship and offer things directly. The act of offering Prasāda is not confined to space (like temple) or time. The offerer need not be a Brahmin or a man, but could be any man or woman of any caste. They can offer even the most ordinary food as Prasāda and it need not be a special food: "anybody who searches for defects (like tastelessness, etc.) in Prasāda is sinner", says Chennabasava [3:1472]. Similarly eating Prasāda for the sole purpose of taste misses the central point of the Prasāda concept.
Treating not only food and drink but all that we experience - the earth on which we stand, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the sights we see, the tastes we enjoy, etc. as Prasāda is a sign of advanced spiritual life. Here also, as in the case of food, we must enjoy things only after we offer them to Parashiva. However, there are two important points of difference. In the earlier stage the aspirant used to offer Prasāda after worshipping Parashiva’s emblem, Ishtalinga, but now he need not perform such a formal worship - it is enough if he just contemplates Parashiva. Secondly, earlier he used to offer food by hand; now he offers everything mentally from wherever he is. This should be the attitude of one who reaches Prānalingi-sthala [ಪ್ರಾಣಲಿಂಗಿ-ಸ್ಥಲ]. He is convinced that every sense organ is a gate ('mukha'= mouth) [ಮುಖ] where Parashiva resides and enjoys sounds, tastes, forms, etc. before the aspirant enjoys them. Since the devotee enjoys them only after Parashiva has enjoyed them he has to regard them as Prasāda. In such a case the devotee should not distinguish between an excellent dinner and an ordinary food; between scorching sunlight and cool moonlight; between sweet music and cacophony.
In a still wider sense not only food, drink and objects of sense but the sensory and motor organs, the internal instruments (antahkarana) [ಅಂತ:ಕರಣ] and the physical body themselves should be regarded as the Prasāda, because they are all given by Parashiva. In the final analysis, the aspirant must realize that his body and senses are not his but Parashiva’s. So he should not only use them as Prasāda but also surrender them to the giver. To surrender them is to treat them as Parashiva’s or to believe that Parashiva enjoys through the devotee’s personality. This is the attitude of one who has reached Sharana-sthala, the penultimate stage. In short, at the Sharana stage, the Prasadi (one who receives Prasāda) is himself a Prasāda. His entire personality is, therefore, called Prasāda-kaya, and his personality is veritable Kailasa (the abode of Parashiva).
It is easy to offer flower, fruit, etc. to Parashiva, because none of these is a part of the devotee’s personality and it requires highly advanced spiritual awareness for the devotee to offer (surrender) his own entire personality. None who does not offer himself completely is pure and none who is not pure is eligible for union with Parashiva (see TRIVIDHA PRASADA).
Most of the Vachana-writers speak of Prasāda as being of three kinds: Shuddha-Prasāda is ‘pure’ Prasāda because it is taken for purifying oneself; it is also called Guruprasāda, as it is offered by Guru; Siddha-Prasāda is the one which is believed to purify the internal instruments (antaḥkaraṇa); it is also called Linga-Prasāda, as it is offered to Linga; and Prasiddha-Prasāda is the one which is offered to Jangama and for this reason it is also called Jangama-Prasāda (see PRASĀDA).
The garland of rudrakshi beads is a mark of guru or Jangama and all Lingayats are advised to wear it. The mythological explanation is that the tears that fell from Shiva’s eyes became solid and became the rudrakshi [Rudra’s akshis (eyes)]. Even if we set aside the mythology, the garland of rudrakshi is useful in that counting the beads is an effective means to concentration.
[3:1742] : 1742 Vachana in the 3rd Volume, (Samagra Vachana-Samputa in 15 volumes)
Publisher: Kannada Pustaka Pradikhara Govt of Karnataka, Bangalore, 2001.
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