I learned how to offer at a young age. When I didn’t want to carry the freshly ironed clothes upstairs my mother would cheerfully say, “Offer it up!”. There was no choice about having to do it but she was suggesting where I put my mind in the process. She was teaching me to offer this small activity to God. Those three words stayed with me, and when I was later introduced to Krishna consciousness, the same concept from my childhood appeared to me in Krishna’s teachings.
What does it mean to offer? With the clothing, it meant that I did something I didn’t want to do for someone else. I turned this unwelcome activity into a gesture of goodwill. I took the time that I’d rather be doing something else, and gave it away or offered it up.
We offer all the time. Water to our plants, food to our pets, help to our neighbors. We offer a welcome to our guest, money to someone in need, and words of support to a dying friend. Offering and giving is part of who we are. When we offer with the right consciousness we experience a more meaningful and happy moment.
Offering to Krishna (God) is the same idea. We are giving something to Him. But Krishna is far bigger than any of our small world exchanges, and so the impact in our life is also far bigger. It changes us.
Initially offerings to Krishna may be done out of duty, like the ironed clothes. We have to do something, so we turn it into an offering. As we grow in our love for him, our offerings become more loving and spontaneous. We start to think, ‘how can I make this beautiful for Krishna? How can I make Krishna happy?’ As we begin to sense more and more of Krishna’s presence within our heart, we ask – ‘how can I live, speak, and work as an offering to Krishna?’
Offerings are synonymous with sacrifice. Yet the word ‘sacrifice’ may conjure up images of pain. However, where there is love, there is no pain. It’s just love in different guises. When we give things up, give things away, offer everything we have and everything we do with love and devotion to Krishna, our love for Him grows and grows. Not only that, our love for everyone and everything else also grows. It’s like watering the root of a tree – all the branches and leaves are nourished.
The Bhagavad-gita is full of instructions on how to live and love in our relationship with Krishna, through our personal offerings and Krishna’s response to them. The mood of offering, what to offer, how to offer – it’s all there. Here is one about food:
“If one offers me, with love and devotion, a leaf, flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it.” Bg 9.26
When we offer what we eat to Krishna, the food becomes karma-free. This is important, as it is karma that binds us to this world. And we eat all the time…so that’s a lot of karma! For offering, there are foods Krishna likes to eat. A strict vegetarian diet is a must.
For home or work, what we cook or buy can be offered. The simplest beginning is to make a small altar with a picture of Krishna. Place the food there and chant the Hare Krishna mantra. In your mind or out loud you can say – “Dear Krishna, please accept this food. It came from You. I am offering it back with gratitude.” If we are out and about, we can chant the prayer in our mind.
In the Temple, we cook directly for Krishna, as we would for our family. Krishna likes specific things and we make them for Him. It’s a more elaborate process with more offering mantras but the essence is the same – cooking and offering with gratitude, love, and devotion. Simply wanting to make Krishna happy!
When we align our lives with Krishna, in the mood of offering and giving and without wanting anything in return, we will experience a change. A tangible shift in consciousness, a grounding, a sense of belonging and aliveness. We find ourselves in the offering and lose ourselves in love. Or, we lose ourselves in the offering and find ourselves in love. In either case, there is no greater place to be.