Q. Why is it OK to eat plants? Don't they have emotions and feelings ofpain like animals?

A. Plants are lower down on the food chain, and although they are sensitiveto pain, they are much less sensitive to it or conscious of it than animals. Tolive in this world one has to cause pain. Therefore we recommend that you learn to transcend material existence even while being present in thematerial world. With regard to eating, this is accomplished by offeringyour food to Krsna and partaking of the remnants (prasada).

Bhaktivinoda Thakura surmised that if we take that which we have in commonwith other species--our primal animalistic necessity of self-preservation--and spiritualize it, humanity can easily realize its potential for love.Prasada, he taught, is the solution to all of our perceived problems.Without prasada, we are left to create havoc in the environment, exploitingothers in the name of self-preservation. Prasada means 'kindness, grace.'

If we learn to plant, cultivate, prepare, and offer food to Krsna beforetaking any ourselves, we will convert out primal animal necessity intospiritual experience and realize the zenith of human potential. The act ofoffering our food to Krsna brings our primal material necessity ofself-preservation in conjunction with our spiritual capacity for love. Thishas the power to transform our entire life - to uproot our domination overothers and replace it with dependence upon God. All of the reactions forour life of domination, our habitual consumption, can be overcome by thispractice.

We must grow, collect, prepare, and offer ingredients for the satisfactionof Krsna. This is the first consideration, the substance of thetransaction. Secondarily, because our entire life is engaged in hisservice, he energizes our efforts through his remnants, his kindness andgrace--prasada. Not only will no adverse reaction come to us if we conductour lives in this manner, but we will become true Vaisnavas--agents ofgoodwill for others.

Q. Why do the scriptures use a symbolic language that can be interpretedin innumerable ways according to the intention of the interpreter?

A. It is not the defect of scripture that it speaks of ultimate reality inpoetic and symbolic language. What other language could come close to doingit justice? God is beyond the words of scripture, which while indicatingsomething about him, implore us to reflect upon those words and therebyknow and love. The apparent ambiguity of scripture is a testament as to thediversity of the Godhead. The gem of life has many facets.

Q. Do you have to pay the price for sins committed by the mind but notcommitted in reality?

A. Sins committed in the mind generally lead to sins of the flesh.Therefore, we are advised to control our minds. While contemplating sinfulthoughts, you cannot be happy. Thus you do suffer for this kind ofcontemplation. As for any future ramifications of inappropriatecontemplation, Krsna instructs us that our mental preoccupation determinesour next birth. So-called 'idle' thoughts are not independent of karma; theyare active in the psychic dimensions and lead to karmic reactions. Striveto control your mind. This is central to yoga practice.

Hindus may submit questions for the swami to editor@swami.org. Non-Hindus with questions on Hindu basics or etiquette (such as "What do I wear to a Hindu wedding?") are invited to submit them to columnists@staff.beliefnet.com.

Q. I have a Bala Krsna deity. Do you know any mantras for worshipping it?I also live in a bad neighborhood. The situation is intolerable. I need amiracle. Can you advise me?

A. In order to properly worship the Deity of Krsna, you need to receive the appropriate mantras for such worship from a guru. The process of Deityworship (arcana) is generally reserved for initiated devotees. Given yoursituation, the best thing you can do for your Deity, yourself and yourneighbors is to hold Krsna kirtan in your home. Just sit or stand and singaloud the Hare Krsna maha mantra. Don't be concerned about the initialreaction of others. Just go on chanting at a regular times throughout theday and expect a miracle.

Q. Why is there such an uneven distribution of spiritual fortune in theworld? Why was only India chosen to be the fountainhead of spiritualismwhere all the great incarnations appeared?

A. Wherever God manifests, that place becomes sanctified and the entireEarth is blessed. It is also said that Bharata (India) was much larger inthe past, and many of the Puranic tales describe lands outside of Indiaproper. Thus, the Puranas speak more of a world culture. Try to appreciateGod's descent in Bharata from a planetary viewpoint. The word 'India' isnot mentioned anywhere in the scripture.

Furthermore, it is quite possible that at the present time God is morepresent in other parts of the world, as India either turns her back on herspiritual heritage altogether, or misidentifies spirituality withmisunderstood Hindu culture, superstition, and religious dogma. SrilaBhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada expressed this at one point in his campaign.Indeed it is the Western interest in Bharata's spirituality that isspreading it all over the world. Wherever the interest in God is greater,that is where he is most present.

As many of Caitanyadeva's eternal associates did not take birth inNavadwipa Dhama, but rather outside of the Dhama for the sake ofdistributing love of God all over the world, devotees of Sri Caitanya aretaking birth all over the world to continue this effort. In doing so theycan appreciate the spirituality of other traditions in the spirit ofessence seeking (saragrahi) Vaisnavas.