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Home » featured, philosophy

On Vaishnava Culture and Customs

Submitted by on July 17, 2017 – 12:33 am39 Comments

By Satyanarayana Dasa, originally published at the Jiva Institute.

Question: Previously, was there any distinction of dress between Gaudiya Vaishnavas and the regular population in India, and for the different varnas? What did people generally wear? There seems to be no mention of grihastha dress in shastra, only sannyasa garb.

Answer: There is no such thing as Vaishnava dress specifically. It is Indian dress with Vaishnava identification-marks: a specific tilak and Tulasi kanthimala. Men also wore shika, but it was not specific only for Vaishnavas, but basically for every male member of Hindu society. It was shaved only when one took Advaitavada sannyasa.

Previously, before India had contact with the West or Western dress, there was no other dress code besides the normal dhoti for males, and sari and different types of skirts for females. Mostly, men did not have an upper garment except for a chadar, also called an uttariya or anga-vastra. Rich people and royal people wore different type of shirts called angarakha (or angaraksaka in Sanskrit, lit. protector of limbs, something like the bagal-bandi from the Vrindavan area). Muslims introduced the kurta. Men wore various types of turbans. The style of dhoti, sari, skirts and turbans varied from region to region and also from varna to varna. Most of these dresses did not need tailoring, and could be used by people of different sizes. They were easy to wash. In fact, the word dhoti implies a cloth that is washed after wearing it once. These dresses were especially suitable for warm climates.

Thus there is almost no specific mention in Smriti shastra, such as Manu Smriti, about a dress code for grihasthas. One thing it does mention is not to have two kacchas, (kaccha is the part of the dhoti or sari tucked in the back). This implies that grihasthas wore dhotis with a kaccha, and not lungistyle, as is the case with sannyasis and babajis. It is also forbidden to worship the deity without a kaccha. Thus you will see that sannyasis do not do worship in South Indian temples. The pujaris are grihasthas.

Almost all dress code is only specified for non-grihasthas, i.e., brahmachari, vanaprashtha and sannyasi.

Question: Sometimes the question is raised, “Why do we have to follow Indian Culture. God is not dependent on any culture, why do we have to put on tilaka, a dhoti and shave our heads?”

Answer: If you want to worship Paramatma, this is true. He does not care for any particular culture. But if you want to follow a specific form of God, such as Krsna, Rama or Nrsimhadeva then you have to follow what they like. If you want to be with them then you have to do what they like. If you want to be a devotee of the universal God, then you can be universal but if you want to be a devotee of a specific form then you have to follow their principles. “God” may not have a culture, but Bhagavan has. You have to understand the difference between God (Paramatma) and Bhagavan (for which there is no English translation). Don’t confuse these two. Don’t apply the principles of Paramatma to Bhagavan. Paramatma is universal and has no preferences. Bhagavan does have preferences.

“God” means Paramatma. Bhagavan is beyond God. Paramatma is a general manifestation of the Absolute Reality, and Bhagavan is very specific. Therefore Bhagavan has a specific culture which is related to his life and activities.

In his prayers to Krsna, Brahma said that Krsna was pleased with Putana because she was dressed as a gopī. She did not have the bhava of gopī, she was merely dressed as a gopī (SB 10.14.35). We shouldn’t misconstrue that simply wearing a specific dress constitutes the sādhana to attain Bhagavan, but this does show that Bhagavān has preferences.

Putana incidentally dressed in a way that pleased Bhagavan. Pleasing him was not her intention. Therefore his mercy on her is astonishing, and she is an exceptional example. The common thing is to intentionally try to please Bhagavan. That is bhakti sadhana. When bhakti is there, then one naturally does what is pleasing to Bhagavan. (anukulyena krsna anu shilanam BRS 1.1.11)

We may think of Bhagavan’s culture as “Indian culture,” especially those who are not Indian may think this way, but really, Krsna appeared on a part of the earth that was not called “India” at the time. Now we have divided the earth into so many countries. Even in recent history India alone has been divided. About 65 years ago, Pakistan was part of India and about 45 years ago, Bangladesh was part of Pakistan, but now the people of Pakistan and Bangladesh do not think that Krsna was born in their country, and they consider Indian culture foreign. Their forefathers did not.

Similarly, once upon a time, the whole earth was one unit, as can be seen from the shape of different continents. According to the Puranas also, the whole earth was known as Bharata Varsha, which is the official name of India. At that time, if somebody lived on earth he was part of the whole world. There was only one culture. Later on, it got bifurcated into so many parts and now we consider the culture of one country “foreign.” Thus we think that the culture in which Krsna is born is “Indian culture,” but in truth, there was a world culture at that time. There was no such thing as “India.”

And there were no other major religions at that time – neither Christianity, Islam nor Buddhism. And even in these religions, their traditional dress very much resembles traditional Indian dress. All the cultures of the world had similar simple dresses, basically cloth wrapped around the body, whether in Greece, Egypt or Israel.

Furthermore, Vaishnavas accept that Krsna-lilaas eternally unfolding in many different universes. That means the dress Krsna wore and the culture he lived in is not “Indian” – it is his. It is not that in our universe he happened to appear near Delhi so he wore dhoti, but in another universe, He wears jeans or something else. Like the Sun, which looks the same no matter what country you see it from, Krsna appears in different universes and different historical periods, but He always wears the same dress. So it is not Indian dress, it is His own eternal dress. It is not Indian culture, but His own culture.

Question: Srimad Bhagavatam says (11.14.3): “Those who give up the effort for attaining perfection on the path of jnana (brahman realization) and just bow down to you with their mind body and speech by hearing your pastimes described in the scriptures, though remaining in their social position (sthane sthita), they conquer you, O Krsna, who are unconquerable by anyone in the three worlds.”

What do you think about this sthane-sthita principle? And what would you recommend for Vaishnavas to wear?

Answer: I agree with the sthane sthita principle. I consider Osho as the most rebellious and unorthodox guru. Yet, even he had a dress code for his sannyasis. So sannyasis should always follow the dress code. Grihasthas can dress in whatever is convenient for them to function in the society. However, I will recommend that while doing puja in the temple one should put on the traditional Indian dress. And if time and circumstances permit, one should wear traditional Indian dress to worship one’s personal deity in one’s own home. It has some merit in it. While going out one can change into the dress accepted in the local society.

Question: When in the 10th Canto it says that Krsna liberated Putana because she came in the dress of a gopi, does that imply that only Krishna’s devotees dressed like gopis and that there were no other women in Krishna’s times not devoted to him who wore this kind of dress?

Answer: No. Putana’s dress reminded Krishna of the gopis. Any non-devotee gopi would have reminded Him of the gopis. So dress also has some role to play and this must be recognized. By this, I am not saying that Western devotees should go around in dhotis, but they should know its value and wear it whenever they can. There is no need to rebel against it, as seems to be the case sometimes.

Question: Is Hari Bhakti Vilasa a book for Gaudiya Vaishnavas or is it more for outsiders? I am asking because it is full of varnashrama dharmic rules, while real bhakti is supposed to be beyond those rules. In essence, Hari Bhakti Vilasa seems to be aropa siddha bhakti.

AnswerHari Bhakti Vilasa gives principles for Vaishnavas in general. It is a Vaisnava smriti not limited to Gaudiya Vaishnavism. It is not talking about aropa siddha bhakti. It gives principles for people who want to practice pure bhakti. However, it is assumes that one has varnashramabackground and therefore it may appear that it is speaking about varnashrama or aropa siddha bhakti. It should be noted that not everything it prescribes is applicable to Gaudiya Vaishnvas. It is a textbook. As with any textbook, one has to learn from one’s own teacher or school which principles are applicable and which are not, and to which extent. It is a book for practical principles which may need to be adjusted according to the circumstances of the practitioner.

39 Comments »

  • Phillip Trier Rabe

    Sri Srimad A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada just says the opposite:

    “Now, just see. To satisfy Kṛṣṇa is not very difficult thing…It doesn’t matter that because Kṛṣṇa appeared in India, therefore He wanted Indian food. No. Patraṃ puṣpaṃ phalaṃ toyam. Leaf, and flower, and fruit, and water. Oh, that is available in America, that is available in Czechoslovakia and Greenland, everywhere.”

    [Bg 4.19-22 Lecture — NYC, August 8, 1966]

    * * * * *

    Allen Ginsberg: Yes, but what [IKSCON] requires is…an adaptation to Indian food.

    Prabhupāda: No, no… It is not Indian food. Are you not eating fruits?

    Allen Ginsberg: Yes, yes.

    Prabhupāda: Then that is Indian food? Do you mean to say it is Indian food? …It doesn’t matter that you have to take our taste. No. That is not the program, that to become Kṛṣṇa conscious you have to change your taste. No. We say from the Bhagavad-gītā… Kṛṣṇa says, patraṃ puṣpaṃ phalaṃ toyaṃ yo me bhaktyā prayacchati [Bg. 9.26]. “Anyone who is offering Me with devotion these vegetables, fruits, flowers, milk, I accept that.” But we are going to satisfy Kṛṣṇa. Therefore we are selecting foodstuff from this [vegetarian] group. That you are all already accepting. Don’t you take vegetables? Don’t you take fruits? Don’t you take grains? So where is the new item? Now, so far cooking, you can cook in your own taste. But…not meat…That is our program.”

    [Room conversation with Allen Ginsberg — Columbus, Ohio, May 12, 1969]

    • An example of very broad preaching, as opposed to the more specific focus of the article.

      • Phillip Trier Rabe

        With all respect, but I don’t think that teh example is too broad, but it explains a philosophical principle. Satyanarayan says, only Indian cowherd dress will satisfy Krishna, which is just his interpretation (it is simply not found in the verse). The same would be saying, only Indian dishes will satisfy Krishna, a concept rejected by Srila Prabhupada, see above.

        * * * * *
        Regarding clothes:

        Guru-gauranga Dasa: “Speaking about clothes, Monsieur le President says that he has been to India, and he understands that one dresses like this in India. But why would the disciples dress in America or in Europe in this way? Is it necessary?”

        Prabhupada: “No. It is not necessary. Dress you can have as you like. It doesn’t matter, because dress is a dead thing. Real thing is that we want a living being who can understand. That is the real position.”

        [Srila Prabhupada Welcomed by Governor at Hotel De Ville — Geneva, May 30, 1974]

        • I did not say it was “too broad,” just broad in comparison. The paradigmatic figures of raga bhakti are described with some detail, as is the object of their love. Such descriptions are empowered and should be employed in one’s meditation/visualization. It is not that we can replace Krsna herding cows with Krsna riding a mountain bike and expect the same result.The Vraja lila is a specific meditation and in this sense unlike meditation on Paramatma—God. Prabhupada preferred that his disciples not only think of Krsna as he is described in the texts but to also dress in ways reminiscent of Gaura lila when possible as an aid to their culture of Krsna consciousness. But of course when speaking to persons from the West who felt uncomfortable with such dress, he replied to them in the broadest of terms. Examples of Allen Ginsberg and the Governor of Geneva are one thing, while speaking to initiated devotees seriously pursuing the ideal of Vraja bhakti is another. I think the article was written for the latter and appropriately made a distinction between God consciousness and Vraja Krsna consciousness. At the same time the article does not say one has to dress in a particular way but suggests it may be helpful to do so. Prabhupada taught this as well. Indeed, the examples of the governor and Ginsberg by comparison are exceptions.

          • Phillip Trier Rabe

            Dear Tripurari Maharaja, my dandavats, I was duly initiated in ISKCON in 1991 and my spiritual name is Paramshreya Dasa. I don’t think, I have offended the author. I have just explained by quoting guru and shastra and by using philosophical arguments that the author’s message is not fully according to our Vaishnava teachings. It may not be appealing, but this is certainly not an offense. Thinking, disagreeing and debating has certainly it’s place in out Vaishnava culture.

            I am also not cherry picking. It’s just the opposite. The author has picked a few words from one of 18,000 slokas and turned them into a principle that is not really there. I instead have quoted ample references where the author’s concept is refuted.

            For some devotees Indian dress might be favorable (I have no problem with that), but for others it might not. They like to wear decent local dress in the mode of goodness which was never challenged by Srila Prabhupada. To say in principle that Indian dress is preferable indicates that those devotees who wear Indian dress are more sincere than those who do not. That widely opens the doors for hypocrisy. I have seen many devotees not at all serious in following the four regulative principles, not at all interested in spreading the Krishna Consciousness Movement, but they think, they are sincere because they wear traditional Indian dress.

            The author might be a serious practitioner, I don’t know him and I don’t want to criticize him in person. I just pointed out that this article doesn’t lead to clarification but rather to confusion.

            Thank you for allowing this debate.

          • Thank you for your history. I stand corrected in that regard. You have called the author a sahajiya for making the point that there is a difference between worship of God and the worship of Krsna in raga bhakti. I take exception to that and find it offensive, given the connotation the word carries in our parivara. Nor does the author’s point rest on one word of one verse. There is a difference betwen the two concpetions.

            Regarding the two, the former is more broad and the latter more specific.The latter involves conceiving of oneself as a member of Krsna and Gaura lila, and dressing oneself in a manner that resembles that of Garua lila can be helpful in this regard. If you understand the difference between the two theistic conceptions, the point should be clear, despite the fact that Prabhupada at times employed the name Krsna while speaking of the broader conception.

            The fact that Prabhupada preferred his disciples to wear tilak, neck beads and dress in saris and dhotis could not be more obvious to me. And at least the tilak and neck beads are clearly elements of what it means to dress as a devotee. But if someone felt uncomfortable with wearing dhoti or sari, he was willing to make an exception without considering them insincere. The citations you have referred to are exceptions and ignore the norm of the time in which they were spoken.

            Neither the author or myself have stated that any particular dress is required but merely that dressing like a devotee is favorable and helpful. Here I refer to a devotee in Gaura lila. Indeed this is the implication of the well known seva sadhaka rupena verse of Sri Rupa Goswami: dressing oneself after the examples of the Goloka siddhas as they appear in Gaura lila and as the sadhaka will also appear therein in due course. Note that the author has more or less made this point with regard to engaging in arcana, before engaging in which bhuta-suddhi is performed. And in doing so he has acknowledge the impracticality of dressing int his manner elsewhere in contemporary society, at least of house holders.

  • Paramshreya Das

    The word sat-veṣāt is the key term. Veṣa means dress, just dress. I have a problem with the following „logic“: First of all in the BBT translation it is said that Putana has disguised herself as a devotee, not particularly as a gopi. The wortd “gopi” isn’t in the Sanskrit of SB 10.14.35. Even if the term would be „gopi“, it is still universal, because „gopi“ simply means „cowherd girl“. You have gopis everywhere around this planet, in Switzerland, in Africa, in Pennsylvania. According to the author’s logic, any gopi or cowherd girl can please the Lord, that means also a German cowherd girl could please the Lord just by being dressed as a cowherd girl. Nowhere the author says that she must dress explicitly like an Indian cowherd girl. The Lord would be pleased seeing cowherd girls. Still apart of this, our translation says “diguising herself as a devotee”.

    • Putana dressed herself like a devotee—a devotee of Vraja—and thus as a cowherd woman—a gopi with tilak. She dressed like Yasoda and other gopis. Thus given the context, to say she dressed herself as a gopi implies that she dressed herself as a devotee.

    • Braja sundari

      Is it not obvious that when talking about Krishna we understand gopi from Vraja and not from Pennsylvania? He was not dating girls from Switzerland or USA,his mother was not American cowherd girl. Putana had to disguise herself as a local woman, otherwise she would look suspicious. And local women were devotees, so no harm to say she dressed like a devotee

      • With all respect I like to disagree. If that so called principle of “Dress like Krishna did in Vrindavana 5200 years ago, if you really wanna go there!” had been such an important item, Srila Prabhupada would have explained it in his books again and again. However it’s practically absent. Now Satyanarana Dasa comes, takes a quarter of one of 18,000 slokas, turns neutral words of “dress” and “disguising” into today’s Indian gopi dress and sari and now the whole Gaudiya community thinks wearing Indian dress is an essential principle of going back to Goloka! Wow!

        Krishna says twice in Bhagavad-gita, man-manā bhava mad-bhakto “Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, become My devotee, offer obeisances to Me and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me.”

        There is nothing mentioned of “Dress like Me” or “Dress like a gopa or gopi”.

        Actually the message of this article is subtle sahajiyaism. Suppose today a male devotee wants to satisfy Krishna by wearing gopa costume. But then suddenly he thinks, no I want to be with Krishna in Goloka as a female gopi! Then he starts wearing gopi dress. We had this kind of crazy stuff so many times in the past, I have seen with my own eyes.

        Srila Prabhupada’s approach to enter Goloka was way different:

        “One should engage in practical service to the Lord. In our Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement, all our activities are concentrated upon distributing Kṛṣṇa literature. This is very important. One may approach any person and induce him to read Kṛṣṇa literature so that in the future he also may become a devotee. Such activities are recommended in this verse. Kriyāsu yas tvac-caraṇāravindayoḥ. Such activities will always remind the devotees of the Lord’s lotus feet. By fully concentrating on distributing books for Kṛṣṇa, one is fully absorbed in Kṛṣṇa. This is samādhi.”

        • As I mentioned, Prabhupada’s preference was that his disciples dress in a manner reminiscent of Gaura lila. Were you initiated by him? Otherwise I think you miss the substance of the author’s argument.

          • Phillip Trier Rabe

            If that would be so, Srila Prabhupada would have explained the principle of dressing as a gopa/gopi in words again and again – as he did explain so many other important principles again and again. But he didn’t.

            As far as I understand, Srila Prabhupada didn’t want that his disciples appeared like unclean hippies, especially at the initiation ceremony.

            * * * * *

            Rameśvara: I’m just saying that it is a little difficult if they wear their dhoti.

            Prabhupada: No, dhoti, I don’t say. You have nice coat-pant. I don’t say that you have to… I never said that. You have adopted it. (laughs) I never said that “You put on dhoti.”

            [Train conversation, January 1977]

            * * * * *

            That he told Allen Ginsberg and the Governor of Geneva “something light” as a preaching tactic, no, I disagree. Srila Prabhupada was always straight forward in telling people about important principles.

            * * * * *

            Dr. Wolfe: “Srila Prabhupada, the dhoti is not important then.”

            Prabhupada: Not important. He can have dhoti, you can have pant, you can have… It doesn’t matter.”

            [Garden Conversation with Professors — Los Angeles, June 24, 1975]

            * * * * *

            “Prabhupada once saw a picture of Balavanta preaching into a microphone during a political campaign. Behind him sat the mayor and another candidate. Balavanta wore a suit and tie, tilaka, and tulasi beads…His hair was grown out. Around his neck he wore a beadbag…When Prabhupada saw the picture, he said that this is what we want, to preach in American dress. He said we should be known as American Krishnas.”

            [Satyvarupa Das Goswami, Prabhupada Nectar)

            * * * * *

            “You should use your own discretion; the garb can be Vedic or ‘American.’ There is no harm. Dress has nothing to do with the soul.”

            [Prabhupada to the artist Yadurani about painting devotees — May 19, 1971; Satsvarūpa dāsa Gosvāmī Prabhupada Nectar]

            * * * * *

            Prabhupada: “Oh, yes, oh, yes, you can become spiritual in your this dress. Simply you have to learn what it is from the books. The dress is not very important thing…”

            [March 5, 1975]

            * * * * *

            I’m sorry, but I’m taking Srila Prabhupada serious. I am not taking Satyanaran Dasa serious in his sophisticated appearing speculation.

          • No, you are not taking him seriously. You are cherry picking. And you are offending Satyanarayan. Now if you want to take Prabhupada seriously, take shelter of a Gaudiya Vaisnava guru and serve under his or her guidance. But otherwise I have been clear all along, as has the article, that dress is not essential but preferable. It was clearly Prabhupada’s preference and that is why we dressed as we did. And as the article implies, it can be helpful for bhajana. This is especially so when contemplating a perfected sadhaka deha in Gaura lila.

  • Vāyu.

    Is that sat-veṣāt limited to a millenary and specific rural dress? If so, that clothing would be more proper for tropical country settings (such as Vrajabhūmi) or perhaps just an exclusive dress of intramural activities (especially in the West). It does not seem practical for modern urban areas or cold regions.

    .

    By the way, are valkalāmbara and kṛṣṇājina considered sat-veṣāt and permitted at present?

    • Sat-vesat speaks of dressing like a devotee. Hence there is way to dress as Vaisnava. He or she wears neck beads of Tulasi and adorns his or her forehead with tilak. Without such markings, how would one be recognized externally as a Vaisnava? Wearing tree bark or deerskin was not approved by Mahaprabhu. Brahmananda Bharati understood this and abandoned such dress.

  • Chandrashekhara acharya dasa

    I would like to add my comment on this thread:

    If the author claims that one cannot understand Srila Prabhupada’s likes and dislikes unless one is initiated by him, then such a claim leaves hardly any room for discussion after Srila Prabhupada’s disciples leave this world.

    Lord Krishna establishes in the last verse of the 16th chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita that one must determine what our duty is by referring to shastra. One must look to shastra to determine what one should wear or not wear. The problem, therefore, with the claim that one should preferably dress in a sari or in a dhoti because it “pleases” Lord Krishna, is that this claim finds zero prescriptive justification in shastra, especially for those vaishnavas who are non-monastic vaishnavas. Granted: Rupa Goswami stresses the wearing of tilak, but nowhere does he prescribe the imitation of how God dresses as a means to please Him. In fact, Bhaktivinoda Thakura calls the imitation of how God dresses an “evil obsession.” He states, in his Sri Chand Baul song 4:

    “O! Abandoning the performance of adorning yourself with dramatic clothing and ornaments in imitation of Lord Krishna, may you become attached to chanting His pure holy names. May you become the loyal follower of Nitai Chanda, thereby renouncing all evil obsessions.”

    Following the Thakura’s mood, Srila Prabhupada writes:

    “[I]f [the conditioned soul] tries to imitate [Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa], taking on Their dress and characteristics, he becomes the plaything of Māyā. . . .”
    
(In Vrindavan bhajan)

    and:

    “
In the Caitanya-caritamrita, it is clearly said that one should accept the emotional activities of the associates of Krsna, not imitate their dress…”
    (in Teachings of Lord Caitanya, chapter 31).

    Aside from three or four or verses in the Srimad Bhagavatam (two in the 7th canto, one in the 6th canto and one in 11th canto), all of which are directed towards renunciates (for brahmacharis and vanaprasthas in the 7th canto verses, and for full renunciates in the 6th and 11th canto), the text mentions nothing at all, anywhere, about how the act of imitating how Lord Krishna dresses (especially if one is a householder) will bestow “extra credit” bonus points on the sadhaka.

    The Hari Bhakti Vilasa mentions only the rule about non-stitched clothes. It mentions nothing about lungi-style dhoti as being more preferable than “normal-style” dhoti (for deity worship). In ISKCON, devotees follow Prabhupada’s own example: he wore a stitched kurta repeatedly on the altar. For everything off the altar, ie., bhagavata-marga, the Hari Bhakti Vilasa mentions absolutely nothing in terms of prescriptive dress uniform.

    Furthermore, the act of claiming that Prabhupada tricked newcomers into believing that it was okay to wear normal clothes, but that in reality he wished them to “graduate up” to the alleged dhoti/sari “higher standard” when they would evolve from their neophyte position, is a dangerous and untenable claim to make. It is dangerous because it is doubting the explicit statements by Prabhupada to this effect. If we doubt the explicit statements that Prabhupada made about dress, then we might as well doubt all other explicit statements that Prabhupada made on other topics, and end up speculating that in everything that Prabhupada said he had an ulterior motive, and that he in effect was pulling one “paroksha-vada” (describing a situation as something else in order to disguise its real nature) stunt one after another, on everyone that he met, especially on the newcomers.
    Such a claim is also untenable because more than once Prabhupada mentioned Western clothes as preferable clothes to wear *for experienced devotees*, not just for neophytes on the threshold of Bhakti. For example, in January 1977, Prabhupada expresses his desire that his fallen sannyasi disciples should dress in “grihastha dress,” which Prabhupada defines here as “nice coat, pants, gentleman.”
    A sannyasi who has fallen down is indeed in a fallen condition. However, Prabhupada gave sannyasa to devotees whom he deemed were at least considerably fixed up in their sadhana. To these experienced devotees, who were not comparable to typical newcomers, Prabhupada instructed that they wear “nice coat, pants.” Prabhupada had in mind “nice coat, pants, gentleman” *not* only for neophyte newcomers, but for fixed-up householders in ISKCON, as this quote (quoted in full below) proves.

    Finally, and this point is related to the one I just made, we tend to fail to recognize how drastically the demographics of ISKCON have changed from the time of Prabhupada’s physical presence to today. In the 1970s’, ISKCON consisted practically exclusively of monastic members, whereas today, its membership consists mostly of financially independent householders. We tend to conflate both, and we thus impose upon a householder community the instructions that are in effect directed towards monastic devotees. Hence my claim is, based on shastra and on what Prabhupada said, that the so-called “mood of Lord Caitanya,” as defined as dhotis and saris by the author, is for monks and nuns, and that the “laissez-faire” policy of Prabhupada, which is found in Lord Caitanya’s instruction to householder Raghunatha dasa (Madhya Lila chapter 16), as well as in the Bhagavatam 10.14.3 “Sthane Sthitah”, is a policy directed towards householders tout court. This policy is not, as claimed by some, aimed toward neophyte newcomers who will eventually “graduate” to the so-called “higher standard” of dhotis and saris.

    Full quote:

    “Better go and speak philosophy in your grhastha dress, not this dress, but you have nice coat, pants, gentleman. Who says no? I never said. Rather I shall be glad to see that up-to-date gentlemen with tilaka and sikha are speaking. That is very prestigious everywhere. Why this false dress? What is the wrong to become grihastha?”
    >>> Ref. VedaBase => Room Conversation — January 7, 1977, Bombay

    • No one has said that without being initiated by Prabhupada one cannot know his preferences. Nor has anyone suggested that Prabhupada tricked people, by allowing them to wear the kind of dress they preferred at first. But if you think that Prabhupada did not prefer that his disciples dress in dhotis and saris, you are simply not paying attention or were not involved during his presence to have experienced this. And he was explicit with regard to the dress of his sannyas students.

      When we speak of dressing in a manner pleasing to Krsna we speak of dressing in a manner favorable for our bhakti. This does not mean we should dress as gopis and gopas, but rather in the dress that follows the example of the associates of Krsna’s nitya lila as they appear in their perfected sadhaka dehas in Gaura lila. Garua lila is the lila in which siddhas serve and act as if they were sadhakas. So the standard for sadhaka decorum comes from Gaura lila. And in the unmanifest Garua lila Rupa Manjari appears as a young brahmin boy serving in a special type of dasya rasa, dressed in dhoti etc. So it is favorable for one’s bhakti on the raga marg to follow this standard of decorum that corresponds with how one will dress in Gaura’s nitya lila. Such dress, tilak, tulasi neck beads, etc. are considered among other things what is termed bhavanukula in Ragavatrtma Candrika. Thakura Bhaktivinod also writes about this in his Saranagati with regard to that which is favorable for raga bhakti:

      gaura-bhakata-priya-veśa dadhānā
      tilaka-tulasī-mālā-śobhamānā

      “I will put on the garb that is dear to the devotees of Lord Gaura-sundara, including the twelve Vaisnava tilaka markings on my body and beautiful beads of tulasi wood around my neck.”

      Relative to the discussion are the words “gaura-bhakata-priya-veśa dadhānā.” Here the “vesa” or “dress” of the dear associates (gaura bhakti priya) of Garua lila is referred to as “anukula” or “favorable for bhakti” and thus pleasing to Garua/Krsna.

      The article suggest that householders dress as need be given their circumstances but suggest that devotional dress is favorable for times of bhajana and arcana, especially on the raga marg, appropriately referring to this as “dressing like a devotee.” Putana dressed like a devotee in gopi vesa relative to the circumstances and it turned out well for her. Similarly if we dress as Mahaprabhu and his associates, this will be favorable for our bhakti, as demonstrated above.

      • The following verses are from the well-known Gaura Govindarcana-Smarana-Paddhati of Dhyancandra Goswami, whom Bhaktivinoda Thakura cites and about whom he writes, “Sri Dhyanacandra Gosvamîiwas a past master in all subjects. Especially in the matter of worship of Hari he was second to none.” They are for householder devotees Perhaps readers will find them instructive on this issue.

        Regarding Tilaka Dharana

        “Then, after dressing himself in pure, white cloth, the sadhaka shall write the names of Hari on his body. He shall also apply tilaka to the appropriate 12 places as described in this mantra from the Padma Purå∫a, Uttara-khanda . . . “

        Regarding Atma Dhyana

        “The sadhaka shall meditate on himself as wearing tilaka on his forehead, a fragrant garland around his neck, with beautiful holy names and prasadi-candana on his chest. On his body he always wears a fine, new white cloth. In this pure transcendental body he shall approach the lotus feet of his guru, very eager for service.”

        • madan gopal das

          Very instructive references, thank you! In our endeavors to become “gaura bhakata priya” we can use all the help we can get!

        • chandrashekhara acharya dasa

          I have zero problems with tilak and tulasi – not necessarily because of the explanation that you provided above, Maharaja, but because Rupa Goswami mentions them (and not clothes) as principles in the Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu. And also because, historically, nobody can deny that (vertical) tilak and tulasi have been the trademark of Vaishnavas par excellence. I also have no issues with sannyasis and brahcharis wearing their uniform (and that is also flexible, as shown amply by Prabhupada’s teachings). What I oppose is the idea of dressing like Gaura Lila, etc, for householders especially. What if a householder’s svarupa, in Gaura Lila, is that of a female? He will have “practiced getting into the mood” all his life as a sadhaka, wearing a dhoti and all in order have a seamless re-entry (or entry) into Gaura Lila/Vraja Lila….only to find out that he has a female form (or even a non-human form, as in the dog of Sivananda Sena, in which case any clothes is out of the picture).
          As I said, I prefer to stick to explicit prescriptive statements in shastra and in Prabhupada’s teachings, and my conclusion after reading them is that if you are not a monk, then you can – and you even should – dress like an “up to date gentleman” (Prabhupada’s words). The day when householder Gaudiya vaishnava gurus will dress like normal Western gentlemen will be the day when Mahaprabhu’s prediction of “every town and village” will begin to have a chance to manifest.

          Thank you for your time and for the dialogue.

          Param Vijayate Sri Krishna Sankirtanam!

          • The Gaura-lila svarupa of a sadhaka in our line is that of a brahmin boy in dasya-rasa. And this dasya bhakti for Sri Gaurasundara fosters sakhya or madhuruya-rasa in relation to Krsna relative to one’s association and subsequent sadhana. The seed of rati is sadhu sanga and such association determines one’s deity and bhajana, which in turn determines one’s attainment. If one associates with Rama bhaktas, one will acquire bhakti samskaras for Rama, worship Rama accordingly, and attain Ayodhya in dasya rasa. Similarly, our line affords us the opportunity for dasya rasa in Gaura lila and sakhya or madhurya rasa in Krsna lila.

            You asked for sastra and I provided it, but then you replied that you only accept some sastra and not all by restricting the pramana to Rupa Goswami’s Brs and Prabhupada’s books. I call foul. I cited Bhaktivinoda and Dhyancandra Goswami. Admittedly the verses I cited were male centric and referred to male sadhakas dressing like Sri Gaurasundara in his Nadiya-lila. This may appear to put female sadhakas at a disadvantage. However, that is compensated for in other ways but arguably casts sadhaka vesa in more relative light than say tilaka or khanti mala.

            But surely the dress of “an up to date gentleman” is also gender specific and more relative. How does the typical practicing Hindu up to date gentleman dress and how does the typical practicing Christian up to date gentleman dress? And is there not a place for everyday gentleman’s dress and a different dress specific for times of worship?

            Your concluding comment seems to say that the spreading of Krsna consciousness is entirely dependent upon dress, while at the same time arguing that Krsna consciousness is not dress specific. But, if only it were that simple. It’s not.

          • Does the prime minister of India dress like a proper gentleman or does the president of the United States?

    • I should also mention that in raga bhakti the qualified sadhaka meditates on a siddha rupa dressed as a gopa or gopi. So an aversion to such dress does not go well with this fact.

    • Krishna West is promoting Western dress and some Western customs it seems. I am not sure if they wear shoes in the house, but they probably do because the common person in the West does and Krishna west wants to fit in with Western culture. But my experience is that the vast majority of devotees in the West dress casually but feel comfortable in what is considered devotional dress (as above) when engaging in arcana and other angas of svarupa siddha bhakti. Whereas practically all monastics dress as men and women of the cloth, or traditionally. My experience is that dressing like a monk is attractive to a large portion of the Western public. It certainly has not hurt the Dalai Lama’s outreach. After all, the progressive West has promoted multiculturalism for decades now, and thus there is room in the minds of many for the exotic and honoring if not seeking to identify at least in terms of intellectual curiosity with other cultures. I am not sure what Krishna West’s position is on multiculturalism. Perhaps they are conservative in this area.

  • Chandrashekhara acharya dasa

    Here is Hridayananda dasa Goswami’s reply:

    Tripurari Swami attempted to find fault with Krishna West but his attempt does not appear to be successful. I will list his criticisms and then comment on them.

    1. “if you think that Prabhupada did not prefer that his disciples dress in dhotis and saris, you are simply not paying attention or were not involved during his presence to have experienced this. And he was explicit with regard to the dress of his sannyas students.”

    Actually I paid close attention when Prabhupada personally told me in Honolulu in 1974 that his disciples did not have to wear Indian dress, as long as they dressed as ladies and gentlemen. But it was not to me alone that Prabhupada stated this. We should also pay close attention to the following small sample of Prabhupada’s statements:

    “From the instructions given to King Pratāparudra by Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya, we can understand that we may change our dress in any way to facilitate our service…The real principle is to spread the Krsna consciousness movement, and if one has to change into regular Western dress for this purpose, there should be no objection.” [CC 2.14.5 Purport]

    Krishna consciousness is different from this dress or that dress.” (Lecture -Boston, May 3, 1969)

    “Dress has to be accepted according to the taste of others and foodstuffs accepted according to the eater’s taste. So if you think this kind of dress will attract more people, you can dress yourself in that manner.” (Prabhupada Letters :: 1969

    “Sadhu does not mean a kind of dress. or kind of beard. No. Sadhu means a devotee, perfect devotee of Krishna. That is a sadhu.” (Sydney, February 16, 1973)

    Dress you can have as you like. It doesn’t matter, because dress is a dead thing. Real thing is that we want a living being who can understand. That is the real position.” [Srila Prabhupada Welcomed by Governor at Hotel De Ville — Geneva, May 30, 1974]

    But are these instructions only for householders? What about sannysis?

    “Sannyasa does not mean a particular type of dress or particular type of beard. Sannyasa means you can become a sannyasi even with your, this coat-pant. It doesn’t matter, provided you have dedicated your life for the service of God. That is called sannyasa.” [SBh 7.6.1, Montreal, 6.12.68]

    “You can become a swami even with your this hats and coats. That doesn’t matter.” (Lecture on SB 5.5.3 — Boston, May 4, 1968)


    What about Prabhupada himself?

    “Regarding dress, I have already written to you that you can dress as smartly as possible to deal with the public, and dress is immaterial in Krishna Consciousness. Consciousness is within. I am a sannyasi, but if some important work requires I dress myself just like a smart gentleman, I would immediately accept it. So it is not a problem.” [9/3/69 Letter to Gopala Krsna]

    Prabhupada said “it is not a problem,” but Tripurari Swami apparently feels it is a problem. In fact Prabhupada was delighted when Tamala Krishna Goswami established ISKCON in China with the dress of a regular gentleman. And we have only to compare the movement’s great success in China, to our far, far smaller success in most Western countries, to understand that cultural barriers can be even greater than legal barriers, and thus require adjustment.

    Tripurari Swami states that only those not paying attention do not agree with him. But let us pay attention when twice, Prabhupada states that he never insisted that we use Indian clothes

    “Jyotirmayi: No, no. He’s saying why are we dressing like that, like Indians?
    Prabhupada: I have not said that you dress like that. You like, you do it. Did I say that you do it? […] we are not concerned with the dress, we are concerned with the advancement of spiritual understanding, that’s all. (Room conversation June 1974 Paris)

    Rameśvara: I’m just saying that it is a little difficult if they wear their dhoti.
    Prabhupada: No, dhoti, I don’t say. You have nice coat-pant. I don’t say that you have to… I never said that. You have adopted it. (laughs) I never said that “You put on dhoti.” (January 1977)

    If indeed we are use “Vedic dress” than we would expect to find it in Shastra, but our most important Shastra prescribes a dress that Prabhupada rejected as impractical for this age. Indeed, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, in Jaiva Dharma Chapter 2, states that instructions may be tat-kālika, meant for a specific time, or sarva-kālika, meant for all times. Thus, for example, the Bhāgavatam’s rule that a brahmacārī dress in deerskin is clearly tat-kālika, meant for a specific time, not all times. On the other hand, the injunction to surrender to Kṛṣṇa is valid eternally.

    2. “When we speak of dressing in a manner pleasing to Krsna we speak of dressing in a manner favorable for our bhakti. This does not mean we should dress as gopis and gopas, but rather in the dress that follows the example of the associates of Krsna’s nitya lila as they appear in their perfected sadhaka dehas in Gaura lila. Garua lila is the lila in which siddhas serve and act as if they were sadhakas. So the standard for sadhaka decorum comes from Gaura lila.”

    In fact, Prabhupada himself, and his guru both rejected the type of sannyasa dress worn by the six Goswamis, and Mahaprabhu Himself, since it is not practical for this age. After all, in SBh 1.8.19, Queen Kunti herself states that Krishna appears in this world “like an actor in costume.” So Prabhupada knew that Lord Caitanya’s sannyasa dress, and that of His great devotees, was a simple adjustment to time and place, not an eternal standard.

    TS’s highly conservative portrait of Prabhupada feeds the widespread myth that Prabhupada insisted on preserving in the West all Indian external features. But Prabhupada’s own words give us a very different picture.

    In the Bhāgavatam 1.9.9, Bhīṣma is called deśa-kāla-vibhāga-vit, a “knower of the differences in place and time. And iin the Bhāgavatam 4.8.54, using the same term, deśa-kāla-vibhāga-vit, Nārada Muni encourages Prince Dhruva to be a “knower of the differences in place and time” in his service to Kṛṣṇa.

    In his purports to both verses, Prabhupada urges us to be deśa-kāla-vibhāga-vit, and to thus preach appropriately in different times and places. In his purport to ŚBh 1.9.9, Prabhupada writes:

    “Expert religionists know perfectly well how to adjust religious principles in terms of time and place. All the great ācāryas or religious preachers or reformers of the world executed their mission by adjustment of religious principles in terms of time and place. There are different climates and situations in different parts of the world, and if one has to discharge his duties to preach the message of the Lord, he must be expert in adjusting things in terms of the time and place.”

    And in his purport to ŚBh 4.8.54, Prabhupada writes:

    “What is convenient in India may not be convenient in the Western countries… If someone does go and preach, taking all risks and allowing all considerations for time and place, it might be that there are changes in the manner of worship, but that is not at all faulty according to śāstra.” SBh 4.8.54

    Similarly, in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta 2.23.105, Lord Caitanya taught Sanātana Gosvāmī practical renunciation, yukta-vairāgya, and forbade him to adopt “dry renunciation.” In his purport, Prabhupada explains yukta-vairāgya as adopting pragmatic means to spread Krishna consciousness, whereas “dry renunciation” means sticking to impractical methods in the name of following rules. Prabhupada writes:

    “The teacher has to consider time, candidate and country. He must avoid the principle of niyamāgraha — that is, he should not try to perform the impossible. What is possible in one country may not be possible in another…The essence of devotional service must be taken into consideration, and not the outward paraphernalia…” [CC 2.23.105]

    3. “Bhaktivinod… writes… in his Saranagati with regard to that which is favorable for raga bhakti:
    gaura-bhakata-priya-veśa dadhānā tilaka-tulasī-mālā-śobhamānā
    “I will put on the garb that is dear to the devotees of Lord Gaura-sundara, including the twelve Vaisnava tilaka markings on my body and beautiful beads of tulasi wood around my neck.”

    In fact, Krishna West preserves the tulasi-kanthi-mala, as well as the custom of tilak, which we use in appropriate times and places. Prabhupada was delighted when his disciples when out to preach as Western ladies and gentlemen, without tilaka.

    4. “I should also mention that in raga bhakti the qualified sadhaka meditates on a siddha rupa dressed as a gopa or gopi. So an aversion to such dress does not go well with this fact.”

    Here TS claims that a preaching adjustment indicates an “aversion” to Indian dress. In logic, this is called a “straw-man argument.”

    5. “Krishna West is promoting Western dress and some Western customs it seems. I am not sure if they wear shoes in the house, but they probably do because the common person in the West does and Krishna west wants to fit in with Western culture.”

    Having descended to strawn-man argumentation, TS here plunges even deeper into this faulty logic by criticizing his own false presumption about Krishna West. In fact, many cultured people in the West do not wear shoes in their homes, nor do Krishna West devotees.

    6. “But my experience is that the vast majority of devotees in the West dress casually but feel comfortable in what is considered devotional dress (as above) when engaging in arcana and other angas of svarupa siddha bhakti. Whereas practically all monastics dress as men and women of the cloth, or traditionally. My experience is that dressing like a monk is attractive to a large portion of the Western public.”

    Here we have another form of presumption — without any reliable evidence or statistics, TS claims to speak for “the vast majority of devotees in the West.” Since many thousands of Western devotees support Krishna West (I receive letters from them every day), there must be hundreds of thousands of Western devotes if the vast majority like Indian dress. But in fact, there are not hundreds of thousands of active devotees.

    It certainly has not hurt the Dalai Lama’s outreach. After all, the progressive West has promoted multiculturalism for decades now, and thus there is room in the minds of many for the exotic and honoring if not seeking to identify at least in terms of intellectual curiosity with other cultures. I am not sure what Krishna West’s position is on multiculturalism. Perhaps they are conservative in this area.

    The Dalai Lama occupies a cultural space in the West reserved for the “Lone Sadhu.” He is popular, among other reasons, because he does not send Western converts to the street dressed like Tibetan Buddhists. Further, multi-culturalism is a cultural phenomenon in which people of one ethnic or cultural group respect the rights of others to occupy their own ethnic and cultural space. It does not involve by any measureable standard the large-scale adoption of exotic foreign cultures by Westerners. In fact, scholarly studies show that even yoga in the West is distancing itself more and more from Indian spirituality and philosophy. I elaborately explain this and other relevant points in my essay, “Reply to Senior Leader” (http://www.hdgoswami.com/gallery/essays/item/reply-to-a-senior-leader).

    Finally, anyone that hasn’t realized that the Western Krishna consciousness movements are not flourishing is simply not paying attention.

    With best wishes,
    Hridayananda dasa Goswami

    • Frankly it’s hard to take this reply seriously. I will reply in brief.

      1. My point was that Prabhupada had a personal preference. He personally preferred Indian culture. But that does not mean that he mandated Indian dress. He preferred it but obviously made exceptions in light of spreading Krsna consciousness. He personally preferred to see me in traditional dress and also wrote that it is not in accordance with sannyasa to dress otherwise, but when I was more successful in distributing his books in secular dress he preferred such success more and thus put his personal preference aside. I have not stated that he mandated traditional dress, as Hridayananda Maharaja mistakenly assumes. SP preferred it and stated that for monks it was the appropriate dress (but he made exceptions). But HM wants to make such exceptions the norm and furthermore feels that traditional dress needs to be abandoned if preaching in the West is to be successful. I wear traditional dress and my preaching is successful in the West. At the same time I do not mandate it but have demonstrated from sastra that it is considered favorable for bhakti and suggested that it be worn during one’s personal sadhana and during arcana.

      2. See 1 above

      3. Here he states that he accepts part of the sastra but not all of it, continuing to deny that the dress of Gaura’s dear associates along with tilak and neck beads are bhakti anukula and thus pleasing to Krsna.

      4. Hridayananda Maharaja has an aversion to Indian dress and culture. He told me as much in Mayapura. He also thinks that it is an impediment to preaching in the West. But Krishna West is not just adopting a preaching strategy. Its members do not like to dress in traditional religious Indian dress. They don’t have to. I hope they are successful in spreading Krsna consciousness.

      5. Not wearing shoes in the house is an Eastern custom that some people in the West have come to identify with, even while they wear shoes in church. Those who have identified with it are often open to other aspects of Eastern culture.

      6. When I state what my experience is, it is just that—my experience. I do not claim to speak for the vast majority but rather of my experience of that sector. HM states that there are many thousands of devotees who embrace KW that he receives letters from every day. That’s a lot of mail. In my experience the vast majority of the devotees in the West are affiliated with Iskcon and Iskcon has not embraced Krishna West with open arms, wherein devotees are not allowed to wear traditional dress at their programs. Krishna West is a minority group within Iskcon.

      And Tibetan and other schools of Buddhism have many monasteries in the West where men and women monastics dress traditional and from which teaching about their tradition is conducted. The simple truth is that the progressive West is open to Eastern culture and the fact that some in the West embrace it and prefer to adopt aspects of it does not change that.

      My position is moderate. I have no objection to devotees wearing Western dress, especially if in early stages it helps them to practice and share their experience. But I feel there is a place for traditional dress at the same time and scripture does consider it bhakti anukula, as I have demonstrated. HM on the other hand has taken an extreme position.

      HM states “Finally, anyone that hasn’t realized that the Western Krishna consciousness movements are not flourishing is simply not paying attention.” Anyone who thinks this is due to the fact that the majority of devotees in the West do at times wear traditional dress is sorely unaware of other much more significant factors.

      So HM and I differ to some extent. Leave it at that.

      • Lilakara das

        Hare Krishna Maharaja
        Please accept my humble obeisances.All glories unto Srila Prabhupada.
        First off,I would like to introduce myself.My name is Lilakara das .I am a disciple of His Holiness Hrydayananda Maharaja.
        I would also like to express my complete appreciation for your continuous Outstanding example that you have shown and are continuing to show in relation towards spreading the Sankirtan movement for the pleasure of Srila Prabhupada.
        You have and still are an outstanding example towards those devotees who need to find the inspiration to perform Sankirtan and no doubt about it ,to me and many others you remain and continue to remain the incarnation of book distribution.
        I thank you completely in this regard as being one of the if not the leading pioneer of Sankirtan and book distribution.
        As far as Krishnawest is concerned,I know that there are many points from your side and Hrydayananda Maharaja’s side which are completely respected , agreeable and appreciated as well.
        The only thing I beg to differ is that His Holiness Hrydayananda Maharaja is not in any way saying that those who feel comfortable with dhotis should adopt western dress,especially if they have a different realization and feel more comfortable with Indian dress.
        We can experience this also on Sankirtan that people can take books either with Indian dress or western dress.
        We can all understand and agree that what he is mentioning is all based on Srila Prabhupada’s different moods which we can agree has a conservative side and he may have a liberal side as well.
        So based on these considerations,we can conclude that there is no mundane assumption or extremism on the part of His Holiness Hrydayananda Maharaja .
        Before we can reply back, or if there is any questions ,we most humbly ask we refer to him personally first ,since he instructed me that if any of his Godbrothers don’t understand or agree with Krishnawest,that I refer them to him. Out of respect of that instruction I ask that any questions be put to him in any way that you can communicate with him.
        If you need his E-mail address or telephone number ,I can give it to you.
        Out of vaisnava ettiquette,it’s important that I ask permission from him first.

        I thank you for the opportunity to reply to you.
        I also beg for your complete forgiveness if I have committed any offenses or if I have shown any lack of vaisnava ettiquette or respect unto you.
        I consider you one of the most exalted vaisnava’s in our movement .
        I would also like to express my complete appreciation for all the service that you have done and are continuing to do on behalf of the pleasure for Srila Prabhupada.

        If you wish to communicate with His Holiness Hrydayananda Maharajah,you can reply to me and with his permission,I can give you his contact info so there can be a more clear understanding of the Krishnawest project.
        If you wish to speak to him personally,I ask that you send me your private E-mail address so that, after I receive his permission,I can send you his contact info.

        If there is any offenses that I may have committed,I beg for your complete forgiveness.

        My private E-mail address is Lilakaradas@live.com

        Your Servant
        Lilakara das
        Hare Krishna

        • I do not think the terms “conservative” and “liberal” do justice to the differences I have with HM on this topic. I think the difference is one of breadth vs depth, and that is also the opinion in the article under discussion. Both sides are there in Mahaprabhu: He teaches the yuga dharma and he also pursues the experience of that within himself that only Radha experiences, that which makes her attractive to him. His internal side is more specific and theologically deep, whereas Mahaprabhu’s yuga dharma side more general and theologically broad. Those interested in his internal side will give more attention to the Goswami’s texts and terms, Indian aesthetics, cultural sensibilities, meditative visualization, and so on. Whereas those interested in his external side will pay more attention to less specific texts like the Gita, preoccupy themselves with more general philosophical themes such as reincarnation, vegetarianism, the difference between the self and the body, focus on God realization, and express more interest in converting others and coming up with novel means to do so. Of course, Prabhupada expressed both sides, often emphasizing preaching and at times suggesting “boiling the milk,“ to use his analogy.

          I realize that there will be an overlapping of both sides in any approach (and we find that here on the Harmonist) but still a particular approach may emphasize one side over the other. That said, my understanding is that the external side properly understood leads to the internal side, while that will not necessarily be the so in all cases. However, it may be best to leave that for another discussion.

          But to return to the terms conservative and liberal for a moment, I have heard and read some things from Krishna West that I believe could easily be considered conservative at best by the progressive, liberal West. For example, HM has repeatedly referred to those dressed traditionally while engaging in nama sankirtana as a spectacle that resembles a “circus.” And “Who wants to join the circus.” Similarly, he has suggested that while it may be appropriate for devotees to wear a uniform of sorts, it should not be a clown’s outfit, referring in this way to traditional Gaudiya dress. Such remarks, could be termed not merely conservative but xenophobic or racist by the progressive West. Similarly, narrowly defining the “West” is a page out of Ann Coulter books or Donald Trump’s desired immigration policy. And to reply that such comments refer only to Western born converts dressing in this manner does not help. Cries of cultural appropriation from the far, far liberal left applied to Western persons adopting traditional Indian religious dress and spiritual practices can be equally racist and indeed stem from a racist Indian perspective that is an overreaction to colonialism.

          Note that I am not calling Krishna West or Hridayananda Maharaja racist. I am simply pointing out the danger in narrowly defining the “West,” especially with overtones of European/American exceptionalism that can be heard in condescending references to Indian culture.

          • Prue

            I’d be interested to understand what you mean when you said “my understanding is that the external side properly understood leads to the internal side, while that will not necessarily be the so in all cases.”

            A devotee once told me, “Bhakti comes from bhakti and not from any external arrangement in this material world.” That seems like a profound truth to me and I always remembered it. So I wonder how the external side has anything to do with it? Isn’t the essential aspect that things be “properly understood” and isn’t this synonymous with knowledge of the internal aspect?

            How can any quantity of matter arranged in any way produce consciousness? Similarly, how can any external arrangement add up to bhakti? A qualitative divide can’t be breached with a quantitative increase. If we desire to wear those items dear to the devotees of Mahaprabhu, isn’t this the internal leading to the external rather than the other way around?

            When you say the issue is one of “depth vs breadth” couldn’t we reconcile what appears to be disagreement here by seeing Krishna West’s focus as one of breadth since it is mostly concerned with the yuga dharma and preaching? And the idea of dress to enhance our own bhakti as a focus on the depth or internal aspect?

            That said, can they really be separated? Hridayananda Swami said “the Western Krishna consciousness movements are not flourishing” and I assume he is making a quantitative judgement of number of converts. I often hear this sort of thing from Iskcon devotees who judge success by the number of books distributed or devotees converted. When I point out the problems with this idea, they say these things can only happen by the power of bhakti so we can judge the presence of bhakti by these numbers. That idea seems wrong to me.

          • I’d be interested to what you mean when you said “my understanding is that the external side properly understood leads to the internal side, while that will not necessarily be the so in all cases.”

            Mahaprabhu’s yuga dharma dispensation of nama sankirtana is said to be intertwined with Vraja prema. Thus we see from his example that his nama sankirtna as a public figure lead naturally to his private life—from madhya=lila to antya-lila. So this is the natural course. But it is also possible that through following his lead with regard to the yuga dharma that one attains another ideal, such as the asivarya prema of Vaikuntha. Some devotees with bhakti samskaras for aisvarya prema from previous lives may be drawn into Gaura’s campaign and reach their destiny through it.

            When you say the issue is one of “depth vs breadth” couldn’t we reconcile what appears to be disagreement here by seeing Krishna West’s focus as one of breadth since it is mostly concerned with the yuga dharma and preaching? And the idea of dress to enhance our own bhakti as a focus on the depth or internal aspect?

            Yes, that is exactly what I was saying.

    • Multi-culturalism is a cultural phenomenon in which people of one ethnic or cultural group respect the rights of others to occupy their own ethnic and cultural space. It does not involve by any measureable standard the large-scale adoption of exotic foreign cultures by Westerners.

      I beg to differ with the import of this definition of multiculturalism. It ignores a Western born person’s adaptation of any of other culture he or she encounters in the West’s multiculturalism, while in fact this is an inevitable, occasional consequence of multiculturalism.

  • My salute to Tripurari Maharaja,
    who, inspite of different opinions, let other people explain their positions on his webspace. This shows that he has good character. Srila Prabhupada wanted a brahminical movement of “unity in diversity” and “independent thoughtful” members. Tripurari Swami allows that this principle can be applied here in this discussion. Thank you, Maharaja.

  • Maitreya dasa

    At the San Francisco Rathayatra , recently a friend of mine who attended asked me if the Indian dress was necessary. I said that no, it is not necessary, but since Srila Prabhupada was bringing us a culture that we found attractive we found that diving deeply into that culture, including in dress and dietary habits, was irresistible.

  • Brahma Das

    Although not essential, there is no question that Prabhupada preferred that his disciples accept what he called ‘Vaisnava dress.”

    Prabhupada: “In my opinion, Clean shaved Brahmacharies & Grhasthas in saffron robes look like angels from Vaikunta.”

    During his time everyone living in his temples wore Vaisnava dress. Indeed, during my 9 years in Iskcon I never saw anyone get initiated who was not wearing Vaisnava dress.

    When I joined in 1972 everyone was required to wear Vaisnava dress when representing Prabhupada and Krishna outside the temple preaching, chanting, and distributing books. A year or so later that dress requirement changed, but I think this interesting excerpt from a letter Prabhupada wrote in 1973 shows some indication of his preference in the matter.

    My Dear Ramesvara:

    Please accept my blessings. I beg to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated September 19, 1973 forwarded to me from Japan. I am glad to hear of the book distribution success of Tripurari in Chicago. It is reported that he did it dressed in dhoti, but Karandhara says that dhoti is an impediment. So if he can distribute 105 Gitas and 105 Sri Isopanisad in one day in dhoti in Chicago, why not try for this in other places as well.”

    In conclusion Prabhupada says saffron robes are not essential but they are helpful.

    Śrīla Prabhupāda: The saffron robes and the shaven head are not essential, although they create a good mental situation, just as when a military man is dressed properly he gets energy—he feels like a military man. Does that mean that unless he is in uniform he cannot fight? No. In the same way, God consciousness cannot be checked—it can be revived in any circumstances—but certain conditions are helpful. Therefore we prescribe that you live in a certain way, dress in a certain way, eat in a certain way, and so on. These things are helpful for practicing Kṛṣṇa consciousness, but they are not essential.

  • Chandrashekhara acharya dasa

    Case not closed, if I may.
    What follows is my reply to Brahma prabhu, to whom I mean zero disrespect.

    Brahma prabhu writes:
    “Although not essential, there is no question that Prabhupada preferred that his disciples accept what he called ‘Vaisnava dress.”

    I beg to differ. Brahma Prabhu may say so based on his experience, but after the first generation after Prabhupada will pass away, what the world will have at its disposal in terms of ascertaining Srila Prabhupada’s wishes and directives will be his explicit written (or recorded) statements on the issue. When we take into consideration all of what Prabhupada said on the topic of dress-code (not to speak of when we take into account what God Himself, Lord Caitanya, instructed to householder Raghunnatha dasa, as I will explain at the end of this comment), a very different picture from what Brahma prabhu presents surfaces to our eyes.

    My main argument against Brahma prabhu is that he fails to differentiate between an ashram-based ISKCON membership (as was the case during Srila Prabhupada’s manifest pastimes) and a financially independent, householder-based ISKCON membership (as is the case today). Brahma prabhu fails to recognize that the quotes from Prabhupada that he cites are mainly (if not exclusively) directed towards the former category, and not towards the latter category – a category that simply did not exist in the 1970s’.

    Brahma prabhu quotes Prabhupada: 

    Prabhupada: “In my opinion, Clean shaved Brahmacharies & Grhasthas in saffron robes look like angels from Vaikunta.”

    Two points here:
    This quote applies precisely to ashram, monastic devotees, and not to financially independent householders, as the word “saffron” indicates. Only monastic ashram devotees wear saffron-colored clothes. The “grihashas” that Prabhupada is referring to were couples, almost always without children, who lived as full-time ashram residents: as monks and nuns. These “householders” lived very different lives from the householders of today, who are truly householders, in the definition sense of the term (financially independent, etc…).

    
Another point is that if one argues that we should imitate how the residents of Vaikuntha dress, then we face two problems: 

    1) as followers of Mahaprabhu, our destination is Goloka Vrindavan, where, we hear, there are no shaven-headed souls. The mood of Goloka is different from Vaikuntha. Tough luck. 

    2) we should logically go all-out in our imitation attempts. Why only wear a dhoti? Why not imitate all the articles of dress that the Bhagavatam provides about how Krishna/Vishnu dresses? Prabhupada obviously condemned this sahajya tendency:

    The prākṛta-sahajiyās all commit adultery. Taking someone else’s wife, they go to relish ‘transcendental līlā.’ . . . If the conditioned soul tries to imitate Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa, taking on Their dress and characteristics, he becomes the plaything of Māyā. . . .”
    
(Srila Prabhupada, Vrindavan bhajan)

    Brahma prabhu says:

“During his time everyone living in his temples wore Vaisnava dress. Indeed, during my 9 years in Iskcon I never saw anyone get initiated who was not wearing Vaisnava dress.
    When I joined in 1972 everyone was required to wear Vaisnava dress when representing Prabhupada and Krishna outside the temple preaching, chanting, and distributing books.”

    

First, Brahma prabhu is begging the question, at least regarding the very definition of “vaishnava dress.” A prostitute in Dakha or in Bengalore who sells her body while wearing a sari is certainly not wearing “vaishnava clothes.” Similarly, a “brahmana” who sacrifices goats or buffalos while wearing a dhoti is certainly not wearing “vaishnava clothes.” The large (I mean large) majority of people who wear saris and dhotis are not vaishnavas. What is the meaning of a uniform if the majority of people who wear it are not those who we claim are defined by the uniform? On the other hand, when I, for example, wear clean pants and a shirt while worshipping my shaligram-shilas after taking a shower every morning, this pants and shirt are certainly “vaishnava clothes.” Clothes are neutral, dead pieces of fabric. How one uses them gives them value and a designation. 



    Secondly, Brahma prabhu is speaking, again, in terms of a monastic, ashram-based ISKCON. He himself says, “everyone living in his temples.” Who lives in temples but monks and nuns? During the 1970s’, practically all members of ISKCON lived in temples. It logically follows that everyone wore the monastic uniform that Prabhupada prescribed. Brahma prabhu forgets that we cannot impose this monastic dress-code upon a householder community as what we have today.

    He continues:
    “A year or so later that dress requirement changed, but I think this interesting excerpt from a letter Prabhupada wrote in 1973 shows some indication of his preference in the matter.
    My Dear Ramesvara:
    Please accept my blessings. I beg to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated September 19, 1973 forwarded to me from Japan. I am glad to hear of the book distribution success of Tripurari in Chicago. It is reported that he did it dressed in dhoti, but Karandhara says that dhoti is an impediment. So if he can distribute 105 Gitas and 105 Sri Isopanisad in one day in dhoti in Chicago, why not try for this in other places as well.”




    Brahma prabhu is trying to say that Prabhupada preferred that his monastic devotees wear dhotis while “going out” to preach. But Mahatma prabhu, Brahma prabhu’s godbrother, cites a letter that Prabhupada wrote to him, in which Prabhupada claims the very opposite, namely that he preferred that monastic devotees went out to distribute books in Western clothes, but that it was okay for them to do so in dhoti if the devotees were too attached or too much of neophytes to do it otherwise.
    

In fact, Prabhupada, on numerous occasions, expressed his satisfaction at the prospect of devotees preaching in Western clothes. And in January 1977, he defines what “grihastha dress” looks like, and it is not a so-called “Vaikuntha dhoti:” 

Prabhupada says,

    “ Better go and speak philosophy in your gåhastha dress, not this dress, but you have nice coat, pants, gentleman. Who says no? I never said.”



    Mind you that Prabhupada is here referring to fallen sannyasis, and not to newcomers to the movement who, as some speculate, would be expected by Prabhupada to eventually raise up to the so-called prefered standard of so-called “vaishnava dress.” Rather, Prabhupada is here talking about his experienced preachers. These experienced preachers, now householders, should wear “nice coat-pant.”
    Furthermore, if we think that Prabhupada still preferred that financially independent householders should wear dhotis for temple functions, read this very revealing conversation:

    



Devotee: Well actually we’re not coming on to them like we are, you know, Hare Krishnas’ or anything like that. We are going in karmi clothes.

    Prabhupada: No, no, there are many communities, grihastha, in our Hare Krishna movement. We don’t say…
    
(Srila Prabhupada, room Conversation, November 1976)


    Prabhupada is pitting on one hand the term “karmi clothes” (which, incidentally, he never coined), and on the other hand his claim that there are many “grihastha communities” which, logically according to the flow of this conversation, are made up of devotees who wear “karmi clothes,” and not monastic “Hare Krishna” clothes. Prabhupada is imagining (because they factually did not exist yet) entire communities of householders who would daily, all the time, wear modern Western clothes. I claim that this is what Prabhupada dreamed about, as illustrated by his exclaiming, “Ah, this is what I always wanted – that we be known as American Krishnas'” when he saw a picture of Balavanta prabhu dressed in a suit and tie, running for office.

    
Brahma Prabhu ends:

    “In conclusion Prabhupada says saffron robes are not essential but they are helpful.”



    Yes. It appears that Prabhupada, following the cue from the seventh canto of the Bhagavatam where the dress of the brahmachari and the vanaprastha is described, wanted his monastic disciples to wear a monastic uniform. But even then, Prabhupada was very flexible (as in the numerous times when, as Brahma prabhu himself acknowledges, Prabhupada allowed his sannyasis and brahmacharis to “go out” and preach in what, for them, is “secular clothing.” 



    Brahma prabhu quotes Srila Prabhupada:

    Śrīla Prabhupāda: The saffron robes and the shaven head are not essential, although they create a good mental situation, just as when a military man is dressed properly he gets energy—he feels like a military man. Does that mean that unless he is in uniform he cannot fight? No. In the same way, God consciousness cannot be checked—it can be revived in any circumstances—but certain conditions are helpful. Therefore we prescribe that you live in a certain way, dress in a certain way, eat in a certain way, and so on. These things are helpful for practicing Kṛṣṇa consciousness, but they are not essential.”

    Again, by the simple fact that Prabhupada uses the word “saffron,” we can safely conclude that he is referring to his monastic, ashram monks, and not to his financially independent householders (which, we should remember, practically did not exist yet in those days).

    

Finally, and as I mentioned at the beginning of this comment, if we are to discuss about dress-code in Caitanya Vaishnavism, we cannot avoid to take into account the instructions of Lord Caitanya to Raghunnatha dasa (in the Madhya-Lila of Caitanya Caritamrita):

    

“Do not adopt markata-vairagya, external monkey renunciation, simply to impress the general populace. Internally develop staunch faith in Sri Krishna, and externally carry out your worldly responsibilities in such a way that no one can detect your inner mood. If you act like this, Sri Krishna will very quickly deliver you from material existence.”



    Whether we like it or not, and regardless of what our dear Srila Prabhupada has said, the fact is that, at the end of the day, God Himself, Lord Caitanya, instructs all His householder devotees to practically conceal their Krishna consciousness from the public eye (i.e, “in such a way that no one can detect your inner mood”). In the context of modern Europe and America, if a householder goes out in the public eye wearing what is clearly seen as foreign and exotic dress, is he following, or not, Lord Caitanya’s instructions? 



    • 
Another point is that if one argues that we should imitate how the residents of Vaikuntha dress, then we face two problems: 

      1) as followers of Mahaprabhu, our destination is Goloka Vrindavan, where, we hear, there are no shaven-headed souls. The mood of Goloka is different from Vaikuntha. Tough luck.

      Goloka is also part of Vaikuntha and often referred to in the Puranas as Maha Vaikuntha. But it is Nadiya that serves as our model, which is also in Vaikuntha.

      Here is something beautiful. Try to enter the feeling of Vrndavana dasa here.

      kiba se adbhuta dui kamala-nayana
      kiba se adbhuta sobhe trikaccha-vasana

      “How wonderful were His two lotus eyes! And how wonderful was the way He wore His dhoti!
      (CBh 1.8.187)

      Gaudiya Bhasya:

      “When the left end of a dhoti is taken between the legs and tucked in at the back it is called kachA. When the other end is tucked in at the navel it is called konca. When the other end of this konca is also tucked in at the navel it is called trikaccha.”

      My thought is that if one is worshipping Gaura and feeling like Vrndavana dasa is here (our goal), is it not a sign of one’s love for Gaura to idealize dressing like him and participating in his lila? And fortunately it is quite appropriate to do so in the here and now of one’s worship.

      My comment, “case closed,” referred to the discussion, which was about Prabhupada’s preference when he was here. I think Brahma’s quote weighs in conclusively on that. Now if you want to shift the ground as you have to what Prabhupada would do in different circumstances, that is another discussion. But I think he would do the same: consider wearing the dhoti to be helpful but not necessary. Why argue against that?

  • brahma das

    You are belaboring the point.

    The history speaks for itself—everyone living in the temples had to attend the morning program, chant 16 rounds, and wear vaisnava attire–dhoti or sari and tilaka.

    This referred to everyone—both brahmachari and grihasta—and in those days (oddly enough) there were families with children living in the temples as well. When I joined in Pittsburgh, the president (Brahmavita) and his wife, and two other couples lived in the temple with their young children. All adults wore dhoti and tilak, indeed Hridayananda Swami was wearing a dhoti when he personally preached to me before I joined.

    This was Prabhupada’s idea, not mine. He was the transcendental dictator, if he desired otherwise everyone would have thrown away their dhotis and put on whatever he wanted them to wear. These are the facts.

    That’s not to say that the ‘dhoti’ rule was or is fixed in stone. Obviously it isn’t—and we all know Prabhupada (reluctantly at first) adjusted it for preaching— in his words “these things are helpful…but they are not essential.” Case closed.

    Otherwise, you cited a quote on markata-vairagya:

    “Do not adopt markata-vairagya, external monkey renunciation, simply to impress the general populace. Internally develop staunch faith in Sri Krishna, and externally carry out your worldly responsibilities in such a way that no one can detect your inner mood. If you act like this, Sri Krishna will very quickly deliver you from material existence.”



    This quote applies to those who cheat people in the name of renunciation. This is not what we were doing—we were following Prabhupada’s orders to dress in a certain way—not to impress others—but to please him. Why? Because he felt that dressing in this way was “helpful” to the practice of Krsna consciousness.

    If you feel otherwise—that wearing dhotis is obsolete—bad for preaching or whatever. Than don’t do it, we already admitted that it is not essential.

    Personally, I don’t have anything against Hridayananda Swami’s idea for Krsna West. I say try it out—see how it goes. As B.R. Sridhara Maharaja said, ‘Krsna is independent, he cannot be confined to one bank of the ganges and not the other, nor can he be imprisoned within the walls of any institution”.

    I think it’s safe to say that if one’s motives are pure—Krsna is there.

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