Bhakti in the Business Place

cubicle-dwellersBy Gopala dasa

Although it would be nice to show up for a morning meeting with tilak on, conduct bhoga-arati at one’s desk, and circumambulate the office cubicles during an afternoon japa walk, the reality is that outward displays of religiosity are not welcomed in most work environments.

Indeed, speaking overtly about yuga-dharma, berating the boss’s egg-filled birthday cake, or recording the maha-mantra on the company’s answering machine are but a few things that could prompt a quick demotion or firing.  While these examples may be a bit far-fetched, devotees who work full time know that even more subtle expressions of spiritual life in the workplace can raise eyebrows. However, whether an eyebrow is raised suspiciously or, by contrast, inquisitively and favorably, is largely in control of the devotee.

Of course, “being a devotee” does not necessitate exhibiting the full-fledged external forms of devotional culture in every circumstance. Indeed, there is wide scope for making adjustments based on necessity, as well as practicality. A devotee who pursues traditional employment may have to use this latitude to avoid running afoul of professional expectations. The challenge then is how to remain preoccupied with the inner culture of bhakti, while externally “fitting in” to the culture of a particular workplace.

Thus while one might be tempted to slyly replace a co-worker’s telephone directory with a copy of Bhagavad-Gita, or to fill the receptionist’s candy jar with maha laddus, a more toned-down approach to creating a maximally favorable work environment is probably advisable, if not required. An understated approach to maintaining Vaishnava standards, however, may pique curiosity and draw favorable attention in ways, and to a degree, that overt outreach might not. In particular, those who exhibit one or more of the twenty-six qualities of a Vaishnava (as given in Caitanya-caritamrta) are likely to be regarded very warmly, as those qualities are ones that all people (even those who lack them) consider becoming, desirable, and worth cultivating (even if they don’t actively do so).

Thus, while the exhibiton of truthfulness, magnanimity, gravity, and so forth is a more subtle way of “being a devotee” at work than blasting a “Jaya Radha Madhava” ringtone from your Blackberry, such character attributes may prompt a co-worker to ask, “What’s your secret?” or “How did you become like that?” In that vein, I am often asked why I appear peaceful during times of workplace chaos. I typically respond by saying, “Well, believe it or not, I meditate everyday.”  Invariably my response raises eyebrows, but almost always in an approving way, and depending upon the precise circumstances, the conversation tends to deepen from there.

Frankly, even among the most progressive and educated segments of society, followers of Gaudiya Vaishnavism are not held in high esteem. In the face of entrenched negative sentiments, it is no wonder that many devotees feel they must be exceptionally discreet about their internal preoccupation with bhakti while on the job. It can be difficult to talk about one’s practice with any specificity, lest deep suspicion (however unwarranted) suddenly arise. Thus apart from fielding an occasional question about neck-beads, homemade lunches, or the reasons why he or she forgoes the standard coffee break, a devotee who works full-time may be reticent to voluntarily say much more.

Given that a devotee may spend in excess of half of his or her waking hours “associating” with co-workers, clients, or customers, the task of making external adjustments while avoiding compromise of the essential principles of bhakti may not be a trivial undertaking. The manner in which this is accomplished may vary as widely as circumstances of employment. Probably common to most situations, however, are occasional openings for the kinds of discussions that build bridges to more in-depth exchange, and serve as stepping stones towards a future in which the essential spirituality that is bhakti-yoga is well understood. Until then, it is likely that many devotees who work will have to vigorously apply themselves, such that the resulting qualities attract sympathetic (rather than wary) attention from others in the workplace—and possibly prompt the question, “How can I become more like you?”


About the Author

56 Responses to Bhakti in the Business Place

  1. Good article. I find that our culture and world view are so hard to articulate in one or two sentences “around the water cooler” that I tend to avoid the subject of religion or contemplative life all together at work, and I expect others to do the same. This has given me the reputation as an atheist that couldn’t be further from the truth, but in a sense, I would rather have that than have all the Christians and Mormons (I’m in Idaho, they’re all over) coming at me. I like this article because it shows you can work and still exhibit the tenants of your faith without the external markers, and isn’t that the ultimate goal? To see the essence of bhakti even without the saffron robes, tilak and mrdangas?

  2. I do freelance work in the homes of various people and for the most part I just look like your average guy doing carpentry. They don’t ask, I don’t say anything and it’s basically just another business transaction. If I’m working in the home of someone who I know is into yoga or some other form of practice like Buddhism and an opening comes I’ll discuss some basic, common points like meditation or mindfulness and so forth. In some cases I’ll even mention that I follow the path of bhakti or devotional yoga, but the specifics I don’t get into, following the “less is more” policy. But I’ve found that just being an honest, straightforward person who exhibits a bit of restraint and presence of mind creates an impression. A little bit of sattva goes a long way. Meanwhile, internally I can be meditating on Sri Guru or chanting mantras or thinking about verses or the feet of the Deity and no one is the wiser. The culture of bhakti goes on in the midst of daily life, and I get a deeper appreciation for the statement that bhakti is apratihata.

  3. I just finished reading this while sitting in an office cubicle, so I know what it’s about. However I’m wearing bright tilak and an obvious sikha, and my cube is decorated with at least a dozen pictures of Krishna and Srila Prabhupada, even with a murti standing on the computer. My BlackBerry vibrates Srila Prabhupada’s chanting Hare Krishna whenever I get a call, and several of Srila Prabhupada’s books sit on my shelf.

    I work in a state environmental office, so I’m not afraid of getting fired due to blatant religious descrimination (I planned that), but it probably doesn’t help my career. Being an aspiring devotee is a major part of my personality that I cannot hide. Also, it seems to me that Srila Prabhupada wanted no compromise in the matter of tilak and (for men) sikha, at least. IMHO the need for preaching is too urgent to try to blend in.

    One big challenge is being surrounded by meat-eaters. It often stinks at lunch time, and I always have to skip office parties. I’m pretty sure I’m the only veg in a building of 200 people. Since this is an environmental office, there is no excuse for that, and I make sure everyone knows how I feel about it. I quit eating meat years before I heard about Krishna, based on the scientific understanding that meat eating is at the heart of practically all our environmental problems. Working in the environmental field, I did not expect to be the lone veg surrounded by meat eaters, so I’m a little bitter about it. About 200,000 land animals were slaughtered for meat in the 10 minutes I’ve taken so far to write this comment.

    In general I try to be seen as a nice guy (and I do get along with people pretty well), but mostly I want to be seen as a devotee. When people see me, I want them to think “Hare Krishna.” Sometimes they even say it. My ability to change people’s hearts is very small, but if I can get them to think about Krishna, then there’s hope.

    • However I’m wearing bright tilak and an obvious sikha, and my cube is decorated with at least a dozen pictures of Krishna and Srila Prabhupada, even with a murti standing on the computer. My BlackBerry vibrates Srila Prabhupada’s chanting Hare Krishna whenever I get a call, and several of Srila Prabhupada’s books sit on my shelf.

      Pandu, I’m a bit confused by your description above, and the sentence below:

      but it probably doesn’t help my career.

      I think this demonstrates a disconnect between the urgency for “preaching” and your own career development. There is a place for full representation of your spiritual path, and I think that is not in the workplace; rather it is a “job” best handled by those living the 24/7 monastic lifestyle. If you think the need for preaching is too great, you might want to fine-tune your idea of what preaching really is, -or- consider renouncing the duties of employment in pursuit of full-time monastic life.

      I think that the objective of the article was to help devotees who work “in the world” strike a balance between personal practice and association with non-devotees. I think an important question to consider is “what is better ‘preaching’, bringing details of one’s spiritual practice into a workplace environment, or demonstrating the effects of spiritual practice in one’s behavior with others?”

      I would argue the latter. For one, it is the example of previous acaryas like Thakur Bhaktivinoda who also worked “in the world”. Furthermore, he was working in India which would have much more tolerance for displays of Vaisnava symbolism in the workplace.

      Second, I think anyone who has been a preacher for even a short amount of time understands what kind of results come from “preaching” cultural symbolism. Questions are asked that are not very relevant to spiritual development. “What is that mud on your face?”, “Why do you shave your head?”, etc. These questions and answers don’t move people beyond cultural curiosity. After all, our goal is not to have people change their dress, but rather to change their heart, to come to a higher consciousness in relation to the absolute. Something substantial…

      This is just my opinion, and my personal experience… I would argue that creating difference by these external symbols of religiosity does less for actually changing people’s hearts than the more subtle approach of relationship building.

      My hat goes off to your enthusiasm though…

  4. My spiritual life is the primary feature of who I am, and I don’t want to conceal it. It may or may not hold me back in my career, except that if I cared more about making a lot of money it seems like I could do better at that, but that’s just speculation. When I first meet someone in the business environment, I feel like there is a brief moment of awkwardness when they see my tilak (since they’ve probably never seen it before), but it passes quickly enough. That moment does not come close to outweighing my desire to wear tilak all the time. Actually many of the people I meet are Indian bodied (gas station owners), and most of them seem to appreciate meeting a white guy with whom they can relate.

    Living a monastic life is not possible for me. I have a wife and five children all living off my salary.

    For me, spiritual life means remembering Krishna. That is the chief characteristic. I don’t wear a dhoti to work; that would be inappropriate, and Srila Prabhupada also made the same distinction:

    “…if somebody dresses like nice American gentleman without any robes, I have no objection; but every one of my disciples must have the flag & marks of tilak on forehead. This is essential.”
    >>> Ref. VedaBase => Letter to: Damodara — Calcutta 13 October, 1967

    “I have no objection if members of the Society dress like nice American gentlemen; but in all circumstances a devotee cannot avoid tilak, flag on head, & beads on neck.”
    >>> Ref. VedaBase => Letter to: Brahmananda — Calcutta 14 October, 1967

    “I never objected to any of my students dressing like nice American gentleman, clean shaved; those who are my disciples must have flag, tilak & beads on neck without fail.”
    >>> Ref. VedaBase => Letter to: Kirtanananda — Calcutta 16 October, 1967

    “The next point is that you should dress just like perfect American gentlemen, but the sikha and tilak must be very prominent. Coat, pants, necktie, and everything, Brahmacari and Grhasthas, they can put on, because you are not Sannyasi. In the temple, you can dress as brahmacari, but in order not to become ridiculous in the eyes of others, outside you should dress just like a very nice perfect aristocratic American. So there is no objection. But we must have always our tilak and sikha and there is no compromise for this purpose.”
    >>> Ref. VedaBase => Letter to: Brahmananda — Seattle 6 October, 1968

    I can be calm, peaceful, gentle, etc., but without connecting it with Krishna it will look like Buddhism. With all due respect to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur, I’m trying to follow Srila Prabhupada (which I trust would also please Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur), and he repeatedly said one may dress like an American gentleman but prominent tilak and sikha are essential. That is how I am most comfortable, because it is what he said to do, and it’s not very difficult. There are enough devotional activities that are beyond my present ability; so I don’t want to neglect the ones I can handle. Maybe if another devotee sees me, he’ll feel more comfortable doing it too. I do think we all should be more visible.

    Really it’s not the tilak and sikha that is challenging in my relationships with people; it’s the diet, and that would be practically the same whether I was a Hare Krishna or not. I became a vegetarian based on science and ethics, not religion.

    Rarely does anyone directly ask me about my tilak or sikha, but my answer is simple. “Have you heard of the Hare Krishnas? We try to develop love of God, Krishna, and these are some of the things we do to help us remember Krishna.” Or something like that; it’s a little different every time. Few people ask, but I love it when they do. It’s an invitation for a little nugget of preaching, and if they show interest it can go further.

    Hare Krishna.

    • I can be calm, peaceful, gentle, etc., but without connecting it with Krishna it will look like Buddhism.

      It seems to me that you mean people would take it that way because Buddhism is more popular and comes to mind more readily. But why is it necessary to advertise what the source of your good qualities is in the first place?

      Maybe if another devotee sees me, he’ll feel more comfortable doing it too. I do think we all should be more visible.

      Or maybe not. If I went to work at a place where somebody wore a big cross every day and who had pictures of Jesus, Mary, and the Pope (or whatever) in their cubicle I would most likely think they were pretty weird and steer clear of them. And if I went to work in the same place as you I would stop wearing my neck beads at work so people would not get the impression that we are members of the same tradition.

      • It seems to me that you mean people would take it that way because Buddhism is more popular and comes to mind more readily. But why is it necessary to advertise what the source of your good qualities is in the first place?

        No, because religion without God is Buddhism. And the reason to advertise Krishna as the source of any good qualities I may have is because He actually is the source. Isn’t that the devotional relationship? Krishna gives the credit to His devotees, and His devotees give the credit to Him.

        And if I went to work in the same place as you I would stop wearing my neck beads at work so people would not get the impression that we are members of the same tradition.

        I’m sorry to hear that, and surprised you would say something so rude.

  5. Second, I think anyone who has been a preacher for even a short amount of time understands what kind of results come from “preaching” cultural symbolism. Questions are asked that are not very relevant to spiritual development. “What is that mud on your face?”, “Why do you shave your head?”, etc. These questions and answers don’t move people beyond cultural curiosity. After all, our goal is not to have people change their dress, but rather to change their heart, to come to a higher consciousness in relation to the absolute. Something substantial…

    Well said! This is what I was talking about in my post, albeit nowhere near as clearly. I wholly agree that demonstrating the effects of spiritual practice in one’s behavior with others is far more effective and important than the outward show of one’s faith. Cultural symbolism is fine for insiders who already have faith in bhakti–they can appreciate it and it helps them to identify with the path. In interacting with those who don’t have that faith my experience is like yours: the cultural symbols tend to be a distraction from the substance of what the symbols represent.

  6. Our attorney at work just cracked a little joke after a meeting with a businessman and his counsel, “I bet they didn’t know they’d get a woman, a Jew, and a Hare Krishna.” Such uttering of Hare Krishna in a joking mood is namabhasa and can free the conditioned soul from the reactions of unlimited sins.

    • While from the absolute perspective namabhasa is beneficial I don’t think being the butt of jokes around the office is going to help bring dignity to Gaudiya Vaisnavism.

      • He was a friend feeling light-hearted and joking about himself just as much. Why make it into something negative?

        Again today I had an environmental enforcement meeting with a business man and he asked me about my tilak and sikha. He was interested and asked questions very politely and said how he appreciated hearing what I had to say. He mentioned that he wouldn’t have thought there were any Hare Krishnas in Pennsylvania, which isn’t surprising considering that most don’t want people to know.

        I have friendly interactions like this pretty often, and I can’t remember ever having a negative encounter because of wearing tilak (ironically it seems like only devotees who have a problem with it). I make sure to say “Hare Krishna” at some point, and they usually say “Hare Krishna” too. They also get a little bit of Krishna conscious philosophy, and they don’t seem at all imposed upon because they asked out of their own curiousity.

  7. I really liked the article. I have been working in kindergartens here in Hong Kong for close to 10 years now. I have formed nice relationships with colleagues, brought them to by home, share prasadam at work etc. But here, where cultural inclusivity and political correctness is not a top priority I doubt if I would have had the same experience presenting myself openly as a ‘Hare Krisna’. I did find after some years working in traditional schools that the educational philosophy was too much at odds with my principles of bhakti and so sought out an alternative ‘Waldorf’ school, where I can be more myself both in and out of the classroom. Now long skirts are the dress code, and homemade organic snacks on the menu. ( I got eggs removed from all the recipes using evidence from Steiner’s books). Teaching by example is extolled and virtues of compassion and kindness cultivated rather than competitiveness. I even hung a beautiful picture of Yasoda/Krishna in my classroom where usually a Madonna would hang, with good response from parents and staff.
    So I guess each person has there own way of bringing Krsna to work, whatever works, No doubt actions speak louder than words or dress, but sometimes we do feel a need to bring our two identities work self, and devotional self into harmony.

  8. It takes a special kind of person to be able to preach Krsna Consciousness and have any real influence on the people of the Kali-yuga. I am definetly not one of those people and I can think of nothing more painful or terrible than talking to people about Krsna Consciousness when they have no inherent interest in it.

    The article makes an important point in that is more about the qualities you exhibit than the cultural symbolism.

  9. By simply bringing some prasadam that is attractive and practical can make a big difference (for ourselves and for the co-workers)!

    • Being authentic is what is important, and that includes not only knowing one’s ideal but knowing one’s own position in relation to it and being authentic also includes respecting the ideal of others. After all, that is what Krishna does—ye yatah mam prapadyante. Gaudiya Vaisnavism, in my opinion, needs to move away from preoccupation with conversion and more in the direction of personal practice. In the end example speaks louder than precept.

      • being authentic also includes respecting the ideal of others. .. Gaudiya Vaisnavism, in my opinion, needs to move away from preoccupation with conversion and more in the direction of personal practice. In the end example speaks louder than precept.

        I like this statement very much. I also think that just being a kind thoughtful person makes people curious about the source of one’s character. I find that seeing kind and heartfelt devotees is so much more inspirational than hearing some intellectual exposition intended to sway my thinking in some direction or another.

        The other day I saw an older devotee at LAX. I had met him over a dozen times over the last 10 years and years ago he even came to my house as a guest for prasadam. I approached him to say hi. He didn’t remember me at all. I realized there was nothing more off-putting than not being kept in mind.

        As he proceeded to try to sell me books and ask for a donation I realized I would have given him everything I had in my pocket if he had spared me the sales pitch, just spoke to me authentically about his life and interests, and showed me that he had registered me as someone who had made at least a minimal impression on him. He walked away and sat next to a girl who was smoking a cigarette and seemed completely unaware of the obvious fact that she was scared of him approaching her.

        • I am sorry you had the experience you described. I found the last line particularly telling. If the person you’re talking about was the only example of a Gaudiya I’d come in contact with I would never in a million years entertain the idea of becoming one myself. His “preaching” may in the end to more damage than good.

        • Why is intellectual understanding of Krishna conscious philosophy contrasted with being kind and friendly? Both go together. In fact anyone can be kind and friendly, but devotees should be that and understand philosophy too.

          I don’t know who this devotee at LAX was, but I would be thrilled to take the dust from his feet upon my head. Distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books is so great! I wish I had that talent, but I’m trying to learn. Do you really think, Gopakumar Prabhu, that his distributing books was bad? I can’t imagine that he meant to offend you, but from your description it sounds like you were consciously deriding him for not remembering you. He was thinking about serving Krishna, and you were offended that he wasn’t remembering you since your previous meeting. How is that a devotee’s mood?

          Besides, context is a big part of memory. If he’s used to seeing you wearing a dhoti and tilak, but then sees you in karmi clothes and a plain forehead, not introducing yourself, your infrequent meetings might not have been enough to make him remember. Not everyone remembers things the same way.

          Maybe he’s not an expert book distributor, or maybe you just threw him off with your negative vibes. At least he was out there trying. Don’t underestimate the power of Srila Prabhupada’s books (if I may presume they were). I got my Bhagavad-gita As It Is used from a bookstore, which means that a book distributor probably sold it to someone who didn’t really care about it and then got rid of it. Transcendental books have a life of their own, and once put out in to the world we can’t imagine what they can do. The same goes for the Holy Name. Of course we should be genuinely friendly, but the changing of people’s hearts is done by Krishna and His pure devotees. Let’s just try to serve them and quit thinking that we can change the world with our personal charm.

          • Do you really think, Gopakumar Prabhu, that his distributing books was bad?

            Obviously not. That is a rhetorical devise you are using to trap me into looking bad. I am not saying book distribution is bad. Rather I am saying it is deplorable to be so disconnected from those around you, especially those you are preaching to, that you are doing more harm to both the preaching and the person than “doing service to Krishna”.

            I can’t imagine that he meant to offend you, but from your description it sounds like you were consciously deriding him for not remembering you. He was thinking about serving Krishna, and you were offended that he wasn’t remembering you since your previous meeting. How is that a devotee’s mood?

            It seems you are trying to shame me into agreement. I expect people who have met me several times and been to my house as a dinner guest to at least recognize me when they see me. If this seems outlandish to you and ‘undevotional’ then I am very interested in how you define devotion?

            Maybe he’s not an expert book distributor, or maybe you just threw him off with your negative vibes.

            You assume I had negative vibes, which sounds to me like a pretty unfounded assumption. Is feeling uncomfortable for being forgotten by someone you know synonymous with ‘bad vibes’? I experienced myself having ‘good vibes’, If I dare use such a simplistic concept, in the sense that I enthusiastically chose to speak with him having remembered him from our dozen prior exchanges. You can worship his feet if you like. Personally, I expect more from people, and especially from devotees, than this indifference.

  10. I feel we should not be too hard on people that are enthusiastic about preaching. I was introduced to Gaudiya Vaisnavism by devotees that were out on sankirtan in Westwood one Friday night.

    • Enthusiasm and sophistication of presentation are not the same. Enthusiasm is fine, and we should have some for the path and our practice. Yet times change and so must methods. I believe that as our understanding of ourselves and of the path deepens so should our level of sophistication in presenting it. Swami Tripurari is a prime example of this; I have yet to meet anyone more enthusiastic about outreach yet his methods are continually evolving and becoming more refined.

  11. I personally feel there is no harm in wearing symbols etc, but once the people wearing symbols have misused them have caused disrepute to the tradition, you need to stress less on the symbols and more on other things. People have damaged the Hare Krsna dress and symbols enough!

    • Gaura-Vijaya Prabhu,

      I completely agree; but here we have devotees claiming to be good _instead_ of wearing the symbols. Naturally we wouldn’t want miscreants dressing up as devotees and giving the movement a bad name, but if we are trying to be good devotees, wearing the symbols is a way to bring a good reputation back to the tradition the symbols represent.

  12. Years ago in Mumbai people started criticizing the devotees engaged in public sankirtana. At that time Prabhupada told us to stop the public sankirtana.

    But I think there will always be Gaudiya evangelicals, if you will, as well as Gaudiyas who, while interested in sharing their experience with others, are not inspired by the evangelical approach and see its limitations and negatives. Whereas the evangelicals in turn will stress ajnata sukriti as the bottom line. However, I think one could argue theologically about what actually constitutes ajnata sukriti.

  13. Nice article! I really like your sense of humor, Gopal.

    I have personally had many of the same experiences in the workplace the article describes where calm, patient, and kind qualities kindled interest in who I am and consequently what I do.

    I have also worked with devotees in professional settings and it isn’t always “Vaikuntha”. Many times fanatical devotees have given co-workers a bad impression of GV and I would either be subjected to the “weirdo” vibe from co-workers as a result or in the best case scenario I would be asked why I act differently than another “Hare Krsna” in the workplace. I personally don’t appreciate any type of religious fanaticism from my own camp or otherwise. It’s downright creepy and it certainly doesn’t inspire me to approach such a person with sincere inquiry so naturally why would it inspire anyone else.

    I personally have higher expectations for GV’s influence than to be satisfied with being part of a punchline at work, or involved in covert prasadam distribution or in evangelical actions that simply reinforce the “Hare Krsna” stereotype. So many of us have had the experience of backlash from the bad reputation a certain institution has gained from much of its proselytizing.

    It is well overdue for personal integrity to take the forefront and for capable Vaisnavas (such as those who developed and manage this site for one) to set the bar for the rest of us on how to represent GV with dignity, intelligence and depth in the context of post modern times.

  14. Do devotees here care about Srila Prabhupada’s actual written instructions in this matter, or is that just not relevant?

    • I assure that devotees here do care about Srila Prabhupada’s instruction. But as with so many things, it is an issue of prioritizing instructions in the event that different instructions come into conflict. So I think Gopal’s point is that the essential instruction is to conduct oneself as a Vaishnava and plant seeds of sukrti by giving the world an experience of GVism that they can appreciate. Prabhupada also often stressed things such as wearing dhotis, having sikhas, tilak, etc. But in the event that the latter makes the former difficult or impossible, which is to be pursued? You may not feel there is any conflict but many others do. I personally doubt that your situation is as simple as all your co-workers being positively intrigued, but anything is possible.

      Unfortunately my personal experience has often been like Gopa-kumara’s book distributing friend: devotees think that people are “drinking in the nectar” and relishing their exposure to Gaudiya Vaishnavism, but when viewed without the rosy glasses it is often clear that the person is actually uncomfortable but perhaps too polite to be direct. I have seen this countless times. Honestly sometimes I am shocked by how bad devotees are at reading faces and body language.

      • I think the main point devotees make is that they are giving ajnata sukriti. Through perseverance, evangelist preaching finds suitable targets even now when it comes to selling books and that keeps the devotees enthusiastic to keep on using the tactic. They also say that external display and evangelist preaching is an ego effacing exercise for real devotees whereas people like me are attached to my reputation( which to some extent is true) by not showing everything overtly.

    • Personally, I find the instructions of my param guru, Srila Prabhupada, as secondary to the instructions of my own gurudeva. I find that his instructions are more relevant for our current time and he utilizes contemporary interpretations of Srila Prabhupada’s instructions. This is my understanding of parampara. The guru may give many instructions and his disciples, when they become qualified to be guru in turn, give other instructions which are in line with the spirit of the lineage but not necessarily with the letter of the instructions.

      One very relevant example of this deals directly with the distribution of books at the airport. Srila Prabhupada highly supported this modality of preaching and my gurudeva was lauded as the Incarnation of book distribution for his success. His success was not merely in how many books he distributed but rather on the enthusiasm with which his service to Srila Prabhupada was executed. However, nowadays gurumaharaja Swami Tripurari does not encourage or practice this form of preaching. He is applying other modalities that he finds more suitable to our time and culture. This is not disobedience to Srila Prabhupada in my opinion, but a dynamic obedience to the spirit of what Srila Prabhupada seemed to desire.

      I think that mistaking the spirit with the letter leads to a fundamentalism which relies heavily on the letter, the literal words of the sadhu, rather than the dynamic spirit of the sadhu’s desire. I think the final authority should be the embodied expression of Sri Guru.

    • You have cited 40-year-old instructions from Srila Prabhupada. The world has changed significantly since then.

      His presentation of Gaudiya Vaisnavism is not as effective as it was during the 60s and 70s. It is garish in the eyes of mainstream society and academia.

      Even Prabhupada himself altered his presentation of GV for modern westerners. Based on this fact, it could be argued that he did not follow the instructions of his gurudeva. However, we can see from the spirit of his outreach and the results of his efforts, that this is not the case.

      Prabhupada altered relative details to attract the western mind, while maintaining philosophical and devotional purity. This is the standard for his disciples. He did not attract students because of his outward appearance. He attracted us because of his bhakti, which was unmotivated by any desire for honor or wealth.

      What haven’t you done this? Are the instructions and example of Prabhupada and the rest of our parampara not relevant to you?

      • Apparently anything can be called into question after the acarya’s disappearance, but I don’t see Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on this subject as easily dismissed. He said that business attire was fine for grhasthas, so that is not an issue at all. However in the matter of tilak and (for men) sikha, these were the words he used:

        Must. Essential. In all circumstances. Cannot avoid. Without fail. Must be very prominent. No compromise.

        I don’t see any wiggle-room in this at all. Bhakti is practiced with one’s free will, so no one is forced do do anything; but there are natural consequences for rejecting the spiritual master’s orders. If someone does not feel able to uphold an instruction in their personal circumstance and admits it as a shortcoming, I can understand that. I’m also very far from perfect in many ways. I object, however, to the notion of turning the instruction upside-down and saying that rejecting the clear instruction is proper while accepting it is improper, and that seems to be the trend when it comes to tilak, etc.

        There is some consideration of whether one is in the Gaudiya Matha, ISKCON, or somewhat independent. I don’t know exactly what is Tripurari Swami’s situation. I think this is my first interaction with him or any of his disciples. It seems to me that he’s charted a path acting as guru independent from any society created by prior acarya, and I respect that. It legitimately gives him more freedom than otherwise.

        I don’t know the specific affiliations of this web site, but since I’ve been reading some of it for the past few weeks it seems to be related to Tripurari Swami’s group. I hope I’m not intruding here. I’m trying to be friendly with all the Vaisnava groups, but my loyalty is to Srila Prabhupada. I’m trying to follow his instructions as much as I am able, and I tend to assume that is the standard for devotees in his line.

        What I’m finding here now is hard to wrap my head around, that within one generation it has become bad to follow a definite instruction that Srila Prabhupada gave. I’ve had many positive experiences wearing tilak and sikha, but these are largely dismissed here, with devotees suggesting that I must somehow be out of touch with people’s real feelings.

        Well, I’m not the Supersoul, so I can’t say what people actually feel. However I find myself able to maintain friendly relationships with people at work, and the obstacles I do find are not related to tilak or sikha at all. They’re related to the regulative principles, but I’m not going to start eating meat, gambling, etc., just to be closer to my co-workers. Where I live, everyone eats meat and all the men hunt or fish, they play the lottery, they talk about their favorite beers, etc. I have know idea what they do sexually, but I suspect these days it’s “whatever floats your boat.”

        I’m not just the only guy wearing tilak. My wife stays home, and we don’t have a TV. Our five kids are homeschooled, and much of their education is out of Srimad Bhagavadtam and Bhagavad-gita. Their main second-language study is Sanskrit. We maintain a small sanctuary for farm animals. To anyone who knows me, it’s obvious that I don’t fit into American culture. What I have trouble understanding is when wearing tilak every day makes me a misfit in contemporary Vaisnava culture too.

        • Panduji,

          I think that it is reasonable to look at the specific instructions of Prabhupada’s that you refer to as relative in that they refer to a preaching strategy in consideration of time and circumstances. Such strategies are always open to reconsideration based on the practical results. The fruit of the strategy is taken into consideration and then reevaluation often follows.

          Hypothetically if in some place those wearing tilak are considered freaks and thus people will not listen to them or take them seriously, then the instruction to wear tilak that came at a time when this was not so (such as the one given by Mahaprabhu in India) needs to be evaluated in relation to new circumstances.

          We are dealing with an instruction of Prabhupada’s given only 40 years ago, and today we can see by your example that not everyone in all places thinks that anyone wearing tilak has nothing meaningful to offer society. So the contrast is not as extreme. But nonetheless in principle this is an instruction that is subject to reevaluation over time.

          Furthermore I believe that this topic became an issue for Prabhupada’s library part of disciples selling books to libraries. They had to secure the support of professors to get the school libraries to buy the books, and I believe that they felt that wearing tilak was an impediment to their success and Prabhupada naturally told them to forego the tilak. And of course he gave me permission to forego it as well when selling his books. I bring this up to underscore the relativity that underlies this instruction.

          Thus if some devotees in different circumstances from yours and under good guidance conclude that wearing tilak, etc. is counterproductive, as it has been shown to be in other circumstances, by foregoing the wearing of tilak they are not only not disobeying an instruction, they are fulfilling the spirit of it.

          • Dear Swami Tripurari,

            Hare Krishna. I see what you’re saying, but I don’t think the example you give of distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books is a fair comparison to working at a regular job. Recently I was listening to one of Srila Prabhupada’s lectures (I think sb 1.8.21 – Oct 1, 1974) and he was comparing bhakti yoga with karma yoga.

            “Whatever you doing… In the beginning one cannot take to pure bhakti-yoga. Therefore karma-yoga is recommended: “Never mind whatever you doing. In that position you can become a devotee.” Karma-yoga, that is. People are interested with different types of work. So therefore Krsna says, yat karosi. “Never mind whatever you are doing.” So how it becomes karma-yoga? Now, kurusva tad mad-arpanam: “You give it to Me.” Suppose you are doing business, and you are earning lots of money. So Krsna says, “All right, go on. You are attached to business. You go on doing that. But the money earned out of your business, you give it to Me.””
            >>> Ref. VedaBase => Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.8.21 — Mayapura, October 1, 1974

            So as I understand it, book distribution is bhakti yoga, whereas working at a job and offering the results to Krishna is karma yoga. If I give up wearing tilak for the sake of distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books, bhakti is not compromised. However when I work at a regular job earning money, bhakti is already compromised and and further compromised by giving up tilak. That may be according to an individual’s position, but I still think it is wrong to preach in favor of going without tilak at work as superior to wearing it.

            Prabhupada: Caitanya Mahaprabhu, when His students used to come without tilaka, so He refused to see his face. He refused to see his face. He said it is a crematory ground.
            >>> Ref. VedaBase => Room Conversation — June 26, 1975, Los Angeles

          • I see what you’re saying, but I don’t think the example you give of distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books is a fair comparison to working at a regular job.

            True, but you are thinking about you uniform in terms of outreach nonetheless. Regarding Mahaprabhu’s statement cited by Prabhupada, he also said that he would not eat from the hands of one who did not chant one lakh of Harinama daily. However, Prabhupada saw fit to have his students chant 1/4 that amount and offer their food to Mahaprabhu. So in principle such instructions are relative to time and place. They must be understood in spirit such that they can be altered in form when needed.

          • Srila Prabhupada reduced the number of rounds from 64 to 16, as is the acarya’s prerogative. In the matter of tilak, he said “no compromise,” etc. I cited the example he gave about Lord Caitanya not wanting to see the face of a devotee without tilak because Srila Prabhupada was using it specifically to emphasize that we must wear tilak.

            It’s not very difficult and takes but a few minutes. The main thing is that it takes some courage to be seen as an aspiring devotee and faith that Krishna will protect us and provide for our needs. Some employers won’t accept it, but we can find others who will (and they’re nicer bosses anyway). If it required anything advanced, I wouldn’t be able to do it.

            It’s important because the world is not a nice place (i.e. more than a million land animals unnecessarily slaughtered in the 10 minutes I’m taking to write this), and the only way it will get better is by preaching Krishna conscious philosophy. I just don’t see how any preaching can occur if we’re afraid of people knowing our connection with Krishna.

          • I do not agree with everything you have written in this last post, but without going into that, allow me to ask if it is your position that there is only one way to look at the subject: if Prabhupada’s disciples do not wear tilak to work, etc. they are committing guru aparadha? If they are committing this offense, they will never be able to chant offenslessly until they begin wearing tilak to work. Disobeying the guru (gurur avajna) in a nama aparadha. Again, is this the position you are taking?

          • I wouldn’t call it guru aparadha if an aspiring devotee does not wear tilak for some personal reason, but we should at least honor Srila Prabhupada’s instructions with the desire to follow them better in due time. I want to emphasize the positive side, the benefit of showing everyone our connection with Krishna, but the response I encountered here has made me a little defensive.

            Each of us feel capable of doing more of one thing and less of another, and that’s ok. It’s just that I came into this saying that I’ve been wearing tilak to work for several years in a big office and occasionally meeting with outside business people, and have had a very favorable experience with it. I wanted to encourage other devotees, but I felt like this was met with a very negative reaction. Ironically, my coworkers and other professionals I meet seem to have no problem with my wearing tilak and shaved head with sikha, but many devotees here don’t like it. One devotee seemed to suggest I was a fanatic and creepy, and another went so far as to say he wouldn’t want to be associated with me and would remove his neck beads if we worked in the same office to hide any connection. Many devotees comments here made me feel like they thought there was something wrong with me for wearing tilak wherever I go.

            In fact, the broader society we live has been moving toward acceptance of all kinds of personalities. That makes looking like a devotee not so difficult. Personally I just had to get over my own inhibition against it, and since then it’s been easy. At first I felt a little weird wearing it, other people would pick up on that, but I’m normally quite comfortable with it and others seem to be too. It helps a lot to see everyone in relation to Krishna, rather than thinking “I’m a devotee but these karmis are so fallen.”

            So I was just trying to give some encouragement, because I would like to see more devotees feel confident enough in their connection with Krishna consciousness to openly tell people how wonderful it is. I’ve asked many people here in central Pennsylvania, “Have you heard of the Hare Krishnas?” and about half respond with some memory from past decades while the other half (the younger ones usually) haven’t heard of us at all. Srila Prabhupada gave us the most sublime spiritual teachings and along with it the responsibility to share it with others. I don’t think we’re doing enough of that, and I don’t see how we can do it if we stay hidden. Plain and simple, we need to say “Hare Krishna” to people more often. Being nice and friendly goes without saying.

          • Its quite expected that some older people have memories of the Hare Krishnas of many years ago while younger generations have not heard about Hares at all. This matches with the reactions you Pandu das have had here in this discussion. Some older devotees associate being seen as a Hare Krishna with been seen as cult members or aging hippies at best. Younger devotees like yourself see it in a different way. You are right that the younger generations are not so concerned whether people are labeled hippies or cultists or whatever. They are concerned whether whatever the person does works for the community or not. If you are a good Hare Krishna, you are good, bas. So the standard now is whether a person contributes what the community needs. So I would say, wearing tilak in the workplace is fine if you are modern and accomodating with coowokers, at the same time that for yourself you don’t compromise the core principles of Krishna Consciousness. I am an older generation devotee. I went through a spot of insecurity of the external symbols such as tilak and neckbeads. But not anymore. If I decide to wear them, I make sure its put on very nicely and I go to the opera in them and it fits right in.

          • Many of the devotees who visit this site or are associated with Swami B.V. Tripurari have had negative experiences with devotees and have also seen their share of fundamentalism parading as devotion. That doesn’t justify harsh treatment – it is merely a fact that may help you to understand the reactions to your assertions.

            I work for a private company and it would be totally inappropriate to come into my workplace with a shaved head, a sikha and tilak. On the other hand, I do have two wonderful pictures of Krsna in my office and I share my devotion to Krsna with those who are interested when and where appropriate.

            The workplace is just that – a place where people come together for a common purpose whether it be government service or private industry. We have company policies as well as laws that prevent prostelytizing in the work place. Harassment is not just defined as sexual in this day and age and most companies are well aware of the laws and do their best to uphold a standard that is conducive to progress of the work at hand and free of any type of prejudice.

            While I agree with you that people are becoming more tolerant of differences I would say conversely that people are more aware of harassment in the form of ‘religious outreach’ and would prefer to be left alone in that regard. I don’t mean to say that people are closed off and unwilling to learn, far from it – but they don’t want dogma shoved down their throats either.

            My own opinion about Tilak, sikha and shaven head as it relates to the workplace is that it totally depends on the work environment. About the only place where I think it would be appropriate would be in a devotional workplace – but even then, if the company is hiring people at large I would say it is over the top. That is my personal opinion and not a judgement.

            By the way, I don’t think that being nice or friendly is a given. There are ‘fruits of the spirit’ and one who is seriously practicing bhakti sadhana under good guidance should see signs of those fruits in his/her life. Nice and friendly are part of that, as are tolerance, forbearance, forgiveness etc. All too often ‘devotees’ think that following 4 principles and chanting are all that is required for advancement but looking closely reveals that many of those who think that way are not developing the ‘fruits of the spirit’ we are talking about that you seem to feel are a given. Advancement in bhakti requires good company and deep introspection. The more a person has bhakti, the more they will be able to give it to others – that’s a fact. Regardless of external dress, those who have bhakti will have a deep impact on those around them and those with little to no bhakti will have very little to no impact on those around them – again – regardless of external uniform.

          • So I was just trying to give some encouragement, because I would like to see more devotees feel confident enough in their connection with Krishna consciousness to openly tell people how wonderful it is. I’ve asked many people here in central Pennsylvania, “Have you heard of the Hare Krishnas?” and about half respond with some memory from past decades while the other half (the younger ones usually) haven’t heard of us at all. Srila Prabhupada gave us the most sublime spiritual teachings and along with it the responsibility to share it with others. I don’t think we’re doing enough of that, and I don’t see how we can do it if we stay hidden. Plain and simple, we need to say “Hare Krishna” to people more often.

            Given the history of the “Hare Krsnas” in my opinion it’s a good thing that there are people who have never heard of them. It makes room for a fresh start. Moreover, I personally do not identify myself as such, which is why I said what I did about going incognito if I worked where you work. Please don’t take it personally–I would do that anywhere and if it were anybody, male or female. The reason for my aversion is that too much has gone on in association with that phrase that in my experience more often than not immediately brings “weird cult” to mind. I disagree that to plainly and simply “say Hare Krsna” to people more often is an effective means of making a favorable impression of the tradition in the minds of modern Western people. Consequently when I have the good fortune to speak to someone about bhakti I basically never say the words “Hare Krsna.” Following the lead of my gurudeva I talk about it in terms of “devotional Vedanta” or “devotional yoga.”

            Tilaka and shaved head with sikha I think are fully appropriate for monastics. But for lay practitioners in the West–where such things are for the most part viewed as odd at best unless in the monastic context–I can’t see how that is going to help Gaudiya Vaisnavism grow out of the “Hare Krsna cult” phase into being respected as the deep spiritual tradition it is.

          • I do not think that wearing tilak at work or in the public is always a sign of one’s faith and that not wearing it translates out into weak faith. Audarya-lila touched on this. Not wearing it may be a sign of intelligence in consideration of disseminating the precepts—knowing one’s audience and what will be appreciated and what will not at any given time. Not wearing it may also involve showing respect for others, which is part of being nice and friendly. Again, Audarya-lila has said as much. But moreover nor do I think that the teaching mandates spreading it in all respects. Yes, Sri Caitanya told the brahmin Kurma to do so, but not everyone is a brahmin. Not everyone has a brain for preaching. It may be best for the majority to assist in the dissemination of the teaching by allying themselves with one highly qualified to do so relevant to time and circumstance. And there is also something to be said for keeping one’s faith to oneself, something deep that speaks of an abiding faith that is not weak and thus in need of an enemy or an ally.

        • This is not about disregarding the guru’s instructions. Prabhupada’s point was to maintain dignity in the eyes of society for the purpose of preaching. Our sampradaya has struggled with this in the past.

          Society’s definition of what is dignified changes over time, so this concern is relative, not absolute. The details may be adjusted with proper guidance.

          If adopting the externals of Vaisnava culture make outreach awkward or difficult, why continue? If we only end up sharing “positive experiences,” what makes us any different than other traditions, or even Anthony Robbins for that matter?

        • I found your comment very sweet on the one hand and very frightening on the other.

          The sweetness was in what seems like your naive faithfulness to the letter of your Gurudeva’s words. For this I have great respect, despite my belief concerning the distinction of the letter from the spirit. Your tone also seemed less intended toward propping yourself up on the heads of those you consider less ‘faithful’ to Srila Prabhupada. I appreciated the openness to other ways of thinking about things revealed in this last posting.

          However, I think you and your wife’s personal choice to live a more orthodox, if not literalist, spiritual life is fine. You are adults and must find your happiness in your own way. However, your children are being raised in such isolation. By isolation I mean from ideas and experiences of their surrounding culture and from people with whom they can relate. The reason this scares me is that whether or not they continue to practice GV they will not be well adjusted to work and socialize in this world. I am suggesting that your adult choices are going to likely cause significant difficulties for those children who are being educated at home from scripture. If they continue to practice they will likely have a rather secluded life. Or alternately, they will resent the isolation and orthodox nature of their upbringing and withdraw from their isolation and struggle for assimilation. This is what we see in other religious groups that raise children in this way; such as the Amish.

          The Amish have a practice called “rumm-shpringa” which translates to “run around” in which adolescents are allowed to experiment with a different worldly lifestyle sometimes finding themselves in big cities like New York. Of course it is a farce because they have lived their whole life without TV, internet, worldly friends, living instead a lifestyle in paralyzed time (1693 Switzerland) with buggies, scripture and traditional clothing (not unlike what you describe) resisting modernity. When they “run around” they are basically falling apart, drinking and having sex, ultimately with the terrorized realization that there is no life for them but the one they lived in the community. The farce is: there never was any hope that they could have a life outside. It was set up like a hurdle path for the disabled. For those Amish that do leave it is often a life of painful withdrawal from their resented past and isolation from their aspired future.

          Maybe Srila Prabhupada suggested such an orthodox life to some of his practitioners. I am also certain he made other recommendations that often get neglected by the more orthodox to fortify their rigid acceptance of orthodoxy. But even if Srila Prabhupada suggested such a lifestyle without exception I would take serious exception to what I would consider a fundamentalist, dangerous and isolationist faith. This is a pretty amazing secular world and despite its obvious shortcomings, it has a lot to teach GV practitioners and other faithful.

          • Maybe Srila Prabhupada suggested such an orthodox life to some of his practitioners. I am also certain he made other recommendations that often get neglected by the more orthodox to fortify their rigid acceptance of orthodoxy. But even if Srila Prabhupada suggested such a lifestyle without exception I would take serious exception to what I would consider a fundamentalist, dangerous and isolationist faith. This is a pretty amazing secular world and despite its obvious shortcomings, it has a lot to teach GV practitioners and other faithful.

            I know firsthand from SP’s Dayananda dasa who I served with in NY for many years that he was given quite different instructions on how to conduct himself as a grhasta and business man. If I remember correctly Dayananda relayed a circumstance where SP pointed him out to an audience when he walkeded into a room wearing a business suit after work and acknowledged him and encouraged it. Dayananda was not from the “hippy scene” and so it seemed SP encouraged him in that way. I am sure he was not the only one.

            It would be wonderful if some of the devotees who were encouraged this way by SP would relay their experiences to give a more balanced view of ISKCON during that era.

          • With all due respect, I’m not asking for parenting advice. My wife and I have five children together, and they’re all extraordinarily happy. They are sheltered but not isolated. Experiencing the richness of a simple life is a good thing. Srila Prabhupada described public schools as a “slaughterhouse,” and having endured them myself I know how true it is. Our kids easily learn as much in two hours of schooling at home as kids in school learn in a whole day, and this is proven by the older kids’ standardized tests. They’ve scored in the upper 90’s percentile, which is comparable to what I was doing in school.

            They also have time to pursue what they love. Our oldest daughter won a state painting championship in the Arts Olympiad, beating several thousand other kids (http://www.icaf.org/programs/artsolympiad/ao.html). In addition to their regular academics and Krishna conscious studies, they help with the animals, spin wool, knit and weave, cook, sew, work in the garden, harvest herbs and make medicines, play (plenty), and they’re also becoming proficient with the computer.

            The near-absence of bad association in their lives is not a deficiency (http://vedabase.net/nbs/43/en). One does not have to seek out the lower modes of nature in this day to see them. I think they’re learning enough of Bhagavad-gita to appreciate its wisdom.

            We know plenty about the Amish because living in central Pennsylvania there are abundant Amish around. We often see them on the roads, pass by their farms, and we buy some vegetables from their markets. We see their virtues and faults, and in any case we’re not much like the Amish.

            In fact we’re not very strict devotees, but I try to do as much as I can and to remember the ideal that Srila Prabhupada taught. Someday I want to be the kind of devotee that would make Srila Prabhupada very pleased, but for now a big part of it is that his teachings are like my Deity which I’m trying to keep intact.

            When I apply tilak each morning it feels almost like the shade of Krishna’s lotus feet upon my head. I struggled for years with duplicity, when I would wipe it off my forehead while driving to my job, and finally I decided no more. I am who I am, and I do not want to work with or for people who cannot accept me as I am, as an aspiring devotee of Krishna and hopeful servant of Srila Prabhupada. So far I think it has gone very well, and I think Krishna and Srila Prabhupada appreciate it. Really I’m not worthy of wearing tilak, but my hope is that applying this transcendental sign every day will gradually purify my heart or at least help others remember Krishna even if I can’t. Hare Krishna.

        • Pandu, the first point I want to make is that I don’t think anyone here considers you an intruder. This site was created for public discussion among vaishnavas from different groups, as well as others outside our family.

          I think there’s little controversy that Srila Prabhupada gave the instructions you cite here and elsewhere. However, what’s missing are serious consideration of the context for those instructions, acknowledgement that he may have relaxed those instructions on occasion, and the way he treated devotees in practice. As I mentioned elsewhere, I saw Mukunda visiting Prabhupada in LA in ’73, wearing a suit and a conservative haircut, with no sikha. I don’t remember that he was wearing tilak, but he may have been. (He had his bead bag with him.)

          I also had a private meeting with Srila Prabhupada later that year, along with my wife and a godbrother. I wore a dhoti and tilak, but I had a conservative haircut and no tilak, as I had just spent some time working outside to raise money for going to introduce Krishna consciousness in Peru at Srila Prabhupada’s request. My godbrother, Tarun Kanti, had hair that was a little longer and was in casual dress. Srila Prabhupada never mentioned our hair. Neither did he say anything about devotees who didn’t have sikhas when he visited the Big Island in ’75. We could list pages of instances where Srila Prabhupada’s example showed this standard is flexible.

          As I mentioned elsewhere, I wore tilak to work a couple of times at the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii and was assured that it wasn’t appropriate. I have spent most of the last 20 years teaching college English. It is plainly inappropriate for me to use that position to push my spiritual values on the job. If I were to do that, I’d be without work. For much of last year, I kept my head shaved and wore a sikha. However, when I recently returned to teaching in college, I knew that I would not be taken seriously if I had a plainly visible sikha. I know a few devotees in this area who work with sikhas, but most have found doing so more than difficult.

          When I lived on the Big Island, many of the ladies could be seen wearing saris in public from time to time. Many of us often left our tilak on when we went to do shopping and other errands. That’s a place where exotic cultural expression is quite normal.

          I have always found excuses to mention Krishna’s name, and part of my teaching critical thinking and writing is finding ways to shake up students’ faith in finding shelter in the material world. I’ve had students show up at temples and colleagues reading Srila Prabhupada’s books, not because I used the workplace to share, but because they would ask at other times what I was about. My spiritual life was never a secret; it was simply my own business, although I answered any questions happily and candidly away from the classroom. What I mean to convey is that there are more than one way to cut a mango.

  15. So as I understand it, book distribution is bhakti yoga, whereas working at a job and offering the results to Krishna is karma yoga. If I give up wearing tilak for the sake of distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books, bhakti is not compromised. However when I work at a regular job earning money, bhakti is already compromised and and further compromised by giving up tilak. That may be according to an individual’s position, but I still think it is wrong to preach in favor of going without tilak at work as superior to wearing it.

    Wearing tilaka is favorable to bhakti not bhakti proper. Tilaka or no tilaka the substance is to be connected to the sadhu and his mission in either asrama. For grhastas who were working Srila Prabhupada gave the instruction to give 50% of their income to the mission. In that way, their work was also sanctified.

    I personally don’t know of any of SP’s grhasta disciples who follow that instruction. They seem to have no trouble adjusting that one according to time and circumstance.

    • It is impossible to even give 5% income today if you have family and you are not earning much.

      • I can just picture Srila Prabhupada responding to this… “Impossible is a word in a fool’s dictionary.” 🙂

        • The living expenses in a city like NYC and SFO do make it very hard for people with families to contribute anything substantial. Yes, if you are willing to live without medical insurance and forgo saving money for children’s education, it is possible.

  16. Pandu-ji, what you write is very inspiring. I wish I had your determination and perseverance to maintain such a standard of devotional behavior.

    Most of the time I do not let people know I am a Hare Krishna. I guess I like my privacy and I am too tired of fighting battles with people’s prejudices and misconceptions.

    I do not think there is only one ‘proper’ way of living a life of an aspiring Vaishnava, or only one proper way of raising Krishna conscious children. Ultimately everything is verified by practical experiences. From a long term perspective, setting unrealistic goals often discourages rather than inspires people to follow devotional practices.

    Best of luck to you and your Krsna conscious family.

  17. I agree with you Citta. The negatives associated with the Hare Krsnas are so high that it is better to abandon it for a fresh start with Gaudiya Vedanta or devotional yoga. In fact, as there ar people continue to live in the 60′ mindset of bombarding everybody with their tradition, I also chose to stay away from the association with the Hare Krsnas. Even if people don’t know about it, googling hare krsnas and their history can give them enough information to turn them off.

    • Hare Krishna is the holy name of the Lord with His beloved Radharani. If there are negatives associated with chanting Their names, then let us serve Them to help rid Them of any ill-repute. We should not abandon Krishna’s names, thinking Them too polluted for our association (trinad api sunicena…); we should give our good names for His benefit. If we don’t do it, who will? This is a grand opportunity to sacrifice our false prestige for Krishna’s sake. What is the value of being known as a great diplomat, businessman, yogi, or Vedantist? My wish is to be known as a devoted servant of Krishna nama. Hare Krishna.

      • Pandu, the answer us what has been proposed before. We should become actually devoted servants of Krishna and let our characters move our colleagues to ask questions. That’s what I’ve done, and the conversations I’ve had with colleagues, and with students as well, have been really interesting and productive. What’s wrong with being known as a good person and having others find out that it’s your devotion that’s responsible for that? As has been pointed out before, certain kinds of dress, haircuts, and other adornments may not be appropriate for many places of work. And leading with your religion may not, either. To generalize too broadly about the nature of the workplace and what may or may not be appropriate just doesn’t work; the readers here are too varied.

        We may not that, although Mahaprabhu did debate Prakashananda and the sannyasins of Varanasi, it was his effulgence (his character) that won them over.

  18. Hare Krsna 🙂

    I just wish to pay my dandavat pranams to Pandu Prabhu. I really appreciate your good intentions to inspire others and give courage, by kindly sharing with us your personal and private experience, of how it CAN be possible to wear tilaka and openly be a devotee at one´s work place, without losing one´s work. It is without any doubt due to good sukrti achieved in the past, that Sri Krsna has arranged this very favourable situation for you.

    I myself am not that fortunate. I once experienced losing my job, for example, when I shared with my employer that I am Krishna Conscious. And that even despite the fact that I had known my employer for more than a year, did my job very nicely, and he himself had expressed an interest in spirituality without my asking him. I have also experienced losing work opportunities due to being a vegetarian and not drinking – but then again, as you rightly say, those may not be the best bosses anyway, so I choose to somehow see that as Sri Krsna´s arrangement/protection.

    That being said, as a householder one has to pay one´s rent and food somehow. And we are still conditioned beings, not paramahamsas, so we are attached to our physical bodies in varying degrees (dvityabhinivesa) and are afraid of losing our source of income/dying. I think the responses read on this page, can to some extent be seen as a result of this underlying fear of not being able to survive/keep one´s job, if one were to wear a tilaka at work.

    And then of course there is our good old friend, envy. I think there is no doubt that most practicing devotees, if they are honest, can find within themselves a feeling saying: “I wish that I could also boldly be a devotee at my workplace, without losing my job – but I can´t. When will I too become that fortunate?” At least, that is the feeling that I myself am having.

    So I want to thank you for sharing, that it IS possible. Maybe not right now. But one day, when I have accumulated more sukriti, Sri Krsna and Sri Guru will make my external circumstances more favourable too. Until then, I just have to burn in the fire of separation, like those gopis who could not go to meet with Krsna in His bhauma lila. This burning in separation, burned up their anarthas very quickly, and after that they were also given the chance to serve Sri Krsna more. So thank you for sharing that. And also for sharing it in such a balanced and mature way.

    There is no doubt that many envy you;) The interesting thing about envy is that, as soon as one is acknowledging/realizing that one is actually envious, all the resentment and wrath (and ridiculing) connected with that envy will disappear, and left there will only be a positive and constructive awareness of the fact that there is something one would really like to achieve, but which one does not yet possess. And then one can start to work with that, through humble prayer. To Hare Krsna. And to Sri Guru and the Vaisnavas. Jaya Gaura Nitai:)!

    P.s: I would not be surprised if many members here would like to debate the above. So I just want to say right away, that I will have no time to go into any debate, even if you specifically address me in any of your comments. For the very same reason, I myself have purposely not addressed anyone specifically. This post is simply meant for sharing, and anyone is of course free to reflect upon it – or not. Haribol 🙂

Leave a Reply to madan gopal das Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe without commenting

Back to Top ↑