Is Bhakti Dependent on Indian Culture?

Originaly published at the Jiva Institute

QUESTION: Why can I not be a devotee of Krishna without subscribing to Vedic or rather Indian customs? Why do I have to dress like an Indian, which even modern Indians don’t do? This may be alright while one is living in India, but to carry these customs to the West makes one look weird and an object of mockery. Bhakti, after all is not dependent on anything external, it is a matter of bhava. Krishna is pleased only with devotion and not with anything else: bhaktya tusyati kevalam na tu gunaih bhakti priyo madhava (Padyavali 8).

ANSWER: Absolute reality has two manifestions, personal and impersonal. The yogis and jnanis strive for impersonal realization of the Absolute after attaining perfection in the form of ultimate liberation, atyantika mukti, they do not have any personal relationship with the Absolute. Therefore, they do not need to follow any specific culture in which they will live after liberation. Devotees, however, follow the path of a personal God.

On the path of devotion, there are two types of devotees. Those who want to have a specific relation with Him in a specific form and those who are not keen on any specific relationship. Those who want to have a specific relation have to know the specific form of God, such as Krishna, and His mood and behavior befitting the desired relation. This had to be understood here in the sadhaka body. On the path of a specific relation (raganuga), the service is done both with one’s physical body and also the aspired spiritual body (seva sadhaka-rupena siddha-rupena catra hi, Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu 1.2.295). To do this seva, one has to learn the customs. As far as doing the seva in the spiritual form, there is no social restriction because it is all done as a meditation, but to do the seva with the physical body, there may be social restrictions, because one may not live in a society or family that is supportive of devotion. Then one has to make adjustments, but one has to always keep in mind the goal.

As Gaudiya Vaisnavas, our goal is to be with Krishna, therefore it is important for us to understand Him as a person within a certain setting. How much of the rules and customs we can follow can be adjusted if one understands the principles. If one does not understand the principles, then the tendency will be to do what one is accustomed and then gradually one may just follow one’s own mind and not the principles of bhakti. Here it should also be understood that on the path of bhakti, what is most important is bhava, but that is not something we have, rather it is our goal or object to achieve. And although the customs and process of Deity worship, rules related with eating, greeting, and worship are external to bhava, they also assist to reach this bhava.

Thus, unless it is impossible or unfavorable to practice these principles and customs, one should try to follow as much as one can. Moreover, if one has bhava, which means love, one would naturally do what is pleasing to Krishna. Why would one like to do something which is not appreciated by Him?

Krishna is not Indian nor does He follow Indian culture. But He is also not Western. He lives according to Vedic culture and customs. If we want to live with Him, then we need to know this culture and follow it as much as possible in our modern setting. If we cannot follow it because of our social situation, we should at least be aware of it, be respectful to it, and not deride it. Those modern Indians who do not follow Vedic culture are not our ideals.

QUESTION: But how can God be so narrow-minded and why would He be partial? God is universal and does not discriminate, so why do I have to follow something which is only known in India and not follow the Western customs and attain God?

ANSWER: Yes, I agree that God is universal and impartial and it is possible to approach God by following any culture or customs. However, as said before, we are not interested in that impartial manifestation of God.

Our goal is to have a specific loving relationship with a specific form of God called Krishna who is svayam bhagavan and who is not impartial when it comes to His devotees.

God has two kinds of manifestation—very specific manifestations such as Krishna or Rama, and a general impartial manifestation, called Paramatma, or Isvara. Besides this, He also has an impersonal manifestation, called Brahman. So if one is interested in attaining Brahman, or just Paramatma, then one does not have to follow the specific Vedic custom, culture or life style, because in that there is no need to develop a specific relationship with God. However, if the interest is to be with Krishna in Vraja and to have an intimate relation, then one has to know Him very intimately and make oneself qualified to live with Him in the desire intimate relationship.

Krishna has His partiality for His devotees, His likes and dislikes. He identifies Himself as a cowherd boy and nothing else. He does not identify Himself as a creator god or one who looks after the maintenance of the cosmos. His mind is very much focused on His devotees in Vraja. He does not think of anything beyond. An example of His mood is when the wives of the brahmanas of Mathura approached Him with food and surrendered to Him, he did not accept them in the same way as the cowherd girls and women because according to Vedic or traditional Indian culture, a cowherd man cannot have any conjugal relation with a brahmaṇa girl or woman. For this reason, Gaudiya Vaisnavas, who want to have a madhurya bhava relationship with Kṛṣṇa, aspire to be born as cowherd-girls and not brahmana girls. So, Krishna in Vraja has the ego of a cowherd boy. Outside of Vraja and in other forms, He has other egos. This has to be properly understood.

Thus, these things are just a matter of custom. Krishna behaves according to the ideals of Vedic culture, and therefore we have to learn these if we are interested in a relationship with Him.

One should keep in mind that this is a very specific path and one has to be very clear about one’s goal. And that practice has to be done here. There is no bypassing it.

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25 Responses to Is Bhakti Dependent on Indian Culture?

  1. Visvanath Chakravarti Thakur Das

    “As Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas, our goal is to be with Kṛṣṇa”.
    I’m having some “itching” with this Maharaj. Shouldn’t our goal be to serve Krsna, even if that means to not “be” with Him?. And in that sense, what is most pleasant to Him; the way we dress or the way we serve? I’m thinking specifically in what is the core of the Gaudiya Vaisnavas activities, the Sankirtan Yajña.
    So if the Sankirtan get stifle because the way we look (for example, people thinking they will not take this path because of the dressing code), isn’t a way to please Sri Gouranga to change that obstacle?

    • Sankirtan is the way to the goal of prema, wherein Sri Nama recedes to the background and lila seva comes to the foreground. In prema, the lila within the name comes forth and takes precedent as one becomes a player in the eternal drama of Krsna lila.

      Yes, our goal is to serve Krsna in the form of sakhya or madhurya rasa, but in the nitya lila separation is not prominent, because Krsna does not appear to depart for Mathura and Dvaraka, as he does in the prakata lila for such a long time. So service in separation is more related to the way than it is the goal.

      As far as what to wear, householders can dress in sattvic clothing or one more focused on the goal can dress as a member of Gaura-lila in meidtation on that lila and with the aspiration to enter it in dasya bhakti for Mahaprabhu. Monastics should wear traditional monastic attire. But if outreach is hindered by any particular dress, those engaged in such outreach can adjust accordingly.

      However, it is not at all a foregone conclusion that the traditional dress of Gaura lila hinders outreach. You speak of public sankirtana. It seems to me that people who would be alienated by thinking they had to change their dress to be a member would be even more alienated by thinking that they had to chant and dance in public to be a member, if not more so. Fortunately, the teaching is that they do not have to do either. One can dress in the sattva guna and practice in one’s home, and many Gaudiya Vasinavas do this today. Still they will in time be meditating on empowered descriptions of specific lilas coming from our founding acaryas, the Six Goswamis, that describe modes of dress, etc. So . . .

      And finally, the fact that monastic dress in public for actual monastics is not an impediment to sharing the teaching is evidenced by the recent visit of the Pope to the US. Millions of people came to see and hear him, dressed as he was in flowing robes, etc.

      • Swami B. A. Ashram

        We also have examples of other famous members of monastic orders, East and West, whose work has not been impeded by wearing their traditional monastic dress. No one is put off by the Dalai Lama’s dress, or by Thich Nhat Hanh’s. Mother Teresa and Thomas Merton were also quite effective in their day. We also see that Pema Chodron and Karma Lekse Tsomo, who is a nun in a Tibetan Buddhist tradition who is also a professor at the University of San Diego, don’t put off their students by their dress.

        I don’t know of anyone who presents the chanting of the Mahamantra and the teachings of Lord Caitanya who tells their audiences that they must change their dress, or even their diets. We have always requested others to simply add the chanting to their lives without necessarily changing anything else. We have seen that many of those who make the experiment end up asking devotees’ advice on how to increase their experience of the chanting’s effects. It is no secret that our immaturity sometimes (okay, often) resulted in advice that was not well attuned to where the others actually were in terms of their faith, and some of us may have, in our zeal, pressed others to engage beyond their ability to do so effectively. But that if we ourselves actually understand the teachings, have mature faith, and have a clear sense of where our audience is at, this need not be the case.

        I understand that Visvanath Cakravarti Thakur das is a yoga teacher and a kirtaniya. I think that if he presents the teachings and the chanting according to his own faith, his students will find it attractive, not off-putting. I have a friend and Gosdister who owns a yoga school in Kansas (Kansas, of all places!) and presents her yoga instruction, as she puts it, “infused with bhakti.” She meets her students, both her regular yoga students and her teacher-training students, where they are. Her own faith and the character that creates goes a long way to helping create faith in bhakti in her students. I recently joined her teacher-training students for kirtan and discourse on Baladeva Purnima. I spoke on Balarama as the source of the serving ego, and we had two Hare Krishna Mahamantra kirtans. The students were immersed in the kirtans and they appreciated the talk. No one was put off by my being dressed as a sannyasi, nor did they feel even an implied pressure that they must do so themselves.

    • An example of changing one’s dress in consideration of outreach is the sannyasa dress implemented in the line of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura. Traditionally the Gaudiya renunciates wore white and a short cloth. Hari-bhakti-vilasa cites sastra stating that white cloth is for Vaisnavas. Gaudiya taygis like Sanatana Goswami wore short white vesa just above the knees, but not new cloth, rather only cloth previously used by others, and Mahaprabhu was pleased to note this. However, Saraswati Thakura experienced that babas dressed like this in his time were not respected by the public, whereas those from other lineages dressed in saffron were respected. So he instituted a renounced order of sannyasa and dressed his sannyasins in saffron with much success in terms of attracting educated people.

      As a member of that sannyasa order living in the West, I find that this dress has some power. Many people go out of their way to smile, nod, and in other ways acknowledge that I am a monk of an Eastern tradition and indicate that they think this is an admirable lifestyle.

    • Every culture has a uniform for its religious priests, and it’s renunciates are to avoid the vanity involved in attire. Thus, they adopt anything from ashes to a simple cloth and make it a point to stand out in society.

  2. Hare Krsna !

    Dandavat pranam.
    Personally, I like living the vedic culture, but one reason why I am not able to fully accept this is, the article is proposing thinking about Leela with Krishna before Nama has manifest. I have read that Srila Saraswati Thakur told to concentrate only on Nama, not even on the Rupa of the Lord (because what we imagine with our mind is prakritika).
    Please help me harmonize these two points of view.

    Your servant,
    Jagannatha dasa

    • Where does the article propose this? And furthermore, what do you mean by “before nama has manifest?” Without hearing about and thinking of Krsna lila, where does the impetus to chant his name come from? Of course it is true that lila smaranam will come out of nama smaranam, but his does not mean that one cannot think of Krsna lila before this develops. And at some point eligibility for lila smaranam will arise for the sadhaka. So lila smaranam is part of sadhana.

      • Thanks for your reply Maharaj.
        “Propose” was not the right word to be used.
        Very true that without hearing/remembering Krishna leela, we won’t get the impetus to chant the holy name, but should we behave like we are part of that leela (as in dressing like traditional Indians) when many of us many not be chanting the holy name purely yet ? I am only trying to understand.

        Another question I have is, If Krishna also follows the Vedic culture or traditional Indian culture (the example of his behavior with the Brahmana ladies was cited), then why would he be romancing other men’s wives, which is also not part of traditional Indian or Vedic culture ?

        Your servant,
        Jagannatha das

        • Adopting taditional religious Indian dress in the context of worship and temple life is not the same as inappropriately behaving like one is part of Krsna lila, although it is like behaving as if oneis part of the extension of Gaura lila in the present. This constitutes following the example of members of Krsna lila in terms of their example in their perfected Gaura lila sadhaka dehas. That is recommended.

          Parakiya love is part of every culture, the bad part. But Krsna lila sometimes makes bad good and sometimes it makes good bad.

        • Agreed Maharaj. Malati Manjari mataji’s comments also helps clarify.

          I once heard a devotee in GM tell that, as recommended by BST, for non-sanyasis/babas the dhoti should be worn in a particular fashion only (having 3 kuchis(folds), unlike 2 kuchis, which I was wearing), where does such information come from, is it described in the shastras or does it come from tradition ?

          Also, are there any shastras describing how the deities should be dressed ?

          Your servant,
          Jagannatha das

        • There are descriptions in our sastras of Sriman Mahaprabhu dressing in his householder life like this, in white dhoti folded thrice. Very nice!

          There are of course many descriptions of how Krsna dresses and the Deity is Krsna.

  3. Swami B. A. Ashram

    My friend and Godsister Urmila dasi left the following comment on Satyanarayana Babaji’s blog, which she also shared with me. I share it here with her permission.

    My obeisances. All glories to Sri Guru and Gauranga!
    Here are what I see as good things with this post:

    1) It is helpful to practice personalistic Krishna bhakti when one also has an external supportive culture. For example, it’s easier to practice bhakti if there is a government holiday on Janmastami rather than Christmas.

    2) For most people, how they earn their livelihood and how they move through their life changes may support or hinder their bhakti even though such things are not directly bhakti.

    3) Bhakti-yogis should try to have everything in their life be pleasing to Krishna and mold their life so that they will never forget Krishna.

    Here are my problems with this post:

    1) equating modern Indian culture with Vedic culture. I would hope that we would all agree that not all aspects of modern Indian culture are also fully Vedic culture. Someone would have to decide which parts of modern Indian culture are fully equivalent to Vedic, which partially equivalent, and which are not at all equivalent. As there is likely not to be universal agreement on these categories, it would be difficult to determine who is the authority who decides what a bona-fide aspirant to Goloka Vrindavana should do culturally while living in various situations in various parts of the world.

    2) apparently assuming one Indian culture. Culture is very different in various parts of India. As Gaudiya Vaisnavas, it is not clear whether this article is proposing that it is modern Bengali culture that is Vedic and the others are not. For example, Manipur has been, and still is, greatly influenced by Caitanya Vaisnava practice and philosophy, in the line of Narottama dasa Thakura. However, Manipuri culture is quite different from Bengali culture in terms of kirtana styles, musical instruments, dance, language, diet, dress, forms of etiquette, and so on. For example, Manipuri Caitanya Vaisnavas have traveling kirtan parties of ladies only who go from temple to temple singing in Narotama dasa Thakura’s style. Another example is that in Bengal a woman covers her head when she marries, and in South India a woman starts to cover her head only after her husband dies.

    3) an implication, or even a direct assertion, that those who combine non-Indian cultures with bhakti-yoga are impersonalists or worshippers of the Paramatma. The author seems to be saying that one can only worship Bhagavan Krishna (or Visnu) if one also adopts Indian culture. Historically, worship of Visnu (and Krishna) has occurred in many different cultures, such as Indonesian culture, and even Cambodian culture. It seems the author is negating all those ancient societies of Vaisnavas and designating them as impersonalists. The author would also seem to suggest that modern Vaisnavas who keep anything of their native culture (language, etiquette and customs, food, musical instruments, etc.) will not attain to Goloka Vrindavana but only to the Brahmajyoti. It would be interesting to find such propositions in sastra-sadhu-guru. I find this point to be the most serious, and bordering on great disrespect, even offense, towards Vaisnavas who have varied cultural practices.

    4) equating cultural practices with angas of bhakti. This article seems to suggset that how, for example, we dress in this life is preparing us for our next life. This assertion seems to at least indirectly, if not directly, support the Sakhi Bheki group, who believe that by dressing as gopis in this body they aid their destination of being actually gopis. Although I would hope that this conclusion is not intended by the author, such a conclusion is certainly a logical and reasonable one based on this article. We do have the 64 angas of bhakti that Rupa Gosvami deliniates, and to my knowledge, following Indian culture is not listed there.

    5) confusing principles with adaptations according to time, place, and circumstances. We are told that adapting to time, place, and circumstances is one of the items of knowledge. Srila AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada glorified his own guru with the words, “Oldest of all but in new dress; miracle done, your divine grace.” The sastra, the examples of acaryas, and the words of acaryas *mandate* that eternal principles of personalistic bhakti *must* be presented differently and followed differently according to the time, person, place, and circumstances. An interesting point in this connection is that Rupa and Sanatana became outcastes by being grhasthas working for the Muslim government, whereas Bhaktivinoda Thakura had a respected preaching platform by being a grhastha working for the British government. What is unfavorable culturally at one time and place becomes favorable culturally at another time and place.

    6) a conclusion of destruction of local cultures. The article could easily lead anyone who wants to spread Mahaprabhu’s mission all over the world to engage in a program of destruction of all aspects of all local cultures as part of “preaching”. Such would include destruction of regional Indian cultures. This mood of wanting to supplant all aspects of local cultures with a world uni-culture suggests an imperialist violent policy. We have many historical examples of zealous religious missionaries who not only taught their religion’s philosophy and practice, but simultaneously demanded–through violence if necessary–that locals reject all aspects of their culture. I personally find such an attitude scary, and, frankly, repulsive.

  4. Here is Malati Manjari Devi’s reply to Urmila Devi:

    Pranam Urmila Devi,

    Babaji didn’t even find the time to read your comment since he is so busy with many responsibilities. In the meantime, I will attempt to address these points based on my own understanding of the author’s intention.

    1) “equating modern Indian culture with Vedic culture”

    Where in this article is the author equating modern Indian culture with Vedic culture?? Quite the opposite. He says: “Those modern Indians who do not follow Vedic culture are not our ideals.” He also already replied to Alexander above that for him Vedic culture means traditional Indian culture. A lot of what is going on in modern India can hardly even be called culture.

    2) “apparently assuming one Indian culture”

    I also do not see where the author assumes only one Indian culture. He always speaks about the culture in which Krsna was living, not any abstract ancient culture. He says that these things are a matter of custom, and obviously customs differs from place to place. Raganuga bhakti (uttama-bhakti, or Vraja-bhakti) as given to us by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, is defined as following the mood of the inhabitants of Vraja, which means total absorption in one’s object of love, Krsna. To develop a loving relationship with Krsna, a devotee will naturally do what Krishna likes and loves everything in relation with Krsna. Vraja-Krsna lives in a cowherd community, which means a very specific cultural setting. All his associates deal with him according to the social customs and their roles as senior, equals, juniors, etc. All this is part of a specific culture which a devotee will naturally want to emulate. The author says: “To do this seva, one has to learn the customs.” So obviously we are talking only about the customs that Krsna was following. There may be Indian customs that have nothing to do with Krsna and are thus not more favorable to bhakti than any non-Indian custom.

    3.) ”an implication, or even a direct assertion, that those who combine non-Indian cultures with bhakti-yoga are impersonalists or worshippers of the Paramatma”

    Again, this is misunderstood. He says that those who want to attain Brahman or Paramatma need not follow any specific Vedic custom, culture or lifestyle. They can worship Vishnu, the more generic form of God. Why would a person who has worshipped any other form of God for his whole life attain Vraja Krsna? yam yam vapi smaran bhavan … The author distinguishes between vaidhi and raganuaga bhakti. In raganuga bhakti, the devotees wants to have a specific relation with a specific form of God, namely Krsna. To attain this specific relationship again you need to get acquainted with the customs. In his “Raga Vartma Candrika,” Sri Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakur also describes that in order to enter Krsna’s pastimes, the raganuga sadhaka has to enter the womb of a gopi when Krsna manifests His pastimes on earth. Without taking such a birth, one cannot get proper acquaintance with Krsna’s humanlike pastimes (Text 7). So here again the point is made that one has to born into a specific social structure and customs.

    4) “equating cultural practices with angas of bhakti”

    There is a lot more to the practice of bhakti than cultural practices, but certain cultural aspects or attire is favorable to the practice of bhakti. Otherwise, why would you yourself wear sari almost every day? Why not jeans and T-shirt”? Just as food has influence on our mood, so also our dress. As Hari Sauri Prabhu says in a recent Dandavats article, “If such things help us to identify ourselves as devotees, why should we reject them?”
    So certain cultural aspects nourish the mood the devotee wants to attain. But that does not in any way mean that all devotees (including males) should wear sakhi-bheki or anything like that. I think you are over-interpreting and imaging too many things from the article.

    5) “confusing principles with adaptations according to time, place, and circumstances”

    Adapting a certain mood or behavior that pleases the beloved has nothing to do with preaching according to time, place and circumstances. Nothing in this text contradicts this principle. As you know, Prabhupada himself preferred his disciples to wear dhotis and saris, even if he did not make in an absolute principle. There are plenty of quotes like this one:
    “Now for our practical life we are known all over the world as shaven-headed. Is it not? Now we are becoming hair-headed. We are forgetting shaving because there is little leniency. Immediately faulty things are creeping in. So we should be known as shaven-headed, not long-hair-headed. This is discrepancy. At least once in a month you must be clearly shaven-headed.”(SB class Vrindavan 1975)

    6) “a conclusion of destruction of local cultures”

    There is no recommendation for that. Those who practice raganuga-bhakti will always remain a tiny minority. Local cultures are already destroyed in our modern globalized society at breath taking speed. If some devotees who are spread around the planet follow a specific Indian culture or even dress in traditional Indian dress, how would that change any local culture? The author of this article is not preaching about change of dress. He has also made it clear that it is not compulsory to wear the traditional dress but to have knowledge about it and not deride it. Even at his place in Vrindavan, the Jiva Institute, most people are not wearing traditional dress. He also does not make it compulsory for his followers to wear any specific dress. When Prabhupada preached all over the world and made his followers go on the streets in traditional dress, did he kill the local culture? The author of this article is nowhere in comparison to Prabhupada’s preaching, and yet you find his attitude “scary, and, frankly, repulsive.” I find your concern unfounded and exaggerated, to say the least.

    Yours in seva,
    malati manjari dasi

    • The author of this article is nowhere in comparison to Prabhupada’s preaching, and yet you find his attitude “scary, and, frankly, repulsive.” I find your concern unfounded and exaggerated, to say the least.

      I agree.

  5. prahlada bhakta dasa

    Respected Satyanarayana Babaji said:

    “He lives according to Vedic culture and customs. If we want to live with Him, then we need to know this culture and follow it as much as possible in our modern setting.”

    Aside from the dress code, which is the main topic in this article, this statement seems somewhat of a problem to me because Vedic culture, which is varnashrama-dharma, is not a part of bhakti-sadhana. We cannot follow the codes and system of varnashrama in the present times, except may be in a few Indian villages, and nor can we establish Vedic culture, or varnashrama-dharma, as it was during Krishna’s advent in this world.
    So, if this statement by Satyanarayana Babaji is played out fully then its an impossibility and also its advised for sadhakas on the path of uttama-bhakti to not be concerned with the dharmic or religious duties and customs.

    Satyanarayana Babaji also said:

    “Thus, these things are just a matter of custom. Krishna behaves according to the ideals of Vedic culture, and therefore we have to learn these if we are interested in a relationship with Him.

    One should keep in mind that this is a very specific path and one has to be very clear about one’s goal. And that practice has to be done here. There is no bypassing it.”

    I disagree on this point. Again, aside from the dress code which main topic of this article, this is not advised in the scriptures. Vedic culture is to a large extent male-dominated, whereas in modern society there is an urge for equality among human beings. So are we supposed to learn about Vedic culture in its details as it happens in Krishna-lila and import it here? This can be (actually it will be) problematic. We cannot implement the ways of behavior of Krishna-lila in this world. I suggest a reading of the article called ‘Speech of the Spirit’ by Swami B.V. Tripurari Maharaja. Its on the following link:

    Rather, as Tripurari Maharaja has pointed out in his comments here, that one would do well if he/she can dress like a devotee in Gaura-lila and adopt the ways of etiquette and behavior in that lila of Gaura-hari.
    In Gaura-lila the devotees of Lord Caitanya are in the mood of sadhakas, practising devotees. Imbibing their etiquette and ways of dealings will be helpful for sadhakas on the bhakti-marga. But, it should be pointed out here also that this does not mean that one adopts the kind of cultural practices which they did as being part of the varnashrama-system at the time. That Advaita Acharya performed the ceremony for shraaddha does not mean that all Gaudiyas should follow suit. They should follow more the spirit of such an activity rather than the activity itself. Advaita Acharya did it so that he would not cause disturbance in the brahmanical community of the time. He did not need to do it and neither do devotees at present.
    Also, Srila Tripurari Maharaja said:

    But if outreach is hindered by any particular dress, those engaged in such outreach can adjust accordingly.

    So, its more a matter of understanding the difference between principles and details. Dressing in a favorable way is a matter of detail rather than an absolute necessity. Malati-manjari Devi also says the same in her comments. But as Satyanarayana Babaji has put it in the article: “And that practice has to be done here. There is no bypassing it.” This seems rather a close-minded view about the issue. Of course as Malati-manjari Devi has clarified that Satyanarayana Babaji does not demand any of his followers to follow some dress code, it would be better if Satyanarayana Babaji would comment and clarify what he meant by his last two statements in the article.

    Also, Malati-manjari Devi said: “Sri Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakur also describes that in order to enter Krsna’s pastimes, the raganuga sadhaka has to enter the womb of a gopi when Krsna manifests His pastimes on earth. Without taking such a birth, one cannot get proper acquaintance with Krsna’s humanlike pastimes (Text 7). So here again the point is made that one has to born into a specific social structure and customs.”

    Yes, that’s correct. But this birth in Vraja is not a material birth, its not because of one’s karma that one takes birth in Krishna’s prakata-lila from a gopi. As far as i understand, this body is a bhava-deha, made up of spiritual emotions. And in the association of the specific devotees in the lila that love of Krishna which they have attained previously is further cultivated and developed. And again, its not that because one has to be born in Krishna-lila to be fully acquainted with Krishna’s human-like pastimes that one better start getting aquainted with the social structure and customs beforehand in one’s sadhaka-deha. This is not what VCT implies in this verse of Raga-vartma-candrika. And i also hope that this is not what Malati-manjari Devi is implying from her comments.

    I hope that both Satyanarayana Babaji and Malati-manjari Devi are following-up the comments on this article on the

    • swami bv tripurari

      The article does state that meditatively there are no restrictions. In other words, in meditative lila seva, for those who are qualified to participate in this siddha rupa seva, Vraja/Vedic customs within the lila will be relevant.

      • prahlada bhakta dasa

        Thank you very much Guru-Maharaja for clarifying that in lila-seva the Vedic customs within the lila will be relevant. i understand it.

        But Satyanarayana Babaji also said:

        If we want to live with Him, then we need to know this culture and follow it as much as possible in our modern setting. If we cannot follow it because of our social situation, we should at least be aware of it, be respectful to it, and not deride it.

        Here he is mentioning that we should follow it as much as possible in the modern setting and if not possible due to our social situation then….etc. But my point is that why should sadhakas follow the Vedic culture as much as possible in the modern setting? Here SNB is not speaking of meditative lila-seva but externally applying the customs of Vedic culture that is present in Krishna’s pastimes in the modern setting. This seems problematic to me.

  6. What they still call Vedic in India is actually largely influenced by Muslims because there is no detail description of dresses like dhoti, saris, in sastras.
    What I find very narrow minded is what this article says in conclusion. If I want to please Krishna between cooking rasagullas or a cake I should cook rasagulla (even though there were not rasagullas at the time of Krishna on the planet) even though Bhakti, which is really what Krishna “eats”, is independent. So, this contradicts the nature of Bhakti.
    This article gives that subtle understanding that a Vaisnava can reach the supreme abode in the present life only if he/she has taken birth in India. A conclusion the Indians are so attached to.
    Taking birth as a Gopi…How do we know that taking birth as a Gopis have surely the same pattern of the present Indian society? There is infact the famous sloka in the first Canto of Bhagavatam where it states that Krishna is an actor in disguise ..if the spiritual world has the same settings why has He to come in disguise?
    Moreover once I heard (I cannot recall the source) that Krishna pastimes are reported on Earth differently that in heaven, meaning there is a Bhagavatam version for the celestials, for attracting that type of mind. Krishna’s pastimes are for attracting the conditioned souls and not for being imitated as a Vedic choreography, it seems to me.
    One more thing, very personal after 36 years … I felt that I was just enacting, masquerading like a Vedic I do not know what, imitating something I am not, nor I have much taste for, I have not joined the Movement of Lord Caitanya to become Vedic, after all.
    To answer the comparison with the Pope …when I went to see the Pope I did not dress like a nun.
    And to conclude it jsut cam to my mind ..dressing like an Apsara is also Vedic ..isn’t it? Haribol.

    • I think the article is saying that if you like someone, you cook what they like to eat. It is hard to argue against that. Yes, Krsna eats bhakti. But is the vegetarian diet of Gaudiya Vaisnavas based primarily upon ethical concerns or is it based upon what Krsna eats? It seems it would be both but with an emphasis on the latter. After all, one can make an ethical case for eating the meat of animals that have died naturally. In the beginning one should perhaps offer what one likes the most because arguably such an offering can be most lovingly offered. If you love something, you want to offer it to the one you love. But as you learn what he or she loves, you will want to offer those items.

      You want to say that Krsna lila is devoid of Indian cultural sensibilities. However, we have descriptions of those lilas passed on to us by empowered devotees. Without these descriptions, how will we meditate on Krsna, his form, his qualities and his lila. They may be limited in as much as language and thought are insufficient to express the nature of transcendence, but they are empowered descriptions that have the power to draw one into Krsna lila. By your logic, why even call him Krsna?

      And your argument appears to be based upon an attachment to your particular cultural sensibilities. Its one planet. Krsna himself appeared on it in one place. That place has a culture. Dislike for that culture on the part of one who identifies philosophically and theologically with Hinduism confounds me. We live in a multicultural world and different religious expression have arisen in different cultures. These cultures tend to correspond with the ideals of those religions.

      As far as taking birth in the lila goes, you will take birth in the lila setting you meditate on that arises from immersion in Krsna nama. His form, qualities, and lilas arise out of his name, and those who have experienced this have related within the limits of language their experience of his form, qualities, and pastimes, and these descriptions serve to guide practitioners in raga bhakti.

      But if you have no attraction for Hindu culture or the culture of Garua lila and are attached to your own culture, you are free to approach the subject on your own terms in uncharted waters. My point regarding the Pope was with regard to the fact that monastics in traditional religious dress are not off putting to the American public. Thus there is no need for Gaudiya monastics to dress secularly, and indeed there is considerable advantage in their dressing traditionally, both for themselves and for the public. You are not a monastic. So your situation is different.

    • धर्म अधिकारी

      ‘Term ‘dhoti’ in the Vedas?’ by Hari Pārṣada Dās

      In order to derive the term ‘dhoti’, we will have to trace the original term ‘dhautī’:

      The actual Sanskrit verbal root by Pāṇini is given as follows:

      dhāvu gatiśuddhyoḥ (as given in Pāṇini’s Dhātu-pāṭha)

      Then according to Pāṇini 3.1.102, the suffix ‘ktaḥ’ is added to the root dhāvu, and after eliminating according to Pāṇini’s rules, we get:


      Dhautaḥ means “that [cloth] which is washed”. When a feminine suffix is added to it, it becomes,


      When this term is translated into Prākṛta languages, the “au” in the beginning changes to “o” by the following rule:

      aut ot (Prākṛta-prakāśa of Vararuci, rule 41)

      So it becomes ‘dhotī’.

      If someone wants to find the original Vedic term, they will have to look for the term ‘dhauta’. They can find this term in the Vedas. Especially in the Pañca-viṁśa-brāhmaṇa, the term ‘dhauta’ can be found. The Pañca-viṁśa-brāhmaṇa is a part of the Veda.

      some readers raised a doubt – “the term ‘dhauta’ is only an adjective and it does not necessarily denote a cloth. Only when it is used with the term ‘vastra’ does it denote a cloth.”

      To them, I wish to say what Srila Jiva Goswami says in his commentary to Srimad-bhagavatam (3.33.6). He says that “rūḍhir-yogam-apaharati”, or in other words, conventional usage of words overtakes etymological meaning of words.

      For example, in the English language, the term ‘mobile’ actually means ‘that which can move around freely’. The term ‘mobile’ etymologically is derived from the Latin term ‘mobilis’, which means ‘the ability to move around freely’. However, the term is now conventionally used to denote a ‘mobile phone’.

      Similarly, the term ‘dhauta’ is an adjective, but it is conventionally used to denote a cloth. If it is said that the term ‘dhauta’ cannot be used to denote a cloth, then it is as good as saying that the term ‘mobile’ cannot be used to denote a mobile phone.

      Of course, if different words are added to the term ‘mobile’, it will have different meanings, for example – ‘mobile van’, ‘mobile home’ etc. However, the conventional usage of the term ‘mobile’ alone denotes a mobile phone only.

      Similarly, although different terms added to the term ‘dhauta’ can produce different meanings, the term ‘dhauta’, and especially the term ‘dhautī’ became associated with cloth. The Amara-kosh, which is perhaps the most popular Sanskrit lexicon in India, gives the following names for cloth used by men:

      patrorṇaṁ dhauta-kauṣeyaṁ bahu-mūlyaṁ mahā-dhanam (Amara-koṣa, ṁanuṣya-varga)

      ṭranslation: “patrorṇa, dhauta-kauṣeya etc. are names of cloth to be worn.”

      Therefore, even the lexicographers before ādi-shankaracharya agree that the term ‘dhauta’ is used in connection with cloth. In case anyone still thinks that ‘dhauta’ does not conventionally refer to cloth, they should refer to Srila Jiva Goswami’s logic given in Srimad Bhagavatam(3.33.6).

    • Vinode-bihari dasa

      MadhavaLata dd,
      You mentioned “What they still call Vedic in India is actually largely influenced by Muslims because there is no detail description of dresses like dhoti, saris, in sastras.”

      I don’t think that is accurate. I am from South India. Yes, in North India, the Muslims ruled for 600 years and it made quite an impact upon Hindu society. In the South, the Hindus remained unaffected by that.

      Many traditions flourished in the South with hardly any Muslim influences. Their deities in traditional temples and writings do mention about saris and dhotis.

    • One more thing, very personal after 36 years … I felt that I was just enacting, masquerading like a Vedic I do not know what, imitating something I am not, nor I have much taste for, I have not joined the Movement of Lord Caitanya to become Vedic, after all.

      Do you wear shoes in your house now? Do you burn incense? Do you like your name, Madhava-lata dd, or would you prefer that in the least it be changed to its English translation? Did you not become a Gaudiya Vaisnava to enter into the lila of Caitanya Mahaprabhu in his sadhaka siddha bhumi—Gauda Mandala? The prayojana is to enter his lila and serve therein in the form of a brahmin boy, following the example of Rupa Goswami (and also to attain an identity in Krsna lila).

      The danger I see in your understanding (as far as I understand it), is in divorcing the ideal from any particular earthly culture, while remaining attached to a particular earthly culture that itself is not particularly sattvic. The lila is human-like and its earthly manifestation is said to be its fullest expression because, being humnan-like, it is facilitated by human society. What form do you think the lila ultimately takes, one that is completely unlike any human earthly setting or culture? It is adhoksaja or aprakrta?

      That said, no one I know of mandates that persons must dress in saris a dhotis in order to be practicing members of the lineage.

      • prahlada bhakta dasa

        Dandavat pranaams Guru-Maharaja,
        I now understand more clearly how in the name of being beyond cultural boundaries one can do away with Krishna himself. This is certainly a deadly blunder. It reminds me how one Gaudiya leader in USA in the 1980s introduced Christian robes and English names for the monastics in the Krishna temple, etc. Then one may also change the description of Krishna’s lilas to suit one’s cultural sensibilities. This danger is also there.

        But one thing worries me that it is also a danger to simply be attracted to the cultural practices of Hinduism like worshiping tulasi, offering arati to the deity in the temple, chanting some Sanskrit prayers, etc. only out of some conditioning rather than by proper sambandha-jnana. For ex., there are many pious Hindus in India who identify strongly with Hindu cultural practices but don’t have any scriptural knowledge. They are simply attracted to these sattvic practices out of bodily identification or past samskaras but have no knowledge of why i should do it. They regularly recite various stotras and visit temples of Vishnu and the demigods and attend the arati, dress in a sattvic way, cook traditional vegetarian dishes, etc. but they have no knowledge of bhakti. This may be called semblance of varnashrama in a modern context.
        So my worry is that this side of the spectrum should also be pointed out. Otherwise, someone may just follow these rules of dressing, worship, prayer, food, etc. and think that he/she is a spiritual person just by outwardly performing these activities rather than entering into the spirit of sacrifice and surrender to Krishna, which is what all of these external practices are supposed to foster.

        Also, there are many Gaudiyas, even in the West, who are fanatic about certain cultural practices. In India, where i am staying right now with some Gaudiya Math devotees, these devotees are very nice but they are very particular (or rigid) about certain rules. For ex., if i touch my plate of prasad to the mat on which i am sitting then the mat as well as my clothes which are touching the mat are contaminated, that’s what they say. If i take my prasad-plate to the prasadam buckets for a second-serving then its a big mistake. So Guru-Maharaja, my point is that these rules of etiquette (presumably from Hari-bhakti-vilasa) were alright 100 years ago when Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati implemented them in his Gaudiya Math, but we see that Srila Prabhupada didn’t apply all of these intricate rules in his temples in ISKCON. I am not saying that those who follow them at present should not do it, no. I am saying that these rules have to be revised and adjusted by the subsequent spiritual authorities according to the time, place and circumstance. Of course this should not do away with the substance of Krishna-bhakti as well. Actually, whatever i am saying here is based upon my understanding of what i have heard from your holiness.

        So Guru-Maharaja, i hope i could convey my point properly that there should be a healthy balance of Krishna-bhakti proper with the rules and customs of etiquette according to a particular time and setting.

        Please clarify my understanding Gurudeva. Let me know if i am mistaken somewhere.

        • Yes, that is why Thakura Bhaktivinode stressed the necessity of sambandha jnana. In his time there were many nominal Gaudiya Vaisnavas lacking sambandha jnana, even so called gurus lacking considerably in this. This is where the emphasis on siksa over diksa originates in our parivara. Of course that too has been misapplied. Hence the need for a living guru parampara.

        • prahlada bhakta dasa

          Thank you very much Guru-Maharaja.

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