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Bill Clinton Gets a Bhagavad-gita

Wednesday, 27 June 2012 / Published in News / 12,961 views

By Sankarshan Das

On Thursday 14 June 2012 ISKCON devotee, Bhakta Brian, dressed as a devotee, was out distributing books on a crowded sidewalk on Santa Monica Boulevard in Santa Monica, California when all of a sudden former US President Bill Clinton chose him out of the crowd, walked up to him, shook his hand, and gave him a warm hug. Listen now to an interview with Bhakta Brian how he gave the Bhagavad-gita to this world famous celebrity:


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    Shyamasundara Dasa ( User Karma: 13 ) says:

    This article proves that those who say “dhotis are maya” are themselves in maya. There are some in ISKCON who think that to be taken seriously we must dress in modern dress with pants and shirt. But seriously if we did that how would we be recognized as devotees of Krsna?

    Because Srila Prabhupada was dressed as a devotee Hayagriva/Howard Wheeler stopped and talked to him and the Hare Krsna movement was born.

    Because Shyamasundara Prabhu was dressed as a devotee George Harrison recognized him and ISKCON took off in UK and other parts of Europe.

    And, because Bhakta Brian was dressed like a devotee President Clinton was able to easily recognize him, shake his hand and embrace him. So much for those who think that “dhotis are maya.”

    Corporations spend a lot of time and money to develop their “brand.” We already have a developed brand, which includes shaved head, dhoti, sari, etc. Still Maya is so powerful that she has convinced some people that our asset (brand) is a liability.

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    Abhimanyu Gujari ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Excellent prabhu ,its true
    we have to develop out confidence to go in public with dhoti n kurta.
    This will help to get easily recognized by people that…. hey this Hare Krishna
    At lease they will remember Krishna by seeing us…

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    Prahladesh Dasa ( User Karma: 0 ) says:


    Now imagine that you have to distribute Srila Prabhupada’s books in a block of offices with many important people and the only way to get there is by using western clothing. What would you do?

    Srila Prabhupada Ki Jaya !!!

  4. 0
    Shyamasundara Dasa ( User Karma: 13 ) says:

    Prahladesh Dasa wrote:

    Now imagine that you have to distribute Srila Prabhupada’s books in a block of offices with many important people and the only way to get there is by using western clothing. What would you do?

    In your hypothetical scenario you state that there is no choice, that is, we have no freedom to choose to wear Vaisnava dress if we want to distribute Srila Prabhupada’s books. So since there is no choice then we distribute them in suitable karmi clothes; dressed as gentleman, not like gang bangers from East LA.

    But if we do have a choice then the choice is clear. Dress like a devotee of Krsna. A devotee is one who simply by seeing them we are reminded of Krsna.

    Similarly if to maintain our life we have to eat meat because that is all that is available then we eat meat and there is no karma. But if we do have a choice then we eat only prasadam. Karma implies choice, so if we have no choice then there is no karma.

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    ParamshreyaDasa ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I can understand the arguments of Shyamasundara Prabhu. Maybe it’s true that all these particular persons, he listed, got in contact with the devotees more easily because they could recognize them by their dress. However I think we shouldn’t make it to a stereotype, i.e. “this should be the only way – and then we will be successful”.

    We most probably could make a long list of (important) people who steered clear of the devotees, especially because of their outlandish dress. These people are subconsciously afraid that they also have to take to such kind of externals, if they want to take part in the practice of Krishna Consciousness.

    As Prahladesh Prabhu has pointed out: Also the other way, the Western way, has its justification and there are numerous quotes of Srila Prabhupada’s approval.

    Let the devotee decide for him or herself how he or she feels comfortable and to be more effective. A stereotype will not be beneficial for our preaching.

    I think the brand should be our character and our bright face in first place. Everything else is secondary and can be optimized according to time, place and circumstance. It was the character and the vibe that has finally convinced people like Wheeler, Harrison, and Clinton.

    I am also convinced that Krishna has not selcted Bhakta Brian because of his dress, but because of his ideal attitude.

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    chandra ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Shyamasundara prabhu is a godbrother of my guru. It is therefore with all respect for him that I humbly submit a difference of opinion.
    First, to clarify: the term “dhotis are maya” is a term that my friend Nityananda Chandra prabhu (visible on this thread) recently coined – in a joking and friendly way – on my Facebook page.
    I do have an issue with the term “dressed like a devotee.” I question whether there is such a thing as a standard “devotee dress.” Garuda and Jatayu are devotees; they are naked. Arjuna is a devotee, and so is Sudama vipra. Surely they did not dress the same way. Similarly, Pundarika Vidyanidhi did not dress in the same way as did Rupa Goswami. Hiranyakasipu wore a dhoti and Kamsa’s wife wore a sari. The “kurta’ that many devotees wear today is a recent import from Afghanistan. Devotees dressed in dhotis and saris also happen to usually wear modern shoes. Are Adidas or Nike shoes “devotee dress”? Are modern cotton sweatshirts part of being “dressed like a devotee?” What about Seiko watches? What about sunglasses? What about stitched socks and winter coats? Not everyone has the luxury to live in tropical countries.
    I know many devotees today who never wear a dhoti nor a sari. Yet they are fixed up. In fact, they infiltrate sectors of society to spread Mahaprabhu’s message in a way that a dhoti or sari would make impossible. Are they not “dressed like a devotee” in their clean and respectable modern clothes? How many times did Srila Prabhupada approve devotees dressing like gentlemen?
    ISKCON spreads not because of dress styles. ISKCON spreads because of the purity of heart of the ISKCON members. And purity of heat is a non-material consideration. Krishna Consciousness spreads by following the four regulative principles and by taking shelter of the essential practices of hearing and chanting. THAT is what empowers devotees. And THAT is the mystical experience that attracts non-devotees. Our “brand” is not the dhotis and the saris. If there is ANY external symbol that we can claim to be an exclusively “Gaudiya Vaishnava brand,” it is the Tilak and the Tulasi beads; not the dhotis and saris, which a much larger number of non-Vaishnavas than Vaishnavas wear. Even so, our real “brand” is the maha-mantra and Prabhupada’s books. The sooner we stress these essential points, the better we will be.

    Your servant,
    Chandrashekhara acharya dasa

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    Lila Purusottama das ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    In this article devotee expressed the case when his dhoti helped him. There are other cases when it would be not beneficial. Why insist that only one opinion is right? I would say “why not to wear dhotis and saris if possible”? If not, still ok, if you look nicely.

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    vaishnava108 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I do agree with the notion of monks (brahmacaris and sannyasis) having to wear a certain uniform (saffron-coloured, or apricot/pink/orange, whatever, clothes). But what about people who are not monks? Are they supposed to dress up like monks? Or can they just appear as ordinary people, the way they appear at their respective workplaces, in their everyday jobs…?

    I remember two incidences when I wore a dhoti in public. “What kind of guy is that one over there?” “Some kind of monk…”
    “Oh, those monks again…”
    I am not even an aspiring monk and nevertheless people thought I was a monk. So actually in that cases, my dress was even misleading. So why should I wear those clothes and not some kind of decent (with that I mean clean, and chaste) “karmi clothes”?

    The temple is a place of worship, a place to acquire knowledge and cultivate spirituality, not just a mere opportunity for wearing clothes that you would not wear outside of the temple. I have seen people come to the temple thinking it was not much more than an opportunity to wear a sari or other Indian clothes, and to eat Indian food. Spiritual progress/affiliation with the temple is, in the (subconscious) view of some devotees, seen on the basis of clothes. I have observed that newcomers to the temple are met with much appreciation when they are seen wearing a dhoti/sari for the first time. Would it not be better to express more appreciation for people giving up bad habits like smoking, meat eating and so on?

    Would it not be nice to be seen as nice and decent people and not as exotic curiosity? Yes, we should make people think of Krishna, can this not be done by chanting Krishna’s names and by spreading his glories. Why do the non-monastic ISKCON members/devotees have to wear a special dress? Is it not the INTERNATIONAL Society for Krishna Consciousness? I have seen pictures of the Balinese Ratha-yatra with devotees wearing traditional Balinese clothes. They looked very decent and were nicely dressed (the Balinese culture is, as far as I know, a culture of meat-eater, although many are Hindus, so these clothes were not so spiritual but well-respected and appropriate for the occasion, i. e. a festive celebration). Would it not be nice to see people throughout the world taking part in Ratha-yatras/temple functions wearing their respective traditional, well-respected attires?

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    Mother Tulasi ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Discretion means realization. Thankyou to all the sincere devotees trying to distribute Srila Prabhupada’s books!

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    nityakishordasi ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Hare Krishna dear devotees. Please accept my humble obeisances!

    Srila Prabhupada already give his clear instructions about preaching in devotional clothes or not .”Vaishnava dress” or “Vaikunta dress”. These are his words. Srila Prabhupada already wrote in the Srimad Bhagavatam 7 canto:

    “….In our Krishna consciousness movement, the tactic of dressing oneself like an ordinary karmi is necessary because everyone in the demoniac kingdom is against the Vaishnava teachings…. Thus what was done by Hiranyakashipu long, long ago is still being done. That is the way of materialistic life. Demons or materialists do not at all like the advancement of Krishna consciousness, and they try to hinder it in many ways. Yet the preachers of Krishna consciousness must go forward — in their Vaishnava dress or any other — for the purpose of preaching….(SB 7.5.7 purport).”

    I’m wondering that when Srila Prabhupada’s disciples will disappear from this world what “We” from 2nd generation will do, because I have seen many devotees that they openly disagree with Srila Prabhupada’s instructions.
    Srila Prabhupada already knew that people from different religions were wearing dothi, but he was wearing it, then he also called it “vaishnava dress”. Who knows things better then him?! Some devotees must go inside themselves and decide what they want. Yasya prasada Bhagavat prasada yasyaa prasadan na gati kutopi “With guru’s mercy we can have Krishna’s mercy, without guru’s mercy we cannot have Krishna’s mercy.

    These discussions can become “Guru aparadha” very easy, and we are going nowhere with them. Nitai goura Hari bol!!

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    vishnujanadasa ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    To Comment 2

    Amen Shyamasundara Prabhu.

    While there is nothing wrong in wearing karmi clothes while preaching or distributing books, my own experience and that of many of my God-brothers and fellow sankirtana brothers and sisters in North America is that the dhoti and sari are very congenial for distributing Krishna Consciousness. Just the other day my God-brother Baladeva Prabhu from RVC distributed 60-80 big books a day in Chicago for many days while wearing a dhoti and flower garland. People loved it.

    Also, when we do Harinam in devotional clothes (Srila Prabhupada’s and Bhaktivinode Thakur’s words), people turn their heads smiling and many cameras start flashing and filming. Who wouldn’t be attracted to such a bright and beautiful scene?

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    vishnujanadasa ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    This story has inspired me to share a part of an e-mail I’ve received from His Grace Jambavan Prabhu in Michigan, who’s 12 year old son always dresses in dhoti and kurta:

    “…As always, I would like to leave on a positive note so here is a nice story for you. I sent Hanuman out the other day to look at one building that was for sale near to our house. As usual, Hanuman wears a dhoti and kurta everyday (He is a preacher you know and wearing devotional clothes are still the cheapest advertisement we have). And while he was out a man approached him and asked: “Excuse me, but are you a Hare Krishna?” A discussion then ensued and the man revealed that he had been to a temple when he visited India and would like to go to one again. He asked Hanuman where a temple is located here and he informed him of the temple down in Detroit. The man mentioned then replied that he didn’t want to drive all the way down there and suggested “you guys really need to get a temple out here”. When Hanuman informed him of our home programs, he requested that we send him an invitation the next time one comes around. Hopefully we will see this nice man the next time around. Good work Hanuman! We are proud of you.”

    Jambavan Prabhu is a sanskrit scholar who studied under his Grace Gopiparanadhana Prabhu. He is working on the Ramayana right now.

    Jambavan is currently looking to start a preaching center, and if anyone would like to offer help or donations, please feel free to contact me at and I will get you in touch with him.

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    Chakrini Dasi ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Dear Vaishnavas,

    I offer all my respectful obeisances.

    Considering the totality of the instructions of our beloved founder acharya Om Vishnupada Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada on appropriate dress for members of our movement and at the same time being aware of as well as deeply respecting the seniority of some of the devotees who commented on this article I would like to humbly submit my opinion for whatever its worth to anyone.

    I feel dress is a very important element of a human’s existence as it is used,besides for practical porposes, to express their personalities and opinions as well as attitudes to their surroundings. Humans also naturally tend to judge other humans by their dress, especially if not spiritually advanced enough to see subtler realities. Therefore, I would say, that as members of a movement which is mainly geared towards inspiring living entities, especially those that are very much forgetful of Krishna, to connect with Krishna again, we would need to be very careful about the way we dress and express our opinions on dressing.

    Whether we chose to wear a dhoti or awestern gentleman’s dress… or even a kimono… the issue is not exactly ‘what’ we wear (of course a certain uniformed look is perhaps desired for sannyasis, brahmacaris and brahmacarinis when attending temple functions and official ceremonies as is custom in any spiritual organization) but ‘how’ we wear it. Guidelines to elegant dressing and they are either acquired or inherent knowledge with humans. But a person who is stylish, confident, artistic, happy and beautifully devotional on the inside can ‘pull off ‘any outfit and look so fabulous that they will create a trend in society simply by walking down the street. I agree with Chandrashekhara Prabhu that Srila Prabhupada emphasized our bright faced devotion plus tilaka (and sikha for male members) as our trade mark look and not exactly the type of dress we wear, as long as we look like respectable ladies and gentlemen. Which, again, does not mean we cannot be creative in our approach to what it means to dress like a lady or gentlemen. In the new millenium even dress codes in elegance have shifted to extreme personal expression.

    When reading Srila prabhupada’s statements on dressing I did not understand that he wished to limit our creativity in dressing but that he wished for us to look devotional and respectable, just like any father would want for their children.

    Your humble servant, CD

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    ParamshreyaDasa ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Dear Chaktini Mataji, I find you comment very wise and sensitive, like a happy medium between two extreme positions. By this concept there is room for all ISKCON participants to feel comfortable and simultaneously be within the frame of Srila Prabhupada’s understanding and approval.

    As you correctly said, it is not only the question of what we wear, but how we wear it. For instance, you can wear a dhoti/kurta very scruffy and unironed, then it looks very unattractive and un-sattvic and people will notice it, or you can wear it very neat, gentleman-like and, if we want, even stylish, then people will generally appreciate it. The same goes with Western or any other dress. So, instead to quarrel about what to dress we could shift the discussion more on how we dress.

    I am convinced that finally each of us has to feel comfortable in our external appearance to be authentic and thus successsful. If you are a fully dedicated sannyasi or brahmachari you generally have not much problems in taking up a dress code or uniform which is in contrast to mainstream society. But if you are a working family man, this might be a different case. By analysing the complete range of Srila Prabhupada’s quotes regarding this topic, it becomes quite clear that he hasn’t set up a dogmatic dress code, but a framing, where there is space for many ways of application.

    Just to show how far the borders of Srila Prabhupada’s framing reach, here is a quote from Stasvarupa Das Goswami’s “Srila Prabhupada Nectar” (5.8):

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

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    Chakrini Dasi ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    PS: I also wanted to take this opportunity to express my deepest appreciation for Bhakta Brian’s glorious devotional service of distributing our transcendental literature as well as gratitude to all the vaisnavas listed above who are showing their affection for our movement by trying to follow their spiritual guides to the best of their ability and understanding.

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    Sri Radha ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Syamasundara Prabhu wrote: “A devotee is one who simply by seeing them we are reminded of Krsna.”

    I agree with Chandrashekara Acharya Prabhu that it is character that really makes the Vaisnava, not the dress.
    Probably if devotees in general would have adopted more mature ways in their preaching skills, the Indian dresses would not be associated so much with a weird cult.
    As a brahmacari I never wore anything except dhotis; I was a monk and I was clear about that – but I too often fought against the bad opinion created by cheating and lying booksellers before me.

    Still, even when one tries to be an honest monk, people are not joining because they are not willing to adopt all the externals which they think is necessary after seeing an Indian dressed devotee.
    And why should one dress Indian? There are thousands of convinced Christians who nevertheless see no need to dress like Israeli dessert people.

    Probably the perspective is different from those living in ashrams and those who live/work/study/etc. in regular society.

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    Shyamasundara Dasa ( User Karma: 13 ) says:

    I have not been following this after I made my comment hence my silence till now.

    Reference #17

    Sri Radha said:

    Syamasundara Prabhu wrote: “A devotee is one who simply by seeing them we are reminded of Krsna.”

    Actually I was just quoting Lord Caitanya.

    “Lord Caitanya said that a Vaisnava is he who, when seen, reminds one of Krsna.” NOD chapter 6.

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    Shyamasundara Dasa ( User Karma: 13 ) says:

    Reference # 6

    Paramshreya Dasa said:

    However I think we shouldn’t make it to a stereotype, i.e. “this should be the only way – and then we will be successful”.

    I never said that it should be the only way at all times, places or circumstances.

    I said what I said. That there is a certain group in ISKCON in the West who strongly promote and militate against wearing traditional Vaisnava apparel even to the extent of purposely wearing western karmi clothing inside the temple in the Holy Dham. (Srila Prabhupada wanted to influence Indians by bringing his dancing White elephants to shock Indians into realizing that they have lost their culture and to think that if Westerners can take up Vedic culture so can they. That is, he wanted Indians to imitate Westerners in order to resume their own culture, so wearing karmi clothes in the India what to speak of the Holy dham directly undermines Prabhupada’s preaching strategy.)

    Their claim is that we will not be taken seriously unless we wear karmi clothes.

    One member of this group when he was GBC ordered the pujaris in a temple under his jurisdiction to wear karmi clothes on the altar to do the puja. He said that “they should dress like respectable Lutherans.” The temple devotees especially the pujaris refused to do this. I lived near that temple for 8 years and was directly told this by several devotees in the temple including the pujaris just a few weeks after the incident (just before Gaura Purnima 2003).

    Reverting back to my point: But I showed by several examples including this present case that because the person in question was clearly identifiable as a devotee that it had important positive consequences. By identifiable I didn’t mean his bright face or character but his wearing apparel which could be identified from a long distance. In one sense though it did indicate his character, in that he had the courage of his convictions to dress like a devotee and stand out for all to see. But then again being fearless is one of the characteristics that Krsna ascribes to His devotees.

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    Shyamasundara Dasa ( User Karma: 13 ) says:

    Chandrashekhara acharya dasa wrote:

    I do have an issue with the term “dressed like a devotee.” I question whether there is such a thing as a standard “devotee dress.” Garuda and Jatayu are devotees; they are naked.

    In the introduction of the Isvara Samhita* (p. 348) the contents of chapter 8 Garudadiparivararcanavidhi states that: “Garuda’s form is first described and his greatness is well brought out. A shrine for Garuda shall be built in the first or second enclosure and in front of the main shrine. The posture of Garuda’s idol shall be in conformity with that of the main deity, that is standing or sitting. After doing mental worship external worship shall be done. Satya, Suparna, Garuda, Tarksya and Vihagesvara are the five forms. They have human forms with feet of the birds.

    Since Garuda has a human form (with birds feet and wings) he wears clothes and in all temples where Garuda is worshipped and in all iconography and artwork Garuda is shown wearing Vaikunta dress, that is a dhothi, along with helmet, jewels, etc. He is not naked.

    Here is a page with Balinese Garudas

    This Wikipedia page has many images of Garuda as well.

    *One the three most important Pancaratrik Agama texts and used as the standard for worship in the Melukote temple established by Sripad Ramanujacarya. The other two are Paramesvara Samhita, used as the standard in Srirangam, and Padma Samhita used in Kanci. As a side point it is noteworthy that Gopala Bhatta Gosvami had to master the Paramesvara Samhita as part of his studies and duties while living and growing up in Srirangam. And since Santana Gosvami is said to have based his Hari Bhakti Vilasa on a work originally done by Gopala Bhatta Gosvami this suggests that the Paramesvara Samhita influenced this work.

  20. 0

    Srila Prabhupada allowed devotees to dress in western cloth for book distribution many persons will sadly be biased in the west when you are in a Dhoti and not take books, and I am talking abut 33 years of every day experience being on the streets in differetn parts of the world.But I also have many great experiences distributing books in devotee dress. The real factor is one being KC.
    I distributed SSR to Chelsea Clinton in 1998 and gave her a copy for her father Bill Clinton, who was the president at the time. Previously I met her in 1997 at the Air and space museum and sold her some small books of Srila Prabhupada , that was an accident because she was the last person I stopped at it was a winter evening and it was getting dark (december) so I could not clearly see her.As shongne walked away , I saw her better in the light and I recognised her, that wait this is Chealsea Clinton. Then again 4 month later I met her again at the Air and space museum and this time she was with secret service (Bill Clinton was still the president at the time),so I walked up to her and her friends sitting outside and she told the secret service she knew me, so we talked for a while.And I gave her and her friends books (without asking for donationes of course) and some beads I had from Vrindavana and a Jagannatha Sticker.

  21. 0

    I went back in my old notes and found this:

    On the 14th July (1998) I met Chelsea Clinton (the daughter of president Clinton) at the Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. I gave her a copy of Science of Selfrealization and a copy for her father. She has read Sri Isopanisad, which she purchased at a previous occasion (from me)
    . She also received Tulsi neckbeads.

    Your servant
    Payonidhi das

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