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The value of wearing saris and dhotis in the execution of our devotional activities

Monday, 26 November 2007 / Published in Articles, Hari-sauri dasa / 11,718 views

By Hari-sauri dasa

Dear Hari Sauri Prabhu

Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada

Recently I was involved in a conversation with several devotees regarding vaisnava clothes. Some of them were proponing the idea that sari and dhoti are actually not vaisnava clothes that devotees in spiritual world wear, giving as evidence pictures made by Sharma. Others were saying that Srila Prabhupada didn’t insist on vaisnava clothes but his western disciples wanted to be like him, therefore they were pushing this way of dressing. Some of the ideas expressed were that we do not actually need such clothes for cooking for the Deities or doing some other services, and what to speak about dressing like that in the street.

Some of the devotees involved in the conversation developed their ideas after the visit of one of your Godbrothers who had not been speaking in favour of dressing in sari and dhoti.

Since you have spent lot of time with Srila Prabhupada and have carefully noted down his attitudes in many situations, could you please enlighten me about this topic by giving his verdict in this situation? Personally I always thought vaisnava clothes to be significant part of our process of becoming Krsna conscious but in the conversation with the abbove mentioned devotees I could not find the right arguments to convince them in the importance of this dress. Therefore I beg you to clear my doubts in this regard.

Thank you for your text inquiring about the value of wearing saris and dhotis in the execution of our devotional activities.

I have heard a little of this argument before but only in brief, so I will try to answer in a general sense but please excuse me if I do not cover all the points you have encountered.

Its a fact that devotional life, in its essence, is not dependent on anything external. Surely our aim is to simply purify our existence by chanting of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra and thus go back to Godhead. Chanting can be done in any place, time or circumstance-there are no hard and fast rules. I agree with this, if this is the argument.

However since we are not situated on the platform of pure devotional service and we are not absorbed in the holy name to the exclusion of all things external, we have to be careful how we apply this in practice.

Here the question is about dress. According to this argument, whatever we wear is not essential. As you have said: “Some of the ideas expressed were that we do not actually need such clothes for cooking for the Deities or doing some other services, and what to speak about dressing like that in the street.”

If dress is not essential, then presumably one can wear whatever one likes. How far do we want to take this? Can a woman do arati wearing a tight skirt six inches above her knees and glitter lipstick and a bra? Can a man wear board shorts while dressing the deities? Or just his kaupin while he cooks for the Lord in the kitchen? Can he dye his hair purple and green and mold it into fifteen centimeter long spikes while at the same time give Srimad Bhagavatam class; or simply never cut it, matting it in cow dung until it hangs down to his ankles as some sadhus in India do.

Some exalted sadhus (and some not so exalted) wear nothing at all. Vamsidas Babaji used to wander naked because he was so absorbed in Krsna’s holy names. Sukadeva Goswami was also doing the same thing. If someone wants to emulate that standard, is there anything wrong with that?

Clearly there has to be some standard otherwise the whole process becomes absurd. My proposal is that we should follow Srila Prabhupada’s standards and not try to change them. Whatever was established by His Divine Grace should be accepted by us as being the best way to sustain our spiritual lives.

As far as dhotis and saris are concerned, you have said that some say that the inhabitants of Goloka Vrndavan don’t wear them. Personally I don’t know. It would be good for someone to research this. I do know that in Srila Prabhupada’s translation of Srimad Bhagavatam he refers repeatedly to Mohini-murti as wearing a sari. Also in SB 10.9.3 he describes Mother Yasoda thus: “Dressed in a saffron-yellow sari, with a belt tied about her full hips, mother Yasoda pulled on the churning rope,…”

One can argue that in both these examples the word “sari” does not appear in the original Sanskrit verses. It is ‘vastra’ or ‘usat-dukula’ or ‘ambara’ etc. But if Srila Prabhupada chooses to translate that as ‘sari’ why should we not accept that?

Again, we find in Caitanya Caritamrita Madhya 8.166 these comments by Srila Prabhupada about Radharani wearing a sari:

“This description (found in verses 165–181) is based on a book by Srila Raghunatha dasa Gosvami known as Premambhoja-maranda. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s translation of the original Sanskrit reads as follows: … She sleeps in Her room with the aroma of pride, and when She lies down in Her bed, the transcendental variety of Her loving ecstasies is like a jeweled locket in the midst of Her necklace of separation. Her transcendental breasts are covered by Her sari in the form of affection and anger toward Krsna. … ”

Madhya 8.168 “After Her midday bath, Radharani takes another bath in the nectar of bodily luster, and She puts on the garment of shyness, which is Her black silk sari. PURPORT Over and above the other baths, the bath taken in the afternoon is taken in the nectar of full beauty. This nectar represents the personal qualities of beauty and luster. Thus there are three baths in different kinds of water. Radharani then puts on two garments — a lower and an upper garment. The upper garment is pinkish and is Her affection and attraction for Krsna, and the lower garment, a blackish silk sari, is Her shyness.”

Madhya 14.195 TRANSLATION “When Krsna comes forward and greedily snatches at the border of Her sari, Srimati Radharani is actually very pleased within, but still She tries to stop Him.”

Similarly, King Prthu, an incarnation of God, is described by Srila Prabhupada as wearing a dhoti, although the Sanskrit term in the verse is a little different:

SB 4.21.17 dukula-agrye — dressed with a dhoti; TRANSLATION “The black, slick hair on his head was very fine and curly, and his neck, like a conchshell, was decorated with auspicious lines. He wore a very valuable dhoti, and there was a nice wrapper on the upper part of his body.”

In all the paintings done by our ISKCON art department, Lord Visnu is depicted as wearing a yellow dhoti. Again the Sanskrit usually says ‘pita-ambara’ ‘yellow dress or garment’ but this is depicted as a dhoti. Why? Because Srila Prabhupada instructed the artists to show it that way. Srila Prabhupada personally supervised the paintings, down to small details. If he chose to show Lord Visnu in a yellow dhoti, how can we argue that a dhoti is not a spiritual dress?

You have said that some have mentioned BG Sharma’s paintings as a reference point. I don’t know BG Sharma, and I don’t know what his reference points are for doing his paintings. I personally doubt that he has personally witnessed the activities of Krsna and His associates in Goloka firsthand, but I might be wrong.

But I would have to ask why Goloka is being used as the reference point? A better reference, in the context of our preaching, is certainly Lord Caitanya and His associates. We are after all a branch of the Gaudiya Vaisnava movement. Before Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s appearance, there was no Hare Krishna Movement as such. We are acting under the orders of Sri Caitanya and his associates. They are our immediate exemplars and our immediate reference point. Our identity is as the followers of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, at least as much as it is as devotees of Sri Sri Radha and Krishna. As far as I know, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His followers all wore dhotis and saris. In the section of Goloka in which Lord Caitanya’s pastimes are manifest, do They wear saris and dhotis? If that dress was good enough for Them, why is it not good enough for us?

You say that others have said that in the early days of ISKCON Srila Prabhupada did not insist on his followers wearing Vaisnava dress (dhotis and saris). Its true that he did not specifically introduce the dress as a requirement and there are quite a few references for that which, to save space, I will not cite here. However, once his followers adopted it, his mood was to enthusiastically endorse it, to the point of sometimes criticising disciples who did not wear it.

A primary example was Kirtanananda Swami. Just after taking sannyasa in 1967 he returned from India to America and began telling all the devotees not to wear Vaisnava robes nor shave their heads and keep a sikha. He had his rationale for this, saying that the robes and sikha would put people off and hamper our preaching work.

A devotee called Damodar wrote to Srila Prabhupada and asked him for his opinion. Prabhupada replied on October 13 from Calcutta [note: ‘flag’ here means sikha]:

My Dear Damodara, Please accept my blessings. I am in due receipt of your letter of Oct. 9. I am very sorry to hear that Kirtanananda is advising you to give up the robes and the flags on the head. Please stop this nescience as I never instructed Kirtanananda to act like that. I am not at all satisfied with this action of Kirtanananda. Kirtanananda has no right to instruct you in that way, without consulting me. People are being attracted to the chanting of Hare Krishna & not to Kirtanananda’s devices. Kirtanananda suggested to me when he was here that the Americans do not like the robes & flag. I told him personally if you think that Americans in great numbers will follow you, simply for not having robes & flag, I therefore advised him to drop for a few days in London & test this theory. But he has gone directly to N. Y. & is now causing these disturbances without consulting me. I have not sanctioned these methods. In my opinion, Clean shaved Brahmacharies & Grhasthas in saffron robes look like angels from Baikunta. Translation of prayers into English is good & 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. Besides that, nobody should do anything without my sanction. I am very sorry to hear Kirtanananda, without doing anything practical, changes his ideas constantly. He was first man in our society to take the robes, shave cleanly, & take flag & now he is changing his position. You have asked me to tell you whether you are right or carry on by the following the foolish advice of Kirtanananda, & I say straight that Kirtanananda is wrong and you are right when you say that the movement will come to nothing if I am not satisfied with your actions.”

Here we see that within only one year of the formation of ISKCON Srila Prabhupada is strongly endorsing the wearing of robes, although he does not object if someone wants to dress like an American gentleman. But tilak and sikha are essential.

Sometimes when outsiders would criticise his disciples for wearing ‘Indian clothes’ Srila Prabhupada would defend them, as he did in a conversation with a priest on June 9 1974 in Paris, France:

Priest: Why do you dress in that way which is an Indian way and not the European way? …..
Prabhupada: I have not said that you dress like that. You like, you do it. Did I say that you do it?
Priest: It’s like the Indian Catholic priest dressing like a (indistinct) priest or like a European priest. I mean, they look as if they had a disguise with them.
Prabhupada: No, no, just like when the English were ruling, English national. So the Englishmen never said that “You dress like Englishmen,” but they automatically dressed. You know very well. They do like that. The Englishmen, they went there to get some money by trade, by politics. But they never went there to change their dress. But they thought that “If I dress myself like Englishman, I will be more honored.” That is their point. Similarly, we never preach that “You dress like this.” But the student, they like this dress. That’s all right. What is the wrong there?
Priest: It’s not wrong. It’s funny.
Prabhupada: Rather these girls, when they dress in Indian way, they look more beautiful. That you will have to admit. Yes. The same girl will dress in your…
Priest: (indistinct)
Prabhupada: So the girls, the women, they like to be more beautiful. So if by dressing in other way they look beautiful, why should you ask them not to do it?
Priest: Maybe for ladies and girls certainly, but for the dhoti and…
Prabhupada: But we are not concerned with the dress, we are concerned with the advancement of spiritual understanding, that’s all.”

So Srila Prabhupada’s preference was to support the wearing of dhotis and saris by his disciples. He wasn’t absolutely insistent on it, but it was a preaching consideration. We want to advertise that we are persons who can be approached for information on spiritual life. It was often explained to others that such dress was spiritual, and just as a policeman can be distinguished from ordinary persons by his dress, similarly a devotee can be distinguished from a karmi by his dress. If a priest can dress in a particular way, why not a devotee? Generally it is an advantage for one who wants to preach.

Sometimes by circumstance wearing a dhoti and shaved head might be a problem, so Srila Prabhupada would advise to dress ‘like a gentleman’ as he did with the Bhaktivedanta Institute scientists, or the devotees who were preaching in communist countries.

And in a conversation on a train to Allahabad, in which Ramesvara Swami was discussing devotees forming a popular music group with the intention of performing to live audiences, Ramesara stated that the group members would not be able to wear dhotis. Srila Prabhupada had no objection:

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

However, he added the caveat: “But those who are sannyasis, brahmacaris, their dress is different. But it doesn’t require that one has to become a sannyasi.”

In other words, he wanted brahmacaris and sannyasis to uphold the dhoti and shaved head standard. When Adi Kesava Swami came to see him in Mayapur during February 1977 to discuss the New York court case, it came to Srila Prabhupada’s attention that they were going to the court dressed in karmi clothes. Srila Prabhupada didn’t like that. He advised Adi Kesava to keep his sannyasi dress because he was representing ISKCON, a religious body:

February 18, 1977, Mayapura

Prabhupada: [break] And now don’t go to the court with any other dress. Preach like this. Preach there with this dress. Have they any objection with this dress [as a sannyasi]?
Hari-sauri: In this dress.
Adi-kesava: I agree. I think it is very good that they see us dressed like this in court.
Prabhupada: Yes, we should…
Adi-kesava: They will understand what we are.
Prabhupada: We shall…
Hari-sauri: We have to represent our religion properly.
Prabhupada: Yes.
Tamala Krsna: A priest will not put on a suit.
Adi-kesava: In fact one time… Even the last time I went…
Prabhupada: No, whatever is done, done. Now you make a difference. In any case, we shall go in this dress.
Hari-sauri: Tell Ramesvara that, too.

Srila Prabhupada added a humorous footnote to his request to Adi Kesava by citing his own experience when he first went to America:

Prabhupada: They requested me to change the dress. I have… The Ramakrishna Mission, that “Unless you dress yourself…” “I have no money. You give me three dress for public.(?) Then I shall do it. I know how to dress. In my business life I was dressing like that, but now I have no money. You give me money.” (laughter) I told them that. (laughs) “I know how to dress like a gentleman. Every day it must be changed, must be nicely ironed. But I have no money. You need not required to teach me. I know how to dress like an European gentleman. And I have no money.” [break] … coat, same pant, same hat — I do not like that. If I dress like a European, I must change daily. Do they not? A respectable European?
Tamala Krsna: Oh, every day.
Prabhupada: Yes, morning and evening.
Tamala Krsna: Just like a Deity.
Prabhupada: Yes. “So I know that, but I have no money.” I replied to that Mr. Mukerjee. He lives near that University, Columbus? Columbia? He’s a teacher there. So he came to see me in the 100th Street West, and he requested me, “Swamiji, if you move in this dress, nobody will respect you.” “It doesn’t matter.”

So Srila Prabhupada never compromised on his Vaisnava dress and he liked it when we didn’t either.

Quite apart from the preaching value we get from dressing as devotees, and the impact it has on the consciousness of others, there is also the question of our own consciousness. As I mentioned at the begining, if we are in full transcendental consciousness then our external trappings will not affect us. However, if we are not fully on that platform, our associations will have a definite effect.

By association, I don’t mean just other people. We tend to associate ourselves with our bodies. Our bodies mean our gender, our country, our social standing etc. Thus even our way of dressing can reflect our bodily associations. Because we tend to identify ourselves with a certain class of person, we show this by dressing, talking and acting like them. We see this prominently in younger people, in the way they take up certain fashions of hair style, clothing, speech etc.

Therefore Srila Prabhupada was very cautious about allowing devotees to go back to wearing karmi clothes because he knew it would affect our consciousness:

May 29, 1977 – Vrndavana room conversation [note: I had just arrived and Srila Prabhupada saw that I had a short growth of hair. He had also noted Bhagavat das was growing out his hair.]

Prabhupada: [break] … keep hair. Look very beautiful by keeping hair. What is that explanation?
Bhagavat: I was advised that because I was going to the European countries for preaching for some time, that it would be required to keep these hairs.
Prabhupada: But they, they, they owned victory with the court [NY] by keeping shaven hair.
Hari-sauri: They won a victory in the court by keeping a shaved head.
Bhagavat: I asked their advice, whether I should shave or keep the hair.
Prabhupada: Who is that nonsense advice? Who is that rascal? “Advice.” By keeping hair you become beautiful and become victimized. “Advice.” This is… Without advice, this mentality is going on outside, to keep hair. We are known as shaven hair, whole society.
Hari-sauri: I’ve been shaving my head once every month. It’s just about three weeks since I’ve…
Prabhupada: Every fortnight. At least. Before going to Europe, six years ago, you were keeping hair: “I have to go to Europe.” That I have seen. Everywhere. Those who… You like to keep hair. That hippie mentality is going on. That’s right. That is good, very intelligent reasoning, actual, long hair by keeping…(?) Everyone is giving some advice. Gurudasa is giving. “He’s keeping. He’s…” Gargamuni. Everyone has some explanation. I do not know how you can give up this hippie mentality. Hippie. Lavanyam kesa-dharanam. Kali-yuga. Victim of Kali-yuga. It is… It is not yet whole, but weak men, victimized by Kali-yuga… There are so many things to victimize over the living entities in Kali-yuga, and one of the item is that he will take that “I have become very, very beautiful, attractive by keeping long hair.” Kesa. That is already stated there. You are victimized by that Kali-yuga. That’s all. No explaining. Our trademark is clean-shaven. We are known as shaven hair. Why you should be victimized? You are known as shaven hair. Are you not? Hm? They say that “Hare Krsna people, shaven hair”?
Hari-sauri: Shaven-headed.
Prabhupada: Shaven hair. So why you should be victimized by keeping hair? What victory you will gain? Conquer over the whole world, Roman Empire, by keeping hair? Hippie mentality, that’s all. That is within the core of the heart. As soon as get some opportunity… Just like during summer season the field appears to be dried up. And as soon as there is some rain, oh, it is green, immediately green. So things are already there. Hm? Is it not?
Hari-sauri: Yes.
Prabhupada: Now you see to the field. They’re all dry. But as soon as there will be rain in the village, all green. So the seeds are there, hippie seeds. As soon as there is some opportunity, come out, green: “Yes, I am beautiful. Come on.” But in the court room they never addressed. Judge never asked that “Why you are shaven-headed?” Was there any question like that?
Hari-sauri: Actually, when he first went to court, they were wondering why he had hair.
Prabhupada: Hm?
Hari-sauri: When Adi-kesava went to court the first time…
Prabhupada: Yes. Hari-sauri: … he had suit and hair, and they wondered why he was dressed like that.
Prabhupada: Yes. Then cheater. Hari-sauri: Yeah, they accused… Prabhupada: That means, of course, indirectly hinted that “Now you are cheating. You are known as shaven-headed. Now you have kept hair. What is the purpose except cheating?”

Here it is very plainly stated by Srila Prabhupada that the tendency to keep hair, and by implication, revert back to karmi dress etc. is actually due to our conditioning, not for some transcendental purpose. Because we identify with our bodies, and with the time, place and circumstance that we live in, therefore we feel embaressed to dress as devotees. In the above example, Srila Prabhupada says this tendency is due to ‘hippie seeds’ within the heart which ‘come up green’ at the first opportunity.

Of course, as I have pointed out above, there are circumstances when it may be advantageous to not appear immediately as devotees. As a conclusion to the discussion on ‘hippie seeds’ I pointed out to Srila Prabhupada that our book distributors were increasing their sales due to wearing ordinary karmi clothes:

Hari-sauri: On sankirtana all the distributors wear wigs and like that to…, because it’s much easier to distribute, to distribute books.
Prabhupada: I do not know all this. Formerly, shaven-headed, they used to distribute. Now it is not possible.
Hari-sauri: It’s increased since they did plainclothes distribution.
Prabhupada: Encourages?
Hari-sauri: Yeah. The distribution has increased.
Prabhupada: Then why don’t you dress like European, half foreign dress and half hair? Who is that foreign and European and gentleman? What is the use of wig? Keep regular gentleman’s hair. There is no need of saffron dress. If by ordinary dress you can sell more book, there is no need of saffron dress.”

Such preaching considerations aside, one wonders what the real motivation is for arguing against the wearing of dhotis and saris, and keeping shaven heads (although nowadays it has become a fashion among some of the men to keep a shaved head but without a sikha). If such things help us to identify ourselves as devotees, why should we reject them?

Especially in the temple setting-you have mentioned cooking in the kitchen-there is no reason for not wearing ‘devotional clothes’ because such outer dress definitely helps us to identify internally with Krsna. Therefore it should not be rejected.

Psychologically, we need to make external adjustments in order to change our consciousness to a devotional one, because by and large, our consciousness is generally externalized. It is absorbed in the external and therefore we need to also adjust our external condition in order to begin cleansing our hearts i. e. decreasing our attachment to the external settings. Our external appearance and behavior will, in general, reflect the condition of our hearts. If we want to wear current karmi fashions, it is surely a reflection of an identification with that social clime. Similarly, if we want to wear dhoti or sari, it is because of a desire to identify with the spiritual.

On the whole, I find that the tendency to reject what have long been ISKCON standards is just another sign of slippage. As time goes on, standards slacken and rationale is found for abandoning non-essential but nevertheless important cultural and social supports for our devotional lives. ‘Hippie seeds’ as Srila Prabhupada said, or just plain ‘karmic seeds’ coming up green.

One final observation. There are some persons who are expert at deconstruction. By clever word play they can minimize to non-existence even the Personality of Godhead. By argument we can minimize our practices and standards but if these things are meant to help us sustain our devotional lives, we may end up with nothing. Or as mayavadis.

Your humble servant, Hari-sauri dasa


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    Sikhi Mahiti das acbsp ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Dear Hari-sauri prabhu,

    Thanks for this wonderful article, well done! We should note that the Tibetan buddhist don’t wear western dress. The Dhali Lama just visited Atlanta a few weeks ago. And, he wasn’t wearing western clothing. He is greatly respected worldwide. At the end of his visit, he had an open ceremony in the city park that attracted over 10k western people. All of his monks were in their traditional dress. If we are patient, and stick to our principle, society will come to respect a person dressed in a dhoti or sari as they do the Buddhist.

    I wanted to add a footnote to the comment about the shave heads without sika. I’m one of those devotees. I work at a fortune 50 company and there is no way I can come to the office with a sika. Also, I’m 52 years old and my hair line isn’t what it used to be. It is either look like Bozo the clown or Michael Jordon. So, a shaved head is a better solution and I don’t have to pay for a haircut. There are quite a few older ghrasta men in this boat.

    Yes, my false ego is bruised and it is a defensive note. Please tolerate.


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    Shrutadev ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Prabhupada: Why your dress is not as a sannyäs?
    Tusta Krsna: The robes make people uncomfortable, Prabhupada. They see you as different and can’t relate. They won’t relax enough to listen when I wear robes.
    Prabhupada: But sannyasis must dress in saffron with robes and shaved head.
    Tusta Krsna: I am following all the principles, but the dress is external and superficial. Why should we let it hamper the preaching?
    Prabhupada: If the dress is superficial, why should you change your dress to please people who are so serious about the superficial? [Pause.] You understand my point? Superficial people become controlled by superficial and external things. Why do you dress to please superficial people? You should dress to please Krsna.
    Tusta Krsna: So you would like me wear saffron and shave up?
    Prabhupada: Yes, I want you to promise this. Only wear saffron and keep your head shaved. This is sannyasi dress. You should promise.
    Tusta Krsna: Yes, Prabhupada. I promise.
    * * *
    Watching Prabhupada lovingly “checkmate” a misled son was moving. And how brilliantly had Prabhupada turned Tusta’s argument!

    This quote is from Bhurijana prabhu’s book, “My Glorious Master.”

  3. 0
    indupati ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Here is a quote from an article entitled Dainya (Humility) by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, appearing in Rays of the Harmonist, Winter 2001, translated from Sri Gaudiya Patrika, issue 3/3:

    “Gaura bhaktas, who are the most worshipable entities
    in the entire world, have displayed the zenith of humility.
    Their resolve to wear a particular type of clothes, their
    bowed-down faces and meek words constitute the highest
    ideal and the supreme teachings of dainya.” [Emphasis added]

  4. 0
    Akruranatha ( User Karma: -9 ) says:

    I wear a suit and tie in court (judges expect it) and usually wear “karmi clothes” around town, even many times when I go to the temple. The article is inspiring, though.

    I keep short hair, but it tends to get long between trips to the barber. I always tell my wife I want to shave up, but she (the more level-headed and practical of the two of us) advises that it would hurt me professionally and I should not do it.

    If I ever get appointed to the bench, though (from time to time an ambition of mine), I will definitely do it. I probably would not wear a dhoti (I would not get away with that), but I could not resist the temptation to be a judge wearing shaved head and (at least light) tilak. I do not think I would wait to be a “high court” judge to do it. Even a Superior Court (trial level California court) judicial position would be good enough for me.

    I do not know if anyone would complain. Probably some would, but here in Northern California at least there is a lot of tolerance for personal religious expression. I think that if I was a respected judge getting a lot of work done and doing it well, the other judges would allow me to wear shaved head and unobtrusive sikha and light tilak. [Someone could make an issue of it in a recall election, though.]

    I still think that even the California judicial system is not ready for judges wearing dhoti and kurta under their robes. I also think many of our judges would repremand me or even hold me in contempt if I appeared in their courtrooms as an attorney wearing a dhoti (not to mention my clients would probably all bolt, thinking me too “eccentric” even for California).

    In our local San Jose temple, many of our devotees are professionals who work in Silicon Valley technology firms, or in other jobs (none of us live at the temple except one pujari couple). They come to the temple before and after work, and often wear their work attire (business casual). Some are shaved up, others wear short hair. (The women mostly wear saris or punjabis, or at least modest western attire to the temple. We have no mini skirts and halter-tops.)

    I know it is not the highest standard, but at least in our temple it seems to work well. We mostly cannot go to work in dhotis, and even though some men make a point of changing before coming to temple programs, the fact that others don’t change does not seem to detract from our identification as faithful devotees or our mood.

    Of course, devotees on the altar still wear devotional clothing.

    I am not arguing that what we are doing is right, but I am giving another perspective. I honestly believe Srila Prabhupada approves of the way things are going here at ISKCON of Silicon Valley. It really is a very nice temple with enthusiastic, sincere devotees and a good service mood.

    The senior devotees here (Vaisesika and Satyadeva, and our most frequent sannyasi visitors like Hanumat Swami and Kesava Bharati Swami) do not push us to change dress. It does not seem to be their priority. They mainly push us to distribute and read books and to chant Hare Krishna. (Vaish has even commented he likes seeing me dancing in harinama with suit and tie, as sometimes happens).

    As I say, it may not be the best standard, but it still is a very nice temple with a good atmosphere.

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    mahattattva ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I’ve been distributing books in the States for the last 10 years and I always wear dothi, kurta, cadar, and have my head shaved, with tilak on the forehead. By far mostly people think of me as a monk and that with respect.

    Last year I went to TX, Dallas and Austin. I thought I was going to run into lots of Christians who will give me hard time. Nope. I had the best time ever. As a matter of fact I took several bhaktas and bhaktins with me and we all wore dothis and saris and it was just great.

    Dothi helps me think of Krishna and it helps me remember what am I all about. It also reminds everyone who sees me of Krishna and spiritual values.

    Just recently I was distributing in LA when a fellow dressed in an expensive suit, looking like a successful businessman, came over really close to me and said, “Look at you and look at me.” Then he called himself a miserable materialist. He said that even more pathetic is the fact that he had no strength to give up his misery.

    Weekly I take tons of pictures of me and my friends distributing in dothis and saris standing next to smiling American citizens. The last thing in the world I would think is that people are put off by our traditional dress. People rather find it exotic.

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    urmila devi dasi ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    At the request of one sannyasi, I did some research on this topic a while ago.

    Below is a list of quotes from Srila Prabhupada. ( You can also download it as a .doc file from here ). Taken as a whole, we can conclude that Prabhupada was fine with grhasthas dressed as “ladies and gentleman,” wanted sannyasis especially to wear traditional robes, and wanted all his followers to wear tilaka and neck beads, with shaved heads and sikhas strongly preferred.

    Your servant, Urmila devi dasi

    Guest: Is the exterior clothing important?
    Prabhupada: Ah?
    Guest: Is the exterior identification important?
    Prabhupada: Yes, important. Just like officially the policeman must dress, but a policeman sometimes in ordinary cloth also, that’s his duty. But that is special case. But external, external dress is also required. By… In the dress of a police if he is a thief, that is very dangerous. That is very dangerous. Just like this dress of sannyasi, saffron cloth, one will respect that " Here is a sannyasi." But if he is a thief in a dress of a sannyasi, that is dangerous. That is dangerous. One must dress… (end)
    Questions and Answers — January 17, 1974, Hawaii

    Mr. Faill: Krishna consciousness seems to involve shaving the head and wearing saffron robes. How can an ordinary man caught up in family life practice Krishna consciousness?
    Srila Prabhupada: The saffron robes and the shaven head are not essential, although they create a good mental situation, just as when a military man is dressed properly he gets energy— he feels like a military man. Does that mean that unless he is in uniform he cannot fight? No. In the same way, God consciousness cannot be checked— it can be revived in any circumstances— but certain conditions are helpful. Therefore we prescribe that you live in a certain way, dress in a certain way, eat in a certain way, and so on. These things are helpful for practicing Krishna consciousness, but they are not essential.
    Mr. Faill: Then one can be a student of Krishna consciousness while going about normal daily life?
    Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
    SSR 5e: Meditation and the Self Within

    Kirtanananda’s position is like that. Because he helped the society in starting the Montreal center I thought he is now able to start other branches & when he asked me to give him sannyasa I agreed taking the opportunity of his presence in Vrndavana. Simply by his Sannyas dress he thought himself as cured of all material diseases & all mistakes but under the influence of maya, he thought himself a liberated patient, just as the foolish patient thinks himself cured from the disease. Under the spell of maya, he deliberately disobeyed me by not going to London & consequently his disease has relapsed. Now in N. Y. he has began to dictate nonsense in my name— such as giving up robes, flags etc.
    Letter to: Pradyumna — Calcutta 17 October, 1967

    So far as your dress is concerned, that is immaterial. But as a soldier you know that every soldier has got a uniform dress according to the army etiquette of regulation. Therefore, the army of Krishna Consciousness must have at least the tilak on the forehead in all conditions. For your business you can wear your naval service uniform; similarly, if you have tilak on your forehead as a soldier of Krishna Consciousness, you may not have so much objection, because it is essential.
    Letter to: Robert Hendry — Los Angeles 3 August, 1969

    Atreya Rishi: When you first came, Srila Prabhupada, a lot of people probably presented you arguments such as If you call the movement God consciousness you’ll be more successful. If you not wear tilaka and do not shave your head and do not wear robes and do not go on sankirtana, you will be more successful. And people still tell us things like this, that You tell us the philosophy, we like the philosophy, but why do you go on sankirtana? So what were some of the arguments you presented to these type of people?
    Prabhupada: This is the same argument, ardha-kukkuti-nyaya [Cc. Adi-lila
    5.176]. You cut the mouth of the chicken because it eats, it is expensive, and keep the back side because it lays down egg. You see? Intelligent man said, I am getting every day one egg. So that side, the back side, is very good. But this side is expensive, eats. Cut it. So he does not know, he is such a foolish, that if I cut the head, then the egg-giving business will also stop. Similarly, if you accept this philosophy, then you must accept this also.
    Atreya Rishi: Yes, that is difference…
    Prabhupada: If you don’t accept this kirtana, then it will prove that you don’t accept the philosophy.
    Room Conversation — June 29, 1972, San Diego

    Prabhupada: Light. Catch it. But what… Why did you not have tilaka, both of you. You have no time for tilaka?
    Devotee (3): Our tilaka was locked in the bathroom. The door got locked.
    Prabhupada: Tilaka, why it is locked in bathroom?
    Devotee (3): Somehow the door became locked from inside this morning, I don’t know how but we couldn’t go inside.
    Prabhupada: You don’t get him my tilaka? All right. What is this?
    Morning Walk — February 28, 1973, Jakarta

    Prabhupada: No, I no… You cannot forget your duty. If, if there is some extra duty, that does not mean you shall forget your own duty. So now they
    are selling books. You also join. Yes. And you have no tilaka. You are just like ordinary boy. Why?
    Jaya Hari: I don’t have time to…
    Prabhupada: No, no. This is not good. This is not good. You must be as our representative, with tilaka, as we are dressed. Yes. Don’t be deviated. You have got a good opportunity. Don’t be deviated by bad association. Yes. You are a good boy. So you must revive to your original position. All right.
    Thank you.
    Interviews with Macmillan and various English Reporters — September 12, 1973, London

    Prabhupada: And I have no Indians to manage these big, big temples. Neither they are trained up. Trained up. I have trained up these American boys. They are doing nicely. But they cannot. They have taken a brahmacari dress, and they will come with pant. And they will argue, " Why? What is the wrong there? Why should I give up pant? Why shall I have tilaka? Why shall I give up smoking?" Why, why… They will put so many " whys" that my life will be spoiled. Because they have advanced. So many rascals swamis have told them, " Yes…"
    Room Conversation — March 20, 1974, Bombay

    Better go and speak philosophy in your grihastha dress, not this dress, but you have nice coat, pants, gentleman. Who says no? I never said. Rather I shall be glad to see that up-to-date gentlemen with tilaka and sikha are speaking. That is very prestigious everywhere. Why this false dress? What is the wrong to become grihastha? I was grihastha, paka caliber grihastha. My Guru Maharaja was brahmacari, This is ever… Just see his character. Caitanya Mahaprabhu was grihastha, but when He took sannyasa: " Oh, I am now…" For sober person. That is wanted. That is ideal. He married twice. Bhaktivinoda Thakura married twice. Caitanya Mahaprabhu married twice. What is the wrong there? One has to become pure devotee, that’s all. Other things, of course, are circumstantially favorable,
    Room Conversation — January 7, 1977, Bombay

    Prabhupada: And you must see that what you are doing, that is according to the principle which all other sadhus and devotees do. They have tilaka, and you say, " I have no tilaka." That is not sadhu-marganu. Sadhu-marganugamanam. They have kanthi. You say, " I can avoid it." That is not sadhu-marganugamanam. So, from very beginning, if you disobey, then how you’ll make progress? Then?
    Room Conversation — January 27, 1977, Bhuvanesvara

    Prabhupada: Ask him to have tilaka always.
    Prithu-putra: That, that boy who came.
    Prabhupada: No, that man who came. Ask that…
    Prithu-putra: To wears always tilaka. He has the kanthi-mala, but I don’t…
    Prabhupada: No tilaka.
    Prithu-putra: No tilaka.
    Satsvarupa: He does not wear tilaka.
    Room Conversation — January 28, 1977, Bhuvanesvara

    Prabhupada: Ten thousand dollars means one lakh of rupees. So we shall save from that luxury department. And this is solid work, yes. It must be done. Without any hesitation, without any impediment. That will increase our prestige of the movement. And go in good dress because people…
    Svarupa Damodara: In suits.
    Prabhupada: In suit, yes. You get first dress, then address. (laughter) But tilaka must be there. You dress like up-to-date gentlemen, but tilaka must be there. That is our trademark.
    Tamala Krishna: Some hair for him is all right? Little bit of hair.
    Prabhupada: I don’t think hair is required. Nowadays many gentlemen shaven.
    Tamala Krishna: Shaved head.
    Prabhupada: Yes. Many gentlemen. I have seen many Russian scholars and politicians, they shave clean.
    Gopala Krishna: There is a very big American actor who always has a shaved head.
    Prabhupada: That is now fashion, shaved head. But if you think it is impediment, you can have hair.
    Room Conversation — March 31, 1977, Bombay

    Svarupa Damodara: I would use tilaka many times when I was doing my thesis, also like this, but in giving lectures, especially amongst the scientists, sometimes if we come with head shaved, sometimes they think it very strange. We can do it when…
    Prabhupada: No, no, no. Don’t disturb them, that " These are strange people." No, we don’t want that. But we must have our position. Tilaka is our position. That is Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s stricture. You will not see one face if there is no tilaka. He used to say it is cremation ground. Yes, without tilaka. Pasanta mukha.(?) Tilaka must be there. And so far dress is concerned, you can dress up to the taste of the modern people. So what is your breakfast time here?
    Room Conversation — March 31, 1977, Bombay

    Guest (1): Does the swami, once he has been installed in office, does he every…, wear a white long coat with a white hat?
    Prabhupada: Of course, the real meaning of swami is one who has got control over his senses. It does not mean that by wearing a different colored garments one becomes master of senses. Neither it does mean that one, a man in gentleman’s dress with hat and coat, he cannot control his senses. Dress has nothing to do. But according to the Vedic system… Just like there is a particular uniform that this class of men, who have renounced this world, his robe or garment should be like this. That is simply… Just like policeman has got a particular type of uniform, but that does not mean that… That may be imitated even by a thief. So that is not very important thing, to dress. You can become a swami even with your this hats and coats. That doesn’t matter. Yes.
    Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.5.3 — Boston, May 4, 1968

    The dress is not sannyasa, but the attitude of service to Krishna is. The word paramatma nishtha means being a devotee of Lord Krishna. Paratma-vigraha. Paratma, the Supreme Person, is Krishna. Isvarah paramah krishnah sac-cid-ananda-vigrahah [Bs. 5.1]. Those who are completely dedicated to the lotus feet of Krishna in service are actually sannyasis. As a matter of formality, the devotee accepts the sannyasa dress as previous acaryas did. He also accepts the three dandas. Later, Vishnu Svami considered that accepting the dress of a tridanda was paratma-nishtha. Therefore sincere devotees add another danda, the jiva danda, to the three existing dandas. The Vaishnava sannyasi is known as tridandi-sannyasi.
    Excerpt from Sannyasa Initiation of Viraha Prakasa Swami — Mayapur, February 5, 1976

    So these marks and this symbolic representation reminds others to Krishna consciousness. Just like a policeman, as soon as he appears in his dress, " Oh, here is a policeman," so similarly, these things are also required to remind others. Our process is to raise persons to Krishna consciousness. So if by our symbolic representation one immediately remembers Krsna.
    Interview — September 24, 1968, Seattle

    So if you don’t accept this dress, that does not mean you cannot be in Krishna consciousness. Krishna consciousness can be achieved in any condition of life. It doesn’t matter whether you are dressed in this way or in your American way or any way. That doesn’t matter. It has nothing to do.
    Woman (3): But I would think, sir, that that does make a little bit difference that you feel that way.
    Prabhupada: Yes, it makes a psychological condition if you dress. Just like if you dress yourself just like a queen, sometimes you feel, " I am queen." You see? Just like an actor in a theatrical stage, or if you sit down on a car, you think that you are much elevated. These are temporary, but they are not very important. If you have no objection to accept this dress, that’s nice. But if you have got objection, then we have no objection. Krishna consciousness is different from this dress or that dress. Just like a policeman, police constable, he is dressed in a different type than ordinary gentleman. But that does not mean simply by dressing, he is a perfect policeman. Even without dress, he can become a perfect policeman.
    Woman (4): It is motivation. It is just like policeman. He feels…
    Prabhupada: Yes. Just to make others know that he is a policeman. But his business does not depend on that dress. Similarly, our this dress may be advertisement to others that " We belong to the Krishna consciousness group." That is another thing. But Krishna consciousness does not depend on dress. Ahaituky apratihata. Without any reason and without any impediment. Krishna consciousness can be executed without any material condition. There is no material condition for advancing in Krishna consciousness. (aside:) Why you are late? (chuckles)
    Lecture at International Student Society — Boston, May 3, 1969

    In my opinion, Clean shaved Brahmacharies & Grhasthas in saffron robes look like angels from Baikunta. Translation of prayers into English is good & 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.
    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. These are essential features of a Vaisnava.
    Letter to: Brahmananda — Calcutta 14 October, 1967

    When our devotees go outside I have no objection if he dresses as nice American or Canadian gentleman. Up to date gentlemen are all clean shaved so if we do not keep long hair & dress ourselves nicely with tilaka, flag & beads on the neck, apart from our devotional service, then certainly we shall be distinct from the Hippies. I think we should follow this principle rigidly & there is no question of giving up robes in the temple.
    Letter to: Pradyumna — Calcutta 17 October, 1967

    Householders may wear dhotis in the Temple, or as they like, but not of the saffron color. They may wear white, yellow, or whatever. Outside the Temple they may wear American gentleman’s dress, with Tilaka, flag, and beads. It is not required to wear dhotis, as this society does not understand, so outside the Temple dress suit is more socially acceptable. If they so desire, for ceremony, they can dress in dhotis for Kirtana.
    Letter to: Balai — San Francisco 12 March, 1968

    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.
    Letter to: Brahmananda — Seattle 6 October, 1968

    Our process of helping the misguided youth should remain the same. Namely, they should join the different services in the temple; chanting, dancing in ecstasy with Hare Krishna Mantra. They must be cleanly shaved, with tilak, have saffron robes, take prasadam, attend classes, chant 16 rounds of beads daily, etc. We are sure anyone who joins us will be free of all material disease including craziness and madness.
    Letter to: Bhagavan — Bombay 24 March, 1971

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    Hari Sauri dasa ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Akuranath prabhu’s points are well taken, Srila Prabhupada was not insistent that householders who have to work everyday should wear devotional dress. But it would really be wonderful if someday we see Akruranath sitting on the judge’s bench with shaved head and tilak! Bhaktivinoda Thakura longed to see that day, may be Akruranatha can fulfill that desire.

    Urmila’s quotes are welcome and very useful. We should especially note that even if we wear karmi clothes outside, Srila Prabhupada several times stresses wearing devotional clothes within the temple.

    Yhs, Hari-sauri dasa

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    varahanarasimha says:

    thank you so much for all these wonderfull comments about the glories of wearing vaisnava dress. Mother Urmila found so many important quotes by Srila Prabhupada
    -special thanks to her also.
    I like to add something about the glories of wearing tilaka it is the Vasudeva Upanisad translated by Kusakratha Prabhu


    1 Om. The great sage Narada bowed down before the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Vasudeva and asked: O Lord, please teach me the rules of Vaisnava tilaka. Please tell me of the substances, mantras, places, and other things in connection with it.
    2 Lord Vasudeva said: To please Me, My devotees headed by the demigod Brahma, wear Visnu-candana, which comes from the spiritual world of Vaikuntha. Because every day the gopis anoint My limbs with this candana and then again wash it away, it is also known as gopi-candana. This sacred yellow candana, which holds within it My cakra, and which is present at Cakra-tirtha, brings liberation (to they who wear it).
    3 In the following prayer one praises and bows down before gopi- candana: O gopi, O destroyer of sins, O candana manifested from Lord Visnu’s transcendental body and marked with His cakra, I offer my obeisances to you. Please give me liberation, for I am anointed with you.
    4 One should go to My Ganges, take some water, bring it to My temple, and use it to make gopi-candana paste. Then, reciting either the mantras that begin ‘deva avantu nah’ (May the Lord protect us), or the Visnu gayatri, or my names beginning with the name Kesava, one should apply gopi-candana tilaka.
    5 A brahmacari or vanaprastha should, while chanting the Visnu- gayatri or the holy names beginning with Krishna, apply this tilaka to his forehead, chest, neck, and shoulders.
    5 (A) Three times he should chant this mantra: O Lord who holds the conch shell, cakra, and club in Your hands, O infallible Lord who resides in Dvaraka, O lotus-eyed Lord Govinda, please protect me, who have surrendered to You and taken shelter of You.
    5 (B) After meditating in this way, a grhastha should, while chanting the Visnu-gayatri or the holy names beginning with Kesava, apply this tilaka with his ring finger to twelve parts of his body, beginning with his forehead.
    6 A brahmacari or grhastha should, while chanting the Visnu- gayatri or the holy names beginning with Krishna, apply this tilaka to his forehead, chest, neck and shoulders.
    7 A sannyasi, while chanting the sacred syllable Om, should apply this tilaka with his forefinger to his head, forehead and chest.
    8 As there are three Deities (Brahma, Visnu and Siva), three vyahrtis (Bhuh, Bhuvah and Svah), three metres in the Vedic hymns, three sacred fires, three times, three states of being, three atmas, and three letters (a, u, and m) in the sacred syllable Om, so Vaisnava tilaka has three parts, which correspond to the letters in the sacred Om.
    9 A person who chants the sacred syllable Om goes upward
    (urdhva). That is why Vaisnava tilaka is called ‘urdhva-pundra.’
    10 A paramahamsa should say the sacred syllable Om and place Vaisnava tilaka on his forehead.
    11 When he sees the Supersoul in his heart illumined with the lamp of truth, the yogi attains the liberation of meeting Me.
    12 Or the yogi may surrender his heart to the Lord in the tilaka mark on his chest or to the Lord in the lotus of his heart.
    13 In the heart is a flame reaching upwards, a flame like a lightning flash from a dark cloud, or like a slender rice-plant. In that flame the Supersoul stays.
    14 In the lotus flower of the heart one should search for the Supreme Lord, who is present as the tilaka mark. Gradually one should become rapt in meditation on Me, Lord Hari, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is present as the Supersoul.
    15 He becomes liberated who, with single-pointed concentration meditates on Me, Lord Hari, the eternal Supersoul who stays in the lotus flower of the heart. Of this there is no doubt.
    16 By engaging in My devotional service one is able to understand My transcendental form, which is spiritual, eternal, self-manifest, filled with knowledge and bliss, and beyond the touch of the material world of dualities.
    17 I am Lord Visnu, the one Supersoul who stays in the hearts of the many moving and unmoving creatures.
    18 As oil stays in sesame seeds, as fire stays in wood, as butter stays in milk, and as fragrance stays in flowers, so I, the Supersoul, stay in the hearts of all living creatures.
    19 By anointing one’s body with gopi-candana tilaka and by meditating on the Supreme Lord, Hari, splendid like a transcendental sun in the brahma-randhra, heart, and between the eyebrows, one attains the Lord in His supreme abode.
    20 His sannyasa danda raised, his semen flowing upwards, His Vaisnava tilaka vertical, and his practice of yoga elevated, the sannyasi, in this four ways ascending, goes to the highest spiritual abode.
    21 The final conclusion is that by serving Me with devotion one attains the supreme perfection. Wearing gopi-candana tilaka, with single pointed concentration one should always engage in My devotional service.
    22 Of all brahmanas and followers of the Vedas he is best who wears Vaisnava tilaka of gopi-candana mixed with water.
    23 If gopi-candana is not available one may use the earth from the roots of the Tulasi plant. In order to attain the spiritual goal that cannot be seen by materialistic men, a person who yearns for liberation should wear Vaisnava tilaka every day.
    24 One should apply Vaisnava tilaka using the sacred atriratri- agnihotra ashes of the sacred syllable Om, the Visnu-gayatri, or the mantras beginning with the words ‘Visnus trini pada.’
    25 In this way one should apply Vaisnava tilaka with gopi- candana.
    26 A person who studies this Upanisad becomes purified of all sins. Sinful thoughts do not arise in his mind. He attains the results of bathing in all sacred rivers and lakes. He attains the results of performing all yajnas. He is to be worshipped by all the demigods. He attains unwavering devotion to Me, Lord Narayana, the goddess of fortune’s husband. When his spiritual knowledge is perfect he attains the liberation of meeting Lord Visnu. He does not return to the world of birth and death. He does not return to the world of birth and death.
    27 Thus spoke Lord Vasudeva, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
    28 One who studies this Upanisad certainly attains this. Om. That is the truth. Thus the Upanisad.


    In the Garga Samhita there is mentioned about one sinner that went back to Godhead
    because part of hid dead body fell in Gopichandan, and Srila Vyasadeva himslef went to inform Yamaharaja that the reason for the Yamadutas not being abel to punish him was that part of his dead body touched Gopi chandan- and then an airplane came from Vaikuntha and this now pious soul went back to Visnu loka-thus there is always good reason to wear Tilaka.Plus it is the instruction of Srila Prabhupada
    your useless servant
    Payonidhi das

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    Pandu das ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Hare Krishna.

    I work as a state employee in an office of about 200, and I shave my head twice a week, with sikha, and apply tilak every morning. Only about five people at work have ever asked me anything about it, and they were all very respectful. I’m not comfortable preaching at work, but I know the tilak and sikha affect people because I hear them occasionally saying “Hare Krishna” in their conversations. I expect they must be thinking Hare Krishna more than that.

    A while ago a young devotee told me he asked his new employer if he could shave up and wear tilak, and was (not surprisingly) told “No.” I never asked mine. If I felt the need to ask, I would have asked if they discriminate based on religious affiliation; and after they (presumably) would reply that they don’t, I would say that my religion requires that I wear tilak and sikha. I’m not sure if I would wear tilak to a job interview. I didn’t for the job I have now (actually I applied it very faintly, mostly water with a little gopi candana, making it practically invisible), but that was about five years ago. I did have quarter-inch hair then, with a long sikha that no one seemed to notice. The main thing is that I feel comfortable with looking like a devotee, and this seems to help others feel comfortable around me.

    It’s hard enough spending my days amongst nondevotees (this time of year they spend a lot of time talking about deer hunting, which makes me very thankful for my mp3 player loaded with Srila Prabhupada’s audio recordings); if I had to forgo tilak and sikha I don’t think I could tolerate it.

    Interestingly enough, my work requires that I sometimes meet with important businessmen and their attorneys, who no doubt wonder what my appearance is all about. (I work in environmental cleanup, storage tanks division, enforcing environmental regulations.) I also meet with gas station owners and operators, many of whom are Indian bodied, occasionally devotees, and who immediately appreciate my appearance. Those conversations are a lot of fun.

    Hare Krishna.

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    sita-pati ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Another Gen-X/Y way of putting it is that this clothing is part of ISKCON’s brand image. Sure Coke tastes the same in a different bottle, but it won’t sell the same. The whole Coke experience is a an aggregation of the colors, the logo, the bottle shape, and the actual Coke inside. The Coke inside is the essence, but for marketing purposes the whole brand is there.

    Leaving aside the effect on the consciousness of the individual for a moment, getting rid of the dhoti and sari dilutes our brand and makes our marketing much less effective. We have less of a defined identity and less differentiation and recognizability.

    In terms of the effect on individual consciousness, I have a realization about the dhoti. Some years I’ve worn one every day, some years I’ve worn pants to work and a dhoti at home, at the moment I wear it when I’m officially representing (at the temple, harinam, preaching engagements).

    The dhoti is a three meter length of cotton cloth. Every time that you put it on you invest energy in shaping it into a wearable garment. It takes time and effort.

    A pair of pants, in contrast, just requires you to pull them on. They are already prefabricated into a wearable garment.

    The thing is that the pants are ready to wear all the time. If you have ten dhotis, only one will be ready to wear at a time, when you put it on. In contrast, ten pants are ready to wear round the clock. To make this energy available requires a massive investment of energy.

    All the energy is preinvested into the garment, through a process of garment manufacture, involving factories, machines, factories to produce the machines, people working the machines at all levels, petroleum, military action to get the petroleum.

    The energy differential is significant. Pants are “using energy” even when you aren’t wearing them. In addition to the energy needed to make it wearable (which is there for a dhoti too) there is a huge energy input for the convenience factor. This is an extremely wasteful use of energy and has an environmental impact, both out of proportion to the actual use you get from them. When pants are discarded or unused they still use up energy at the front end.

    The total impact of a civilisation based on this consciousness is excessive.

    Wearing a dhoti helps to align you with a more honest, low impact way of life. Such action leads to the development of a more honest consciousness. Simple living, high thinking.

    It also enables you to make this point in a very strong way, which is attractive to people who are looking to invest their energy in something that they can believe in as a credible positive alternative.

    I’m definitely down with dhotis as part of our brand and our preaching strategy.

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    Kesava Krsna dasa ( User Karma: -8 ) says:

    To the westernized eye our clothing – especially the dhoti and kirta combined with shaven head and tilaka – is the complete antithesis to the beholder. There can be no eye catching spectacle as different as that of a Hare Krishna devotee.

    So different is our style we would steal the show on the catwalk. So far removed from the norm our sense of dress is it elicits stares of curiosity and wonderment. What kind of people can be brave enough to wear such garments without shame or ridicule? Are these people adding to pot- pourrie of religious mania, or are they as dignified as their demeanor?

    By far the vast majority of people have yet to understand the person(devotee) behind the vaisnava dress code, what it means to dress this way and what it stands for. With the profusion of wierd clothes designed to shock and disgust on the market, as worn by anti establishment folks, we can be forgiven for being different.

    But such is the magnitude of wearing clothes like this that our behavior has to be impeccable at all times. Being dressed as a Hare Krishna equals being the best of human beings, and in dignity representing Srila Prabhupada. Anything less and people’s perception of us will match our outlandish appearences.

    Ys, Kesava Krsna dasa.

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    Suresh das ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    BG 12.8: Just fix your mind upon Me, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and engage all your intelligence in Me. Thus you will live in Me always, without a doubt.

    BG 12.9: My dear Arjuna, O winner of wealth, if you cannot fix your mind upon Me without deviation, then follow the regulative principles of bhakti-yoga. In this way develop a desire to attain Me.

    BG 12.10: If you cannot practice the regulations of bhakti-yoga, then just try to work for Me, because by working for Me you will come to the perfect stage.

    BG 12.11: If, however, you are unable to work in this consciousness of Me, then try to act giving up all results of your work and try to be self-situated.

    BG 12.12: If you cannot take to this practice, then engage yourself in the cultivation of knowledge. Better than knowledge, however, is meditation, and better than meditation is renunciation of the fruits of action, for by such renunciation one can attain peace of mind.

    Here Lord Krishna is describing in His Bhagavad-gita the various grades of devotees He accepts as His servitors. He is describing the means of elevation to the highest platform of bhakti-yoga. It should be understood too, that each type of devotee is attached to a particular type of service, and may not be able, all at once, or even after many years of worship and service, to progress into or accept a higher sphere.

    Most ISKCON devotees can be understood to be practicing 12.10. But there may be many devotees who are living in stages beneath 12.10. Patience and encouragement is required in order to continue to attract those devotees to the Krishna Consciousness Movement, while at the same time not disturbing their various attachments to particular stages of service, by requiring or pressing on all devotees the acceptance of Vaishnava dress as the only means for serving the Lord.

    ISKCON should be considered an honor society, where the elite and best devotees of the world come to reside, study, work, and serve. As with any honor society, such as the world’s top educational institutions, business, or military groups, only a small handful of persons will qualify for entering those groups, and an even tinier number will pass through the rigorous training and graduate, what to speak of stay and serve for life. There may be many persons who could not qualify for actually living or directly servicing within our society, or who may have left direct service, but who at the same time may desire to be supporters and sympathizers from the outside.

    Allowances and adjustments need to be made for individuals who, at one time in their lives, accepted initiation within ISKCON, served the spiritual master with faith, and hard work, but who may have left the society for one reason or another. To simply have one a one size-fits all approach to bhakti yoga, in that all devotees who associate with ISKCON must accept Vaishnava dress, is unrealistic and idealistic. It is also exclusionary, and elitist too, in that ISKCON temples are houses of worship of God. Many people may accept the Hare Krishna Movement as their choice of religious worship, and may accept their God as Lord Krishna, or our other Deities, but may not be able to accept the vast ocean of rules and regulations required of ISKCON devotees.

    It is unconscionable that any person would ever leave ISKCON. It is also unimaginable that any devotee who took initiation would not be able to follow the rules he promised to. But it is a reality that there are many thousands of devotees who could not. Some devotees may have left because they did not understand the ocean of rules they were being required to follow. Those rules are not stagnant either, in that they keep changing and are every increasing in difficulty. Love, kindness, and encouragement are needed to attract those devotees back into the Lord’s service in some capacity, while at the same time understanding their limitations and not disturbing them. It is always a question of genuine motive. One must always weigh what is the true motive is behind one’s efforts, and whether it is truly in the service of the Lord’s mission.

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    Suresh das ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    What I meant to say is most ISKCON devotees can be understood to be practicing 12.9-12.10. We have been trained to practice the regulative principles of bhakti-yoga, as well as to work for Krishna, under the guidance of the spiritual master. Even within 12.9-12.10 there are many numerous graduations of devotees. The science of Vaishnavism is very complex and sophisticated. For some devotees the rules devotees are expected to follow may seem overwhelming, with the chances of success, even after many years of practice – possibly hopeless.

    For devotees who live within the protection and support of a temple community, wearing devotional clothing is a no-brainer. It is much more difficult, and perhaps impossible though for devotees who live far from a temple, and who may also work on the outside. If one is engaged in direct temple service, or deity worship, devotional clothing is a requirment. At the same time no one should be made to feel uncomfortable when they visit a temple, based on the way they are dressed.

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    sarvo ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Nearly three years ago I threw any non-devotional clothing in the dumpster in back of the temple. I’ve never regretted that decision. People know who I am and I also have a better idea who I am. I feel more like a devotee. They’re looking at me as if I’m a “man of the cloth” so I have to see myself in that way also. Beyond that I’m also convinced that over the course of so many nearly unlimited lifetimes everyone’s been dressed in saris and dhotis at one time or another. When I first saw a Hari Nama party in Times Square back in 1970, not only did the Hare Krishna mantra seem to ring a bell, I had a real experience of déjà vu. Now after thirty-six years of hearing others describe similar experiences I’m convinced that not only has everyone been a devotee before but also that everyone’s hankering for a chance to experience the same incomparable sense of freedom and peace that brings ecstatic happiness. When people see us in devotional garb it pierces through so many layers from millions and billions of lifetimes and helps them remember in their heart of hearts the time that they too were devotees. That’s a powerful message. Call it subliminal. Call it whatever you want. I’m convinced it works. It works for me. I especially love it when people come up to me and say, “Hare Krishna! Where have you guys been anyway?”

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    froginwell ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    A High Court judge wearing tilak? This was already done in the 80s of the previous century:

    Bhakti Tirtha Swami came to Zambia and we started doing our thing – big time. In Zambia, he really developed his international preaching, especially among celebrities. Here, we met one influential High Court judge named Aiyadurai Shivanandan. He was extremely favorable to begin with, but Bhakti Tirtha Maharaja really took time with him, and conveyed the truths of Krishna Consciousness. And so, after some time, this judge would even wear tilak [sacred Vaishnava bodily markings] to the bench. Amazing person. He arranged for us to meet all the ministers of the Justice Department and the Communications Minister.

    From Steven J. Rosen, Black Lotus: The Spiritual Journey of an Urban Mystic, Hari-Nama Press, 2007, p. 212.

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    gkd says:

    “Sarvo” wrote: I especially love it when people come up to me and say, “Hare Krishna! Where have you guys been anyway?”

    So where are *you* now? Prabhu, please send me an email:

    your fallen servant,
    guru-krsna das(abhasa)

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    Tilaka and Tulasī Beads

    In the Padma Purāṇa there is a statement describing how a Vaisnava should decorate his body with tilaka and beads: “Persons who put tulasī beads on the neck, who mark twelve places of their bodies as Visnu temples with Visnu’s symbolic representations [the four items held in the four hands of Lord Visnu— conch, mace, disc and lotus], and who have -tilaka on their foreheads, are to be understood as the devotees of Lord Visnu in this world. Their presence makes the world purified, and anywhere they remain, they make that place as good as Vaikuntha.”

    A similar statement is in the Skanda Purāṇa, which says, “Persons who are decorated with tilaka or gopī-candana and who mark their bodies all over with the holy names of the Lord, and on whose necks and breasts there are tulasī beads, are never approached by the Yamadūtas.” The Yamadūtas are the constables of King Yama (the lord of death), who punishes all sinful men. Vaisnavas are never called for by such constables of Yamarāja. In the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, in the narration of Ajāmila’s deliverance, it is said that Yamarāja gave clear instructions to his assistants not to approach the Vaisnavas. Vaisnavas are beyond the jurisdiction of Yamarāja’s activities.

    The Padma Purāṇa also mentions, “A person whose body is decorated with the pulp of sandalwood, with paintings of the holy name of the Lord, is delivered from all sinful reactions, and after his death he goes directly to Krsnaloka to live in association with the Supreme Personality of Godhead.”

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    bkt-jace ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    In Prabhupada Lilamrita, There is some incident where Kirtananda (swami) once wore a 3 piece suit and at the same time shaved head and tikaka –

    At that time Srila Prabhupada mentioned that this looked very nice (I seem to remember that Prabhupada may have use the term looking like a gentleman?) or something to that effect –

    (I only have abridged edition of Prabhupada Lilamrita for reference at present and couldn’t find exact citation for this ) –

    Also in regard to Akruranatha’s auspicious ambition to usher in a new era of high court judges wearing tilaka –

    It is a fact that a high court judge or judges per se have proved his or her qualification and higher moral character to such a degree that they are considered in one sense to be above suspicion and respected, so it would be easier for them to shave their head and wear tilaka as opposed to a laywer or prosecutor etc., once one has attained such a post. It will be good to see this taking place one day.

    There is also the nice story in Prabhupada Nectar;

    The story about the factory workers who were told by the factory boss that they could no longer wear tilaka from a certain day onwards.

    Anyway, one man decided to defy the ban and had the courage to turn up wearing tilaka for work on the day when the ban was to take place.

    The boss appreciated this man’s courage and conviction and then said okay from now on this man may continue to wear the tilaka but all the other workers cannot do so.

    Of course time place and circumstance will dictate whether some may be in position to have more clearly visible tilaka and some not, depending on one’s work and the position one holds.

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