Yesterday I made a post called “DRESS PROPERLY” (Playing on the popular, famous soundbite of Śrīla Prabhupāda saying “sit properly”)  Someone had a long conversation with me about it. Here is the summary play-by-play of that conversation. Hopefully it will clear up anything that wasn’t clear from the first post

He claimed that my quote from Rūpa Goswāmī was misleading because Rūpa only mentions “symbols” not clothing or dress in general.

To which I replied: cihṇa (the exact word Rūpa Goswāmī uses) includes all sorts of marks, it doesn’t exclude indicative clothing.

He also took issue with my including a picture of people dressed as Superman and Superwoman, thinking I was implying that devotees who don’t “dress properly” will wind up wearing superhero outfits. So I clarified that the reason I put that picture is to show that clothing certainly and obviously affects the way we feel. When we wear a costume we feel much more like the character.

He asked if I ever dressed and acted normal. Or if I ever did cultured things like attend the Opera or Philharmonic concerts, or if I ever tried to get a normal job.

I replied: Sure, I’m all sorts of things. I do, wear, eat, etc, all sorts of things – but I don’t change the Gaudiya philosophy to make my idiosyncrasies seem like perfections. I am comfortable admitting that I am substandard and not particularly exemplary.

I don’t wear dhotis, etc. very often. But its not because I’m such a wonderful devotee, so off the bodily platform, its because I’m a pretty normal person. If I had more integrity I would dress like a sādhu because that would help me feel like a sādhu, and thus act like a sādhu, and thus, eventually be a sādhu.

When I hear a lot of people implying (perhaps those people are members of the “Krishna West” faction, I don’t really know) is this, “you can be a perfect sādhu and dress normal, in fact if you dress like a sādhu you’re probably a superficialist.” That doesn’t sit right with me. Dressing normal helps me be normal (and for me, even that is a pretty good improvement), and dressing like a sādhu will help me be a sādhu.

Certainly dressing like a sādhu is by no means the most effective way of becoming a sādhu. Chanting Hare Krishna and studying Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is. But still, if we’re going to talk about clothes, lets not pretend that clothes are an irrelevant part of the environment we practice our yoga in.

I cited an example where Caitanya Mahaprabhu tells Sanatana Goswāmī to dress a certain way. “Sanatana Goswāmī initially dressed as a Fakir. Gaurahari asked him to stop and dress as a Vaishnava. This is not an isolated incident. A few places in Cc Kaviraja Goswāmī depicts Mahaprabhu caring about the clothing that people wear.”

He replied that Mahaprabhu asked him to dress “like a sādhu,” not “like a vaishnava.” He claimed there was no śāstric reference to any Vaishnava dressing differently from the rest of society. He said that dress codes in śāstra were all related to varnashrama, not Vaishnavism.

I said that I don’t disagree with the above points. In the original post I never suggested that there is some “authorized” or “bona-fide” “vaishnava dress” that we all have to conform to – I simply said that clothes affect your identity, and therefore we should dress in a way to help us identify ourselves (to ourselves) as Krishna-bhaktas.

There is no exact and specific “Vaishnava Uniform” defined in any authentic śāstra. But it is a universal principle expressed in all shastra that environment impacts the consciousness, therefore we should situate ourselves in an environment that facilitates our yogic practice / sadhana-bhakti.

He again claimed that there is no shastric pramana to support my point. He reiterated his opinion that Śrī Rūpa only speaks of symbols, not of clothing. He said that Mahaprabhu did not change his dress after he became a Vaishnava.

Again, The word for symbols does not exclude clothing.

The pramāna is everywhere in the śāstra, every time it is acknowledge that all objects are made of the modes of nature, and the modes of nature which create our environment affect our consciousness.

The pañca-saṁskāra initiation ceremony (accepted by Mahaprabhu and his predecessors and his descendants) changes many many things: Name, caste-affiliation (the significance of the tilaka), and the guru may specify dress.

I think Mahaprabhu and others didn’t significantly change their dress because it was not, and is not, terribly important. There are more important things to change. But if we are on the topic of clothing – i.e. if we are making the topic important by making it the focus of a discussion – then we should not conclude that clothing is outside the purview of cihṇa in the injunction vaiṣṇava cihṇa dhṛti (“Bear the marks of a Vaishnava.”), nor should we conclude that it is outside the universal principle that everything in our environment affects our consciousness.

Finally, he implied that dressing in “normal” clothing makes preaching more effective; and made the statement that preaching is sādhana.

Harināma Saṅkīrtana is a part of sādhana, the most important part actually, as explicitly stated by Śrī Rūpa and Śrī Jīva. “Preaching” If it is something other than that, or something other than broadcasting the meanings of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, is not a part of sādhana.

I agree with the principle that one should have things in common with the persons he or she wishes to communicate with. If one seems completely alien it can make communication very difficult. However I do not agree that dressing “normally” is essential for effective preaching. The Krishna Consciousness movement spread like wildfire and attracted the most outstanding and qualified individuals as a result of the very simple and direct Harināma Sankīrtana devotees performed constantly on the sidewalks in the late 1960s, without feeling any need to dress normally and so on.

5 thoughts on “Dress Properly! (Continues)

  1. interesting this article is of significance being personally present when the recording of Srila Prabhupada’s mala in the temple room in Melbourne Australia, when the words SIT PROPERLY were uttered directed to a guest in jeans and a tshirt who was sitting with his legs stretched out and his feet facing Srila Prabhupada, of course many knew this but I must say our attention was else where and the fact he was a guest and we were all so stupid it took Srila Prabhupada to rectify the situation we were then all mortified of course. On another note as I was personally responsible for taking care of SrilaPrabhupadas room and his personal washing for all his visits to Melbourne Australia , at this time . Also being sent to New Zealand to be head pujari as all had abandoned the temple to follow “OTHERS “. I also encouraged all those whom had left to come as often as possible to see the Dieties and take prasadam this included TK Maharaja, so when I was recalled to attend to my duties of Srila Prabhupada’s room , in Melbourne on his latest visit where

    Tk Maharaja asked me to arrange a meeting with Srila Prabhupada. the meeting took place one morning will have to refer to the date but when Tk Maharaja arrived with hair , jeans and a shirt he was sent away by Srila Prabhupada and told in no uncertain terms that the meeting would not take place until he was dressed PROPERLY.

    Tk Maharaja returned for the meeting shaved, and in devotional dress dhoti etc…

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  2. Dear Vraja Kishor Prabhu, PAMHO & AGTSP,

    in one of your articles (see below) your wrote:

    “The Krishna Consciousness movement spread like wildfire and attracted the most outstanding and qualified individuals as a result of the very simple and direct Harināma Sankīrtana devotees performed constantly on the sidewalks in the late 1960s, without feeling any need to dress normally and so on.”

    I would say, no, not exactly. We have to understand, in what historical context all that happened. It was the time of Vietnam protest, emancipation of the younger generation, Beatles, Stones, birth control pill, exotic Eastern philosophies, purring sitar sounds, psychedelic drug experiments, alternative hippie communities and counter culture. The youth at that time was against everything that had the slightest smack of the “establishment”.

    You are right, dress affects our consciousness. And those of others, too. The dress of the youth in the 1960s was expressing protest: Long hair, wild beards, blue glasses and colorful flower shirts. Exactly at that time the Hare Krishna Movement was marching in. And how they look in the eyes of the youth? Even more radical, more exotic, expressing more protest. At that time such an external appearance was undoubtedly attractive and kind of respected.

    But these times are long gone. The Hippie and Peace Movement faded slowly in the 1970s and 1980s, latest with the appearance of Gorbatschow, the ending of the Cold War and the collapse of the communistic system.
    The outcome was a generation not really interested anymore in politics, eastern philosophy or an alternative exotic lifestyle. They were into party, techno, graduating with a bachelor and starting a regular career, all again in the old framework of the „establishment“.

    It seems that everybody has realized that times had drastically changed. Everybody except the Hare Krishna Movement. Somehow the ISKCON people got stuck in the 1970s, thinking that they have to freeze everything, especially the externals. They think, because at these days Srila Prabhupada was around and there was solid visible success, we have to conserve all those external methods and appearance styles. Then further success is guaranteed.

    But it is not.

    You said: “The Krishna Consciousness movement spread like wildfire and attracted the most outstanding and qualified individuals as a result of the very simple and direct Harināma Sankīrtana devotees performed constantly on the sidewalks in the late 1960s, without feeling any need to dress normally and so on.“

    The Hare Krishna people are still performing „simple and direct“ Harināma Sankīrtana on the sidewalks, be it in New York, London or Amsterdam and most of them still aren’t dressed normally (according to Western standards). But where is the wildfire? And where are the „most outstanding and qualified individuals“? Where are the responsible citizens, the influential mayors, industrialists, celebrities and intellectuals? They are just very very few.

    We must admit that presently the Hare Krishna Movement do not effectively address those important people which is necessary to establish Gaudīya Vaishnavism as a mainstream religion.

    In my opinion, Krishna West is a serious attempt to approach these people in a way that they can relate to, leaving everything aside that is unnecessarily outdated, strange and exotic, especially the external appearance.

    I’m convinced, Vaishnava dress simply means “decent simple dress”, not unnecessarily emphasizing caste vanity, bodily features or sex appeals. There is decent simple dress in every civilized tradition from China to Mexico. When Maharaja Prataparudra met Lord Chaitanya in Puri, the King changed his “rāja-veśa” into “vaiṣṇava-veśa” (Cc. Madhya 14.5). That simply meant he puts off his sparkling Gucci dhoti and puts on a simple cotton one. Transferring this example into the Western world would mean, a celebrity, who is entering a temple, would put off his Elvis costume and put on some simple decent shirt and pants, or for women a simple decent dress, just for example. In this way the attire will surely affect his or her consciousness, helping to get rid of false pride and vanity that are obstructive for spiritual understanding. In this sense I’m fully supporting your title “Dress properly”.

    Namaste, your servant
    Paramshreya Dāsa

    ps: You’re right. Facebook can be pretty rājasic.

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    1. Prior to 1973 temples were sending chanting parties onto the streets daily for 6-12 hours each day. This dwindled after 1973 and practically became nill by 1978. Only recently have serious efforts been made to restore anything close to this original focus on nagar nāma-saṁkīrtan.

      I don’t think Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism is a “mainstream religion.” Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism is a mystical yoga and extremely sophisticated mystical philosophy. It certainly will have enormous effect on the mainstream, but it itself cannot be translated to the mainstream. Varṇāśrama dharma is an appoximation of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism more anemable to translation into a cultural mainstream.

      High class people are attracted to high class things. High class things are not imitations. When there is a single devotee who actually develops Bhava-Bhakti, everyone will be attracted – they will not ask if his clothing is clean or dirty, western or eastern. There is nothing wrong with normal clothes, simple, humble whatever, but ask any actor if it is easier to act in costume or out of costume.

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