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.