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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, and beads on neck. These are essential features of a Vaisnava.
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did the last marathon in the LA airport dressed in a nice suit and with a
clean shaved head, sikha, and nice Tilak on my forehead. I feel that
because of this, I did the best quality book distribution I have ever done
are some relevant quotes from Srila Prabhupada in this regard:
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 always have our tilak and sikha and there is no compromise for
No, no. He's saying why are we dressing like that, like Indians?
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 a dress suit is more socially
acceptable. If they so desire, for ceremony, they can dress in dhotis for
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, and beads on neck. These are essential features of a Vaisnava."
No. I'm just saying that it is a little difficult if they wear their
never objected to any of my students dressing like nice American
gentleman, clean shaved; those who are my disciples must have flag, tilak
and beads on neck without fail."
next important points are as follows: (1) One should decorate the body
with Tilak, which is the sign of the Vaisnavas. (The idea is that as soon
as a person sees these marks on the body of the Vaisnavas, he will
immediately remember Krishna. Lord Caitanya said that a Vaisnava is he
who, when seen, reminds on of Krishna. Therefore, it is essential that a
Vaisnava mark his body with Tilak to remind others of Krishna.)"
(Nectar of Devotion, p.54)
book distributors in the Western world do not wear Tilak nowadays. Yet
Srila Prabhupada calls the act of wearing Tilak an "essential feature
of a Vaisnava." He says that devotees should have Tilak on
"without fail." He says we should wear it "in all
circumstances." "There is no compromise" for this purpose.
It appears clear to me that "In all circumstances" includes the
circumstance of book distribution and preaching.
the last 20 years, front line preachers have made big mistakes that cost
our society very dearly. We are suffering the reactions to these mistakes
in terms of terrible public opinion and weak individual Krishna
consciousness. Lying about our identity as well as about the contents of
the books, cheating, changing-up, being too pushy with the people,
tricking, burning people out, etc, occurred often and still goes on today
when book distributors approach people in public. An innocent question
comes up: would these things have happened in the same proportion, if not
at all, if book distributors had been instructed by their authorities that
they should wear TILAK at all times because Srila Prabhupada wanted it so?
one wears Tilak in public, one cannot avoid being truthful. With Tilak, we
are much more self conscious and aware that we are representatives of the
Vaisnava tradition. Indeed, when we approach people with Tilak on, they
know that we are Hare Krishna’s, or at least they know that we represent
something religious. Then, whatever we say to them will be accepted as
straightforward because from the beginning of our transaction with the
people who agree to stop and listen to us, it is disctinct and clear that
we are Hare Krsnas'. We may even then tell them "any damn
thing"(as Srila Prabhupada said) in order for them to buy the books
(the end justifies the means), but because we have Tilak on, there is no
way they can say afterwards that we tricked them or cheated them. In other
words, with Tilak, we are UPFRONT and non-duplicitous by our very
appearance and presence.
at the other "preaching movements" out there in the world. Take
the Mormons, for example. Do their preachers hide their identity as
Mormons? No. On the contrary, they proudly present themselves as belonging
to the church of Latter Day Saints, without covering up anything. A young
Mormon "elder" will walk up to you with his badge that says,
"Elder Johnson from the Church of Latter Day Saints," and he
will tell you with a smile, "Hi! My name is Rick Johnson. I am a
Mormon and I would like to tell you about Jesus Christ and about the Book
of Mormon." (A statistic, by the way: Mormons have, at any given time
during the year, 100 000 preachers from 19 to 21 years old doing their
2-year preaching mission all over planet Earth, boldly preaching about
their religion). He will not cover up anything and sell you his book and
have you figure out yourself an hour later that he was actually a Mormon.
Why do ISKCON book distributors hide their identity in the name of
preaching more effectively? Is it not cultish, actually? The Mormons or
the Catholics do not have a very good philosophy-granted. But do they have
a reputation of being con artists? Do they have a reputation of being a
cult whose members hide their identity like the Scientologists or the
Moonies do? No. The reason, I think, is because they are upfront in their
presentation. So should we. And an easy and bona-fide way to be upfront is
to simply wear Tilak, as our Founder Acarya clearly indicated in the
self-explanatory above-mentioned letters.
will say, "it doesn't matter. My consciousness is not affected by
hiding my identity." But for many, being duplicitous does affect
their consciousness. Many devotees today feel that they sold books over
the years in too much of a crooked or forceful way, depending on tactics,
intimidation and surprise rather than on the mercy of Krishna and His
reciprocation with our own surrender, purity and dependence upon Him as we
present the books and ourselves honestly to people.
Tilak helps us stay pure in thoughts and actions. Let us not over-estimate
our ability to be totally transcendental, to "catch a fish without
getting wet," as Srila Prabhupada says. Recently, a friend of mine
who works in Bombay wrote to me and told me about how he started going to
his office with Tilak on. He wrote, "You will be glad to know that I
joined my new job on 8th January and from the day One I am wearing tilak.
Nobody has yet said anything negative about it to me. Thank you very much
for helping to build courage to wear tilak. I am now wearing it everyday
and it gives me a sense of responsibility at every moment of the day,
especially when my eyes wander to look at the girls when i am out (i am
sorry for being too honest but i can't be a friend with someone unless i
open myself before that person)."
is a devotee working outside, and he is wearing Tilak. So what to speak of
book distributors, who are (supposed to) go out there purely in the spirit
of preaching, without any material consideration! If our book distributors
don't wear Tilak, then who will? Also, when we wear Tilak, we are much
more protected from the allurement of the opposite sex (try it, I've
experienced it!) Furthermore, how many "shooting star book
distributors" have we seen, devotees who did "huge" for
several years and then stopped, having fallen into Maya or having had a
sour taste for the way in which they distributed the books? Rather, we
want "every devotee to learn the art of distributing books," and
we want them to make their "life-long plan secure in distributing
books." Therefore it seems to me that the more honest,
straightforward and bold our techniques are, the more devotees will relish
doing this activity for a lifetime. Conversely, the more our tactics of
book distribution are dubious, cowardly and tricky, the more difficult it
will be for devotees to maintain their long-term enthusiasm for
distributing books in such a way, because naturally, for how long can one
be proud of doing things in a crooked way?
the early days of ISKCON, devotees went out there proudly wearing Tilak
and preaching about Krishna, about God, about Prabhupada, about surrender,
full straightforward approach... SO many devotees joined back then and
world governments were terrified of the devotees. Why is it so difficult
to make people join today? Is there maybe a connection between this and
not being upfront and straightforward in our book distribution? Are we not
tired of people coming up to us and saying, "Oh, Hare Krishnas? Where
have you guys been for the last 20 years? We never see you guys
anymore!" They don't see us anymore because we've stopped wearing
the last marathon in the LA airport, Krishna sent me for 13 consecutive
days out of the 21 that I distributed, at least one young person every day
who agreed to have lunch with me and discuss Krishna consciousness during
my lunch break. I have kept a list of 35 really nice kids I met
that took serious interest in Krishna consciousness and that I am slowly
cultivating. Every day numerous people asked me, "what does that
marking on your forehead signify?" (that means that a lot more people
were curious about it but did not dare to ask) and I answered, "this
means that our body is sacred because we believe that Krishna, or God, is
residing in our heart, and therefore our body is like a temple," and
in this way very deep religious discussions ensued with the persons who
asked the question. For me, that's much more inspiring in the long run
than saying over and over again the same mantra, "this book reduces
stress, it's on yoga and meditation. Can you give a donation?" all
day long, month after month, year after year! Rather, I relished the
thought that people walked away from me with a book in their hand, with a
prasadam flower or cookie in their pocket (I also distributed those items
along with the books, just as in the early days), thinking to themselves,
"I met a nice Hare Krishna devotee. I bought a book about his
religion. He explained to me why they wear that yellow mark on their nose.
He was very unique and interesting"
wrote to my spiritual master, His Holiness Bhakti Charu Swami, and told
him about my change of approach, especially about wearing Tilak along with
my suit. He replied to me,
accept my blessings. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
you very much for your letter. I am happy to know that you are having so
many realizations while distributing Srila Prabhupada's books. I agree
with you that straight forward presentation, without hiding our identity,
would enhance our preaching."
other senior disciples of Srila Prabhupada were also glad to hear about
this style of approach when I told them about it.
respect those who "walk their talk." Wearing Tilak is an
"essential" feature of being a Vaisnava. Why do we not wear
Tilak and in this way, walk our talk, or "practice what we
may say that by doing book distribution with Tilak on, less books go out.
But first of all, many devotees are convinced that the same amount of
books, if not more, can be distributed with Tilak on. History has even
shown it. (Take, for example, France, Italy or Spain, where devotees
dressed with Tilak (and even with dhotis!) sold thousands of Bhagavatam
sets a week under Bhagavan Prabhu's time, something that is never done
nowadays.) And in any case, it is Krishna, not us, who distributes the
books. Will He not arrange for many books to be distributed by us if we
are sincerely following the instruction of our Founder Acarya in regards
to being honest and wearing Tilak while distributing his books?
we should not underestimate the fact that a book distributor comes in
contact with and is noticed by thousands and thousands of people every
day. What an effect it has on the public to wear Tilak! I have seen it;
when people look at you, even for a split second, a definite change occurs
in their consciousness. It is very encouraging: I say to myself,
"even if Krishna does not allow me to distribute one single book
today, still so many people will have seen me with Tilak, and as the
Nectar of Devotion says, it will have reminded them of Krishna. Therefore
my preaching will have been a success in any case."
the decades and centuries roll on, ISKCON will become more and more
established and recognized. It will just become impossible for the book
distributors to do what they sometimes did 15 years ago (or are still
doing today), namely totally hiding their identity and selling people
books without them knowing that we are Hare Krsnas'. Or if we continue to
do so, we will just get the reputation of being "those cultish
religious guys who trick you into buying their book, only to find out
later on that the book is about Krishna and that the person who sold the
book to you is a Hare Krishna but for some odd reason never dared to tell
you." Does this sound like a respectable preaching plan that will be
effective in making people turn to Krishna consciousness for the next 10
000 years? Rather, I propose, let us follow Srila Prabhupada's
instructions on how we present ourselves to the public, and in this way
pave the way for honest, straightforward, powerful and totally ecstatic
Brihad Mridanga for the future generations of book distributors that will
join Srila Prabhupada in his ISKCON movement.
if anyone has comments or criticisms, please write them.
© CHAKRA 27-January-2001
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