Bir Krishna Goswami: Dhotis “look to a certain extent like adult diapers” especially the North Indian style

Disclaimer: was not personally involved or connected with the production of this post.
Post transcribed, edited and produced by Alexander Shenkar.

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The idea of Krishna West has some similarity to the Loft Program. Are you familiar with Devamrita Swami’s Loft Program? We present Krishna consciousness in such a way that western people feel comfortable with it. For example, there are many aspects or at least external aspects that are not eternal aspects of our movement devotees are very attached to – things like dhotis, and other things like that that are quite shocking to western people.

I always tell this story which I can tell now since you’re recording this video – and that is my first impression of the Krishna consciousness movement. In about 1969 I walked into my first temple in Boston, Massachusetts and they put me into the basement sleeping, there was no heat in the building, of course that is not exactly Vedic. There was no heat in the building. And then I woke up for mangala arati which was alright. I asked, “Where is the bathroom?” And they said, “Well, the toilet is right here.” And I said, “And where is the toilet seat?” They had this Indian idea that toilets were meant to be stood on instead of sat on. And so I was shocked – how am I not going to fall into it? And then I asked, “Where is the toilet paper?” And they said, “Use your hand!” And I didn’t even know what that meant. And so then after that, the water was cold. And they said that “Prabhupada said you’re supposed to take a cold shower; it’s good for your health.” But in Boston that meant freezing temperature because in the middle of the winter the devotees could not afford a heater. So I took a cold shower and then I walked up to the temple freezing to death because the devotees could not afford heat in the building. And then I saw devotees jumping up and down in front of some figures on the altar. And as I mentioned many times before, that was like the Indiana Jones Temple of Doom movie. Not only jumping up and down, but there were other things too, like men on one side of the room and women on the other side of the room. And from a western perspective that’s kind of weird. From our perspective in Krishna consciousness thats maybe not considered so weird.

In one sense, we’ve integrated a little too much of modern Indian culture than we need to. I mean, ancient Indian culture is actually quite wonderful because it’s based on mutual understanding between men and women, varnashram in which all the different varnas respect each other. Modern Indian culture is based on a very hierarchical understanding, where if someone is younger than you, someone was initiated just before you, or if someone is a women then you’re supposed to discriminate against them and they’re supposed to serve you and shut-up. That’s unfortunate that ISKCON has integrated that into their culture.

So anyway, they were dancing up and down in front of the deities, running around in circles around a bush, which happened to be Tulsi devi, I found out later after two years. It was just incredibly weird… and wearing bed sheets with bald heads.

Try to understand that if you look at us from outsider’s perspective in many cases we look extremely weird. I mean, even if you look at the dhotis we wear, at least the householder dhotis and the brahmachari dhotis, they look to a certain extent adult diapers. You understand? Just the way they’re tucked in and everything like that. South Indian dhotis don’t look like that, but north Indian dhotis do look like that. So, that’s what people see. And you know, when I first joined, they thought I was a little gay because I was wearing a dress – you know, people on the street accused me of that. I mean, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that, but they thought that. Or they thought I was weird. Or people told me to get a job. And it took a lot of determination to actually join the movement. And the only thing that got me to join was getting to meet Prabhupada personally. Otherwise, the cultural difference was such a barrier, that I really was avoiding devotees from 1969 to 1971.

And then finally in 1971 I got to meet Prabhupada, and you know, as soon as you meet Prabhupada you’re ready to do anything. If Prabhupada said, “Shave your head” you’d shave your head, and if Prabhupada said, “Cut off your leg” you’d cut off your leg. And I mean – It was Prabhupada! It’s like meeting Jesus Christ, meeting Jesus Christ saying, “It’s as difficult for a rich man to go to heaven as for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.” And everybody was ready to drop everything to serve Jesus Christ as original apostles. See meeting Prabhupada was like in one sense meeting the Messiah. Interesting word Messiah: savior, avatar, you know, shakti avesha avatar. So, that’s one reason why a lot of people joined in the 1960s and 70s.

Another reason was that the culture back then was more of a hippie culture in which people were dressing to a large extent in a very strange fashion. It wasn’t considered unusual for men to have flowers in their hair, to wear all sorts of different ethnic dresses, and just about everybody was weird in the 1960s. It’s hard to picture that now when people are much more conservative. So there weren’t the same cultural barriers in the 1960s that we have now. Now the society has become much more conservative and many ways. So for people to think of looking like us, or following some of the ritual we do – it’s kind of frightening! They may accept our philosophy, the philosophy – it’s perfect philosophy, but they have a hard time accepting us externally. You know, our whole structure, everything from chauvinism to the dress, to everything else.

So the idea of Krishna West is to present the essence of Krishna consciousness in such a way that westerners can accept it. In one sense, Krishna West is more conservative than the Loft program – much more conservative. Because in Krishna West we’re not going to have the yoga program which really have nothing to do with Krishna consciousness. Because yoga, just to let you all know, modern system of yoga is not the ancient system of yoga. The ancient system of yoga taught by Patanjali only encompassed two postures. In the modern system they have hundreds of postures taught by different people. In fact I have disciples who are expert in yoga. An of course the Loft program uses yoga as a bridge to bring people to Krishna consciousness. But we’re not going to employ any of those techniques like bridges. What we’re doing in Krishna West is the philosophy, the chanting, and prasadam. And the prasadam will not be unusually ethnically Indian prasadam. It’s going to be prasadam or food that people can relate to. For example, we find that devotees tend to think that somehow or another Indian recipes are better than western recipes; and they go out on the street distributing gulabjumins to people. And you know, people just freak out when they get a gulabjumin in their hand. So we would prefer to distribute cookies to people. Everyone can relate to cookies or crackers or something.

It’s not just because something is Indian that makes it better or Krishna conscious. Prabhupada never said that he came to America to teach people to become Indians. He came to teach people dharma or Krishna consciousness. People arguing pro and con Krishna West each have their own quotes from Prabhupada that they use. So if you go into Prabhupada’s letters you can prove a lot of different things and some of them are very much opposing each other. However, Prabhupada wanted us to make the whole world Krishna conscious. And as the Vedic injunction says, “You should judge something by the results.” In other words, if by Krishna West we can make people Krishna conscious, then that should be accepted. Just like Prabhupada accepted devotees going out in wigs to distribute his books, wigs and western cloths because more books were distributed. So that’s the idea.