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.

  • Murli

    The more you are attracted to That Which is Attractive, the more you Commune with It’s Qualities and the more you Identify with them. You have nothing to say about That Which is Attractive except That is Bliss, That is Love, That is Beauty, That is Consciousness, That is Truth . . . .When you allow yourself to be attracted by That Which Is Attractive, Absolutely and Ultimately, the mind relaxes, the body relaxes, attention relaxes, the motives of life relaxes.

    Let the manner of your dress exhibit real class. What you wear should be very comfortable, attractive, high-style, high-color, high-energy. Be very comfortable as well as very attractive. Take everything into account from a pleasurable, aesthetic point of view.
    Jewelry ;
    Clothe the body in a way that is decorous, aesthetically pleasing, and attractive altogether. Your clothing and jewelry should enhance and suggest the signs of What Is Beyond the body.
    It is appropriate for My devotees to always wear something on their person that is a direct communication of Me, and that identifies them as somebody who is a devotee of Mine. This also causes people who are not otherwise familiar with Me or with what any particular emblem or symbol means to ask about it. Then, being asked about it, My devotee has the opportunity to be communicative about Me and about the Way of Adidam.
    The eyes delight in the universe and draw energy from it. If there is no delight, there is no energy. ‘ Delight ‘ is a word used to indicate that you feel brilliance and bless in life, that you intuit the Divine Condition of life, that you are filled by Divine Energy, and by That Which is More Than Wonderful.
    Express love all day. Do not allow the conventions of egoic worldliness to suppress love’s expression. Contemplate Me with your feel-devotion, make your love of Me the principle of all your acts, and change everything.
    Manifest actual love —its real, verbal, physical, human expression, and its practice altogether, Spiritually, and ultimately.
    Avatar Adi Da Samraj

  • Dave Cooper

    Dear Bir Krishna Maharaj,


    Thank you for introducing Krishna West.

    I was a longtime “fringie” wannabe devotee in Metro Detroit (never lived in a temple or took initiation yet), and now find myself in a house in the suburbs with a wife and kids who are not yet properly acquainted with Kṛṣṇa Consciousness. At the same time I have recently been fortunate to connect with a local ISKCON Bhakti Vriksha group which is gradually rekindling my fragile attachment to Kṛṣṇa.

    Most of the other BV attendees are Indian or Indian-American (in fact, I’m the only white-skinned male who regularly attends). For me personally, this is ideal, because I get to associate with a lot of devotees who have grown up with some manner of Kṛṣṇa Consciousness their whole life (even if in a passive way from their families, and now they’re getting back in touch with it more actively). But for my family, there can be a bit of a “culture shock” issue which can get mixed up in their heads with the basic precepts of KC.

    From what I understand, I feel the Krishna West program offers resources which can potentially help me to introduce KC to my family while avoiding putting them through those unnecessary cultural barriers during the initial stages. I hope to be able to get in contact with some Krishna West representatives in Metro Detroit; I will start by exploring the Krishna West website, and see where that leads.

    Please keep doing what you are doing, and all my best wishes,

    Dave Cooper

  • Janavatsala Dasa

    Yes we are “weird” ,we don’t have to be like them.why? They have more to learn from us than us from them . Krsna uses doti, Srimati Radharani uses sari we are presenting them to the world

    • Alexander Shenkar

      Krishna used a dhoti because he was in India during his last appearance and that was the dress fashion at that time and place. In other words, Krishna adopted what was suitable at that place and time. If Krishna appeared in Japan or the Middle-East, then he would have adopted the attire particular to those places.

      Overcoming the mentality of us vs them is precisely the purpose of adopting to the cultural norms of a particular place. The fact of the matter is that there is no us and them – it’s just all us.

      • Janavatsala Dasa

        I never saw srila prabhupada using jeans or suit just to blend in the west

        • Alexander Shenkar

          Prabhupada was an Indian elderly. He set the example of wearing his native Indian dress attire. He did not change the wardrobe that he grew up with – so why would anyone else?

      • Sundar J.M. Brown

        A wonderfully logical response, quite appropriate to the argument at hand. May I suggest, though, that we also recall Prabhupada’s assertions that dhoti and sari are representative of the “vesa” (dress) in the spiritual world. It might be entertaining to play a “chicken or egg” game of “which came first? Krsna wearing a dhoti upon His descent into the mundame realm of Bharat-varsha, or, the mundane realm of Bharat-varsha being the place intentionally chosen for His descent because the “vesa” of that land matched His own? That was just for fun…

        The attire encasing an individual does much to inform his or her consciousness. In my own devotional history, I have felt just that much more “Krsna Conscious” when I was dressed in a way which unavoidably reminded me of my attempt to live as a Vaisnava.

        That being said, the more modern and resolutely individualistic members of today’s ISKCON (or today’s ____ [fill in the blank] faith community) may not feel that same need. I have seen that the current “wave” of Western Vaisnavas are persons who are quite healthy in their differentiation and sense-of-self. They engage with Krsna out of a deeply personal sincerity, and they are able to do this while being who they are; they own and accurately represent their present material circumstances and thus avoid what is an equally attendant danger of “hiding behind” devotional dress whilst remaining internally conflicted, insecure, or insincere. We should not pressure them to become something they are not. (Before my detractors say, “But, we are not this body!”– I know that. We all know that; we all understand the basic workings constituting the Vaisnava readings of sankhya philosophy. If we are to be honest, we would admit that most of us have not intrinsically realized that point of aham brahmasmi; so, let us work with what we’ve got and connect what we’ve got with God’s ideas, rather than trying to force our misunderstanding of God’s ideas upon one another).

        The preservationists of the trail-blazing and antecedent generations of Western Vaisnavism would do well to recognize the self-assuredness of the present generation and acknowledge and praise them for their willingness to engage that sense of self in devotional service(s). Our efforts to facilitate the spiritual lives of others– including our being fully accepting and welcoming of (and, sometimes, in spite of) their present material circumstances– must warm Krsna’s heart. I often picture Krsna watching us, as we help one another grow spiritually, and saying, with a smile, “This is what I have been waiting for. It seems they love one another.”

        • Alexander Shenkar

          Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

          May I suggest, also, that we recall Prabhupada’s assertions that dhoti and sari are representative of the “vesa” (dress) in the spiritual world

          Srila Prabhupda is entitle to his opinion. No one is arguing that Srila Prabhupada did not like saris or dhotis.

          It might be entertaining to play a “chicken or egg” game of “which came first?”– Krsna wearing a dhoti upon His descent into the mundane realm of Bharat-varsha, or, the mundane realm of Bharat-varsha being the place intentionally chosen for Krsna’s descent because the “vesa” of that land matched His own?

          Regardless of what Krishna wears and the reasons behind them, it still does not follow that everyone must wear what Krishna wears.

          The attire encasing an individual does much to inform his or her consciousness.

          Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. First comes consciousness, then follows the symptoms. Symptoms in themselves are meaningless unless they correspond with consciousness. Symptoms can change, but consciousness can remain the same. Or, consciousness can change, and symptoms can remain the same.

          ISKCON means society for Krishna Consciousness, not imitators of Krishna Symptoms.

          they own and accurately represent their present material circumstances and thus avoid what is an equally attendant danger of “hiding behind” devotional dress whilst remaining internally conflicted

          Somehow I feel you’re implying that one should not be pressured to accept “Vaishnava dress” unless one is fully spiritually qualified. My position is that the cloths labeled as “Vaishnava dress” have zero connection to anything spiritual. Again, this is a focus on a symptom instead of focus on consciousness.

          If we are to be honest, we would admit that most of us have not intrinsically realized that point of aham brahmasmi;

          There is no need to make excuses for not manufacturing symptoms.

          Our efforts to facilitate the spiritual lives of others– including our being fully accepting and welcoming of (and, sometimes, in spite of) their present material circumstances– must warm Krsna’s heart.

          Yes – but, I hope there is nothing bundled in that thought about needing to adulterate a practice to accommodate majority.

          In short, the focus needs to be put back on the consciousness and not on the symptoms. This becomes problematic because there is no way to measure or check Krishna consciousness. So all that we have to rely on are symptoms which are highly fallible and inaccurate.

          Thanks for your comment! Hope I wasn’t too blunt.