Question: In an interview with a reporter in 1975*, in New York, Srila Prabhupada says that devotees use dhotis and saris to be recognized as Hare Krishnas, comparing that to the use of uniforms by policeman. At the same time, in this conversation he says dress is not important. Please comment.
Answer by Srila Hridayananda das Goswami:
1. Prabhupada in this interview twice says that dress is not important.
2. He also states that people can become Krishna conscious without traditional Indian dress.
3. He analogizes our dress to a police uniform. In fact, Prabhupada appreciated intelligent feedback on material issues, and in that spirit, I would have suggested to Prabhupada that in two ways, the police analogy does not apply to us:
A) The police are already recognized as authorities. People simply need to know who the police are. People in the West do not already accept us as spiritual authorities and thus do not merely need to know who we are.
B) A police uniform is carefully tailored to fit in with the existing culture and to inspire respect for the office. Our “uniform” does not fit in with existing culture and for most people does not inspire submission to devotees as spiritual leaders. As the reporter below said, most people find our uniform “strange” and “odd”.
With best wishes,
Hridayananda das Goswami
Reporter: Swamiji, your movement has received a great deal of attention for, at least one reason, because many of your followers dress in what for the West is an odd fashion and relate to the world in what for the West is an odd fashion. Can you respond to that? Why have you asked your followers to dress in this fashion and to play drums on the streets?
Prabhupada: This is our preaching method, some way or other to draw their attention. (laughter)
Devotees: Jaya! Haribol!
Reporter: I’m sure that you’re aware that to many people in the West, in America, in New York City specifically, that your disciples seem strange because of the way they act on the streets. What about that?
Prabhupada: Yes, they must be strange because they are spiritual. You are all material. (laughter) So, for the material persons, we are surely strange people.
Reporter: Is this manifestation the only way to be spiritual, dressing in this fashion?
Prabhupada: No, no, you cannot compete with us. Because we don’t have any illicit sex, we don’t have meat-eating, we have no intoxication, we have no gambling. There’s so many no’s which you are unable to perform.
Reporter: Swami, that wasn’t my question. My question was, is this manifestation, dressing in this fashion, playing drums and dancing in the streets, the only way to be spiritual?
Prabhupada: No, we have got about sixty books. If you want to learn this movement through science and philosophy, we have got our books. You have not seen our books? (laughter)
Reporter: Swami, that isn’t the thrust of my question. Yes, I have. The thrust of my question very simply is this: Can’t people be spiritual without dressing in this fashion and dancing in the street?
Prabhupada: Oh, yes, oh, yes, you can become spiritual in your this dress. Simply you have to learn what it is from the books. The dress… dress is not very important thing, but still, in the material field, this girl is dressed in a different way, you are dressed in a different way.
Reporter: The way we dress lets us move in all circles.
Prabhupada;: No, the thing is, dress is not very important.
Reporter: But you have your disciples dress in this way…
Prabhupada: But just to draw a particular… Just like the policeman, he is differently dressed. One can understand that he is policeman. Similarly, we are also differently dressed so that people may understand we are Hare Krishna people.
Devotees: Jaya! Haribol!
(New York, March 1975).