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Q&A with Srila Hridayananda das Goswami on Wearing Dhotis and Saris

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).

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Q&A with Srila Hridayananda das Goswami on Gay Couples Having Children

Question by a lesbian devotee in a monogamous relationship who wants to have her own child: I want to raise my own child and not adopt. The only literature I have read on the topic of gay parenting is academic psychology articles and journals. I am a masters level student in clinical mental health counseling, and have done research and learned in my classes that when two parents of the same sex raise a child together there are no correlated sexual dysfunction issues or psychiatric issues. Oddly enough, in fact, a few studies that followed children of lesbian parents actually found that the children fared better than those that had straight parents. What is your opinion?

 

Answer by Srila Hridayananda das Goswami:

 

Here are a few thoughts:

The desire to bear one’s own child is natural. As far as possible, we try to transcend our human desires, but there are some human needs so deeply rooted in our hearts that ignoring them may cause more harm than good to our spiritual life. Prabhupada always taught us that Krishna consciousness is a gradual process and we often gradually transcend our human needs by engaging them in Krishna consciousness. So if you are dedicated to raising a Krishna conscious child, then you are spiritualizing your human need to raise a child.

ISKCON is a large, global society, and inevitably we find liberals, conservatives, moderates and everything in between. I sometimes say that ISKCON is simply “the world with Krishna.” So whatever our position may be on worldly issues, we must humbly accept that some devotees will disagree, and others will support us.

Your specific issue, raising a child within a lesbian household, is definitely not a fundamental Vedic issue and therefore the scriptures do not specifically address it. Precisely because it is an issue of detail, not basic principle, there will inevitably be different opinions about it. However the basic principle that guides us in such ambiguous or ambivalent areas is that we should do what is best for our own Krishna consciousness and for the Krishna consciousness of the world. So if you are confident that you will be a Krishna conscious mother and help an innocent soul on the path to Krishna, then I would personally support you on this.

With best wishes,

Hridayananda das Goswami

 

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Q&A with Srila Hridayananda das Goswami on the Maha-mantra and the Perfection of Life

Question: How can we overcome all our material problems and unhappiness and attain the perfection of life?


Answer by Srila Hridayananda das Goswami:

The best way to overcome all sorts of unhappiness is to remember who we really are: pure souls, part of Krishna/God/Spirit. We have innumerable fellow pure souls with whom we are eternally related in unbreakable bonds of love and devotion.

As Krishna explains in the Gita, our consciousness is now ‘covered’ by ‘un-knowledge’ and we can dissipate that covering thru knowledge.

The Maha-mantra, ‘great mantra’, is: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare/ Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.

Hare is an address to HarA, the feminine counterpart of Krishna. By chanting ‘hare’, we appeal to the supreme feminine power to spiritually uplift us and engage us in the Lord’s eternal service. The word hare is from the root hR, which means ‘to take’. Thus the supreme feminine power, also known as Radha, will take away all our troubles and take us to Krishna.

Krishna comes from two Sanskrit verbal roots:

1. Krsh = ‘to attract’;  2. nand = to give, or feel, bliss. [the word a-nanda is from this root.] Thus ‘Krishna’ means that God is the source of infinite bliss because He is infinitely attractive/beautiful. You are beautiful because you are an eternal part of the infinite beauty of Krishna.

Rama comes from the Sanskrit root ‘ram’ which means ‘to enjoy’. Rama means ‘the source of pleasure.’ There is a Sanskrit text which states:

ramante yogino anante satyanande cid-atmani

iti rama-padenasau param brahmabhidhiyate

“The yogis enjoy in the infinite bliss of truth, in the conscious Soul. Therefore the Absolute Truth is described by the word Rama.”

So the Maha-mantra is ‘one stop shopping’ to achieve a perfect life. If you make this mantra your constant companion, you will never be alone. A final point: the Vedic wisdom teaches that the Absolute Truth is identical to His/Her name. So when you chant the Maha-mantra, you are not merely referring to something, but rather you are directly in contact, in touch, with the Truth. In Sanskrit, the word for ‘contact’ is ‘yoga.’ So by chanting, singing, remembering, meditating on this mantra, you are directly in a state of yoga, directly in touch with the infinitely beautiful source of all happiness. By that contact, you will revive and enjoy your own eternal, divine nature. It is only because that nature is now covered that we experience, artificially, sadness, loneliness etc.

With best wishes,

Hridayananda das Goswami

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Q&A with Srila Hridayananda das Goswami on Japa and Gaura-Nitai

Question: Srila Prabhupada says in the book Teachings of Lord Chaitanya, that when we chant Hare Krishna, Hare Rama not only do we invoke Krishna and Balarama but also Lord Caitanya and Nityanada. You said that when we chant japa, Krsna is present in His name and so we are in the presence of Krishna, speaking directly to Krsna. Can I say, therefore, that Lord Caitanya and Nityananda are also present in front of me when I chant japa or kirtana etc. and, thus, can I pray to Lord Caitanya and Nityananda – at the time of japa – to mercifully help me chant japa more carefully and with more concentration?

 

Answer by Srila Hridayananda das Goswami:

Undoubtedly Gaura-Nitai are present when you sing the Mahamantra. They are very merciful and only by His mercy, manifested in this world by Srila Prabhupada, we can overcome the ocean of Kali.

With best wishes,

Hridayananda das Goswami

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Q&A with Srila Hridayananda das Goswami on ISKCON and Welfare Work

Question: Do you think that the increased food distribution to poor children and the opening of hospitals by ISKCON (in India) compromises ISKCON’s purpose as established by Srila Prabhupada, or diminishes its purity of distributing pure spirituality?

 

Answer by Srila Hridayananda das Goswami:

I agree that ISKCON should not become, or be perceived as having become, a mundane welfare society. It would be hard to make the case, for example, that Chowpatty is predominantly ‘mundane’, given the extraordinary attention to sadhana-bhakti there, and the powerful preaching programs at colleges etc.

In the US and West Europe there are far fewer ‘welfare’ programs, and of course the movement is largely irrelevant and forgotten. Prabhupada spoke of varnashrama and even wanted to dedicate his last visit to the US, which health did not permit, to varnashrama. Mundane society is a headless body, but ISKCON is a disembodied head. One may imagine that without widespread prasadam distribution, hospitals etc ,we will become a major spiritual force in society simply by preaching philosophy and chanting etc, but we may not. Ever.

In the West, an extraordinary historical ‘window’ opened and ISKCON grew. That window is now largely closed and we make devotees at a tiny rate compared to then. Other windows may be opening but we have yet to clearly identify them.

In India, the stunning novelty of western Vaishnavas powered the initial expansion of ISKCON, and now ISKCON India is flying under its own steam. To imagine that we can be a large, powerful movement in India and entirely reject programs such as food distribution and hospitals is, in my view, unrealistic. Such a view, I believe, ignores real history. Of course we may go too far. But we must be careful not to go to either extreme.

 

With best wishes,

Hridayananda das Goswami

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Q&A with Srila Hridayananda das Goswami on Homosexuality and Spiritual Practice

Comments by Srila Hridayananda das Goswami when asked to review the article “A Hindu Response to Gay Rights” (Huffington Post):

 

A) The notion of a ‘trtiya prakrti’, or ‘third gender’ tends to distort the Shastra view. The Shastras do not explicitly speak of a 3rd gender/prakrti. The term is not traditional.

B) Interestingly, the Manu-samhita states that homosexuality is not a big sin. The text is overwhelmingly concerned with varna-sankara, varna-mixing that produces mixed progeny. Since gays don’t reproduce, there is not much concern with them.

C) I understand the militant gay response to oppression. At the same time, there is something unfortunate about identifying oneself by sexual orientation. Bodily-identification, with any orientation, is illusory,  and further identifying oneself not merely with the body, but with the body’s sexuality, is clearly not ‘the way.’

D) The abused become the abusers. I know of several cases, among my acquaintances, where gays discriminated against straight people. One case occurred with my disciple who is a straight, modern dancer. He was fired from his job, despite his qualifications, because the other dancers found out he was straight.

Conclusion: I believe we should support spirituality, and support gays within that framework.

With best wishes,

Hridayananda das Goswami

Click here to see an earlier essay on a similar theme.

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Q&A with Srila Hridayananda das Goswami on Philosophy and Religion

Questions: How to balance philosophy and religion in ISKCON?

 

Answer by Srila Hridayananda das Goswami:

Inevitably in every religion there will be a theological divide between those who seek to combine philosophy and religion, as Prabhupada recommended, and those who feel that religion without  rational consideration is better. Prabhupada taught us that we need reasonable devotion, and devoted reason. Otherwise, in the name of glorifying Prabhupada, some devotees drift into fanaticism and sentimentalism. And in the name of reason, others lose their understanding of Prabhupada’s unique contribution.

With best wishes,

Hridayananda das Goswami

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