Preaching without Barriers

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The program starts with H.D. Goswami singing his English adaptation of Narottama das Thakur’s song Lalasamayi from Prarthana (Gauranga balite habe). From there he raises important questions in regards to relevant preaching in today’s society and what Vedic Culture actually means.


There is always a tension between opposing forces which can be creative or destructive and a tension between individual needs and the needs of society. In religious societies there is also a tension between preservation and adaptation. If we adapt too much we loose our identity and become assimilated, but if we only preserve we become irrelevant (16th Century in India). So we have to strike the right balance. Narottama das Thakur wrote in simple Bengali language which was revolutionary at a time where all relevant texts were written in Sanskrit. To follow him does it mean to sing in Bengali or sing in English so that people can understand?

In order to follow Lord Caitanya we feel that we have to go out on the street in Indian village dress. However, we find that Lord Caitanya dressed like that because he lived in West Bengal. There is no evidence that the people who were chanting dressed different than the people who were listening. The only difference between them was that they were chanting Hare Krsna.

There are many issues which need to be addressed, such as the question whether people going out to chant follow Mahaprabhu by wearing exotic uniform. Fundamental principles have to be followed, but Prabhupada makes it clear that details vary. He says one should make all consideration according to time and place.

We have to understand that Vedic Culture is no ethnic tradition, but a scientific principle of dharma. When Krsna talks about the best type of food he refers to the mode of goodness, it is not a specific kind of cooking but healthy, nonviolent food and increases the duration of life.  The same refers to architecture.  According to Srila Prabhupada we are allowed to engage in philosophical speculation (as opposed to mental speculation) and address these issues.

It says in scripture that women should dress chastely, but what does it mean? It varies according to climate and place. Even the erotic zones of the top part of the body are socially constructed.  There were times in England where a ladies neck was much more agitating that her chest. 

Vedic culture was variegated. City culture (Dvaraka) was different from village culture (Vrindavan). The difference is stated by the gopis themselves.

There is a lot of superstition and legends that are mixed in with our spiritual culture, i.e. that you cannot wear sawn clothing on the altar or that you should cover your hand when you are chanting gayatri. Prabhupada did not follow that. In ISKCON there are all kinds of urban legends which have become pillars of our self-understanding.  So again, what is Vedic culture?

In CC there is no mention that people were chanting on japa beads and beadbags. In Lord Caitanya’s times we know that devotees were counting (from the song of the Six Goswamis), but not on beads.  We should use beads because Prabhupada did it, but we should be aware of these things.

Also the word Maharaja (great king) or swami is not an ancient word for sannyasi. In Srimdad Bhagavatam there is no mention of it. Even the sannyas dress. We have evidence that the Six Goswamis (who are the perfect examples of Gaudiya Vaishnava sannyasis) wore kaupinas and rags. Also saris and dhotis are not Vaishnava dress. This notion only exists in India. Devotee should have the right to dress as they want (decently and appropriately), we just shouldn’t be chauvinistic about it. Also Vedic culture is not floor culture – that is Indian culture. The Bhagavatam is full of furniture. Srila Prabhupada requested us just to add Krsna to our lives.

Srila Prabhupada said in 19: “In this material world there is no happiness, but if there is a little happiness, it is in America.”  In 1966 when he first came he requested us to just put a “1” in front of the zeros. Some devotees want to haul out all the Western zeros, then bring over all the Indian zeros and then put the 1 up. Why should we have to re-ethnicize ourselves?

So Vedic Culture is a culture of principles which apply according to different times and places.