Q. Prabhuji, I am asking your personal opinion on book distribution in big cities in Texas. Dhoti/tilak or jeans/pullover for showing BBT books to public. A senior book distributor devotee recommends looking like Joe Public or a yoga student to show Prabhupada’s books?
Here is my reply:
Jeans were good in the 70's because back then speaking to a person in a dhoti on the street was like speaking to a grown man wearing a diaper on the street. It totally freaked people out, thus it was very hard to communicate. Such is not the case today. Just as chanting with others, san-kirtan, helps each other advance. Which is different than japa which is only for individual advancement. So similarly wearing a dhoti in public helps others remember Krishna and not just the person you are speaking with. People think, "There are the Hare Krishna's" By this public presence we do not become the forgotten cult of the past but rather a part of public life. People can easily recognize us by this method. Just imagine you are distributing books and that there is a person across the street who is interested. That person may not recognize you without devotional dress. Many of the people that I find that are very interested are the ones that approach me due to the dress.
photos from www.RedAshram.com
I have personal experience of distributing books in large cities such as New York, Atlanta, Chicago, and many others, wherein people would come up to me and say, "Hare Krishnas!, I thought you guys ceased to exist, extinct!" In New York there are many homeless people and charlatans who are well dressed and clean looking selling items and asking for donations. By wearing devotional attire, people are instilled with confidence that we are not out there just to make a buck but rather to distribute knowledge.
People respect the dress and are spiritually benefited by such an offering of respect. Often I am attached, which is not good, to special treatment that we devotees get when dress like priests, monks, and religious folk. People not only speak to you differently, but inquire from you about your beliefs as well.
(student dressed up for a school project)
One of the devotees who is responsible for the revival of devotional dress here in the States in public is Prithu Prabhu. Back in the mid 90's and so on he had all the book distributors going out in Vaisnava attire. I remember back in Portland he had his very tiny little temple, however that little tiny temple had more young devotees joining and accepting initiation than any other temple in the U.S. This went on for several years. In the town, everyone knew the Hare Krishnas, we were part of the city's culture rather than a forgotten past.
Just one last thing I would like mention. A disciple of Srila Prabhupada, Misra Bhagavan Prabhu, told me an anecdote the other day. He spoke about how in the 70’s there was a wonderful video of Srila Prabhupada’s BBT production, “Brilliant as the Sun” ending with a devotee distributing books dressed in dhoti, tilak, and kurta. Misra Bhagavan recalled, “Wow I wish I could distribute books like that.” This was back in the day of tacky wigs, slacks, and button-up shirts and no disclosure.
There are situations where I would not wear a dhoti. Like places I should not be distributing books. But if it is just a public place then there is no harm and definitely benefit.