Tilak and Book Distribution
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada. All glories to book distribution, which “is the essence of ISKCON” (letter by Srila Prabhupada to Tamal Krsna Goswami.)
I wrote the following paper after the December marathon which I did in the LA airport. I showed it to my spiritual master, His Holiness Bhakti Caru Swami, and he wrote the following note about it:
To all my disciples and friends,
Please accept my best wishes. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
Candrasekhar Acarya dasa, who is my secretary now, went out distributing books for 3 weeks during the Christmas marathon in the Los Angeles airport. Based on some of his realizations, he wrote the following article which was sent out to the Book distribution conference. I was very impressed with this article and I think that all the devotees can benefit from it. Therefore I am posting it in this conference. Please read this article carefully and seriously consider the points he is making.
I hope this meets you well,
Yours in the service of Srila Prabhupada,
Bhakti Caru Swami
TILAK AND BOOK DISTRIBUTION
I did the last marathon in the LA airport dressed in a nice suit and with a clean shaved head, sikha, and nice Tilak on my forehead. I feel that because of this, I did the best quality book distribution I have ever done before.
Here are some relevant quotes from Srila Prabhupada in this regard:
“The next point is that you should dress just like perfect American gentlemen, but the sikha and tilak MUST BE VERY PROMINENT. Coat, pants, necktie, and everything, Brahmacari and Grhasthas, they can put on, because you are not Sannyasi. In the temple, you can dress as brahmacari, but in order not to become ridiculous in the eyes of others, outside you should dress just like a very nice perfect aristocratic American. So there is no objection. But we MUST HAVE ALWAYS our tilak and sikha and there is NO COMPROMISE for this purpose.”
REF. Letter to: Brahmananda – Seattle 6 October, 1968
“Jyotirmayi: No, no. He’s saying why are we dressing like that, like Indians?
Prabhupäda: I have not said that you dress like that. You like, you do it. Did I say that you do it?”
“Outside the Temple they may wear American gentleman’s dress, with Tilaka, flag*, and beads. It is not required to wear dhotis, as this society does not understand, so outside the Temple a dress suit is more socially acceptable. If they so desire, for ceremony, they can dress in dhotis for Kirtana.”
REF. Letter to: Balai — San Francisco 12 March, 1968 *”flag” refers to Sikha
“I have no objection if members of the Society dress like nice American gentlemen; but IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES a devotee CANNOT avoid tilak, flag on head, & beads on neck. These are ESSENTIAL features of a Vaisnava.”
REF. Letter to: Brahmananda — Calcutta 14 October, 1967
“Ramesvara: No. I’m just saying that it is a little difficult if they wear their dhoti.
Prabhupada: No, dhoti, I don’t say. You have nice coat-pant. I don’t say that you have to… I never said that. You have adopted it. (laughs) I never said that “You put on dhoti.”
“I never objected to any of my students dressing like nice American gentleman, clean shaved; those who are my disciples MUST have flag, TILAK & beads on neck WITHOUT FAIL.”
REF. Letter to: Kirtanananda — Calcutta 16 October, 1967
“The next important points are as follows: (1) One should decorate the body with Tilak, which is the sign of the Vaisnavas. (The idea is that as soon as a person sees these marks on the body of the Vaisnavas, he will immediately remember Krsna. Lord Caitanya said that a Vaisnava is he who, when seen, reminds on of Krsna. Therefore, it is ESSENTIAL that a Vaisnava mark his body with Tilak to remind others of Krsna.)” Nectar of Devotion, p.54
Dear devotees, most book distributors in the Western world do not wear Tilak nowadays. Yet Srila Prabhupada calls the act of wearing Tilak an “essential feature of a Vaisnava.” He says that devotees should have Tilak on “without fail.” He says we should wear it “in all circumstances.” “There is no compromise” for this purpose. It appears clear to me that “In all circumstances” includes the circumstance of book distribution and preaching.
Over the last 20 years, front line preachers have made big mistakes that cost our society very dearly. We are suffering the reactions to these mistakes in terms of terrible public opinion and weak individual Krsna consciousness. Lying about our identity as well as about the contents of the books, cheating, changing-up, being too pushy with the people, tricking, burning people out, etc, occured often and still goes on today when book distributors approach people in public. An innocent question comes up: would these things have happened in the same proportion, if not at all, if book distributors had been instructed by their authorities that they should wear TILAK at all times because Srila Prabhupada wanted it so?
When one wears Tilak in public, one cannot avoid being truthful. With Tilak, we are much more self conscious and aware that we are representatives of the Vaisnava tradition. Indeed, when we approach people with Tilak on, they know that we are Hare Krsnas’, or at least they know that we represent something religious. Then, whatever we say to them will be accepted as straightforward because from the beginning of our transaction with the people who agree to stop and listen to us, it is disctinct and clear that we are Hare Krsnas’. We may even then tell them “any damm thing”(as Srila Prabhupada said) in order for them to buy the books (the end justifies the means), but because we have Tilak on, there is no way they can say afterwards that we tricked them or cheated them. In other words, with Tilak, we are UPFRONT and non-duplicious by our very appearance and presence.
Look at the other “preaching movements” out there in the world. Take the Mormons, for example. Do their preachers hide their identity as Mormons? No. On the contrary, they proudly present themselves as belonging to the church of Latter Day Saints, without covering up anything. A young Mormon “elder” will walk up to you with his badge that says, “Elder Johnson from the Church of Latter Day Saints,” and he will tell you with a smile, “Hi! My name is Rick Johnson. I am a Mormon and I would like to tell you about Jesus Christ and about the Book of Mormon.” (A statistic, by the way: Mormons have, at any given time during the year, 100 000 preachers from 19 to 21 years old doing their 2-year preaching mission all over planet Earth, boldy preaching about their religion). He will not cover up anything and sell you his book and have you figure out yourself an hour later that he was actually a Mormon. Why do ISKCON book distributors hide their identity in the name of preaching more effectively? Is it not cultish, actually? The Mormons or the Catholics do not have a very good philosophy-granted. But do they have a reputation of being con-artists? Do they have a reputation of being a cult whose members hide their identity like the Scientologists or the Moonies do? No. The reason, I think, is because they are upfront in their presentation. So should we. And an easy and bona-fide way to be upfront is to simply wear Tilak, as our Founder Acarya clearly indicated in the self-explanatory above-mentionned letters.
Some will say, “it doesn’t matter. My consciousness is not affected by hiding my identity.” But for many, being duplicious does affect their consciousness. Many devotees today feel that they sold books over the years in too much of a crooked or forceful way, depending on tactics, intimidation and surprise rather than on the mercy of Krsna and His reciprocation with our own surrender, purity and dependence upon Him as we present ourselves and the books honestly to people.
Wearing Tilak helps us stay pure in thoughts and actions. Let us not over-estimate our ability to be totally transcendental, to “catch a fish without getting wet,” as Srila Prabhupada says. Recently, a friend of mine who works in Bombay wrote to me and told me about how he started going to his office with Tilak on. He wrote, “You will be glad to know that I joined my new job on 8th jan & from the day One I am wearing tilak. Nobody has yet said anything negative about it to me. Thank you very much for helping to build courage to wear tilak. I am now wearing it everyday & it gives me a sense of responsibility at every moment of the day, especially when my eyes wander to look at the girls when i am out (i am sorry for being too honest but i can’t be a friend with someone unless i open myself before that person).”
This is a devotee working outside, and he is wearing Tilak. So what to speak of book distributors, who are (supposed to) go out there purely in the spirit of preaching, without any material consideration! If our book distributors don’t wear Tilak, then who will? Also, when we wear Tilak, we are much more protected from the allurement of the opposite sex (try it, I’ve experienced it!) Furthermore, how many “shooting star book distributors” have we seen, devotees who did “huge” for several years and then stopped, having fallen into maya or having had a sour taste for the way in which they distributed the books? Rather, we want “every devotee to learn the art of distributing books,” and we want them to make their “life-long plan secure in distributing books.” Therefore it seems to me that the more honest, straightforward and bold our techniques are, the more devotees will relish doing this activity for a life-time. Conversly, the more our tactics of book distribution are dubious, cowardly and tricky, the more difficult it will be for devotees to maintain their long-term enthusiasm for distributing books in such a way, because naturally, for how long can one be proud of doing things in a crooked way?
In the early days of ISKCON, devotees went out there proudly wearing Tilak and preaching about Krsna, about God, about Prabhupada, about surrender, full straightforward approach… SO many devotees joined back then and world governments were terrified of the devotees. Why is it so difficult to make people join today? Is there maybe a connection between this and not being upfront and straightforward in our book distribution? Are we not tired of people coming up to us and saying, “Oh, Hare Krishnas? Where have you guys been for the last 20 years?! We never see you guys anymore!” They don’t see us anymore because we’ve stopped wearing Tilak!
During the last marathon in the LA airport, Krsna sent me for 13 consecutive days out of the 21 that I distributed, at least one young person every day who agreed to have lunch with me and discuss Krsna consciousness during my lunch break. I have kept a list of 35 REALLY nice kids I met that took serious interest in Krsna consciousness and that I am slowly cultivating. Every day numerous people asked me, “what does that marking on your forehead signify?” (that means that a lot more people were curious about it but did not dare to ask) and I answered, “this means that our body is sacred because we believe that Krsna, or God, is residing in our heart, and therefore our body is like a temple,” and in this way very deep religious discussions ensued with the persons who asked the question. For me, that’s much more inspiring in the long run than saying over and over again the same mantra,”this book reduces stress, it’s on yoga and meditation. Can you give a donation?” all day long, month after month, year after year! Rather, I relished the thought that people walked away from me with a book in their hand, with a prasadam flower or cookie in their pocket (I also distributed those items along with the books, just as in the early days), thinking to themselves, “I met a nice Hare Krsna devotee. I bought a book about his religion. He explained to me why they wear that yellow mark on their nose. He was very unique and interresting”
I wrote to my spiritual master, His Holiness Bhakti Charu Swami, and told him about my change of approach, especially about wearing Tilak along with my suit. He replied to me,
Please accept my blessings. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
Thank you very much for your letter. I am happy to know that you are having so many realizations while distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books. I agree with you that straight forward presentation, without hiding our identity, would enhance our preaching.”
Several other senior disciples of Srila Prabhupada were also glad to hear about this style of approach when I told them about it.
People respect those who “walk their talk.” Wearing Tilak is an “essential” feature of being a Vaisnava. Why do we not wear Tilak and in this way, walk our talk, or “practice what we preach.?”
Devotees may say that by doing book distribution with Tilak on, less books go out. But first of all, many devotees are convinced that the same amount of books, if not more, can be distributed with Tilak on. History has even shown it. (Take, for example, France, Italy or Spain, where devotees dressed with Tilak (and even with dhotis!) sold thousands of Bhagavatam sets a week under Bhagavan Prabhu’s time, something that is never done nowadays.) And in any case, it is Krsna, not us, who distributes the books. Will He not arrange for many books to be distributed by us if we are sincerely following the instruction of our Founder Acarya in regards to being honest and wearing Tilak while distributing his books?
Furthermore, we should not underestimate the fact that a book distributor comes in contact with and is noticed by thousands and thousands of people every day. What an effect it has on the public to wear Tilak! I have seen it; when people look at you, even for a split second, a definite change occurs in their consciousness. It is very encouraging: I say to myself, “even if Krsna does not allow me to distribute one single book today, still so many people will have seen me with Tilak, and as the Nectar of Devotion says, it will have reminded them of Krsna. Therefore my preaching will have been a success in any case.”
As the decades and centuries roll on, ISKCON will become more and more established and recogized. It will just become impossible for the book distributors to do what they sometimes did 15 years ago (or are still doing today), namely totally hiding their identity and selling people books without them knowing that we are Hare Krsnas’. Or if we continue to do so, we will just get the reputation of being “those cultish religious guys who trick you into buying their book, only to find out later on that the book is about Krsna and that the person who sold the book to you is a Hare Krsna but for some odd reason never dared to tell you.” Does this sound like a respectable preaching plan that will be effective in making people turn to Krsna consciousness for the next 10 000 years? Rather, I propose, let us follow Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on how we present ourselves to the public, and in this way pave the way for honest, straightforward, powerfull and totally extatic Brihad Mridanga for the future generations of book distributors that will join Srila Prabhupada in his ISKCON movement.
Candrasekhar Acarya dasa
PS- if anyone has comments or criticisms, please write them.