1. What is the correct etiquette during kirtan or class when the altar curtain opens? I was always taught that during class it is not required to offer obeisances to the deities, because Vyasa’s representative is sitting giving class, but it seems more and more that devotees are offering obeisances, even during kirtana.

    Is there any reference from Srila Prabhupada or the acaryas on this matter?

    Answer by HH Bhakti Vikāsa Swami:

    Śrīla Prabhupāda very carefully… Let’s preface this by saying that this is an instance of one rule coming in conflict with another rule. It’s very common. One rule is that when the Deities open or when one enters the presence of the Deities, one should offer obeisance. Another one is that one should sit and listen to the class and not even fidget. What to speak of lift up your whole body and offer obeisances? It interrupts the whole flow of the class. 

    Śrīla Prabhupāda apparently said… I’ve been told this on several occasions — that Śrīla Prabhupāda instructed on several occasions that when he was giving class when the temple curtain opens, or closes, just go on listening. Don’t offer obeisance. Offer respect to Hari in the form of Hari-kathā by listening carefully. I don’t know if [there is] any instruction of Śrīla Prabhupāda in this regard, and therefore we are likely to hear different things from different persons, who have different opinions. Another source of understanding is from tradition. And, as far as Gauḍīya tradition is concerned, including Gauḍīya Maṭha and various sampradāyas — apasampradāyas in Bengal, who may follow a lot of the culture even though they are considered apasampradāyas. 

    My experience is that when kīrtana is going on you don’t just stop the kīrtana in the middle for everyone to bow down; kīrtana goes on. Kṛṣṇa is present in the form of His holy name. That’s quite a disturbance to the kīrtana if everyone just stops in the middle. So, like I say, someone else may give you a different opinion. But what I observed in my years in Bengal is that kīrtana doesn’t stop. Go on with the kīrtana. And then, after the kīrtana there’s Jaya-dhvani, as is usually called in Bengal, or Prema-dhvani, as is usually called in ISKCON. And after that, everyone bows down. Actually, traditionally everyone stands up during Jaya-dhvani also, then they offer obeisance. Anyway, that’s another point. 

    Oh, and in this connection, the example is given of Romaharṣaṇa Sūta, who did not stand to offer obeisance to Balarāma when Balarāma entered the assembly. Well, this is a different… It’s different because Romaharṣaṇa Sūta’s mentality was that, “I don’t have to offer obeisance.” But if one’s listening to bhāgavata-kathā, or if one is chanting the holy names, one is already offering respect. So it’s not that one doesn’t offer respect, but one continues to offer respect in the way that one’s already doing, by hearing the kathā or engaging in the kīrtana. So, comparing this to the case of Romaharṣaṇa Sūta is not applicable; because both his action and his mentality… By both word and deed, he failed to offer proper respect to Balarāma, which is not the case in the case of not bowing down during the class, which we have a specific order from our guru also. So gurura ājñā [haya] balavān: one should follow the order of… The guru’s order overrides, or can do… 

    If the guru is understood to be properly situated, then his order overrides all other rules in śāstra. Now, we say a guru is a guru because he follows the order of śāstra, but if he tells you not to follow śāstra, then how is he a guru? But if generally he is giving proper direction from śāstra and he is teaching the proper siddhānta, then if there’s some exception to that, then you have to take the guru’s order. Just like when Śrīla Prabhupāda told Harikeśa Svāmī to go and preach in Russia and Harikeśa Svāmī gave so many objections why he couldn’t or shouldn’t go. And his final objection was that, “There’s nothing to eat there but meat.” And Prabhupāda said, “Then eat meat if you have to, but go there and preach.” So generally if the guru tells you to eat meat, you can understand he’s not such a good guru. But in this case the best guru in the whole universe, and he is telling you to eat meat. Of course, the injunction is not to eat meat, but the injunction is to preach. That must be executed under any circumstances. As it happened, it was possible to survive in Russia at that time on fat Vietnamese rice and potatoes, and butter. There was plenty of butter imported from Europe. Because the European countries, they want to keep the price up, so they sold it off to their enemy, Russia, at a next to nothing price. It’s got nothing to do with the point under discussion. So, okay.