What To Get The Vaishnava Who Has Everything?
September 27, 2012 12:23 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend is a very spiritual devotee of Krishna (via ISKCON). Before we were dating he lived in an Ashram for a while, and has been involved with the temple since he was in early high school. I'm happily Jewish, and not personally disposed toward that sort of devotion, and I think sometimes my inability to understand comes off as skeptical or disapproving. His birthday is coming up in about a week, and I'd like to get him something, or do something for him that will demonstrate a commitment to his spirituality - or at least something that shows I'm trying. I'd love your suggestions. More details beyond the fold.

I was thinking I could get a first ed. of one of Srila Prabhupada's books or something, but they were all published so recently that it doesn't seem too special or personal. I don't want to get him anything that should be worshipped, because that seems presumptuous. I can't afford a trip to India, and he already lives in New York. Ideas??
posted by howgenerica to Religion & Philosophy (12 answers total)
Not to be difficult here, but what if you did this thing not as a gift to celebrate his birthday, but something smaller and less monumental, given a little bit before, just because? I think that would go a bit longer way to show you're trying than to couch it in a special event. In other words, your demonstration of your acceptance of his faith should be at the level of everyday event, not special occasion. I'd worry that if you did something like this for a birthday it would say more about what you want him to think of you rather than what he wants for his day, which should be all about him. So perhaps get him something he really wants for his birthday (and if that happens to be something tied to his spirituality, then great, but if not cover that angle elsewhere, beforehand).

My sincere apologies if I've made any unfair assumptions here.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:07 AM on September 27, 2012

Response by poster: Dear iamkimiam,

I appreciate the intention behind your advice, and it makes me realize that my case may be more effectively communicated with a little more information. The BF and I first met in college because we were the two darlings of our Religion department - at the time I specialized in late antique catholicism, and he specialized in modern american, and we were both weirdly fanatical about our chosen fields. Our foci have expanded since graduation, but we still take weekend trips to churches and temples, and rare religious iconography and literature is predominantly what we gift one another on special (and not special) occasions. He knows I'm cool with the Hare Krishna's in practice - I'm well versed in the vocabulary, and have been to lots of lectures and events - but I have never really given him anything of direct spiritual significance, and I think it would be a nice step. And if it's deemed distasteful, please note that any HK-related gift would be in conjunction with several others.
posted by howgenerica at 1:37 AM on September 27, 2012

I don't know if you are a foodie or if you even cook at all, but one of the best Indian cookbooks ever published in the West is a doorstop of a tome called Lord Krishna's Cuisine. It was written by an early devotee of Srila Pabhupada as a way to spread the word about Indian vegetarian cooking (and, one assumes as a sort of handbook for White American women suddenly tasked with feeding an Ashram in accordance with new/exotic religious specifications). It's sort of the Mastering The Art Of French Cooking of classic north Indian cuisine.

What about either giving him a copy of the book (the edition I linked above is gorgeous and definitely worthy of a gift), or better yet, order one for yourself/for you guys to share and cook him an amazing meal from it?
posted by Sara C. at 4:21 AM on September 27, 2012 [13 favorites]

How about some chanting CDs? The Krishna Das CD Live on Earth for a Limited Time is quite good. Also, Krishna Das comes to New York often, so maybe tickets for the two of you to go to a concert. Its quite fun!

Some nice incense? Meditation pillow? Vegetarian cooking class the the ICE?
posted by shothotbot at 6:23 AM on September 27, 2012

This seems like the perfect thing to ask one of your boyfriend's... eh... "co-devotees" (sorry, a better term doesn't occur to me at the moment), if you are acquainted with any of them. Maybe you could bring up some of the other poster's cool suggestions and see what they think about it. Have fun!
posted by Pieprz at 6:59 AM on September 27, 2012

As a very spiritual person, maybe he would appreciate a charitable donation instead of a material gift? The ISKON Food For Life program does amazing work.
posted by apparently at 7:07 AM on September 27, 2012

There are lots of books with color plates showing the artwork of Krsna (like Krishna Art). Maybe one of those?

Or maybe ask a fellow devotee if arati items (altar pieces for a home altar, not the deity itself) would also be too presumptuous?
posted by Houstonian at 8:34 AM on September 27, 2012

I've been an ISKCON devotee for almost fifteen years (and since my parents live in Jersey, I wonder if I've met your boyfriend), but this is still a tough question to answer.

Aside from the fact that the best gifts are the thoughtful ones (read: the most personal ones), it really depends on your boyfriend's level of involvement in the movement and whatever allegiances he may or may not have; ISKCON devotees want you to think that they're a very homogenous bunch, but they can be all over the map when it comes to practical application of the philosophy, especially in North America. The fact that he's spent time living in an ashram could mean that he's at least somewhat conservative (or reactionary, depending on the experience he had there). Then again, the fact that he has a Jewish girlfriend probably means he's not too conservative (at the very least, it means he's not fanatical, thank Krishna). So, without a very clear idea of what sort of devotee he is, I'll take a shot anyway…

Any physical gift is likely to be appreciated by him (because you're his girlfriend, and because he sounds like a nice guy), but I'm having trouble thinking of a three-dimensional object that will "demonstrate a commitment to his spirituality." Anyway, devotees are generally encouraged not to make their birthdays about themselves but to do something either to serve other devotees or to please Krishna. Still, that's up to him, you can't really suggest that your present to him is the idea that he do something nice for someone else. Sara C.'s suggestion is a nice one in that it is something tangible you could give to him but at the same time it can also be something that you do for him. I can't imagine he wouldn't appreciate it if you cooked a nice vegetarian meal for him – following Vaishnava culinary etiquette – and then offered it to Krishna. It might be even better if you invited some of his devotee friends over to have a meal and a kirtan with the two of you. Along the lines of apparently's suggestion, if you're not into cooking, you could also sponsor a feast at the temple (on 1st Avenue or in Brooklyn) in his name. That could end up being expensive, but it is a common occurrence for families to sponsor a "Sunday Feast" to celebrate someone's birthday with the idea that the birthday boy or girl will reap some spiritual benefit.

Actually, now that I think of it…How well do you know the devotees there in NYC? You could talk to them about having a special get together for him at the temple. They might even help with the cooking. For bonus points, you could arrange to have it at 26 2nd Avenue, the storefront in the East Village where Prabhupada first started having kirtans and Bhagava-gita classes. It's under the care of the 1st Avenue devotees. They might be willing to help you arrange something there. Actually, there's even a devotee living in the 1st Avenue temple that runs a catering business with his wife. Just another idea.

Another NYC specific suggestion, the Doughnut Plant (also in the village) is a favorite of devotees because all their donuts are prasada (offered to Krishna). If nothing else, that's a good idea for desert after dinner.

Also, feel free to message me if you have questions about this, or if you need some contacts.

Oh, one last note: Depending on how conservative he is, a Krishna Das CD is probably not the best idea. Krishna Das is known to have been very critical of ISKCON devotees in the past, and so some devotees refuse to listen to his kirtans. Not all devotees, but some. Better safe than sorry, I guess.
posted by eric1halfb at 8:43 AM on September 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

You're saying you want to show you're cool with not just his religion in general, but in particular the devotional nature of his practices. One concrete way to do this is to give him something that he can in turn give to Krishna.

Several of the suggestions above can work for this: incense, chanting, charitable projects, and especially cookbook, cooking, food, etc. A cooking class you two take together? A set of especially fancy dishes for offering food to Krishna? One of Krishna's favorite treats, e.g. ghee?

Note: I know nothing about Krishna's followers beyond what it says in one of their cookbooks. But as someone who practices an Eastern religion about which mrs_goldfish was originally skeptical, I think your gift-giving intention is awesome and will bring your boyfriend joy & security.
posted by feral_goldfish at 8:46 AM on September 27, 2012

A tulasi tree in a special pot would be a lovely gift, I think.
posted by goo at 9:10 AM on September 27, 2012

Get him a flute - Krishna's instrument. There are some professional Bansuri makers in the US, as well as some in India and Nepal, who sell and ship at reasonable prices. If you think it would be a good gift for him and want advice as to where to get a decent instrument, feel free to memail me.
posted by iotic at 11:21 AM on September 27, 2012

is he into krishna core at all? how old is he? i got into krishna consciousness though krishna-core (punk music thats krishna influenced). if so, shelter or 108 records or tshirts may be good.
but i also agree with everything said by eric1halfb above
posted by udon at 12:08 PM on September 27, 2012

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