Not every Hare Krsna male sports a shaved head. It's not an absolute requirement, but it's part of the tradition, and there are good reasons for it. So most Krsna conscious men prefer to shave their heads and keep the tuft in the back, called a sikha. I remember the first time my mother saw me with a shaved head. She wanted to know why.
"Because it is cleaner," I said. "Hair attracts and keeps a lot of dirt. We believe 'Cleanliness is next to godliness.' But the main reason is that shaving is an expression of surrender to the Lord."
"What does a shaved head have to do with surrender to God?" she asked archly.
"Hair is very important for people in bodily consciousness," I explained. "They associate it with youth and beauty. But in Krsna consciousness we learn that the first principle of spiritual life is to transcend identification with the body and to identify oneself as a spiritual soul.
"Because most people consider hair an essential aspect of their beauty and intrinsic to their identity, they are very attached to it. So when a man takes up spiritual life, shaving his head is a significant step. It indicates that he is very serious about surrendering, and it pleases the spiritual master to see the disciple advance in renunciation."
My mom disagreed. She harrumphed a bit, then asserted that she didn't think my point about people being attached to their hair was well founded. All the same, she admitted she liked me better with mine.
Our conversation occurred almost fifteen years ago, but it came to mind recently when I read an article on baldness. Victims of baldness can now smear on a drug that induces hair growth, or they can get hair transplants, or they can try the most recent development: scalp-reduction surgery.
In this operation strips of bald scalp are surgically removed, and the hair-bearing section of the pate is pulled up and sutured together to reduce the bald area. Afterwards, if any baldness remains, hair is implanted to fill the space.
The operation can cost as much as five thousand dollars. Still, it is much more economical than the drug treatments, which cost a thousand dollars a year. My stepfather, for instance, who started balding at thirty-four, would have spent twenty thousand dollars on drugs by now. If he lived to eighty, he would spend forty-six thousand dollars on his hair alone.
These advances in the bald wars, the article pointed out, have brought hope into the lives of some thirty million men who consider baldness a real setback, a virtual neon indicator of "lost youth and vigor."
Upon reading this, I could not help thinking. Well, Mom, there you are. After all these years, here is proof that a devotee's shaved head is surrender. Men are so attached to their hair that they are willing to pay handsomely to get it back.
To a person trained in Krsna consciousness, who understands that the body is temporary, these measures against baldness seem silly. But if you happen to identify yourself with your body, which is withering even as you read this, you'd consider the discovery of a cure for baldness a cause for celebration.
This kind of news item confirms why Srila Prabhupada referred to ours as a "misguided civilization." For without pursuing perfection in Krsna consciousness, embodied souls, trying to prolong their illusion of happiness in the material world, are obliged to engage in such trivial pursuits, instead of thinking how to end repeated birth and death altogether.