Nityananda! Gauranga! Hare Krishna! My dearest Swamiji Gaurangapada, Is there a recommendation on when and how many (1,2,3) neck beads that one is allowed to wear? I've also heared that if one has not been initiated, the neck beads should be made of neem instead of tulasi? Could You please clarify this topic? Haribol - Damodara Svarupa dasa
Answer by Swami Gaurangapada:
Nityananda! Gauranga! Hare Krishna! Minimum 3 rounds and it can go upto 6 rounds. Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada used to wear around 6 rounds of Tulasi neck beads. If the neck beads are not made of Tulasi, then they should never be worn in the neck by either uninitiated or initiated devotees. Also sometimes uninitiated devotees wear only 2 rounds and initiated devotees wear 3 rounds. There is no scriptural basis for this. If a practicing devotee is chanting the Holy Names and following the five regulative principles including the Ekadashi fasting from grains twice a month, then one can wear Tulasi neck beads of minimum of three rounds whether one is initiated or not. But one should not wear less than three rounds of Tulasi neck beads.
Of course in the traditional Gaudiya Math standards, the devotees would start wearing Tulasi neck beads and tilaka only after initiation when they have been given to them by Shrila Gurudeva. But the benefits of wearing Tualsi neck beads and tilaka are so unlimited as described in the Hari Bhakti Vilasa, then one can surely start wearing them when one accepts a spiritual master in one's heart even though one may not have formally accepted the mantras from the Guru. As Shrila Prabhupada said that real initiation with Gurudeva is from the heart. Also the neck beads mean that we are no longer spiritual orphans but we have a spiritual Gurudeva under whose shelter and guidance we are chanting (ashraya laiya bhaje krishna taara naahi tyaje) just like pet dogs who have masters in India are identified from the stray dogs by a strap around their necks.