The main purpose of the tilak, in my understanding, is not in the wearing but in the act of application. It is to be a meditative practice during which one remembers his own ishta-devata. It is not to show what a great and devout Hindu he is. One shows that by his actions, ideally. Just as the displaying of the crucifix around one’s neck does not make him a greater Christian. Etcetera.
As such, I have recently taken to the idea of applying my tilak, daily, in invisible coconut oil.
And yes, I have just said that the purpose of the tilak is not for the world to see, is not in the wearing but the application, and have then proceeded to tell the online world that I have taken up the practice of doing so. Well, you’re just going to have to try not to worry about that too much.
But seriously, I’d prefer the practice to be a daily ritual, not just a special occasions kind of thing, and not just when going to the temple, for one thing. And for another thing, I have never grown comfortable displaying a standard red tilak on my forehead at the temple (and definitely not at work where it would really be out of place), other than at Holi when there are colors flying all over the place anyroad. I think I just have to make a more regular appearance at temple apart from the Gita study so that I will feel like I am more understood to be a true follower of this path. Not just a visitor trying to look the part.
And there is likely a fair amount of ego blocking my path toward free expression of my spiritual life, granted.
Funnily enough, when I first started attending the temple, I was always the guy who wore the Aum pendant on the outside of his shirt, which probably had the exact opposite of that intended effect. The sadhu-like beard I donned probably did not help either. Oh well, those are years gone by. I know I will one day grow into comfort displaying the sandalwood.
Jai Hari Aum