What Makes It Rough, What Makes It Smooth
by Visakha dasi
I am not a brahmana, I am not a ksatriya, I am not a vaisya or asudra. Nor am I a brahmacari, a householder, a vanaprastha or a sannyasi. I identify Myself only as the servant of the servant of the servant of the lotus feet of Lord Sri Krsna, the maintainer of the gopis. (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila, 13.80)
Although each of us must carefully follow the particular principles of the role we are playing in society – whether as a wife or husband, a brahmacari or sannyasi – our true identity is that we are the eternal servants of the servants of the devotees of Lord Sri Krsna. By playing our present-day role in the proper consciousness, we can realise our original identity – who we actually are – and rejoin Krsna in His home. Krsna says, ‘By worship of the Lord, who is the source of all beings and who is all-pervading, one can attain perfection through performing one’s own work’. (Bhagavad-gita 18.46)
To be a husband or a wife is, in Srila Prabhupada’s words, ‘actually a duty performed in mutual cooperation as directed in the authoritative scriptures for spiritual advancement. Therefore marriage is essential in order to avoid the life of cats and dogs, who are not meant for spiritual enlightenment’. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.14.19) We accept the role of husband or wife so that we can gradually become the best devotee we are capable of being. The first and overriding principle in the husband-wife relationship is the unrelenting desire of both individuals to make their marriage work through Krsna consciousness. If that desire is in place, then there are scores of books and discussions, counsellors, scriptural directions and the Lord in the heart to help. For now, based on Srila Prabhupada’s teachings, let us briefly look at six items that can hamper one’s service as a husband or a wife. Then we will look at six items that can enhance that service.
What makes it rough
(1) Weakness of character
Srila Prabhupada writes: ‘When a young boy or girl sees a member of the opposite sex there is a natural attraction without the need for any introduction. Without any training there is a natural attraction due to the sex impulse’. (Nectar of Devotion, p. 81) Prior to marriage, this natural attraction for the company of the opposite sex may lead to flirting, dating, and dallying in coyness and sexual innuendos. Such casual premarital relationships deny young men and women the fortitude that celibacy in mind, word and deed creates; deny the magnificence of carefree sailing over choppy waves of unnecessary indulgences; and deny a sense of completion to one’s formative years.
By such indulgence, material tendencies expand, one’s neediness expands, and one hankers and laments. Young persons, who avoid the gifts that come from voluntary self-dis-cipline, may later find themselves handicapped householders, that is, householders who have difficulty controlling their senses, who are dissatisfied and frustrated. Because they have not taken the time to find the quiet confidence of emotional fulfilment and happiness within themselves, they crave those things from their partner. But fulfilment and happiness are not to be found there. Srila Prabhupada explains:
Unfortunately, in this present civilisation both men and women are allowed to be attracted to one another from the very beginning of life, and because of this they are completely unable to come to the platform of self-realisation. They do not know that without self-realisation they suffer the greatest loss in the human form of life … The span of youth expires very quickly. One who wastes his life simply by committing sinful activities in youth immediately becomes disappointed and disillusioned when the brief period of youth is over. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.27.4-5)
Our goal is to re-establish our relationship with God, and we cannot expect to do that by defying His social standards. Moreover, when one is thinking of a qualified companion for a qualified young devotee, one is attracted to a person with inspired devotion, a kind heart and spiritual wisdom. In short, a good devotee, not one who is needy, intemperate and who defies Srila Prabhupada’s directives. If we would be married, we must make ourselves marriageable by becoming disciplined human beings.
We find this description in Srimad-Bhagavatam (4.21.4): ‘As the King entered the gate of the city … he was received by many beautiful unmarried girls whose bodies were bedecked with various ornaments’. In his purport, Srila Prabhupada explains, ‘A welcome offered by unmarried girls who are internally and externally clean and are dressed in nice garments and ornaments is auspicious. Kumari, or unmarried girls untouched by the hand of any member of the opposite sex, are auspicious members of society’. Thekumaris and the brahmacaris (described elsewhere in the Bhagavatam) separately learn to serve God, to worship Him, to become absorbed in enriching, spiritual arts and to explore their unique gifts. By developing their inner and outer lives with same-sex peers, these young people discover their personal mettle, thrive in that discovery, and have a strong sense of self-worth. Their noble and godlike character is not a thing of favour or chance but is the natural result of continued effort, self-control and good association, and their presence is always auspi-cious. Those who would achieve much must also sacrifice much. When young people with a solid personal foundation in self-discipline later enter household life, they also make it auspicious. ‘Before entering household life, a student is fully trained to become jitendriya, a conqueror of the senses. Such a mature student is allowed to become a householder.’ (Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.1.18) By Krsna’s grace, the future husband and the future wife find fullness and beauty first within themselves and then in each other.
After several decades, when the challenging journey of householder life finally ends, the singular strength one found in youth and maintained in midlife can fortify one at life’s closure. Srila Prabhupada writes:
… at the end of life, when one has to go back home, back to Godhead, everyone has to take care of himself without help rendered by another … Draupadi had five husbands, and no one asked Draupadi to come; Draupadi had to take care of herself without waiting for her great husbands. And because she was already trained, she at once took to concentration upon the lotus feet of Lord Vasudeva, Krsna, the Personality of Godhead. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.15.50)
The ultimate goal of life is the spiritual growth of the individual; it is our personal journey to the lotus feet of the Lord. Successful training and a successful marriage nurture this most significant journey. In fact, training and marriage exist for nurturing that journey. ‘If husband and wife are attached to one another for advancement in Krsna consciousness, their relationship of cooperation is very effective for such advancement’. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.18.34)
Worse than being alone is to be with a person who doesn’t like you. Too many devotees have experienced the anguish and chaos caused by an incompatible marriage. Such travesties are systematically avoided in Vaisnava culture because, besides undergoing training and learning restraint before marriage, all care is taken in matchmaking: ‘Formerly, boys and girls of similar dispositions were married; the similar natures of the boy and girl were united in order to make them happy’. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.21.15) ‘The central idea is that if the boy and girl were on an equal level the marriage would be happy, whereas inequality would lead to unhappiness’. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 9.18.23) ‘Marriage and friendship are proper between two people who are equal in terms of their wealth, birth, influence, physical appearance and capacity for good progeny, but never between a superior and an inferior’. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.60.15) We want our life’s companion to be a true peer.
Besides conscientiously matching a suitable young man with a suitable young woman, compatibility also includes the husband having like-minded male friends and the wife having like-minded female friends. All our dialogue need not fall on just one pair of ears, but in confidence, we reveal our mind to and have dedicated and loving ties with handpicked friends. If at some point our marriage is rocky, qualified friends can help us learn from the difficulties and acquire skills to improve our relationship. Marriage is a process of changing and accepting change, of settling differences and living with differences that will never be settled, of drawing close and pulling apart and drawing close again. Good friends smooth the bumps on this long journey.
Compatibility also includes living with our spouse’s faults. Anyone can live with another’s good qualities, but can you live with that person’s weaknesses? After the initial period of guarded good behaviour, the character flaws we brought with us to the marriage begin to surface, and we face the pain of dealing with both our own and our spouse’s shortcomings and the conflicts those create. No two people are completely compatible, and not all incompatibilities in marriage can be worked out. Sometimes inevitable differences can be laughed at, sometimes coped with, sometimes negotiated, sometimes accepted, and sometimes they are complementary. Sometimes waiting and praying is the answer. It is rewarding when, after thousands of these tribulations have come and gone, you know and honour your spouse despite the differences between you. By focusing on closeness, differences become manageable; by focusing on differences, closeness disappears.
The more one advances in consciousness, the less affected one is by another’s failings; conversely, the more neophyte we are, the more those failings will irritate us. Not everyone can be like Mandodari, the chaste wife of Ravana, who was fully aware of her husband’s lowly nature and activities and yet remained loyal till the end: ‘Ravana’s wife Mandodari knew very well how cruel a person Ravana was. The very word Ravana means one who causes crying for others … Thus Ravana was condemned not only by Lord Ramacandra but even by his own wife, Mandodari, who said to the slain body of her husband, By your deeds you have made your body fit to be eaten by vultures and your soul fit to go to hell.’ (Srimad-Bhagavatam9.10.26-8)
(3) An inability to hear
Our prayer is not, ‘Dear God, help him (her) see it my way’, but, ‘Please God, show us the way’. Even with spiritual progress as a common goal, even with inner strength and compat-ibility, a marriage will still be painfully difficult if the couple cannot empathetically hear from each other. If we only listen enough to protect our own territory, we lose common ground. If we only hear what we want to hear, we will remain inflexible and unaware of the other’s needs. But when we don’t impose ourself on the other or allow the other to impose himself or herself on us, hearing is an opportunity for lifetime learning, for responding to healthy needs and for reconciling divergent opinions. A rewarding marriage creates an atmosphere that encourages each person to talk honestly. Emotions need not be repressed; they can be expressed, but expressed considerately, so the other can hear.
True hearing, total concentration on the other, is to value the other and extend oneself for mutual growth. An essential part of this process is to temporarily set aside our prejudices, frames of reference and desires so as to experience our spouse’s world from the inside, stepping into his or her shoes. Sensing this acceptance, the speaker feels inclined to open up more to the listener, and the listener appreciates the speaker more and more. Unfortunately, most couples do not truly hear each other.
The art of knowing what to say and when to say it and the craft of give and take are part of hearing, as illustrated in this pastime from the Sixth Canto of the Bhagavatam, explained in Srila Prabhupada’s purports: ‘Mother Parvati could not appreciate Citraketu’s position, and therefore she cursed him, but when she understood the instructions of Lord Siva [her husband] she was ashamed … and covered her face with the skirt of her sari, admitting that she was wrong in cursing Citraketu’. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.17.35, 36)
However, earlier in this wonderfully intricate narrative, we learned:
The difficulty was that Citraketu, having become a great devotee of Lord Visnu, Sankarsana, was somewhat proud at having achieved Lord Sankarsana’s favour and therefore thought that he could now criticise anyone, even Lord Siva. This kind of pride in a devotee is never tolerated … Mother Parvati was justified in punishing Citraketu, for Citraketu impudently criticised the supreme father, Mahadeva … Acting through the heart of Parvati, the Lord, who is situated in everyone’s heart, cursed Citraketu in order to end all his material reactions. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.17.10, 15, 17)
Given this explanation, was there a need for Parvati to hide her face in shame? Yes, for by doing this, instead of an argument to establish who was ‘right’ and who was ‘wrong’, we find Parvati acknowledging her husband’s greatness, his joking exchange with Citraketu and Citraketu’s amazing devotional qualities. Yet, at the same time, her curse remains in tact for the reasons Srila Prabhupada mentions above. The exchange is a beautiful interplay of maturity, humility, knowledge and detachment – a tapestry of harmony despite differences.
The inability to hear and the inability to speak in such a way that we can be heard creates a husband and wife who ‘constantly make material endeavours to eliminate their unhap-piness and unlimitedly increase their pleasure but who inevitably achieve exactly the opposite result’. (Srimad-Bhagavatam11.3.18)
At the time of initiation we solemnly vow to avoid intoxication, illicit sex, meat eating and gambling and to chant sixteen rounds of the maha-mantradaily. To preserve these holy vows that we take before the Deity, before the fire and before the Vaisnavas are the most important practices in our spiritual life. Caring for one another means protecting these principles in each other’s lives by our example and by our words.
Yet, if the husband or the wife is not following these principles, we do not have the right to reject that person because we feel superior. The day may come when the roles are reversed, for pride leads to a loss of austerity. Without being condescending and self-righteous, the one who is strict can humbly help the lax one, and the lax one must be willing to accept that help. This is teamwork, an exchange of affection in which one person’s misfortune of distraction becomes turned around by the other person’s gift of focus.
If we have too high an estimation of ourselves, we will make our asramainto a war zone. This war may not be over fundamentals, like the regulative principles, but over more minor infractions – wasting time, wasting money, inappropriate behaviour, harsh language, and so forth. Whatever the cause of upset, the discussion and the mood can still be good-natured and hopeful instead of angry and accusative. Contempt is a corrosive that over time breaks down the bond between husband and wife. In the exchange between Parvati and Siva quoted above, instead of contempt and pride, we find light-heartedness and submission. Since both of them are honourable, it is natural for them to honour each other.
For one who cares about another, confronting that person is not easy; the act has a great potential for arrogance, for to confront is to assume a position of moral superiority over the other – we confront because we want to change the course of that person’s life. The reality is that at times, one does know better about a certain matter than the other, and one is obliged to confront the other with the problem. To do this effectively, we must stringently examine the value of our ‘wisdom’ and our motives behind offering it. (Peck, 1978) This self-scrutiny and self-doubting requires the unusual combination of meekness and strength. To fail to confront when confrontation is required is as detrimental as self-righteous con-demnation. When circumstances require it, a partner must sparingly and carefully confront the other, and in turn, submit to being confronted by the other.
(5) Quitting (in a non-abusive relationship)
In marriage, commitment is a journey by two people who have oneness in purpose. When we unearth the taproot of commitment, we come to our commitment to the Supreme Lord Krsna, from whom the quality of commitment originally emanates, in whom it eternally reposes, and who Himself is the perfection of commitment. Sri Krsna says: ‘To those who are constantly devoted to serving Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me. To show them special mercy, I, dwelling in their hearts, destroy with the shining lamp of knowledge the darkness born of ignorance’. (Bhagavad-gita 10.10-11) The Lord is unwaveringly committed to selflessly serving those who serve Him selflessly.
Marriage is difficult; once that fact is accepted, it no longer matters. Sometimes, because of false ego, there may be tremendous conflict and disagreement between husband and wife, but if, in this darkness, their mutual commitment to their relationship prevails, that commitment can carry their relationship beyond its troubles to greater intimacy. When quitting is not an option and is not justified, the alternative – sooner or later – is overcoming the difficulty. Difficulties are inevitable, but overcoming them – not quitting – is optional and requires our discipline, courage and wisdom. Our reward is to again resonate, to grow in kindness, in trust and in trustworthiness. Problems and conflict are not an opportunity to quit but to move forward, to become unstuck. As Krsna is mystical, so non-negotiable commitment to His service is also mystical because, by His grace, we can deal with a problem when we take respon-sibility for it. When the Lord sends us a test, He simultaneously gives us the ability to pass that test if we so desire. ‘The Lord is so kind to His devotee that when severely testing him the Lord gives him the necessary strength to be tolerant and to continue to remain a glorious devotee’. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 8.22.29-30)
In his last speech to the members of the Gaudiya Matha, delivered on 23 December 1936, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura spoke on remaining committed despite obsta-cles:
Living in this world one has to face many kinds of difficulties. It is not our job to try and remove those difficulties. Nor should they depress us … We have no attachment or hostility towards anyone in this world. All arrangements of this world are temporary. Everyone has an indispensable need for the Absolute Truth. May all of you with one goal and in harmony with each other, attain the right to serve the original asraya-vigraha [Krsna].
We become a husband or a wife as a service to Krsna. Difficulties are not a reason to stop that service or to become discouraged. They are an opportunity, however painful, to serve with fewer conditions. In the end, that self-sacrifice becomes self-enhancement because, for a devotee, sacrifice is an offering to please the Lord. Sacrifice is the surrender of something desirable for the sake of something having a higher claim. We surrender quitting so that we can please Srila Prabhupada.
If we focus on our own needs and negate our partner, the relationship can’t last, and if we give up who we are to please our partner, we may suffocate and become frustrated, resentful and depressed. One who is self-controlled doesn’t need to lord over another, and neither does that person need to be lorded over by another. Marriage is a balance between satisfying ourself and satisfying our partner. It is maintaining an awareness of the other person and that person’s desires, even as the other maintains an awareness of us and our wishes. It is putting ourself out, when necessary, to satisfy the other person’s feelings and needs. Marriage is sincerely and respectfully discerning what is best for everyone.
For example, ‘the first duty of a chaste woman is to carry out the order of her husband’. (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Antya-lila, 7.106) Yet, inRamayana we find that when Rama ordered His wife, Sita, to remain in the kingdom until His return from banishment, Sita, renowned as one of five supremely chaste women, insisted that she accompany Rama. Rama’s reasoning was that He had been banished, not Sita, and that forest life would be difficult and dangerous for her. But Sita felt that her place was to be with Rama instead of alone in Ayodhya. Had Sita automatically subordinated herself to Rama’s will, she would not have been true to herself. Similarly, had Rama insisted that Sita remain behind – for many sound reasons – He would have dishonoured Sita’s desire. Sita gave up a comfortable life so that she could fulfil her need to be with Rama, and Rama gave up His vision of a safe life for Sita so that He could please her by allowing her to come with Him. Reason and logic have been delicately tempered by needs and feelings. Both must be taken into consideration for a couple’s well-being, so neither feels ignored or suppressed.
Another beautiful interplay of selflessness is when the the wife of Sudama suggested that her poverty-stricken husband see his friend, Lord Krsna, in Dvaraka. Prabhupada writes, ‘The wife was not anxious for her personal comfort, but she felt concerned for her husband, who was such a piousbrahmana‘. (Krsna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Ch. 80) Sudama agreed to go to Dvaraka not because he wanted to ask Krsna for help but because he wanted to see the Lord and to satisfy his wife, who was so eager to satisfy him.
Selfishness is closely related to the inability to hear, as our preoccupation with ourself makes us deaf to another’s voice. To overcome this, we can learn to consider all matters thoughtfully, with due respect to our spouse’s point of view. This honest approach, which avoids manipulation and partiality to one’s own insights, facilitates finding a better conclu-sion than one person alone could have attained. It is unlikely that the best possible decision will be made if one person imposes his or her will on the other. After all, our will, our deep conviction of what is undoubtedly ‘right’ and Krsna conscious, may actually be the zeal experienced by neophyte devotees, who, in the words of Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami, are ‘very expert in arguing though they have no sense of advanced devotional service’. (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila, 2.93) In other words, without our being aware of it, our dearly held opinion may cloak selfishness.
When differences are humbly honoured and balanced, the husband and wife find the room they need for spiritual growth, both individually and as a satisfied couple. A mutual spirit of goodwill shifts their focus from themselves to the other. Each wants the best for the other and each feels the other is an ally.
What makes it smoother
‘Without enthusiasm’, Srila Prabhupada writes, ‘one cannot be successful. Even in the material world, one has to be very enthusiastic in his particular field of activity in order to become successful’. (Nectar of Instruction, p. 30) When Sukanya, a young princess, was wed to Cyavana Muni, an irritable old sadhu, she set her mind not on the apparently unfortunate match but on making a conscientious effort to do her best. She did not try to change her spouse but fully played her role, surrendered her pride and, by perseverance, succeeded in making a marriage that worked. A devotee’s enthusiasm crystallises into industriousness, which solidifies into circumstances of Krsna conscious pleasantness and advancement.
In his introduction to Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Srila Prabhupada explains that our inherent nature is to serve. In this world everyone is rendering service to someone, just as, for example, the wife serves the husband and the husband serves the wife. Both the wife and the husband can be enthusiastic in this service because, as Srila Prabhupada states elsewhere, ‘Krsna is pleased when a Vaisnava is rendered service’. (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila, 5.24) If our spouse is a devotee and we are sincerely serving that person, we will benefit spiritually. ‘Anyone who wishes to advance in Krsna consciousness must try to serve the devotees of Krsna’. (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Antya-lila, 13.113)
Marriage is like a fortress created by the husband and wife to protect themselves from the powerful enemies of the uncontrolled senses and peacefully make spiritual advance-ment. ‘The bodily senses are considered plunderers of the fort of the body. The wife is supposed to be the commander of the fort, and therefore whenever there is an attack on the body by the senses, it is the wife who protects the body from being smashed’. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.14.20)
‘There is no difference between a good wife and good intelligence. One who possesses good intelligence can deliberate properly and save himself from many dangerous conditions’. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.26.16) ‘One who is situated in household life and who systematically conquers his mind and five sense organs is like a king in his fortress who conquers his powerful enemies’. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.1.18) As in any battle, if they would be victorious, the fighters must first be enthusiastic.
The health of the marriage depends on the health of the individuals in it, and it is gratitude that keeps those individuals healthy and free from dullness and complacency. As a household dedicated to spiritual cultivation, thegrhastha-asrama is founded on the spouses respecting, honouring and appreciating each other as Krsna’s devotees. The husband thinks, ‘My wife is the sacred and holy property of her spiritual master and of Krsna. She is not mine. If I do not honour her, if I do not respect her, if I do not protect her and provide for her, then I am a vaisnava–aparadhi. I am offending a Vaisnava, and it will seriously impede my spiritual progress’. Similarly, a wife sees her husband as the sacred and holy property of guru and Krsna. She treats him as a Vaisnava and is faithful and assists and serves him in his role as her husband. Each appreciates the sacrifice of the other, the generosity of the other, the loving intent of the other, and each grows in gratitude, overlooking the other’s flaws. A sane person wants nothing less than this in marriage and will make the success of such a relationship a top priority.
An example of marital appreciation from Krsna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead: when the cowherd boyfriends of Krsna were refused alms by the brahmanas who were performing sacrifices, Krsna sent them to the wives of those brahmanas, who ecstatically provided varieties of wonderful foods for Krsna, Balarama and Their friends. Later, the brahmanasunderstood their foolishness in refusing the boys and appreciated the spiritual advancement of their wives. They said, ‘Just see how fortunate these women are who have so devotedly dedicated their lives to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna … They have surpassed all of us in firm faith and devotion unto Krsna’. (Krsna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Ch. 23)
In another place Srila Prabhupada writes:
Everyone should be friendly for the service of the Lord. Everyone should praise another’s service to the Lord and not be proud of his own service. This is the way of Vaisnava thinking, Vaikuntha thinking … Everyone should be allowed to render service to the Lord to the best of his ability, and everyone should appreciate the service of others. Such are the activities of Vaikuntha. Since everyone is a servant, everyone is on the same platform and is allowed to serve the Lord according to his ability. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 7.5.12)
Sincere gratitude is an antidote for self-righteousness.
Lord Krsna told Rukmini, ‘My dear beautiful wife, you know that because we are householders we are always busy in many household affairs and long for a time when we can enjoy some joking words between us. That is our ultimate gain in household life’. Srila Prabhupada comments, ‘Actually, householders work very hard day and night, but all fatigue of the day’s labour is minimised as soon as they meet, husband and wife together, and enjoy life in many ways. Lord Krsna wanted to exhibit Himself as being like an ordinary householder who delights himself by exchanging joking words with his wife’. (Krsna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Ch. 60) Similarly, it is described, ‘Lord Siva was sitting in an assembly of great saintly persons and embracing Parvati on his lap with his arm … For Parvati to be embraced by Lord Siva was natural in a relationship between husband and wife; this was nothing extraordinary’. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.17.5). Also,
We always speak of the goddess of fortune as being placed on the chest of Narayana. In other words, the wife must remain embraced by her husband. Thus she becomes beloved and well protected … Just as intelligence is always within the heart, so a beloved chaste wife should always have her place on the chest of a good husband. This is the proper relationship between husband and wife. A wife is therefore called ardhangani, or half of the body. One cannot remain with only one leg, one hand or only one side of the body. He must have two sides. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.26.17)
A prerequisite for affection is acceptance, and from acceptance grows a rich understanding and deep trust between the husband and wife. In marriages that have endured for some time, the partners are comfortably and effortlessly together, whether in dialogue or in silence. They can always be themselves, with nothing to prove, nothing to get, no need to impress. They feel mutually secure, cared for, wanted and valued. The strength of their affection allows them to enjoy each other’s company – foibles and all. Affection shifts frustration, anger and blame to friendliness, understanding and kindness.
Everyone’s goal is to enter into and and remain in the elusive condition called ‘happiness’. To be happy we must be peaceful. In Krsna’s words, ‘How can there be happiness without peace?'(Bhagavad-gita 2.66) To be peaceful we must be content with whatever situation we are in. We accept our lot in life and are happy even if we don’t completely settle our marital discord. ‘One should be satisfied with whatever he achieves by his previous destiny, for discontent can never bring happiness’. (Srimad-Bhagavatam8.19.24) There is no element of chance in the circumstances of our life – they are the result of a law that cannot err, and they are our destiny created by our past activities. It is as futile to rail against our pains and misfortunes as it is to toil to increase our pleasures. ‘Without endeavour, one can get the amount of happiness and distress for which he is destined. And one cannot change this. Therefore, it is better to use one’s time for advancement in the spiritual life of Krsna consciousness’. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 7.7.42)
(5) A long-term vision
When King Yayati was cursed to immediately become old, he was also benedicted that he could exchange his old age with another’s youth. Yayati approached his son, Yadu, for this exchange, but Yadu refused, not out of defiance or a desire for sense gratification but because Yadu had a long-term Krsna conscious vision: he wanted to use his youth to attain the renounced order in the future. Srila Prabhupada explains:
Maharaja Yadu was very eager to engage himself in the Lord’s service, but there was an impediment: during youth the material desire to enjoy the material senses is certainly present, and unless one fully satisfies these lusty desires in youth, there is a chance of one’s being disturbed in rendering service to the Lord. We have actually seen that many sannyasis who acceptsannyasa prematurely, not having satisfied their material desires, fall down because they are disturbed. Therefore the general process is to go through grhastha life and vanaprasthalife and finally come to sannyasa and devote oneself completely to the service of the Lord. Maharaja Yadu was ready to accept his father’s order and exchange youth for old age because he was confident that the youth taken by his father would be returned. But because this exchange would delay his complete engagement in devotional service, he did not want to accept his father’s old age, for he was eager to achieve freedom from disturbances. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 9.18.40)
The husband and wife play their roles expertly so that eventually they will expertly distinguish reality from illusion, become fully self-realised and attain love of God. ‘If a man is in good consciousness, he consults with his religious wife, and as a result of this consultation, with intelligence, one advances in his ability to estimate the value of life. In other words, if one is fortunate enough to have a good, conscientious wife, he can decide by mutual consultation that human life is meant for advancing in Krsna consciousness’. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.27.6)
(6) Krsna consciousness
Our home is Krsna’s property, and when we orient all the affairs of our home around its proprietor, Krsna – around service to the Deities – then all our household activities are devotional service. If we’re Krsna conscious, if we’re actually grhasthas, then everything we do is spiritual. ‘According to Bhaktivinoda Thakura, a husband and wife can turn the home into a place as good as Vaikuntha, even while in this material world. Being absorbed in Krsna consciousness, even in this world husband and wife can live in Vaikuntha simply by installing the Deity of the Lord within the home and serving the Deity according to the directions of the sastras‘. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.23.29) When we worship the Deity, when we offer all our food, when we share prasadam with our family, when we regularly invite devotees to come and when we serve them prasadam, have kirtana and discuss Krsna topics, our home is a sacred place.
To the degree that we see our asrama as a means to serve and please Krsna, it will be a facility for advancing in Krsna consciousness. To the degree that we desire material satis-faction, household life will distract us from Krsna consciousness. ‘Generally a person cannot make much advancement in spiritual consciousness if he is married. He becomes attached to his family and is prone to sense gratification. Thus his spiritual advancement is very slow or almost nil’. (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Antya-lila, 13.112) Whether our marriage helps or hinders is a question of consciousness; in other words, it is up to us.
A Krsna conscious marriage is meant to bring us into greater alignment with our spiritual nature. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu advised the householder Kurma, ‘Remain at home and chant the holy name of Krsna always. Instruct everyone to follow the orders of Lord Sri Krsna as they are given in theBhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam … If you follow this instruction, your materialistic life at home will not obstruct your spiritual advancement. Indeed, if you follow these regulative principles, we will again meet here, or, rather, you will never lose My company’. Srila Prabhupada comments:
Many people come and inquire whether they have to give up family life to join the Society, but that is not our mission. One can remain comfortably in his residence. We simply request everyone to chant the maha-mantra: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. If one is a little literate and can read Bhagavad-gita As It Is and Srimad-Bhagavatam that is so much the better. If a devotee follows the instructions of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, he lives in the company of the Lord. Wherever he lives, he converts that place into Vrndavana and Navadvipa. This means that materialism cannot touch him. This is the secret of success for one advancing in Krsna consciousness. (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila, 7.128-9)
Similarly, when a grhastha resident of Kulina-grama asked Lord Caitanya, ‘My Lord, kindly tell me what my duty is and how I should execute it’. The Lord replied, ‘You should engage yourself in the service of the servants of Krsna and always chant the holy name of Krsna. If you do these two things, you will very soon attain shelter at Krsna’s lotus feet. (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila, 16.69-70)
‘In a restaurant or place for drinking cold water, many travellers are brought together, and after drinking water they continue to their respective destinations. Similarly, living entities join together in a family, and later, as a result of their own actions, they are led apart to their destinations’. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 7.2.21) Srila Prabhupada remarks, ‘In the material world a so-called family is a combination of several persons in one home to fulfil the terms of their imprisonment. As criminal prisoners scatter as soon as their terms are over and they are released, all of us who have temporarily assembled as family members will continue to our respective destinations’.
By Srila Prabhupada’s grace, may Lord Sri Krsna’s philosophy be our solace, our guide, and a source of enduring strength, patience and determination. As much as we take Srila Prabhupada’s words into our hearts and realise them, that much will our present and future circumstances improve, for it is our consciousness that determines the states of being we shall attain.
Each of us is inconceivably fortunate because Krsna, our best friend, is on our side; He wants us with Him. That we are not with Him is due only to our causeless unwillingness. May our service to the Lord as a husband or a wife eradicate that causeless unwillingness.
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Bhagavad-gita As It Is. Los Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1983.
Krsna: The Supreme Personality of Godhead. New Delhi: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1993.
Nectar of Devotion. Los Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1970.
Nectar of Instruction. Los Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1997.
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta. Los Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1975.
Srimad-Bhagavatam. Los Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1988.
Peck, M. Scott. The Road Less Traveled. New York: Simon and Schuster Inc., 1978.