Krsna Conscious Family Life
SRILA PRABHUPADA envisioned a Krsna conscious society. And that implies harmonious relationships among individuals, families, and communities, sharing a common culture. Because the grhastha (household) asrama is a pillar of a Krsna conscious society, developing it and making it healthy are mandatory and will bring us closer to creating "a house in which the whole world can live." To that end, we'd like to explore this important part of Krsna consciousness.
Let us begin with a verse from the Srimad-Bhagavatam (9.3.10) and Srila Prabhupada's purport:
sukanya cyavanam prapya
prinayam asa citta-jna
"Cyavana Muni was very irritable, but since Sukanya had gotten him as her husband, she dealt with him carefully, according to his mood. Knowing his mind, she performed service to him without being bewildered."
Purport: "This is an indication of the relationship between husband and wife. A great personality like Cyavana Muni has the temperament of always wanting to be in a superior position. Such a person cannot submit to anyone. Therefore, Cyavana Muni had an irritable temperament. His wife, Sukanya, could understand his attitude, and under the circumstances she treated him accordingly. If any wife wants to be happy with her husband, she must try to understand her husband's temperament and please him. This is victory for a woman. … However great a woman may be, she must place herself before her husband in this way; that is to say, she must be ready to carry out her husband's orders and please him in all circumstances. Then her life will be successful. … According to the Vedic law, there is no such thing as divorce laws, and a woman must be trained to be submissive to the will of her husband. Westerners contend that this is slave mentality for the wife, but factually it is not; it is the tactic by which a woman can conquer the heart of her husband…"
For most of us in the modern Western world, this viewpoint sounds archaic, unattainable, prejudiced, macho, and suffocating. Yet these are the words of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, the summum bonum scripture that is nondifferent from Lord Sri Krsna, the scripture that arose to illuminate this dark age of quarrel, as the brilliant sun rises after a long gloomy night. By taking a closer look at this controversial aspect of the Bhagavatam's and Srila Prabhupada's teachings, we hope to find how they should apply in practice.
It seems that Cyavana Muni arranged for King Saryati's daughter, Sukanya, to unintentionally offend him. To make amends for this offense, Sukanya became Cyavana Muni's bride. Thus the beautiful, lotus-eyed, innocent, and highly qualified princess, in the prime of her life, was married to the very old sage.
Cyavana Muni was not an attractive mate. His skin hung loosely on his bones, veins showed all over his body, he was diseased, and he was so much an invalid that he couldn't walk without assistance. Beyond that, he had a difficult, irritable, and domineering personality.
What a match! Most of us would at once predict failure for this relationship. An ordinary woman would have been furious, depressed, resentful, and rebellious. With spouses seeming far more compatible, so many of our contemporary marriages have dissolved. But Sukanya, like most women of her time, was far from ordinary by today's standards. It was her superlative qualities that created a glorious marriage.
Although her feminine attributes are rarely found today, her example can give us helpful insights for modern marriages. First and foremost, she accepted her situation. Not only did she steer clear of entertaining negative emotions and reactions, but she was satisfied. She belonged to a glorious culture based on dharma, on following God-given laws and duties, and she was true to those laws and duties. Therefore she had an inner commitment and happiness that were unshakeable. Her happiness came from having understood her relationship with Krsna, with herself, and with others. She was chaste, kind, honest, unselfish, responsible, and high in moral standards. Through sincerity and training, she freed herself from pride, envy, anger, false ego, low self-esteem, and other shortcomings. Sukanya's priority was to somehow make her family life God conscious and successful. Thus she could be happy in any situation ordained by the Lord.
Because of her wisdom and high principles, Sukanya felt no need to try to change her husband. She accepted him for who he was and looked to his good side, allowing him to assert his masculinity and directorship without reproach. Their relationship was on Cyavana's terms, yet by trusting and respecting him, humbly and patiently, she made the marriage succeed. And eventually all of her heart's desires were fulfilled.
In the days of Vedic marriages, men were trained to be qualified husbands to be men of honor, commitment, vision, and achievement and provide the support, protection, and spiritual guidance their wives needed. Women, as mentioned, were trained to be qualified wives to provide the shelter, support, and admiration their husbands needed. Generally parents would pick their child's mate, basing the choice not on appearances or the whims of lust but on complementary age, family, character, and quality as well as astrological considerations. It was understood that if the husband and wife were compatible and well trained, household affairs would be smooth.
Although Sukanya didn't have the benefit of an apparently compatible match, she wasn't bewildered. Quitting or divorce were not options for her. [See Caitanya-caritamrita, Madhya-lila 15.264-5] The relationship had to work, so she made it her special responsibility to ensure that success.
Those of us who lack Sukanya's training and her devotion to dharma might object to this. But without those assets our own family members may be dissatisfied, and our home lives will have a great chance of being disturbed. As Srila Prabhupada writes, "Almost 99.9 percent of the population is unhappy in family life, despite all the attempts being made to satisfy the family members. In the Western countries, due to the dissatisfaction of the family members, there is actually no family life" (Srimad-Bhagavatam5.13.8, purport).
It is a great loss to our modern society that we don't often find the synergistic power that is generated when a wife conquers the heart of her husband by her submissiveness and the husband allows the softhearted, intuitive, and inspirational qualities of his wife to propel him to fulfill his most cherished dreams. "There is no difference between a good wife and good intelligence," Srila Prabhupada writes. "A faithful wife is supposed to cooperate with her husband in fulfilling all material desires so that he can then become comfortable and execute spiritual activities for the perfection of life" (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.14.17, purport). A successful Krsna conscious marriage is not for sensual satisfaction (although happiness is a byproduct); it's a duty performed in mutual cooperation and maturity for spiritual advancement.
We who are trying to be devotees have declared war against the illusions of material life. By nature's arrangement, the majority of us are not yet ready to accept lifelong renunciation; we need family life. A healthy household asrama will be a stabilizing influence, the financial backbone of a varnasrama society, and the hope for improving future generations. To avoid family life artificially, or to flounder in it, may cause one to lose the very prowess and shelter that are essential for continuing one's battle against material life. After all, one cannot renounce something one hasn't transcended within oneself; the majority of us must take each gradual stage until we are strong and satisfied at heart, and then advance on.
But household life is often difficult. Those of us who have come from dysfunctional families are often emotionally and spiritually immature. A man and woman may enter household life with certain expectations and misconceptions and when the relationship turns tense become disappointed and want to leave that situation for another. When a young disciple asked permission to give up family life for the life of vanaprastha (the prelude to formal renunciation), Srila Prabhupada responded by letter in this way: "You say that your association together was hindering your advancement. But Krsna conscious marriage should not be taken in that way, that if there is any botheration that means something is hindering my spiritual progress, no."
Once one adopts the grhastha life, Srila Prabhupada continued, "even [if] it may be troublesome at times, it must be fulfilled as my occupational duty.
"Mature understanding of Krsna consciousness," Srila Prabhupada explained, "means that whatever condition of life I am in at present, that is Krsna's special mercy upon me. Therefore let me take advantage in the best way possible to spread this Krsna consciousness movement and conduct my spiritual master's mission."
Although one might not like one's occupation in household life, Srila Prabhupada said, "devotional service is what is important, not my occupational duty." Yet he concluded, "This does not mean that because my occupational duty is not the real consideration, I should give it up and do something else, thinking that devotional service may be carried on under whatever circumstances I may whimsically decide."
We enter household life with a desire to advance spiritually, even though advancement is often difficult because of our lack of culture, training, supportive association, and good examples. But it's quite clear that Srila Prabhupada wanted us to stay where we are supposed to be and not jump prematurely to a renounced order of life, or jump from one mate to another. So the fundamental question becomes: how can we make our marriages even remotely resemble the glorious marriage of Cyavana Muni and Sukanya? By hearing Srila Prabhupada's teachings on this point, by learning from his followers who have long, stable marriages, by striving for honest introspection into our own nature, and by learning the art of spiritual association with our devotee peers. In this way we may bring light into the deep, dark well called family life.
If the readers of Back to Godhead are interested, in the future we would like to explore:
• how to make the differences between men and women more productive
• what makes certain couples successful grhasthas
• problems the false ego brings to relationships and how to avoid them
• how to get support, intimacy, and inspiration from our peers
• how to put Krsna in the center of our family life
Mulaprakrti Devi Dasi, a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, has been married to Gopavrndapala Dasa since 1977. They and their three children live in the devotee community in Badger, California. She works with devotees in the women's support groups and counseling.
Visakha Devi Dasi was initiated and married by Srila Prabhupada in 1971. She lives in Badger with her husband, Yaduvara Dasa, and their daughter, aged nine.