Since we can have a fully satisfying relationship with Krsna,
why have children and settle for something less?
BEFORE WE KNEW with certainty that our daughter Hari-priya existed when she was still smaller than a pea much had already been decided about her: her sex, physique, mental capacity, overall health, who her parents would be, the suffering and enjoyment she would get in her lifetime and where she would be born.
My husband, my ten-year-old daughter, and I were in India during this time, and when I was two and a half months pregnant, we decided to make Jagannatha Puri our base. From Puri we could continue our service (we were working on a Krsna conscious film), and as one of the major Vaisnava holy places in India, Jagannatha Puri would be spiritually nourishing for the three of us. In addition, as a seaside town it would be especially healthy and peaceful for me.
We weren't disappointed. A rented house on the edge of town near the sea became our home, and bicycle rides, long walks along the deserted beach, or swims in the cool waters of the Bay of Bengal, along with some hatha yoga, became my daily routine. We grew vegetables in the small garden around our house, enjoyed fresh, pure cow's milk from a nearby dairy, and often relished Lord Jagannatha's prasadam pure vegetarian food that had been cooked by brahmanas and offered to the Lord.
From the rooftop of our house we had a clear view of Lord Jagannatha's famous temple, where these offerings were made many times daily. At night, under a sky crowded with stars, the temple glowed with silvery-green light. Over the months we lived in Puri, I chanted the maha-mantra Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna. Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare for many hours while looking at the temple, about two miles distant, its huge yellow or red flag waving in the persistent breezes. And I chanted for many other hours before our small home Deities of Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai.
Unpredictably, but quite often, devotees from different parts of the world would come to Puri on pilgrimage, and we would join them in visiting and chanting at the many holy sites in Puri.
During these tranquil times, I reflected how, within my womb, Hari-priya's body was forming around a spirit soul. Hari-priya like every other living being in this world is a soul encased in a body. It's the soul that's alive, eternally; the body, lifeless matter. Previously, Hari-priya had abandoned the body she had been housed in (that body had "died"), and now a "new" body was growing around her in preparation for rebirth. But Hari-priya had abandoned only her previous physical form; her previous subtle body mind, intelligence, and false ego stayed with her. And her present state, arranged by the dictation of the laws of material nature, was due to the state of her subtle body. In other words, Hari-priya's destiny, shaped by her past activities, was already with her.
Srila Prabhupada explains that just as springtime in the present indicates the nature of springtimes in the past and future, so this life of happiness, distress, or a mixture of both gives evidence of the activities of one's past and future lives.
A person with a pious background may be good looking, wealthy, well educated, or born in a well-placed family. A person with an impious background, the opposite. One who acts religiously will be awarded a higher birth in his next life, whereas an irreligious person has a future that is bleak.
Many will object to this apparently fatalistic philosophy. A baby, what to speak of an unborn baby, seems innocent and has unlimited opportunities ahead. Why consider the future sealed? Why ignore free will and dismiss as futile a person's initiative and enthusiastic striving for excellence?
There's no doubt that an individual has free will, and has good cause to use initiative and to excel. But that doesn't alter the karma a child carries from previous lives.
Of course, my husband and I had no idea where Hari-priya had come from or what her karma had in store for her. We did know that just as it was her destiny to have us as parents, it was ours to have her as our daughter. The Srimad-Bhagavatam explains that the mentality of the parents at the time of conception attracts a suitable soul: "In order to give a particular type of human form to a person who has already suffered hellish life, the soul is transferred to the semen of a man who is just suitable to become his father. During sexual intercourse, the soul is transferred through the semen of the father into the mother's womb to produce a particular type of body." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.31.1, purport)
And my husband and I also knew that Hari-priya was ours to nurture and love and, as far as we were able, to awaken to her dormant God consciousness.
Along with whatever good and bad karma she was carrying with her from previous births, she was also, and in a deeper way, a purely God conscious person. Karma, although it may go on for an eon, is temporary. It can be eradicated. God consciousness, however, is an eternal characteristic of the soul. But it is covered usually thickly. The Srimad-Bhagavatam instructs that we should not become a father or a mother unless we can deliver our children from the clutches of karma from repeated births and deaths by arousing their God consciousness. Good reason to be cautious about bearing children.
About a month after we arrived in Puri, a visiting married godbrother raised a question. "Since we have an eternal, perfect, and blissful relationship with Krsna," he asked, "why bother with marriage? Why have children? What can such temporary and imperfect relationships lead to except anxiety and disappointment, sooner or later?"
In the highest sense his point is correct. Srila Prabhupada encourages us to accept Krsna as our friend, as our child, or even as our lover, and in doing so, he assures us, we will never be disappointed. That relationship will never dissolve, nor will we ever feel material anxiety or dissatisfaction with it. The Supreme Lord is the perfect friend, child, and lover.
So why settle for anything less? Why have children who, at best, would certainly complicate our lives, and at worst …?
My answer to this challenge dawned on me a month or two later as I was reading a verse in Srila Prabhupada's Bhagavad-gita (5.7): "One who acts in devotion, who is a pure soul, and who controls his mind and senses is dear to everyone, and everyone is dear to him. Though always working, such a person is never entangled." Instead of reading this blithely and plowing on, as is my usual bent, I stopped and thought about each phrase and how it didn't apply to me. I don't act in devotion. I am far from being a pure soul and controlling my senses. I'm not dear to everyone, nor is everyone dear to me, and so forth. As I read more, I realized that every verse that describes saintly persons and saintly characteristics is beyond my level of realization: "One whose happiness is within, who is active and rejoices within …" (Bg. 5.24) "Those who are free from anger and all material desires …" (Bg. 5.26) "One who neither rejoices nor grieves, who neither laments nor desires …" (Bg. 12.17) "One who is equal to friends and enemies, who is equipoised in honor and dishonor …" (Bg. 12.18) "One who is unaffected by whatever good or evil he may obtain …" (Bg. 2.57). And so on.
The simple fact is that I am a neophyte; therefore I cannot fully repose my loving propensity in the Lord alone. And therefore marriage, children, and the gradual process of becoming free from material desires.
This path of household life is also acceptable to Krsna. When He Himself appeared on earth He played the role of a householder and set a perfect example. His many children also became householders. Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the most recent incarnation of Krsna, also set an example in this regard. When one of His associates in the renounced order deviated slightly in dealing with a woman, the Lord sternly rejected him. Yet many of the Lord's most intimate associates were householders. His clear message: hypocrisy will not be tolerated.
This idea is also presented by Prabhupada. in a purport to Bhagavad-gita (3.7): "Instead of becoming a pseudo transcendentalist for the sake of wanton living and sense enjoyment, it is far better to remain in one's own business and execute the purpose of life, which is to get free from material bondage and enter the kingdom of God … A householder can also reach this destination by regulated service in Krsna consciousness."
At six months, when the baby started vigorous kicking, my husband took to chanting the maha-mantra to her, while at other times my daughter told her short Krsna stories from The Nectar of Devotion.
Sometime later about a month before the delivery my husband was explaining to my gynecologist, Dr. Narayan Udgata, how our film work had been canceled for the time being and that now our only business in Puri was waiting for the birth.
"We know that it's auspicious for a child to be born here," my husband said. "That's why we haven't left."
Dr. Udgata, a permanent resident of Puri and knowledgeable and competent in his field, responded by revealing his devotion.
"Lord Jagannatha is most merciful," he said, "and because you are living here to have your child, surely He will be merciful to you."
Then he began reciting, from memory, verses from the Fourth Chapter of Bhagavad-gita about how the Lord descends to protect religious principles and to eradicate irreligion. And he explained to us how the Lord sends His empowered representatives or comes personally at different times, in different places and with different names Jesus Christ, Mohammed, Allah, Buddha, Krsna, Jagannatha.
"She's also a scholar in Bhagavad-gita," my husband said, indicating me.
"I'm a neophyte," I said, and began reciting: dehino 'smin yatha dehe kaumaram yauvanam jara … ("As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from childhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death … Bg. 2.13)
Dr. Udgata joined me as I recited the verse, and then he continued reciting verses from that point in the Gita on. It turned out that he knew all seven hundred Bhagavad-gita verses and could recite them in several beautiful melodies and with great feeling. "It is a gift from the Lord," Dr. Udgata explained humbly.
When Hari-priya finally emergedon the new year's first Ekadasi (a special day for remembering the Lord) Dr. Udgata performed the customary procedures, pronounced her healthy, and, when she had calmed down, asked the rest of us to be silent as he recited the Twelfth Chapter of the Gita, "Devotional Service" (his favorite chapter).
As he was leaving, I heard him say to my husband, "Everything is all right. Mother and baby are well. The only thing is that you wanted a son and it is a daughter."
I couldn't hear my husband's reply, but I looked at Hari-priya, pink-skinned, bright-eyed, and alert, and thought, "Yes, this time we did want a son. As always, however, Lord Jagannatha's desire prevailed over ours. And although we may not understand it now, His arrangement is perfect and certainly best for us."
When Hari-priya was about a month old, with some regret we left Jagannatha Puri to return to New Braja Bhumi a community of devotees living in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains in central California. There we own nine acres of beautiful, rugged land, and there we will continue our hearing and chanting, associate with the devotees, and raise Hari-priya in a simple, natural, Krsna conscious setting.
Visakha Devi Dasi has been contributing articles and photographs to Back to Godhead for twenty years.