Since we're not these bodies,
is it wrong to love our families?
I EDIT AND TRANSLATE for the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust in Sweden, where we often receive letters from people with questions about what they've read in Srila Prabhupada's books. I've found that many readers have similar questions, especially when it comes to applying the philosophy of Krsna consciousness in their lives. I compiled the following letter and reply with the hope of assisting BTG readers who may have the same questions.
I have doubts about the way the self is described in the Bhagavad-gita. Theologically, it makes good sense: we are eternal, we live many times to burn away our karma and advance toward God, and so on. But when I try to apply this understanding to personal relationships, it strikes me as dry and opposed to individuality and love.
I have a husband and two daughters, aged three years and eight months. These three "living entities," as you would call them, are so different from one another. It's hard for me to believe that our bodies and minds don't count, that we are ultimately all the same. It's even harder to accept that spiritually we are strangers to each other and that our human feelings and relationships have a negative value since the goal of life is to give up this "false material affection." I'd appreciate some guidance on all this.
You are probably referring to the second chapter of the Gita, where Krsna imparts to Arjuna His very first lesson: the difference between body and soul, matter and spirit. First lessons tend to present things as simply as possible, and since they reveal a new aspect of reality, they may seem to oppose our current understanding. But by deeply studying the new lessons, reflecting on them, and resolving doubts just as you are doing we can find a synthesis between our old thinking and the new knowledge.
Krsna's first point is that the soul, or the self, is different from the body. So He draws the contrast: the self is undying, unchanging, immovable, invisible, inconceivable. To integrate this picture with the richness of personal traits we value in ourselves and others is difficult indeed. But there is more to the self than these negatives.
As you watch your baby encounter her reflection in the mirror, become fascinated by it, smile to it, and try to crawl behind the mirror to find "the other child," you can observe such attributes of the soul as consciousness, individuality, the tendency to seek pleasure, and need for interaction with other persons. These are all fundamental qualities of the spirit. In yourself, watching your child, you may experience another spiritual quality: the desire to love and serve.
No two souls are the same. But all have the same basic nature, no matter what kind of body they occupy. Therefore, "The humble sages, by virtue of true knowledge, see with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog, and a dog-eater." (Bhagavad-gita 5.18)
Our bodies and minds do count; nothing in the creation is devoid of purpose. The body is the expression of the self, or of where one is on the long journey of self-realization. The Supersoul in the heart, accompanying us the soul from one life to another, grants us new bodies that help fulfill our desires and offer opportunities to advance spiritually.
Not by Chance
It is not by chance that one receives a human body and mind, capable of introspection and free choice of action. Our karma puts us into the body of a man or a woman, but there are lessons to be learned there, as there are in being born poor or rich, or in having happy relationships or unhappy ones. All living beings, whether or not they profess interest in God, are treading the path of God realization, each in his or her own unique way. "Everyone follows My path in all respects," says Krsna. (Bhagavad-gita4.11)
For some people God is a stranger. Their affection rests solely in those with whom they have a bodily relationship parents, spouse, children even though all bodily connections are temporary. What connects us all and makes us all lovable is that we are all integral parts of the spirit Whole. On the deepest level of our nature, we are servants and lovers of God.
Then is love for the family wrong? No. If we have come together in this life as a family, it is not just so that we can mechanically "burn away our karma." Our paths of self-realization have crossed; we have something to give to or learn from one another.
Rediscovering our personal relationship with God does not mean we become strangers to one another. We won't run out of love by loving God. Krsna Himself condemns the mentality of those who worship His Deity in temples but fail to see everyone as part of Him.
Genuine love a selfless desire to assist another person in his or her spiritual development can be expressed through the body. As a mother, you know that young children need love expressed through bodily contact in order to grow into emotionally balanced adults. Without emotional balance, children will find any spiritual practice difficult. But when they discover their individuality and begin to search for their own meaning in life, to trample upon this need in the name of bodily relationship ("You're mychild; I know what's best for you!") would be unloving. And it would be even more unloving to shrug one's shoulders and say, "I don't care what you do. You're not my child, after all; we're strangers. Just chant Hare Krsna!"
We don't develop spiritually by either indiscriminately following our needs and feelings (or those of others) or stifling them if we decide they're material. Needs and feelings are a driving force, and we can use their energy to move closer to God. Exactly how to use that energy we have to learn by introspection, guidance, and the examples of spiritually elevated persons.
Dhyana-kunda Devi Dasi, originally from Poland, joined the Hare Krsna movement in 1987. She and her husband live at the ISKCON farm in Almviks Gard, Sweden, where she serves as an English editor and Polish translator for the north European branch of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.