Hare Krsna movement is not a "For Ascetics Only" club.
Five centuries ago Lord Caitanya, who is the Supreme Lord. Krsna, Himself and the founder of the Hare Krsna movement, predicted that in every town and village around the globe God's holy names would be heard. Twenty-four years ago His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, a devoted follower of Lord Caitanya, journeyed from India to the West and began to vigorously introduce Krsna consciousness. As a result, people everywhere have encountered "the Hare Krsna experience" in the form of this Back to Godhead magazine; Srila Prabhupada's books: devotees of Krsna exuberantly chanting and dancing on the streets; devotees preaching in homes, schools, and colleges; festivals; beautiful temples; and prasadam, delicious vegetarian food that's been offered to Krsna.
Despite wide exposure to the Krsna consciousness movement, which historians and religious writers like Thomas J. Hopkins have called an ancient "social system" and a "cultural tradition," people often think that to become a member of this Society requires extreme renunciation and disinterest in the world. People tend to stay away from Krsna consciousness because of apprehension about the position of women, marriage, and family life. Many times I have been timidly asked, "Can you get married in Krsna consciousness?" when, in fact, these days you might find yourself looking over your garden wall to see a Krsna conscious couple playing with their children.
This raises more questions: If Hare Krsna devotees do get married and begin living alongside more "normal" members of society, do the devotees stop their fervent life of prayer and preaching? Is the serious practice of Krsna consciousness meant for just a few Hare Krsna devotees privileged (or condemned, as some think) to live in a few temples? And is it to be expected that most others will visit the temple in between watching TV, playing golf, or going to parties? How important is Krsna consciousness in the daily affairs of the ordinary family?
According to the Vedic literature, the age in which we are living is known as Kali-yuga, or the age of quarrel, a time of tension, disagreement, and stress. The Srimad-Bhagavatam, written five thousand years ago, predicts for Kali-yuga an atmosphere of spiritual ineptitude and consequent social decay. Things will gradually deteriorate with time, but already personal relationships are becoming fraught with difficulties. Fulfilling the dream of a happy home poses a challenge not easily met. "Burdens of love" are burdensome. Rarely do homes foster openness, good communication, respect, obedience, loyalty, and joy. Even persons who are competent outside the home find the simplest domestic problems insurmountable.
The solution to these problems lies in knowing the underlying cause of family strife: lack of a clear understanding of the goal of human life.
"But there is no goal," a mother of two once insisted to me. "There is no meaning to life."
"No meaning at all?" I queried.
"Well, the only meaning in my life is my children."
"But if your life is meaningless, how can your children make it any more meaningful?"
Of course, in daily life we do find meanings and goals to occupy and motivate us. When we awaken each morning we are flooded with considerations of wife. husband, lover, children, job, money, career, housework, or simply breakfast.
Because we are embodied souls, we tend to think of our own or others' bodily affairs as our first and foremost duty. But the Vedas say, "No. There is a much greater goal! Human life is meant for self-realization. If you occupy your days and nights with thoughts of your body and things related to it, you will waste an invaluable opportunity. And the subsequent anxiety, strain, and agitation will cause your loving relationships to disintegrate. Only the suffering will remain."
The Vedas suggest that efforts to help others that are based on the body will only aggravate the problems, and the Vedas therefore strongly recommend renunciation. Not just for a few monks either for everyone.
"Wait a moment! What if everybody renounced the world and became a Hare Krsna? How would things go on?"
"Things would not go on." Srila Prabhupada used to retort, "at least not as you might think they should."
Yet Srila Prabhupada did not teach that everyone should move into a temple, but simply that we should renounce our tendency for selfish and vicious activities and begin practicing spiritual life at home, or wherever we may be.
"But how can renunciation help with our family problems? As I see it, there's not enough attachment bonding the husband to the wife and children."
Yes! Not enough spiritual attachment. As much as we are attached to selfish sensual pleasures, we will remain selfish in our relationships. Selfish sensuality will prevent me from being able to appreciate my partner as a person distinct from a machine to gratify my senses, and will tend to destroy our relationship, because my partner's body is limited and my desires are unlimited. Sooner or later. I will be driven by those desires to seek out another partner with a different body and the promise of fresh pleasure.
The remedy is to awaken my spiritual understanding that a person is actually a soul, who can never be satisfied by any amount of sensual pleasure, and who needs to awaken a loving relationship with the supreme soul. As it is said, a family that prays together stays together. The more materially detached we become, the more we will be able to properly care for others.
Watering the root of a tree nourishes the entire tree. Similarly, when the members of the family seek out the source of everything God and try to please Him, they will find their relationships nourished with peace, unity, and joy.
In the Caitanya-caritamrta (Madhya-lila, Chapter 7), there is a description of Lord Caitanya's method of preaching while He traveled as asannyasi (itinerant monk) in South India. He influenced the people to chant the holy names and converted them to Vaisnavism, the worship and service of the Supreme Lord, Krsna.
In one village a Vedic brahmana (priest) named Kurma invited Lord Caitanya to his home and begged. "My dear Lord, kindly show me favor; let me go with You. I can no longer tolerate the waves of misery caused by materialistic life."
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu replied, "Don't speak like that again. Better to remain at home and chant the holy name of Krsna always."
Srila Prabhupada comments,
It is not advisable in this age of Kali to leave one's family suddenly, for people are not trained as proper brahmacaris(celibate students] and grhasthas (spiritually-minded householders). Therefore Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu advised the brahmana not to be too eager to give up family life. It would be better to remain with his family and try to become purified by chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra regularly under the direction of a spiritual master. This is the instruction of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. If this principle is followed by everyone, there is no need to accept sannyasa. In the next verse Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu advised everyone to become an ideal householder by offenselessly chanting the Hare Krsna mantra and teaching the same principle to everyone he meets.
The next verse states. "Instruct everyone to follow the orders of Lord Sri Krsna as they are given in Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam. In this way become a spiritual master and try to liberate everyone in this land."
This is the sublime mission of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. 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 literate and can read Bhagavad-gita As It Is andSrimad-Bhagavatam, that is so much the better. These works are now available in an English translation and are done very authoritatively to appeal to all classes of men. Instead of living engrossed in material activities, people throughout the world should take advantage of this movement and chant the Hare Krsna maha-mantra at home with their families. One should also refrain from sinful activities illicit sex, meat-eating, gambling, and intoxication.
Krsna in the Center
To begin one's path to perfection at home, one must simply recognize that God is the owner of the home. Thinking "my wife," "my husband," "my children," "my job, money, and career," or even "my breakfast" is a mistake.
When Srila Prabhupada introduced the Krsna consciousness movement in New York City in 1966, many young people came forward to move into the single ISKCON temple. Yet even then Srila Prabhupada was speaking about practicing Krsna consciousness at home:
According to the Vedic system, a householder works for the satisfaction of God by establishing the Deity, or form of the Supreme Lord. either as a picture or a statue. In India there are many families still (including myself when I was a family man) who install the Deity of Radha and Krsna in a room called "God's room." As a daily duty the family members rise early in the morning, open the door of God's room, offer the Lord some prayers and songs, and cleanse the room before beginning their daily affairs of taking breakfast and going to work.
The point is that the proprietor of the house is the Supreme Lord, and all the family members are His workers or servants. When a man goes to his office or other place of work to earn the money necessary for running the household affairs, he may think. "Money is required lest God's service be stopped." So even when earning money a householder can be God conscious and situated in yoga, by working out of duty without attachment.
And when he goes to the market, he can think. "Oh, this is a very nice thing; it can be offered to Lord Krsna." Just as you may lovingly bring some fruits or flowers to a friend's house, you can think of bringing things for God. Our life should be so formed that in every activity there is such God consciousness.
When the husband brings home the cooking ingredients and gives them to his wife, she thinks. "I am cooking this for Lord Krsna," and she keeps the kitchen extra clean because it's for Krsna's service. As she cooks she does not try to enjoy the preparation by tasting or even smelling it The children are also trained not to think of eating anything unless it has been first offered to Krsna. Of course, after the meal is cooked and offered, everyone may eat as much as he likes.
Working and cooking will always go on anyway, but by learning the simple technique of doing things for the pleasure of the Lord, one's God consciousness will develop very nicely. And as one progresses in this mode of thinking, one can learn how to eat and sleep in order to keep one's body fit for the service of the Lord.
A person may wonder if this is not the bodily platform of life. But no, it's the spiritual platform because one sees that the body belongs to Lord Krsna. If we can understand this small technique and act upon it we will be liberated and attain spiritual perfection.
Thus, with a little guidance we can easily add Krsna consciousness to our lives. We can begin serving Krsna as the Deity in small ways, and later, should we choose, we can gradually introduce more features to our worship we can offer incense and flowers, sing, play instruments, and dance. Everyone in the family can participate. It's great fun to worship Krsna together, sing His glories, and hear about Him. And it's a potent reminder of life's ultimate goal. If we do this regularly, as the first business of our day, we will find that the influence of Kali-yuga stays outside our walls, and everything inside becomes most agreeable. Try it and see!
The sankirtana movement is a social movement Association with devotees is essential for our devotional service to Krsna to properly develop and mature. We should therefore invite devotees to our homes. When one of Srila Prabhupada's disciples got married, he asked for some special instruction. Prabhupada told him, "Whenever you take prasadam, have guests." Inviting devotee guests helps Krsna consciousness stay alive in the domestic world. The whole family can be busy preparing for their reception and entertainment. It's a Vedic tradition that a householder invite guests for the main meal of the day. If perchance no guests come. he may go into the street and call out "If anyone is hungry, please come and dine with us!"
If we extend ourselves to others like this, we won't be disturbed by the "I, me, mine" syndrome of today's nuclear families, which tends to obliterate happy relationships and destroy the potential for spiritual perfection.
I once saw a couple of Chinese illustrations of heaven and hell. In heaven many people were sitting around, each with a bowl of rice and chopsticks, and they were happily feeding each other. In hell they just fed themselves.
The devotees in the Krsna consciousness movement follow a calendar that's full of festival days. Especially on major holy days, the home can be a flurry of activity, with everyone taking part in some way. Cleaning, cooking, decorating, preparing relevant Krsna conscious pastimes or games with the children the atmosphere can become surcharged with spiritual energy. One can either invite friends or go to their house. Everyone will be touched by a happy mood of cooperation. After all, who doesn't like festivals with good music, food, dance, song, dramas, stories, recitals, games, and loving friends to share it all?
By inviting guests for festivals, we will find our hearts becoming soft and large out of a giving spirit and our relationships with our family members and friends will become smooth and pleasing. When we understand more clearly how our homes with their cars, babies, and gardens actually belong to Lord Krsna, and how we are really guests in His house, we will feel a joyous, festive mood of Krsna consciousness every moment of every day. Thus the fulfillment of Lord Caitanya's prediction that the chanting of the holy names will be heard in every town and village will bloom like a white lotus flower in our homes and in our hearts.
There are many other ways we can place Krsna in the center of our lives and so live together in the absolute pleasure of remembrance of Him. If you like, you can get more information on these topics by visiting or writing to any Hare Krsna temple.