SRILA PRABHUPADA speaks strongly in his purports about the attraction between men and women and how this attraction can devastate spiritual life. Srila Prabhupada writes: "Material existence means living together as male and female and being attracted by one another. However, when one fully understands spiritual life, his attraction for the opposite sex becomes vanquished. By such attraction, one becomes overly attached to this material world. It is a hard knot within the heart." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.29.85, purport)
In marriage that knot becomes especially strong, and people are not eager to be advised what to do about it. Sometimes people criticize the acarya (Vedic teacher) by saying, "Why are you meddling in our private lives? You sadhus have your own business worship, preaching, and so on. What business is it of yours what we do in the privacy of our marriage?"
There was an article called "Bishops in the Bedroom," written by lay Catholics. They were criticizing their priests, saying, "We don't want you involved in our sex life." And "pro-choice" women, even more adamantly, don't want any moralists, religionists, or politicians telling them what they can or can't do with their bodies.
Materialists fiercely protect what they see as their right to engage freely in sex life. As Srila Prabhupada says, "In all species of life the attraction between male and female is the basic principle of existence."
It is a fact that the acaryas are completely aloof from married life and its implications. They are aloof from the whole material world. Yet they are concerned. One time an elderly British man was inquiring from Srila Prabhupada. The man admitted he didn't know much about Krsna consciousness but he was interested in hearing. After some talk about transmigration, the man said, "It seems to me that you are free by your spiritual development and that you didn't have to come back. It seems you have come back because you wanted to, because you have a job to do."
Srila Prabhupada's answer was matter of fact. "Yes, just like Krsna. He comes, or sometimes Krsna's son comes, a great devotee, because the spiritual enlightenment of the fallen souls is required." That is why saintly persons who have nothing to do with sex life and its entanglements home, land, children, and money instruct the attached householders.
From the attraction between man and woman, everything else grows. "Everyone comes to this material world attracted to sense gratification, and the hard knot of sense gratification is the attraction between male and female. By this attraction, one becomes overly attached to the material world in terms of grha-ksetra-suta-apta-vitta that is, home, land, children, friends, money, and so forth. Thus one becomes entangled in the bodily conception of 'I' and 'mine.' "
The consciousness of "I" and "mine" directly correlates with sins like abortion. Srila Prabhupada has explained that both the abortionist and the mother who chooses abortion will have to take birth again and again to suffer the same fate as the baby they have killed. Therefore, to try and save at least a few people from the horrible suffering awaiting them, the compassionate devotee preaches.
The great devotee Prahlada Maharaja also describes the knot that forms in the heart due to sexual attraction. In modern culture, sexual partners consider marriage optional, but in Vedic culture the attraction would always be regulated by marriage. But marriage makes the knot stronger, especially as children are born and one struggles to maintain the family. When one works hard to support his children, he wants to be respected by them, and by his co-workers. This tightens the knot of attachment. Devotees want to loosen this knot.
Married or single, we all have experience of this hard knot. Even if we ourselves have not tied a marital knot, we have all been children of our parents. I know that during my entire childhood I never once entertained the idea that I was anything but the son of my parents. My world rotated on the axis of my parents. Not until I was seventeen years old did I begin to disagree with their world view or their view of me. Then began the struggle we all go through of trying to become free of our parents' ideas and find our own identities.
Even after I left home and was living my own life, I still held to an image of myself as part of my family. I remember that when I met Srila Prabhupada I was already twenty-six years old I called my parents to tell them the wonderful news. I even sent them our ISKCON Prospectus and told them how happy I was now that I had found something I could dedicate my life to.
They got angry. This wasn't their religion. How dare I do something different? My father even told me, "If you stay with the Swami, we won't have anything more to do with you."
I knew he wasn't bluffing. Although they were sentimental about their sense gratification, when their sacred codes of identity were challenged they responded strongly.
After that phone call, I went upstairs to see Prabhupada. I started crying as I related what had happened: "They told me that if I stay in Krsna consciousness they won't have anything to do with me anymore."
Prabhupada didn't seem to take it too seriously. He didn't lecture me about family attachment. He just looked at me, his eyes smiling.
I lost those parents, but in such a way that I accepted Srila Prabhupada as my father, my real father. Later I wrote to Srila Prabhupada to confirm this. He wrote back, "You have accepted me as father, so I have accepted you as my dear and real son. Relationship of father and son on the spiritual platform is real and eternal. On the material platform such a relationship is ephemeral and temporary." He added, "Although I cannot give you anything as father, still I can pray to Krsna for your more and more advancement in Krsna consciousness."
I was free, but only years later did I understand what I had gotten free from. One day I was distributing Back to Godhead magazines at Harvard Square. I looked around at so many conditioned souls, and I could see what family illusion was. I knew I wasn't completely free of it myself, but what impressed me was how strong it is. Although it's complete illusion, it's almost impossible to escape. To identify yourself as a spiritual soul with your own unique relationship with Krsna is difficult when you are surrounded by family members, especially materialistic family members. The hard knot of family affection is considered the biggest obstacle to spiritual life. But when one fully understands spiritual life, the illusion is vanquished.
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami travels extensively to speak and write about Krsna consciousness. He is the author of more than two dozen books, including a six-volume biography of Srila Prabhupada.