Chapter Ten: Spiritual Marriage and Balanced Training
“The soldiers in this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement must always possess physical strength, enthusiasm and sensual power. To keep themselves fit, they must therefore place themselves in a normal condition of life. What constitutes a normal condition will not be the same for everyone, and therefore there are divisions of varṇāśrama—brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, vaiśya, śūdra, brahmacarya, gṛhastha, vānaprastha and sannyāsa.” (SB. 8.2.30, purport).
Śrīla Prabhupāda took great pride in his married disciples, strong and fired up devotees who helped him spread Krishna consciousness all over the world. In the UK, for example, Śrīla Prabhupāda’s married disciples, starting with nothing, succeeded wonderfully where Śrīla Prabhupāda’s sannyāsī godbrothers, backed and funded by the Gaudiya Math, had failed. Similarly, his married disciples pioneered Krishna consciousness from Dallas to Deutschland to Delhi. Through his gṛhastha disciples Śrīla Prabhupāda reached millions of people around the world.
The simplicity and spiritual focus of renounced life are very attractive, especially to young men who are still uncovering their deeper selves. Nonetheless, it is important for young devotees to know the many positive aspects of spiritual marriage.
Good Reasons to Marry in Krishna Consciousness
Marriage is much more than a response to sexual agitation. A Krishna conscious marriage is a stable, solid platform for spiritual advancement. As such, marriage is a vital rite of passage for the aspiring lifelong devotee. Many important considerations may lead one to decide to marry, including:
– A desire for more control over one’s living situation, diet and finances—options which are available in ISKCON for sannyāsīs and gṛhasthas but usually not others.
– A desire for understanding and companionship.
– A desire for new challenges in spiritual life.
– A desire for more self-expression.
– A desire to develop personal pūjā and bhajan.
– A desire to do a particular type of service, such as business or a professional career, which is inappropriate for renunciates.
– A desire to raise children.
All such desires can easily be pursued as part of one’s service to Lord Krishna.
In many passages, such as the following, Śrīla Prabhupāda distinguishes and encourages Krishna conscious household life.
“As for detachment from children, wife and home, it is not meant that one should have no feeling for these. They are natural objects of affection. But when they are not favorable to spiritual progress, then one should not be attached to them. The best process for making the home pleasant is Krishna consciousness. If one is in full Krishna consciousness, he can make his home very happy, because this process of Krishna consciousness is very easy. One need only chant Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare, accept the remnants of foodstuffs
offered to Krishna, have some discussion on books like Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, and engage oneself in Deity worship. These four things will make one happy. One should train the members of his family in this way. The family members can sit down morning and evening and chant together Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. If one can mold his family life in this way to develop Krishna consciousness, following these four principles, then there is no need to change from family life to renounced life. But if it is not congenial, not favorable for spiritual advancement, then family life should be abandoned.” (BG 13.8, purport).
Further, a gṛhastha can do everything for Krishna, as Bhaktivinode Thakur sings:
mānasa deho, geho, jo kichu mor arpilun tuwā pade, nanda-kis’or!
“Mind, body, and family, whatever may be mine, I have surrendered at Your lotus feet, O youthful son of Nanda!”
Krishna conscious family life thus differs from ordinary family life because devotees know to put Krishna first. For devotees, family life is automatically part of their service for Krishna. In Bhagavad-gītā 5.2, Krishna recommends such work for Him as superior even to external renunciation.
The Irreplaceable Role of Gṛhasthas
Since Śrīla Prabhupāda said he considered varnashram dharma as fifty percent of his mission, one must ask, what is varnashram society without gṛhasthas? Gṛhasthas alone are meant to generate the money and resources needed to support the other three ashrams. And without mothers and children, there is no society at all.
Spiritually healthy gṛhasthas contribute funds and benefit ISKCON in many ways. They raise children deeply rooted in Krishna consciousness. Those with healthy marriages and spiritual lives make a positive spiritual impression on their countrymen (yare dekha tare kaha Krishna upadeśa. Cc. Madhya 7.128).
Because they deal with and resolve common life challenges in a Krishna conscious manner, gṛhasthas can readily show ordinary people how to Krishna-ize their lives. Gṛhasthas also learn management and business skills which they can use to help expand ISKCON.
Raising a family and maintaining a marriage in Krishna consciousness also gives a gṛhastha couple invaluable experience in building relationships. Such experience helps them grow to be patient, wise, experienced Krishna conscious teachers, counselors and gurus. Lord Rṣabhadeva places parents on the same level as gurus and demigods (SB 5.5.18):
gurur na sa syāt sva-jano na sa syāt pitā na sa syāj jananī na sā syāt
daivaṁ na tat syān na patiś ca sa syān
na mocayed yaḥ samupeta-mṛtyum
“One who cannot deliver his dependents from the path of repeated birth and death should never become a spiritual master, a father, a husband, a mother or a worshipable demigod.”
For all these reasons, experienced ISKCON leaders encourage devotees to be true to their own nature and select the order of life appropriate for them. They speak positively to young devotees about all options and avoid the fallacy of filling them with confusing and negative thoughts as they enter life in Krishna consciousness. Śrīla Prabhupāda encouraged his followers to remember and to trust Krishna in all circumstances of life.
Our next three chapters outline the lifelong devotional training provided at Krishna House. As you read them, you’ll see how this training returns to the Simple ’60s attitudes, giving new devotees peaceful minds and hopeful hearts for a lifelong experience of Krishna consciousness.
Chapter Eleven: Sex and the Single Sādhaka
Is Sex Bad?
In Bhagavad-gītā (7.11) Krishna declares Himself to be sex life that is not contrary to religious principles. The great acharya Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur, himself a lifelong celibate, said that if he (as a renunciate) were allowed, he would willingly have sex to propagate Krishna conscious children. So, sex itself is not bad. However, misusing sex can destroy spiritual life.
Śrīla Prabhupāda taught that irresponsible, unmarried (illicit) sex is demonic, for it enhances bodily identification and contaminates the mind and heart. Within a regulated Krishna conscious marriage, however, sex can be used for Krishna. If something can be used for Krishna, it should not be categorically rejected in a false and often prideful attempt to be renounced. In the Nectar of Devotion, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī writes:
prāpancikatayā buddhyā hari-sambandhi-vastunaḥ mumukṣubhiḥ parityāgo vairāgyaṁ phalgu kathyate
“One who rejects something, not understanding its relationship to Krishna, is incomplete in renunciation.”
Misguided renunciation is called phalgu-vairāgya. Phalgu means ‘dry.’ In Bihar, the sacred Phalgu River often flows invisibly under its riverbed. On the surface the river appears dry, but water lies just beneath. Similarly, one engaged in phalgu-vairāgya, dry renunciation, appears renounced from sex desire while saddled with deep attachment for it just below the surface.
One can avoid this needless and spiritually destructive hypocrisy by understanding that comfortably refraining from sex or using sex within marriage are acceptable, respectable and effective ways to deal with sex desire while advancing in Krishna consciousness. Understanding the clear distinction between licit and illicit sex is crucial for newcomers, for it allows them to gain a measured perspective on managing their sex impulse. Devotees gaining such perspective avoid becoming either hopeless or fanatic.
Managing Sex Desire
Dealing with sex desire can be daunting for young devotees, particularly in the digital age in which pornography has all but destroyed the peace of mind that comes with self-control. Still, every devotee must deal with sex desire, for the knots of sexual attraction bind one to the material world. The great majority of devotees choose to marry and gradually master sex desire through regulation. Śrīla Prabhupāda encouraged disciples struggling with sex desire to marry, explaining that married or renounced, life’s goal, love of Krishna, is the same, as is the opportunity to achieve it.
When grappling with sex desire, Haridasa Thakur’s method of dealing with the seductive prostitute is instructive. One can address one’s lust as Haridasa addressed the prostitute: “Please sit over here. I’ll be with you as soon as I finish chanting.” Haridasa Thakur did not repress, condemn or run from the prostitute. Nor did he deny her existence. He acknowledged her, treated her respectfully and gradually won her over to Krishna consciousness. So it is with sex desire. One can neither sustainably repress it, run from it, nor deny its existence. One must make peace with sex desire through Krishna consciousness.
Despite the West being sex-obsessed and rife with immoral, pornography-plagued values, this approach to the sensitive topic of sex provides hope and inspiration for new devotees at Krishna House. On the other hand, the ‘all or nothing’ approach from the zealous ’70s has failed to consistently attract qualified devotees, at Krishna House and elsewhere in the West.
Sex and Gṛhastha Life
Students naturally want to know: once married in Krishna consciousness, where does sex fit in? Śrīla Prabhupāda encouraged his followers to minimize sex, using sex only for conceiving Krishna conscious children. More importantly, he expected his married disciples to chant Hare Krishna and remain faithful in their marriages. He did not insert himself in their bedrooms. Śrīla Prabhupāda’s experienced followers also observe this judicious policy. Sexual expectations and understandings are essential topics for pre- marital counseling. After marriage, if the union is to succeed, they are the business of husband and wife and no one else.
Condemning sex outright both defies Krishna’s statement in Bhagavad-gītā and belies the practical experience of successful ISKCON gṛhasthas. Such devotees understand that sex plays an important but limited role in a sustainable Krishna conscious marriage. With a balanced understanding of this delicate topic, new devotees can move forward peacefully in their spiritual lives.
Chapter Twelve: Five Keys to Successful Gṛhastha Life
Successful marriages in Krishna consciousness are an irreplaceable asset to ISKCON, both for the couple and for Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mission and legacy. Benefits include:
– Husband and wife have built-in devotee association that aids their spiritual advancement.
– Devotee children can grow up in a stable, loving Krishna conscious environment, giving them a good opportunity to be devotees themselves.
– Young devotees, almost all of whom will marry, have role models.
– The greater community appreciates Hare Krishna families as moral, positive people.
What does it take to achieve a stable, fulfilling, peaceful Krishna conscious marriage? Here are five keys.
1. Thinking Positively about Gṛhastha Life
Rather than seeing marriage as evidence of spiritual weakness, mature devotees see marriage in Krishna consciousness as a fresh and transformative opportunity for personal growth. As challenging as it may be, a successful marriage in Krishna consciousness benefits the progressive devotee in many ways.
Krishna conscious gṛhastha life provides a peaceful, sustainable platform for practicing sādhana-bhakti. Responsible gṛhasthas transcend selfishness and learn to put the needs of others first, rising to higher levels of self-control. And most importantly, spiritual marriage softens the heart and teaches one how to freely give unconditional love to others.
While some devotees trust their parents to arrange their marriage, most devotees must select their own spouse. As such, it is generally better to wait until one is fully mature before making such a consequential decision. There is a biological factor in this advice; the human brain does not fully mature until the mid-to late twenties. When both husband and wife are well-established in their own identities as adults and as devotees, their marriage will have a better chance of success. Until that time, brahmacārī or brahmacārīni life is ideal.
Similarly, by the time they reach their late twenties, those rare souls who naturally feel comfortable living as renounced, financially dependent singles can maturely and responsibly consider lifetime commitments to renounced life.
On the other hand, waiting until well into one’s 30s or even 40s to marry—as is often the case for those who unwisely pursued lifelong renunciation—is less due to patience and more a result of indecision or fear. Generally, one’s late 20s or early 30s is the right time to decide one’s long-term ashram.
Postponing the decision can be detrimental. H.H. Tamal Krishna Goswami once asked a respected twenty-eight-year-old brahmacārī whether he wanted to marry or take sannyāsa. After considering, the young man said he wanted to remain a brahmacārī. Maharājā replied, “That means you want to get married.”
In other words, a man who is truly inclined to renounce has a strong, clear and unshakeable desire to do so. He understands the physical, mental and financial implications of a renounced life and is fully comfortable with them.
Choosing between renounced and married life is a decision that deserves thoughtful consideration. At Krishna House we encourage young devotees to be patient, honest and open-minded about this subject. Prematurely deciding on either route is a symptom of the mode of passion. Postponing the decision out of fear indicates the mode of ignorance. Patiently waiting until one is a mature devotee is in goodness. Patience opens the door to a life of transcendence.
A Krishna conscious husband must be capable and responsible to support a family. Though a Krishna conscious wife may also have a career, she and her husband may prefer to live simply on one income during her child-rearing years so she can give her full time and attention to the crucial work of nurturing their children. Any mother will confirm that raising children attentively is a full-time job.
In the early days of ISKCON, most devotees expected to be lifelong preachers. We now know that, vocationally, very few devotees are so inclined. This is normal, for in any religious congregation there are dozens of members with other careers for each one who pursues a career in the ministry.
One of the reasons is financial. In America, for instance, there are some 350,000 religious congregations. The average annual income for a professional working in these congregations is $55,000 USD. No full time ISKCON minister in America whom we know receives anywhere near this amount of compensation. At most, full-time ISKCON ministers generally receive only subsistence-level facility and stipends.
While life as an ISKCON career minister in the West can be financially austere, it is richly rewarding spiritually. Still, gṛhastha couples who want to spread Krishna consciousness full time these days usually arrange supplemental sources of income. Although a career as a Krishna conscious preacher is a great blessing, few devotees will actually pursue it. Most will seek work situations that allow them to preach and serve the mission part time. Aspiring devotee husbands must weigh all these factors when considering a vocation.
4. Pre-marital Counseling
While they are considering marriage, a prospective bride and groom greatly benefit from appropriate guidance on such topics as spiritual standards, finance, sex, family aspirations and living arrangements. A good counselor uncovers the landmines that can potentially blow up a marriage and provides the couple a chance to come to terms on crucial issues before marriage.
5. Mutual Respect
To have a successful Krishna conscious marriage, husband and wife must be firmly situated on the spiritual platform, seeing and treating each other not only as spirit souls but as devotees of Lord Krishna. While a husband may command his wife’s respect through his gentlemanly and responsible dealings, he cannot demand it. A disciple husband once asked Śrīla Prabhupāda, “Isn’t it true the wife should do anything the husband asks?” Śrīla Prabhupāda replied, “And you should be so arrogant? You are chanting Hare Krishna—she is chanting Hare Krishna. What is the difference?”
In Śrīla Prabhupāda’s insightful answer lies the secret for a successful Krishna conscious marriage.
In summary, ISKCON leaders serve Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mission well by training men to respect women as spiritual equals and by training women to look first and foremost for gentlemanly and responsible husbands. Such enlightened leaders allow all young devotees to feel positive about their future in
Krishna consciousness. Even if such devotees choose not to marry, they will do so with a healthy respect for, and not a nasty aversion to, the gṛhastha ashram.
Chapter Thirteen: Beyond Bodily Designations
As wise people don’t judge books by their covers, so devotees are best evaluated by content rather than appearance.
Western or Eastern Dress?
Regarding clothing, Krishna House avoids the all-or-nothing position. Whatever one’s wardrobe preferences, one transcendental fact remains: wearing dhotis and saris does not make one advanced, while wearing ordinary clothes does not make one fallen. At Krishna House we teach that dress is a detail, not a principle. We encourage everyone to wear whatever modest dress is comfortable. This mood helps create a relaxed atmosphere that attracts new devotees.
When left to their own choices, we find devotees about evenly split between Eastern and Western wardrobes, and no one thinks much of it. We do train the students in a bigger concern: paying too much attention to others’ dress can lead to offenses.
Here is an example of this point from Caitanya-līlā. Upon first seeing him, the great renunciate Gadādhara Pandit thought Puṇdarka Vidyānidhi to be a materialist due to his lavish appearance. However, upon seeing Puṇdarka Vidyānidhi’s advanced bhakti, Gadādhara Pandit begged his forgiveness and accepted him as his spiritual master. In this and other instances, advanced devotees avoid judging others by their dress or other externals.
When men want to wear saffron dhotis, if they meet the appropriate criteria, they are welcome to do so. Krishna House brahmacārīs sometimes travel and distribute books and sometimes live peacefully at the temple. Everyone understands that single men choosing to wear white dhotis are also brahmacārīs and single women wearing various colors are brahmacārīnīs.
Deciding whether to put on saffron requires a young man to consult with experienced and caring seniors. A sannyāsī friend advised us that, before donning saffron, it is also auspicious for a young man to obtain the blessings of the senior Vaishnavis in the community.
All over the world ISKCON gṛhasthas live visibly normal lives, externally connected to the society around them while internally remaining serious in their sādhana-bhakti. Senior ISKCON renunciates befriend, visit and frequently stay with such householders and think nothing of it. Less advanced devotees may look at these apparently ordinary householders as mundane and fallen. This attitude is both superficial and a dangerous precedent for Vaishnava aparādha. It is also a major turn-off for prospective new devotees.
As members of the only ashram meant for generating money, gṛhasthas do well to be prosperous. Although Śrīla Prabhupāda wanted gṛhasthas to live simply on ISKCON farms, experience has proven that very few in the West have been able to support a family by working the land and maintaining cows. Most devotees must deal with heavy material responsibilities as their service for Krishna, as Arjuna does in the Bhagavad-gītā.
To simultaneously maintain both vocational and spiritual duties takes tremendous patience, sincerity and determination. Therefore, gṛhasthas are called ‘adhikārīs,’ those who are advanced enough to
capably meet such challenges. To criticize such accomplished and serious devotees for being worldly is offensive and detrimental for spiritual advancement.
In Śrīla Prabhupāda Līlāmṛta we read this quote from His Divine Grace: “That is the standard of living in America. You cannot say, ‘No, I shall not lie down in this nice apartment. I shall lie down in the street. I am a sannyāsī!’ Then nobody will respect me. So we have to use cars, but we should not be attached to it. Our attachment should be for Krishna, and for Krishna’s service we can accept anything.”
Whether it is saffron, white or khaki, one’s dress—and one’s entire external situation—is far less important than one’s attachment to hearing and chanting about Krishna in the association of serious devotees. We advance in Krishna consciousness by appreciating the good in others and avoiding the passionate propensity to find fault. Śrīla Prabhupāda taught that we must be strict with ourselves and lenient with others. With his wonderful ability to emphasize the good in others, Śrīla Prabhupāda gave love and encouragement to all his disciples, men and women, brahmacārīs, gṛhasthas and sannyāsīs.
Varnashrama and ISKCON
During his final pastimes in this world, Śrīla Prabhupāda stated that he had established book distribution as 50% of his mission and now wanted to add the other 50% by establishing varnashram dharma. One of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s personal associates and confidantes during this time was Abhiram das, the former temple president of ISKCON’s Miami and Calcutta branches. Abhirām Prabhu explains the background of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s ‘50%’ statement.
“Śrīla Prabhupāda was concerned with everyone, including women, children and the much broader spectrum of society that he expected would soon be drawn to worship Krishna within their practical ability. Yet ISKCON’s status quo had shifted in the mid- ’70s to a sannyāsa aspiration for everyone, including women, which led to broken marriages and unhappy ladies.
“Many men, who were mostly unfit for celibacy, nonetheless chased after the new status quo of being officially declared a saint by dint of wearing saffron cloth. While greatly energizing book distribution and preaching, this trend perverted many aspects of the ISKCON society. Inevitably, fall downs began to increase and the dyke composed of youthful zeal began to crack. Using youthful energies to hold back natural inclinations for the sake of a higher mission proved unsustainable, including for many official sannyāsīs.
“As news of fall downs continued to pour into Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mail, he began to worry and vocalize his concern about this trend. This increasing concern, along with Śrīla Prabhupāda’s intention to build its God-given solution—varnashram farm communities— substantially motivated his last trip west in the summer of 1977.
“As he said to me, ‘I will go to Gītā-nāgarī. I will sit down and teach you how to live off the land.’ He also said to Tamal Krishna Goswami, Brahmānanda Swami, Bhakti Caru Swami, Upendra and myself, ‘Fifty percent of my work is incomplete because I have not established varnashram. I have one lamentation, that I have not established varnashram.’ ”
Śrīla Prabhupāda was unable to complete that trip to Gītā-nāgarī and left this world in 1977. Since then, his followers have struggled to understand and implement his desire. Devotees have established farm communities around the world with mixed results. In economically simpler countries, some of these farming projects have achieved a degree of self-sufficiency. However, in North America and elsewhere in
the West, ISKCON farm communities have been forced to survive by various means other than simple agricultural production.
Consequently, in North America, most gṛhastha devotees, lacking other good options, have applied varnashram principles in Krishna consciousness by practicing sādhana-bhakti and living as simply as possible while working and preaching in urban environments. At Krishna House we accept this way of life as a reasonable fulfillment of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s aspiration for varnashram dharma in ISKCON.
Hearing this, and seeing examples among successful devotees, newcomers feel hope and confidence in remaining in Krishna consciousness throughout their lives, whether on a farm or in the city. At Krishna House, newcomers learn that a lifelong commitment to Krishna consciousness is Śrīla Prabhupāda’s essential intention for introducing varnashram. As he wrote:
“The varnashram system is for convenience sake in the material world. It has nothing to do with spiritual life. Acceptance of varnashram means a little easy progress to spiritual life, otherwise it has no importance to us. For example, all my European and American disciples have no varnashram position, but spiritually because they have followed the rules and regulations and also my instructions, their advancement spiritually is being appreciated by everyone. Always remember that varnashram life is a good program for material life, and it helps one in spiritual life; but spiritual life is not dependent upon it.” (Śrīla Prabhupāda Letter, Oct. 19, 1974)
To implement varnashram dharma in Kali-yuga would require enormous preaching accomplishments, such as influencing political and social leaders to be Krishna conscious. Such accomplishments are very difficult, especially in the West. Unable to perform them, some zealous varnashram advocates in ISKCON have instead turned to an easier pursuit: pressuring ISKCON Vaishnavis to ‘toe the line,’ cover their heads and live as traditional varnashram women, whether they are naturally inclined to or not. Citing Śrīla Prabhupāda’s criticism of the Women’s Liberation movement of the ’70s, these zealous varnashram advocates insist that any Vaishnavi who does not fit into a certain social mold is unchaste and unfit for Krishna consciousness. ISKCON has suffered greatly as a result, as discussed in Chapter Eight.
While claiming to champion Śrīla Prabhupāda’s teachings, these devotees themselves cannot do what Śrīla Prabhupāda did: consistently bring Westerners to Krishna consciousness. Śrīla Prabhupāda quoted a humorous aphorism in this regard: “Big big monkey, big big belly, Lanka jumping, melancholy.” Some people talk a good game, but when it comes to doing something as wonderful as Sri Hanuman’s jump to Lanka, they become silent.
Intelligent young men and women in the West will accept Krishna consciousness if doing so allows them to be themselves without having to fit into a certain social mold. Given freedom to choose, at Krishna House these bright young men and women generally gravitate toward preaching and book distribution. If they carry on with chanting and following the regulative principles, it is not important whether they later choose to be preachers or professionals or to live in condos or cottages. Everyone is encouraged to find their unique way of pleasing Lord Krishna. Once they have a clear direction in mind, young devotees are further encouraged to seek appropriate mentorship, fulfill their dreams and sustainably apply Śrīla Prabhupāda’s teachings in their lives.
This is from Section Three: Attaining A “Normal Condition of Life” of the book “Endangered Species: ISKCON Ashramites in the West” which is 90 pages and available for free download in either PDF or e-book formats at iskconashramites.com.