From Back to Godhead
By Cintamani Dhama Devi Dasi
“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” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.5.18).
As a parent I often wonder if I am up to the task. After all, full engagement in devotional service is the only way to become free from the cycle of birth and death. Prahlada Maharaja instructs us in nine methods of devotional service: “Hearing and chanting about the transcendental holy name, form, qualities, paraphernalia, and pastimes of Lord Visnu, remembering them, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering prayers to the Lord, becoming His servant, considering the Lord one’s best friend, and surrendering everything unto Him (in other words, serving Him with the body, mind, and words) these nine methods are accepted as pure devotional service” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 7.5.23)
Any devotee parent will attest that practicing these methods becomes so much more difficult when one has children. Sometimes devotional engagements seem impossible. During the arati service in the temple, my attention is always with the children what are they up to now? I can’t absorb myself in the kirtanaanymore. I’m just trying to stop Madhva from creating havoc, I’m getting him endless glasses of water or snacks, or I’m feeding baby Radhika.
Bhagavatam class? Tougher to attend. Japa … after every other mantra I have to speak to the children or do something for them. And if they happen to both fall asleep at the same time, I’m so tired out that I have to struggle not to snooze. I’m surprised I don’t fall back into the whirlpool of material life myself, what to speak of saving my children.
Yet many parents do maintain their spiritual lives. Even single parents, for whom the problems are compounded, have proven it’s possible to stay in devotional service and bring up children as devotees too. Often such parents seem even more fixed in devotional service than childless devotees who don’t struggle with the same impediments.
“Well,” I moan to myself, “the parents who manage must be superhuman. They obviously don’t need to eat or sleep, and they’re immune to mental and physical exhaustion.”
But in more honest moments I have to admit they’re people not much different from me. So what’s the secret of their success?
Well, I’m hardly in a position to give definitive answers, but I’d like to share some thoughts and realizations about Krishna conscious parenting.
The first is that being a parent is as much devotional service as being a cook, book distributor, manager, or gardener, if we do this service for Krishna’s pleasure. That is to say, our motivation should not be just to equip our children for material life but to help them become Krishna’s devotees so they need never again take birth. Like any service, parenting has its austerities and its advantages. Its austerities we know too well. So now, what are its advantages?
The adage “Man proposes, God disposes” seems to hold one essential ingredient for success in spiritual life: If we really want to surrender to Krishna, He’ll help us. Why should we doubt it? After all, He is fulfilling the desires of even the materialists who don’t worship Him, so why shouldn’t He fulfill the desire of someone who wants to surrender to Him? The problem is we don’t want to surrender to Krishna, because that means giving up our illusory independence and sense gratification.
Having children has helped me in two ways to strengthen my desire to surrender. First, now I’ve directly seen how painful and hazardous is birth. Even if by good karma we’re born healthy into a caring family, we’re still forced to suffer the agonies of cholic, teething, and nappy rash. Tame stuff, you might think, but not if you’ve ever had children and seen how acutely they suffer.
For a child, something with an innocuous name like “nappy rash” can seem as painful as third-degree burns. And that’s only the beginning. As a parent you become mindful of the dangers facing your child from electricity, bleach, and cars to deranged and evil-minded people. These dangers await a spirit soul born into the best circumstances. What if you’re born to people who don’t want you or can’t take care of you? Phew! It’s surprising anyone gets through childhood alive!
As a baby I was blissfully ignorant of these dangers, but now as a parent I see what it means to be a baby. From this vantage point I know: I don’t want to ever take birth again.
The thought of taking birth again scares me. This fear helps my spiritual life, because now I can more feelingly pray to Krishna to help me surrender to His lotus feet. I know that though I’m weak Krishna is strong and if I really want to get out of the material world He will help me.
Besides fear for myself, my love for my children also keeps me praying to Krishna for help and makes me more alert to how He is helping me. When I look at my defenseless children, I naturally think, “How can I protect them from the troubles that await them in life? Maybe by good schooling or good money.” But who am I kidding? How will these protect my kids from war, depression, or cancer? I know in my heart that the only thing that can save my children in any circumstance is knowing how to take shelter of Krishna. If we can remember Krishna, then we can transcend even the pain of death, what to speak of other difficulties.
In short, I know that if I really want to help my children, I have to help them become conscious of Krishna. To do that, I too have to become Krishna conscious. After all, you can’t give what you don’t have. Children are sensitive to hypocrisy. You can’t tell them “Chant Hare Krishna, offer your food to Krishna, don’t take drugs or have illicit sex” unless you practice what you preach.
If we want our children to be devotees, we have to teach by our own example. To me this is a powerful reason to set the best example I can and to pray constantly to Krishna to help me do better. I don’t want these children to suffer in ignorance and be forced to be born again. Since I love them, I want to help them get out of the material world.
When I was childless I didn’t feel the same urgency to become Krishna conscious. I’ll do my best, I thought, but if I don’t make it in this life, there’s always the next, or the one after … But now, though my material load makes devotional life harder to practice, I feel more urgency. I really have to pray to Krishna to help me and to give me the intelligence to recognize how He is helping me. I have to try to be serious. If I do this, I know He will help me, because that’s His promise. “Those who always worship Me with exclusive devotion, meditating on My transcendental form to them I carry what they lack, and I preserve what they have” (Bhagavad-gita 9.22).
Also, feeling more dependent on Him forces me to remember Him more, which after all is the essence of devotional service: “Krishna, the origin of Lord Visnu, should always be remembered and never be forgotten. All the rules and prohibitions in the scriptures should be servants of these two principles” (Padma Purana).
So, fellow suffering parents, don’t give up. Keep trying. And if you have any doubts, realizations, or stories about how to cope, please write and share them with the rest of us. Hare Krishna.