Constant Practice and Detachment
By Phalini devi dasi
Twenty-five years ago today, Sriman Haripada dasa and I ascended the steps of the Orange County Courthouse. I don’t know about him, but I had butterflies in my stomach. We arrived at the marriage license window just as it opened. We were very shy to exchange rings, as we had never touched before. But after a couple of deep breaths, we somehow managed to awkwardly slip those gold bands onto each other’s fingers, and from that moment until today, we have been together through thick and thin.
Our fire sacrifice a year later marked the happiest day of my life. My husband had bought me a red silk sari embroidered with gold and silver, and my girlfriends helped me decorate my hair with flowers. The temple room was filled with well-wishing friends who had come to offer us their blessings. Ramesvara Swami officiated at our ceremony, my Dad had flown in from Cheyenne, Wyoming to give me away, and in front of Sri Sri Rukmini-Dvarakadhisa, we pronounced our vows.
Since then, my husband and I have experienced the ups and downs of married life as even aspiring Vaisnava grhasthas must endure in the unfriendly atmosphere of this Age of Kali. Although there have been periods of peace and even pleasure, they have been invariably followed by equal periods of distress and turbulence. After all, this is the world of dualities. Sometimes sukha, sometimes dhukha, up and down, back and forth, like a teeter-totter at a children’s playground. During times of happiness, when the teeter-totter is up, we experience a kind of euphoria. We sort of relax a bit and almost, almost start to think that everything is okay. Then the dhukha hits, and we bump! hit the ground with a dose of reality. “Oh, yeah. We almost forgot. We’re in the material world!” We again remember clearly that we don’t belong in this place.
Because we are endeavoring to return back home to eternally serve at the lotus feet of our Lord Sri Krsna, we are grateful for those times of distress. They remind us that there really is no continual happiness in this material world, and they make us want to return back home, back to Krsna’s lotus feet. “None of us wants calamities, yet when they come they may serve as an impetus to surrender to Lord Krsna.” (Mukunda-mala Stotra, 11, Purport)
The happiness we seek is the uninterrupted kind that we’re used to in the spiritual world. We want loving relationships here, but the taste of love that we hanker for in our heart of hearts can only be relished when we reestablish our eternal relationship with Lord Sri Krsna and His loving devotees in the effulgent, spiritual realm from which we originally came. Those times of displeasure which we experience here in this material world help us to long and pine for that eternal sweetness which we can taste only by resuming our eternal service to the Lord. “I wish that all those calamities would happen again and again so that we could see You again and again, for seeing You means that we will no longer see repeated births and deaths.” (Queen Kunti, S.B. 1.8.25)..
Sometimes people ask me how my hubby and I have managed to stay together and maintain at least a semblance of peace in our household. My first answer to them is always this: I don’t argue with my husband. Oh sure, sometimes we disagree, but we don’t have the kind of knock-down, drag-out fights that our parents used to have. Both my husband and I suffered anguish as kids whenever our parents fought. Neither of their marriages lasted—my husband’s parents divorced when he was ten, my parents divorced after I left home—and I vowed twenty-five years ago that whatever it took, I would never fight with my husband. I didn’t want my kids to suffer the same way my husband and I did when our parents fought. Granted, everybody has to suffer, including our kids, but at least I didn’t want them to have to suffer that way.
Of course we’ve made mistakes raising our kids. Every Kali-yuga parent has. But we tried our best, given the information we had at our disposal, the sincerity of our hearts, and the circumstances we found ourselves in. I hope that despite our shortcomings, at least our children will take into their own marriages the practice of avoiding quarrels with their spouses.
Along with not wanting my kids to hear us quarreling, I also had positive reasons for choosing not to fight with my husband. Srila Prabhupada quotes Canakya Pandita’s Niti-shastra: “Where there is no fighting between husband and wife, the Goddess of Fortune comes to live in that home.” When I first read that quote, I was thrilled and inspired to imagine that Srimati Laksmi devi Herself would be willing to come live in a couple’s home just because they refrain from fighting. I thought, I can do it, if You help me, Srimati Laksmi devi. Please help me to serve my husband nicely and refrain from fighting with him! We really want You to come live in our home! The tactic which works best for me is this: whenever I feel the urge to argue with my husband, I instead hold my tongue and pray to Krsna to find a solution to our disagreement. I have seen over the years that the more I practice this principle, the more we are rewarded. The more I depend on Krsna for solutions to our problems, the more we feel His mercy and the mercy of Srimati Laksmi devi in our lives and in our home.
Another reason why we try so hard to make our marriage work, which my husband often mentions in his talks with other devotees, is that we are both inspired to try to please Srila Prabhupada by keeping our marriage intact. We are saddened to recall how disappointed Srila Prabhupada was when he heard of so many marital break-ups in our Movement, and we want to do our little part to help establish a legacy of successful ISKCON marriages, even if staying together requires detaching ourselves from the false ego which always wants to be right. Successful marriage requires the utmost sacrifice, patience, determination, and prayer. After all, Vivaha-yajna is just that. A yajna. A sacrifice. And human life is meant for sacrifice. If we sacrifice our false ego to stay with our Vaisnava spouse, even if it’s not all hunky-dory, then that alone can be a source of pleasure to our spiritual master.
Beyond the fact that Laksmi devi Herself comes to live in your home, and the fact that Srila Prabhupada and Krsna are pleased when you hang in there and make your marriage work, there are also tangible rewards when you practice seeing the good qualities of your spouse and focusing on his positive attributes instead of on his shortcomings. I learned a little trick from a friend of mine who has a successful marriage. She suggested that I draw an outline of a man, then draw a line down the center of the image. She told me to list the positive qualities of my husband—things I like and admire about him—on one side of the vertical line and his negative qualities on the other side. Next, she said, fold the paper on the line, dividing the man in half. Fold back the negative qualities and look at the good qualities. You’re aware of his negative qualities, she said, but you don’t focus on them. You focus on his good qualities. So I followed her advice, and this little trick helps me to focus on my husband’s redeeming features whenever my false ego flares up and I find myself dwelling too much on his shortcomings.
The Vedas say that the husband is pati-guru. Srila Prabhupada once revealed an important principle in the relationship between guru and disciple. He said, “Arjuna accepting Krsna as spiritual master…means after accepting spiritual master he’ll not argue. He’ll simply accept whatever He says. That is the technique…Krsna was talking something and he was replying…So that argument has no end. But when he accepts Him as spiritual master, there is no more argument. One has to accept whatever He says. Therefore he’s accepting as spiritual master. After this, Arjuna will never say, “This is wrong…” or “I don’t agree.” No. He’ll accept. So acceptance of spiritual master means to accept anything, whatever he says.” (Conversation, 11/25/68, L.A.) Referring to her husband, Srila Prabhupada wrote in a letter to one of my Godsisters: “He is your spiritual master.” (Letter to Sucharya,10/23/72) So if the husband is the spiritual master of the wife, and a disciple is never to argue with the spiritual master, we can safely conclude that it is not acceptable for a wife to argue with her husband. There are other ways to communicate which are appropriate and pleasing to both one’s pati-guru and to the Lord. One way that works well for me is to hold my tongue and instead of “beating a dead horse” as my husband calls it (he grew up in Texas), talk to Krsna instead about the matter.
Over the years, I have had lots of chances to practice the art of holding my tongue and praying to Krsna to find solutions to our disagreements instead of resorting to screaming matches, which never result in anything good anyway. I heard someone say once, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be married?” I noticed that even if I’m right and my husband’s wrong about some topic of contention, he won’t listen to my point of view if I’m screaming. He just won’t. After all, I have found that Krsna is better than I am at convincing my husband of my point of view.
Lord Sri Krsna is also good at helping me to see my husband’s point of view, eventually, after my false ego calms down a bit. (I have a mega-plus-size false ego. Among the four animal propensities, in my personal dictionary, the definition of “defending” primarily refers to defending my very large false ego.) Vrtrasura told Indra that only Krsna is always victorious, so I have decided to let Krsna do the fighting. I leave all my battles in His capable hands. And it is Krsna who always takes the prize for being the most expert at finding solutions to our marital disagreements.
The more I practice depending on Krsna to help my husband and me see eye-to-eye, the more we feel the presence of Laksmi devi in our home and in our hearts. I am reminded of the phrase “constant practice and detachment.” A good Krsna conscious marriage requires constant practice of the principles given to us by our spiritual master, and detachment from the propensity to defend the false ego. By Srila Prabhupada’s and Lord Krsna’s grace, we are learning that the rewards of having Srimati Laksmi devi agree to come stay in one’s home are worth fighting for. I’m not saying all this to toot my horn, just reporting the results we’ve experienced by trying to follow Srila Prabhupada’s instructions for a peaceful, Krsna conscious marriage.
Dear Vaisnavas around the world, I offer my humble obeisances to all of you. I hope and pray that those of you who are married or planning to marry will be determined to keep your vows and that you will experience ever-increasing realizations in Krsna consciousness as you help each other along on your paths back to Godhead. I pray this meets you all in good health and blessed with the presence of Laksmi devi in your homes.
Please pray for my husband and me that we may be blessed with the determination and the ability to keep our vows, and to continue offering every moment of the rest of our lives with love and enthusiasm in humble service at the lotus feet of our beloved spiritual master, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.