Overcoming the Stumbling Blocks in Family Life
From Back to Godhead
By Jivan Mukta Dasa
On the path back home, back to Godhead, householder life often seems like an obstacle course. Stumbling blocks dominate the landscape. Work, social obligations, and household matters such as rearing children and paying the bills can easily become impediments to our spiritual development. Devotees may find themselves pressed to compromise their ideals because of the often negative influence of these constraints.
So how can we successfully prevent the attrition of our Krsna consciousness and at the same time fulfill our householder duties? We can do this by carefully adhering to a regulated life of Krsna conscious practices.
Regulation means control of our time, our senses, our children. For devotees, that control is accomplished through Krsna conscious activities. Krsna tells us in Bhagavad-gita that by regulating our eating, sleeping, work, and recreation we can mitigate our material pains. The regulative practice of Krsna consciousness, known as sadhana-bhakti, goes one step further than ordinary regulation it also empowers us spiritually.
When a family adheres to a spiritual program and cooperates to manage the household, the burden of stress and frustration is lightened. A disciplined devotional routine creates a more gentle flow to family life and an atmosphere where Krsna consciousness can flourish. We should regulate our play, rest, exercise, and worship in a way that will help us develop our attitude of service toward guru and Krsna.
Although following a sadhana program as strictly at home as one would in a temple may be a challenge, we can stick to a modified program. Your schedule may prevent you from waking up at three or four in the morning, but your aim should be to get up before sunrise. The brahma-muhurta period, one and a half hours before sunrise, is most conducive to spiritual practices.
Though we may dress in conventional garb at our work places, we can still wear devotional clothing and tilaka during the morning program, while we sing the standard morning prayers in front of the family’s Deities or Deity pictures and chant our prescribed number of rounds on our beads. If your schedule prevents you from chanting and worshiping in the morning, an evening program is also very effective.
Encourage the entire family to take part in the spiritual program. Children need to hear and chant too. Otherwise their lack of Krsna consciousness will be a stumbling blocks in both their devotional life and our own. Children should take part according to their age. Young children will usually pick up the songs and verses by hearing them sung. Older children can follow in a book until they memorize the prayers. As the children become proficient, they can be encouraged to offer aratis, lead some of the prayers, or play the cymbals or drum.
Our own enthusiasm or lack of it will affect how well the children take part. We may need to offer incentives. In our home we draw a tulasi tree for each child. When the children sing nicely, chant japa attentively, and pay attention during Bhagavatamclass, they are allowed to color in three tulasi leaves. As they see tulasi growing, they become eager to earn more leaves.
Children are gifts from Krsna. Our responsibility is to see that we provide them the best opportunities to get free from the material world. Parents serve as role models. When children see us inviting devotees to our home for kirtana and prasadam, when they see us taking part in the local temple functions, when they hear us talking about Krsna and the material condition, or when they hear us glorifying the pure devotees of the Lord, their minds are influenced by standards that will mold their adult lives.
The priorities and goals we set nurture the ambitions of our children. Birth in a family of devotees is indeed fortunate, but it is not a guarantee of salvation. Krsna consciousness is a practical science attained by training and good association.
Inattention in performing our spiritual duties will create spiritual confusion. Maya, illusion, will get the chance to regain dominance over our family lives. Television, frivolity, mundane association, and general misuse of our time, if not checked, will stall our spiritual development. Our efforts, therefore, should be to increase our absorption in Krsna conscious activities. This will wash away bad habits and the subsequent excuses for not chanting, hearing, and reading, just as the continuous pouring of milk flushes out an ink-filled glass.
Prabhupada says that we should arrange our day so that we always think of Krsna. Rupa Gosvami confirms in The Nectar of Instruction that this is the essential instruction.
The rewards of a regulated life of devotional service are many. Peaceful, loving relationships between family members develop as we realize the transcendental meaning of our association. The pleasure we derive from seeing our children take part in Krsna consciousness inspires us and confirms the importance of our sadhana. Child-rearing, sometimes a seemingly thankless task, becomes a source of great inspiration. When our children spontaneously act out Krsna’s pastimes or pretend to give Bhagavatamclass, when they offer arati, ask philosophical questions, share their realizations, or pick flowers for the Deity, we parents feel great joy.
Attachment for the spiritual well-being of our family members leads to, and indicates, our attachment to the Supreme Lord. And attachment to Krsna’s lotus feet is the perfection of human life. When our regulated life centers on Krsna and service to our spiritual master, rather than seeing our duties as stumbling blocks and obstacles we see them as steppingstones opportunities to gain release from material confinement.