By Krsnanandini devi dasi
Picture this: Srimati devi comes home from school one afternoon so quietly that her mother senses a problem. “Srimati”, she calls, “Are you okay? How was your day?”, When she doesn’t hear a response, Sudevi, Srimati’s mata goes to the ten year old’s bedroom, takes one glance at her daughter’s tearful face and hugs her. “Mata, today some of the children in my class said I was crazy because I don’t eat meat. One girl put a meat sandwich in my face and I pushed her away from me.” The teacher gave me a detention.
Sudevi comforts her daughter and they talk a little about Krsna, about animals, about how all life is sacred and about how sometimes, because of ignorance, people say and do mean things. Mostly though, she uses this time to show affection and to nurture her daughter and the stand she has taken to see the life in animals as sacred, too.
Imagine a new devotee, Bhakta Ted, being so shaken by an experience with the police on his way to the temple. One of the devotees in the temple brushes it off, “you’ll be alright”, he says, “that’s just a part of your karma, it’s just maya”. Another devotee, sensing how much the disturbance has affected Bhakta Ted, takes times to sit with him, listen carefully to his concerns and reassure him that despite the inevitable difficulties of the material world, Krsna gives his devotees encouragement and fortitude and this too, shall past. He also inquires if there is anything he can do to assist Bhakta Ted.
If we carefully examine people everywhere, we will find that everyone needs emotional support. We are living sentient beings and the desires for affiliation, for friendship, for affection and for appreciation are actually very natural spiritual desires. We have these needs because Lord Krsna, the Original Person from whom all living characteristics come, exhibits these qualities Himself. Here, Srila Prabhupada gives important insight for families: “To cut off the tie of all other affections does not mean complete negation of the finer elements. This is not possible. A living being, whoever he may be, must have this feeling of affection for others because this is a symptom of life.” (Sr. Bhag. 1.8. 42)
So, this is why one of the 12 fundamental principles and values identified by the Grhastha Vision Team for strong, healthy Krsna conscious families is: Family Love and Affection. “Affection is a need of the spirit soul”, declared Srila Prabhupada! A stable emotional background, in which all family or community members feel wanted and appreciated, is essential for the personal and spiritual growth of adults and children.
Sometimes devotees, especially in the neophyte state, misunderstand the meaning of detachment and attachment. And we erroneously conclude that showing affection or attachment is “maya” or material. Warm, loving interactions with other “bodies” may be taken as unnecessary or even as an impediment to spiritual growth. However, such thinking is a great misunderstanding.
When we recognize that all things, all people and all living beings in general (as well as their bodies) belong to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, we will see that we have nothing to renounce and nothing to be detached from because it all belongs to Krsna. Then we will aspire to use everything in His service and treat all with loving care. Srila Prabhupada exemplified this understanding in all of his interactions with everyone. Whether famous or not, a dignitary or a child, he treated each person with a sincere heartfelt caring.
Another challenge to loving family relationships is that we sometimes forget that our husband, wife or child is a devotee and we become careless, neglectful or disrespectful in our dealings with them. The old saying that “Familiarity breeds contempt” is one about which sincere Vaisnavas must be on alert. Praying to truly embody the “trnad api sunicena, taror api sahisnuna, amanina, manadena, kirtaniya sada harih.” instruction given to us by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, we should try hard to be especially humble and tolerant in our dealings with our family members. In such a mood, we will stay connected with Krsna and be guided by Him from within how to consistently show love and affection to our family members and others. Frequently, devotees will treat devotees outside of their families with respect while (in the mode of forgetting that devotees are right there in their home) while being careless with how they treat the family members.
I have always been pleasantly surprised at the tone and deep heartfelt language between devotees in the Bhagwatam or the Caitanya Caritamrta or the Krsna book – Their interactions with each other are full of sweetness and concern. Generally, no matter what the problems, the devotees in these sastras take time to greet each other with humble appreciation and loving feelings. It is an offense to not be happy to see a devotee! The idea here is to remember that our children, our spouses, our parents, even the person at the temple who may annoy us , are devotees, are all parts and parcels of Krsna. Remembering this will help us treat them with tender loving care.
So how should we express our love to our family members? One of our great acharyas, Srila Rupa Goswami has already given us insight into this question.
As Srila Prabhupada has said, even in ordinary dealings, business people share exchanges such as eating meals together, having discussions and giving gifts. In healthy relationships, loving exchanges are the essence of connectivity. Over 500 hundred years ago, the wonderful saint and scholarly gentleman, Srila Rupa Goswami, delineated the following six primary loving exchanges between people who care about each other:
Giving gifts with love, thoughtfulness and generosity
Accepting gifts with sincere gratitude
Offering food with love
Accepting food with love
Revealing one’s mind confidentially
Hearing and receiving with respect and appreciation
Mutuality and reciprocation are key in these loving exchanges. In our big family, we had an uncle who was the soul of generosity and was always giving gifts or doing favors for his relatives. Yet, it was very difficult for him to accept gifts and services; Eventually these one-sided exchanges took their toll on his relationships so much so that he began to think of himself as the Benevolent One or Benefactor, dispensing money, gifts and other resources to others who then always looked to him as the supplier. Over time, resentment built up – on both sides—when he was unable to give or didn’t want to give, family members neglected him and he resented their attitudes. So it is very important that loving exchanges are reciprocated. Also, something so simple (but often very challenging) as really, genuinely, listening to your child or your spouse or other relative without judgment and without being anxious to get your own words in, can be a great act of love and affection.
Rupa Goswami, also defined real love as devotional service—where one serves his/her beloved with a devoted and favorable attitude. We think this is a great definition because it combines the two fundamental parts of love: devotion (attitude) and service (action). In other words, love is a verb because it indicates both action and state of being. All the spiritual qualities that it takes to advance spiritually are needed to have healthy family life: patience, enthusiasm, firm conviction that Lord Krsna wants healthy family life, performance of regulated principles, straightforward dealings (honesty, integrity) and associating with like-minded souls—actively seek out the association families and other couples who are serious about spiritual life.
Think about it, how often have you sat down to a good meal, prepared by one or the other of your family or friends and neglected to really appreciate the cook for his or her efforts. When a good, tasty nutritious meal is offered to you, don’t take it for granted. Take the time to express your gratitude and sometimes even mention details, “The way that sauce mixed with the broccoli was a taster’s delight, mata”. Little, thoughtful comments such as this are significant in increasing the level of satisfaction in your relationships. Blaise Pascal, a French philosopher said, “ Little things console us because little things afflict us.” So, even little things, like appreciating a good meal, can positively impact a relationship. Take inventory, ask yourself when was the last time you truly listened to your spouse or other family member, gave him or her a gift or prepared some prasadam as a surprise?