Become a devotee; make Mum and Dad cry
By Kesava Krsna Dasa
After becoming a devotee of Lord Krishna, many of us had to deal with the issue of emotional responses from our parents. In some cases, the apparent fall out from thinking that the, “Hare Krishna’s have broken up my family”, can last for decades. What is the position of these parents in terms of spiritual progress? Is there a way of making sense of suffering the loss of a son or daughter to Krishna’s divine service?
After I joined the bhakta course then headed by Vipramukhya Prabhu, already the desperate phone calls from my severely distraught mother came through, but I could not answer them all because they were emotionally draining. However, the extraordinary power of chanting Hare Krishna insulated me and gave rise to a somewhat callous attitude. Still, being shorn of sound philosophical grounding, I was unable to reconcile her to my spiritual calling.
The usual kindly reminders of, “They feed you a low protein diet to keep you as obedient servants of this money making machine”, were attempts by my mother to prise me away. After about two weeks, the bhakta leader decided to come home with me and preach to my parents. Re-entering my home uncovered all the lifelong sights and smells of my former abode. Armed with a video projector we showed “The Hare Krishna World”, as my parents politely watched and listened.
But they did not want philosophy; they simply wanted me home. “Have you come back to stay…Can’t you do this at home…Have we done something wrong to make you leave home like this? Tears welled up in their eyes, “Every time we play this record it reminds us so much of you. Please don’t go, just stay here”. The record happened to be Ennio Morricone’s classical movie score called, “Once upon a time in the West”, which I brought for my dad. It was a sad orchestral work which played a haunting female voice accompanied by droning cellos.
I had never before witnessed such a state in them, as they were gently desperate, and they certainly tugged at my heartstrings. But I stood my ground, putting on a brave face, and tried to assure them I was happy. After a tender farewell, and driving back to the temple, all the appeals of my parents overcame me, so I too cried. The bhakta leader exclaimed, “Oh no. This is what happened to Arjuna on the battlefield. This is a sign of ignorance”. From that time onwards, I was observed very closely because I was a potential “blooper”.
If this was not bad enough for my parents, two weeks later, my younger brother Paravidya Prabhu also joined the temple full time. That is how things were in those days; you either were in, or out of the temple. Is it possible to explain a double dose of misery caused by trying to serve Krishna?
About a week later, a large number of devotees gathered for a maha Harinama procession in my home town of Gloucester. As the devotees jubilantly sang Hare Krishna and danced happily, I distributed Back To Godhead magazines and sweets. Half expectedly, I saw my mother, and she saw shaved heads, all, and me. I approached her to offer a sweet, but the visual shock overcame her. She turned away and sped off, disappearing into the crowds of shoppers. I had to feign a blissful countenance for the rest of the Harinama. Later, she told me that day was the worst in her life.
In spite of these torrid times, my parents nonetheless came to visit me frequently. They had darshana of the deities and partook of Krishna prasadam. Some years later a senior mataji named Rtasya Devi Dasi helped arrange an open day for all devotee parents at Bhaktivedanta Manor, which was well attended. The parents could relate to each other while popping up puris and doing other amusing icebreakers.
Largely, many parents of devotees remain living a nondevotee lifestyle said to be ‘sinful’ or ‘vikarmic’, while their offspring engage in Krishna’s service. Are they also somehow engaged in devotional service, perhaps directly or indirectly? Will they benefit even when retaining embittered feelings of, “The Hare Krishna’s broke up my family?”
The answer is that they are engaged both directly and indirectly in Krishna’s service without realizing it. However miserable or angry they may be, some past event precipitated the exceptional boon of being connected with Krishna. Sri Narada Muni said; “Persons who constantly direct their lust, anger, fear, protective affection, feelings of impersonal oneness or friendship toward Lord Hari are sure to be absorbed in thoughts of Him”. (SB. 10.29.15)
The fact that concerned parents have displayed these emotions while thinking of and remembering their loved ones shows they are making some advancement in spiritual life. Mother Devahuti stated; “…But that same attachment, when applied to the self-realized devotees, opens the doors of liberation”. (SB. 3.25.20)
An example of indirect service would be the parents’ involuntarily ‘losing’, or rather, giving their sons and daughters for devotional service. The ensuing ‘suffering’ due to thinking in terms of “my child” is a great distance from that offered by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur in his Saranagati; “Mind, body and family, whatever may be mine, I have surrendered at Your lotus feet, O youthful son of Nanda”. While it would take a quantum leap of consciousness to achieve this sentiment, there is still no adverse long-term outcome; “…one who does good, My friend, is never overcome by evil”. (BG. 6.40)
When these involuntary acts are balanced against direct services rendered to the spiritual master by all progeny, there comes a benefit more far reaching than one can imagine, for the Lord takes care of all concerned. “The Lord is so kind that He gives all protection to the family members of His devotees, and thus the devotee has no need to bother about his family members, even if one leaves such family members aside to discharge devotional service’. (SB. 1.19.35 purport)
While this does not mean we should ignore our parents, for we must keep in touch, it says we can lessen our concerns if they interfere with our devotional activities. In other words, a more surrendered attitude will allow Krishna to take care of the rest. Even so, to become a devotee is the best possible way to help everyone, especially family members; “A pure exclusive devotee of the Lord serves his family interest more dexterously than others, who are attached to illusory family affairs”. (SB. 1.19.35 purport)
This phenomenon of crying parents is not unique to modern day devotees, for this has been happening all the time. Lord Chaitanya left a bereaved mother and wife. Sri Nityananda’s father Hadai Pandit, who eventually died of separation from his son, unwittingly gave Lord Nityananda away in charity to a sannyasi. Great devotees such as Sri Lokanatha Goswami of Vrndavana left behind parents who were about to get him married. The list goes on.
As for ourselves, it is in our best interests to try to become ‘exclusive’ servants of the spiritual master, and his pleasure alone can ensure all-round protection. No matter how ‘sinful’ or ‘fallen’ our family members are, these are of negligible value in the infinite estimation of the Lord. What concerns Krishna is the fact that these crying parents gave something most valuable – sons and daughters who became vaisnavas and vaisnavis. If a vaisnava is so highly loved by the Lord, and is given all access to blissfully serve Him forever, that would be worth crying about any day.
Ys, Kesava Krsna dasa
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