The Purpose of Grihastha Ashrama
A Talk by Giriraj Swami
December 18, 2009
When I first joined ISKCON in 1969, we all were quite young and not many of us were married. And we were so new to Krishna consciousness and so dependent on Srila Prabhupada that we asked him for guidance in every area. When one devotee, Advaita dasa, who had recently gotten married, asked Srila Prabhupada about his having loving feelings for his wife, Prabhupada replied, “One hand cannot love the other hand directly—it must go through the stomach. Similarly, one person cannot love another person unless God is in the center.” There is the right hand, and there is the left hand, but what connects them is the body. In this example, the two hands are the husband and wife, and the body is Krishna.
We had to change our consciousness, Prabhupada told us, and put Krishna at the center. That, he said, would make all the difference. When our false ego is at the center, we have so many problems, but when Krishna is at the center, our relationships become harmonious.
We come into the material world out of envy of Krishna. We want to take Krishna’s position and be the enjoyer, the controller, the proprietor. This is our mood in conditioned existence. And when we come into the material world, we end up competing not only with Krishna but also with so many other competitors of Krishna. And that egoistic mood can enter the home. We compete to be the enjoyers, the controllers, and the proprietors, and that leads to conflict—so many imitation gods fighting for supremacy.
Through the process of Krishna consciousness, our false, bodily identification is replaced by the realization of our true identity as gopi-bhartuh pada-kamalayor dasa-dasanudasah—the servant of the servant of the servant of the servant of Krishna, the maintainer of the gopis.
When a disciple asked Srila Prabhupada, “What should we do when there are conflicts among the devotees?” he replied, “If each devotee thinks, ‘I am the servant of the servant of the servant of Krishna,’ then there will be no more conflict.” The same principle applies in the home. If each family member thinks and feels, “I am the servant of the servant of the servant of Krishna,” the relationships will be very congenial. But that requires a revolution in consciousness. We are in the material world because we want to be the master of the master of the masters, and that mentality leads to frustration, disappointment, and death—repeated birth and death. Becoming the servant of the servant of the servants of Krishna leads to happiness and ultimate liberation.
Soon after I first met Srila Prabhupada and the devotees, as a university student in Boston, I heard that Srila Prabhupada’s spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, had said that when you come to Krishna consciousness you become relieved of the burden of enjoyment. I was actually feeling that burden, because every weekend there would be a subtle but intense competition for who would enjoy the most. Leading up to the weekend, the students—and perhaps the faculty too—were making plans how to enjoy. These plans included going to restaurants, going to movies, going to shows, going to parties, going to clubs—so many plans. I didn’t really like any of those activities, and it was a burden for me to have to enjoy like the others. And then, afterwards, the students would ask each other, “What did you do? Where did you go?” “Oh, I went a party. We all got high and . . .” “Oh, I went out on a date and . . .”
The statement that when you become a devotee you become relieved of the burden of enjoying resonated with me. It was artificial for me to try to enjoy like that, because as souls our real pleasure comes in relationship with the Supreme Soul. True love exists only in relation to Krishna. The Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu defines pure love (prema) as the focusing of all one’s loving propensities and feelings on Vishnu, or Krishna.
bhaktir ity ucyate bhisma-
“When one develops an unflinching sense of ownership or possessiveness in relation to Lord Vishnu, or, in other words, when one thinks Vishnu and no one else to be the only object of love, such an awakening is called bhakti [devotion] by exalted persons like Bhisma, Prahlada, Uddhava, and Narada.” (Brs 1.4.2, Cc Madhya 23.8)
There are some beautiful prayers by Queen Kunti to Lord Krishna:
atha visvesa visvatman
visva-murte svakesu me
sneha-pasam imam chindhi
drdham pandusu vrsnisu
“O Lord of the universe, soul of the universe, O personality of the form of the universe, please, therefore, sever my tie of affection for my kinsmen, the Pandavas and the Vrsnis.” (SB 1.8.40)
tvayi me ’nanya-visaya
matir madhu-pate ’sakrt
ratim udvahatad addha
“O Lord of Madhu, as the Ganges forever flows to the sea without hindrance, let my attraction be constantly drawn unto You without being diverted to anyone else.” (SB 1.8.41)
As we become serious in Krishna consciousness, this really becomes our prayer: “Let my love flow to Krishna without any hindrance, just as the Ganges flows to the ocean.”
These statements—“Please sever my attachments for my family members. Let my love flow exclusively unto You without being diverted to anyone else”—raise some questions: What about other relationships? What happens to my relationships with my friends and family?
In his purport, Srila Prabhupada makes a very interesting point. He says that Kunti’s family members were devotees of Krishna. Her paternal family members, the Vrsnis, were devotees, and her sons, the Pandavas, were devotees. And affection for devotees is not outside the pale of Krishna consciousness, of pure devotional service. So when Kunti prays, “Please sever my ties of affection for my kinsmen,” she means that she wants the affection based on the body to be cut.
“Her affection for the Pandavas and the Vrsnis is not out of the range of devotional service because the service of the Lord and the service of the devotees are identical. Sometimes service to the devotee is more valuable than service to the Lord. But here the affection of Kuntidevi for the Pandavas and the Vrsnis was due to family relation. This tie of affection in terms of material relation is the relation of maya because the relations of the body or the mind are due to the influence of the external energy. Relations of the soul, established in relation with the Supreme Soul, are factual relations. When Kuntidevi wanted to cut off the family relation, she meant to cut off the relation of the skin. The skin relation is the cause of material bondage, but the relation of the soul is the cause of freedom. This relation of the soul to the soul can be established by the via media of the relation with the Supersoul.” (SB 1.8.41 purport)
There are two categories of affection—one based on the body and one based on the soul, soul-to-soul, through the medium of the Supersoul, the Supreme Soul. When Kunti prays, “Please sever my ties of affection for my kinsmen,” she means the affection that is based on the body—so that only the affection based on the soul remains. Affection based on the body leads to bondage and death, whereas affection based on the soul leads to liberation and eternal life.
So, we don’t have to give up our family relationships, but we want to purify them. We want the material aspect, which is based on the body, to be become less and less prominent and the spiritual aspect, which is based on the soul, through the medium of the Supreme Soul, to become more and more prominent. And the more the spiritual dimension of our relationships becomes prominent, the more the relationships become congenial to our happiness and ultimate success in life.
One authority on marriage said, “Marriage is not supposed to make you happy. It’s supposed to make you married, and once you are safely and totally married you have a structure of security and support from which you can find your own happiness.” So we are here to work on our marriages. We are not in any illusion that marriage per se will bring us happiness, but we want to work on our marriages so that we can function well as parts of a unit, the family unit, and within the relative peace and mutual support of that unit find our own inner happiness, which is the only real happiness there is.
The marital relationship also provides the basis for the couple’s children to develop Krishna consciousness and be happy. Some time later, Srila Prabhupada wrote to Advaita’s wife, Balai, “In materialistic marriages generally there are too many troubles and frustrations because the basic principle for both the husband and wife is their own personal sense gratification. Therefore there is inevitable conflict and divorce petition. But in a Krishna conscious marriage the basic principle is for both husband and wife to serve Krishna nicely and to help the partner advance in spiritual life. In this way both the husband and wife are true benefactors for one another and there is no question of any serious conflicts or separation. So I am sure that to have such nice parents who are devotees of Lord Krishna, your child Nandini is very, very fortunate. In the Bhagavad-gita Krishna instructs us that for one to be born in the family of devotees means that such person was the most pious of all living entities. So raise Nandini very carefully in Krishna consciousness, and surely Krishna will bestow all blessings upon you and your family.”
So I am happy for all of you who have come to the Couples’ Weekend. Here we have older couples and newer couples. We often hear at japa retreats, “I wish I had heard these things thirty years ago,” but better late than never. And some of the older couples may leave here thinking that way. But better late than never. And some of the younger ones may think, “I’m so glad I attended this workshop early in my marriage, receiving guidance from the beginning about some of the things that might come up—and how to deal with them.” But the soul is eternal, and Krishna consciousness is eternal, and our relationships based on Krishna consciousness are also eternal. So even if in a relative, material sense we are starting late, it is never too late, and in relation to eternal time we are just developing the proper mood of loving service that will continue into eternity.
These material bodies are just dressings for the soul. Our identities based on the body and mind are temporary and illusory. Our real identities are as loving servants of Krishna and His devotees, and whatever we are doing here in the material world is practice for our eternal life in the spiritual world, where we will serve Krishna and His devotees in ecstatic love. As Srila Prabhupada said, if a high school student is doing college-level work, he can be promoted to college. So if we are in the material world but are engaged in the activities of the spiritual world, we can be promoted to the spiritual world. The basic activity of the spiritual world is to render loving service to Krishna and the other servants of Krishna—which includes chanting the holy names and glories of Sri Krishna. And the grihastha-ashrama is a suitable situation for practicing loving service, which can qualify us for eternal loving service in the spiritual world.