Getting the Mercy

Preaching, Book Distribution, and the Ultimate Goal

Caitanya Chandra dasa

First edition: 2019

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Chapter 8: Spreading Krsna consciousness in family life and beyond

As in most activities in life, to start on book distribution is relatively easy. To continue distributing books and spreading Krsna consciousness throughout our whole lives is the real achievement. One time while talking with HG Navina Nirada Prabhu, he asked why there are so many shooting stars in Brazil, devotees who do well on book distribution for a short period but then disappear. Although Brazil is historically a prominent example, this is a phenomenon that can be noted almost everywhere: young devotees who are very enthusiastic about preaching and book distribution and who can do well for a few years, but at some point get other priorities in life and end up giving-up book distribution (or even devotional life altogether).

One of the critical points in life for many is the transition from the brahmacari asrama (or from bachelor life, in case of the ones not living in the temple) to the grhastha asrama.

The word “asrama” means a shelter, a place where we can practice spiritual life. The same way we say “brahmachari asrama”, we say “grhastha asrama”, both are called asramas. The reason is that both brahmachari life and grhastha life give one stability to practice spiritual life, a shelter. The brahmachari asrama allows one to be renounced, free of material concerns and just work hard to spread Krsna consciousness, while the grhastha asrama gives the emotional stability and security offered by a progressive family life. One can stay in any of the two asramas, according to his nature and preferences, the question is how to do it properly.

“My Guru Maharaja wanted to establish daiva-varnasrama. So married life is called grhastha-asrama. It is as good as sannyasa-asrama. Asrama means where there is bhagavad-bhajana. It doesn't matter whether one is sannyasi or one is grhastha or a brahmacari. The main principle is bhagavad-bhajana. But practically also, I may inform you that these married couples, they are helping me very much because... For practical example I may say that one of my Godbrothers, a sannyasi, he was deputed to go to London for starting a temple, but three or four years he remained there, he could not execute the will; therefore he was called back. Now, I sent six married couples. All of them are present here. And they worked so nicely that within one year we started our London temple, and that is going on very nicely.” (Srila Prabhupada, lecture on BG 7.3 -- Bombay, 29 March 1971)

Family life can be positive for a preacher in the sense of giving him stability and imparting a sense of responsibility, which is positive in all spheres of life. I’m a married man and still, I’m preaching, and I know many other married men who are preaching even more than I do. The difficulty is that grhastha asrama offers advantages only when conducted properly. Troublesome family life can create havoc in one’s life (what to say about his preaching career). There are cases of devotees who simply lose control over their senses and get involved with some girl or man from outside and thus abandon devotional life altogether. There are cases of devotees who get into troubled marriages, dealing with quarrels, different goals in life, difficulty in controlling their senses, infidelity, divorce, etc. and get so troubled by it that they end up abandoning book distribution or even spiritual life completely. In other cases, the marriage works, but they fall into materialistic life, taking care only of their material advancement and forgetting about spiritual life, like king Puranjana. There are also cases of devotees who get into strong marriages and keep following devotional life seriously, but somehow or other lose their impetus to preach.

Family life is like making halava: the general recipe is simple, but things can go terribly wrong if one doesn’t get the details right. Throughout the years, I saw many promising book distributors leave the service for one or more of these reasons. If our idea is to not only train, but also to retain our book distributors, I believe that it’s essential to give them some long term support and make them aware of the obstacles that they may face on the way. It's rare to see devotees who don't enter into married life at some point in their lives, and in many cases, they don't get good advice about how to reconcile family life with their service on book distribution. That was a problem that I also faced when I got married, and I was able to solve it with a combination of senior guidance, knowledge from Srila Prabhupada's books and some things that I learned the hard way.

This last chapter is my humble attempt to give some advice that may help one to avoid some of the traps on the way, and continue being able to preach and to distribute books during his grhastha years and beyond, harvesting the advantages of married life, while simultaneously avoiding the pitfalls. Family life is full of traps and difficulties, but we should do our best and try to always do things in a proper way, aiming at the highest standards. There are plenty of good and bad examples. We should focus on the good ones.

Unless one is determined enough to remain a brahmacari (or brahmacharini) throughout his whole life, he will need to learn how to reconcile family life with advanced spiritual practice and preaching to be able to continue his missionary activities, which are actually the most important aspect of our lives. As Lord Caitanya quotes on CC Adi 9.42:

“It is the duty of every living being to perform welfare activities for the benefit of others with his life, wealth, intelligence and words.”

Despite being especially targeted to devotees who are in, or are going to eventually enter the grhastha asrama, this chapter can also be interesting for brahmacharis. Many brahmacharis end up becoming attracted to family life by seeing it as an “easy” asrama, or a place for enjoyment. Both are misconceptions: family life in Krsna consciousness is not easy, nor does it involve much enjoyment. Practically speaking, the only difference between a brahmachari and a proper householder is that one needs to control his senses while living in the asrama and the other needs to control his senses while living with his wife. By properly understanding the duties and responsibilities of married life, one can make a conscious and mature decision to avoid it, if that’s the case.

Some philosophy

Most of us know cases of empowered preachers and book distributors who entered family life just to find a life of difficulties and frustration, with very little space for preaching activities. Most of Srila Prabhupada’s books, especially the Srimad Bhagavatam, not even mentioning letters, lectures, etc. are full of descriptions and warnings about the dangers of materialistic grihamedhi life:

“He gives heart and senses to a woman, who falsely charms him with maya. He enjoys solitary embraces and talking with her, and he is enchanted by the sweet words of the small children. The attached householder remains in his family life, which is full of diplomacy and politics. Always spreading miseries and controlled by acts of sense gratification, he acts just to counteract the reactions of all his miseries, and if he can successfully counteract such miseries, he thinks that he is happy. He secures money by committing violence here and there, and although he employs it in the service of his family, he himself eats only a little portion of the food thus purchased, and he goes to hell for those for whom he earned the money in such an irregular way”. (SB 3.30.8-10)

However, it doesn’t have to be like this. There are also cases of empowered married preachers, who continue preaching the same like before, or even more in family life than their brahmachari counterparts. It’s not about the marriage institution itself, but what kind of marriage one is going to have. Learning how to avoid the pitfalls of materialistic family life and mundane attachment, we can reach a position that is not an impediment for preaching and following spiritual life seriously.

“If you are inconvenienced to accept sannyasa or brahmacari life, remain in household life, but the purpose is the same, to develop Krsna consciousness. If one is in the family life and is trying to advance in Krsna consciousness, he is called grhastha, and his family life is called grhastha-asrama. Just like sannyasa-asrama. Asrama means where there is activities, spiritual. That is called asrama. So if you remain as grhastha or family man, there is no harm. But utilize for advancement of Krsna consciousness. Then you are grhastha. And if you do not know that, if you simply remain a family man for satisfying your senses and begetting children up to the point of death, that is called grhamedhi” (Srila Prabhupada, lecture on SB 6.1.24, 08 July 1975)

“They (women) have also come to Krishna, we cannot reject them. Therefore I have advised my students to get themselves married. I was householder, my Guru Maharaja was lifelong brahmacari. But we are doing the same work of preaching Krishna Consciousness, so what is the difference, grhastha and brahmacari?” (Srila Prabhupada, letter to Danavir, 17 December, 1972)

“I am very glad to note when you write to say that both you and Himavati miss your sleep and go to bed late. By Krishna's grace, Himavati is not only beautiful externally, but she is beautiful within also. Otherwise how she can say that you may have the license for sense gratification but what will you do with this license? A brahmacari is good for living a life of celibacy, but a person who can live a life of celibacy in the presence of a beautiful and obliging wife is more than a brahmacari. Of course anyone who is stuck up with only one wife is also called brahmacari. You will set a very good example if both of you agree not to have sense gratification anymore and still you remain as husband and wife together. This is possible, however, only if both of you are fixed up in Krishna conscious activities. I thank you very much for your sincere endeavor to do this activity”. (Srila Prabhupada, letter to Hamsaduta 12 January, 1969)

"The so-called institution of free love marriage is ruining the human society and it is our duty therefore to reestablish the correct procedure of human life in the matter of encouraging our disciples who wish to marry to enter into a contract of spiritual wedlock. Such contract is made on the basis of compatible service of the Lord because such mutual cooperation in serving the advancement of Krsna Consciousness minimizes the illusion of material compatibility and incompatibility. We are seeing practically that our householder couples are setting an example for all persons that the perfection of happy family life is not based on sense-gratification, but on sincere service to the Lord". (Srila Prabhupada, letter to Gaura Hari, 20 November, 1970)

Spiritual standards

From these instructions, we can understand that Srila Prabhupada had very high expectations for his married disciples and followers, seeing married life not as a place of unrestricted sex indulgence and spiritual apathy, but as a place to learn how to control one’s senses, perform devotional service and keep fighting the illusory energy with renowned effort.

"In these instructions of Lord Kapiladeva it is explained that not only is woman the gateway to hell for man, but man is also the gateway to hell for woman. It is a question of attachment. A man becomes attached to a woman because of her service, her beauty and many other assets, and similarly a woman becomes attached to a man for his giving her a nice place to live, ornaments, dress and children. It is a question of attachment for one another. As long as either is attached to the other for such material enjoyment, the woman is dangerous for the man, and the man is also dangerous for the woman. But if the attachment is transferred to Krsna, both of them become Krsna conscious, and then marriage is very nice. Srila Rupa Gosvami therefore recommends: anasaktasya visayan yatharham upayunjatah nirbandhah krsna-sambandhe yuktam vairagyam ucyate (Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu 1.2.255)

Man and woman should live together as householders in relationship with Krsna, only for the purpose of discharging duties in the service of Krsna. Engage the children, engage the wife, and engage the husband, all in Krsna conscious duties, and then all these bodily or material attachments will disappear. Since the medium is Krsna, the consciousness is pure and there is no possibility of degradation at any time." (SB 3.31.42 purport)

We can understand that to follow such high standards, one needs to have a lot of spiritual strength, which is possible to maintain only through preaching activities. Therefore, we can understand that even in family life, spreading Krsna consciousness is both the goal and the means.

If a serious devotee marries and gets involved only into working and trying to increase the material status of his family, without good association and involvement in different missionary activities, he will very soon feel a great diminution in his spiritual strength. There will be no more spiritual bliss, and due to the loss of spiritual quality, he will slowly but surely get entangled by the material energy. What follows is usually a life of illusion, false hopes, bewilderment, dissatisfaction, depression, and lamentation.

Worse still is that in many cases, such a devotee starts to put the blame for his mistakes on his wife, thinking that he was fine before marrying, but now, being associated with this person he feels so miserable. This is a recipe for an even greater tragedy, since this mentality also sabotages his married life, making him “perish like a riven cloud, with no position in any sphere”.

Another mistake is to see married life as a solution for sex desire. Actually, there is no scope for uncontrolled sex desire in Krsna consciousness. In any case, it needs to be controlled through discipline and devotional practice. As we advance and become more and more purified, it starts to become less of a problem. One solution, given by Srila Prabhupada, is deity worship, since someone who gets attracted to the beautiful form of the Lord loses interest in material sense gratification. Another solution is to use our energy in spreading Krsna consciousness, especially book distribution. If we use all our time and energy to preach, nothing will be left to think about sense gratification. Then, when one becomes sufficiently purified to not see the wife as a mere object of sense enjoyment, he may think about getting married.

“Regarding your enemy, Mr. Lust: I have noted the difficulties, but we should always remember that Krishna is stronger than any demon, and Mr. Lust, or his father or his grandfather, nobody can do anything provided we take shelter of Krishna very tightly. Now so far your personal matter is concerned, you are a Brahmacari, you can marry at any time, and in New York, all the nice girls, they are actually very suitable for our students, and I encourage that all the Brahmacaris may be very responsible, and marry one of the girls. Because generally the girls desire good husband and a good home, children, that is their natural propensity, so we want to show some ideal householders also. But the proposal that marriage will solve the question of lust, is not practical. Neither wife should be accepted as a machine for satisfying our lust. The marriage tie should be taken as very sacred. One who marries for subduing lust is mistaken. Because lust cannot be satisfied simply by indulging in sense gratification. It is compared with that extinguishing the fire with large amount of petrol. For the time being, the fire may appear to be extinguished by pouring a large quantity of petrol, but the petrol itself is so dangerous that at any time, it can be in flame. So to subdue lust is a different process”. (Srila Prabhupada, letter to Hayagriva, 07 October, 1968)

Of course, in cases where someone can’t refrain himself from illicit sex, it's better to get married and at least remain in family life than to become a debauchee, creating disturbances in society. However, this is far from ideal as a solution, since it usually leads to troubled marriages, that are not favorable to the development of spiritual life and where neither the husband nor the wife are happy, being grounded into material energy. By studying Srila Prabhupada’s letters of the early years, we can see that Srila Prabhupada was recommending marriages in such cases. However, such was the percentage of divorces, adultery and other problems that eventually Srila Prabhupada got disgusted and stopped being involved in the marriages of his disciples, saying that whoever wanted to get married, should do so at their own risk.

"The varnasrama-dharma system is scientifically arranged by Krsna to provide facility for delivering the fallen souls back to home, back to Godhead. And if we make a mockery of this system by whimsically disrupting the order, that we must consider. That will not be a very good example if so many young boys and girls so casually become married and then go away from each other, and the wife is little unhappy, the husband is neglecting her in so many ways, like that. If we set this example, then how the thing will go on properly? Householder life means wife, children, home, these things are understood by everyone, why our devotees have taken it as something different? They simply have some sex desire, get themselves married, and when the matter does not fulfill their expectations, immediately there is separation — these things are just like material activities, prostitution. The wife is left without husband, and sometimes there is child to be raised, in so many ways the proposition that you, and some others also, are making becomes distasteful. We cannot expect that our temples will become places of shelter for so many widows and rejected wives, that will be a great burden and we shall become the laughingstock in the society. There will be unwanted progeny also. And there will be illicit sex life, that we are seeing already. And being the weaker sex, women require to have a husband who is strong in Krsna consciousness so that they may take advantage and make progress by sticking tightly to his feet. If their husband goes away from them, what will they do? So many instances are already there in our Society, so many frustrated girls and boys". (Srila Prabhupada, letter to Madhukara, 4 January 1975)

Family life based on mere sexual attraction is very dangerous, therefore it’s essential that the man is trained to be serious and strong in spiritual life, being able to control his senses and properly guide the wife and children. If a lady can get such a husband and, controlling her own senses, be faithful to him, the marriage can be positive for their spiritual advancement. Everything depends on how well both can control their senses.  

The natural instinct of a woman is to enjoy the material world. She induces her husband to enjoy this world by satisfying his tongue, belly and genitals, which are called jihva, udara and upastha. A woman is expert in cooking palatable dishes so that she can easily satisfy her husband in eating. When one eats nicely, his belly is satisfied, and as soon as the belly is satisfied the genitals become strong. Especially when a man is accustomed to eating meat and drinking wine and similar passionate things, he certainly becomes sexually inclined. It should be understood that sexual inclinations are meant not for spiritual progress but for gliding down to hell. Thus Kasyapa Muni considered his situation and lamented. In other words, to be a householder is very risky unless one is trained and the wife is a follower of her husband. A husband should be trained at the very beginning of his life. Kaumara acaret prajno dharman bhagavatan iha (Bhag. 7.6.1). During the time of brahmacarya, or student life, a brahmacari should be taught to be expert in bhagavata-dharma, devotional service. Then when he marries, if his wife is faithful to her husband and follows him in such life, the relationship between husband and wife is very desirable. However, a relationship between husband and wife without spiritual consciousness but strictly for sense gratification is not at all good. It is said in Srimad-Bhagavatam (12.2.3) that especially in this age, Kali-yuga, dam-patye ’bhirucir hetuh: the relationship between husband and wife will be based on sexual power. Therefore householder life in this Kali-yuga is extremely dangerous unless both the wife and husband take to Krsna consciousness.” (SB 6.18.40 purport)

"A man should be trained to be a first-class devotee of Lord Krsna, and a woman should be trained to be a very chaste follower of her husband. That will make the lives of both of them happy" (SB 6.18.42 purport)

The first six verses of the 5th canto of Srimad Bhagavatam have a very interesting discussion about family life in Krsna consciousness, dealing with the apparently contradictory nature of family life and spiritual advancement. The conclusion comes in the purport by Srila Prabhupada on the 6th verse:


"When Priyavrata's father, Svayambhuva Manu, requested him to accept the responsibility of ruling over the world, he did not welcome the suggestion. This is the symptom of a great, liberated devotee. Even though engaged in worldly affairs, he does not take pleasure in them, but remains always absorbed in the Lord's service. While thus serving the Lord, he deals externally with worldly affairs without being affected. For example, although he has no attraction for his children, he cares for them and educates them to become devotees. Similarly, he speaks to his wife with affectionate words, but he is not attached to her. By rendering devotional service, a devotee acquires all the good qualities of the Supreme Lord. Lord Krsna had sixteen thousand wives, all of them very beautiful, and although He dealt with each of them as a beloved husband, He was not attracted or attached to any of them. In the same way, although a devotee may enter family life and act very affectionately toward his wife and children, he is never attached to these activities". (SB 5.1.6 purport)

Why, if, when and how?

Philosophically speaking, for one who is really serious about spiritual life, male or female, family life is not necessary, since someone who can break his material attachments through spiritual practice, knowledge, and realization, can just continue his practice and go back to Godhead, bringing others with him in the process through his preaching, without having to deal with the unavoidable material complexities and entanglements of family life.

Srila Prabhupada: If one can remain without marriage, that is first-class. Women also. What is the use of this material husband? Make Krsna husband. Krsna's prepared to become everything. Love Him as husband, love Him as son, love Him, friend. Krsna is prepared. (A Transcendental Diary, vol 3 - July 6th, 1976)

SB 11.8.31 (Pingala speaks): “I am such a fool that I have given up the service of that person who, being eternally situated within my heart, is actually most dear to me. That most dear one is the Lord of the universe, who is the bestower of real love and happiness and the source of all prosperity. Although He is in my own heart, I have completely neglected Him. Instead I have ignorantly served insignificant men who can never satisfy my real desires and who have simply brought me unhappiness, fear, anxiety, lamentation and illusion.”

SB 5.18.19 (Laksmi Devi speaks): “My dear Lord, You are certainly the fully independent master of all the senses. Therefore all women who worship You by strictly observing vows because they wish to acquire a husband to satisfy their senses are surely under illusion. They do not know that such a husband cannot actually give protection to them or their children. Nor can he protect their wealth or duration of life, for he himself is dependent on time, fruitive results and the modes of nature, which are all subordinate to You.”

Purport: “In this verse, Laksmidevi (Rama) shows compassion toward women who worship the Lord for the benediction of possessing a good husband. Although such women desire to be happy with children, wealth, a long duration of life and everything dear to them, they cannot possibly do so. In the material world, a so-called husband is dependent on the control of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. There are many examples of a woman whose husband, being dependent on the result of his own fruitive actions, cannot maintain his wife, her children, her wealth or her duration of life. Therefore, factually the only real husband of all women is Krsna, the supreme husband. Because the gopis were liberated souls, they understood this fact. Therefore they rejected their material husbands and accepted Krsna as their real husband. Krsna is the real husband not only of the gopis, but of every living entity. Everyone should perfectly understand that Krsna is the real husband of all living entities, who are described in the Bhagavad-gita as prakrti (female), not purusa (male). In Bhagavad-gita (10.12), only Krsna is addressed as purusa:

param brahma param dhama

 pavitram paramam bhavan

purusam sasvatam divyam

 adi-devam ajam vibhum

“You are the Supreme Brahman, the ultimate, the supreme abode and purifier, the Absolute Truth and the eternal divine person. You are the primal God, transcendental and original, and You are the unborn and all-pervading beauty.”

Krsna is the original purusa, and the living entities are prakrti. Thus Krsna is the enjoyer, and all living entities are meant to be enjoyed by Him. Therefore any woman who seeks a material husband for her protection, or any man who desires to become the husband of a woman, is under illusion. To become a husband means to maintain a wife and children nicely by supplying wealth and security. However, a material husband cannot possibly do this, for he is dependent on his karma. Karmana-daiva-netrena: his circumstances are determined by his past fruitive activities. Therefore if one proudly thinks he can protect his wife, he is under illusion. Krsna is the only husband, and therefore the relationship between a husband and wife in this material world cannot be absolute. Because we have the desire to marry, Krsna mercifully allows the so-called husband to possess a wife, and the wife to possess a so-called husband, for mutual satisfaction. In the Isopanisad it is said, tena tyaktena bhunjitha: the Lord provides everyone with his quota. Actually, however, every living entity is prakrti, or female, and Krsna is the only husband.

ekale isvara krsna, ara saba bhrtya

yare yaiche nacaya, se taiche kare nrtya (Cc. Adi 5.142)

Krsna is the original master or husband of everyone, and all other living entities, having taken the form of so-called husbands, or wives, are dancing according to His desire. A so-called husband may unite with his wife for sense gratification, but his senses are conducted by Hrsikesa, the master of the senses, who is therefore the actual husband.”

One who is sincere about remaining a brahmachari (or brahmacarini) and going back to Godhead through the shortest path, will find plenty of classes and books on this subject. Actually, our whole philosophy is about breaking our attachments to this world and learning how to love Krsna, therefore someone who is sufficiently determined should just go ahead without further delay. However, this straight path is not achievable for many, especially in the western world, where there is free mixing between boys and girls and we are bombarded with sensual stimulation since early childhood. Therefore, this chapter deals specifically with the subject of positive family life, that can be used as a basis for preaching activities and serious spiritual development.

Apart from the sexual problem, there is also a much more difficult barrier that is the subtle need of having a “life partner”, someone to have an intimate relationship, to share things, and so on, someone who gives us attention and care. Srila Prabhupada also used to call this “sex desire”, but this is a much more subtle form of it, that shows itself in the form of general attraction to the company of the opposite sex. Despite being also a form of lust, it is less of a problem, since it can be satisfied in a healthy way inside family life.

Even a very strong brahmacari, who was able to subdue his gross attraction to the opposite sex, may still have problems with this subtle attraction, that may still attract him to family life. If someone is too much attracted to the opposite sex, be it in a gross or subtle way, brahmacari life becomes dangerous, since he may end falling down and having an illicit relationship with some unqualified woman (or even with another man!). The risk is even greater for a bachelor, who is just living and working outside, without strong association and a proper sadhana. In such cases, it’s much better to find a qualified and serious lady through senior supervision and “live like a gentleman” as Srila Prabhupada used to put it.

“So every husband should be a sura. Sura means devotee. And every woman should be religious. Religious means to become chaste, faithful to the husband. And the husband should become a devotee. Then both of them will make progress in Krsna consciousness and that is the perfection of life” (Srila Prabhupada, lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.3.17, Los Angeles, 22 September, 1972)

For a lady, the task is even more monumental. The main problem is that as long as the lady remains attractive, she will attract the attention of men, and thus she will be agitated also. A single lady also has to deal with all kinds of social and institutional pressure that pushes her towards family life. A lady who decides not to marry, will have to not only renounce her attractiveness, by dressing in a very simple way, not using makeup, etc. but also renounce most social relationships, social events, etc. that are not conducive to her determination. She will have to adopt a simple life, sticking to her services, or to book distribution, not being concerned about who will take care of her in old age, not being envious of other ladies with their husbands, children, beautiful saris, and so on. Very few ladies can do that, therefore the general recommendation is that ladies get married to good husbands. Srila Prabhupada advised at one point that we should have separate ashrams for brahmacharinis, that would be managed only by ladies, without the involvement of men, similar to the monasteries of the Catholic and Orthodox church, but this was never successfully implemented.

It's said that the men are like bees and a lady is like a flower. By following the process of spiritual life and developing good qualities, a lady can attract some qualified men and choose her husband from amongst them. If, however, a lady cultivates negative qualities, like lust, envy, anger, etc. the bees are going to stay away and instead flies will be attracted: lusty men who are going to bring her only suffering. If a lady can cultivate good qualities, attract a good husband and be faithful to him, married life can actually be very positive for her spiritual advancement. There are good and bad marriages, we should try to cultivate a positive one. If we are going to do it, better to do it properly.

In his purport to SB 8.2.30, that describes the crisis faced by the elephant Gajendra, having to fight the crocodile in the water, outside of his natural environment, Srila Prabhupada summarizes this point. This purport was written by him shortly after receiving the news that one of his young sannyasis had left, after getting involved with a lady:

“Now, from this we may take the lesson that in our fight with maya we should not be in a position in which our strength, enthusiasm and senses will be unable to fight vigorously. Our Krsna consciousness movement has actually declared war against the illusory energy, in which all the living entities are rotting in a false understanding of civilization. The soldiers in this Krsna consciousness movement must always possess physical strength, enthusiasm and sensual power. To keep themselves fit, they must therefore place themselves in a normal condition of life. What constitutes a normal condition will not be the same for everyone, and therefore there are divisions of varnasrama — brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya, sudra, brahmacarya, grhastha, vanaprastha and sannyasa. Especially in this age, Kali-yuga, it is advised that no one take sannyasa.

asvamedham gavalambham

sannyasam pala-paitrkam

devarena sutotpattim  

kalau panca vivarjayet  

(Brahma-vaivarta Purana)

From this we can understand that in this age the sannyasa-asrama is forbidden because people are not strong. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu showed us an example in taking sannyasa at the age of twenty-four years, but even Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya advised Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to be extremely careful because He had taken sannyasa at an early age. For preaching we give young boys sannyasa, but actually it is being experienced that they are not fit for sannyasa. There is no harm, however, if one thinks that he is unfit for sannyasa; if he is very much agitated sexually, he should go to the asrama where sex is allowed, namely the grhastha-asrama. That one has been found to be very weak in one place does not mean that he should stop fighting the crocodile of maya. One should take shelter of the lotus feet of Krsna, as we shall see Gajendra do, and at the same time one can be a grhastha if he is satisfied with sexual indulgence. There is no need to give up the fight. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu therefore recommended, sthane sthitah sruti-gatam tanu-van-manobhih. One may stay in whichever asrama is suitable for him; it is not essential that one take sannyasa. If one is sexually agitated, he can enter the grhastha-asrama. But one must continue fighting. For one who is not in a transcendental position, to take sannyasa artificially is not a very great credit. If sannyasa is not suitable, one may enter the grhastha-asrama and fight maya with great strength. But one should not give up the fighting and go away”. (SB 8.2.30 purport)

We can see by analysis that even amongst the highest level of Vaishnavas there are many who, for different reasons, prefer to enter family life. Both Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Srila Prabhupada were married men. One reason for such powerful acaryas to go through family life is to give exemple, so we can understand the ideals of family life in Krsna consciousness and try to apply them to our own lives. Another reason, given by Srila Prabhupada, is that this is also a matter of preference. Many pure devotees are not so much attracted to the austere life of a sannyasi, and therefore prefer to live with wife and children during part of their lives. In the higher sense, there is not much difference between a proper sannyasi and a grhastha who uses whatever he has for Krsna. Both can be very effective in spreading Krsna consciousness.

"Of course, our occupational duty is as preachers of Krsna consciousness. So we must stick to that business under all circumstances, that is the main thing. Therefore married, unmarried, divorced, whatever condition of life, my preaching mission does not depend on these things". (Srila Prabhupada, letter to Madhukara, 04 January, 1973)

From the point of preaching Krsna consciousness, married life can actually offer a few advantages over brahmacari or even sannyasi life. As a brahmacari one can’t go anywhere alone, and he needs to be extremely careful about ladies, which limits some of his preaching opportunities, and as a sannyasi one needs to fit into a very rigid social structure, frequently having also managerial responsibilities and having to deal with so many formalities and restrictions. A married man can take certain risks that a brahmacari can’t, like to do traveling sankirtana alone and preach in circumstances that involve association with ladies. Also, the wife can be very helpful, taking care of contacts and travel planning, assisting in different tasks and dealing with ladies in need of help or training. We should remember that, as described in the Lilamrta, Srila Prabhupada’s original plan was to preach with the help of his wife. It was only when all the efforts in that direction failed that he adopted renounced life.

Another positive point is that a couple is a complete unit. A couple can maintain a preaching program at their house or even go to some small city and start a center there by themselves. Even “ordinary” couples, that are not so adventurous can be extremely valuable for the preaching by maintaining a bhakti-vriksa cell, opening a restaurant, or simply by donating some of their time to help to train others.  

“I am so glad to see that one of my sincere disciples has sacrificed everything for spreading Krishna Consciousness, and I am so pleased upon you that you are showing the example of an ideal householder. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was also a householder, but he lived in so perfect Krishna Consciousness that he is better than many Sannyasis like us.”

“As we Vaisnava sannyasis carry 3 danda, or three sticks, combined together. The one stick is the symbol of understanding oneness. The monists only accept chin matra, there is only one spirit soul; they do not understand the varieties of the spiritual world. And so far our three sticks are concerned, we take it for granted that we have dedicated our life, for Krishna’s service in 3 ways, namely, in our body, in our mind, and in our words. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura has sung in a poetry that my mind, my body, and my home is surrendered unto You. So a Grhastha or householder like you, you are also tridandi. Because you have sacrificed everything, your life, your home, and your child, so you are a tridandi sannyasi, in fact. So continue this attitude seriously and sincerely, so you will be also as good as a sannyasi even though you are in the dress of a Grhastha”. (Srila Prabhupada, letter to Rupanuga, 30 August, 1968)

Naturally, if someone is weak and gets entangled in material affairs and lust, it becomes a serious problem, but couples where both the husband and wife are serious about spiritual life, can be very effective in spreading Krsna consciousness. It is not a surprise that more and more married devotees are becoming initiating gurus in ISKCON.

“I want that some ideal families of Krishna Consciousness should be established in your country, so that people can see that our movement is not one sided or dry. So we do not want dry renouncers. Krishna Himself married so many wives as a ksatriya. Caitanya Mahaprabhu although He was to take sannyas at the age of 24 years, still He married twice within 20 years. Lord Nityananda Prabhu also married. Advaita Prabhu and Srivas Prabhu, they were also householders. So to become married is no impediment for advancement in Krishna Consciousness. One should be vigilant only that he is not diverting from Krishna Consciousness. One has to follow the footprints of the great Acaryas then everything is alright. I was also a married man - my family is still existing.  So you should always remember that marriage is not impediment.” (Srila Prabhupada, letter to Madhusudan, 10 March, 1969)

The main point about avoiding unnecessary material entanglement and having a progressive family life, is to avoid hankering for material progress and sense gratification. This is achieved through a series of steps. First, one has to cultivate spiritual life and develop good Vaishnava qualities, like sense control, humility, kindness, etc. These qualities allow one to have a peaceful life with the partner. A harmonious relationship brings peace and satisfaction, nurturing the mode of goodness, that brings self-satisfaction. This, in turn, allows one to have a simple life and just work in his natural occupation, being satisfied with the material facilities that come automatically, instead of having to work like an ass, desperately trying to improve his material condition more and more. If both husband and wife can follow this path, they can not only be happy and Krsna conscious in their family life, but also be able to help others.

The danger of illicit sex

“Although he has a wife, a householder should not use his senses for sex life unnecessarily. There are restrictions for the householders even in sex life, which should only be engaged in for the propagation of children. If he does not require children, he should not enjoy sex life with his wife. Modern society enjoys sex life with contraceptive methods or more abominable methods to avoid the responsibility of children. This is not in the transcendental quality, but is demoniac. If anyone, even if he is a householder, wants to make progress in spiritual life, he must control his sex life and should not beget a child without the purpose of serving Krsna. If he is able to beget children who will be in Krsna consciousness, one can produce hundreds of children, but without this capacity one should not indulge only for sense pleasure”. (Bg 16.1-3 purport)

There are two types of illicit sex: Illicit sex outside family life, and illicit sex inside family life, done with the use of contraceptive methods, or without the purpose of begetting a child. Naturally, illicit sex outside family life is the most dangerous and sinful, it destroys the family and leads to all kinds of social problems. Compared to the first type, illicit sex inside family life is a relatively minor sin, but it is also quite dangerous and problematic. Not only it’s unfavorable for our spiritual life, but it can also create all kinds of relationship problems.

Srila Prabhupada: “You have asked what is meant by illicit sex. Sex should be used only in marriage for begetting nice children to raise in Krsna Consciousness. Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita that I am sex life performed according to religious principles. Sex life for any other purpose means illicit sex. The use of contraceptive method for sex enjoyment is very sinful. Restraint in the matter of these four sinful activities is achieved by tasting the superior mellows of Krsna Consciousness.” (Letter to  Mr. Suresh Candra, 18 June, 1973)

HG Bhurijana Prabhu: “Several years ago in Los Angeles, a devotee asked me how long I had been married. When I said twenty-one years, his jaw dropped. "To the same person?" It is perhaps amazing that my wife and I have been married for so long because as in any marriage, we have weathered rough periods. When young devotees ask for a success formula for a Krsna conscious marriage, I usually offer them three principles: view your commitment to the marriage as direct service to your spiritual master, marry someone whose Krsna consciousness you respect, and commit yourself to raising your children in Krsna consciousness. I also warn them that illicit sex corrodes the Krsna conscious foundation of the husband-wife relationship. These principles, along with “no television,” Krsna mercy, and more than a pinch of good luck, have helped me maintain my marriage in Prabhupada’s service.” (My Glorious Master).

Even for karmis, illicit sex leads to dissatisfaction. Both men and women have attraction to sex, the problem is that they are attracted in different ways. A man is more attracted in the physical sense, he just wants to go to the act itself. A woman, on the other hand, is attracted to it in a more romantic way (restaurant, flowers, chocolate, etc.), the physical act is just the culmination of a sequence of events that allows her to enjoy different sensations. At the beginning of the relationship, men are usually more chivalrous and gentle, so both parties are more or less satisfied, but, as times goes on, the man starts to want sex in a more rough and automatic way, which makes the woman dissatisfied. The woman then starts to refuse (or giving in to the advances of the husband, but demanding things in return, acting in the line of “since he is exploiting me, let me exploit him also”), which in turn also makes the man dissatisfied. From this, other kinds of discontentment surface and so many discussions and problems follow.

“Man and woman both seek sexual enjoyment, and when they are united by the ritualistic ceremony of marriage, they are happy for some time, but finally there is dissension, and thus there are so many cases of separation and divorce. Although every man and woman is actually eager to enjoy life through sexual unity, the result is disunity and distress.” (SB 7.13.26 purport)

For devotees, the question is even more complicated. On top of the same psychological differences, there is spiritual practice. Devotees are attracted to spiritual life, it’s there where they find bliss and happiness. Illicit sex is dangerous for our spiritual life, because it immediately drags us down to the bodily platform and reinforces our anarthas and lower qualities. It makes the man lazy, insensitive, inconsiderate, unclean and lustful, and the woman selfish, mental, restless, demanding and addicted to sense gratification. On top of that, illicit sex inside married life can also bring sentiments of shame and guilt, that can be quite dangerous for the relationship, especially if it becomes frequent.

Krsna explains in the Bhagavad-gita that He is sex life that is not contrary to religious principles. To conceive children following the proper process, with the goal of training them to be pure devotees of the Lord is divine, it’s actually another way of making devotees. Illicit sex, on the other hand, just increases the lust that burns in the heart. It may bring some momentary relief or pleasure, but the outcome is just anxiety, emptiness and suffering. Srila Prabhupada strongly criticizes the mentality of modern society in sinfully trying to separate sex pleasure from child conception, especially through the use of contraceptive methods.

Another problem is that the subtle energy of the male body is concentrated in the semen. In the Ayurveda, it’s explained that to produce just a few drops of semen the body is forced to use a monumental amount of subtle energy, which reduces the intelligence, weakens the health and saps the vigor of a man. A man who loses semen frequently becomes weak, both mentally and physically, and therefore incapable of controlling his senses. It can quickly become a snowball effect, where one becomes mentally weak because of frequent sex, and being mentally weak, he loses the capacity of controlling his senses and therefore can’t stop. On top of that, no woman will respect a man who is frequently chasing her for sex, which further complicates the issue. Unregulated sexual indulgence results in physical, mental, affective and karmic problems. Therefore, all the results are inauspicious. In his purport to SB 3.26.57, Srila Prabhupada states: “in the Bhagavatam it is clearly stated that discharging semen is the cause of horrible death. The more one is addicted to sexual enjoyment, the more susceptible he is to a quick death”.

On the other hand, by preserving his semen the man nourishes his mental and spiritual strength and improves his intelligence, manifesting his full potential. He becomes more enthusiastic, blissful and energetic. That’s why generally brahmacharis are very attractive to ladies. But, if they marry and become addicted to sex, they can very quickly lose these good qualities. They become morose, weak, indecisive, lazy and mental. The lady then gets frustrated and questions: “Where is that strong man whom I married!?”. The answer is obvious: he ejaculated all his intelligence and vitality. 

"Also, everyone should be taught to be very careful not to discharge semen unnecessarily. This is very important for all human beings. If semen is not discharged unnecessarily, one becomes extremely strong in memory, determination, activity and the vitality of one’s bodily energy." (SB 7.11.8-12 purport)

Therefore, it’s in the lady’s own interest to help her husband to preserve his semen and keep his good qualities. Interesting enough, the way to do that is not to be cold, distant, harsh and insensitive, but to be very loving, caring, supportive and at the same time shy and modest. These qualities nourish the mode of goodness in the man, which stimulates him to be sensitive, protective, calm and self-situated. Shyness and modesty make a lady look very attractive, but in a good sense. As Srila Prabhupada explains: “This shyness is a gift of nature to the fair sex, and it enhances their beauty and prestige, even if they are of a less important family or even if they are less attractive” (SB 1.10.16 purport).

In his purport to SB 3.23.2, Srila Prabhupada speaks about the example of Srimati Devahuti:

“Here two words are very significant. Devahuti served her husband in two ways, visrambhena and gauravena. These are two important processes in serving the husband or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Visrambhena means “with intimacy,” and gauravena means “with great reverence.” The husband is a very intimate friend; therefore the wife must render service just like an intimate friend, and at the same time she must understand that the husband is superior in position, and thus she must offer him all respect. A man’s psychology and woman’s psychology are different. As constituted by bodily frame, a man always wants to be superior to his wife, and a woman, as bodily constituted, is naturally inferior to her husband. Thus the natural instinct is that the husband wants to post himself as superior to the wife, and this must be observed. Even if there is some wrong on the part of the husband, the wife must tolerate it, and thus there will be no misunderstanding between husband and wife”. (SB 3.23.2 purport)

Conversely, if the lady dresses and behaves in a sensuous way, always hankering for something, she stimulates the mode of passion in the man, which leads to illicit or unregulated sex and materialistic life, creating a situation that is hardly favorable for spiritual advancement. Finally, if she is harsh, intolerant, unclean, restless and bad-behaved, she stimulates the mode of ignorance in the man, leading to quarrel, destructive behavior, and aggression. Actually, for a wife to mistreat her husband and speak in a harsh way to him is practically unheard of in other eras (we can see that even demons and rakshasas like Ravana and Hiranyakashipu had chaste wives and were kind to them, despite being terrible with everyone else). That’s one of the symptoms of Kali-yuga, described in the Brahma Vaivarta Purana (4.90.38): “The wife will treat her husband like her servant. She will always rebuke him and make him tremble in fear.

Apart from creating problems in the relationship, another factor is that illicit sex is fundamentally selfish, it’s about one’s own pleasure. Proper family life, on the other hand, is about altruism, it’s all about being able to renounce our personal sense gratification and comfort in favor of others. One cannot be a good husband or wife if he is not capable of sacrificing himself for the children and the partner. The more one engages in illicit sex, the more he reinforces values that are opposite to the ones that are needed for a prosperous family life. The result is simply suffering and frustration.

Finally, illicit sex is dangerous because it brings undesired children, conceived “by accident”, which further complicates family affairs.

The first samskara, the garbhadhana-samskara, or child-begetting samskara, is compulsory, especially for the higher castes, the brahmanas and the ksatriyas. As stated in Bhagavad-gita, sex life which is not against religious principles is Krsna Himself, and according to religious principles, when one wants to beget a child he must perform the garbhadhana-samskara before having sex. The mental state of the father and mother before sex will certainly affect the mentality of the child to be begotten. A child who is begotten out of lust may not turn out as the parents desire. As stated in the sastras, yatha yonir yatha bijam. Yatha yonih indicates the mother, and yatha bijam indicates the father. If the mental state of the parents is prepared before they have sex, the child which they will beget will certainly reflect their mental condition. (SB 4.22.53 purport)

“According to the Vedic system, therefore, before a child is conceived, the garbhadhana-samskara is performed. This ceremony molds the mentality of the father in such a way that when he plants his seed in the womb of his wife, he will beget a child whose mind will be completely saturated with a devotional attitude. At the present moment, however, there are no such garbhadhana-samskaras, and therefore people generally have a lusty attitude when they beget children. Especially in this age of Kali, there are no garbhadhana ceremonies; everyone enjoys sex with his wife like a cat or dog. Therefore according to sastric injunctions, almost all the people of this age belong to the sudra category” (SB 5.2.2 purport).

Sober and devotional mind

We have the information that the mentality of the father and mother at the time of conception determines the mentality of the soul who will take shelter in the womb. Therefore, the Vedas prescribe different regulations, practices, and ceremonies that create the right mentality, favoring thus the conception of an enlightened child. The whole concept of garbhadhana samskara is based on the idea of choosing beforehand an appropriate day and time for the conception and to prepare for it, instead of conceiving spontaneously, just out of lust and desire.

The book “Garbhadhana-samskara” (by Bharata Chandra dasa and Mahavirya dasa) is a reference on these prescriptions and recommendations from different scriptures. Nowadays, most of us will have difficulty following all these regulations, therefore Srila Prabhupada prescribed a simple method to beget good children: couples who desire a child should have intercourse only one time per month, with this purpose in mind, choosing a fertile day according to the menstrual period. This day should be reserved for spiritual practices: both should chant at least 50 rounds, hear the scriptures, worship the Lord, and so on, to purify the consciousness, leaving the conception for the night.

The periods that mark the transition between the night and day (daybreak and twilight) are called sandhyas. These are periods when one is supposed to chant the gayatri mantra and meditate on the Lord, and therefore are strongly prohibited times for conception. The story of Diti and Kasyapa Muni in the 3rd canto of Srimad Bhagavatam alerts of the danger of conceiving a child at an inappropriate time. Kasyapa Muni interrupted the performance of his religious duties during the evening sandhya to beget a child in Diti, and therefore two powerful demons came. This is the time in which Lord Shiva walks around the world with his ghostly associates. Being merciful to them, he arranges for one of them to take birth from any couple who performs union at that time. This is really a serious issue.

“Ghosts are bereft of a physical body because of their grievously sinful acts, such as suicide. The last resort of the ghostly characters in human society is to take shelter of suicide, either material or spiritual. Material suicide causes loss of the physical body, and spiritual suicide causes loss of the individual identity. Mayavadi philosophers desire to lose their individuality and merge into the impersonal spiritual brahmajyoti existence. Lord Siva, being very kind to the ghosts, sees that although they are condemned, they get physical bodies. He places them into the wombs of women who indulge in sexual intercourse regardless of the restrictions on time and circumstance. Kasyapa wanted to impress this fact upon Diti so that she might wait for a while.” (SB 3.14.24 purport)

The evening sandhya ends 24 minutes after the sunset. To be on the safe side, it’s recommended to wait at least one hour. The allowed time for conception goes then all the way up to midnight. After this time, morning starts which is again a forbidden period. The scriptures mention that a man who performs sexual activities only at the allowed time during the night is considered to be a brahmacari (in other words, he maintains his strength, not suffering so much the effects of losing semen).

Considering the first day of the period as day one, conception is allowed, according to sastra, from the 5th to the 16th day of the cycle. Srila Prabhupada recommends from the 6th day onwards, and the Dharma Sindhu prohibits union on the 11th and 13th day (it’s stated that union on these days may result in an unfortunate or morally degraded child), therefore, taking both into consideration, the available options are the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 12th, 14th, 15th and 16th days.

From these, the last four, starting from the 12th are considered better to beget a strong child, being also the days that offer the highest possibility of conception, since they match the ovulation on most women. Union is also prohibited on ekadasis and days of fasting or festivals (that should be reserved for spiritual practices), as well as in the dawn, daytime and twilight (as mentioned, one should wait for at least one hour after sunset).

Couples who are having difficulties to conceive should check the fertile days according to the cycle and combine the two pieces of information to find the most suitable day. If the cycle is irregular (which makes difficult to determine an appropriate day for the conception), it's better to seek medical help to normalize the cycle. An irregular cycle is a signal of weak health of the mother, which is naturally unfavorable for one trying to conceive.

Biologically, there are only five or six days in each cycle on which the union may result in a child, and from these, only three offer a high possibility. Therefore, even if one very much desires progeny, the best is to select a favorable day, instead of trying randomly. The quality of the semen of the man is essential to beget a healthy and spiritually inclined baby. If one tries multiple times during the month, the semen becomes weak, which is not good for the child.

There are different vratas that can be followed to receive a powerful son, like the payo vrata (described in the 8th canto of Srimad Bhagavatam, where one practices austerities and follows strictly devotional practices for a period of 12 days) and the pumsavana vrata (followed for a period of one year, described in the 7th canto), but the mother of all vows is Ekadasi, and the father is sankirtana yajna. To simply follow ekadasis strictly, fasting and dedicating the entire day for chanting and executing devotional practices, and to do harinama or book distribution regularly is sufficient to attain any grace one may desire. There are two ekadasis in the year, called Putrada, which are especially recommendable for one desiring a child.

In general, a couple trying to conceive a child should increase their devotional practices, chanting more rounds, keeping a good sadhana, maintaining a favourable mentality (avoiding getting angry or envious, controlling lust, etc.), serving other Vaishnavas, worshiping the deity, giving charity, being strict about eating only prasadam, studying and reciting Srimad Bhagavatam, hearing classes and bhajans and so on. This helps not only to conceive a spiritually inclined child but also to make spiritual advancement. A couple who can maintain a strong spiritual practice, can be blessed to receive an advanced Vaishnava or Vaishnavi as their child, and thus advance further by serving and educating this enlightened soul.

Apart from all regulations, it's essential that the couple has a loving and harmonious relationship. As Srila Prabhupada explains in SB 4.1.6, “if a husband and wife are always satisfied with one another, then the goddess of fortune automatically comes. In other words, where there is no disagreement between husband and wife, all material opulence is present, and good children are born”. There are cases of couples who try to follow all rules strictly, but forget to invest in developing their relationship. That’s a serious mistake. Couples who don’t have a harmonious relationship rarely can raise their children as devotees, no matter how serious they may individually be in spiritual life.

These simple regulations can be augmented by instructions from the guru or senior Vaishnavas who have studied the Vedic process of garbhadhana samskara (there are astrological considerations on choosing the date and time, specific rituals to be observed, vows etc.), but what is really important is to follow strictly the devotional standards and especially to chant a minimum of 50 rounds attentively. Even if there is some fault, the attentive chanting of the holy names will cover for it.

One should be careful to not add too many details, creating a stressful situation and ruining the couple’s mental state on the chosen day. In any case, it's not possible to perfectly execute all the rituals and details in our era. An intelligent devotee will focus on the essential aspects instead of the details.

As Srila Prabhupada explains, at the moment of conception the mind should be sober and devotional (SB 3.16.35). The goal of all these regulations is to have the proper mentality and thus attract a powerful Vaishnava.

“In Bhagavad-gita we have studied also before that sex life for begetting a good child is Krsna Himself. Sex life is not condemned, provided the process is used in Krsna consciousness. Those who are in Krsna consciousness at least should not beget children like cats and dogs but should beget them so that they may become Krsna conscious after birth. That should be the advantage of children born of a father and mother absorbed in Krsna consciousness” (BG 16.1-3 purport).

It follows that any father and mother should also be careful while begetting children. The mental condition of a child depends upon the mental status of his parents at the time he is conceived. According to the Vedic system, therefore, the garbhadhana-samskara, or the ceremony for giving birth to a child, is observed. Before begetting a child, one has to sanctify his perplexed mind. When the parents engage their minds in the lotus feet of the Lord and in such a state the child is born, naturally good devotee children come; when the society is full of such good population, there is no trouble from demoniac mentalities. (SB 3.20.28 purport)

To beget children is natural in family life, and is actually the simplest way to control sex desire. That’s how the system was designed. When a man and a woman come together, there is a strong sexual attraction, which is a mechanism that material nature created to engage the jivas in begetting progeny and thus populating the universe. It works like that not only in human society, but also both in the animal kingdom and amongst the demigods. As soon as the children start to come, part of the energy is canalized to raise and educate them, and thus it becomes easier to control this sexual agitation. At first, both should be serious in spiritual life and try to establish the relationship on a level beyond base sexual attraction or bodily conception, keeping in mind that the goal of family life is not to merely enjoy the senses or be materially comfortable, but to advance spiritually. When a stable spiritual level is reached, then the couple can start to try one time per month until the lady gets pregnant and then stop.

If one child is not sufficient, then the couple can repeat the process and have two, three, four, or as many as necessary. At some point, both will be busy taking care of the family, their bodies will not look so attractive anymore, and the interest in sex life will automatically wane. That’s the divine plan of the Lord to solve our sexual problem: as long as one keeps his mind fixed only on his married wife or her legitimate husband, there is a clear path for sense control and spiritual progression in family life. If one divorces or has extra-marital affairs, however, the circle is broken and the problem remains unsolved.

That’s how it has been working for thousands of years. The problem in our modern society is that we have an artificial situation, where it’s difficult to raise children (especially for devotees) therefore many couples don’t want to have them. But still they feel the urge for sex life, therefore they start to use contraceptive methods, falling into illicit sex and other problems.

“Similarly, according to religious injunctions a man is restricted to enjoying sex only once in a month, after the menstrual period of the wife, and if the wife is pregnant, he is not allowed sex life at all. That is the law for human beings.”

“These are laws mentioned in the Manu-samhita and other scriptures. These laws and scriptures are meant for human beings. As such, if one violates these laws, he becomes sinful. The conclusion is that unrestricted sense enjoyment means sinful activities. Illicit sex is sex that violates the laws given in the scriptures. When one violates the laws of the scriptures, or the Vedas, he commits sinful activities. One who is engaged in sinful activities cannot change his consciousness. Our real function is to change our consciousness from kasmala, sinful consciousness, to Krsna, the supreme pure.” (SB 4.27.5 purport)

"In this connection it may be noted that if the American boys and girls engaged in the Krsna consciousness movement want to advance in Krsna consciousness to achieve the supreme benefit of loving service to the Lord, they should refrain from indulging in this facility for sex life. Therefore we advise that one should at least refrain from illicit sex. Even if there are opportunities for sex life, one should voluntarily accept the limitation of having sex only for progeny, not for any other purpose. Kardama Muni was also given the facility for sex life, but he had only a slight desire for it. Therefore after begetting children in the womb of Devahuti, Kardama Muni became completely renounced. The purport is that if one wants to return home, back to Godhead, one should voluntarily refrain from sex life. Sex should be accepted only as much as needed, not unlimitedly." (SB 6.4.52 purport)

“Married life is not for sex indulgence. The principle of marriage is on the background of getting good children. So the householder is allowed to have sex life once in a month, just after the menstrual period. The menstrual period prolongs at least for 5 days, so after this 5 days, one can have sex life provided he desires to get a child. And as soon as the wife is pregnant, no more sex life, until the child is born and is grown up at least for 6 months. After that, one may have sex life on the same principle. If one does not want more than one or two children, he should voluntarily stop sex life. But one should not strictly use any contraceptive method and at the same time indulge in sex life. That is very much sinful. If the husband and wife can voluntarily restrain by powerful advancement of Krishna Consciousness. That is the best method. It is not necessary that because one has got wife, therefore you must have sex life. The whole scheme is to avoid sex life as far as possible. And if one can avoid it completely then it is a great victory for him. Married life is a sort of license for sex life on condition of raising children. So you should try to understand these principles of married life and use your discretion. (Srila Prabhupada, letter to Satsvarupa, 20 September, 1968)

This is one of the reasons Srila Prabhupada was insisting so much on rural communities, where married devotees could live and raise their children, feeling secure to have as many children as needed. This is one instruction that we are generally not being able to follow in our society and therefore we are paying the price. Unless someone is very advanced, it’s very difficult to control the urge for sex without begetting children. Apart from childbearing, another way to control the sex urge is through serious spiritual practice and advancement, especially through preaching. As one advances in spiritual life, he starts to get a higher taste and thus the attraction to material sense gratification (of which sex is the pinnacle) starts to slack. As Krsna explains in Bg 6.35: “O mighty-armed son of Kuntī, it is undoubtedly very difficult to curb the restless mind, but it is possible by suitable practice and by detachment.”. As in other aspects of spiritual life, simple repression doesn't work very well: one needs to directly try to solve the problem by one of these two paths.

It’s important to understand that the goal of family life is not to enjoy the senses, but to get free of attachment and sex desire. The sastra prescribes different regulations for sex life inside married life to restrict our impetus to enjoy our senses, and thus be able to advance in spiritual life, but these are simply concessions. Sometimes married life is described as a “license for sense gratification”, in the sense that a householder is allowed to have some regulated sense gratification in exchange for the heavy duties of maintaining his family, giving charity and so on, but someone who is intelligent and sincere in spiritual life will understand that the purpose of the system is to get free from lust and attachments and to go back to Godhead, not to just rot in this material world trying to enjoy this so-called regulated sense gratification life after life.

The highest standard of married life is when husband and wife are able to simply cooperate in Krsna’s service, without sexual agitation. This is the kind of family life which is found in the spiritual world:

“In the Vaikuntha planets there are husbands and wives, but there is no question of their giving birth to children or having sex life. In the Vaikuntha planet's both husbands and wives are extraordinarily beautiful, and they are attracted to one another, but they do not enjoy sex life. Indeed, they consider sex not to be very relishable because both husband and wife are always absorbed in Krsna consciousness and in glorifying and chanting the glories of the Lord.

According to Bhaktivinoda Thakura also, a husband and wife can turn the home into a place as good as Vaikuntha, even while in this material world. Being absorbed in Krsna consciousness, even in this world husband and wife can live in Vaikuntha simply by installing the Deity of the Lord within the home and serving the Deity according to the directions of the sastras. In this way, they will never feel the sex urge. That is the test of advancement in devotional service. One who is advanced in devotional service is never attracted by sex life, and as soon as one becomes detached from sex life and proportionately attached to the service of the Lord, he actually experiences living in the Vaikuntha planets. In the ultimate issue, there is actually no material world, but when one forgets the service of the Lord and engages himself in the service of his senses, he is said to be living in the material world.” (SB 4.23.29 purport)

The material energy cheats us by making us think that sex is such a pleasurable and intimate thing, but the reality is that sexual intercourse is actually a pretty shallow interaction. Srimad Bhagavatam mentions that sex is just the interaction between two bodies. The gross body is the most superficial layer of our self, and that’s what is engaged in the sexual relation. As it is explained:

“When a conditioned soul falsely considers himself to be the body, and consequently the enjoyer of the material world, he tries to find pleasure in illicit connection with women. Such sinful activity is based on his false concept of being the body and thus the enjoyer of women and of the world. Since he is not the body, his activity of enjoying a woman does not actually exist. There is merely the interaction of two machines, namely the two bodies, and the interaction of the illusory consciousness of the man and woman. The sensation of illicit sex occurs within the material body and is falsely assimilated by the false ego as its own experience.” (SB 11.23.54 purport)

The goal of married life in Krsna consciousness is to build a relationship based on service to the Lord, mutual appreciation and affection. This kind of relationship is much deeper and more pleasurable than a trivial relationship centered around sexual interaction. Such relationships are based on the interaction of the mind, intelligence, and soul, that are much more intimate layers than the physical body, and that offer a higher and more subtle standard of happiness. Instead of just conditioning us to the material nature, such a standard of relationship actually helps us to advance in spiritual life. To attain such a standard, however, we need to sacrifice our tendency to exploit the material body of the partner and enjoy it in a gross way.

The Vedic process is based on offering ways to perform activities that we are attached to in ways that don’t degrade our consciousness, just like sometimes a toxic substance, used therapeutically, becomes capable of curing a disease caused by the exactly the same compound.

Conversely, when one starts to engage in illicit sex, his consciousness quickly becomes degraded, and the mind takes over, demanding more. By discharging semen repeatedly, a man’s intelligence becomes weaker and it becomes harder and harder for him to stop. It can quickly become a self-destructive downward spiral, just like addiction to alcohol or drugs. The process of garbhadhana samskara, on the other hand, offers a therapeutical use for human sexuality. After chanting, praying, hearing the scriptures and so on, one’s consciousness is fixed on a high spiritual level. By engaging in sexual intercourse with such consciousness, with the purpose of generating offspring with one’s legitimate wife or husband, one has the opportunity of seeing things in the proper context, which brings detachment. After doing it a few times, and begetting the desired number of children, one has the opportunity of finally leaving behind his propensity of enjoying, becoming instead more fixed on his duties and spiritual practice.

One of the greatest obstacles that we face in spiritual life is our enjoying propensity. Under this false premise, the man wants to enjoy the woman and the woman wants to enjoy the man, and thus everyone remains tied to this material world. This tendency is so deeply rooted in the heart that it is very difficult to give it up, therefore the scriptures prescribe a treatment for it inside marriage. To a materialist, the restrictions we accept in family life inside Krsna consciousness may look unreasonable, but this is a carefully designed process for our spiritual progress that has been successfully applied in Vedic societies since time immemorial. One who is sincere in spiritual life should use his intelligence to try to understand this system and apply it in his own life. Without the proper mentality and the proper process, family life becomes risky.

False renunciation

Another problem that frequently plagues the family life of devotees is false renunciation. We understand that renunciation is one of the goals of life, but inside family life such renunciation should be cultivated internally, and not externally. Someone who tries to act externally as if detached in family life, without caring for his wife and children, can create great havoc in his family and in the society at large. Krsna is never satisfied with such a false renunciant. As Lord Caitanya instructs Raghunatha dasa:

“Be patient and return home. Don’t be a crazy fellow. By and by you will be able to cross the ocean of material existence. You should not make yourself a showbottle devotee and become a false renunciant. For the time being, enjoy the material world in a befitting way and do not become attached to it.”

Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu continued, “Within your heart you should keep yourself very faithful, but externally you may behave like an ordinary man. Thus Krsna will soon be very pleased and deliver you from the clutches of maya. (CC Madhya 16.237-239)

Srila Prabhupada points out in his purport:

“The word markaka-vairagya, indicating false renunciation, is very important in this verse. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, in commenting on this word, points out that monkeys make an external show of renunciation by not accepting clothing and by living naked in the forest. In this way they consider themselves renunciants, but actually they are very busy enjoying sense gratification with dozens of female monkeys. Such renunciation is called markata-vairagye-the renunciation of a monkey. One cannot be really renounced until one actually becomes disgusted with material activity and sees it as a stumbling block to spiritual advancement. Renunciation should not be phalgu, temporary, but should exist throughout one’s life”. (CC Madhya 16.238 purport)

The husband has a contract with his wife, and therefore needs to continue taking care of her until old age. That’s why nowadays there is a determination in ISKCON that candidates should wait until they are sufficiently aged before taking sannyasa, and devotees coming from married life have to wait until there is a grown-up son capable of taking care, or another arrangement for the wife’s maintenance.

Apart from physical maintenance, the husband has the duty of giving emotional and spiritual protection, giving a proper example and being affectionate, so the wife can feel secure and do her duties properly. The relationship should be intimate in a spiritual and affective sense, not on the base sexual way.

By Krsna’s arrangement, this material world works under a very simple law: the more we try to enjoy materially, the more we are kicked in the face by Maya, the superintendent of the prison, and this is particularly noticeable in family life. Devotees who get deluded, thinking that they are going to find romantic happiness in family life and thus progress in making elaborate plans and arrangements for enjoying, generally have very frustrating experiences. On the other hand, devotees who have a more mature mentality, seeing family life as a service and not as enjoyment are, surprisingly, the ones who usually have a happier and spiritually conductive experience.

Preventing quarrels and solving problems

One of the difficult aspects of married life is to deal with our false ego. Srila Prabhupada points out that even in the spiritual world there is sometimes disagreement, since devotees have different ideas about how to serve Krsna. The difference is that in the spiritual world there is no malice or bitterness. The disagreements are simply centered on how to serve Krsna better, and in the end, everyone is happy. In this material world, on the other hand, people are selfish, egocentric, envious and malicious, and this leads to all kinds of troubled relationships.

When there are problems in a relationship, the cause is always the false ego and the mind, from one, or both sides. Devotees who are really advanced in spiritual life are capable of controlling their senses and because they develop a natural humility, it’s very easy and pleasant to associate with them. When two such devotees decide to marry, their relationship is smooth, since they have no problem in being nice and respectful to each other. There will always be some disagreement, due to different tastes, opinions, and individuality, but they tend to be easily solved.

On the other hand, if there are too many anarthas, the relationship becomes much more complicated, since both have some specific plan for their sense gratification and are prone to become frustrated, morose and angry when the other part fails to act as expected.

To deal with this problem, the Vedic culture prescribes clear roles for the husband, wife, and children. The husband is supposed to provide the family by honest means, to give proper example and to protect the wife and children both materially and spiritually. The wife is supposed to be chaste and religious, assisting the husband in material and spiritual affairs, taking care of the house and children, providing him a clean and sattvic environment, where he can be at peace to pursue his spiritual practices and material activities. If the wife is faithful, supportive and self-satisfied, the husband becomes confident and can work with enthusiasm and manifest his full potential. If, on the other hand, the wife is always unsatisfied, complaining, etc. his energy will be sucked to try to solve his family problems and he will not be able to do anything practical outside. Therefore, it’s the own interest of the wife to support the husband, so both can have a prosperous life.

“When a person is too anxious about family affairs, he cannot discharge his family duties nicely. A wife is therefore supposed to be an inspiration and should keep the husband’s intelligence in good order so that they can combinedly prosecute the affairs of family life without impediment” (SB 4.27.2 purport)

“The woman is known as his better half, so if she looks after the comfort of the man, a man is working and he is looking after the comfort, then both will be satisfied and their spiritual life will progress. Woman is meant for certain duties; man is meant for... Man is meant for hard working, and woman is meant for homely comfort, love. So both of them, if they are situated in their respective duties under proper training, then this combination of man and woman will help both of them to make progress in spiritual life.”

“In the Vedic conception the wife is considered as dharma-patni, religious wife. Means wife helps the husband in the matter of his religious life. That is found in, still in Hindu family: the man is worshiping the Deity and the woman is helping about the paraphernalia Deity worship, helping the husband so that he can immediately come into the Deity room and begin worshiping comfortably. So woman should always be engaged to assist the man in every respect in his religious life, in his social life, in his family life. That is real benefit of conjugal life. But if the woman does not agree with the man, and the man treats the woman as his servant, that is not good. The man should give the woman all protection and the woman should give all service to the man. That is ideal life, family life, conceived in the Vedic way of life” (Srila Prabhupada, Philosophical Talks, Auguste Comte).

The problem in western societies is that for lack of systematic training, both men and women are generally unqualified. The men are weak, uncontrolled, lazy and untrustworthy and the women are unchaste, selfish, unclean and demanding. In such a combination, the man doesn’t want to take responsibility for the woman, nor the woman wants to be faithful. For some time, women were forced to stay in a submissive role because of social tradition, but eventually they started to rebel, leading to the women's liberation movement, and feminism, which just created further havoc in society.

Family life is the fabric, the structure of any civilized society. It’s inside family that children are conceived, taken care of and educated in social and religious values, and the culture and traditions are passed from one generation to the next. It also forces men who are attracted to sex life to act in a positive way, taking responsibility for a woman and her children and living like a gentleman. Modern society turned this upside down, by convincing women that being “free” and having affairs with many men is a good thing, but as Srila Prabhupada warn us, this is just a process of exploitation of the fair sex by men. Instead of protecting a woman and maintaining a family, the men get free to become debauchers, having many girlfriends, going from one to the next without commitment, using women as disposable objects. The women still desire to have a kind man to be taken care of, but now they are forced to dress sensually and offer themselves in the market, trying to attract different men in the hope that eventually one of them will agree to accept a permanent relationship. In the process, they are forced to use contraceptive methods, or they get pregnant and are thus forced to choose between having an abortion or to become a single mother (which in most cases means to take care of the children and work at the same time), and so on. In such a situation, many women try to turn the tables, trying also to exploit men in different ways.

The result is that women are exploited, children are not properly protected and educated and therefore grow as frustrated or delinquent teenagers, the men become more and more degraded and the social structures are destroyed, creating a chaotic situation for everyone. As Arjuna explains in the Bhagavad-Gita:

"With the destruction of the dynasty, the eternal family tradition is vanquished, and thus the rest of the family becomes involved in irreligion. When irreligion is prominent in the family, O Krsna, the women of the family become polluted, and from the degradation of womanhood, O descendant of Vrsni, comes unwanted progeny. An increase of unwanted population certainly causes hellish life both for the family and for those who destroy the family tradition. The ancestors of such corrupt families fall down, because the performances for offering them food and water are entirely stopped. By the evil deeds of those who destroy the family tradition and thus give rise to unwanted children, all kinds of community projects and family welfare activities are devastated". (BG 1.39-42)

The solution is not to adopt the western values, which are obviously flawed, but to try to base our family life on traditional values and serious spiritual practice. If both husband and wife can elevate themselves to the mode of goodness (or to a true spiritual platform), their relationship can be smooth, and their family life peaceful. In such an environment, spiritual life can be easily practiced and the children who grow up in such an atmosphere will be naturally well behaved and attracted to spiritual values.

“The best process for making the home pleasant is Krsna consciousness. If one is in full Krsna consciousness, he can make his home very happy, because this process of Krsna consciousness is very easy. One need only chant Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, accept the remnants of foodstuffs offered to Krsna, have some discussion on books like Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, and engage oneself in Deity worship. These four things will make one happy. One should train the members of his family in this way. The family members can sit down morning and evening and chant together Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. If one can mold his family life in this way to develop Krsna consciousness, following these four principles, then there is no need to change from family life to renounced life.” (BG 13.8-12, p.)

Husband as guru?

It’s said that the husband should be a spiritual master for the wife. This is something that is frequently misunderstood. Because of our western mentality, we tend to be concerned about our rights and not about our duties. Therefore, when a man hears that the husband should be a spiritual master to the wife, he frequently starts to demand that the wife should be submissive and respectful, without being worthy of such respect. While western culture is based on rights, Vedic culture is based on duties. The idea is that if everyone fulfills his duty, automatically everyone has their rights without separate effort. Therefore, when it’s mentioned that the husband should be a spiritual master for the wife, the idea is that he should behave in an exemplary way (duty), and not simply demand to be treated as one without the necessary qualification. Even in Vedic society, there are differences between a relationship between guru and disciple (that is based in awe and reverence) and the relationship of husband and wife, that is based in affection, but the general idea is that a guru should “walk his talk” and teach by example. If one is not respectful himself, he should not expect respect from his dependents. One time, Srila Prabhupada was asked by a disciple: "Should the wife do whatever the husband says?" Prabhupada replied, "And you should be so arrogant?"

Being a devotee, the man should be of an ideal character, and thorough affectionate behavior, attract the love of the wife and transfer it to Krsna, by engaging her in all kinds of spiritual activities. To be a guru means to move towards Krsna and guide one’s dependents in the same direction. According to Lord Rsabadeva, one should not even accept the role of a husband if he is not capable of performing such a role.  

Krsna is the only true husband. An intelligent man will understand that and will act as His representative, helping the wife to cultivate her relationship with Krsna and advance in spiritual life, instead of trying to falsely play the role of the enjoyer. This is actually one of the meanings of the Ramayana. Ravana tried to steal Sita from Rama, but not only he got an illusory Sita, a product of the material energy, but in the end he was destroyed because of his offense. Similarly, all women are actually meant for Krsna’s enjoyment. He simply allows one to temporarily play the role of a husband under certain conditions. If a man foolishly tries to steal from Krsna, exploiting the wife for his own enjoyment instead of engaging her in His service (conducting his married life according to religious principles), not only the wife becomes empowered by the material nature to give him suffering, but in the end he is destroyed because of his offenses.

One needs to have a good deal of humility to be able to be a good husband. This is essential to attract the love and trust of the wife, and therefore be able to guide her in the right direction. That’s part of one’s duty. If such love and trust are not present, family life becomes unproductive and a lot of tension builds up. The wife becomes resistant to anything the husband says, and the husband becomes frustrated because the wife is not accepting his advice. As in many other situations, both factors need to be present: on one side the wife should trust her husband and try her best to follow him, but at the same time, the man should be worthy of such trust and respect.

"This is another side of a woman’s psychology. Even though a woman is very fond of fulfilling her own plans, when someone instructs her, especially her husband, she innocently follows, and thus she can be trained for better purposes. By nature a woman wants to be a follower of a man; therefore if the man is good the woman can be trained for a good purpose". (SB 6.18.46 purport)

“Kasyapa Muni advised his wife to seek shelter at the lotus feet of Vasudeva, Krsna, so that all her problems would be very easily solved. Thus Kasyapa Muni was an ideal spiritual master. He was not so foolish that he would present himself as an exalted personality, as good as God. He was actually a bona fide guru because he advised his wife to seek shelter at the lotus feet of Vasudeva. One who trains his subordinate or disciple to worship Vasudeva is the truly bona fide spiritual master.” (SB 8.16.20 purport)

Similarly, the wife is the first guru for the children, and therefore should attract them to follow the path of spiritual life through love and care. By loving her children and attracting their love, she can teach them how to love Krsna. Disciples of Srila Prabhupada frequently narrate how they felt loved by Srila Prabhupada and, in return, they would love him and through his guidance learn how to love Krsna. They would always feel that Srila Prabhupada was giving them much more than they could repay and therefore they would be inspired to do their best in devotional service. Everything was being done out of love, without question of exploitation. That’s what it means to be a spiritual master.

The tricky part is that it is not possible to guide someone to whom we are materially attached. When there is material attachment, there will be the instinct to control, to make the person act in a way that is pleasing for us. Therefore there are so many passages that recommend that the husband should not be attached to his wife, so he can be able to guide her and the children in spiritual life. However, we must understand that being detached does not mean to not be affectionate. Attachment is an internal thing, it’s the way we feel, while affection is external, it’s the way we act. The husband can be detached and at the same time very affectionate, and thus fulfill his role as husband and father. Another important point is to be dutiful. To be dutiful means to act on a renounced platform, fulfilling our responsibilities without being concerned about bodily discomforts. As Krsna explains:

Work done as a sacrifice for Visnu has to be performed, otherwise work binds one to this material world. Therefore, O son of Kunti, perform your prescribed duties for His satisfaction, and in that way you will always remain unattached and free from bondage. (Bg 3.9)

To act in a dutiful way is actually the process to become detached, especially in family life. Ironically, when someone tries to become “detached” externally and therefore abandons his duties, the result is that he becomes more attached instead of less, which in turn leads to much more serious problems later. This misunderstanding of the philosophy was common in the early days of our movement, and led to many failed marriages and disturbed lives.

If someone doesn't want to get entangled with wife and children, then he should stay in the brahmacari ashram, and be dutiful by controlling his senses, being renounced and working hard to spread Krsna consciousness. When one enters married life, he have to accept the set of duties related to that particular ashram. This is an essential point of our philosophy that needs to be well understood.

Tolerance and detachment

Another problem that is unfortunately common is for one part to start to slack in his spiritual practice after marriage. Every person has a particular rhythm in his practice of Krsna consciousness, and everyone is susceptible to highs and lows in his devotional practice, or even to temporary fall-downs. At one point the wife may be on a low and the husband on a high, but later it may be the opposite. Marriage is a long-term relationship, and the whole idea is to help the partner in his spiritual practice with a spirit of service. The husband needs to be the well-wisher of the wife, and the wife needs to be the well-wisher of the husband. Booth should be always ready to tolerate some momentary disturbances and help as much as possible.

The first priority is to be attentive to our own practices. If one part maintains his standards, the other tends to also follow suit. We should always do our best to select a suitable partner, someone who’s Krsna consciousness we respect, and then do our best not only to cultivate the relationship but to also nourish our own spiritual standards. If the partner later starts to drift away from Krsna consciousness, we should take it as partially our own fault as husband or wife. No one goes from serious devotional service to karmi life overnight. It’s always a long process, that starts by chanting inattentively, stop studying the books, then progresses by relaxing in the principles and other standards, starting to criticize other Vaishnavas, stopping visiting the temple, being mental and so on. The wife or husband is the closest person, and therefore should be the first to notice the yellow and red lights and to try to help the partner to get back onto his or her feet. If we are too much concerned about our own problems to help, then we can’t complain later.  

If we can treat the partner properly, make the other feel comfortable, and at the same time be serious and mature in our own spiritual life, we can prevent this in most cases. Everyone is looking for a home, a place where he feels secure and comfortable, if we can provide such an atmosphere, it becomes much easier for the partner to be pacified and keep practicing devotional service. If, on the other hand, we create an environment full of conflict and disagreement, the discomfort and struggling may affect not only the domestic life, but make the partner and children averse to spiritual life as well. In other words, if we do our part properly, it makes it much easier for the partner to also do his part.

HG Hari-sauri Prabhu: As we feasted on the delicious cake, Prabhupada educated us on another practical aspect of Vedic culture. He inquired who had made the cake and was told it was Lalita-sakhi dasi. He was pleased and said that was the Vedic system, that the women become very expert in cooking and household affairs. He said their duty was to learn how to please the husband and look after the children. Even if husband and wife did not always agree, there was no question of divorce. "You must accept whatever God has given you as husband or wife, you must. They had no thinking even, idea of divorce. One may not agree with the husband. That is natural. Sometimes we do not agree. But there is no question of divorce." (A Transcendental Diary, vol 3 - July 6th, 1976)

Our general attitude should be of positively encouraging, not demanding. Even if the partner doesn’t want to chant, for example, we should just do our part: chant our japa, give the example. If we become angry, frustrated, etc. then it’s just the modes working, which will simply lead to conflict.

When we go to preach outside, we can’t just start to confront and accuse people, this just makes people upset, without bringing any practical result. We need to talk in a polite way, try to understand the individual and then say something that will help him to improve, whatever is his level. As Krsna explains in Bg 17.15:

“Austerity of speech consists in speaking words that are truthful, pleasing, beneficial, and not agitating to others, and also in regularly reciting Vedic literature.”

Even in the temple, when we are preaching to a new person, we need to be soft and say things that will encourage them in spiritual life, instead of saying harsh things, that will just turn them away. Otherwise, we are not doing preaching, but just burning people.

This kind of concept is very easy to understand when we are in the temple or outside, it’s just common sense. But it’s surprising how many of us fail to apply these same concepts in our own family lives, being harsh with our partners and children for minor discrepancies instead of encouraging them. This kind of attitude creates serious problems in the relationship that will be difficult to solve later. Someone who does that is burning his own family.

We need to understand this basic psychology, how to understand and encourage people instead of burning them away, and apply it in our own family life. That’s another area where book distribution experience is useful. By preaching to different classes of people, we can learn how to deal with them in a proper way, speaking in ways that are at the same time truthful, beneficial, pleasing and not agitating and, above all, to control our own senses, keeping our cool even when faced with stressful or conflicting situations. This kind of experience can be invaluable when applied to our own family lives.

Another point is detachment. We should understand that every soul has his own free will, that even Krsna respects. If we are attached to someone, in a mundane way, we tend to try to influence and control the person to achieve our own means, to keep the person close, and dependent on us. In this case, it’s not a question of love, but just of exploitation. Only someone who has a more transcendental mentality, above this mundane attachment, can be a sincere well-wisher, giving a proper example and good advice, but at the same time being detached enough to allow the person to make his own decisions and to follow his path in life. This is fundamental when dealing with children, especially teenagers.

Of course, every devotee wants his children to be pure devotees, but this doesn't always happen. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura once said that if he could be sure that all his children would be pure devotees, he would be prepared to produce one hundred children, but since he could not be sure he decided to remain a lifelong brahmacari.

We can be sure that Srila Prabhupada did his best to raise his biological children as pure devotees, but the result was not up to his expectations -- Krsna had other plans. To raise children demands a lot of sacrifices, but if the result is a powerful devotee, then everything becomes glorious, and it becomes a great merit on our account. Still, even if the child doesn't become a devotee, if we sincerely do our best that’s also devotional service. As Krsna explains in Bg 2.47:

“You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.”

As in other services (like book distribution) the result is not really in our hands, therefore we need to learn to be detached and just do our best, just fulfil our duties. The result is not under our control, therefore there is no point in worrying too much about that.

The financial problem

One of the first decisions that devotees should make when they are about to enter family life is about what kind of life they are going to have. Couples where both the man and the lady have an inclination for being austere and renounced may prefer to live just by book distribution and other preaching activities. To just preach and teach others, living by receiving contributions is a very high standard, reserved in Vedic society for brahmanas:

“Brahmana grhasthas should be satisfied with a life of adhyayana, adhyapana, yajana and yajana — being learned scholars, teaching others to be scholars, learning how to worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Visnu, and also teaching others how to worship Lord Visnu, or even the demigods. A brahmana should do this without remuneration, but he is allowed to accept charity from a person whom he teaches how to be a human being” (SB 7.14.10 purport).

The scriptures warn us that by accepting charity from others we also accept part of their sins. But, if we use it for Krsna, then it becomes devotional service: Krsna burns whatever sins or contamination may be there and we simply advance in devotional life; we become like postmen. Therefore, devotees who decide to live as brahmanas, by accepting contributions (be it by distributing books, or by receiving donations from other devotees) should be very strict about spending the money, using it for basic necessities and preaching work, but not for sense gratification. If we start to use the money for sense gratification, then we get implicated in the sins of others that gave it.

"Money is undoubtedly coming in great quantities, but we should not be attached to this money for sense gratification; every cent should be spent for spreading the Krsna consciousness movement, not for sense gratification. There is danger for a preacher when he receives great quantities of money, for as soon as he spends even a single cent of the collection for his personal sense gratification, he becomes a fallen victim. The preachers of the Krsna consciousness movement should be extremely careful not to misuse the immense quantities of money needed to spread this movement. Let us not make this money the cause of our distress; it should be used for Krsna, and that will cause our eternal happiness. Money is Laksmi, or the goddess of fortune, the companion of Narayana. Laksmiji must always remain with Narayana, and then there need be no fear of degradation." (SB 7.13.32 purport)

A good practice is to make a spreadsheet, making entrances of all the incomings and all the expenditures, and the corresponding descriptions. This is a way to police ourselves about the proper use of the money, and quickly notice discrepancies. Some of our leaders, like HH Jayadvaita Maharaja, even publish their spreadsheets, keeping full transparency of their accounts.

As Srila Prabhupada explains, Krsna is taking care of all living entities, from the ant to the elephant, so he is perfectly competent to take care of His devotees who are preaching His glories. To spread Krsna consciousness is the supreme dharma, therefore we should not doubt that Krsna is going to support the ones who perform it.

As unbelievable as it may seem, this really works. It's something I saw in practice numerous times, not just something I copied from a book. I know quite some couples (as well as single men and single ladies) who preach and are maintained by the Lord without separate endeavor. Somehow things just work for them, in inconceivable ways. I know, for example, one Prabhu from Russia who just organizes programs and teaches sastra. He does not do any remunerated activity. He does not even take money from book distribution. Still, sufficient money comes for him and his wife to live happily in Krsna consciousness.

The main question is that, just as Krsna gives just as much as needed for the elephant and for the ant, He is also going to give just as needed for us, since He doesn't want us to become attached to an artificial lifestyle that will distance us from Him. That's why this lifestyle is recomendable only for devotees who have a brahminical mentality, that are going to be satisfied in having a modest life and advancing in Krsna consciousness. If one wants to live an opulent life, it’s not the best option. This is something that should be agreed before the marriage. One part should not try to force it upon the other if that was not the original plan.

Another important point that must be understood is that no lady can tolerate the life of a traveling preacher for long, therefore even if the husband is a traveling preacher, he has to provide the wife with a house and basic necessities. Someone who wants to just be a paramahamsa and not deal with the complexities of family life should not get married on first place.

In the scriptures, women are called “stri”, which means "one who expands the field of material enjoyment". This word is used because of this intrinsic characteristic. A single lady desires to get a man, a husband. When she gets a husband, she desires a house, and when she gets a house, she will desire a child. When a child comes, she will desire a stable incoming and other material facilities. One desire leads to the next, and thus the field of material activities expands. This is connected with the fact that ladies by nature are influenced by the mode of passion, which causes one to increase his field of material activities. It is just like a program that runs inside the head. This is not fault of the ladies or of anyone, it’s just the way Krsna created it.

If you are a man and decide to get married, you should understand the woman’s nature and plan your life accordingly. If anyone presents you to a lady, saying that you should get married to her because she is an austere, renounced lady that will be happy in traveling and preaching with you, run away fast: he is trying to cheat you. Some ladies can do that when they are unmarried, and there are a few cases of ladies who just preach their whole lives, without getting involved in family life (these are extremely rare). However, when a lady gets married, the program will start to run inside her head. Only a paramahamsi will be able to avoid it. If you are a lady, you should understand how your body and mind work and try to find ways to deal with it. When you decide to marry, you should select a partner that is wise and will help you to engage your particular nature in Krsna’s service. Remember the example of the flower and the bee: cultivate good qualities and the bees will be flying around.

Therefore, the man has to be hardworking, and really do his book distribution and preaching activities dutifully, without laziness. There are cases of men who try this style of life, but become inactive, going on book distribution only sporadically, spending most of their time spacing out at home. If one becomes lethargic when he doesn’t have a boss pressing him, it means he doesn’t have a brahminical nature. In such cases, it’s usually better to just get a job. The lady should also help according to her capacity, but it should be clear that to bring food to the table is mainly the duty of the man. The duty of the lady is to be satisfied with whatever her husband can provide through his honest effort, and not be demanding.

Nowadays, there are cases of ladies who work and make more money than the husband. It’s fine as long as everyone is happy with such an arrangement (Lord Shiva, for example, has a rich wife and both are happy). My point here is that it’s not the duty of the lady to work. She may work if she likes to (as long as the children are not neglected), but she should not be forced by the circumstances. If a man is not maintaining the family and the lady has to take responsibility for maintaining the house, it should be understood that such a man is in a very degraded condition.

This is the factor that makes the life of a brahmana preacher challenging. It involves reconciling two apparently contradictory principles. One is to do one’s preaching work and depend on Krsna, without material attachment, the other is to maintain his family and not create anxiety for the wife. If the husband is a traveling preacher, the problem becomes more complex, since he will have to find a way to keep the wife happy and protected even during his travels.

This is generally possible only in cases where the husband is mature and the wife is spiritually advanced, being able to control her passionate nature and also learn how to live a simple life and depend on Krsna. For this, is fundamental not only that both are very much in sync, but also that both have a strong spiritual practice.

My suggestion in this connection is to try to understand the philosophy by studying Srila Prabhupada's books and to get guidance from like-minded devotees, who are also striving for the same ideals. Nowadays, there are different devotees with different sets of values and different priorities in spiritual life. Many times, others will try to impose their values on you, which can create all kinds of problems. My advice is that you should be very careful with unsolicited advice about your family life, especially from devotees who you don't know well. My experience is that the ones who try to impose their ideas on you are frequently immature devotees, acting under the influence of the mode of passion. Before accepting advice, it's important to check on what basis the advice is fundamented. Many times, people confuse details with principles, or give advice that is not very Krsna conscious.

To find like-minded devotees is really essential. Devotees who have other priorities in life may not appreciate your preaching efforts.

Despite the difficulties, if properly conducted, this kind of marriage can be very beneficial spiritually for both husband and wife. Even if the wife is not so advanced spiritually as the husband, and can’t do the same austerities that he can do, still, just by following and helping him she gets the same benefit.

“The relationship between husband and wife is firmly established when the wife is faithful and the husband sincere. Then even if the wife, being weaker, is unable to execute devotional service with her husband, if she is chaste and sincere she shares half of her husband’s activities.”  (SB 6.19.18 purport)

“Devahuti engaged only in the service of Kardama Muni. She was not supposed to be so advanced in austerity, ecstasy, meditation or Krsna consciousness, but, imperceptibly, she was sharing her husband’s achievements, which she could neither see nor experience. Automatically she achieved these graces of the Lord”. (SB 3.23.7 purport)

“If a woman is fortunate enough to be the wife of a pure devotee, she can serve her husband without any desire for sense gratification. If she remains engaged in the service of her exalted husband, she will automatically attain the spiritual perfections of her husband”. (SB 4.28.43 purport)

The wife is dependent on the husband, and if the husband is a Vaisnava, then naturally she shares the devotional service of the husband because she renders him service. This reciprocation of service and love between husband and wife is the ideal of a householder’s life. (SB 3.23.1 purport)

"When one begins to burn firewood, there is smoke and agitation in the beginning. Although there are so many disturbances in the beginning, once the fire is completely set, the firewood burns steadily. Similarly, when both husband and wife follow the regulative principles of austerity, they remain silent and are not agitated by sex impulses. At such a time both husband and wife are benefited spiritually. One can attain this stage of life by completely giving up a luxurious mode of life. (SB 4.28.44 purport)

Couples who are not attracted to the life of brahmana preachers, may find other honest occupations, by opening some business, or even by working outside, according to their inclinations. The best thing is to open food businesses, where one can sell prasadam, like prasadam cafés and restaurants, since they can be directly used in preaching. By opening a prasadam restaurant and making it grow, attracting regular customers, one can make a lot of devotees and at the same time sufficient money to have a comfortable living. Another option is to make some product that can be sold wholesale, like cakes, breads, frozen food, etc. If all couples in ISKCON would start to sell prasadam instead of working outside, our movement would grow manyfold. One of the symptoms of modern life is that people become too busy and too lazy to cook, therefore there is a gigantic demand for tasty and healthy food. There is also huge demand in other areas, like ayurvedic treatments, natural therapies, yoga and so on, which can also be used to at the same time teach Krsna consciousness and make a living. As Srila Prabhupada said one time: “Money is flying in all directions, you simply have to learn the art of catching it." (Memories, Dhananjaya dasa)

If one is maintaining his business or working, he should be able to have a much better standard of living than the poor brahmana preachers, therefore he should dedicate part of the income to help the temples and the devotees who are directly engaged in preaching work.

Another important activity is to try to organize programs and do some preaching ourselves. One can organize a bhakti vriksa cell, or namahatta programs, or even a weekend warrior program, organizing a group and going to distribute books one time per week, or simply going by himself if nobody else wants to. In Russia, for example, most of the weekend sankirtan programs are organized by householders who work during the week and dedicate the weekends to distribute books and teach newer devotees.

The principle is that one can have many things and live opulently if that’s his inclination, the main thing is to use everything that we have for Krsna.

“The devotee who engages his material possessions in the service of Lord Krsna while regulating his material activities of sense gratification according to the injunctions of the revealed sastras is actually a yukta-vairagi or a devotee situated in full and appropriate renunciation. He is certainly most fortunate. Even while living in the midst of the material world, whatever opulences he possesses and whatever actions he performs are all aspects of the spiritual opulence and potency of Hari (Lord Krsna), the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, Vaishnava Ke, verse 13)

As Krsna explains in the Bhagavad-Gita (12.8-10):

“Just fix your mind upon Me, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and engage all your intelligence in Me. Thus you will live in Me always, without a doubt.

My dear Arjuna, O winner of wealth, if you cannot fix your mind upon Me without deviation, then follow the regulative principles of bhakti-yoga. In this way develop a desire to attain Me. If you cannot practice the regulations of bhakti-yoga, then just try to work for Me, because by working for Me you will come to the perfect stage.”

The best option is to just dedicate our lives to Krsna, using all our intelligence and ability to serve Him and spread His mission. If this is too difficult, then we can try to follow spiritual life seriously, being strict and following properly the standards. If this is also difficult, then we can just work for Krsna, by using our money and resources to help other devotees who are on the front lines and trying to also help on the preaching ourselves. By doing that, Krsna ensures, we will come to the perfect stage.

To go back home, back to Godhead is not so easy. If we really want to go back, we need to be serious, there is a lot of dirtiness in the heart to be cleansed. We have until the end of our lives to make our hearts pure, and death is the ultimate test. If the heart is pure, we can go back, if it’s not clean, we will have to take another birth.

“At any rate we do not know how long we shall live. So we have to concentrate on reading, chanting, and distributing books, and in this way try to become Krsna conscious completely before the next death”. (Srila Prabhupada, letter to Mr. Morris Lapidus, 01 July, 1975)

 

Regardless of our position, it’s essential to be respectful towards other devotees, especially preachers who are dedicating their lives to spread the mission. Even if some of us are preachers ourselves, still we should be appreciative and show respect to others that are preaching, not only seniors:

“Sometimes a neophyte devotee offers all the paraphernalia for worshiping the Lord, and he factually worships the Lord as the Deity, but because he is envious of the authorized devotees of Lord Visnu, the Lord is never satisfied with his devotional service.” (SB 7.14.40)

Purport: “Deity worship is especially meant for purifying the neophyte devotees. Actually, however, preaching is more important. In Bhagavad-gita (18.69) it is said, na ca tasman manusyesu kascin me priya-krttamah: if one wants to be recognized by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he must preach the glories of the Lord. One who worships the Deity must therefore be extremely respectful to preachers; otherwise simply worshiping the Deity will keep one in the lower stage of devotion”.

On choosing a partner

The whole purpose of family life in Krsna consciousness is to advance spiritually. When a materialistic person enters into family life, he is called “grhamedi”, because his business is just to enjoy his senses and go to hell. A devotee, on the other hand, is called “grhastha”, because his goal is to advance spiritually. His family life is an ashram, a base from where to advance to higher spheres of devotional service.

Sometimes, a frustrated soul may say that “It’s not possible to do that in family life, when you marry you will see how difficult it is to be Krsna conscious in family life!”, but as we saw, it’s not like that, it depends on what kind of marriage we have. If we get into some mundane relationship based on bodily attraction and sense gratification, it’s indeed very difficult, but if we base our family lives on service to Krsna then it’s not contradictory to our spiritual advancement. For that, however, we need to leave behind our expectations of comfort and sense gratification, of having wealth, respectable position in society, etc., and choose someone who is sincere and has similar goals in spiritual life, with who we can cooperate and thus advance in spiritual life, facing our family lives with a spirit of service and sacrifice. If it's your karma to be wealthy, or if Krsna wants to give it to you, it will come naturally, don't worry. Most of the difficulties we face in family life come from our struggle to get more than we are entitled to.

No man or woman has the power to make another person happy. The only one who can make you happy is yourself, by controlling your senses and developing your love for Krsna. What is possible is to find a lady who will assist you in your service, give you some emotional support and not obstruct your spiritual development, or to find a man who will give you some care and be an example in your spiritual life.

Many devotees choose their partners simply based on superficial attraction, which is a serious mistake. The scriptures alert that love marriage in Kali-yuga is considered inauspicious, since people don’t know how to properly choose a partner, and thus base their decision merely on sexual attraction. As Srila Prabhupada phrases: "I like you. You like me. That's all right. Let us live together."

One of the secrets of a successful marriage in Krsna consciousness is sense control. Sexual indulgence is a great trap for someone trying to advance in spiritual life. In this context, to be too much sexually attracted to the person one is going to marry is not exactly a good thing. Chanakya Pandita advises that if a wife is too beautiful, she becomes an enemy of the husband, since it makes harder for him to control his senses. The opposite also applies.

As mentioned, one’s behavior can increase the influence of the mode of goodness, passion or ignorance in the partner. One should look for a partner who inspires him in the direction of the mode of goodness, inspires calmness, peace, responsibility, etc. If a person makes one feel passionate, it is probably not a good choice.

We can see that, in most countries, divorces are becoming more and more common. Marriages between devotees are even more complicated than between karmis because, on top of emotional compatibility, there should be also spiritual compatibility. If one has views on spiritual life that are opposed to the other, if their goals or values in spiritual life are too different, etc. the relationship may not survive, even if they are emotionally compatible. Another trap is that there is no point in a strong marriage that is not going to be spiritually progressive. Many couples are very attached to each other, but their association just nurtures their materialistic tendencies. In other words, this is a complex question that must be addressed with utmost caution. If one is a brahmacari, the sheer complexity of this subject would probably be a strong argument for him to continue in his post.

 

It’s important to select a partner based on qualities and spiritual affinities, and not just based on superficial attraction, nor on mere astrological compatibility. Both should have similar goals and priorities in spiritual life and similar values and mentalities, being thus able to cooperate in harmony. Astrology is a tool to evaluate basic mental compatibility, but it should not be employed as the only factor in the decision.

When one tries to find a partner, the mind and senses become agitated, the mode of passion takes over and it’s very difficult to remain sober and to make an objective decision. The mind plays tricks, leading to all kinds of mistakes and erratic behavior.

The best way to find a good partner is with the help of a serious senior devotee who has sufficient experience and agrees to help, someone who you trust. Temple presidents are usually not the best choice, because in their case there is frequently a conflict of interests. A temple president may suggest someone who he wants to keep in the yatra, for example. In this particular situation, It's better to approach someone who is not involved with administration. As mentioned, the main consideration should be trust. You should approach someone who you trust.

In previous eras, the parents used to do this, but in our current ISKCON society, we depend on our seniors for help and guidance. Just like someone helped to arrange my marriage, I also over time helped a few other devotees, by the grace of guru and Krsna. That’s how spiritual life works. We know that everything is controlled by Krsna, but a lot of times we forget that He likes to act through His devotees.

A good approach for a senior willing to help in this sense is to first talk with the potential partners about their views and priorities in spiritual life, their expectations in family life, their ideas about common topics, like where to live, how to run the house, who is going to work, if there will be television or not, how to educate the children, etc. By getting this type of information, the mentor can see to which extent they are compatible and from there try to give them good advice. If there is good compatibility in values, ideals, and goals, the match can be considered good. If not, he may present the potential difficulties and allow the couple to decide. If they decide to go ahead, they should also be instructed about how to start and conduct the relationship in a proper way, get advice about difficulties they may face, and so on.

If this process is done properly, Vedic astrology can be used to confirm the conclusions. If there is a similarity in values, ideals, and goals, and the couple can go along well, the match should also be astrologically good. If a match appears to be good, but astrology say it’s bad, then the matter should be considered more carefully, since something may be wrong.

The ultimate goal

In the end, be our family life successful or not, we will need to come to the final stage, that is to renounce our material attachments and fix ourselves in devotional service in the final part of our lives, preparing ourselves to go back to Godhead. Sannyasa is not for everybody, and we can understand that empirically just by observing statistics: since Srila Prabhupada started ISKCON, only a few hundred devotees entered sannyasa asrama, and even amongst this select group, not all were able to maintain their vows until the end of life. On the other hand, the vanaprastha ashrama is much more accessible and can be practiced by all couples when they reach older age, having finished the education of their children. Vanaprasta doesn't mean to break the relationship, but to break the material attachment. The wife can stay with the husband, but at that stage, she doesn't act as a wife, but as a servant or assistant, that is there just to cooperate with her husband in his spiritual pursuits. This stage is explained by Srila Prabhupada in detail in his purports to SB:

"In this verse the word cira-vasa refers to very old torn garments. The wife especially should remain austere, not desiring luxurious dresses and living standards. She should accept only the bare necessities of life and minimize her eating and sleeping. There should be no question of mating. Simply by engaging in the service of her exalted husband, who must be a pure devotee, the wife will never be agitated by sex impulses. The vanaprastha stage is exactly like this. Although the wife remains with the husband, she undergoes severe austerities and penances so that although both husband and wife live together, there is no question of sex. In this way both husband and wife can live together perpetually. Since the wife is weaker than the husband, this weakness is expressed in this verse with the words upa patim. Upa means “near to,” or “almost equal to.” Being a man, the husband is generally more advanced than his wife. Nonetheless, the wife is expected to give up all luxurious habits. She should not even dress nicely or comb her hair. Hair-combing is one of the main businesses of women. In the vanaprastha stage the wife should not take care of her hair. Thus her hair will become tangled in knots. Consequently, the wife will no longer be attractive to the husband, and she herself will no longer be agitated by sex impulses. In this way both husband and wife can advance in spiritual consciousness. This advanced stage is called the paramahamsa stage, and once it is obtained, both husband and wife can be actually liberated from bodily consciousness". (SB 4.28.44 purport)

“It is significant in this connection that it is said that Maharaja Prthu retired alone and at the same time took his wife with him. According to Vedic principles, when retiring from family life one can take his wife with him, for the husband and wife are considered to be one unit. Thus they can both combinedly perform austerities for liberation. This is the path that Maharaja Prthu, who was an exemplary character, followed, and this is also the way of Vedic civilization.” (SB 4.23.1-3 purport)

A vanaprasta can serve in many capacities: as a teacher or mentor, as a preacher, or even as a spiritual master, sharing with others the experience and realization that he accumulated during his lifetime. In materialistic society, older people are a liability, but in our Vaishnava society they are the greatest asset.

“In conditioned life the consciousness in the body is the cause of bondage, but the same consciousness, when transformed into Krsna consciousness, becomes the cause for one's returning home, back to Godhead. The human body, therefore, may be used in two ways—for going to the darkest regions of ignorance or for going forward, back home, back to Godhead. To go back to Godhead, the path is mahat-seva, to accept the self-realized spiritual master. Mahat-sevam dvaram ahur vimukteh [SB 5.5.2]. For liberation, one should accept the direction of authorized devotees who can actually endow one with perfect knowledge”. (SB 7.15.41 purport).

The main point is that we should dedicate our lives to spread Krsna consciousness, to help others to advance spiritually, molding other aspects of our earthly existence around this main priority, instead of the opposite. At any stage of our lives, we should have this impetus, to practice spiritual life seriously and to teach others, according to our capacity and facilities. As Lord Caitanya quotes on CC Adi 9.43: “By his work, thoughts and words, an intelligent man must perform actions which will be beneficial for all living entities in this life and the next.

We are wandering through this material world for so many lifetimes, seeking for sense gratification, continuously trying to chew the chewed. If we can dedicate this one life to spread Krsna consciousness, we can finally put an end to this and get the mercy of the Lord. As HH Tamal Krsna Maharaja remembers in the 15th chapter of his book Servant of the Servant:

“I remember Prabhupada's promise to me in Bombay: If anyone sacrifices sense gratification by giving his life for spreading Krsna consciousness, at the time of his death Lord Caitanya will personally come and cover any of his inadequacies and take him back to Godhead.”

Key points in this chapter

  1. The transition to married life is a critical point in the life of most devotees. While the recipe for family life in Krsna consciousness is simple, things can go terribly wrong if we don’t get the details right.
  2. There is a gulf of difference between grhastha and grhamedhi life. Many passages of the scriptures warn us about the dangers of materialistic grihamedhi life, but married life in Krsna consciousness when properly done is an asrama, a place for advancement in Krsna consciousness.
  3. To have proper grhastha life, one needs to have a lot of maturity and detachment. One of the greatest challenges is to abandon our propensity for exploiting the material energy, and instead use it in Krsna's service. Maturity comes from deeply studying the philosophy and applying it in our own lives, and detachment comes from working to spread Krsna consciousness. Many of the most successful preachers in our movement are married devotees with families.
  4. For someone who is really serious about spiritual life, male or female, family life is not necessary. Such a devotee may enter into family life (and execute his duties with a spirit of renunciation) or just avoid it and go back to Godhead through the shortest path. However, devotees of this caliber are a minority. Most devotees need to go through family life to learn how to deal with their desires and emotions. In this case, family life can work like a school that can help us to treat our material infection and become more mature in spiritual life.
  5. While family life offers stability, which can be very positive, it also offers facility for sense gratification and stimulates material hankering. This can create many problems if one is not capable of controlling his mind and senses. As in other situations, the real solution is Krsna consciousness. “As long as either is attached to the other for such material enjoyment, the woman is dangerous for the man, and the man is also dangerous for the woman. But if the attachment is transferred to Kṛṣṇa, both of them become Kṛṣṇa conscious, and then marriage is very nice.” 
  6. Srila Prabhupada explains that “One may stay in whichever asrama is suitable for him; it is not essential that one takes sannyasa. If one is sexually agitated, he can enter the grhastha-asrama. But one must continue fighting (the illusory energy)”.
  7. Illicit sex is one of the greatest problems in Krsna conscious family life. Illicit sex outside of the marriage creates hideous scandals, and illicit sex inside marriage (done for fun, without the intention of conceiving a child) erodes the spiritual foundation of a Krsna conscious relationship. Moreover, if the husband constantly chases the wife for sex, he will lose her respect.
  8. Family life based on mere sexual attraction is dangerous, therefore it’s essential that the man is trained to be serious in spiritual life, being able to control his senses and properly guide the wife and children. If a lady can get such a husband and be faithful to him, the marriage can be very spiritually conductive for both. “A man should be trained to be a first-class devotee of Lord Krsna, and a woman should be trained to be a very chaste follower of her husband. That will make the lives of both of them happy."
  9. The scriptures offer a way to control human sexuality through the process of garbhadhana samskara. By following it, one gets the opportunity of engaging in sex life with a high consciousness, which brings detachment. A couple who can follow this process, can mold their family life in a way that is not contradictory to their spiritual advancement.
  10. Although the ultimate goal for all of us is to renounce material attachments and become situated on a transcendental plane, inside family life such detachment should be cultivated in an internal way. Externally, one should perform his duties and act like a loving husband or wife, while internally he should cultivate detachment and love to Krsna. One who tries to be renounced externally, creates havoc in his family and risks just falling down in the end. Krsna is never satisfied with such a false renunciant. "Don’t be a crazy fellow."
  11. To act in a dutiful way is actually the process to become detached inside family life. When someone tries to become “detached” externally and abandons his duties, the result is that he becomes more attached instead of less, which leads to more serious problems later.
  12. Our false ego and desire for control can cause a lot of problems in family life. If each has some specific plan for his personal sense gratification, both are going to become frustrated, morose and angry when the other part fails to act as expected. To avoid that, the scriptures prescribe clear roles for the husband, wife, and children. If we can successfully follow these roles, our family life can be peaceful. If the husband acts in a responsible way, it becomes easier for the wife to also follow her role properly and thus both are benefited.
  13. If both husband and wife can elevate themselves to a spiritual platform, their relationship can be smooth, and their family life peaceful. Spiritual life can be easily practiced in such an environment and the children will be naturally well behaved and attracted to spiritual values.
  14. Apart from material support, the husband is supposed to help the wife in spiritual life. If one acts properly as a husband, he can have the love and trust of the wife, and therefore be able to guide her in the right direction. That is what it means to be a spiritual master. The spiritual master gives more affection to his disciples that they can reciprocate, and thus they develop love for him and can thus be determined in their spiritual life and service. Similarly, an intelligent husband (while internally keeping himself detached) will act in an affectionate way towards the wife, and thus attract her trust and love. An intelligent wife will treat her husband in an affectionate way, and thus empower him to execute his duties properly. Without this combination, family life becomes unproductive and tension builds up.
  15. Everyone faces difficulties in his spiritual life at some points. Our general attitude should be of positively encouraging, not demanding. The husband needs to be the well-wisher of the wife, and the wife needs to be the well-wisher of the husband, always ready to help at any sign of difficulties. By creating a peaceful atmosphere at home, one helps the partner and the children to keep their spiritual practice.
  16. Every soul has his free will, that even Krsna respects. In material consciousness, we want to influence and control, which usually brings adverse results. Only someone with a more transcendental mentality can be a sincere well-wisher, giving proper example and good advice, but at the same time be detached enough to allow others to make their own decisions and to follow their path in life. This is fundamental when dealing with children.
  17. To spread Krsna consciousness should be a priority in our lives. However, unless one is capable of remaining a brahmacari or brahmacarini, he will need to learn how to reconcile family life with advanced spiritual practice. If done properly, family life can give one support for his spiritual practice and missionary activities, otherwise it can be just a source of frustration. There are plenty of good and bad examples. We should focus on the good ones.
  18. Even if the husband is a traveling preacher, he must provide the wife with a house and other necessities. One who is not willing or capable of doing that, should not get married in first place. The duty of the wife is to be satisfied with what the husband can provide through his honest effort and not be demanding.
  19. If the husband is a devotee, the wife shares his spiritual perfection and advancement by assisting him, even if she is not capable of doing the same austerities (example of Devahuti).
  20. Some couples may become brahmana preachers, teaching others and living by contributions, while others may open businesses or work outside. For the entrepreneurs, the ideal is to have a business that can be used to spread Krsna consciousness, like prasadam restaurants, yoga schools, ayurvedic clinics, etc.
  21. It is better to try to find a partner with the help of senior supervision than to just chase someone we are attracted to. Love marriage is considered inauspicious in Kali-yuga. This type of relationship is based on the mode of passion (nectar in the beginning, poison in the end). It’s better to find a partner based on qualities and spiritual affinity, that have compatible values, ideals, and goals. Together with the practice of Krsna consciousness, this is the key to a long-term relationship.
  22. The ultimate goal for us is to sever our material attachments and go back to Godhead, therefore the sastras prescribe that we should dedicate the final part of our lives to spiritual pursuits. This doesn't mean to break the relationship with the spouse, but to renounce the material attachment. Husband and wife can remain together and cooperate in spiritual activities.
  23. The main principle is that, at any stage of our lives, we should have the impetus to practice spiritual life seriously and to teach others, according to our capacity and facilities. “By his work, thoughts and words, an intelligent man must perform actions which will be beneficial for all living entities in this life and the next.
  24. To go back to Godhead is not that easy. There is a lot of dirtiness in the heart that needs to be cleansed, and death is the ultimate test. If we want to go back we need to be serious, and our family life is part of our service to please guru and Krsna. We have been in this material world since time immemorial, if we can just dedicate this one life to follow spiritual life seriously and help to spread the mission, we can obtain the mercy of the Lord.