A devotee in Brazil told us of the unique wedding present he received, a bucket a flashlight and a rope….. for the deep dark well he was entering.
Is that an encouraging way to start a marriage?
Within our society there has been a plethora of negative attitudes and paradigms about grihastha life. We hear that marriage is a deep dark well and family members are like jackals and tigers, but often this is not clarified that this refers to materialistic households, not vaishnava grihastha ashrams.
At one point, I thought our society had moved beyond this immature preaching. Unfortunately, after traveling in 22 countries over the last 15 years, I see these old negative attitudes are still present and also that new ones are emerging, which adversely affect the consciousness of young men and women entering marriage. We need to encourage devotees to enter a sacred ashram with a culture of devotion, not to unconsciously lead them towards a dark well by propagating negative paradigms. If not, we will be shooting ourselves in the foot and throwing spanners in the works.
Let’s examine the long-term social implications of some of the methods used to “educate” men and at times discourage them from getting married.
In some places men are encouraged to live in an ashram while getting an education. They are taught the pitfalls of materialistic married life and the values of a Krishna conscious grihastha life. Vocational education is seen as necessary so if and when they enter married life, they have an occupation with which to support their family and contribute to society. The ashram facility enables them to develop a strong attachment to the processes of devotional service. When they finish their education, some may remain in the brahmachari ashram. And perhaps after some years of devoted service, some may wish to marry. At that time, a ceremony is held where the young man is given blessings by the guru and community to enter the grihastha ashrama. These devotees feel encouraged and empowered in this change of ashrama.
Devotees still report that part of their training in the brahmachari ashram was that grihastha life is maya. When men considered marriage, they were accused of betraying the brahmacari asrama. When married, they often felt fallen, discouraged, unsupported and disempowered.
One young man described how he was educated from a young age in a boy’s boarding school, lived in a men’s dorm at university and then entered the brahmacari asrama. When he eventually married, he had absolutely no idea of how to relate to a woman and so imposed many unrealistic paradigms learned in his brahmacari days on his wife and encountered many problems.
A young man revealed to us that he was trained in a bramacari ashram in India where the men were dissuaded from having close friendships amongst themselves in order to prevent them from developing homosexual relationships. He noticed many of these men, in their spare time, were hiding in corners, watching porn on their phones. One can only imagine these men entering marriage, with no relationship skills, a very skewed vision of affection and very warped attitudes and paradigms on sex and intimacy. And yes, this actually happens.
Many men enter marriage with no relationship skills, no role models, no understanding of male/ female psychology, and perhaps very warped ideas about sex and intimacy. Add to this, exposure to negative paradigms, which may result in low self esteem and the feeling that they’re falling down, and you have a perfect formula for marital disaster.
Similarly, there are many paradigms confusing to women.
All ladies must get married. Children are an impediment to active engagement in devotional service. Women must stay at home. Women are less intelligent. One should not be attached to their children. Recreation is maya. Wives provide excess baggage. Women are more lusty…..
A Subtle form of Emotional Abuse
What is the result of repeatedly hearing these paradigms with negative twists, and painting grihamedhi and grihastha life in the same brush stroke? “Family are like jackals. The wife is like a tiger. Marriage is a fall down. Affection is maya. One cannot make advancement when married. Children are a hindrance to devotional service. I have to choose between either Krishna or my husband.” If one is overly exposed to such negative paradigms it can constitute a subtle form of emotional abuse, eroding one’s sense of self-esteem, and enthusiasm.
There are inevitable challenges in married life. During those times of test, if one has been exposed to these invalidating attitudes, one may start to believe them. “My family life IS a deep dark well…it’s all Maya, so why should I bother working to improve it.”
And then we wonder why our society has, in many areas, divorce rates equal to or higher than the secular world and many second-generation devotees, who out of fear of divorce, are cohabiting rather than getting married. To quote an Apollo 13 astronaut, “Hello Houston, we have a problem.”
In it, the 12 principles behind a Krishna Conscious family life are identified and elaborated upon. Healthy attitudes and paradigms are aligned with and framed by sound principles and values, as noted by Srila Prabhupada in ISKCON’s Statement of purpose. (footnote A) These principles can help us to form healthy behaviors in our life and assist us in guiding others.
At the inception of the Grihastha Vision Team, the many challenges faced by householders were examined with regard to the inappropriate attitudes contributing to the difficulties.
Next, 12 key principles and values were extracted from Srila Prabhupada’s teachings, which if applied in practical life would create healthy paradigms to correct the problems and/or prevent them from occurring in the first place. Since 2005 the members of the GVT have been working to systematically educate devotees in applying these values in their practical lives. We have compiled a wealth of resources on our website. Please take advantage of this.
In 1971 Srila Prabhupada indicated he wanted couples to obtain counselling from senior grihasthas before he would sanction marriages. (footnote B) Having an older happily married grihastha couple mentor devotees in their transition can be of immense value. The GVT offers premarital education and can also train couples in your community to mentor younger couples using our well researched, effective step by step program for premarital education.
“I learned so many practical, helpful solutions.I have no idea how couples stay married, without taking this premarital ed.” Kate, NY, USA
“I feel so much more comfortable to talk about sensitive issues.” H.P dasi, SA
“I learned how to argue constructively!” R.V. das, Canada
“Great sessions! I feel enriched and more connected with my wife. The experience and personal input of our mentors was so helpful.” G.H.das, Germany
Boil the Milk
In 1972, Prabhupada expressed on four occasions, the need for devotees to be trained to actually apply Krishna consciousness in their lives. One conversation follows:
“Now we have got so many students and so many temples, but I am fearful that if we expand too much in this way that we shall become weakened and gradually the whole thing will become lost. Just like milk. We may thin it more and more with water for cheating the customer, but in the end, it will cease to be any longer milk. Better to boil the milk now very vigorously and make it thick and sweet, that is the best process. So let us concentrate on training our devotees very thoroughly in the knowledge of Krishna Consciousness from our books, from tapes, by discussing always, and in so many ways instruct them in the right propositions.” (Srila Prabhupada Letter, June 22, 1972)
Edit When Necessary
If you hear negative, inapplicable, attitudes being preached publicly and you are in a position to do so, make a point to present the correct and balanced understanding of what was stated.
If you are not in a position to say anything, understand that occasionally you may hear things which may be presented as Krishna conscious, but which are not necessarily in alignment with Srila Prabhupada. Prabhupada wanted all devotees to read his books and become independently thoughtful in all fields of thought and action.
“Krishna Consciousness Movement is for training men to be independently thoughtful and competent in all types of departments of knowledge and action.
Have you contributed to the propagation of negative paradigmas?
If you are trying to encourage a spirit of renunciation, ensure you are actually doing so in a positive way and not creating an artificial sense of advancement at the expense of minimising or demeaning other ashramas or services.
Make sure you are not contributing to the propagation of negative paradigms. If you lecture on verses discussing grihamedhis be sure to distinguish this from grihastha life. Ensure that any paradigms you propagate encourage devotees to develop strong, nurturing relationships that help them, and others progress in Krishna consciousness rather than fostering judgemental attitudes and a false sense of advancement.
Support and encourage devotees in the brahmacari asrama. If they change ashramas, continue to support and encourage them in their transition.
(A) To systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large and to educate all people in the techniques of spiritual life in order to check the imbalance of values in life and to achieve real unity and peace in the world.
(B) “The two marriages recommended by you may be performed at that time as well, but only after having sufficiently counselled the respective devotees. marriage business should not be taken as a farce but is a very serious matter. Recently so many couples have been cast adrift by the waves of maya’s influence. That is hard to check, but still the devotees must realize the responsibilities of household life. And there is no question of separation. Too much this has been happening and I am very much displeased. So, if they are promising not to separate under any circumstances, but to work cooperatively in the service of the Lord, then my sanction is there for their marriage, and my blessings as well. Otherwise not.” Srila Prabhupada Letter to Bhagavan das, July 1971