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Healthy, Loving Marriages in ISKCON

By: on Feb. 4, 2011
Opinion
Recently, we saw an article by a concerned devotee entitled, “Why stable marriages are not characteristic of the Hare Krishnas.” In it, he emphasized that while everyone knows Hare Krishnas are vegetarian, they don’t know that strong, lasting marriages are characteristic of Hare Krishnas. Sadly, he opined that stable marriages, for the devotees, especially in some regions, are the exception, rather the rule. In his earnest endeavor to understand why this phenomenon exists, this devotee pointed to counseling as one of the causes.

Counseling, he said, urges people to fulfill their own needs and look after their own self-interest, “mediating in a kind of collective-bargaining situation." He further states that counselors encourage couples to see their marriages as a “contract,” a kind of business arrangement where when either party believes him or her self to be getting a bad deal, they can find a way to terminate the contract.

12 principles and values of Healthy Krishna Conscious Marriage & Family

Now I don’t know the counselors that this devotee is referring to. As a member of the Grihastha Vision Team, a Certified Family Life Educator and Pastoral Counselor and as one who, (like the other devoted, experienced and expert team members), has dedicated my life to strengthening and enlivening the Grihastha ashrama, we empower devotees and others with healthy relationship skills based on 12 principles and values as follows:

1. Alignment with Srila Prabhupada (Guru, sastra and sadhu)
2. Spiritual Growth and Progress
3. Spiritual Equality / Material Difference
4. Positive and Realistic Vision
5. Mutual Respect and Appreciation
6. Commitment and Dedication
7. Open & Honest Communications
8. Personal and Social Responsibility
9. Economic Development and Prosperity
10. Focus on Children’s Welfare
11. Family Love and Affection and
12. Exemplary Lifestyle

Yes, we sometimes say that marriage is a contract but we emphatically state this contract is a 3 way one, between Lord Krishna (Guru) and the husband and wife. And we advocate that marriage is a lifetime commitment, following the instructions of Srila Prabhupada.

Srila Prabhupada himself instructed devotees to get marriage counseling and he emphasized premarital counseling as a fundamental prerequisite to marriage. Our beloved founder/acharya was pained to see marriage break-ups and family dysfunction. In a letter to one of his leading disciples, Srila Prabhupada wrote:

“Yes, the two marriages may be performed by you, but only after having sufficiently counseled the respective devotees. This business should not be taken as a farce, but is a very serious matter. Recently so many couples have been sent 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...” (Srila (Prabhupada to Bhagavan, Los Angeles, July 7, 1971).

What are the real reasons that marriages are not doing well?

So, from the letter above, we can see that marital problems amongst devotees were also prevalent during Srila Prabhupada’s time with us. Even the Pope recently admonished his American congregations for having too many divorces and too many annulments. His priests were asked to make more serious endeavors to counsel couples BEFORE marriage and to help them realize the importance of an enduring commitment to marriage.

Due to personal weakness and immaturity, the degrading social climate in which many people live, misunderstanding about the purpose and value of marriage, the absence of strong spiritual communities, the lack of skills and examples, so many marriages flounder. All of this is the bad news. The good news is that by the grace of Srila Prabhupada, many devotees are committed to lifetime marriages, centered on Krishna, and devotees are more and more seeking the skills to have healthy, stable marriages.

The Grihastha Vision Team has created and implemented a number of initiatives to assist sincere souls and show them how to have real Krishna conscious marriages.

• Our course, “Strengthening the Bonds that Free Us” is a powerful 4-5 day course covering all aspects of Grihastha life.

• GVT members provide marriage and family education to couples in person and by phone.

• We implement workshops, classes and programs.

• Have a yearly Marriage and Family Fest at the Festival of Inspiration in New Vrindaban, in May, mother’s day weekend.

• We are publishing a book, “Heart and Soul Connections: A Vaishnava Guide to Marriage, Service and Love”.

• Our website, www.vaisnavafamilyservices.org has many marriage and family resources.

• We host a free monthly teleconference call about a variety of marriage and family topics.

• We publish a quarterly, e-newsletter for Grihasthas.

Marriage is a sacrifice

In Bhagavad-Gita, Srila Prabhupada tells us that marriage is a sacrifice that should not be given up. “There are many purificatory processes for advancement of human society to spiritual life. The marriage ceremony, for example, is one of these sacrifices. The Lord says that any sacrifice, which is meant for human welfare, should never be given up. The marriage ceremony is meant to regulate the human mind to become peaceful for spiritual advancement” (purport, Bhagavad-Gita 18:5). The spiritual inheritance that was left to us by Srila Prabhupada includes having wholesome, healthy, Krishna conscious life.

What characterizes wholesome, healthy Krishna conscious life? The 12 principles and values mentioned above constitute a strong, spiritually and materially enlivening marriage and family life. Too many devotees still do not understand that the Grihastha ashrama is a bonafide ashrama, a place of spiritual growth, a step up from the brahmachari ashrama in the varnashrama system. Our Vaishnava tradition is full of examples of advanced Grihasthas.

We should make shoring up marriages and families a priority in ISKCON!

Leaders in our movement should insist that their disciples follow Srila Prabhupada’s instructions and get premarital counseling. For those who are already married, insist that they take marriage enrichment workshops and classes. Brahmanas and ministers should agree to perform marriages only if the couples get strong premarital education. Those who are trained, experienced and committed to following principles and chanting regular japa, should provide this premarital education.

Every Vaishnava community should contract to have the Strengthening the Bonds That Free Us Course taught in their community. Or, at the very least, have regular workshops that teach Healthy Relationship skills, qualities needed for healthy, enduring marriages, the value of commitment and realistic expectations about what marriage is and what it can and cannot do. Men should be taught to look at protecting Krishna’s daughters as a great and highly significant service.

Divorces should be discouraged and frowned upon unless there is serious physical or emotional abuse.

Let’s reflect upon the mood of our founder acharya. Whenever there was a lack of something necessary, Srila Prabhupada prioritized the missing thing. For example, he focused on brahminical development because brahmanas (the heads) were the most absent in our society. He acted in many emergency ways to address this absence. Because the marriage and family situation is in emergency or crisis mode, we should make shoring up marriages and families a priority in ISKCON!

There should be many more Krishna conscious, cultural and family activities for men, women and children including movies, games, sports, (skating, swimming, wrestling).

Intelligent thinkers in our movement should come up with ways to employ our youth so that they do not have to continually seek their livelihood in gross materialistic environments. We should engage the wonderfully expert talents of many Hare Krishna youth in management, marketing, art, business and community development.

A culture of caring is the essence of Grihastha life. We need to develop strategies to create places for devotee seniors to be cared for with love and respect.

Every devotee should support the efforts of the Grihastha Vision Team and other initiatives focused on strengthening and supporting healthy marriage and family life, with their time, money and creativity. GVT members spend a lot of time, money and energy in developing and implementing initiatives for the benefit of the entire Iskcon community. We see the work of the Grihastha Vision Team and similar Vaishnava groups as a substantial part of the 50% Srila Prabhupada left for us to do (“50% I have done and 50% you must do” –Srila Prabhupada)

Children raised in healthy wholesome families make healthy, wholesome brahmacharis and brahmacharinis, healthy, wholesome grihasthas and healthy, wholesome sannyasis! Grihasthas are enjoined to support all of the other three ashramas. Shouldn’t we prioritize this ashrama? Shouldn’t we make it strong and relevant to the mission of Srila Prabhupada?

Think about it. If we get the foundation or the seed right, we will get the whole system right. Srila Prabhupada gave us the tools and the blessings, it is up to us to appreciate and use them.
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