Householder Life

Marriage and Family Life

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati emphasized that householders should not be materially attached to their families, but spiritually attached to Krishna. He differentiated the grha-vrata—an ordinary worldly person addicted to the home-oriented bodily conception of existence, and thus sworn to sense enjoyment centered around marital life—from what he called the Krishna-vrata, one whose being is dedicated to Krishna. By adopting the mood of a Vaisnava grhastha, as expressed by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura in songs such as those beginning ‘āmāra’ balite prabhu and mānasa deha geha yo kichu mora, devotees should not consider themselves masters of their homes, nor should they be servants of their wives, but servants of the real master, Krishna. They should loosen their domestic moorings and become purified by regularly serving and hearing from the matha-vasis. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati did not think it sufficient that grhasthas simply practice basic sadhana at home; he exhorted them to dedicate at least as much energy in serving Hari as they did for satisfying their kin, and taught that Hari-seva was best conducted in conjunction with the Matha:

We will not be benefitted by making a show of worshiping the Lord while remaining averse to serving matha-vasis engaged in Krishna-kirtana. By respectfully serving matha vasis we become qualified to chant the holy name—that is, our taste for chanting will increase. If we instead remain absorbed in serving bodily relatives, we will not be able to chant harinama. But if grhastha devotees, by the strength gained from sadhu-sanga and bhajana, can get free from the sense of being the doer, and of household attachments, then instead of considering their family members objects of personal enjoyment, they will be able to understand them as meant for Krishna’s pleasure, and thus will be benefited.

Srila Sarasvati Ṭhakura exhorted grhastha disciples to keep Krishna in the center of their family by developing Goloka-darsana rather than jagad-darsana:

Do not see your fathers and mothers as a means to your own sense gratification, but as Krishna’s fathers and mothers. Do not see your sons as a means to your personal enjoyment, but as belonging to the group of servitors of Bala Gopala. Engage your eyes in seeing the kadamba tree, the river Yamuna and its sandy bank, and the beauty of the full moon. Then you won’t have any more mundane feelings. You will see Goloka, and the splendor of Goloka will be manifest in your home. Hence you will not have any material feelings for your home. You will be relieved from propensities for ordinary householder life.

At a grha-pravesa Srīla Sarasvati Ṭhakura explained the proper understanding of this ritual of entering a house for the first time:

Those who enter into household life following the rules of the external world will be increasingly absorbed in illusion. Entering the grhastha-asrama, and grha-pravesa, are as essential for grhastha devotees as is entering the sannyasa-asrama [for other devotees]. Grha-pravesa should be celebrated only by a devotee, not a nondevotee. When a devotee enters his house we should know that he has actually entered his matha. One should enter one’s house only for serving and thinking of Krishna and making everything conducive for that. A grhastha should always avoid bad association and gossip. He should carefully nurture such qualities as enthusiasm, determination, and patience, and devotional practices like hearing and chanting. The essential duties of a householder are to serve Hari-guru Vaisnavas, chant śrī-nāma, associate with sadhus, and hear about the Lord. If all his endeavors are directed toward Hari-seva then a  householder will definitely benefit, be protected, and fulfil the purpose of life.

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati did not encourage brahmacaris to marry. Having left their homes and families to search after Krishna, there should have been no question of their returning to family life. He particularly disliked if brahmacari disciples who had donned red cloth, a sign of commitment to perpetual celibacy, later reneged. But if they were adamant, he allowed them to wed on the understanding that within their homes they would continue following the regulations of devotional life. He instructed that men should cohabit with their wives only for bringing forth Vaisnava children, not for sense gratification.

Sri Sambhu Babu of Calcutta had remarried after the death of his first wife, and spent all the dowry money for purchasing devotional books. Shortly after this second marriage, he approached Srī Siddhanta Sarasvati at Vrajapattana for advice on practicing bhakti as a grhastha, only to be told that family life is full of trammels to Hari-bhajana. The demoralized Sambhu Babu then crossed the river and in Kuliya put the same query to Srila Gaura Kisora dasa Babaji, who advised him to serve his wife, considering her a devotee, rather than be served by her. Unable to accept Babaji Maharaja’s view, the now fully despondent Sambhu Babu returned to Calcutta. Srila Sarasvati Thakura explained:

Sambhu Babu thought, “Babaji Maharaja used to perform bhajana amid renunciation, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhakura amid enjoyment.” But I did not acknowledge that opinion. I said, “The renunciation of Srila Raghunatha dasa Gosvami, Srī Ramananda Raya, Sri Pundarika, Sri Sivananda Sena, and Sri Srivasa Pandita are not different. Bhaktivinoda Ṭhakura’s path of yukta-vairāgya and Babaji Maharaja’s path of yukta-vairāgya are not different. Srivasa Pandita’s son fixed in service and Sivananda Sena’s son serving Gauranga are both Krishna’s sons, Krishna’s associates appearing through the sandhinī-śakti. If one sees them materially, he commits offenses.”

He further warned:

One’s home, which is the abode of his enjoyment, and the temple, the abode of Hari’s service, are not identical. Therefore, serving the family is not the same as serving the Lord. The mentality of an attached householder and the propensity of a devotee to serve Hari are distinct. Of course for persons actually engaged in Hari-bhajana, the maṭha and their home are the same. And for those unable to practice Hari-bhajana, in both places they will be disturbed by illusion.

If we think that serving our family is synonymous with serving Hari, then there is no possibility for spiritual advancement. As long as we remain attached to and focused on our temporary relatives and the life we build with them, it is impossible to serve Hari. If we are bound by such temporary mundane affections, then that affection will become the object of our service.

Vaisnavas are interested not in feeding poisonous snakes with milk and bananas, but in devotional service. Should they realize that family life has become incongenial for their devotional service, they leave home.

Reproduced with permission from the book Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Vaibhava by Bhakti Vikasa Swami.