Krishna Conscious family life is consistent with the teachings and example of Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada’s teachings must be applied with consideration of time, place and circumstance. In the field of grihastha life, one should take into account the local culture without compromising Srila Prabhupada’s teachings. One should not attempt to simply transpose practices from one culture to another without understanding the principles and values underpinning them.
Family life (and the home itself) should be an ashrama, a place for spiritual culture. The grihastha ashrama is considered higher than the brahmachari ashrama, an opportunity for personal and spiritual growth by extending one’s responsibility. Mutual respect between the ashramas is an essential feature of a healthy society. Personal growth and character formation are integral to the process of spiritual development. Though Vaisnava theology values ultimate renunciation, such renunciation has to be internal and mature. Otherwise it is inappropriate and may be dangerous both individually and socially.
The Gaudiya Vaisnava theology offers a clear conceptual model to address issues of unity and diversity, and contemporary notions of equality and underpinning views and values. Men and women exhibit general physical and psychological differences that need to be acknowledged as practical realities, while simultaneously avoiding rigid and/or unhealthy stereotypes. Husband and wife best negotiate their respect roles with consideration of Krishna Consciousness and their own personal and cultural backgrounds. Men and women have equal rights to practice spiritual life, and to develop their individual relationships with Krishna. Householders are advised to integrate—as far as possible—their material and spiritual identities. Even though the latter is ultimately more important, a devotee should not neglect self-understanding on the material level.
One should enter the grihastha ashrama with the correct attitudes and expectations, especially being careful to avoid misinterpretation of scriptural truths and/or being influenced by inappropriate personal/social paradigms. One should, as far as possible, avoid both negative attitudes and unrealistic expectations towards married life—both may dampen one’s enthusiasm. It is also essential to hold before oneself suitable criteria for “a successful marriage.” Marriage should be chosen for the appropriate reasons—for example, out of a sense of one’s individual dharma rather than a mentality of profit-calculation. • Long-term vision and strategic planning are important aspects of householder life—while simultaneously maintaining a mood of dependence on Krishna. Support from elders, as far as possible/practical, is important in entering into any marriage arrangement.
Respect for all others is a basic Vaisnava value. Without mutual appreciation, it is not possible to develop more intimate relationships. A decline in appreciation will lead to a deteriorating relationship. One should visibly appreciate the spouse, even (or especially) for regularly-performed or obligatory duties. One should learn to develop intimacy without familiarity. Grihasthas should develop a sense of mutual protection—though this may be expressed in different ways by/for each partner.
With determination and unshakable commitment one can surmount the inevitable hard times that come in married life. Affection and love don’t happen automatically—as in the popularized concept of romantic love—but are developed through service. Divorce should be avoided at all costs, i.e. except in exceptional circumstances.
One should set aside quality time for heart to heart communications with the spouse and children. Revealing one’s heart/mind in confidence, and listening, are important exchanges between Vaisnavas. One should maintain open dialogues with appropriate others, and avoid denial, especially on sensitive issues, e.g. intimacy and sex-life. It is often useful to actively seek training in communications skills.
Entering the grihastha ashram is an opportunity to take on more Krishna Conscious responsibility. Devotees, as servants of Krishna, are also servants of society. Devotees can preach effectively by demonstrating responsibility, integrity, and other exemplary qualities. Taking suitable responsibility is essential in overcoming negative emotions and perceptions, such as low self-esteem, discouragement, feelings of failure, etc.
An important householder duty is to generate wealth and prosperity by ethical means. A householder should not neglect his duties regarding wealth and developing economic stability. Poverty, as well as greed, can be impediments to spiritual life. A devotee should avoid an unhealthy poverty-mentality, understanding the potential benefits of prosperity, both individually and to promote Krishna Consciousness. Charity is an essential duty for grihasthas.
Nurturing spiritually qualified children is the main purpose of married life, and their welfare is the main priority of householders. Children should not be neglected for any reason, e.g. in the name of so-called spiritual life. Parents should recognize the difference between a children’s various legitimate and essential needs and their “wants.” Financial stability is necessary to help fulfil children’s needs. Proactive steps must be taken to avoid all forms of child abuse.Parents best develop affection and a sense of protection and responsibility towards all children in the community, not just their own offspring. • Krishna Consciousness should be made relevant and accessible to children, especially teens. Hypocrisy is most damaging to children’s faith in the Krishna Conscious process and the corresponding authority figures. Parents should accept appropriate support and training in regards to rearing children.
It is natural to have affection for others, and especially other Vaisnavas. Krishna consciousness does not accrue from simply negating or stifling worldly-affection; nor are family ties necessarily an impediment to Krishna Consciousness. A stable emotional background, where family members feel wanted and appreciated, is essential for children’s personal and spiritual growth. There is great value in a strong sense of community, as traditionally expressed through the extended family.
Regulation is an important feature of devotee life, especially for householders who have to juggle many different types of responsibility. Devotees moving to the second ashram should anticipate significant changes in lifestyle. Some difficulties in establishing a balanced and regulated lifestyle are to be expected, and one should seek suitable support and guidance. • Householders require recreation and social life, and should develop suitable means, such as spiritually based social gatherings. Household life is to facilitate regulated sense-enjoyment. A householder should maintain healthy attitudes towards sense-enjoyments, demonstrating neither strong attraction nor inappropriate aversion. Householders should maintain their spiritual priorities (e.g. sadhana), as well as upholding their more-worldly obligations. Suitable engagement with the world is often an integral part of both personal growth and outreach —preaching. Preaching without practical example is not effective. Devotee householders should demonstrate such exemplary lifestyles that others become inquisitive as to what underlies their success. Role models, especially in the form of successful grihasthas, are very much needed within the Society. Devotee householders should negotiate and establish their own lifestyles, with reference to Krishna Conscious principles and values with consideration of their individual natures, needs, backgrounds, etc