Mature practitioners in the Hare Krishna tradition choose to accept vows of purity. Individuals or couples solemnly vow to avoid intoxicants, illicit sex, meat-eating and gambling, and to chant 16 rounds of the maha-mantra daily. To preserve these holy vows that are taken before the Deity, before the fire and before the Vaishnavas are the most important practices in spiritual life. Caring for one another in a marriage means protecting these principles in each other’s lives by our example and by our words.
Yet, if the husband or the wife is not following these principles, we do not have the right to reject that person because we feel superior. The day may come when the roles are reversed, for pride leads to a loss of austerity. Without being condescending and self- righteous, whoever is strict can humbly help the lax one and the lax one must be willing to accept that help. This is teamwork, an exchange of affection in which one person’s misfortune of distraction becomes turned around by the other person’s gift of focus.
If we have too high an estimation of ourselves, we will turn our ashrama into a war zone and this war may not be over fundamentals, like the regulative principles, but more minor infractions-wasting time, wasting money, inappropriate behaviour, harsh language, and so forth. Whatever the cause of upset, the exchange about it and the mood toward it can still be good-natured and hopeful, instead of angry and accusative. Contempt is a corrosive that over time breaks down the bond between husband and wife. Instead of contempt and pride we can try for light-heartedness and submission. When we are honourable ourselves it is natural for us to honour each other.
For those who care about the other, confronting that person is not easy; the act has a great potential for arrogance, for to confront is to assume a position of moral superiority over the other-we confront because we want to change the course of that person’s life. The reality is that at times, we do know better about a certain matter than the other and we are obliged to confront the other with the problem. To do this effectively, we must stringently examine the value of our “wisdom” and our motives behind offering it. This self-scrutiny and self-doubting requires the unusual combination of meekness and strength. To fail to confront when confrontation is required is as detrimental as self-righteous condemnation. When circumstances require it, a partner must, sparingly and carefully, confront the other, and in turn, submit to being confronted by the other.
Here are some points to consider when thinking of quitting a marriage that is non-abusive. (It should be understood that devotees are not expected to remain committed to a relationship that is physically and/or emotionally abusive. We’re not fanatics about commitment; commitment should not be at the expense of one’s mental, physical, or emotional well-being.) The Latin root of “com” means “jointly,” and “mittere” means, “to send.” In marriage, commitment is a journey by two people who have oneness in purpose. When we unearth the taproot of commitment, we come to our commitment to the Supreme Lord Krishna, from Whom the quality of commitment originally emanates, in Whom it eternally reposes, and Who Himself is the perfection of commitment. Sri Krishna says: “To those who are constantly devoted to serving Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me. To show them special mercy, I, dwelling in their hearts, destroy with the shining lamp of knowledge the darkness born of ignorance.” (Bg 10.10-11) The Lord is unwaveringly committed to selflessly serve those who serve Him selflessly.
Marriage is difficult and once that fact is accepted, the fact that marriage is difficult no longer matters. Sometimes, due to the nature of false ego, there may be tremendous conflict and disagreement between husband and wife but if, in this darkness, their mutual commitment to their relationship prevails, that commitment can carry their relationship beyond its troubles to greater intimacy. When quitting is not an option and is not justified, the alternative-sooner or later-is overcoming the difficulty. Difficulties are inevitable, but overcoming them-not quitting-is optional and requires our discipline, courage and wisdom. Our reward is to again resonate, to grow in kindness, in trust and in trustworthiness. Problems and conflict are not an opportunity to quit but to move forward, to become unstuck. As Krishna is mystical, so non-negotiable commitment to His service is also mystical because, by His grace, we can deal with a problem when we take responsibility for it. When the Lord sends us a test, He simultaneously gives us the ability to pass that test if we so desire. “The Lord is so kind to His devotee that when severely testing him the Lord gives him the necessary strength to be tolerant and to continue to remain a glorious devotee.” (SB 8.22.29-30)
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur spoke on difficulties in his last speech to the members of the Gaudiya Math, delivered on December 23, 1936. He said, “Living in this world one has to face many kinds of difficulties. It is not our job to try and remove those difficulties. Nor should they depress us. We have no attachment or hostility towards anyone in this world. All arrangements of this world are temporary. Everyone has an indispensable need for the Absolute Truth. May all of you with one goal and in harmony with each other, attain the right to serve the original asraya-vigraha [Krishna].”
We become a husband or a wife as a service to Krishna. Difficulties are not a reason to stop that service or to become discouraged. They are an opportunity, however painful, to serve with fewer conditions. In the end, that self-sacrifice becomes self-enhancement because, for a devotee, sacrifice is an offering to please the Lord. Sacrifice is the surrender of something desirable for the sake of something having a higher claim. We surrender so that we can please Srila Prabhupada.
By Visakha Dasi