Rather belatedly but I finally read the “karmi husband” article on iskcon.com and the heated discussion around it. It can be found here. There’s also a response by Grihastha Vision Team but I’ll get to it later.
The original article was calling on women to serve their husbands, even non-devotee ones, to the best of one’s ability and without any complaints. Serve even meat and alcohol if required.
The reasoning went along these lines – women should act according to their stri-dharma, treating their husbands as manifestation of Krishna in the same way brahmacharies treat their gurus. As brahmacharies receive their initiations and become dvija, twice born, so women become dvija on the day of their wedding. Husbands, like gurus, according to the article, are sent by Krishna Himself so abandoning them is equal to abandoning one’s service to the spiritual master.
It doesn’t really matter whether husbands commit mistakes or not – their faults should be dealt with by their peers and superiors, not by wives, it’s not woman’s place to correct her master, her job is to serve and that’s it. Rebelling against even a wayward husband is a gravest offence.
Perform your prescribed duty, for doing so is better than not working. One cannot even maintain one’s physical body without work.
Work done as a sacrifice for Viṣṇu has to be performed, otherwise work causes bondage in this material world. Therefore, O son of Kuntī, perform your prescribed duties for His satisfaction, and in that way you will always remain free from bondage.
It is better to engage in one’s own occupation, even though one may perform it imperfectly, than to accept another’s occupation and perform it perfectly. Duties prescribed according to one’s nature are never affected by sinful reactions.
There were verses from Bhagavatam, too, but they were definitions of stri-dharma itself, not arguments in its favor.
There is also an example of Prahlada Maharaj who has never ever abandoned his super demoniac father and never ever showed him any disrespect, even after his father tried to kill him in every possible way.
We are relieved of our given duties by Krishna, we can’t go AWOL, the argument goes.
There is also an example of Srila Prabhupada’s sister, Pisima, who had a drunk, philandering meat-eater as a husband but she never gave up serving him the best she could. When she asked Prabhupada for advice he recommended that she prayed to their old family deities, Sri Sri Radha Govinda, who will arrange everything. In the meantime, he said, she should do what her mother taught her about serving a man.
I think it’s a very strong, sound position to take. Then other devotees tore it to shreds.
They gave other quotes from Prabhupada that were clear as day – fallen husbands should be abandoned. There were quotes from the purport to Srimad Bhagavatam, 7.11.28
It is recommended, therefore, that a chaste wife not associate with a fallen husband. A fallen husband is one who is addicted to the four principles of sinful activity — namely illicit sex, meat-eating, gambling and intoxication. Specifically, if one is not a soul surrendered to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he is understood to be contaminated. Thus a chaste woman is advised not to agree to serve such a husband.
There was also a quote from Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 15.264
Inform my daughter Ṣāṭhī to abandon her relationship with her husband because he has fallen down. When the husband falls down, it is the wife’s duty to relinquish the relationship.
On the face of, the arguments against serving a non-devotee husband are stronger because they were given specifically to address our situation as followers of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and ISKCON.
With strong arguments came strong words, from both sides. The author somehow managed to mention ISKCON ministries dealing with women in less than favorable way, and also those who turn to these ministries for help instead of sticking it out.
In turn she was called naive and immature and ignorant of the shastras and dangers of living a sinful life and values of devotion.
Still, there are many holes in both lines of attack. Some started talking about husbands, for example, but their responsibilities and failures are clearly irrelevant to the discussion, they just lead the debate astray. And attacking feminism in ISKCON is also counterproductive – some women really suffer in their marriages and they deserve all the help they can get, from feminists or not.
There are so many aspects to this issue that it’s impossible to lay down a clear cut solution for each and every case out there. There was a ray of hope, however, and it came from a devotee attacking the article:
Pisima was not in danger of falling down due to her husband’s bad association; she was trained from earliest childhood in both the principles of stri-dharma, and Vaisnavism. A weaker woman would almost certainly succumb to her husband’s bad influence. If we have Pisima’s devotion and spiritual strength, maybe then we can imitate her chastity. Otherwise, it’s risky. The first principle is to save yourself.
The issue is not whether a husband is a devotee, it’s whether one’s husband or wife is an impediment to one’s Krishna consciousness.
I think the nail has had his head hit here – it’s our devotion that really matters. It’s not the question whether husbands are pure or fallen, it’s the effect of serving them on women’s consciousness that is important.
Some female devotees are so strong in their faith and determination that even cooking meat for their husbands doesn’t affect them. Some are not so strong and might suffer from bad association.
That answers it – we should pray to Krishna and we should firmly believe that our fate is only in His hands and nothing could happen to us without His sanction and everything that happens to us is for our ultimate benefit.
Someone reminded in this connection:
Whatever happened to:
mam ekam saranam vraja
aham tvam sarva-papebhyo
moksayisyami ma sucah
Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.
Maybe Krishna will arrange a Women Protection Ministry or whatever they are called to find and save an unfortunate devotee from her predicament, maybe husband will be so impressed by his wife’s humility and devotion that he will abandon his evil ways and become a devotee, too. That’s what happened to Pisima’s husband, apparently.
Having said that, not everybody is strong enough and devotees with less faith should not be abandoned. For them Krishna provides the chance to escape themselves. Maybe they will live with the guilt of abandoning their post for the rest of their lives, maybe not. At the end of the day even this guilt is beneficial, it gives strength and intelligence for the next test.
Running away from one’s duties is not recommended but not if one clearly lacks spiritual strength to perform them in full Krishna consciousness, and we can’t stop women from leaving their husbands anyway but I don’t think we should encourage this behavior either.
There’s one very important point in Prabhupada’s advice from Srimad Bhagavatam – the woman should not remarry! If she leaves her husband that’s it, no more family life for her, it’s like taking sannyasa.
Of course if one doesn’t have strength to stay with her husband then it’s natural to expect there will be no strength to resist marrying someone else either.
Urghhh, I think it’s impossible to stop people from making big mistakes in Kali Yuga, I think we should focus on what we can instead of what we can’t. I’m also very impressed with Krishna for being able to keep track of all this crap and perfectly arrange everyone’s path in life according to what he or she deserves and what is best for their devotional progress.
Finally, the response by Grihastha Vision Team was a bit disappointing to me. It was vague and elusive and contained an unhealthy doze of self-promotion. It reminded me of a pest control websites I’ve seen recently where the worst thing that could possibly happen in life is if one tries to catch a mouse himself – it is a job solely for the highly trained professionals with decades of experience and latest and most expensive equipment.
Still, I don’t think this kind of decisions were taken without any consultation with seniors even in Vedic times, we surely need someone to serve in this role now and if they are organized into some sort of a ministry than it’s great, and maybe there’s benefit in slowing things down and talking about everything and nothing at the same time if it diffuses the situation and allows people to think clearly and prevents them from making any haste decisions.
Following our duties is nice, no doubt about that, but developing one’s devotion is even higher. We can fail in performing our duties and go up and down through all the planets in universe but devotion only accumulates, we should remember that, too.
At the end of the day, devotion is the only thing we should really count, the rest is temporary, illusory, and immaterial.