Vanity thought #213. Duty and service.

Still can’t shake it off – the lingering doubts about the value of performing your duty in service of a non-devotee husband.

Some new comments have been posted, and the one, by Mataji Phalini, stole the limelight from what I was going to post today but that is not going to stop me…

First, I think I have and issue with two passages from the books in support of leaving fallen husbands. In Chaitanya Charitamrita Madhya 15.264 Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya is pretty clear about it

When the husband falls down, it is the wife’s duty to relinquish the relationship.

Well, my initial doubt was about Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya himself – he earlier advised Lord Chaitanya to retake sannyasa initiation from a better guru, it seems he wasn’t particularly strict about about these things and other people and even devotees might have had different opinions.

Furthermore, Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya was talking about his own daughter, if there was an impartial trial he would have been deemed as having a conflict of interest in the matter. Attachment to one’s children might cloud the judgment of anyone, especially when caught in an unfortunate moment.

What happened was that Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya just served lunch to Lord Chaitanya and it was a particularly difficult invitation to secure. He prepared a sumptuous feast to the best of his abilities and he was very glad the Lord has enjoyed it. Then his son-in-law, Amogha, walked in and criticized Chaitanya Mahaprabhu for eating too much. As Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya himself put it – I invited the Lord for lunch but instead He had to hear blasphemies. In Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya’s eyes it was all ruined and there was only one guilty party – his son-in-law.

Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya started his speech with discussing the sin of killing Amogha first but had enough presence of mind to refrain from it. Next step was telling his daughter to divorce her husband.

Maybe his reasoning was overall correct but his reaction was surely emotional and personal. Lord Chaitanya said He didn’t even see an offence because Amogha was right – a sannyasi shouldn’t eat so much. On the other hand, He also saw envy in Amogha’s heart and, when Amogha caught cholera the next day, Lord Chaitanya personally relieved him of the envy and the disease and he personally asked Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya not to take his offense seriously as Amogha was still only a boy.

So, is it right to treat Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya’s initial reaction as a scriptural injunction to abandon fallen husbands? I don’t think so. We should certainly weigh it in but it’s only one opinion, and somewhat compromised one at that, too.

Next argument is taken from Srimad Bhagavatam 7.11.28

…a chaste woman should engage with affection in the service of a husband who is not fallen

In the purport Prabhupada is very clear – if a husband is addicted to four principles of sinful activity and is not a devotee than “a chaste woman is advised not to agree to serve such a husband.”

However clear it is, we should also consider the circumstances of how this situation came about in the first place. If a devotee woman decides to marry a non-devotee man then something was clearly wrong from the start. What are the chances that leaving such a husband would be any better?

In that same purport Prabhupada says that giving up association means living separately, not a divorce per se. I think that unless one is absolutely sure the woman would be able to simply live separately from her husband without any chance of falling for another man we shouldn’t be advising this course of action.

It is easier if the woman moves into a temple but, I think, the situation should be clear to all – she is still considered to be married and she restricts association with her husband only to protect her own purity. I’m in a completely foreign territory here, however.

What if a man realizes his bad ways and accepts his wive’s reasons but can’t do anything about it due to his fallen nature? What do you tell him? Some part of him wants to be a devotee but his habits keep him strangled. Never happened to any of us?

The line with four regulative principles is pretty clear but giving them up is a process that might take quite a long time. Alcoholism, for example, is a disease and it’s largely incurable. What if the efforts to contain it are clearly there?

Would you advise to give up such “fallen” man, thus depriving him of the very opportunity to purify himself?

I think any devotee, either male or female, would approach this situation as an opportunity to preach by personal example, to bring another spirit soul back into Krishna’s fold. If our efforts are not sufficient and the progress is very slow we would blame ourselves and our own lack of devotion and as long as the partner appreciates it there shouldn’t be even a thought about leaving.

You know what they say about families – they would love you no matter what your faults are and would never give up on you, pretty much like Krishna Himself. Of course we not quite at that level yet but we know we should strive to achieve it, giving up is not an option.

If a husband says that he likes halava and this is the only reason he keeps his wife around than it is a different case. I’m talking about being sincerely sorry for one’s faults and being grateful for not giving up on him. Just like we pray to Krishna.

Come to think of it – in many ways a wife in this situation should display exactly the same qualities we ourselves search for in Krishna, should behave exactly the way we want Krishna treat us. Funny that.

There’s another twist to the story – in Srimad Bhagavatam purport Srila Prabhupada talks about serving the husband but in the original article Mataji Sundari Radhika talked about serving the duty.

There’s a difference, I believe. We serve husbands of wives for their satisfaction, we serve our duties for the satisfaction of Vishnu. We perform our duties because they were given to us by the material nature under Krishna’s guidance, because Krishna Himself told us through Bhagavat Gita that we should do so. It doesn’t really matter if the husband appreciates our service or not. There are plenty of men out there who don’t appreciate anything but it doesn’t mean all service is in vain.

This is how Mataji Sundari Radhika approaches the problem of a non-devotee husband (she is married to a nice vaishnava herself, btw). She advises to clean the house not in service of a man but in service of Vishnu, with complete detachment, just as advised in the Gita.

For example, when a woman wakes up she cleans the house and prepares breakfast, her husband should be performing some spiritual duties in the meantime but what if the slob is still in bed? He is certainly screwing up his karma, but what about the woman? Wouldn’t she screw up hers if she decides not to clean and cook? How would anyone feel about abandoning his or her duties this way?

Throughout human history there have been millions if not billions of mistreated women and many of them didn’t even think about abandoning their posts. In a karmi world they deserve recognition and they often get it but here come we, Hare Krishnas, and tell people that it’s all worth nothing and women are free to leave any time.

If a husband can’t give her the liberation he is not worth staying with, we say. I wonder how that works. Who in his right mind can guarantee liberation to anyone? A guru can, but not on his own strength, on the strength of the mercy of the previous acharyas. Does a husband have to have a parampara to rely on, too? How many husbands in the history of the universe have qualified by this criteria? Is it reasonable to expect every female devotee gets one like this, capable of giving liberation?

And wouldn’t part of this guarantee be a condition that a woman should never ever leave him not matter what his faults are?

Tricky, tricky world we live in. What can I say, I’m glad I’m not in marriage counselling business.

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