Vanity thought #556. And what of women?

Yesterday’s episode with Amogha has another interesting dimension to it – the possibility of divorce. That’s what Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya demanded of his daughter right away – abandon her husband, Amogha, and become a widow.

All in all I think Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya was a little bit hot-hearted in this story, even Lord Chaitanya said as such – Amogha is very young, he is your dependant, he is practically your child, you can’t take his offences seriously. There was even talk about how punishment of Amogha would tarnish Sarvabhauma’s own reputation, too.

Still, the recommendation to Sathi to abandon her husband was there. In the comments Srila Prabhupada cites the verse from Bhagavatam where it’s said that unless one can deliver his wife or children from material existence one should not become a husband or a father, and that such fallen husbands can be abandoned for the sake of service to Krishna.

By criticizing Lord Chaitanya Amogha certainly could have been considered the most fallen. Even Sarvabhauma’s wife couldn’t accept his behavior, quite unlike Draupadi who saved Ashvatthama from death (both Amogha and Ashvatthama were brahmanas).

I guess people can interpret this episode in a way that suits them as we don’t have a final verdict from Srila Prabhupada.

Personally I prefer the mood of Draupadi in her instructions to Satyabhama in Mahabharata, but I’m not the one who has to follow them, of course. Still, they appear perfect to me, though certainly not easy.

The entire Draupadi-Satyabhama Samvada can be found here, scroll down to page 473.

I don’t know what they mean by “wiked” females, I guess it’s women who get what they want by playing on men’s weaknesses towards the fair sex. Draupadi rejects such attitude altogether. In her mind there’s no place for exploiting her husbands in any way, and she had five of them!

Her attitude of completely selfless service is remarkable. There’s simply no time in her life where she would think “I deserved the rest, a down time, some me-time”, or that she thought she could ask her husbands for any kind of presents or gifts or anything.

Today’s women have absolutely no qualms about asking men to provide them with this or with that but Draupadi’s outlook is completely opposite. She doesn’t see her husbands as the source of her pleasure, all she thinks about in her life is the pleasure and convenience of her husbands, service to them is the source of her happiness. I don’t think I can even say “satisfaction” here because it appears there’s no place for satisfaction in her outlook whatsoever.

This is how we should serve Krishna, too – without as much as a thought of getting anything in return. Unfortunately it’s not so easy to find examples of devotees behaving just like that. There’s Srimad Bhagavatam, of course, but Draupadi provides a much more detailed description of her service in such a way that it’s very easy to relate to.

When we think about serving Krishna we have no idea what it means. We have a better idea of serving our guru but that is not for everybody, most of us have to contend with serving guru’s instructions, and that’s where it gets fuzzy. Draupadi, on the other hand, describes uninterrupted, 24/7 service to her husbands, and for women that is supposed to be their main mission. From Draupadi’s example every woman can understand how to do it herself.

One could argue that Draupadi had Pandavas for husbands, best devotees in the three worlds ever, and Satyabhama was Krishna’s wife, so they both had no concerns about qualifications of their husbands. This implies that if our modern women were married to Krishna or Pandavas instead of fallen souls like us, modern men, then they could serve in the spirit of Draupadi. That is the same “If you want me to behave like Sita, behave like Rama yourself first” argument.

I believe it has little to no merit – it’s our own service we are talking about, we can’t justify slacking off because someone else does. Having husbands like Pandavas is a blessing, not a pre-condition. Nowhere in her speech Draupadi gave any indication that less exalted husbands deserve less dedicated service. In fact in one place she mentioned something that could be considered as her husbands faults and told Satyabhama to persevere with praising them regardless.

As a man I don’t have my service set out for me with such clarity, that’s unfortunate but at least I can try to imbibe the spirit. What I do have is an unassailable example of how women should behave in case someone starts arguing their “freedom”. There’s no such thing, not for them, not for me, not for anybody. Our own interests must be sacrificed fully and unconditionally and interests of our gurus or husbands must occupy not only central, but all available place in our hearts.

We ourselves might be fallen but our standards should not be compromised.

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.

Vanity thought #211. Duty vs. Devotion.

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.

In support of this position the author mentioned Bhagavat Gita, verses 3.8, 3.9, and 18.47.

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:

sarva-dharman parityajya
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.

Indeed.

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.