Does one have to give up one’s material life on becoming an ISKCON member, even if one doesn’t become a brahmachari?
Transcribed by: Krishna Dhan das
Question: Does one have to give up his family life on becoming an Iskcon member if one doesn’t become a brahmachari?
Answer: No it’s not about giving up our material life but it is about integrating and harmonizing our material life with our spiritual life. So the key thing is to recognize that our goal of life is Krishna because International society of Krishna Consciousness is meant to bring us closer to Krishna. So how do we come closer to Krishna? By committing ourselves to him. And committing to Krishna involves certainly at one level investing significant amount of time in direct devotional activities. There is study of scripture, association of devotees, chanting of the holy names, going on pilgrimages, but along with that it also includes spiritualizing our material life. So sometimes in some places some immature devotees may give a perception that to be a devotee means to renounce material life but Iskcon is based on the example and teachings of Bhagavad Gita and example in it is that of Arjuna. Arjuna did not renounce his material life but instead spiritualized his material life. The important point is whatever spiritual wisdom, spiritual insights, spiritual impressions we get by doing direct devotional activities, we carry them in our heart and then we use them to infuse spiritual motives and spiritual purpose even in our worldly activities. For e.g. if somebody is a student then he should definitely not give up his studies. He can study seeing it as a service to Krishna understanding that Krishna has put me into this situation and by studying I am doing my service which Krishna has given me and by doing it for Krishna’s pleasure I am actually integrating study as a part of my Bhakti. So how do we do it for Krishna’s pleasure? Firstly we do it because Krishna has put us in this situation and doing that is essentially a devotional service. Secondly if we are having adequate spiritual connection through our sadhana then even our material life helps us deepen our connection with Krishna. We understand that in Bhagavad Gita Krishna says:Karmana cha abhyar tha…- worship me through your work. So we study and excel in our studies for the sake of Krishna and he is satisfied even if we excel or don’t excel because Krishna sees the endeavour and not the result. Just working for Krishna’s pleasure can give us deep fulfillment. And that satisfaction and fulfillment is missing for those who are working just for worldly results of success or fame. Beyond that we also need to recognize that Krishna is our greatest well-wisher, he is our ultimate goal in everything that we do. So if I am having a family and if I take care of my family responsibilities then I do it understanding that these are not just my family members, they are all precious parts of Krishna who have been entrusted in a relation with me. So by serving them, taking responsibility of them, I am going closer to Krishna and in that way we will all be able to spiritualize our activities. Now sometimes it may appear that a devotee is giving up his material life because a devotee may give up many of the frivolous activities that are standard in material life today. For e.g. a devotee may not spend time in ideal gossip, chit chat, watching TV, reading newspapers and going for mundane parties etc.. We don’t have to equate material life with today’s stereotyped material life. If we see what is considered to be fashionable or cool today that was not the case 50 or 100 years ago and that is not the case in many parts of the world. There are material activities which weaken or wreck our connection with Krishna. So there are regulative principles viz. no meat eating, no gambling, no intoxication and no illicit sex. So if we indulge in these activities then it weakens our connection with Krishna so devotees give it up. Now for those who indulge in these activities, for them it may seem as if a devotee is giving up material life itself but the point is that the devotee is not giving up material life but the devotee is giving up peculiar conception of material life which has become mainstream today. So a devotee can have a respectable and feasible material life in terms of having a family and career. And he can pursue family and career responsibilities diligently without necessarily conforming to today’s stereotype of what a successful person needs to be. So devotees can be performers in their field and even successful in terms of their productivity, their competence but they don’t have to conform to all the things that go on in the name of being cool. And that does not mean giving up material life. There are people, though they may be few, because of their principles they decide for e.g. that they will not eat non vegetarian food even if everyone else around them is eating and in today’s mutli-cultural society although there may be a little bit pressure to conform but over a period of time there is also a respect for diversity and people are left alone to do what they feel is right. So there are many people who have active material life but even in that they chose how they are going to live their material life. They may choose to avoid eating non vegetarian food. There are even few people in society who are teetotallers; they refuse to drink. And if people make these kinds of choices they should be respected for that. Their individuality and their freedom of choosing how they wish to live must be respected. As devotees we shouldn’t be neglecting or evading our material responsibilities in the name of devotion. That sort of thing is actually renunciation in the mode of passion or ignorance and that doesn’t lead to spiritual advancement. So if some devotees have done like that then we should know that it is not the right example and we should look at those devotees who are having healthy balance between their material and spiritual life and we follow their example and that way we can grow steadily in our spiritual life. So becoming a devotee doesn’t mean that we have to give up our material life. We may have to give up certain conceptions of what it means to pursue a material life. As a devotee we pursue our material life as per Krishna’s terms. We execute our family, professional and other responsibilities diligently and competently but we integrate them within the framework of our Krishna Bhakti. Thank You.