Why do children of devotees sometimes not become devotees?
Transcription by- Keshav Gopal Das
Question- Why sometimes children of devotees do not become devotees? Rather they go to materialistic extremes. How this happens?
Answer- In scriptures we find many examples of devotees whose children were not devotees. For example, Maharaja Anga was a very virtuous king but got a demoniac son Vena. In Chaitanya Charitamrita, we see example of Advaita Acharya, who was the eternal associate of Lord himself, whose one of the sons became an impersonalist.
We need to understand that a soul is free to make choices. Parent’s consciousness at the time of conception may attract a particular kind of soul, but that soul is a free person and will make its own choices in its life.
As far as our ISKCON movement is concerned, the way it was started, it was a radical cultural transplant. Through Srila Prabhupada the spiritual tradition of India was brought to West and the first generation of devotees were very dedicated to Prabhupada. They did a lot to share Krishna bhakti all over the world, but they did not know much about parenting. There is an old saying – it takes a whole village to raise a child.
As parents, we should understand that children also have their needs. Sometimes for the children of first generation in ISKCON, their needs may not have properly taken care off. Bhakti is a spiritual need, but apart from that, there will be other needs like social, emotional, physical etc., all of which needs to be properly taken care of. Some of the devotee parents of early ISKCON did not have an idea on parenting and some probably were not fully equipped to raise their children. So, the children of such first generation devotees do have valid grievances.
We should be careful in seeing children of devotee parents not accepting devotional practices as a test for parent’s devotion. This could be one characteristic but not the only characteristic.
A similar example of spiritual master’s accepting disciples can be given here. Compared to parents, the spiritual masters are much more exalted, but sometimes we do see that the initiated disciples of such spiritual masters turn away from devotional life. Remember that the disciples actually take serious vows but children do not take vows. So when such disciples deviate, does this mean that the spiritual master was to blame for their turning away? No.
Our goal should be that we provide everyone facility to practice bhakti. If for some reason children have deviated, parents should still keep affectionate relationship with them. Devotee children generally have experience of higher taste of bhakti, for example during their childhood when they would have heard kirtans, taken darshan etc. They may have had some unpleasant or even terrible experiences, but still they would have had higher taste of bhakti. That taste will be there and in due course of time the higher taste may resurface and bring them back to bhakti.
I know one devotee friend in India who was born in a devotee family. When he came to teenage years he was rebellious. Teenage brings rebellion with it. He just got deviated and started exploring many things. At that time India was becoming westernized. He got attracted to a famous American musician when his concert was held in India. He really became very attracted to it and made all the effort to go long distance, spend lot of money, rushed through crowds to attend his live show. His friends were there with him cheering in the crowds, but all of a sudden it struck him, that this music is just noise! He felt, that simplest kirtans in the temple are sweeter! He got that realization because he had higher taste of doing bhakti in his childhood.
The moral of the story is that how realization of bhakti will awaken in someone, we cannot say.
Just because if some of our loved ones are not practicing bhakti, we should not antagonize them. We should not spoil the relationship. The devotional impressions in children will revive sometime in their life and bring them to Krishna. But, if the parents become too judgmental, then it is possible that the children may not turn to bhakti, even if they want to at some point in their lives, due to ego. We should respect their individuality, provide them all possible facility for bhakti and should never impose.