If our spouse is sentimentally following a different spiritual path, how should we deal with it?
Transcribed by: Bhaktin Raji Nachiappan
Question: If our spouse is sentimentally following a different spiritual path, how should we deal with it?
– People in general connect to spirituality by three broad channels: social, cultural and intellectual. The needs in each of these categories are different and what is important for people in these categories will also differ.
– When our spouse is following a different path, concerns can be alleviated by being non-negligent, non-imposing and being there for them in their time of need
– Advancement in devotional service in often seen in external terms. We also need to learn that living with an unfavourable spouse may make us internalise spiritual principles much more and hence lead to our advancement.
Answer (long): Generally, for people there are three broad channels by which they may connect with something spiritual. They are:
1. Social – In this category, people feel a sense of belonging when they go to a particular group and that is the major reason why they want to become religious. They are not necessarily very intellectual but they want a bigger family or community to be a part of.
2. Cultural – People follow certain activities, like worshipping the deities, fasting, hearing kathas (spiritual talks) etc. because their parents had done so and they want to continue their tradition.
It is generally seen that many Indians just visit the temple that is nearby and whatever deity is being worshipped there, whether it is based on the scripture or not does not concern them much. This is a case when people visit spiritual places out of a sense of culture. When people visit of a sense of culture, they do not even mingle as much with the people present there. In other words, the social element is not as prominent.
3. Intellectual – In this category are people who have had their questions in life answered by the study of scriptures. That is how they have become committed.
For each of these different categories, the needs are different. Which needs are being served and what will be prominent for them in their practices will also be different. For some people, going to the temple going to take darshan is important, for some hearing classes is important, for others getting together with other people after the class is important.
How to deal with spouses (or people) who are following different spiritual paths? It will depend on how such people connect spiritually. Are they are coming for cultural, social or intellectual purposes?
Generally, in India most of the paths or organisations are culturally quite similar. Most of them worship the deities, respect the cows and even if they do not follow the Vedas, there is some nominal respect for the Vedas. Hence, in that sense, the cultural practices are very similar.
Sometimes, when we come to Krishna consciousness, we expect other people to take up the whole package. We expect them to socialise with devotees only, do the cultural practices that are taught by the Krishna conscious tradition and then to accept the philosophy also. Sometimes, all this becomes too much of a dose for them. Therefore, as a first step, we need to find out some common ground, and highlight that.
In your case, for you the path was through the intellectual path. Your questions got answered and then you took up the culture i.e. committed sadhana practices.
When husband and wife are not practicing the same spiritual path, three concerns have to be addressed.
– Firstly, the spouse is afraid that because of the spiritual path, I should not lose my husband/wife. Therefore, we should not be uncaring or apathetic or leave. That concern is addressed in a short while when we have been practicing steadily and also doing our job properly.
– The second concern is that there is no imposition on them to give up their path and follow ours. Naturally, it would be harmonious if both followed the same path and if we become devotees, we would want our spouse to become devotees as well. However, if we make them feel like it is an imposition and don’t deal with them properly because they are not following our path, then this becomes an imposition.
In every relation there is a contribution that we make and an expectation we have. I gave a three-part seminar in Alachua on spiritualising our relationships. Normally when we have too much expectations in a relationship, and there is too little contribution, then for the other person it becomes overwhelming. They may feel that the relationship is becoming strained.
This may be the case for us when we become devotees, because now we are spending time in the temple in our services and hence, our contribution in the relationship goes down. On the other hand, we expect them also to practice like us. As a result, our expectation also goes up. When this happens, the relationship becomes strained. Naturally we want to give time for our spiritual life also. However, we have to make sure that our relationship with family members is not conditional to their practice of bhakti. The relationship should go on as well as it was before.
– The third concern is that our bhakti practices may also take time. We may not be as available and therefore, we have to prioritise what is especially important for them and be available for that. We may not be doing all the things that we were doing together or all the things they wanted us to do, but at least for the important things we are available.
Once we start taking care of these three aspects, i.e. we are not negligent or apathetic, we are not imposing things on them, and we are with them when they need us, then the defensiveness slowly starts going down.
If your spouse is not of an intellectual nature, then do not get into the philosophy so much. When people’s hearts and emotions are involved, their rational faculty goes down significantly. In general, it is okay to talk about philosophy when it is not personal. Without naming any particular person, saying that this philosophy does not make sense to me is fine. When somebody is trying to come into a particular path, then their rational side goes down substantially. Hence, I would say that just keep practicing bhakti.
With regards to your spouse seeing faults in you while you are trying to practice bhakti, it is important to understand that it is not so much a matter of faults. We all have faults, however, comparatively we have improved. For example, if you see that in a situation where previously you would have been provoked, but now you are able to deal with it more maturely. It is difficult for us to change everything immediately. However, if you change in especially a few areas and they see that, then it helps.
If your spouse’s connecting to a specific path is more driven due to cultural need, then if you see that cultural need can be served in the devotee community in a non-imposing way, then that might also gradually work out.
As far as faults are concerned, we all have those faults. She sees that you are chanting 16 rounds but you still have those faults. We all have those faults. Sometimes, we see our advancement in devotional service in very external terms. If we go to a temple for a program, distribute books or organised a program then that is a service we did. It is true that these are all important services, but the people whom we live with, sometimes just living with them properly will impel us to internalize our spiritual principle much more than doing these other services. It is said that doing one thing for someone is more difficult than doing something for thousand people!
If you can also see that the way you are going to deal with your spouse, that is not just going to reflect on her Krishna bhakti but also that is going to help you advance. As long as we see our spiritual life and our family life as two different things, then we feel that while I am doing this, the other doesn’t matter. However, these two are related. Both of them are channels while you are moving towards Krishna and sometimes living with unfavourable family members helps us to internalise spiritual principles much more and we can make a good amount of spiritual advancement through that also.
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