3 Pieces of Helpful Advice for Marriage in Bhakti

By Dharma-setu das - 25.3 2019

Karana and I got married on the 5th of January 2002. Since then I have received a lot of valuable advice that has at various times helped me in my marriage. Three recommendations have been particularly useful and have stood the test of time. I’d like to share these with you along with some of the realisations that I have gleamed from them.

1 – “Always Forgive One Another”

Shortly after getting married my wife and I visited my grandmother. She was 82 years old at the time and had been married for over 50 fifty years, my grandfather had passed away around 10 years previously. One evening our conversation led to her reminiscing some of her experiences in marriage. She shared that my grandfathers policy was to always to resolve a disagreement before the end of the day – don’t sleep on an argument he would say – “always forgive one another”.  If you sleep on a dispute it gets buried, issues build up and create an inimical mood. Always forgive one another, no one is perfect, forgive them for their shortcomings, forgive yourself for your shortcomings, and move on. 
Srila Rupa Goswami describes 64 qualities of Sri Krishna in his Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, the Nectar of Devotion, the 25th quality is “Forgiving”. Srila Prabhupada writes “A person who can tolerate all kinds of offenses from the opposite party is known to be forgiving” (NoD, chap 21). Forgiveness involves tolerance, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu instructs us in text 3 of His Sri Siksastaka that we need to cultivate the quality of tolerance in order to chant the maha-mantra. Our cultivation of a meaningful relationship with our spouse can provide opportunities for us to develop this quality. As we deal intimately with our spouse on a regular daily basis there are inevitably times when we disagree or do not relate with one another in ideal ways.

Acknowledging our own shortcomings and how they influence our ability to communicate allows us to be accountable to ourselves for the responses we solicit from others. In other words the way our spouse deals with us can often be reflective of the way we deal with them. Seeing how our own shortcomings are contributing to a disagreement facilitates us in being able to say the big “S” word that our false-ego often finds so difficult to say. “I’m sorry for not listening to you properly”, “I’m sorry that this situation has caused so much disturbance in our relationship”, “I am sorry that you are feeling like this, I need some help in understanding what I can do to change this?”, “I feel sorry that we have got to this point, what can we do to turn things around?”. These are some of the big “S” word statements we can use to help resolve an issue.

Srimad Bhagavatam 9.15.40 explains how Krishna is pleased by the practise of forgiveness:

“The duty of a brāhmaṇa is to culture the quality of forgiveness, which is illuminating like the sun. The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Hari, is pleased with those who are forgiving.”

As soon as we realise an opportunity to practice forgiveness we should. Krishna from within our heart helps us identify how we are contributing to the issue – it takes honesty to acknowledge and hear that truth at the time. We need to tolerate our false-ego, be courageous, and use the “S” word meaningfully. By creating a culture of forgiveness in our lives Krishna will be pleased and we will find our relationship flourishes.

2 – “Become Best Friends”

During our engagement my wife and I had the opportunity to meet with our guru-maharaja, he made the point that we should become best friends. Best friends have each others best intentions at heart – they want the best for each other and are there to support one another in achieving the ultimate best thing – favourable devotional service to Krishna. A spiritual relationship is based on knowledge in Krishna consciousness. Knowing that we are spirit soul, part-and-parcel of The Supreme Personality of Godhead, and that the goal of life is krsna-prema (love for Krishna) is the essence of that understanding.

This is confirmed in Bhagavad-gītā by the Lord Himself: “One can understand Me only through devotional service.” In beginning His teaching of the Gītā, the Lord said to Arjuna, “Because you are My devotee, I shall teach these secrets to you.” Vedic knowledge means ultimately to understand the Supreme Lord, and the process of entering into His kingdom is devotional service. That is accepted by all authentic scriptures.
– Nectar of Devotion, Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, Chap 14 – Devotional Qualifications

Relating to ones spouse as a servant of Krishna, understanding that their purpose in life is to please Krishna, rather than someone separate from God whose purpose is to satisfy our own needs is a practical implementation of this essential spiritual understanding. My wife/husband is an eternal servant of Krishna trying to reawaken their lost relationship with Him. This philosophical understanding can be practically applied in a marriage. We can ask ourselves, how can I support and encourage the devotional mood and service of my partner? What can I do to support their sadhana and service? To discuss each others spiritual needs and aspirations and support one another in fulfilling them is important.

Aside from direct devotional activities in and around the home it is also important that couples provide one another support. Taking time to listen to each another, to share experiences, and to spend time together are all important components of cultivating a meaningful friendship. Couples that sacrifice spending time together for other priorities, whether they be devotional or otherwise, are likely to become distant from one another over time which can result in all kinds of issues. Relationships take time and effort to maintain, cultivating a meaningful Krishna conscious relationship with your spouse is service. Investing time into your relationship is directly creating and maintaining stability within the Krishna consciousness society. Taking it to an extreme, men or women that are not satisfied within their marriage are likely to try and meet their needs outside of their marriage, causing so much disturbance and unhappiness within society. The maintenance, expansion, and progress of the Krishna consciousness movement is largely dependent on householders – who make up the largest social sector of our movement. For a householder sacrificing the quality of one’s relationship with one’s partner in the name of devotional service is folly.

3 – “Be kind”

Two small words that contain a lot of meaning – “Be kind”. Whilst visiting Mayapur in 2013 I had the good fortune of staying in a guesthouse with H.G Kripamoya Prabhu (ACBSP) as my next door neighbour. During one brief corridor conversation he mentioned that making it work in the grhasta ashram basically boils down to being kind.

Throughout the sastra we find instructions about cultivating kindness towards other living beings, Srila Prabhupada often quoted a phrase from text 6 of Vilāpa-kusumāñjali by Srila Raghunatha das Goswami which describes the characteristic of a devotee.

Para-duḥkha-duḥkhī, kṛpāmbudhir yaḥ. Vaiṣṇava is very kind-hearted, merciful, because he feels for others…

– Lecture on BG 2.15 — Hyderabad, November 21, 1972

In describing the qualities of a devotee (sadhu) the Srimad Bhagavatam 3.25.21 says:

The symptoms of a sādhu are that he is tolerant, merciful and friendly to all living entities. He has no enemies, he is peaceful, he abides by the scriptures, and all his characteristics are sublime.

The qualities described above give practitioners something to aspire for. Krishna provides opportunities through cultivating our relationships with our family members to develop these qualities. Our spouse is likely to be the devotee that we spend the most time with, and therefore the person that knows our strengths and weaknesses more than anyone else. Supporting one another in spiritual life means providing one another help, encouragement, and guidance when it is needed. To do this takes tolerance, we’ll need to sacrifice our time, energy, and desires to be there for our spouse and children. Our lower natures, which often push us in the direction of trying to be the controller and enjoyer, need to be tolerated in order to act for the higher purpose of acting to please Krishna’s devotees – starting with the devotees we live with. If we mistakenly think that the purpose of our spouse’s existence is our own satisfaction, we will certainly be frustrated. From frustration anger arises. Giving up this kind of false mentality we need to cultivate the knowledge that every living being is part and parcel of Krishna, by relating to our partner as their servant rather than their master. Someone may think that such a service mentality is meant to be directed towards advanced devotees only and my spouse is a neophyte and not worthy of such a service. This type of mentality is not very pleasing to Krishna who loves all His parts-and-parcels. Supporting one another involves fulfilling both spiritual and material needs in a way which is favourable to Krishna’s service. Facilitating the material needs of devotees in a way that is favourable to their progress in spiritual life is an essential and important aspect of service in the grhasta-ashram.

Broadmindedness (born from the knowledge of seeing everything in relationship to Krishna) and long term vision (keeping the goal of pure devotional service in mind) needs to be cultivated on a ongoing basis to maintain an enlivening relationship in Krishna consciousness. This ongoing cultivation is enthused through regular association with devotees and reading of Srila Prabhupada’s books.