Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Marriage Counseling in ISKCON


By Mahatma das

Dear Maharaja and Others,

My article entitled ‘Husband as Guru’ caused concern to Bhakti Vikash Maharaj and other devotees, who felt that I have misrepresented Prabhupada when I said that the husband is not always innocent when a marriage fails. Some have gone so far as to ask the GBC to demand I retract such a statement.

I am writing another article to further elaborate on what is the proper behavior of a man in marriage and how his proper or improper behavior affects his wife in a way that can help or harm her in Krsna consciousness. This article will explain better what I meant in my so-called “misrepresentation” of Srila Prabhupada’s statement and will be forthcoming shortly. But since there have been many comments about the article, I think it wise to address a few of the concerns now.

First, regarding Maharaj’s inquiry about the divorce statistics in Iskcon, in Mayapur this year I attended a grhastha workshop given by the Grhastha Vision Team. It was at this workshop that we learned that the divorce rate in Iskcon is higher than the norm outside of Iskcon. Anyone interested in verifying this information can contact Partha Prabhu (of the Grhastha Vision Team) at

Maharaj wrote: “By predicting “that some men will not agree with me (although I doubt any woman will disagree)” the author anticipatingly dismisses any opposition from males as being mere chauvinism.”

I welcome the opposition and the opportunity to discuss issues of male/female relationships because in Iskcon, our marriage tract record is not good and if our discussion can help improve our marriages, then such discussion is welcome. So I am glad to have raised a few eyebrows and that I thus received the opportunity to address, in depth, the roles of men and women and their effects on marriage.

As a side point, quite a few men have actually appreciated the article, so I guess I was wrong in my assumption that they wouldn’t. Also, several devotees who teach marriage workshops in Iskcon expressed appreciation. I only bring this up because the negative comments on Dandavats outweigh the positive, and I just wanted readers to know that the appreciations I have received have far outweighed the criticisms.

I believe the next article I am writing (which I hope to post in a few days) will shed more light on the views you and others expressed here. My intention is to explain the male/female dynamics in a way that men understand how their behavior can make marriage difficult for their wives because women need their husbands to give them strength and support.

Also, it seems my paraphrasing Srila Prabhupada that problems in marriage are the women’s fault (which was the paraphrasing sent to me by another devotee, and to which I was responding) caused some misunderstanding. So let us look at the actual statement by Srila Prabhupada:

“Generally, separation between husband and wife is due to womanly behavior”.

By inference, this then means that separation can also sometimes be due to men’s behavior. So women are sometimes innocent. My personal experience as a counselor who deals with several marriage issues a week is that as kali-yuga progresses, good husbands are becoming more rare. And so the percentage of marriages that break up due to manly weaknesses is quickly increasing, at least from my personal experience as a counselor. But my point was that if the woman is weaker, and if it is mainly her fault that divorce takes place, a man knowing this should act in a way that he doesn’t force his wife to make such a decision. If a person is weak, you need to take better care of them.

I do marriage workshops in which devotees share their trials and tribulations in marriage. So we get to hear from both men and women. And what we see is that women with husbands who are caring, sympathetic and compassion are the most happily married and subsequently enlivened in their spiritual lives. Unfortunately, a high percentage of women in our movement are not happy in their marriage because, as they tell us, their husbands can be extremely demanding and controlling and very emotionally unsupportive and distant. My point was that happy wives are not the ones who file for divorce.

The next part of Prabhupada’s statement is that

“divorce takes place due to womanly weakness. The best course for a woman is to abide by the orders of her husband. That makes family life very peaceful. Sometimes there may be misunderstandings between husband and wife, as found even in such an elevated family relationship as that of Sati and Lord Siva, but a wife should not leave her husband’s protection because of such a misunderstanding. If she does so, it is understood to be due to her womanly weakness.”

Unfortunately, there are many men in Iskcon who are not on the level of Lord Siva and who do not protect their wives as husbands are meant to do. Now we can say a woman should still be tolerant, understanding, and congenial even with a husband with a disposition like Cyavana. But how many women can actually do this well, and while doing it remain inspired in Krsna consciousness?

The responses I received seem to almost condone the behavior of Cyavana muni. The story was not meant to justify his behavior but to glorify the behavior of his wife. Many women do stay with their husbands, but remain unhappy. My point is that the husband offers protection to his wife by being a good husband. If a wife is properly protected, she will be better off materially and spiritually, and she will be happy. In this situation, it is unlikely she will leave her husband.

Staying in an unhappy marriage is not a complete success of the grhastha asrama. Prabhupada used to say we should become ideal grhasthas (he wrote this to me personally). Certainly Cyavana is not the ideal that men should follow.

Another point is that Prabhupada authorizes a woman to leave a man who doesn’t follow the regulative principles of Krsna consciousness.

The point I wish men to understand, which is so important for our marriages and which seems to be minimized, even undermined by your comments and those who support your view (although I hope undermining this point is not your intention or theirs), is that men need to take more responsibility for the success or failure of their marriages. And if they believe that it all depends on the behavior of their wife to make a marriage work, they will usually have a very unhappy wife and marriage, and it is likely it won’t last long.

I trust that you don’t mean that men shouldn’t be responsible husbands or take responsibility for failed marriages, but your arguments will be construed that way by many in the name of fidelity to Srila Prabhupada’s words. We know that Prabhupada wanted men to be good responsible husbands. And good husbands generally have happy wives who are inspired in Krsna consciousness.

You asked for more sastric quotes. The article was actually originally written as a letter to a disciple whose husband was misusing his position in the name of husband being guru. Its intention wasn’t meant to be a sastric study of the issue but to give some practical advice to help her understand the proper behavior of a husband. Yet, even if I supply numerous sastric quotes, some will take those quotes as defending the man, and some will take the same quotes as directing the man to be a better husband. For example, the story of Cyavana is directed to women and how they should relate to a man. If a man reads that story thinking he has a right to be like Cyavana, then he has misunderstood something very basic: a devotee should be kind, compassionate and understanding in all situations.

This is just an appetizer, so to say, until my next article is out. But hopefully it has made things a little more clear.

Your servant,

Mahatma das

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