Sometimes we can notice how a devotee may - in his passionate enthusiasm - try to jump higher than his spiritual strength and maturity allows. We can compare it to a person who exercises in a gym. Instead of gradually building up his muscle strength - under the expert guidance of a physiotherapist - he may immediately attempt to lift very heavy weights and, as a result, will very likely cause injuries to his body. Likewise, a devotee may attempt to jump to higher levels of devotional advancement than he or his spouse is able to naturally reach. And as a result, the marriage may be damaged or even broken. This, unfortunately, is more common than we may think.
Over the years of preaching and guiding devotees, I have come across two main life patterns which are detrimental to a stable and harmonious family life within Krishna conscious practice. First, a wife may not be willing to give her husband’s senses shelter, fearing that by doing so she would be breaking her vow to her guru of not indulging in illicit sex. She may have the best of intentions - of desiring to make spiritual progress and pleasing her guru. Besides, she may already have one or two children, and thus her attraction to the physical act of sex will have naturally decreased - in fact, she may even feel tired and disgusted with it. In this way, she may use her promise to her spiritual master as a kind of justification to turn
her husband down.
Once we understand a man's mentality and nature more deeply, it becomes obvious that such a situation is very humiliating and painful for a husband. Where else can he go, if not to his wife? Moreover, by rejecting his request for sense gratification, she assumes a superior position - another painful and humiliating experience for the husband, by which he is made to feel that he is certainly not her hero, but a lustful loser.
As His Holiness Bhakti Tirtha Maharaja describes, celibacy that is forced upon a person externally while lacking the genuine desire to be celibate, may lead to increased anger, frustration and even violence. Or, a man may lose all self-esteem and drown himself in feelings of guilt and hopelessness. In his desperation, he may develop a habit of visiting prostitutes, or become addicted to pornography and masturbation, which are unhealthy and sinful ways of dealing with one’s sexual desires by escaping into a world of erotic fantasies outside of marriage. Unfortunately, in our Vaishnava society, much too common are all these occurrences, which we don’t
like to address, or may not even be aware of.
I recently heard an initiated devotee declare that it is by far better to visit a prostitute than approach one’s wife for sense gratification. Such are the sad misconceptions that quickly enter our society when we fail to apply the process of devotional life in a balanced way.
Oftentimes, a husband who cannot find shelter for his senses within his marriage may end up in an extramarital relationship - with somebody who is less fanatic, and is ready to fulfil his needs. I remember hearing a disciple of Srila Prabhupada making the following statement: “If a man cannot pass stool at home, he will pass stool in the street.”
When a wife keeps refusing to give her husband the shelter of intimacy, a marriage may break, whereupon the man leaves his wife and children. In such situations, we tend to blame the man, not realising that his wife may have acted as the catalyst for this undesirable turn of events.
In this connection, Ambika dasi recalls the following incident: "One of my godsisters had left her husband, and when Prabhupada asked her why, she explained that it was because he was in maya and always wanted to have sex. Srila Prabhupada responded to her in a very disappointed voice: “You could not satisfy your husband?” She seemed to believe she had ‘right on her side’ as she spoke to Srila Prabhupada and was surprised at his response.``
The second common phenomenon we can see is, the husband may force himself with the best of intentions – to be celibate, jumping higher than his spiritual strength and maturity would allow. As a result, his relationship with his wife becomes emotionally rather dry and impersonal - in fact, he has to avoid all affectionate dealings with her in order to maintain his celibacy. In order to fulfil his needs for female attention and association, he may interact with other women in a friendly and jovial manner but not with his wife, since she has become a threat to his celibacy. Hence, the atmosphere in their home becomes emotionally disturbed and unhealthy, with his wife and children suffering immensely. His motto is no affectionate dealings – not to get agitated and break his vow of celibacy!
At some point, the affection-starved wife may not be able to tolerate such an emotional imbalance in her home life; consequently, maya (or Krishna) will send a man along her way who is less fanatic and will readily fulfil her needs. And again, the marriage will inevitably break and end in a divorce, with the children suffering immensely. No doubt the society around her will blame her, not realising that her husband may have contributed to the situation despite seeming so Krishna conscious!
Let us remember that husband and wife have to work as a team, taking into account where their spouse stands on the path of spiritual strength and advancement. In this regard, the shastra will always direct us to the highest goal, while guru and sadhu will personally advise us how to reach it through a balanced spiritual practice – according to our individual situation. Thus, the help and guidance of a mentor may be of crucial importance. As long as we have material desires and attachments, we may not be able to objectively assess ourselves, nor may we always be able to understand the needs of our spouse. A trusted well-wishing friend who is spiritually mature and experienced may save our family life by giving us good counsel. Moreover, they may see which aspect of our devotional practice we need to strengthen in order to reduce our attraction to sensual pleasures.
As we may have heard many times, controlling the senses is ultimately a matter of developing a higher taste. Only a higher taste can help us give up the lower taste. Needless to say, some restrictions need to be followed in order for us to get a higher taste. However, let us remember that for most of us it is a gradual process. Our priority – of an organisation or an individual devotee – should be keeping our marriages together. This will enable us to gradually establish the grihastha-ashrama as the strong foundation of our society, where our children can grow up in an emotionally healthy and loving atmosphere. Let us begin at the grass-roots level of keeping sex within one single marriage and gradually making progress in mutual cooperation.
On the 2nd of May I moved on to participate in the most amazing event...
Your servant, Devaki dd