Raising Children as Devotional Service (Bhakti)

The subject for today’s blog came out from a letter to the Editor of Back to Godhead in the current issue (Nov/Dec). The letter was by a Godbrother and friend of mine, which made a distinction given by Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur, between “duties of the world” that are connected with Bhakti, and “direct” Bhakti which is generally thought of as the 9 processes of devotional service. (Actually from one perspective, “direct devotional service” is only in the Lila of Krishna and Mahaprabhu, but that is a side point.)


The subject for today’s blog came out from a letter to the Editor of Back to Godhead in the current issue (Nov/Dec). The letter was by a Godbrother and friend of mine, which made a distinction given by Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur, between “duties of the world” that are connected with Bhakti, and “direct” Bhakti which is generally thought of as the 9 processes of devotional service. (Actually from one perspective, “direct devotional service” is only in the Lila of Krishna and Mahaprabhu, but that is a side point.)

So we are begging the question as to what constitutes devotional service. This is an old question in the Krishna consciousness movement—which has a lot of baggage from misunderstanding what “real” or “direct” devotional service is, and applying that view in a less than compassionate, fanatical way. I am not saying my friend was, but because of our sensitivities due to history we have to really think about and clarify what devotional service is.

As a member of the North American Grihastha Vision Team we are working to create educational programs and support for Grihasthas (spiritual minded married couples) as well as for potential couples to better prepare future marriages. In decades past when the movement was primarily dominated by young brahmacaris and sannyasis, the culture existed of disrespect for married life, women, and children. The GVT is endeavoring to pick up Krishna conscious married life from years of neglect and reestablish it to the important and respectable position it deserves.

I also think that my friend was speaking as a Temple leader who was expressing some frustration at having householder devotees not coming forward to do temple service, due to family responsibilities. This is understandable. Prabhupada wanted the Temples to be the center of devotees lives.

Temple services are important, yet whose responsibility are they? That depends on who you ask.

The Temple leaders may lament that the Temple can only continue if the congregation takes more responsibility. On the other side, the congregation may complain that the Temple leaders are not sympathetic to how difficult it is to maintain one’s household life and do Temple service—and it is there responsibility anyway! The point of bringing this up is to show that there are different perspectives concerning where one’s focus in life should be. This is also an old controversy, which is meant to help us examine what devotional service is.

When we do what many consider “direct” service at the Temple, our body is physically, observably engaged in devotional service, as it is when we engage in hearing, chanting or many of the nine types of devotional service. In comparison, if we are working at our place of business, or serving the needs of our children, we don’t appear to have anything to do with devotional service.

Are the external activities we do the only way to consider what constitutes devotional service?

If that is true then only the first category would be “real” devotional service. In the second example devotees who are working in the world to support what they see as Krishna’s home (and their place to perform sadhana), or who are taking care of what they consider Krishna devotees entrusted to them, would only be considered doing “gauna-dharma” or that which prepares the way for bhakti, and not really bhakti.

That would make everything very simple, very black and white. Although this can be a very tempting perspective, we see that life in all its’ richness and diversity, with so many nuances is rarely “either, or”.

A central theme in Krishna conscious is, well, consciousness. External activity is meant to foster a certain consciousness, which is internal, and may not be understood by others. Temples have been established to provide an environment that gives the opportunity to perform activities in relation to the Deity and for associating with and serving advanced devotees. I am not taking away from that in this discussion. I am bringing to light that ultimately Krishna consciousness is not dependent on our external activities, but on our consciousness of being a “das” (or “dasi”)—a servant of Krishna and dedicating the results of our life to him.

How important is our intention or our consciousness in performing actions?

Activities performed by two persons may look the same, yet internally they can be light years apart. One person is performing what appears to be “direct” devotional service for profit, adoration, and distinction, or to find a wife, go to America or any number of motivations and desires that really have nothing to do with “direct” Krishna consciousness. The other devotee is serving simply for the pleasure Guru and Krishna, or out of duty for the purpose of purification. Are the results of the devotees going to be the same? Of course not.

What makes the difference? Our consciousness or intention.

Again, I’m not minimizing Temples, or Temple services. (Everyone should go as they are able to, and render service) I am making the point that a householder working a job, or taking care of children may be more Krishna conscious then someone doing what is glorified as “direct” devotional service in the Temple.

A general perspective is that everyone should be encouraged to serve in the arena in which they live in (home, office, Temple etc.). Yet more than that, if a business person is really in the consciousness of seeing Krishna as the proprietor of his business, serving his family as the family of Krishna, and using his wealth for the service of Guru and Krishna then he is performing bhakti. Or the mother who is really giving birth to and taking care of children as her service to Guru and Krishna, is then performing bhakti, and should be encouraged to see in that way. Not that she should be made to feel guilty for taking care of her children, instead of doing “real” service at the Temple.

It is no doubt that external devotional service is helpful in cultivating Krishna consciousness, and we should serve in that way regardless of our motivation. At the same time, after we have matured in our practice of Krishna conscious activities then we will realize that KC is not really dependent on externals.

What makes bhakti is our internal ATTITUDE of bhakti. What makes consciousness of Krishna is our pure consciousness of Krishna, and intention to be so. Externals can be important, but more important is what we mentally, emotionally, spiritually put INTO an activity.

The same Deities of Radha and Krishna are there. One person sees stone statues, another BELIEVES Radha and Krishna are there, another feels ecstasy and dances in love.

All KC activities are like that: visiting Vrindavan, taking prasad, associating with devotees, reading scripture, etc. We can do the same activities and have very different experiences, getting very different results. The difference again is our consciousness, and level of spiritual advancement.

The same is true for what appears to be “material” activities. What makes something material or spiritual is our consciousness. Whether raising Krishna conscious children or serving the Temple Deities, we are performing Bhakti to the degree we are in the consciousness of serving Guru and Krishna, and that our goal is to be Krishna conscious.

I will end with a letter from Prabhupada which emphasized the importance of raising Krishna conscious children.

“For you, child-worship is more important than deity-worship. If you cannot spend time with him, then stop the duties of pujari. At least you must take good care of your son until he is four years old, and if after that time you are unable any more to take care of him then I shall take care. These children are given to us by Krishna, they are Vaishnavas and we must be very careful to protect them. These are not ordinary children, they are Vaikuntha children, and we are very fortunate we can give them chance to advance further in Krishna Consciousness. That is very great responsibility, do not neglect it or be confused. Your duty is very clear.” (Letter July 30, 1972)