A thorough study of the verse from Srimad Bhagavatam, SB. 8.2.30, especially the purport written by Srila Prabhupada, will give us a precise and detailed reason why Srila Prabhupada, writing this purport after already few years after His movement started, recommends grhasta asrama.
Seeing by this time already some of His sannyasi disciples falling down, Srila Prabhupada is explaining, in relation to the story of elephant Gajendra, that grhasta asrama provides for those who are not that spiritually strong (evidently the majority of devotees), more stabile ground to operate from than the much desired final stage of life, sannyas.
No wonder, acceptance of sannyas is forbidden for this age. For the sake of preaching Srila Prabhupada initially awarded sannyas in the hope His sannyas generals will open new preaching fields and spread Krsna Consciousness vigorously. Today we see sannyasis often being more preoccupied with the "internal" care of their disciples, their monies and their properties than with drawing new conditioned souls to Srila Prabhupada´s lotus feet.
Regardless the color of the dress, in terms of money and comforts being enjoyed, today sometimes one may wonder who grhasta and who sannyasi may be.
There are sannyasis who live like grhastas and there are grhastas living like sannyasis. And then there are sannyasis who truly preach the mission of Lord Chaitanya in every town and village.
In the purport to this verse Srila Prabhupada stresses strongly that one should be rightly situated.
For women the issue is more simple, they have to be married.
Even to the point of death, lying on His death bed in Vrndavana, Srila Prabhupada never stopped exposing and attacking the symptoms of this age of Kali, filled with degradation and insanity.
His Divine Grace explained the position of today´s women. On June 21st, 1977 He exclaimed: "They (the women) must (get married)! I am giving the real civilization. If they don´t, they are ungrateful. There is no future hope for the Western civilization. Harisauri´s grandmother advised his mother to kill him. There is no culture, no God, no religion, no behavior. For women, no husband, no father, no son. From childhood to end of life, alone. And they declare independence! A woman alone is a prostitute. One of my Godbrother´s wife was an adulterer. When her son found out, he said he would tell the father. So the mother poisoned him. And when the father found out his son was poisoned by his mother, he committed suicide. The only hope of Western civilization is to chant Hare Krsna. Otherwise, they are finished!"
Just the thought to have a husband on her side makes women strong, said Srila Prabhupada. For men there are choices to make, but history has taught us that despite its complexities, most men have to take to grhasta asrama first before considering in much later stage of their lives to proceed further.
Grhasta asrama brings to both partners rich experiences of vijnana, realized knowledge, especially if conducted responsibly.
Responsibility "like a gentleman", was a word Srila Prabhupada used frequently in connection to grhasta asrama.
As grhasta asrama is loaded with often contrasting emotions, it is the responsibility which should carry both partners over such up and downs material nature provides plenty.
Of course, there are rules which cannot be changed, and there are situations which have to be tolerated.
As written in the introduction, mutual chastity is the basis of any relationship. If even this requirement is met, there are some basic mistakes which can be made. Karmis know most of them, but due not having a higher alternative and being severely attached, they are doomed to make them again and again.
Here are only few examples what can go wrong:
Expectation of a perfect husband or a perfect wife. We should know by the time of marriage the flaws any conditioned souls has and not expect to be instantly free of them. Specially grhasta asrama is a "long distance run". After all, most members of the Vedic society spend the major part of their lives in this asrama. (Even Srila Prabhupada was not an exception.)
False expectations result only in frustration. Rather honesty and a great deal of tolerance is in order.
One shouldn´t take the humility and tolerance of the husband (or the wife) as an invitation to heighten familiarity. The romance, the connection between man and women may bring about at the beginning, will be soon over and then the more real picture emerges, which one has to live with. As one devotee shared with me the way karmis know the progressive stages of marriage:
The young boy, surely in love with the young beautiful girl, thinks: „I wish she could stay like this forever.“
The young beautiful girl thinks: „Well, this boy is somewhat OK, he loves me, but surely he has his flaws. Never mind, I know what I can do, I will change him.“
The result? The boy will never change, the girl will change for sure.
Such are the realities of the illusion of this world. But as devotees, while perceiving it we have priorities others, materialists, don´t have.
Trying to cultivate qualities of a devotee, automatically a man or a woman of ideal character should emerge. This is the challenge for both parties, this is the challenge for any married couple: to become a real devotee. The obligation to the spiritual master and Krsna we share should carry us over all obstacles, which will naturally be put in our path.
It is the Bhagavad Gita, which teaches to become ideal human beings by becoming first rightly situated (3rd chapter), and then act as a devotee (12th chapter).
Spoken to a grhasta on a battlefield, it provides plenty of practical instructions how to fight the battles of this life and survive in the Krsna conscious manner. Familiarity brings about offenses and so one should always remember the other as a part of Krsna, especially when acting as a devotee. Besides that, awareness of the ever present death in this world can also help. Some are so foolish that they realize the value of the other one only post-mortally.
One should be alert not to offend those who are friends of the grhasta partner, especially when they are devotees. For a real devotee it is more painful to see his friends being offended than if he would be offended himself.
Communication is an absolute necessity as we are in a constantly changing world. Nothing should be taken to be granted, people get molded by the three modes of nature, and so constant adjustments, free of agitation or attacks, are needed. Even painful issues, when put in a form of a question, don´t constitute an offense. Affirmative statements based on one´s own subjective perception do. One should always leave a room for a consideration that things may not be as they seem to be.
Even the most bitter feminist women speak only about... men and the absolutely women hating men speak about... women in the same manner like a devoted atheist speaks about God all the time. What is truly natural cannot be denied even in a negative sense.
Chastity and adherence to vows is the powerful weapon to lift us above the mental platform all conditioned souls operate on.
In times of discomfort, one always tends to consider the alternative to live alone. To live alone seems to give us some sort of freedom, but unless not fully spiritually motivated and active, a privacy of this sort invites likely sinful life.
As brahmacary lives public life under strict surveillance of his spiritual master and a sannyasi, entirely depends on the mercy of the Lord, and disregards the praise and monetary contributions he may receive in terms of his personal comfort, and simply offers them to his guru (especially in ISKCON living very active public life in terms of preaching), grhasta is never alone too while being always observed by his wife and his children. This only adds to his security, even at the cost of some personal discomfort.
Grhasta asrama is an asrama requiring a strong sense of discretion. There are "family issues" which are to be dealt with only in family circles as they concern the family only. That may be in Vedic terms a large group of relatives, but discretion is in order.
In Vedic times the discretion between family members was amazing. Like example, it was preferred that children were not to be chastised by parents directly, but it was more distant family members who did so. In this way the loving relation to the parents was never harmed and offenses were avoided.
Of course, today most grhastas don´t enjoy such a luxury as there is hardly any larger family left. This constitutes even greater necessity of mutual tolerance and cooperation where the couple is forced to depend on daily matters only on themselves. As they say in Bengal, it takes a whole village to raise one child, whereby in the animalistic culture of the West a child can be happy when not being killed in the womb by his own mother or abused by a family member.
As my daughter was born in Sweden, the young girls joining the temple commented: "How lucky she is, she will know who her father is!"
Such is the "culture" we are living in and it is not too far fetched to call grhasta asrama in this regard a "social revolution".
This is for the females:
Men are in general not mind readers. In whatever capacity from an emotional point of view, they are simple individuals. If decent, thinking mostly in a constructive way and grateful for simple bits of information like "I want this" or "It would be nice if this would be like that."
A famous Hollywood actress summed this fact in words understandable for any man: "For a woman marriage is like an excursion to another dimension of life. For a man it is like constructing a garage."
Indeed, if only men would manage this world, it would be full of garages and powerful vehicles. If only women would manage this world, it would be full of often chaotically and organically growing gardens. As much women can act very pragmatically in a domestic field, handling a vast variety of things at once, they often fail in the long term planning by becoming emotionally compromised on the way. Cunning men know that and so they exploit the weaknesses of the opposite sex to achieve their goals.
Krsna conscious persons have other priorities - the service to the Lord, and are driven more by a sense of responsibility than by their momentarily emotional well being. When the more sensitive and decorative nature of a woman can be synthesized with the more constructive and "pawing the way" nature of a man, a great productive compromise can be reached and the result, when projected into the preaching, can be most productive. Women can do things men cannot and vise versa. When not imitating the nature of another one, in absence of envy, both partners can bring the best potential "to the game". And from the spiritual point it is a game, as by the end of the day we are neither male or female body but pure spiritual soul.
"Love means service", said Srila Prabhupada. This absolute rule can be applied on both platforms, the spiritual one and the material one. Without services being exchanged, an unconditional service, "love" becomes a mere business exchange as in business the profit is the main issue, not love.
The attempt to serve somebody unconditionally is precious in this world of consumers and consumed ones, and it should be valued when it manifests regardless how incompetent it may be.
......to be continued.