An enlightened father is glad when a bona fide spiritual master takes his son as a disciple. But an ignorant father sees the spiritual master as his enemy …
by Satsvarupa dasa Goswami
When a young person joins the Krishna consciousness movement, his parents often doubt the wisdom of his decision. Admittedly, to join the Hare Krishna movement is to commit oneself to values completely contrary to the “normal” way of life in today’s Western civilization. A Krishna conscious person strictly avoids the four pillars of sinful life—meat eating, illicit sex, intoxication, and gambling—which the average Westerner takes to be life’s basic necessities. Yet after observing the fine character their sons and daughters attain through spiritual discipline, most parents of devotees adjust to their acceptance of Krishna consciousness. However, a small group of parents, especially in America, consider the Hare Krishna movement a great evil and are violently opposed to their adult children’s choice of living in Krishna consciousness. These parents’ attempts to recover their sons and daughters by kidnapping and “deprogramming,” as well as their accusations of “brainwashing” directed against Krishna conscious preachers, have ignited a major civil rights issue: whether parental control can take precedence over the individual’s right to freely choose his own course in life. ** (In a landmark judicial decision handed down last March 17, New York State Supreme Court Justice John J. Leahy threw out indictments charging two leaders of ISKCON’s New York chapter with attempted extortion and illegal imprisonment of members through “brainwashing.” Declared the judge, “The entire and basic issue before this court is whether or not [the Hare Krishna devotees] will be allowed to practice the religion of their choice-and this must be answered with a resounding affirmative.”)
This bitter conflict is not new. We find a similar case in the five-thousand-year-old Vedic history Srimad-Bhagavatam. There we read of a very powerful father named Daksa, who became outraged when his sons renounced material life to follow the teachings of a Krishna-conscious sage, Narada Muni. ** (`Narada Muni is a direct representative of Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Throughout Vedic history Narada helps the conditioned souls by teaching the topmost science of bhakti-yoga, or love of God. His disciples include many great devotees, like Prahlada Maharaja, Dhruva Maharaja, and Srila Vyasadeva. His mission, the mission of the Supreme Lord, is to deliver humanity from the cycle of birth and death.) In light of the modern controversy, the account of how Narada preached to the young men to convince them to give up family life, how Daksa cursed Narada, and how Narada persisted in his Krishna conscious mission makes a revealing case history.
Our story begins at the dawn of creation. The Supreme Personality of Godhead has instructed Brahma, the first living entity in the universe, to increase human population through his married sons, the Prajapatis (progenitors). One of the chief progenitors was the demigod Daksa. Daksa means “expert,” and this particular Daksa was expert in producing offspring through sexual intercourse. In union with his wife Pancajani he fathered ten thousand sons, known as the Haryasvas. Daksa intended that they also marry and increase progeny, following their father. Being devoutly religious, Daksa wanted to train his sons in the disciplines of Vedic culture to make them responsible, productive householders. So he sent them on pilgrimage to a holy place named Narayana-saras, where, in the past, many saints and sages had meditated and performed other religious practices.
In that holy place, the Haryasvas began regularly touching the lake’s waters and bathing in them, gradually becoming very purified. They became inclined toward activities of the paramahamsas (the most highly advanced, renounced saints). Nevertheless, because their father had ordered them to increase the population, they performed severe austerities to fulfill his desires.
One day the great sage Narada Muni entered Narayana-saras. Seeing the boys performing such fine austerities, Narada approached them. He saw that although Daksa’s ten thousand sons were preparing for materialistic family life, they were simultaneously becoming eligible to hear of the path of liberation due to their austerities. Narada thought, “Why should they become entangled in family life, which is so dark that once one enters it, he cannot leave?” (Generally, when one becomes too involved in his material environment, he does not look within the core of his heart to find the situation of the soul and the Supreme Soul.) One may argue that since increasing progeny is also a necessary function of the material creation, why should Narada disturb these boys in their preparation? Later, Daksa put forth this very argument when he confronted Narada. However, Narada had no doubt that eternal liberation is of far greater value to a person than good progeny. Therefore, he approached the Haryasvas to divert their attention towards spiritual life.
The Krishna consciousness movement is preaching this higher knowledge of retiring from materialistic life to return to Godhead, but unfortunately many parents are not satisfied with this movement… However, we have no alternative other than to teach our disciples to free themselves from materialistic life. We must instruct them in the opposite of material life to save them from the repetition of birth and death.”
Narada intrigued them by speaking in an allegorical way: “My dear Haryasvas, you have not seen the extremities of the earth. There is a kingdom where only one man lives and where there is a hole from which, having entered, no one emerges. A woman there who is extremely unchaste adorns herself with various attractive dresses, and the man who lives there is her husband. You have not seen all this, and therefore you are inexperienced boys without advanced knowledge. Alas, your father is omniscient, but you do not know his actual order. Without knowing the actual purpose of your father, how will you create progeny?”
The Haryasvas could understand the meaning of Narada’s allegory. When he said that they did not know the earth’s extremities, they knew he meant the “earth” of the body, or the field of material activities. Every one of us is an eternal spirit soul, encaged in material bodies life after life. But out of ignorance we take each body to be our real self. The Haryasvas immediately understood that Narada wanted them to become enlightened about the self-not to continue in perpetual bondage, taking material bodies birth after birth, but to use this human life for becoming free from this encagement.
Narada mentioned a kingdom where there is only one king, with no competitor. The Haryasvas understood him to mean the kingdom of God, which encompasses the complete spiritual world and all material universes, and where there is only one proprietor and enjoyer, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Although sometimes appearing within the creation by His own sweet will, the Supreme Lord is never forced to take birth like the infinitesimal living entities. He is completely transcendental, and thus He is never destroyed, even with the destruction of the universe. One who misunderstands this transcendental position of Krishna is a fool, and his hopes for knowledge, wealth, and liberation are all baffled. The Haryasvas realized, therefore, that their duty in human life was to understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
When the sage Narada spoke of entering a hole from which one does not return, the Haryasvas could understand that he was referring to entering eternal, blissful Vaikuntha (the spiritual planet). Krishna teaches this same subject to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita, where He says: “One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in the material world, but attains my eternal abode, O Arjuna” (Bg. 4.9). The Haryasvas agreed with Narada’s instructions: “Yes, if there is a place from which, having gone, we will not have to return to this miserable material life, what is the use of impermanent fruitive activities?”
Narada had described a woman who was a professional prostitute. The Haryasvas understood this woman to be the living entity’s unsteady intelligence. As a prostitute changes dress to attract a man’s attention for sense enjoyment, so, when one’s intelligence is not turned toward Krishna consciousness, it is a prostituted intelligence and will force the living being to change bodies, one after another. If one becomes the husband of a prostitute he cannot be happy. Similarly, one who follows the dictates of material intelligence and material consciousness will never be at peace.
Narada had said that the Haryasvas did not know the order of their father. They understood that Narada meant their spiritual father, the bona fide spiritual master, who imparts scriptural knowledge to the faithful disciple. Therefore, the spiritual master is the real father. The scriptures instruct that one should end his material way of life. The Haryasvas expressed their enlightenment: “Yes, if one does not know the purpose of the father’s orders, the scriptures, he is ignorant. The words of a material father who endeavors to engage his son in material activities are not the real instructions of the father. “
This brings us to the crux of the parent-child issue. In every form of life, one takes birth from a mother and father. (Even cats and dogs have their kittens and puppies.) However, human life is more advanced than other forms, because in the human form one has the chance to escape from the misery of birth and death by accepting a spiritual master and being educated in scriptural knowledge. The material mother and father are important only if they are interested in educating their child to become free from the clutches of death. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam, the saintly king and father Rsabhadeva advises his one hundred sons that no one should strive to become a parent if he cannot save his dependent from the imminent danger of death.
Therefore, parents who actually wish their children well will not object to their taking shelter of a bona fide spiritual master and getting the opportunity to achieve the perfection of life. Opposition is raised only by those parents who have no idea that the goal of human life is liberation from material bondage, and who, in ignorance—”good intentions” have no value—want to force their children to remain like themselves, trapped in the dark well of material life.
So, defying the orders of their materialistic father, Daksa, the Haryasvas accepted Narada Muni as their spiritual master. Daksa had instructed them to increase the population, but, after hearing the words of Narada Muni, they could no longer heed that instruction. Rather, they followed Narada’s advice to give up material life and become devotees of the Lord. (Incidentally, all the world’s scriptures advise relief from material life. In the Buddhist scriptures Lord Buddha advises that one achieve nirvana by giving up the materialistic way of life. In the Bible one will find the same advice: cease materialistic life and return to the kingdom of God.)
Needless to say, Prajapati Daksa was not very happy to hear that all his sons had defied his order and taken up Krishna consciousness. When Daksa was lamenting for his lost children, Lord Brahma pacified him, and thereafter Daksa begot one thousand more sons in the womb of his wife Pancajani. This time his sons were known as the Savalasvas. Here we can see that, whereas Narada was very expert in delivering all the conditioned souls back to home, back to Godhead, Prajapati Daksa was expert in begetting children. Unfortunately, the material expert did not agree with the spiritual expert. Be that as it may, nothing could deter Narada from chanting the Hare Krishna mantra and imparting spiritual knowledge to his qualified disciples. In this regard His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada has written:
The Krishna consciousness movement is preaching this higher knowledge of retiring from materialistic life to return to Godhead, but unfortunately many parents are not satisfied with this movement…. However, we have no alternative other than to teach our disciples to free themselves from materialistic life. We must instruct them in the opposite of material life to save them from the repetition of birth and death.
Ordered by Daksa to beget children, the Savalasvas went to Narayana-saras, the same holy place where, by the grace of Narada, their brothers had previously attained perfection. One might wonder why Daksa risked sending his second set of sons to the same place where he had lost his first set. The answer is that, despite his materialistic outlook, Daksa was a dutiful father who followed the principles of Vedic culture. Therefore, he did not hesitate to let his sons receive spiritual instructions concerning the perfection of life. He allowed them to choose whether to return home, back to Godhead, or to remain in the material world, transmigrating life after life in various species. In all circumstances, the duty of a responsible father is to give a spiritual education to his children and then allow them to freely decide whether to adopt a spiritual or a material way of life.
The Savalasvas performed the same penances as the Haryasvas had. They bathed in holy water, and its touch cleansed away all the dirty material desires in their hearts. They also chanted sacred mantras and underwent a severe course of austerities. Soon, Narada Muni approached the Savalasvas and spoke enigmatic words to them, just as he had spoken to the Haryasvas. Then, before departing, Narada advised them to follow the same spiritual path as their beloved elder brothers. Deeply affected by the words of Narada, the Savalasvas also gave up the idea of producing children and took up Krishna consciousness.
When Daksa heard that the Savalasvas had also defied him, he became very angry at Narada and almost fainted in despair. Narada then approached Daksa, thinking that since Daksa was lamenting, he would be a suitable candidate to appreciate spiritual instructions. But when Narada came before Daksa, the bereaved Prajapati confronted him and angrily accused him, “Alas, Narada Muni, you wear the dress of a saintly person, but you are not actually a saint. By showing my sons the path of renunciation, you have done me an abominable injustice.”
Daksa finds his counterpart in today’s angry parents, who accuse Srila Prabhupada of misleading their inexperienced children. Srila Prabhupada replies,
We are instructing all the young boys and girls in the Western countries to follow the path of renunciation. We allow married life, but even a grhastha [a Krishna conscious householder] has to give up so many bad habits that his parents think his life has been practically destroyed. We allow no meat eating, no illicit sex, no gambling, and no intoxication, and consequently the parents wonder how, if there are so many no’s, one’s life can be positive. In the Western countries especially, these four prohibited activities practically constitute the life and soul of the modern population. Therefore, parents sometimes dislike our movement, just as Prajapati Daksa disliked the activities of Narada and accused him of dishonesty. Nevertheless, although parents may be angry at us, we must perform our duty without hesitation, because we are in the disciplic succession from Narada Muni.
The point is that every human being must prepare himself for his next life. It will not do simply to remain in materialistic household life without regulation or spiritual discipline. One cannot expect to be happy in this life or the next without following the injunctions of the scriptures.
Daksa next accused Narada of obstructing his sons’ good fortune by making it impossible for them to repay their debts—especially their debt to Daksa. The Vedic culture recognizes that everyone is born a debtor, being obligated to great saints, to the demigods, and to his father. To liquidate one’s debt to his father, one must beget children. Similarly, today’s parents sometimes appeal to their children in the Krishna consciousness movement: “Don’t you appreciate all we’ve done for you? Please return to your family.” However, scriptures such as the Srimad-Bhagavatam state that although everyone is indebted to his family, if he surrenders to Krishna he is freed from all debts. Unfortunately, Daksa did not understand the great service rendered by Narada Muni, so he called him a sinful person. Narada Muni, however, being in reality a great saint, tolerated the accusations of Daksa, performed his duty, and delivered Daksa’s sons back home, back to Godhead.
Along these same lines, Daksa accused Narada of breaking the natural ties of family affection. We have already pointed out that one may maintain an affectionate relationship with his mother and father—provided they help and not hinder him on the path of spiritual enlightenment. But since Daksa’s sole motive was to engage his sons in producing progeny, clearly the best course they could have followed for their Krishna consciousness was to break their family ties with him. Today we find that many members of the Krishna consciousness movement have left family situations beset with fighting, divorce, hypocrisy, and sin. Breaking such family connections cannot be considered bad. Sometimes modern parents also say that taking up Krishna consciousness is bad because it destroys a young person’s budding career. But, again, if that career is one of materialistic ignorance—if it involves no consideration of spiritual values—it is better to leave such a career and become Krishna conscious. This does not mean that one should stop working at an honest occupation, but if the career is an impediment to spiritual advancement, better to leave it.
One may argue that although Narada was a saint and his advice authoritative, still, this incident took place in a culture entirely different from our own; therefore its lessons cannot be applied to our modern situation. But spiritual culture is not a matter of East or West; it is the eternal, inalienable right of every human being, for it leads to the perfection of life. Certainly our Western culture differs from the Vedic culture. Ours is a culture that permits slaughter of the cow; that neither respects nor protects saintly persons (brahmanas), who are much needed to guide society; that allows the murder of children within the womb; that encourages illicit sexual relations outside sanctified marriage; and that has a government which supports sinful activities like intoxication and gambling. So ours is certainly a different kind of culture from the Vedic one, but must we necessarily follow the culture in which we were born and raised, if it is so entirely opposed to the progressive values of life?
Finally, Daksa cursed Narada: “You made me lose my sons once before, and now you have again done the same inauspicious thing. Therefore, you are a rascal who does not know how to behave toward others. You may travel all over the universe, but I curse you to have no fixed residence anywhere.” This curse was considered a great punishment by Daksa, who, as a householder, wanted to remain in one spot and enjoy family life. However, this “punishment” was a boon for a Krishna conscious preacher like Narada, because a preacher always travels for the benefit of human society. Thus, Narada replied, “Yes, what you have said is good. I accept this curse.” Then Narada Muni departed, and since that time he has been traveling throughout the spiritual and material worlds, chanting Hare Krishna, playing his vina, and enlightening everyone in Krishna consciousness.
We hope this narration from the Srimad-Bhagavatam may stimulate the few parents who oppose Krishna consciousness to reconsider their condemnation of the Krishna consciousness movement for diverting their offspring from the material path. Unlike Daksa, many parents of devotees, as well as many important citizens, do appreciate the immense value of Krishna consciousness to the younger generation and to people in general. Recently, Governor Jerry Brown of California personally called on the Hare Krishna movement to help him bring spiritual encouragement to hospital patients in his state. Learned scholars in virtually every major university around the world have written warm appreciations of Srila Prabhupada’s books on Krishna consciousness. In addition, many devotees’ parents have helped form organizations for the protection of their children’s right to practice the religion of their choice.
The small minority of modern-day Daksas who cannot or will not try to understand Krishna consciousness may continue their efforts to hinder this movement and its preachers, but we shall not fear them. We shall simply go on humbly performing our duty, trying to follow the orders of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who has said, “Teach everyone to follow the instructions of Lord Sri Krishna as they are given in the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam. In this way become a spiritual master and try to liberate everyone in the world.”