“We were able to convince the leadership across the country that we don’t want to just perform marriages anymore – we actually want to support and nurture marriages,” says Partha. “We’re trying to create a culture where premarital education is an integral part of marriage in ISKCON.”
“It’s important that you look for someone with similar values, personality and lifestyle,” says Uttama. “For instance, someone who shares your work ethics, family values, and the way you practice Krishna consciousness.”
Of course, she acknowledges, it is fine and natural to have small differences in values, and couples should support and encourage each other in these areas for a healthy marriage. Partha and Uttama also emphasized getting to know a prospective partner well before trusting them, and making sure you trust them before you commit. The communication skills part of the course, meanwhile, was largely based upon two of Rupa Goswami’s six loving exchanges between Vaishnavas: revealing one’s mind in confidence, and inquiring confidentially, or reworded here as “listening in confidence.”
“We’re trying to help devotees realize how important that exchange is, especially in household life,” says Partha. “We teach simple communication techniques that keep dialog from escalating into the modes of passion and ignorance where people end up having arguments, or isolating themselves in the relationship.”
Partha and Uttama feel that Krishna conscious marriage done right is something very special. If we truly stayed aware that Krishna is being worshipped in our homes, and is in our spouse’s hearts, they explain, we would never use unkind words or treat them harshly.
The counselors also talked about negative paradigms sometimes touted in ISKCON that cause damage. “One is the misunderstanding that your marriage and your children are not devotional service,” says Uttama. “Because then devotees don’t work on their relationships, minimize them, and sometimes don’t even meet their children’s needs.”
Happy, caring marriages and family lives are devotional service not only because our children and spouses are devotees, Partha adds, but because the general public observes how devotees live and conduct themselves. “So just having a good marriage is a big contribution to Prabhupada’s movement – what to speak of having happy, well-adjusted, protected children.”
Another area commonly misunderstood that Partha and Uttama made an important distinction between is the difference between Vedic marriage – where the wife is often seen as subservient to the husband – and Vaishnava marriage.
In this connection, they cited an article on Vaishnava marriage by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati in his magazine The Harmonist. “The cardinal principle of grihasta ashram is that no one may be the owner of any property or service of another,” he writes. Everyone is only a servant whose activities are ever in the service of the Lord.”
He continues, “Marrying and giving in marriage do not give rise to any rights of a master either to the husband or to the wife. Men and women are joined in wedlock for the purpose of serving each other in the performance of the joint service of Krishna. The wife is not an object of enjoyment of the husband, nor vice versa. They do not marry for gratifying their sexual appetites. They marry for pleasing the Lord, not for pleasing themselves.”
He concludes, “Neither the husband nor the wife should claim the services of his or her partner on their own account. Both of them are only to offer their services if and when their partner is pleased to permit them to share their service of Hari. None of them can force their partners to serve them….This system of household discipline has its roots in the joint worship of the household deity by all members of the household.”
Next, Partha and Uttama are working on preparing an online version of their course that will be offered to everyone soon through Belgium’s Bhaktivedanta College Online Campus website.
Preparing as well as taking the course takes time and effort – but so does having a healthy and happy marriage, they remind us.
“Sometimes devotees look for an easy fix, saying, ‘Can you give us your blessings?’” Partha says. “But our blessings are to tell them, ‘Marriage doesn’t make you happy, it makes you married. And once you’re married, then you can do the hard work of becoming Krishna conscious and happy in your marriage. If you do the work, it is very satisfying. But you have to do the work.”
Article written by Madhava Smullen from ISKCON News