A father prays to find clarity and hope in the face of his daughter’s disabilities.

By Gaura Kumara Dasa

Saddened by his daughter’s disabilities, a devotee gains clarity and hope through the teachings of Krishna consciousness.

“My dear Lord, if You love everyone equally and care for everyone, then why can’t she be like other kids?” I pondered, while my teary-eyed, nonverbal five-year-old daughter, Radhakripa, pointed innocently to kids running, jumping, and playing joyfully at a local New York City park. The question had flashed in my mind several times in the last five years – when she was diagnosed with Down’s syndrome while in the womb, when she required a six-hour heart surgery at four months to fix her congenital heart disease, when she couldn’t crawl like other kids, and when she couldn’t and still can’t articulate words while struggling to make others understand what she has in her mind.

I knew there were reasons for everything. So I prayed for answers that would, first, convince me that those reasons were just, and second, give me the required intelligence to guide her on the right path.

I had been a practicing devotee for about fifteen years before our daughter was diagnosed. I thought I knew the philosophy well, but when reality hit me, I felt shallow, without realizations. Despite all the knowledge I had gathered, I could not convince myself that Radhakripa’s situation was fair. On that particular day, as I felt helpless in my inability to answer questions about her disability, I looked up towards the clear spring sky, seeking answers from Krishna. As I slightly lowered my line of vision, the sight of the tall buildings of the Manhattan skyline at a distance triggered my first lesson.

The Manhattan skyline signifies the height of modernism, rooted in material success, wealth, and sense gratification. I thought: Almost everyone in the Big Apple is seeking three primary material blessings – opulence, education, and beauty – in one form or another. But what hope is there for the gravely disabled, as they are not only bereft of these three so-called blessings but also destined to miserably fail in attaining success defined by high wealth (artha) and sense gratification (kama).

Just as I was sinking deeper into sadness, seeing no hope in my daughter’s life, whose condition lists among the top disabilities in the world, a ray of wisdom through Queen Kunti’s prayers dawned on me. A verse I was familiar with came powerfully to me with realization. In her prayer, Queen Kunti mentions four things (janma – high birth, aishvarya – wealth, shruta – education, and shri – beauty) to be disqualifications for one’s spiritual growth:

edhamana-madah puman
naivarhaty abhidhatum vai
tvam akinchana-gocharam

“My Lord, Your Lordship can easily be approached, but only by those who are materially exhausted. One who is on the path of [material] progress, trying to improve himself with respectable parentage, great opulence, high education and bodily beauty, cannot approach You with sincere feeling. (Bhagavatam 1.8.26)

Although this verse consoled me somewhat, my sadness was not from wanting my daughter to experience success at the topmost level. I just wished that she could be a normal girl like others.

As I lowered my vision to the ground level, I saw people on the streets of New York – some black, some white, some Asian, some Hispanic. Most, I assumed, were driven by greed and self-centeredness, without a spiritual purpose, as are so many people today. Their only purpose was probably focused on attaining things that supposedly would make their material lives better, while actually getting them further entangled in those things. Did I want my daughter to be like them?

Looking Deeper

I decided to take my line of vision deeper, from external to internal. Deep within each of them, unknown to them, lies their pure soul, their real self, separate from their external dresses of colors and designations. Similarly, I pondered, isn’t the disease of my daughter external to her pure soul? The material disease is of the body. To degrade someone because of his or her bodily disabilities or to glorify someone because of material abilities is a misconception in the ultimate sense, as none of those categorizations describe the atma, the actual person. Shouldn’t we just acknowledge the diversity at the material level and accept the equality of all at the spiritual level?

As I further pondered on why such material diversity exists among us, another verse dawned on me:

yaval linganvito hy atma
tavat karma-nibandhanam
tato viparyayah klesho
maya-yogo ’nuvartate

“As long as the spirit soul is covered by the subtle body, consisting of the mind, intelligence and false ego, he is bound to the results of his fruitive activities. Because of this covering, the spirit soul is connected with the material energy and must accordingly suffer material conditions and reversals, continually, life after life.” (Bhagavatam 7.2.47) The verse helped me understand the cause of my daughter’s condition as karma-nibandanam, “the bondage of karma.” This is substantiated elsewhere in Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.31.1): karmana daiva-netrena jantur dehopapattaye. This explains that by our karma we create our future bodies. Although we are products of our past, we need not be prisoners of our past. We can access Krishna’s grace irrespective of our abilities or disabilities due to past karma.

At a more practical level, of course, as parents we cannot justify our actions by just saying, “Oh, my daughter is suffering due to her bad karma.” My daughter’s karma must not come in the way of our dharma, or duty, towards her. As parents, our duty is to give her the best we can. And the best that we can give her is to help her get out of this mesh of karmic actions and reactions.

Connecting to the Ultimate Source

As I pushed my daughter’s stroller while thinking how we as parents could aid in getting her out of the karma cycle, a truck stopped in front of us with a sign that read “Mr. Appliance of NYC” and a picture of a dysfunctional refrigerator. It occurred to me that for a refrigerator to be utilized to its full potential, it must be connected to a power outlet. It could also be kept unplugged and used for multiple other purposes, like a cupboard for general storage, but that would not serve the ultimate purpose for which it was created. Similarly, to realize our full potential we must connect ourselves to the ultimate source, Krishna. This can be done by redirecting our consciousness towards Krishna, who will then not only reciprocate with our devotional dependence on Him, but also get us out of this karmic network.

With reference to my initial question, yes, Krishna does love us all, but he especially favors those who devotionally depend on Him. Our scriptures are replete with examples. Draupadi helplessly called on the Supreme Person, Lord Krishna. Narada Muni in his previous birth completely depended on the Lord after his mother’s sudden demise. Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita (9.29),

samo ’ham sarva-bhuteshu
na me dveshyo ’sti na priyah
ye bhajanti tu mam bhaktya
mayi te teshu chapy aham

“I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.”

What happens to those who are physically disabled but not devotionally dependent on Krishna? Dhritarashtra was not offered the kingdom initially due to his disability of material blindness, even though he was the elder son. In his later years he had several opportunities to be dependent on and devoted to Krishna. But due to his spiritual blindness, he chose not to. In contrast, Bilvamangala Thakura was blind too, and Krishna reciprocated with his dependence and devotion. Manthara, who was deformed, turned a devotee (Kaikeyi) away from Lord Rama and suffered. In contrast, Kubja, also materially deformed, was glorified by Lord Krishna for having a devotional heart. He praised her for her dependence on Him and for her service.

The Ultimate Treatment

I was slowly getting clarity by thinking about the futility of the material world, the purity of the soul, the efficacy of karma, and the need to ultimately depend on Krishna. But I knew there was still one missing piece to the puzzle: What is the cure or treatment for my daughter, who is mentally and physically disabled? I found the answer in the Mukunda-mala-stotra (verse 15) of the devotee-king Kulashekhara: “O people, please hear of this treatment for the disease of birth and death! It is the name of Krishna. Recommended by Yajnavalkya and other expert yogis steeped in wisdom, this boundless, eternal inner light is the best medicine, for when drunk it bestows complete and final liberation. Just drink it!”

Taking these words of King Kulashekara to heart, my wife and I decided to drive to our local temple for the weekly kirtana night. As the kirtana rose to a crescendo, we saw our daughter raise a hand spontaneously and joyfully. She could not sing, but I could see that she was experiencing joy by being devotionally dependent on the Lord through the holy name. What started as her tears of sorrow now turned into my tears of joy. I found her to be happier than all the other children in the park. I felt that we as parents had found a path for her. We have to give her more opportunities to connect with Krishna through the holy name.

After the kirtana, as we walked back to our car, I raised my line of vision once again towards the night sky, beyond the New Yorkers on the street, way beyond the Manhattan skyline. Looking at the moon – a manifestation of Krishna – I thanked Krishna for not only answering my questions but also making me realize the final lesson of the day: The more we disconnect from Krishna, the more we are all disabled in realizing our full potential. And the more we connect and redirect our consciousness towards Him, the more we will experience His loving embrace, despite apparent external disabilities.

Srila Prabhupada says that when we sincerely and determinedly practice bhakti with whatever abilities we have, Krishna showers His blessings and ultimately embraces us, the soul. In a 1975 letter, he wrote: “There are many examples in history of persons who have been very much disabled physically, but still have executed Krishna Consciousness. Still, up to date in places like Vrndavana, India, there are many persons who are blind, crippled, lame, deformed, etc., but they are determined to practice Krishna Consciousness to their best ability. So, you should also do like that. Simply be determined to practice the process of Bhakti-yoga with whatever abilities you may have. If you are really sincere, then Krishna will give you help.”