By Krsnanandini Devi Dasi

Focusing our love on Krsna doesn’t mean indifference to those around us, especially our families.

Picture this: Srimati Devi comes home from school one afternoon so quietly that her mother, Sudevi, senses a problem.

“Srimati,” she calls, “are you okay? How was your day?”

When she doesn’t hear a response, Sudevi goes to the ten-year-old’s bedroom, takes one glance at her daughter’s tearful face, and hugs her.

“Mom, today some of the kids in my class said I was crazy because I don’t eat meat. One girl put a meat sandwich in my face. I pushed her away from me, and the teacher gave me a detention.”

Sudevi comforts her daughter, and they talk a little about Krishna, about animals, about how all life is sacred, and about how sometimes, because of ignorance, people say and do mean things. Mostly though, she uses this time to show affection and to nurture her daughter and the stand she has taken to see the life in animals as sacred.

Imagine a new devotee, Bhakta Ted, being shaken by an experience with the police on his way to the temple. Bhakta Ted had worn his dhoti while in a park chanting on his beads and was intimidated by some passers-by. When a police officer noticed the incident, he interrogated Bhakta Ted for fifteen minutes and laughed off the fact that some park visitors had harassed him.

“If I saw a man dressed in a skirt like that,” the policeman said, “I might tease him too.”

Another of the newer devotees in the temple brushes off the police incident.

“You’ll be all right,” he says. “That’s just a part of your karma. It’s just maya.

Another devotee, sensing how much the disturbance has affected Bhakta Ted, takes times to sit with him, listen carefully to his concerns, and reassure him that despite the inevitable difficulties of the material world, Krishna gives His devotees encouragement and fortitude. This will pass, he tells Bhakta Ted, and asks if there is anything more he can do to help him.

If we carefully examine people everywhere, we will find that everyone needs emotional support. We are living, sentient beings, and our desires for affiliation, friendship, affection, and appreciation are natural and spiritual. We have these desires because Lord Krishna, the original person from whom all living characteristics come, exhibits them Himself.

Divine Personalities Show Us the Way

Hanuman, a powerful devotee, gently comforted Sita in her distress. He assured her that her husband, Lord Ramachandra, would soon arrange her deliverance, and he gave her Rama’s ring as a sign of His loyalty. Because Hanuman showed such concern and because of his extraordinary mood of loving service to the Lord and His devotees, Lord Rama awarded him with a loving embrace and eternal devotion to Him.

The deep, heartfelt language of exchanges between devotees in the Srimad-Bhagavatam and the Chaitanya-charitamrita has always heartened me. Their interactions are full of sweetness, humility, and concern. Generally, no matter what the problems, the devotees in these scriptures take time to greet each other with humble appreciation and loving feelings. In fact, to not be happy to see a devotee is considered an offense. We should remember that our children, our spouses, our parents, even persons at the temple who may annoy us, are devotees, parts of Krishna. Remembering this will help us treat them with tender loving care.

The Grihastha Vision Team is a group of devotees, many of them disciples of Srila Prabhupada, who counsel and educate devotees about marriage and family. They have committed themselves to providing service and support to devotees in the grihastha ashrama (married life). This team, in collaboration with Vaisnava Training and Education, has scrutinized Srila Prabhupada’s books and his instructions and identified twelve fundamental principles and values of healthy grihastha life. One of these is “Family Love and Affection.” A stable emotional background, in which all family or community members feel wanted and appreciated, is essential for the personal and spiritual growth of adults and children.

Proper Understanding of Attachment and Detachment in Family Life

Sometimes devotees, especially in the neophyte stage, misunderstand the meaning of “detachment” and “attachment.” We learn early on that we must become attached to Krishna and detached from everything in the material world, and we many erroneously conclude that showing affection or attachment to others is maya, or material. Since even devotees are in material bodies, we might conclude that warm, loving interactions with other devotees is unnecessary or even an impediment to our spiritual growth. However, such thinking is mistaken. Srila Prabhupada explains in Teachings of Queen Kunti, Chapter 25, “[Kunti’s] affection for the Pandavas and the Vrishnis is not out of the range of devotional service, because the service of the Lord and the service of the devotees are identical.”

Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the Supreme Lord, has declared in the Chaitanya-bhagavata (Madhya 19.210), “The living entities who live in numberless universes are all My servants. Therefore, any living entity that harms another living entity will perish.” When we recognize that all things, all people, and all living beings belong to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, we will see that we have nothing to renounce and nothing to be detached from. We should be detached from the material understanding. That is, we should not be overly attached to bodies and material activities that will cause us to forget our service to the Lord.

How We Are All Connected

The living entity is not the body, and therefore we should realize that our connection to everyone is through the Supersoul in the heart of each living being. Then we will aspire to use everything in His service and treat all with loving care. Srila Prabhupada exemplified this understanding in all of his interactions with everyone. Whether famous or not, whether a dignitary or a child, he treated each person with a sincere, heartfelt caring.

Another challenge to loving relationships in devotee families is that we sometimes forget that our husband, wife, or child is a devotee and we become careless, neglectful, or disrespectful in our dealings with them. As the saying goes, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” We should be careful not to fall pray to this pitfall. Praying to truly embody the instruction given to us by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu—to be humbler than grass and more tolerant than a tree—we should try hard to be especially humble and tolerant in our dealings with our family members. In such a mood we will stay connected with Krishna, and He will guide us from within in how to consistently show love and affection to our family members and others. Devotees sometimes treat devotees outside of their families with respect, while being careless in how they treat the family members who live with them.

Expressing Loving Sentiments

How should we express our love to our family members? About five hundred years ago, the saint and scholar Srila Rupa Goswami delineated “the six symptoms of love shared by one devotee and another”: (1) giving charity to the devotees, (2) accepting from the devotees whatever they may offer in return, (3) opening one’s mind to the devotees, (4) inquiring from them about the confidential service of the Lord, (5) honoring prasadam, or spiritual food, given by the devotees, and (6) feeding the devotees with prasadam. Mutuality and reciprocation are key in these loving exchanges. In the big family I grew up in, we had an uncle who was the soul of generosity, always giving gifts or doing favors for his relatives. Yet it was difficult for him to accept gifts and services. Eventually these one-sided exchanges took their toll on his relationships, so much so that he began to think of himself as the Benevolent One or Great Benefactor, dispensing money, gifts, and other resources to others who then always looked to him as the supplier. Over time, resentment built up on both sides. When he was unable or unwilling to give, family members neglected him and he resented their attitudes. So it is very important that loving exchanges be reciprocated. Also, something so simple (but often challenging) as really, genuinely, listening respectfully to your child or your spouse or other devotee, with sympathy and without being anxious to get your own words in, can be a great act of love and affection.

Rupa Goswami defined real love for Krishna as favorable devotional service to Him. This is a great definition to apply to love between devotees as well because it combines the two fundamental parts of love: devotion (attitude) and service (action). The word love, which can be a noun or a verb, indicates both a state of being and action.

Rupa Goswami also lists the qualities necessary to advance spiritually, and we can apply these to healthy family life in Krishna consciousness as well: patience, enthusiasm, firm conviction (that Lord Krishna wants healthy family life), acting according to regulative principles, straightforward dealings (honesty, integrity), and association with likeminded souls—we should actively seek out the association of other families and couples serious about spiritual life.

Doing Spiritual Activities Together Enhances Family Life

Krishna conscious family members should read and discuss scripture together, have regular kirtanas together, share prasadam, serve the Deity in their homes, and pray for sincere and steady connection to Lord Krishna and each other.

Think about it: How often have you sat down to a good meal prepared by one of your family or friends and neglected to really appreciate the cook for his or her efforts? When a good, tasty, nutritious prasadam meal is offered to you, don’t take it for granted. Take the time to express your gratitude. Little thoughtful comments can significantly increase the level of satisfaction in your relationships. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal said, “Little things console us because little things afflict us.” So, even little things, like appreciating a good meal, can strengthen a relationship. Take inventory and ask yourself when was the last time you truly listened to your spouse or other family member, gave him or her a gift, or prepared some prasadam as a surprise?

In the material world, relationships are generally based on lust and illusion and are a perverted reflection of the loving exchanges in the eternal reality. In the spiritual world, however, deeply loving, reciprocal relationships are the normal and natural existence. There, devotees compete to serve the Lord and each other. When we sincerely chant the holy names of Krishna, appreciate the association of saintly people, and otherwise engage in devotional service, we can truly share real spiritual love and affection with others even while apparently in the material environment.