Grhasta-asrama, Introduction

Manidhara Das
07 Jun 2022


Most practicing devotees today are situated in some sort of grhasta asrama, meaning living in the company of a female or vice versa, a female in a company of a male. (Vedic culture represented by Srila Prabhupada doesn´t facilitate other "varieties", clearly defining homosexuality as an anomaly and degraded type of existence.)

This text and all other to come is written by a male bodied devotee and quite likely it may raise criticism on the part of the females claiming that I have no ability to understand them. I can only agree, I will never understand females, especially not those who operate outside of the boundaries of Vedic rules and regulations. Anybody doing so, male or female, must follow the dictate of his or her mind, senses and false ego. Such person is surely unpredictable, moving like a puppet under the management of three modes of material nature, and cannot be "understood".

Srila Prabhupada Himself admitted that His grhasta asrama was a defeat for Him as none of His family members became a devotee. Those who understand the higher purpose of His "defeat", the freedom He got to take sannyas and spread Krsna Consciousness all over the world, will not dare to pass any judgements in regards to the grhasta asrama of such a transcendental giant.

Nevertheless, Srila Prabhupada had introduced grhasta asrama already at the early stage of the development of His movement, taking great risks by marrying His disciples, as He saw in what close proximity of the opposite sex we grew up. Simultaneously, He also encouraged celibacy in the form of brahmacary asrama and sannyas.
As the history of ISKCON showed us, not many could sustain their brahmacary and sannyas vows and even grhasta asrama, the most complex of the four asramas, proved to be a challenge as well as it is based on absolute chastity and tolerance.

Why is grhasta asrama the most complex one? Because it synchronizes material and spiritual elements in a regulated way with the understanding that the spiritual priorities are those, which have to prevail.
As one of my godbrothers humorously commented, "grhasta asrama is like going to a big feast, and fast".

Where affection stops and the lusty exploitative regime starts, is up to every grhasta to judge. In Vedic culture, spiritual surveillance is required and desired. Therefore, superior spiritual surveillance is absolutely necessary, especially as most devotees are not guarded by senior, morally and spiritually grounded family members.
Srila Prabhupada, expecting His female grhasta disciples to be chaste wives, also issued a stern warning to His male disciples," don´t use your wife as a sex machine".

There are noble dignified couples in Krsna Consciousness we can look up to and we can be sure that they had to deal with both material and spiritual challenges on the way, and still doing so, as maya never stops striking. Still Srila Prabhupada established grhasta asrama as a sheltered position, and was more and more hesitant to award sannyas when seeing the falldowns of His sannyas generals.

Today, most devotees move, despite its complexities, within the grhasta asrama and ISKCON became a congregation-based movement, which is somewhat natural for any religious group.
Of course, Srila Prabhupada expected from us not being just pious Sunday-church-participants. His early generation of grhastas were powerful preachers, opening the major temples all over the world. I myself, years later, spent the first eight years of my grhasta asrama embarking with my wife on dangerous preaching missions many of the sannyasis today can hardly dream about.
Was it grhasta asrama I lived in? Hard to tell. One thing is for sure, the arrival of a child changed everything. And grhasta asrama means to have a child.

And so in the following text, thanks to grhasta asrama being a blend of material necessities and a struggle for spiritual existence, will be included both sastric evidence and also empiric evidence of those not being directly engaged in Krsna Consciousness, collected generation after generations by those who learned the challenges connection between male and female brings about.

Immature young devotees often disregard this type of wisdom, as it doesn´t include any satric conclusion. It is a fact that karmis, those who work for the benefit of the body only, often know what the problem is, but are too attached to accept a higher spiritual alternative.
On the other side naive devotees may underestimate the power of a karma their union may still be tinted with. How do we know the husband´s past lives and the wife´s past lives, and the karmic package they both bring "to the game"?
Even we may know that we are not this body but a spiritual soul, what shall we then do in a presence of such bodies? For brahmacaries and sannyasis, living in celibacy, the rules are clear: no intimacy with the opposite sex.
For grhastas, life becomes more complex as the butter should stay in the hot pan but not melt. The pan should be warm enough but not burn, and love should be extended without attachment.
Confused immature devotees take to fanaticism; the husband wants to be a monk again and the wife turns out to be a raging nun, both of them ending in disaster due to their unpurified material desires.

Srila Prabhupada gave us a life free of bhoga, hopes for satisfaction of our material desires, and tyaga, the denial of such desires without any tangible higher spiritual taste.

This is one way to destroy grhasta asrama. Not agreeing on the level of one´s conditioning, one DESIGNATES oneself to a position one doesn´t belong to. The remedy for such misunderstanding?Honest introspection and mutual assistance to overcome one´s condition by regulating it first, and GRADUALLY purifying it by dint of a spiritual practice.

Chastity and mutual loyalty are the basic requirement for such grhasta co-existence, decorated with a great deal of tolerance. The rest is done by material nature, which automatically leads any grhasta couple into the vanaprastha asrama, where while residing in their disintegrating bodies, both husband and wife have no other objective than the cultivation of spiritual life.
What else is there to do in order not be embarrassed by the approaching death of the body, than to focus on the values of the eternal nature?

But this text and the following ones are mostly dedicated to the younger devotees who are still on the way to face the challenges grhasta asrama provides plentifully.
Already here, in the introductory part, one can only hope for a constructive feedback of any devotee, which may allow me to share in a more specific way the vast material I can draw from. Any constructive inquiry is most welcome.