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How Not to Speak with Your Mom

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Muth and son
In visiting with my mom in her last days I revisited my very poor original dealings with her when I first took up the path of Bhakti or Krishna consciousness. In those days the devotees were almost all very young and inexperienced. We had no balanced elders to show us the way through their wisdom of having gone through many stages of life and various mistakes and blunders. Therefore our application of the philosophy was often very fanatical and short sighted. At least for many of us including myself, “tact” was not in our vocabulary, and we had no ability to think long term or to really understand that we can’t give people everything at once. We have to be sensitive to the receptivity of our audience, and not speak “at” them but to them based on our relationship and their nature. People will be more inclined to hear from a friend than an adversary.

As typical youth we thought we were superior in everyway to our parents and we often lectured to them as if they were just ignorant subordinates. Of course they were ignorant of spiritual principles, yet we could have presented things more gently, in a way that they could at hear—and with respect. We expected them to accept whatever logic we presented, and if they didn’t some of us became angry and thought them to be “demons”. Our fanaticism made them react so negatively to us. At least personally, I know that much of my problems with my mom were created by me.

Truth be told, our knowledge of spirituality was more theoretical than realized, and our immaturity confounded our attempts to explain the philosophy. I have found that if we expect to have a meaningful dialog with others we have to respect them if we at all want to be heard.

My mother was a strong willed intelligent woman. Growing up with a moralistic religious mother she was turned off by it, and thus adopted an agnostic, rebellious attitude. Since my religious fervor brought up her childhood issues and was against her sensitivities we were primed to butt heads. Thus in a letter exchange she told me that she liked it better when I was a hippie since to her that was more socially acceptable then to be one of those weird “Hare Krishnas” who wore bed sheets, painted their faces, and disturbed the peace by chanting and selling their books. My letter I share at the end was in response to this opinion.

Although I know now that my life circumstances growing up were meant to facilitate my spiritual growth, I didn’t really understand all these dynamics until I was much older. Thus I was still reacting to my upbringing in a way which wasn’t really spiritual or intelligent. I was also a late bloomer in life in understanding relationships and thus I was immature and socially inept. I also didn’t have much compassion for my parents nor did I understand their own struggles as a person and parent. Now I do my best to try to see from other people’s perspective and take into consideration their conditioning. Only those with some background in Bhakti will have appreciation for it, not all. We have a great philosophy, but spiritual life is more then philosophy, being a matter of the heart’s attraction.

As much as we may hate to think about it, we are also a product of our upbringing. If we are to make spiritual progress we have to carefully examine our life and see in what ways we are being reactionary to life circumstances we didn’t like. This helps us take responsibility for our life and the quality of our relationships. Many of our “anarthas” or undesirable away of thinking and acting are habitual reactions to growing up and the influences we were subjected to culturally and in our family.

At the same time we have to understand the bigger picture on which the drama of our life takes place: The material world is a temporary miserable place and we have forgotten our real spiritual home and family to accept our earthly family. We have to see that our parents and life circumstances are only an instrument of our karma. If we take to spiritual life, everything is used by Krishna to help us take shelter of him. Making peace with our past we want to come to a stage where we have no emotional charge regarding our upbringing. People do the best they can with the information they have—which in regards to parenting and understanding children is very slight.

In the course of going through my mom’s possessions I came across two letters, one of which demonstrates clearly part of the reason my mother was so unfavorable to my being a devotee. Interestingly she kept this letter along with her Will and end of life directives. Although it is embarrassing to me now, I will share this letter here as an example of how not to deal with one’s parents. When you read this letter keep in mind that when I grew up I was never interested in religion—or much of anything really. And all of a sudden I was the big authority. Although what I said wasn’t “wrong” and would be appropriate if I spoke it in a scripture class, such a tone could only alienate my mom. As I mentioned she had spoken badly of my involvement in the movement, and I was on the defensive. However, my attacking her couldn’t possibly make the situation any better. As the saying goes, “Hindsight is 20/20”:

Karnamrita das
Hong Kong
4/20/76

Dear Mother:

So I’ve now left India after staying six months. I had the good fortune to travel all over the country while preaching. I visited many holy places. India is nothing like the vision always portrayed in America. Of course in the big cities and train lines you see poverty and diseases of unbelievable varieties, yet in the country there is no scarcity of food, water or necessities of life. The people are happy, healthy and God fearing. This is Vedic life—plain living and high thinking, or a life meant for understanding one’s relationship with God and going back to Godhead or our spiritual home. Even a simple man who may be illerate by Western standards knows that his body is not himself, that we are eternal souls, and that there is a next life. This is the influence of spiritual culture.

Please forgive any unclear statements but I’ve contacted Malaria. For the last 2 weeks I’ve been in the hospital trying to recover. This is a really heavy disease with chills, fever, fast heart, headache—you name it. I thought I was dying many times but I’m over it now and hope to be released in a few days. My mind is still very boggled. Anyway, I’ll be alright in some time.

I don’t want to hear any of your criticism of what I’m doing. How can defend this corrupt material civilization and say I should “rejoin human civilization”. Don’t you understand that a real cultured person doesn’t just wear a nice suit and appear respectable? What about his character? He’s a drunkard and women hunter and has no respect for others, being interested only in himself. If one has money he’s considered respectable even if his character is abominable. To be really cultured one must be religious—not like the modern Christians who go to church only on Sunday—but factually. Faith and devotion to God, truthfulness, honesty, peacefulness, respect for others, virtue, knowledge of God, and detachment for material things comprise real religion and advanced culture.

Would you say to me that you would rather see me in a suit, though drunk and looking for some women? This is a man of the world you want me to be? Our spiritual movement is not just some hippy movement; it is an attempt to bring real culture and good qualities to everyone. Our members come from all factions of society—even Alfred Ford is a devotee. We don’t know from our Western culture how to be religious, so many of us are conditioned to act as we always have. However, it is a beginning to adopt a culture of respect and spiritual advancement. We don’t eat meat, take any intoxicants, gamble or have illicit sex outside of marriage.

Don’t be a demon—try to see the good in what I am doing, and don’t be blinded by your anger of our criticism of this world. The state of affairs in our country and the world must be exposed for everyone’s benefit. Because of the Godless leaders everyone is suffering and there is no peace in the world or among the average people.

I may be traveling soon to Australia if my health improves—otherwise I am not sure.

Hare Krishna.

Your son,

Karnamrta das brahmachari

Please offer my best to Father.

I could have offered my critical analysis of this letter, but I will just see if you have some thoughts about it. I think it speaks for itself and teaches us how not to speak with our parents about our Krishna consciousness. She would have never thought as I do, but at least we could have been more congenial over the years with just a little sensitivity and thoughtfulness.

Combined comments from old site

Tue, 07/20/2010 - 01:53 — Ashwini
Thank you...

Hare Krsna prabhuji...
Please accept my humble obeisances...

Thank you very much for your beautiful blog entry...
Your guidance on how to be with the family which is not too much favorable for KC will be needed for fallen souls like me.......

Kindly guide youngsters like me, more on this topic.....

Thanking you,
Always at your lotus feet,
Ashwini


*Reply*

Tue, 07/20/2010 - 08:01 — Karnamrita.das
Audience

Ashwini, in many ways I am writing for the next or younger generation of devotees. I hope that my mistakes and blunders will help you and others to not have to make them, and to be thoughtful, introspective and balanced people and devotees. We all have to be able to step back from our life and see that whatever we criticize others for we also have to some extent, or at least the propensity for it. This should give us pause and humility. From my perspective the greatest enemy in the world is fanaticism, and one of our great teachers, Shrila Bhaktivinode Thakur considers sectarianism to be the 11th offense in chanting the holy name. We should consider out path the best for us, but not for all. Everything is about relationships. To our best ability we have to make them favorable, or at least neutral.

Your friend in Krishna,

Karnamrita


Mon, 07/19/2010 - 22:36 — nevaeh
better letter

You were doing so well communicating with your mother and what spoiled it which I know you know, those last 3 paragrahs.
1 Never especially parents call them by a name not given to them.
2 Never question their intelligence.
3 Never assume anything for them.

Respect and understanding we know now is what brings peace when talking about any subject especially religion. Rose


*Reply*

Tue, 07/20/2010 - 08:15 — Karnamrita.das
Right on!

There are so many reasons for my tone--my anger at being "abandoned" by her growing up, my fanatical understanding of KC, and just plain old lack of maturity or EQ (emotional intelligence). As I have said I share myself in order that others can be sensitive that they don't make the same kind of mistakes. It is essential that we have healthy self-esteem based on our identity as part of Krishna, as well as humility about our shortcomings and mistakes. One of the main things for all on the path of bhakti is that we come to the point of doing what is favorable for our spiritual advancement and give up what isn't. And this may mean intense self analysis and confronting our inner "demons" sometime called our shadow in Jungian psychology. Balance is required so we may have a positive orientation to our spiritual life, knowing full well the shortcomings of a life without Krishna! Our mind wants to protect our false ego, so with spiritual knowledge we have to be willing to peel away the layers of illusion which include our most cherished attachments and convoluted or dysfunctional perspectives or points of view adopted in reaction to some type of suffering!

Your friend in Krishna,

Karnamrita