“Help! My Husband Is Not a Devotee!”

I recently received a letter from an aspiring devotee I'll call "Susan," who wrote that she felt trapped, not knowing which way to turn. Susan came to Krishna consciousness five years ago when she read The Perfection of Yoga. Her husband, "James," had given her the book, thinking it was about exercises. Susan read it excitedly and sent away for the Bhagavad-gita As It Is, which she said “felt like a delicious wave of warm water flowing over me. It was as if everything I had thought all my life had been written down on paper.”

At first James showed some interest in Krishna consciousness, and both he and Susan went to a few Hare Krishna functions. They were looking for alternative ways of thinking and living. Susan began to get what she called “a higher taste.” But James didn’t like the pushy zealousness of some of the devotees, and his interest waned. Now he criticizes her efforts to practice Krishna consciousness, so Susan finds it hard to do all she would like for Krishna, although she manages to chant fourteen rounds a day and read Srila Prabhupada’s books. She wonders if it is possible to serve Krishna by looking after a family uninterested in Krishna consciousness, and sometimes even belligerently against it.

Susan also mentioned that some devotees have advised her to tolerate her situation and others say she should leave home. She loves her husband and family, and now that she is beginning to love Krishna she finds herself confused. Does being Krishna conscious mean she must choose between her family and Krishna? And even if such a choice is ultimately required, when is the right time to make it?

As I began to reply, my first thought was, “Is she making any assumptions? How does she know that James is not a devotee and she is?”

So I wrote:

“By broad definition, only two kinds of living beings exist: those who are Krishna conscious and those who aren’t. Although every soul is Krishna conscious by nature, some have willfully turned away from the Lord. Of these errant wanderers, some are trying to approach Him again. When these sincere souls become free from material taints and forgetfulness of Krishna, they are reinstated as His eternal associates, His devotees.

“The word devotee, therefore, means pure devotee. We’re not devotees yet. We’re aspiring devotees.

“When we look at things in this way, could it not be that your husband, like you, is also an aspiring devotee? Broadly speaking, anyone who accepts God as his worshipable Lord is a devotee.

“It may be that your husband resents the very idea that he must submit to someone or something greater than himself. If this is the case, he will naturally resent your efforts to approach the Lord. He may be afraid that Lord Krishna has come between you and him and is planning to take you away from him. You may find that the only way you can practice your Krishna consciousness is to be more secretive, as if you have a secret lover.

“But if your husband is not fundamentally envious of Lord Krishna’s existence, it may be that internally he yearns for spirituality. After all, Krishna consciousness lies dormant within everyone, as fire lies dormant within wood. And just as fire can be awakened within wood, a person’s divine consciousness can be awakened by the right association. How can we help to draw out James’s love for Krishna?

“In your letter you mention that he feels pressured by your evangelistic efforts (like trying to get him to be a vegetarian and read Prabhupada’s books). His perception may have more to do with the dynamics of your relationship than with Krishna consciousness. If so, you might want to give him room to express his feelings.

“Suppose I am the owner of a scruffy, uncared-for garden, and my neighbor spends his time fussing about it and criticizing me. How will I feel? To keep the peace I may begrudgingly do some-thing, but I’m not likely to feel much love for my neighbor or my garden.

“But suppose my neighbor is a blissfully keen gardener who sometimes leaves luscious fruits and vegetables on my doorstep? I’ll probably look at his beautiful garden and think, ‘Let me do something about mine!’

“A devotee is like a gardener busily tending her creeper of devotion. With her mind absorbed in thought of her beautiful Lord Krishna, her face mirrors His beauty and good qualities. As Krishna is attractive, so is she.

“Krishna conscious people are so overwhelmed with their research of the Absolute Truth that their enthusiasm bubbles over and they want to share their newfound treasures of transcendental knowledge. Gradually they learn discretion and tact.

“Krishna consciousness is an educational movement, not a proselytizing one. Changing from one faith to another is superficial compared to the universal education that Krishna consciousness offers.

“A couple I know who were undergoing friction and frustration in their relationship have now agreed to meet halfway. She goes with him to the Hare Krishna temple, and he goes with her to Mass. They have also agreed to accept any religious principles favorable to their spiritual lives. So they offer their food to God.

“Krishna consciousness is meant to enhance things, not tear everything down.

“If you can arrange for James to meet someone experienced and skilled at explaining the science of Krishna consciousness, he may find that his doubts and aversion taper off.

“A person I know whose husband has been practicing Krishna consciousness for eighteen years has only recently visited a Hare Krishna temple for the first time. Are you prepared to wait for James? Perhaps you can gradually acclimatize him by taking him out to a Govinda’s Restaurant or to the home of a devotee who is in a social situation similar to yours. Perhaps he felt he was thrown in at the deep end.

“Now what about you? What about the health of your devotional creeper in a difficult, restrictive atmosphere? As your husband feels intimidated by you, so you feel stifled by him. He is correct when he says that everyone is an individual and must decide whether or not to be Krishna conscious. By the same token, he can respect your right to choose for yourself. When discussing the position of a woman married to a man who was not following the principles of Krishna consciousness, Srila Prabhupada said, ‘If she, or anyone, wants to keep herself pure, she can keep herself pure in any circumstances.’

“Be assured that because you are an authentic student of an authentic process your success is guaranteed. A dedicated gardener who has good seed, fertile soil, plentiful rain and sun, and the all-important mercy of God is guaranteed a bumper crop. So too, your success is assured by the gifts of Srila Prabhupada and Lord Chaitanya. And as the gardener’s family gets to share the produce, so your family will share the fruits of your spiritual progress.

“You ask if it’s possible to serve Krishna by looking after your family. In the Bhagavad-gita Krishna says that whatever we do can be done as an offering to Him. Mother Theresa once said that she is not actually a servant of the poor but a servant of God. So you are not a servant of your family, but a servant of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, the root of all spiritual and material worlds. The water you pour to nourish your devotional service gives spiritual benefit to all living beings in the universal tree, from the demigods to the insects—what to speak of your husband and children.

“So all in all you are not as trapped as you may think, and you are well on the road to full freedom.”