Raising Children as Devotional Service (Bhakti)

The subject for today's blog came out from a letter to the Editor of Back to Godhead in the current issue (Nov/Dec). The letter was by a Godbrother and friend of mine, which made a distinction given by Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur, between "duties of the world" that are connected with Bhakti, and "direct" Bhakti which is generally thought of as the 9 processes of devotional service. (Actually from one perspective, "direct devotional service" is only in the Lila of Krishna and Mahaprabhu, but that is a side point.)

So we are begging the question as to what constitutes devotional service. This is an old question in the Krishna consciousness movement---which has a lot of baggage from misunderstanding what "real" or "direct" devotional service is, and applying that view in a less than compassionate, fanatical way. I am not saying my friend was, but because of our sensitivities due to history we have to really think about and clarify what devotional service is.

As a member of the North American Grihastha Vision Team we are working to create educational programs and support for Grihasthas (spiritual minded married couples) as well as for potential couples to better prepare future marriages. In decades past when the movement was primarily dominated by young brahmacaris and sannyasis, the culture existed of disrespect for married life, women, and children. The GVT is endeavoring to pick up Krishna conscious married life from years of neglect and reestablish it to the important and respectable position it deserves.

I also think that my friend was speaking as a Temple leader who was expressing some frustration at having householder devotees not coming forward to do temple service, due to family responsibilities. This is understandable. Prabhupada wanted the Temples to be the center of devotees lives.

Temple services are important, yet whose responsibility are they? That depends on who you ask.

The Temple leaders may lament that the Temple can only continue if the congregation takes more responsibility. On the other side, the congregation may complain that the Temple leaders are not sympathetic to how difficult it is to maintain one's household life and do Temple service---and it is there responsibility anyway! The point of bringing this up is to show that there are different perspectives concerning where one's focus in life should be. This is also an old controversy, which is meant to help us examine what devotional service is.

When we do what many consider "direct" service at the Temple, our body is physically, observably engaged in devotional service, as it is when we engage in hearing, chanting or many of the nine types of devotional service. In comparison, if we are working at our place of business, or serving the needs of our children, we don't appear to have anything to do with devotional service.

Are the external activities we do the only way to consider what constitutes devotional service?

If that is true then only the first category would be "real" devotional service. In the second example devotees who are working in the world to support what they see as Krishna's home (and their place to perform sadhana), or who are taking care of what they consider Krishna devotees entrusted to them, would only be considered doing "gauna-dharma" or that which prepares the way for bhakti, and not really bhakti.

That would make everything very simple, very black and white. Although this can be a very tempting perspective, we see that life in all its' richness and diversity, with so many nuances is rarely "either, or".

A central theme in Krishna conscious is, well, consciousness. External activity is meant to foster a certain consciousness, which is internal, and may not be understood by others. Temples have been established to provide an environment that gives the opportunity to perform activities in relation to the Deity and for associating with and serving advanced devotees. I am not taking away from that in this discussion. I am bringing to light that ultimately Krishna consciousness is not dependent on our external activities, but on our consciousness of being a "das" (or "dasi")---a servant of Krishna and dedicating the results of our life to him.

How important is our intention or our consciousness in performing actions?

Activities performed by two persons may look the same, yet internally they can be light years apart. One person is performing what appears to be "direct" devotional service for profit, adoration, and distinction, or to find a wife, go to America or any number of motivations and desires that really have nothing to do with "direct" Krishna consciousness. The other devotee is serving simply for the pleasure Guru and Krishna, or out of duty for the purpose of purification. Are the results of the devotees going to be the same? Of course not.

What makes the difference? Our consciousness or intention.

Again, I'm not minimizing Temples, or Temple services. (Everyone should go as they are able to, and render service) I am making the point that a householder working a job, or taking care of children may be more Krishna conscious then someone doing what is glorified as "direct" devotional service in the Temple.

A general perspective is that everyone should be encouraged to serve in the arena in which they live in (home, office, Temple etc.). Yet more than that, if a business person is really in the consciousness of seeing Krishna as the proprietor of his business, serving his family as the family of Krishna, and using his wealth for the service of Guru and Krishna then he is performing bhakti. Or the mother who is really giving birth to and taking care of children as her service to Guru and Krishna, is then performing bhakti, and should be encouraged to see in that way. Not that she should be made to feel guilty for taking care of her children, instead of doing "real" service at the Temple.

It is no doubt that external devotional service is helpful in cultivating Krishna consciousness, and we should serve in that way regardless of our motivation. At the same time, after we have matured in our practice of Krishna conscious activities then we will realize that KC is not really dependent on externals.

What makes bhakti is our internal ATTITUDE of bhakti. What makes consciousness of Krishna is our pure consciousness of Krishna, and intention to be so. Externals can be important, but more important is what we mentally, emotionally, spiritually put INTO an activity.

The same Deities of Radha and Krishna are there. One person sees stone statues, another BELIEVES Radha and Krishna are there, another feels ecstasy and dances in love.

All KC activities are like that: visiting Vrindavan, taking prasad, associating with devotees, reading scripture, etc. We can do the same activities and have very different experiences, getting very different results. The difference again is our consciousness, and level of spiritual advancement.

The same is true for what appears to be "material" activities. What makes something material or spiritual is our consciousness. Whether raising Krishna conscious children or serving the Temple Deities, we are performing Bhakti to the degree we are in the consciousness of serving Guru and Krishna, and that our goal is to be Krishna conscious.

I will end with a letter from Prabhupada which emphasized the importance of raising Krishna conscious children.

"For you, child-worship is more important than deity-worship. If you cannot spend time with him, then stop the duties of pujari. At least you must take good care of your son until he is four years old, and if after that time you are unable any more to take care of him then I shall take care. These children are given to us by Krishna, they are Vaishnavas and we must be very careful to protect them. These are not ordinary children, they are Vaikuntha children, and we are very fortunate we can give them chance to advance further in Krishna Consciousness. That is very great responsibility, do not neglect it or be confused. Your duty is very clear." (Letter July 30, 1972)

combined comments from old site

Tue, 11/06/2007 - 15:38 — Bhaktin Apsara

Great topic...it has really helped me. I am a mother to a 6 year old son who I have just introduced to Krishna Consciousness. He loved everything instantly! He began like he had always been a devotee and this filled my heart with so much happiness and pure joy. He is very remarkable and such a natural devotee, living proof of Srila Prabhupada's words. He never ceases to amaze me.
Apsara Angelanamaste


Wed, 11/07/2007 - 03:21 — Karnamrita.das
Krishna's children

In addition to the fact that Krishna has given us this child to help them awaken their identity as devotees and to become balanced human beings, they also come into our lives to change and deepen us.

Truly in the course of raising them, they push us to be more unconditionally loving, compassionate, patient, kind, forgiving people and devotees. Children know how to push our emotional buttons, and are mirrors of those arenas of our life we need to work on. We notice in them our own shortcomings, our "shadows" or darkness, or those sometimes forgotten areas of our psyche that need healing.

If we have unresolved issues with our own parents, it is certain that they will come up with our children. Lessons keep coming up in our life until they are learned. The same dynamics as when we were growing up, but now we are the parent, and we have the option to do things differently if we are aware of the unhealthy pattern. Really amazing!! "And the child shall lead them."

Your friend in Krishna,



Tue, 11/06/2007 - 14:42 — NityānandaChandra
Your son

is so fun. And great kirtan dancer as well, Jaya!

Wed, 10/31/2007 - 09:14 — Radhikesh
A different view

I agree that consciousness is the real key here. But I want to present a different but related perspective here.

Krishna says in 9.27: yat karosi yad asnasi...- whatever you do, whatever you eat ...do it as an offering to me. Visvanatha Cakravarti says this verse refers to niskama karma yoga: doing an act and then offering the result to Krsna. Bhakti yoga is when the action is done simultaneously with the offering, and he quotes the nine kinds of bhakti as example. Srila Prabhupada also confirms in a lecture that this verse is karma yoga.

Krishna says in Bhagavad gita (12.10), if you cannot fix your intelligence in me always and cannot follow the regulated practice, then try to work for me. In that way you will attain perfection. In his purport, Prabhupada writes that one can work for Krsna by helping in building an office or temple for Krsna or help with publications. Since these kinds of activities are directly related to Krsna's service, it is bhakti yoga. Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura says mat-karma (Krsna's work) means engaging in such services such as hearing, chanting, sweeping and washing the temple, picking flowers etc.

Seeing it in this perspective, what would a mother's act be considered as? If she has Krsna in the center of her life and brings up her child with full attention so that she hopes the child would become Krsna conscious, will her acts be considered bhakti yoga or gauna-dharma, as Dayananda Prabhu pointed out? Please forgive me if what I have written has nothing to do with the points Karnamrta Prabhu has raised.

Radhikesh das


Wed, 10/31/2007 - 11:04 — Karnamrita.das
Direct or Gauna Dharma

I certainly understand Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta's quote as given by Dayananda Prabhu---as he said it is a technical distinction. I didn't really post this to argue against that point per say, but to stress how even what appears to be a correct perspectives can be misused, applied narrowly or even fanatically. And even if we are doing what appears to be "Krishna's work" we may not be in the correct consciousness, and though we may be doing "gauna-dharma" we may have pure intentions and consciousness. This discussion is especially useful considering the history of the movement.

Whenever anyone makes a point in an article or talk, other perspectives may be omitted for emphasis. That is why such discussions like this are important. Our philosophy is deep and rich, and to apply it broadly, sensitively, and intelligently can be a challenge.

Distinctions are important to make, like Krishna does in the 12th Chapter of the Gita, as you mentioned. There he says ultimately we should just think of him always, but if we can't do that then other activities can be done to help us come to that level and develop our desire to obtain Krishna. Though pure devotional service is materially unmotivated and uninterrupted, everyone must begin from where they are.

The challenge is how we translate the ideal into the practical world of all types of people. In the past devotees weren't very expert at doing this and many have been discouraged, or thought KC was very narrow and provincial. I and many others used to preach an "all or nothing" perspective, and as a result there has been a misunderstanding about married life, women and children. We have seen the result of preaching that taking care of children was material, and that parents would be better off doing pure or direct devotional service.

I do see that many have learned from the mistakes of the past, yet old paradigms die hard. Thus I was inspired to try to bring more light on this topic.

Your friend in Krishna,

Karnamrita das


Thu, 11/01/2007 - 02:48 — Radhikesh

Thank you

Now I see the point you are trying to make. Thank you Prabhu. I went and read back your original post and understood your points clearly this time. Sorry, I am dull.

Yes when I was in the temple in 1980s, I certainly could see we adopted that 'all or nothing' approach. Satsvarupa Maharaja warned devotees in an editorial in BTG 'Holier than thou'. In this regard, I liked what HH Tamala Krsna Maharaja's brother, Carl, told me about Maharaja - he was strict with himself but was very accommodating with others.

I think the movement has matured with time, but as you say we need to be cautious as old paradigms die hard.

Radhikesh das

Wed, 10/31/2007 - 06:02 — moonray
moonray's picture

Well put.

If we could all put more emphasis on our consciousness rather than showing the world how well we are performing “devotional service,” I think we would see a much brighter world appear before us.

Perhaps then we could understand that even though a person may not outwardly seem to be very serious about their Krishna consciousness, that on the inside they may have great love for Krishna.

We all struggle with different shortcomings, and our progress towards pure love for God is not linear. Some may have a hard time in a certain area, but be further along the path in another.

Let's be honest with each other, and more importantly, with ourselves. Things are not always what they seem.


Wed, 11/07/2007 - 19:10 — Navasi


Hare Krishna, Moonray,
I was re-reading this whole section just now, and read your comment here again also.
I just want to thank you for what you're saying about honesty.
I think that's really important also, being honest with ourselves,
as far as our own struggles and shortcomings are concerned,
(and also honest about the things we are able to do in a positive sense)
and as you said so nicely, being honest with each other.
You said the honesty with ourselves is more important,
and I'd have to agree with you there,
because if we are not honest with ourselves,
then we can't possibly be honest with anyone else.
So, thank you for this nice comment.