On Father’s Day, thinking of The Mystery of Relationships, Life
In the U.S.A. we just observed “Father’s Day” and it’s celebrated in 55 other countries on various days. Although not a Vedic holiday per se, the day meshes well with the Vedic idea of honoring elders including our mother and father. (Austerity of the body consists in worship of the Supreme Lord, the brahmanas, the spiritual master, and superiors like the father and mother, and in cleanliness, simplicity, celibacy and nonviolence. Bhagavad-gita 17.14). Although the West is a very youth oriented and “has to be new” culture there is still an appreciation of the importance of both one’s father and mother. Thank God or Thank Krishna!
We are all indebted to our material father and mother and so many others who helped raise us or were good or bad examples to inspire or teach us how not to be. When we are mature enough to be honestly self-reflective we can see how much our parents had to tolerate us—our moods, growing pains, harshness and insensitivity. Often it takes becoming parents ourselves to have an idea of what difficulties our parents went through. And most people are very ill-equipped to be parents, having no training or education other then through the “school of hard knocks”. Generally people do the best they can as parents. I have found that studying my parents own parents (my grandparents) has been very helpful to me in being more understanding of how I was raised. I can honestly say, “No wonder they treated me as they did when they had so many unresolved issues with their own parents. How could they have done any better with me with what they had to work with?”
Whether we had a blissful childhood or abusive one, we often have unresolved issues that need to be addressed at some point, rather than ignored. It will be good for everyone if we can intelligently, sensitively “respond” rather than react to life situations based on old unconscious scripts or defense mechanisms. Socrates' old adage of “An unexamined life isn't worth living” is very true to our life if we want to really mature and change for the better. To correct a problem we have to be conscious that we have one. We may be the way we are, yet we have to ask, “Is it working?” If not, then we have work to do, and it begins by deep self reflection and identifying unhealthy patterns not conducive for positive relationships and practicing bhakti with others. Relationships after all, are what life is all about—the field of karma.
Of course Prabhupada compared chanting Hare Krishna to boiling ghee (where milk solids or impurities are skimmed off the surface to create a cooking medium)…which means chanting sheds light on our “anarthas” or undesirable ways of thinking and acting. The problem I have experienced personally and also seen with others is that sometimes devotees don’t know what to do with this self awareness of their anarthas. Therefore, it can be very helpful to mentor with a devotee who is advanced in spiritual life and has retired many of the gross and subtle anarthas. Working with a devotee counselor can also be helpful.
For devotees of Krishna, we must learn who we are in this body and be engaged accordingly, and also become aware of what obstacles within us need to be overcome. This will help us to properly associate with all classes of devotees, whether beginners, peers, more advanced and superlative persons such as our gurus, and the Lord and his expansions and personal energies. We have the opportunity to practice our relationships skills with each other, and see how others are like mirrors where we notice our own bad qualities in them.
When we see clearly our own faults and shortcomings we will tend to be more understanding of others. Everyone, including our parents, elders and teachers, make mistakes and fall short in certain areas. Acknowledging our own imperfections will help be more sympathetic, kind, accepting and compassionate in our dealings. These are very essential Vaishnava qualities which can help us avoid a faultfinding mentality. Although living alone on a mountain top would prevent us from having conflicts with others, we also wouldn’t have the benefit of associating with saints or those who give us feedback about the work we still have to do, by pushing our emotional buttons.
There is so much more to our life circumstances, family and relationships then we generally think. We live in a purposeful Universe even down to the tiny details. The background of our life is the karmic arrangement and justice system, yet it’s running by God’s mercy and love for us, his wayward children. I remember the first time I read the Mahabharata with those innumerable subplots and stories related to the main drama and characters such as the Pandava’s and Grandfather Bhisma. Difficulties, reverses and auspicious encounters, and love or hatred between the characters was usually traced back to some former life and the fruits of the actions done then.
In other words the current relationships and unfolding events were not whimsically good or bad luck, but had a long history from eons ago, though now forgotten. It struck me how it is no less so with us, though we are small people and are not characters in scriptures. The parents we have, our situation growing up, siblings, education or lack of, occupational opportunities or attractions, spouses and children—nothing is haphazard or accidental, despite our ignorance of the past or our tendency to bemoan our fate.
Everything external was and is scripted based on our past pious or impious actions. We do have free will to choose how to respond, but the fruits of our past actions are always the driving force of our opportunities or tests. For a devotee, Krishna is involved, though usually working through our karma which he wants to use not just for the sake of justice, but to help us make spiritual progress and to learn to depend on him and see him as our savior and refuge, along with his devotee agents. And our parents are also agents of our karma, which is meant for the same purpose of awakening us to our eternal Father, Mother, and Divine Family.
So on even secular days like Father’s or Mother’s day, we can reflect on how to connect them to Krishna consciousness and Vedic culture. Everything can be favorable for our spiritual advancement with the right attitude. We all part of Krishna’s family, including our own physical family members. They were perfect instruments of Krishna! Some of us already know this, and for others it is only a matter of purification to realize it and give thanks for our father and mother and larger family.