(An expectant mother, who is also a devotee book distributor, submits a question to H.H. Bhakti Vikasa Swami. He gave a short answer and asked one of his female disciples to give further advice.)
Dear Guru Maharaja
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
My name is _________ . I have a question to ask you.
I joined ISKCON five years ago. For the last four years my sole service has been to distribute the books of His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada. During that time, due to both the mercy of Srila Prabhupada and the inspiration I received from the devotees here, I was able to distribute more than twenty thousand books.
Currently I am not able to be so active in book distribution because my husband and I are expecting a child. I was very upset due to not to being able to take part in the most recent December marathon.
Some time ago, a sankirtana department was created in our yatra. I was asked by senior devotees to take charge of all the matajis involved in book distribution. My service involves inspiring the other matajis, organising travelling sankirtana and cooperating with other departments of the yatra involved in preaching.
I really need your blessings. I am worried that I am not as busy and active in this service as before. Guru Maharaja, please tell me how else I can be useful to Srila Prabhupada’s mission in my current situation. I am worried that I have nothing to offer to your feet and to the feet of Srila Prabhupada.
If you so desire, I would like to eventually return to the ranks of the book distributors and continue my service, having accepted your blessings to do so.
Your servant, __________
ANSWER FROM H.H. BHAKTI VIKASA SWAMI:
Sri Guru Gaurangau Jayataù
Respected Mataji ______,
Asirvada. All glory to Srila Prabhupada and his faithful followers!
Congratulation on your outstanding service in distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books. Now you will give birth and you will have to concentrate on caring for your child. Raising children in Krsna consciousness is an important service that must not be neglected. I will ask one of my senior female disciples to advise you further in this matter.
hari-guru-vaisnava dasa, Bhakti Vikasa Swami
FURTHER ADVICE :
Dear Godsister ___________
Please accept my humble obeisances.
Jaya Srila Prabhupada.
Jaya Guru Maharaja.
Our Guru Maharaja has asked me to advise you about your motherhood and devotional service.
(To begin with let me introduce myself. I am a thirty seven year old mother of two boys, aged nine and six. I have been married for twelve years to a supportive non-devotee. We live in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Our Guru Maharaja, H.H. Bhakti Vikasa Swami gave me initiation fifteen years ago and named me Revati devi dasi. When I am not chanting my rounds , taking care of my family, cooking or cleaning, I do some services for the local temple and preaching-both from home.. )
First of all let me congratulate you and express my admiration for you glorious book distribution service. The last four years of your life must have been filled with the ecstasy of sankirtana, encompassing many adventures and realizations. You and your husband were lucky to be part of the sankirtana mission. You distributed so many books!
Now your life is changing. As a couple you are expecting a baby and you yourself are wondering how you can contribute to Srila Prabhupada’s mission in that position.
You can be useful to Srila Prabhupada’s mission. Simply by serving as a Krsna conscious mother and wife you can help Srila Prabhupada and our Guru Maharaja establish varnasrama dharma.
MOTHER AS THE FIRST GURU
In the Vedic scriptures the position of mother is very much respected. The first of the seven different kinds of guru is the mother. You have been preaching to thousands of people. Now you will be preaching to and caring for one who appeared in your womb. (Maybe more will also appear there in your family later.) Your baby is a lucky soul who is now for a short time under your influence only. Hearing what you hear and speak, experiencing your feelings and eating whatever you eat. You are already preaching to that fortunate soul!
You can read in the Srimad-Bhagavatam how Prahlada Maharaja received spiritual knowledge while in the womb and how the soul in the womb is conscious as described by Lord Kapiladeva. Therefore many mothers read Srimad-Bhagavatam aloud to their unborn children. One can also chant prayers or bhajans, play Srila Prabhupada lectures or bhajans etc. for the benefit of one’s baby.
You probably know from Srimad-Bhagavatam that Dhruva Maharaja’s mother advised him to worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead. When Dhruva subsequently attained spiritual success, the Visnudutas came to take to take him to Vaikunthaloka and he saw his mother also going, being carried in a second airplane. Srila Prabhupada writes,
“The conclusion is that a disciple or an offspring who is a very strong devotee can carry with him to Vaikunthaloka either his father, mother or siksa– or diksa-guru. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Ṭhakura used to say, “If I could perfectly deliver even one soul back home, back to Godhead, I would think my mission — propagating Krsna consciousness — to be successful.” The Krsna consciousness movement is spreading now all over the world, and sometimes I think that even though I am crippled in many ways, if one of my disciples becomes as strong as Dhruva Maharaja, then he will be able to carry me with him to Vaikunthaloka.’
KRSNA CONSCIOUS MOTHERHOOD IS A SERVICE AND ALSO PREACHING
‘‘To raise one soul to Krsna consciousness is counted by Krsna as a very great service, so you do this duty very carefully and Krsna will certainly bestow His blessings upon you.” (Srila Prabhupada letter to Krsna dasi November 2, 1969)
“Raising children in Krsna consciousness is an important service that must not be neglected.’’(as Guru Maharaja wrote to you in his letter above)
“Varnasrama-dharma should be established to become a Vaisnava,” said Srila Prabhupada in 1977. “It is not so easy to become a Vaisnava.” Srila Prabhupada wanted his disciples to establish varnasrama dharma. So, his female followers can help in this mission by following great women from sastra – many chaste and caring and loving mothers and wives. The family is the main cell for the structure of human society and as women we are keeping families united and raising future generations. In this chaotic and miserable world, people will also see examples of nice Krsna conscious families, devoted mothers who raise their happy and healthy and Krsna conscious children, so it is also preaching how this utmost knowledge functions in practice.
“We require so many householders to set the example for others, how in Krsna consciousness we can live peacefully, even in married life. Also we require so many Krsna conscious children to show how nicely and beautifully a child can develop when he is following the principles of God consciousness.” (Srila Prabhupada Letter to Upendra dasa, December 8, 1968)
When I was a young student of architecture I asked Guru Maharaja whether I should put more energy into my studies because one day I would be designing temples for Krsna. His answer was as follows,
“..I don’t advise my young lady disciples to be career oriented. Nature has given you a body for bearing children and it is a mother’s duty to spend time with and properly look after her offspring. Big preaching at grassroots level will be if our grhasta devotees take up responsibility of showing an ideal example to the world.”(HH Bhakti Vikasa Swami letter to me Oct 6, 1999.)
So, being a devotee mother, a mother who practices Krsna consciousness and who is giving motherly care to one or more spirit souls is a very important service in Srila Prabhupada ‘s mission.
GREAT MOTHERS IN SASTRA
We can also learn how to be Krsna conscious mothers by reading how great women from sastra served their transcendental children with utmost care and love. Women described in sastra never felt they are “just mothers”, who are “missing something more important.” We can see, and get inspired by, the examples of Srila Prabhupada mother, mother Saci, mothers Yasoda, Rohini, Kunti devi etc.
As mothers we start to learn to be selfless personal servants adjusting ourselves totally to our children’s needs. Therefore mothers are known as the best servants and are respected among mature Vaisnavas for their service rendered to their families. It is said that motherly love is the most selfless love in this material world. Srila Prabhupada insisted that every woman in our society should be respected as a mother, mataji. It is a honorary title, better that any Ph.d!
Please, don’t feel that you will be missing something now when you will serve your child. Devotees will always push and ask for different services, but your most important service will be your baby and family. I’ve seen so many times how young mothers (including myself) have been praised for their services in the temple while they were neglecting their children, but it is completely wrong. I will never forget one cake I made for Radhastami, while my one year old son was crying. I will never do that again, no matter how many devotees call me and tell me that there is a festival and there is important service.
Please be happy as a mother and enjoy spending time caring for your baby. Now you are wondering how to render book distribution service, but soon you will find yourself lacking sleep, chanting while breastfeeding and your priorities will change. Please don’t allow anybody make you feel guilty for serving your child in Krsna consciousness, no matter what may be going on regarding other important services. You may find many different lectures and seminars about this topic on the website www.bvks.com, and the most important seminar (now also available as a book) is ‘’Women, masters or mothers’’-which is highly recommended for all female devotees.
Many devotee mothers also experience troubles in chanting 16 rounds, so chanting and taking care of your baby will take most of your time at first, and it is completely bonafide and natural. There is our godsister from Croatia who never missed to chant 16 rounds daily-it is the most important instruction from a guru. She is a housewife and her 3 children are very nice and exemplary devotees.
Another godsister, from Czech Republic, was a book distributor for 7 years. And now she has a baby boy. I was really inspired watching her spending all morning caring for his needs. She wasn’t even a little bit frustrated (as I used to be) because she was missing the morning program, or a lecture because her son needed one hour to poop. She patiently and happily sat there with him. She told me how now she has a morning program a little bit later in the morning because she adjusted her sadhana to her baby’s routine. She understood that it will not be like that forever, just while he is a baby. She is such an inspiration!
There is one poem ‘’If I had my child to raise over again“ which laments over all the mistakes we make when we are not fully dedicated to our children…With all spiritual knowledge and examples from shastra, we should not make mistakes in the future by neglecting our children, neglecting our motherly nature and thus neglecting our Guru’s instructions. Our children will be with us for such a short time and they grow up so fast, we must utilize that time the best way we can. It may seem that we will change diapers and have sleepless nights forever, that we will be constantly interrupted while chanting or even sleeping…but after few years our babies will grow and we shouldn’t find ourselves lamenting that we could have been with them more, raised them better, loved them more, spent more time with them, taught them more about Krsna etc.
Even non-devotee materialistic women take maternity leave for few years, why shouldn’t you do the same for your baby? And why not a maternity leave for a lifetime? Therefore, I would advise you to tell the senior leaders of your yatra that you will be on maternity leave and that you will not be able to continue on with such responsibilities as organising travelling sankirtana etc.
“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 Krsna, they are Vaisnavas 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 Krsna Consciousness. That is very great responsibility, do not neglect it or be confused.” (Srila Prabhupada’s Letter to Arundhati dasi, July 30, 1972)
MOTHERHOOD COMES FIRST
First things first. When our babies have grown up a little bit, are satisfied and taken care of, when our minimum 16 rounds are completed, when our house is clean, prasadam is served…we will find some time to do some service, too! (And we must accept that brahmacarini life is over and that motherhood is just as adventurous and fulfilling).
I know matajis who go out sometimes to distribute books with babies on their back. It is not that they keep their children hungry, without their daily routine, that they say to their husband that there will be no lunch because they are off on a sankirtana mission. Our godsister from Ireland is distributing books few hours a week while her children are at school. Another mataji used to distribute books at public programs accompanied by her pre-school age son.
You may also try to distribute books online later. But please let the whole world stop for now and just be there for your baby. Establish that important and strong emotional bond between you. By loving you, trusting you and seeing your example your child will be attracted to Krsna as well.
There are many book distributors in ISKCON, but we also need loving mothers of future book distributors. And if you neglect your baby because of other services, your baby will feel that, too. We have had many examples of how devotee’s children are not interested in Krsna consciousness because they were disappointed with the parenting they received. Even now, while still in your womb baby may feel that you consider him/her as an obstacle to your service. Be assured that by becoming a mother you are still advancing spiritually and serving Guru Maharaja.
You asked our Guru Maharaja what you can offer to his lotus feet. You can offer him your child raised, nurtured, cared and loved as a spirit soul, eternal servant of Lord Krsna, growing in a Vaikuntha home, in a Vaikuntha family where you and your husband cooperate nicely. You can serve Guru Maharaja simply by being a strict and sincere devotee, through stri-dharma, being a chaste wife and loving mother. I assure you that you are not missing or losing anything by serving in this way.
If you have any further questions or doubts, please feel free to write to me whenever you like. This is a big, important subject, but I will stop here. You can stay in contact and ask me further questions if you like.
I can also send you links to other important lectures by Guru Maharaja about stri-dharma, family life and raising children in Krsna consciousness…as well as some other helpful and inspiring websites and blogs.
I wish you happy delivery, Krsna conscious family life and motherhood.
Your humble servant and sister, Revati dd