Chakra Discussions

Sound preaching includes caring for children

by Gaurav Mittal

Posted December 17, 2003

The philosophy of the Hare Krishna movement, sometimes claimed as the panacea for all problems, has failed to prevent child abuse. A deeper look into the presentation of the philosophy may show that it actually encouraged abuse. Unless the philosophical emphasis is correct, the movement will not be able to take proper care of children. Overt child abuse may not happen in the future as it happened in the '70s and '80s, but neglect will continue.

In the Vedic age, joint families -- including grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles -- used to live together harmoniously. It was very easy to raise children in joint families, as the whole family would take care of them, and they would get the association of cousins. Raising children becomes more difficult in the nuclear family comprising only parents and their children, and even more difficult due to the influence of western culture.

Raising children is a very time-consuming task requiring intelligent action and very hard work. Sometimes, it becomes burdensome to a devotee, who may want an easy way out. Therefore, ISKCON should be teaching that child rearing is a very important devotional activity.

In the philosophy of the Hare Krishna movement, independent thinking or analysis of problems is generally discouraged as "mental speculation". A person is supposed to lead one's life as stated in Srila Prabhupada's books and as guru dictates; otherwise, one's spiritual life is in jeopardy. Srila Prabhupada's books and the current leaders of ISKCON, however, have failed to emphasize the importance of raising children properly.

The books and lectures of the preachers are filled with encouragement about chanting, engaging in book distribution, serving the guru, etc. Initiation is all-important. Where and how does child care relate to those activities? Will serious devotees take care of their kids when it causes "hindrance" to other devotional activity? Who will spend time to listen to one's kids when a devotee can spend time in chanting, reading books, etc.? Why will a initiated mother take care of her newborn baby when that baby does not let her chant 16 rounds and deviates her from her vows?

What portions of the books and lectures by preachers are dedicated to encouraging parents properly? Only a very insignificant portion at best. Most probably, parents who lack the ability to think on their own will continue to ignore children, as child care is not considered an important devotional service in the books and lectures. (I can very easily show from Vedic sources that proper child care is extremely pleasing to Krishna. Those who don't take such care of their children are actually committing an act very unpleasing to Krishna.)

The second important aspect is the value system of the society, which does not consider serving children as an important service to Krishna, nor provide negative consequences for neglect. Therefore, ISKCON did not try to stop the child abusers in the past. Also, there are many devotees who failed miserably in raising children and committed grave offenses by neglecting or leaving them. Even then, the society does not attribute negative values to these persons.

Some devotees consider that forcing their children to do so-called devotional service represents good child raising, or there may be an expectation for the child to act in what other devotees consider the "right" way. An extreme example of this expectation is that children were forced to wake up very early in the morning in past gurukulas.

Parents need also to be sensitive to their children, and they should try to fulfill their physical, emotional and mental needs. How can parents who are busy doing other so-called devotional service expect children to be devotees, when the parents do not spend time with them?

Raising children is a very important devotional activity, but is not always given a proper priority. Unless raising children is considered as one of the foremost devotional activities, the Hare Krishna movement will generally continue to be a failure in making devotees among the next generation.