Question: Please clarify the siddhānta spoken in Bhāgavata Purāṇa by Kṛṣṇa Himself that the highest religious duty for a woman is to sincerely serve her husband, behave well towards her husband’s family and take good care of her children (SB 10.29.24). Women who desire a good destination in the next life should never abandon a husband who has not fallen from his religious standards, even if he is obnoxious, unfortunate, old, unintelligent, sickly or poor (SB 10.29.25).
Answer: This siddhānta is refuted by the very women to whom it was spoken. Why do you not read that part of this chapter, SB 10.29.32:
yat paty-apatya-suhṛdām anuvṛttir aṅga
strīṇāṁ sva-dharma iti dharma-vidā tvayoktam
astv evam etad upadeśa-pade tvayīśe
preṣṭho bhavāṁs tanu-bhṛtāṁ kila bandhur ātmā
“O Dearest One! You, who are the knower of dharma, have instructed us that the duties of women are to obey and serve their husbands, children, and relatives. So, let all these tasks be carried out accordingly, but in regard to You, who are the goal of all such instruction and our Lord, for You alone are the dearest beloved, the friend, and the very Self of all beings.”
And these women have been praised for not following Kṛṣṇa’s teachings in SB 10.29.24, see SB 10.47.61:
āsām aho caraṇa-reṇu-juṣām ahaṁ syāṁ
vṛndāvane kim api gulma-latauṣadhīnām
yā dustyajaṁ sva-janam ārya-pathaṁ ca hitvā
bhejur mukunda-padavīṁ śrutibhir vimṛgyām
“Let me be a shrub, creeper, or herb in the forests of Vṛndāvana so that I might be blessed with a dust particle from the feet of these gopīs! They sacrificed even their unsacrificable relationships and morals to worship Mukunda; such sacrifice is sought after even by the Vedas.”
What Kṛṣṇa spoke was from the point of dharma and what the gopīs followed, was parama-dharma, also called Vaiṣṇava-dharma, which is beyond the regular dharma.
Question: So, as per Bhāgavata dharma, what should be prime duty of a woman, who is a sincere sādhaka? If she has to serve her husband and family, then should it be with or without attachment? In my opinion, without attachment, non-duplicitous, heart-felt service is not possible. Where there is attachment, the mind always thinks about that person. The Bhāgavata recommends that the mind always be attached to Kṛṣṇa (janma-lābhaḥ paraḥ puṁsām ante nārāyaṇa-smṛtiḥ, SB 2.1.0). The highest perfection that can be achieved in human life is to remember Bhagavān at the end of life. This appears to be a contradiction. So how is both possible simultaneously?
Answer: The service has to be done seeing the husband as a part of Kṛṣṇa and not independent of Him. This is not just imagination. Everyone is part of Kṛṣṇa. Then there is no contradiction. Contradiction comes, when we make divisions between devotional activity and material activity. A devotee sees the relatives also as parts of Kṛṣṇa. This goes both for the husband as well as the wife. If the husband is indifferent to his wife, how will he take care of her, which is his duty? In her prayer to Kṛṣṇa, Kuntī asks to cut her bondage to both, the Pāṇḍavas and the Vṛṣṇis.
Śrī Viśvanāth Cakravārtī Ṭhākura explains that Kuntī’s attachment to these two sets of relatives is twofold—as blood relatives and as Kṛṣṇa’s devotees. She prays to cut the first type of attachment and not the second one. In every relation and every activity, we have to keep Kṛṣṇa in mind. This is the formula to reconcile all contradictions.
Emotion is only in the mind. You are neither happy nor sad, but beyond both of them. When you can watch the emotions and not become emotional, then you can decide with a rational mind what to do. Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita to remain balanced and watch these emotions come and go.
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