A few months ago, I wrote that ISKCON marriages were meant to be revolutionary. In this piece I argue that in order to do that, couples have to get married first!
Not so long ago, an ISKCON leader asked me if I would help him to promote marriage amongst those in his care. He explained that many of his younger followers were from Eastern Europe and had grown up as children in Communist homes where marriage was viewed as utilitarian, and as a mere social aid to the ongoing revolution. Soviet wedding ceremonies, perfunctory and devoid of any religious meaning, were performed only by the State and ‘blessed’ by the couple visiting the nearest statue of Lenin.
“When these children grow up and join ISKCON,” he continued, “they too have the same approach. Many of them, although initiated devotees, see nothing wrong in living together without any form of wedding at all. Then, when the marriage proves to be inconvenient, they separate and feel no guilt at all.”
The leader felt that because of his position as a monk he could not always express an enthusiasm for weddings and marriage in general; to do so might discourage a certain number of young men and women from taking vows of chastity. But he thought that perhaps I, a married man of 25 years, and therefore obviously enthusiastic about marriage, could do it.
I understood and sympathised with his predicament and promised him that I would try my best. But I also asked if, amongst his celibate peer group in other parts of the world, he could try to at least introduce one important socio-religious conception that our ISKCON seems to be finding something of a challenge. It is not, I presented, only in former-Soviet countries where young ISKCON members seem to have particular views on marriage. “If you can do something to strengthen the correct understanding of that conception within ISKCON,” I said, “it will go a long way to creating the atmosphere you need.”
And that conception is that marriage is good. And that the celebration of a marriage through a religious, scripturally authentic wedding ceremony witnessed by the entire community, is the social sign that we think its good. And that, once a couple is married in this way, families are good. And that we can be a better movement if we celebrate all of these. Really celebrate them.
Its a conception that we may find challenging for the same reasons as the former Soviet states found the conception a challenge to the revolution. Revolutions, by their very nature, are fuelled by idealist thought which, in contrast to realist thought, asks that the individual entirely subsume his or her pursuits to the requirements of the collective.
To a State or movement dominated by idealism, marriage and the development of a family is only useful if it serves the changes the idealists wish to bring about. If they don’t help the revolution they are an impediment to it and must therefore be eliminated or have their social status severely relegated. Whilst its easy to imprison the intellectuals in such a State, it is almost impossible to eliminate mankind’s basic biological imperative. The next best thing is to engage it in the service of the State. For this reason, it was a fundamental technique of the Communists to use the family, and especially the children of the family, as informants. When children conspire against their parents the family is already broken as a unit, yet this particular form of breaking up families was common in the Soviet era.
Marriage and family, being biologically and socially self-serving, are thus viewed as a threat by idealists and revolutionaries. Two people’s energies, which could be serving the state or movement, are now serving themselves and their dependents. And if you want to create a revolution it really does help if you can find thousands of enthusiastic people, preferably young, who can give their all to it. Yet if the revolutionary movement, by its nature, threatens the very culture it was created to establish, it becomes unwieldy, unbalanced and eventually dies. Communism, originally established to create freedom from oppression, itself became the oppressor. The invisible point of balance was passed and the entire revolution collapsed.
ISKCON is a great historical revolution which seeks to bring about fundamental spiritual changes in the way that human society collectively thinks and acts. In such a short time since its inception, and against all odds, in societies dominated by materialistic propaganda, we are having an undoubted positive effect. Yet if, in the process of our revolutionary campaign, we do not honour and celebrate the God-given social and religious institution of marriage – and that means with religious marriage ceremonies and not merely certification from the State – we will find ourselves a very different movement in just a few years.
We actually require thousands upon thousands of families – well adjusted and emotionally healthy Vaishnava families – in order to really establish the Krishna consciousness movement on a firm footing. That will be the true fruit of our spiritual revolution and not a threat to it. Yet it is not easy for intelligent people to belong to a movement where they are perpetually second-class by virtue of their choice to become married. Eventually such intelligent people vote with their feet and create their own associations. That, unfortunately, is the history of religion. And when such persons are in the majority the original movement again becomes a small confederation of celibates and the revolution is lost.