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Renunciation and the Duty to Serve One's Parents

Q: If a sadhak’s parents are elderly and there is no one to take care of them except the sadhak, is it appropriate for the sadhak to leave them against their wishes and go to solitude to engage in devotion to God?

A: It is the first and foremost duty of every human being to serve their parents. [A son should serve and care for his parents as long as they are alive. The same is true for a daughter until she gets married. After marriage, she must serve her parents-in-law like her own parents.]  This is ordained by the scriptures. In the life stories of various pure devotees, it can be seen that they served their parents with utmost commitment before attaining pure Bhakti for their Lord. Those sadhaks who do not serve their parents and leave them disappointed at home do not progress much in the Bhakti path even while living in the forest.

If the parents are very hostile to the Bhakti path and do not let the sadhak engage in Bhakti at all, then the sadhak can leave them because devotion to God is the eternal duty of a Jivatma. The sadhak should not compromise his bhajan due to the opposition of family members or other people.


Gurur na sa syāt sva-jano na sa syāt

pitā na sa syāj jananī na sā syāt,

Daiva na tat syān na patiś ca sa syān

na mocayed ya samupeta-mtyum.”

(Srimad Bhagavatam 5.5.18)

Meaning: Such a spiritual master is not a spiritual master; a father is not a father; a husband is not a husband; a mother is not a mother or a worshipable demigod is not a worshipable Lord, who cannot deliver their dear ones from the path of repeated birth and death.


But this should be done only in the extreme case where one’s parents are absolutely against Bhakti and prohibit the sadhak from doing bhajan. As long as it is possible, the sadhak should serve his parents and receive their blessings to do bhajan because their blessings enable him to progress in the Bhakti path very easily.

Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu always instructed his devotees to serve their parents before allowing them to leave the householder life. Those Vaishnavas who worship Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu must strive to follow his instructions with commitment. Otherwise, they cannot persevere on the Bhakti path for long. Sharanagati (to take shelter at the lotus feet of the Lord) means to follow the orders of the Lord with commitment. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has always emphasized the importance of serving one’s parents for the inculcation of pure Bhakti and the proper mood of renunciation.

When Mahaprabhu went to the southern part of India, Gopal Bhatt (the son of Venkat Bhatt) wanted to leave the householder life and go with Mahaprabhu to serve Him. But Mahaprabhu instructed him to serve his parents first. Mahaprabhu said that if he could receive the blessings of his parents and then leave the householder life, the powerful and auspicious blessings of one’s parents would enable him to become a good renunciate and achieve spiritual welfare. When his parents would leave their material bodies, then he could leave the householder life and engage in devotion to Krishna in Vrindavan along with the association of Sri Rupa and Sanatan Goswamis.

In the case of Raghunath Bhatt Goswami also, Mahaprabhu instructed the same. When Mahaprabhu went to eastern Bengal (now Bangladesh) to propagate the glories of Harinama and earn money for his household through teaching, Tapan Mishra met Mahaprabhu with a thirst to know about the simplest way to attain God. He had a vision of a divine personality in his dream who told him that he should come to Him. He would answer his questions about spirituality. When he met Mahaprabhu, he realized that he had seen Mahaprabhu in his dream. Therefore, he asked Mahaprabhu to instruct him on how to engage in devotion to God. Mahaprabhu instructed him to move to Kashi with his family and always chant Harinama. He described the glories of Harinama to Tapan Mishra.

Later, after Mahaprabhu accepted Sannyas and was residing in Jagannath Puri Dham, He visited Kashi Puri and resided in Tapan Mishra’s house for a few days. Raghunath Bhatt, the son of Tapan Mishra, was enticed by Mahaprabhu’s association and wanted to leave with Mahaprabhu to serve Him. But Mahaprabhu instructed him to serve his parents first. (See, He didn’t say, “Okay, come with me.”) He could visit Jagannath Puri Dham once in a while, but not renounce the householder life. Later, when his parents left their bodies, Mahaprabhu permitted him to become a renunciate in his dream and instructed him to go to Vrindavan to engage in Bhakti in the association of Rupa and Sanatan Goswamis. The result of this was that whenever Raghunath Bhatt Goswami uttered the verses of Srimad Bhagavatam and explained their deep meanings in a sweet and melodious voice, the audience became ecstatic with divine love for Radha Krishna. His lectures on Srimad Bhagavatam were so powerful and full of divine love.

Similarly, in the case of Lokanath Goswami, Mahaprabhu instructed him to serve his parents before leaving the householder life.

Nowadays, usually, children don’t want to serve their parents. As soon as they develop a little detachment from materialistic pleasures, they want to ignore their responsibility towards their parents and pretend to do bhajan in solitude. [Without the blessings of parents, the sadhak’s initial enthusiasm for bhajan wanes very quickly and his Bhakti path gets obstructed by many obstacles. Therefore, the ‘bhajan in solitude’ becomes just a pretense but in reality, he cannot contemplate upon God with all his heart.]

If the sadhak engages in intense bhajan physically, mentally and verbally, along with total detachment from material pleasures, unwavering immersion in contemplation of God and intense yearning to attain the lotus feet of Radha Krishna, then he might not experience many obstacles in bhajan even if he leaves his parents without serving them. But still, if the parents are disappointed and hurt by his behaviour in any way, even an elevated Sadhu will have to experience some obstacle in his bhajan. Is there any example to prove this? Yes, we see this in the life story of Sri Ramakrishna Das Pandit Baba.

Sri Ramakrishna Das Pandit Baba was born in Jaipur in a family that served at Govind Devji Mandir. In childhood, Govind Devji often played with him in person. On growing up, he served as Pujari at Govind Devji Mandir. Later, as he developed severe detachment from worldly matters, he left his home and family and came to Vraja Dham. He engaged in intense bhajan as a renunciate and led a life of severe austerity.  While he was residing at Raghav Pandit’s cave in Govardhan, his mother came to meet him from Jaipur. When Pandit Baba heard the news of his mother coming to Vraja Dham, he ran away from Raghav Pandit’s cave to another place without letting anybody know.

Pandit Baba thought that if his mother came and started crying to take him home, his bhajan would be interrupted. His heart might sway from his intense bhajan. Or, she might even force him to go to Jaipur with her. Also, Krishna is every Jivatma’s father, mother, caretaker, grandfather and so on (Bhagavat Geeta 9.17). Then, why should he care about the material body’s mother?

But this kind of thinking is not going to help the sadhak. As long as the sadhak is in the human body, he has to fulfil his duties related to his body. Since this precious human body is given by the sadhak’s parents, he must serve his parents and please them. When his parents are pleased by his service and bless him to progress in bhajan, he can leave them and do bhajan in solitude.

When his mother came to the cave after asking around, she did not find him. She was disappointed but again started searching for him. By the time she reached the place where Pandit Baba was hiding himself, Baba ran away to another place. This happened quite a few times until his mother was really disappointed. She went back to Jaipur without meeting her son.

Pandit Baba’s devotional life was severely afflicted by this Aparadha. He could not chant Harinama like before. He could not have any glimpse of the divine pastimes anymore. He could not sit on the Asana for long. Contemplation of Radha Krishna completely stopped. Pandit Baba was very aggravated and frustrated by the situation. He visited many elevated Sadhus living in Vraja Dham at that time and asked them, “Please tell me, why my devotional life is destroyed like this? I didn’t commit Aparadha to any Vaishnava willingly. Then, why has my heart become void of the divine nectar of eternal pastimes of Radha Krishna?”

The Sadhus said that there must be an Aparadha that had been committed unintentionally. On introspection, Pandit Baba realized that although he did not physically, mentally or verbally hurt any Vaishnava and while avoiding his mother, his intention was only to avoid the association of the relatives of the bodily identity, his mother was hurt by his actions. When he told this to the elevated Sadhus, they said, “This will not do. As long as the sadhak is conscious of his bodily identity, he must perform the duties related to the body. Parents have given the sadhak this precious human body. That is why, he is indebted to them. As long as the sadhak can feel hunger, thirst, happiness, sadness, pleasure and pain related to the body, he must also perform his duties towards his parents, although they are only related to the body and not the Atma. If the parents bless the sadhak to solely engage in devotion to God wholeheartedly, then he can ignore his duties towards his parents. But if he disappoints his parents and tries to engage in devotion without serving his parents, he cannot progress much on the path of Bhakti. Therefore, maybe your mother was very disappointed since she could not meet you. This is the cause of the disturbances in your devotional life. You must serve your mother and please her. If she is pleased and blesses you, all obstacles in your Bhakti path will be resolved.”

Then, Pandit Baba requested his mother to come to Vraja Dham from Jaipur and he served her wholeheartedly day and night. After serving his mother for around a year, she was very pleased and blessed him to engage in devotion to Radha Krishna wholeheartedly. She went back to Jaipur and Pandit Baba could return to his previous intense devotional life once again. After that, he could attain the divine Prema Bhakti very soon.

Q: Pandit Baba’s mother was a Vaishnavi. So, was the Aparadha committed by Pandit Baba a Vaishnava Aparadha and hence, the consequences were so severe, or, an Aparadha towards one’s mother? Will any Aparadha committed towards one’s parents (regardless of whether they are Vaishnavas) result in similar consequences?

A: Pandit Baba not only committed Vaishnava Aparadha but also Guru Aparadha. This is because one’s mother is his Guru. Similarly, one’s father is also a Guru. One can never progress on the Bhakti path by ignoring and disappointing one’s parents.

Q: If the parents are against the Bhakti path or they are materialistic people who do not believe in God, should the sadhak still serve them and please them? It will be very difficult to engage in devotion to God at all while living with such family members.

A: Devotion to God is an internal matter (related to the mind). The sadhak must keep chanting Harinama by mouth and contemplate upon God in his heart. Who can stop him from doing this? But he should serve his parents first. One’s parents have given this precious human body. Without this human body, one cannot do bhajan. Therefore, the sadhak is able to do bhajan because of his parents (although they are against it).

“N-deham ādya su-labha su-durlabha
su-kalpa guru-karadhāram.”

(Srimad Bhagavatam 11.20.17)

Meaning: The human body, which can award all benefits in life, is automatically obtained by the laws of nature, although it is a very rare achievement. This human body can be compared to a perfectly constructed boat having the spiritual master as the captain.

The sadhak is indebted to his parents. So, first of all, he must give priority to serving his parents. If they are against Bhakti, he must not show his Bhakti and detachment from worldly pleasures to his parents. He must keep his Bhakti secret and try to not argue with them about spiritual matters. [The sadhak must understand that it is the will of God that they do not yet understand His glories. When He wills it, their mentality will change just as He has enabled the sadhak to understand His glories through Satsanga.] The sadhak must keep chanting Harinama, contemplate upon God and serve his parents until they are pleased with him. It is important to understand that in order to please his parents, he must not do such actions that are prohibited in the scriptures and are detrimental to his spiritual life (like eating meat or drinking alcohol, etc). But he must not show his detachment either. He must act like he just wants to lead a better life (but not due to Bhakti!) and serve his parents with the intention of pleasing God.

Q: If the parents are not financially dependent on the sadhak and his siblings take care of them, does he still need to serve his parents and please them? Most parents in the world will not happily bless their son or daughter to become a renunciate and lead a life of austerity. Then, should the sadhak never leave the householder life all his life?

A: The sadhak should ensure that his parents are not very disappointed with him. He must also lead a life of severe austerity and intense bhajan. In this way, God might protect him from obstacles in the Bhakti path even if his parents are a little disappointed with him. If he has other siblings who can take care of his parents, still he must serve his parents until they are pleased with him and bless him to do bhajan. After accepting renunciate life, he must engage in intense bhajan without wasting a single moment in worldly matters. If the sadhak did not serve his parents and his bhajan is also very weak, he will surely have to face the detrimental consequences of his Aparadha towards his parents.

Dhruva Maharaj (as described in Srimad Bhagavatam) also left his parents at the age of 5 years old. He engaged in intense penance to attain Lord Narayan. In his case, leaving his parents without serving them did not cause any obstacles in his penance because of his absolute dedication to devotion to Lord Narayan.

It is true that even if the sadhak shall please his parents all his life, they might not bless him to become a renunciate. In such a case, he can leave his parents as long as they are not very disappointed. If they are only a little disappointed and he engages in intense bhajan, God will save him from obstacles in the Bhakti path.

Q: What is the meaning of intense bhajan?

A: Bhajan means actions that are performed to please the Lord. Intense bhajan means engaging solely in those actions physically, mentally and verbally that are intended to please the Lord without wasting a single moment in worldly matters. 

In this way, when a sadhak develops detachment from worldly matters and considers leaving his home and family to go to solitude for bhajan, he must introspect and determine whether he has developed true detachment and intense yearning for bhajan. Serving and pleasing one’s parents is very important if the sadhak wants to develop such intense yearning and engage in intense bhajan free from obstacles. If his parents are very hostile to the Bhakti path and he is unsure of how to progress in his spiritual path, then he must take shelter of his Gurudev or, in His absence, any elevated Sadhu in whom he has Shraddha, and ask Him for guidance. If the sadhak follows the order of his Gurudev or Sadhus, he will not easily go astray from the Bhakti path and God Himself will protect him from all obstacles.


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