“Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.21)
Friend1: I know we’ve had a variation of this discussion before, but let’s further refine the objective.
Friend2: Okay. What objective?
Friend1: For the children.
Friend2: Or the dependents in general?
Friend1: There you go. First things first. I am well aware of the teaching from Rishabhadeva that a person shouldn’t be a parent, guru or husband unless they can release their dependents from the cycle of birth and death.
Friend2: Isn’t that such a monumental statement? Thank the Supreme Lord for the Shrimad Bhagavatam. Children appear in this world through so many reasons. The parents want to enjoy. They want to share their love with another living being. They want to keep the family name alive, into the future.
Friend1: And don’t forget unwanted children.
Friend2: Yes. Those which come by accident, the result of illicit sex, which is the result of uncontrolled desire.
Friend1: So however they appear, the parents should have a specific objective. We know that one of the common concerns is over occupation in adulthood.
Friend2: Yes. Let my child become a doctor or lawyer. Let them earn a stable income, where they can support themselves. This is a source of pride. You don’t want the children to be dependents forever.
Friend1: Makes sense, and we were discussing how character was actually more important. You gave the examples of Hiranyakashipu and Ravana.
Friend2: The idea is that reversals of fortune don’t necessarily guarantee a transformation in character. If you are a bad person today, driven by material desires, identifying with the temporary body, thinking that this life is the only one, that after death everything is finished – then it doesn’t matter how much money you earn. You could become the richest person in the world, and you will still be in the same predicament.
Friend1: Exactly. The parents will think they have succeeded, but in truth the life lived is not so different from the animal. Everything is driven by the senses. Maybe the car is fancier, the bed more comfortable, and no worries over money, but the nature of enjoyment is the same.
Friend2: Think of the outcome, too. This life is a preparation for the next life. Blind ignorance is not going to change the fact. Better to face reality.
Friend1: Okay, so character is more important. I get that. What about wanting the children to become gurus?
Friend2: What’s your definition of guru? The Sanskrit word can refer to parents and guardians, as well as the common usage of spiritual master.
Friend1: I’m thinking specifically of a spiritual teacher, someone to save the world, in their own way. A guru here is someone who has the good character that we talked about, and they are teaching others to have good character, as well.
Friend2: I see. And you don’t think being a God conscious person is enough? You don’t think knowing about the cycle of birth and death, the futility of pursuing material advancement, and the position of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is enough?
Friend1: I’m asking you. Do you think just being God conscious is enough to have succeeded as a parent? Should we want more for our children, to reach a higher level?
Friend2: There is the verse from the Bhagavad-gita where Shri Krishna says that whatever a great man does, others follow. He sets the example. The words are shreshthas and acharati. The first means “the best” and the second refers to actions. The guru figure you are referring to is often called an acharya. This is someone who leads by example.
Friend1: Right. There you go. Acharya. Krishna confirms it. Others follow in their footsteps.
Friend2: Hold on. So a great man doesn’t necessarily have to be the acknowledged leader of a popular spiritual institution. They don’t have to be an adult, even. We referenced Hiranyakashipu before. On the other side is the son Prahlada. He had the best character, tested under the most trying circumstances. He wasn’t the leader of any sanga, but he taught nonetheless. He taught through both actions and words. He was a guru, for sure, but that is true of any pure devotee. They are a symbol of sacrifice. They are an example for others, whether one or one thousand people are following them.
Whether following a thousand or one,
Good from devotee’s example to come.
Like with Prahlada Maharaja seeing,
Not leader of institution being.
Though father not knowing,
Son to liberation going.
Meaning that successful was he,
Goal for all protectors should be.