Q: I am very concerned with the notion held by some Hindu monks that personal relationships are useless. Can you give me any advice?

A: The idea that all material relationships are useless is anoversimplification of our precepts. This may be so from the vantagepoint of authentic self- and God-realization, but it is not true for those who have not attained this state. Therefore, relationships have value andshould be tied to gradual spiritual progress.

Relationships are about the search for love, and in order for them to work, sacrificeis required. Indeed, this sacrifice more than anything else is what meaningful relationships are all about, and thus they stand to teach us about love even when they involve ignorance of the self and misplaced values. Thefrustration others express about their married life is often symptomaticof not learning from the relationship all one could learn from it. Atthe same time, I highly recommend monastic life for those who arepsychologically suited for it.

Q: My therapist suggested I take anti-depressants. How do youfeel about this?

A: Prescribed medicine need not conflict with spiritual culture and maysometimes help people become better suited for spiritualpractice.

Q: All the parenting books I have read say that to effectively punish a child, you have to do it as quickly as possible, so that the child will rememberwhat he did that was wrong and will be able to associate his misdeed with the punishment. So I don't understand how karma from past lives can be effectivein punishing us, if we can't remember what we did to receive the bad karma?

A: The idea is that nature is ruthlessly just, and God is for the mostpart aloof from her. Karmic justice is rather impersonal. If we actwithin nature in a particular way, nature responds. When we attainhuman life, we have sufficient reasoning power to understand that there are consequences for action. We also have the chance to understand the truth about material nature, etc. from sadhus and scripture, and thus we can understand that the consequences of ourpervious actions are now appearing as our present circumstances. Thekarmic reactions from actions performed in previous lives are not somuch our teachers as are the sadhus and scripture who help us tounderstand our present situation for what it is. The karmic"punishment" is more the result of acting in ignorance than it isour teacher.

Hindus may submit questions for the swami to editor@swami.org. Non-Hindus with questions on Hindu basics or etiquette (such as "What do I wear to a Hindu wedding?") are invited to submit them to columnists@staff.beliefnet.com.

Q: I have a friend whom I discuss spiritual topics with and she is having aproblem with fear in general and, to some extent, self-acceptance--all basedon sexual abuse as a child. How does one begin to resolve this issue in aspiritual manner and what advice would you give?

A: This is a material problem, so a trained psychologist would be the bestperson to consult. Otherwise, fear pervades material consciousness becausematerial consciousness involves identification with that which will notendure. Thus spiritual pursuit in general is the solution to fear.

Q: Though so many teachings are available, what message is best suitedto all types of spiritual seekers?

A: Chant the names of God in kirtana. This is para upakara (ultimately beneficial) because it treats the root cause of all material problems. Hunger, for example, is only partially a problem of the stomach, and thus it will never end by feeding the stomach. Material existence is ultimately a disease of theheart (hrd-rogam), and when properly performed, kirtana is a heartexercise.

Q: I have a Deity of Sri Nathaji and I do puja daily. I have wanted achild for years but to no avail. Others worship and pray, and their prayersare answered but mine are not. Is this because there is less devotion in myprayers? I can't understand why God is not giving me a baby.

A: Try to think of what God might want from you instead of focusing on whatyou want from God. Then he will pay particular attention to your needswithout your having to ask this of him. Such is the nature of love.

Q: Are all spirit souls ultimately going to the spiritual world or are there souls who will stay in the material realm for the rest of eternity due to the misuse of their free will or as a reaction to their offenses?

A: There are an unlimited number of conditioned souls. There will alwaysbe conditioned souls, and at the same time all conditioned souls will beliberated.

Q: There is a lot of mention of kings having two or three queens in textssuch as the Ramayana.

Why do they marry so many women, whereas we are askedto have only one wife? Also I was wondering about the animal killing theserajas did.