Q: My mother and father are Hindu Brahmans, and they naturally expected me to marry a man of the Brahman community. However, I met a Catholic man in college four years ago and over time our relationship took off and developed.

We are color-blind toward one another and our different religious upbringings do not affect our relationship. We have been able to support each other through soulful conversations, learn from one another, and find true companionship with each other.

He is a good-natured, kind man, and his respect for Mother Earth has influenced me enormously. He has also instilled compassion in me and made me a better person. What more could I ask for?

But our parents are not at all happy about our proposed union. My parents, as Hindus and Brahmans, are totally upset and have threatened many times to disown me and never speak to me again. I love and respect my parents with all of my heart, and I want my parents to be a part of my future children's lives and to teach them about Hinduism. My parents' words have made me so sad, so heartbroken, and entirely confused.

Swami Tripurari answers: In the Skanda Purana, there is a well-known statement, kalau sudra sambhavah, meaning "In Kali-yuga everyone is born a sudra." If one is to be a brahman in our present age (Kali-yuga), this will not be determined by one's birth, but rather one's qualities and activities. Indeed, Sri Krsna speaks for all ages when he says catur-varnyam maya srstam guna-karma-vibhagasah: "I created the socioreligious system of varnasrama in consideration of one's qualities and actions." Thus, if we find brahminical qualities (forgiveness, honesty, knowledge, etc.) in someone, we should consider his or her socioreligious status in light of these qualities regardless of their birth.

Compatibility for marriage is a major socioreligious concern. It is largely for the likelihood of compatibility that a girl from a brahman family will be encouraged to marry a boy from a brahman family. However, if you have already found someone who is highly compatible, then this concern is met, and if his behavior and habits are good, and above all if he is spiritually inclined, I believe your parents should be compelled to embrace a more essential sense of brahminical life over one of mere formality by allowing your friend to enter their family.

The most important thing in life is spirituality. By your example encourage your parents to think spiritually, not biologically. This is the standard of the brahman.

If I am supposed to be a devotee, is it wrong of me to want a nice house and nice belongings? Am I not supposed to care about material possessions?

At this stage of your devotional practice you should not be troubled by the fact that you have such desires. Everyone needs a particular level of material comfort from which to cultivate spiritual life relative to one's psychological makeup. Secure a standard of living that suits you and engage in spiritual practice. As you advance, you will find that your material needs will diminish naturally. Don't be artificial with regard to renunciation.

During a temple lecture, a devotee referred to women who had abortions as baby killers. I had an abortion seven years ago and this is something stored very deeply in my memory. Afterward, I was convinced that I was a murderer and felt very deep sorrow for my action. I still have so much sorrow that sometimes I begin helplessly weeping when I remember my abortion. Moreover, in general, I feel guilty and disgusted about my past, because I did a lot of wild and crazy things. I feel guilty even though I was totally ignorant about proper conduct and did not know anything about spirituality and transcendence. Can I ever have a close relationship with Krsna after an abortion and all the disgusting things I did? What does scripture say on this issue?

There may be extenuating circumstances under which abortion is permissible and some of the scriptural narratives could be construed to give qualified support to certain abortions, but on the whole it is not morally correct to take the life of the child within the womb at any stage of his or her development.

According to scripture, life in the womb begins at the time of conception, and sexual intercourse is something that should be regulated within the context of spiritual practice. If society were truly organized along spiritual lines, abortion would be of rare occurrence in consideration of extenuating circumstances at best.

In your case, whatever your past may have been, it has little bearing on your present life of spiritual culture, especially when any immoral acts performed were done so out of ignorance. In general no past is so dark that it can overshadow sincere spiritual practice, particularly that of chanting Krsna nama. We should not judge others by their past, but rather their present, and more so in terms of their future--their ideal. Make your ideal that of going back to Godhead.