The Buddhist concept of marriage
By Ven. K. Sri Dhammananda Thera
@DM / 10Jun2006
In view of what has been said about "birth and suffering," some people have criticized Buddhism saying that it is against married life. They are wrong. The Buddha never spoke against married life.
However, he pointed out all the problems, difficulties and worries that people would have to face when they take on the responsibility of marriage. Just because he warned one against problems in marriage does not mean that the Buddha condemned marriage.
The act of marriage itself implies that a person is still more attached to the physical world and since our mental faculties are influenced by craving, attachment and human emotions, it is but natural that problems would arise. This happens when we have to consider the need of others and to give in to what others need.
Role of religion
A deep analysis of the nature of self is important to help us to understand the origin of our problems, worries, miseries and how to overcome them. Here, religious advice is important for maintaining a tranquil life. However, a man should not become a slave to any religion.
Man is not for religion, religion is for man. That means, man must know how to make use of religion for his betterment and for his happiness in a respectable way. Simply by following certain religious vows, precepts or commandments with blind faith or by force, thinking that we are duty-bound to observe them will not develop proper understanding.
One important aspect of Buddhism is that the Buddha did not impose any religious laws or commandments. The Buddha was a unique teacher who had set out a number of disciplinary codes for us to uphold according to our way of life. Those who follow the precepts observe them voluntarily, not as obligatory religious laws.
It is up to us to follow the advice through our own understanding and experience of what is good for us and for others. Through trial and error, we will learn to follow the advice which will give us just peace and happiness.
One should try to understand the nature of the worldly life. By knowing that you have to face problems, you will be able to strengthen your mind and be more prepared to face the problems that could arise if you get married. Religion is important to help you overcome your problems.
Whatever you learned about religious principles when you were young can be adopted to avoid misunderstanding, disappointment and frustration. At the same time, certain good qualities such as patience and understanding which we learn through religion are important assets to help us lead a peaceful married life.
Normally, it is due to a lack of mutual understanding that many married couples lead miserable lives. The result of this is that their innocent children also have to suffer. It is better to know how to handle your problems in order to lead a happy married life. Religion can help you to do this.
One of the causes of greatest concern among those who do not belong to the non-semitic religions is the problem of conversion before marriage. While Buddhists and Hindus never demand that a couple must belong to the same religion before a marriage could be solemnized, many others tend to take advantage of this tolerance.
Marriage, contrary to what many romantic novels say, does not mean the total and absolute merging of two people to the extent that each loses his or her own identity. When a religion demands that both partners must have the same religious label, it denies the basic human right of an individual to believe what he or she wants. Societies throughout history have proved that "Unity in diversity" is not only possible but desirable. Out of diversity comes greater respect and understanding. This should apply to marriage too.
There are many living examples the world over where the husband and wife maintain their own beliefs and yet are able to maintain their happy married life without confronting each other.
Buddhists do not oppose the existence of other religions even within the same household. Unfortunately, this generous attitude has been exploited by unscrupulous religionists who are out to gain converts by all means.
Intelligent Buddhists must be aware of this stratagem. No self-respecting intelligent human being who really understands what he believes in, according to his own conviction, should give up his beliefs merely to satisfy the man-made demands of another religion. Buddhists do not demand that their partners embrace Buddhism. Neither should they surrender their own beliefs.
When young people are in love, they are prepared to make many sacrifices so long as they can get married. But after a few years later, when the real task of building a successful marriage begins, frustration begins to set in.
When a partner who had given up his deep-seated religious beliefs for "love" begins to regret having done so, unnecessary misunderstandings arise. These provide added tensions at a period when there is boredom in a marriage. There will be quarrels. And normally, one of the main causes of these quarrels will be the question of which religion the children should follow.
Therefore, it is most important for one to know that if there is a process of conversion involved, it must be based on true conviction and not mere convenience or compulsion. Buddhists maintain the freedom of the individual to choose. This principle should be respected by all.
There is no specific Buddhist ritual or procedure to conduct a marriage. Buddhism recognizes the traditions and cultures practiced by people in different countries. Hence, Buddhist religious ceremonies differ from one country to another.
In general practice, a religious service for blessing and to give advice to the couple is customarily performed either in the temple or at home, to give a greater significance to the marriage. Nowadays, in many countries, besides the blessing service, religious organizations also have been given the authority to solemnize and register marriages together with the issuance of legal marriage certificates.
By and large, the most important point is that the couple should be utterly sincere in their intention to cooperate with and understand each other, not only during times of happiness but also whenever they face difficulties.