Thursday, February 8, 2018

Bhagavatam's pointers to an ideal marriage

            Marriage is a very special union that has the ingredients of all the navarasas. We see around great success in life or complete failures happening due to the bond of marriage. History has immortalized many great pairs like Vasishta-Arundati, Atri-Anusuya, Agastya-Lopamudra and Thiruvalluvar-Vasuki, amongst others. Many great literature have been created around this topic, how to be a great grihastha, the importance of spousal relationship amongst others. Some are embedded in great literary works like Thirukkural, while others focus on a specific aspect like Kama Sutra.

Whence this sad state?

            Despite coming from a land of great legacy, today’s generation is trigger happy with divorce, treat spouse with utter disdain or as an utility product. Divorce was an alien idea few decades ago and today divorce after few months of marriage is not that uncommon to hear. This is on top of the fact that many marriages are love marriage, one has to wonder what happened to that love post the wedding.

            Ideally, a marriage grows with time. One learns to transcend the physical aspects of the spouse and look over their flaws. But we see today this has morphed into exploiting the weakness of the spouse, apathy to their contribution to the family, being self-centered in their approach and not viewing family as a unit. The usual solution is to follow the same ideas that created the problem and no wonder we have trouble in having an effective solution. Following the western model, which has emphasis on the individual (I-Me-Myself) as the core will always lead to ego issues and materialism and hence using the same model to solve will never be effective. Is there an alternative mechanism? Yes, our traditional model, centered on family as a unit and blending in the higher ideals is the only solution which our great rishis founded for us.

            One caveat to be borne in mind, we are dealing with high level simplified models and not individual scenarios, which will offer myriad complexities or variations layered.

Purpose of marriage

            In a biological sense, if we think only as animals, it is to procreate, maintain the genetic line. From a social stand point, one can think as family, companionship and emotional support. The extremes will include from a gold digger who is after the wealth, to the extremely confused who keeps marrying for a third or fourth time.

Often the West sees marriage as an institution for licensed prostitution or as a tool for physical connection alone. The confusion in this I-centered western approach can be best summed by George Bernard Shaw’s quote:

Marriage is the most licentious of human institutions--I say the most licentious of human institutions: that is the secret of its popularity. And a woman seeking a husband is the most unscrupulous of all the beasts of prey. The confusion of marriage with morality has done more to destroy the conscience of the human race than any other single error.

            Contrast this with the rishis who suggested a dharma centric approach. The wife was called Sahadharmini, the one who is a co-traveller in the direction of dharma.  Owing to the passage of time, the wisdom of the ages is seriously colored and marred by the deterioration in the practice, understanding and even awareness of such knowledge. It will be a colossal task to resurrect the numerous tomes filled with wisdom and hence we will limit our focus to a single set of slokas and an incident narrated in Bhagavatam.


            Kardama rishi, born from Brahma, on being asked to help with Creation, meditated on Narayana, at Bindusaras ashrama on the banks of Saraswati river, to seek the blessing of an ideal wife for fulfilling his task of being a Prajapathi. Narayana informs him that Manu and Shatarupa will give their daughter, Devahuti, in marriage and the couple will be blessed with 9 great daughters who will have great rishis as their spouse. Bhagwan blessed him that He will also be born as a son and that Kardama rishi will realize the Supreme Self.  As predicted, Manu and Shatarupa come in a chariot seeking Kardama’s refuge for Devahuti’s marriage. Devahuti heard about Kardama rishi from Narada and had mentally decided to wed only him. Kardama agrees to the marriage with a caveat that he will renounce grihastashrama after he has children.

            Upon wedding, Devahuti dedicated herself to Kardama rishi’s intense tapascharya. She did not even focus on her needs, but was purely dedicated in Seva. At an appropriate time, Kardama ends his tapas provides a wondrous life of luxury, filled with all the pleasantries imaginable to his devout wife. The couple had 9 daughters and eventually a son, Kapila Muni. Kardama retires to absorb himself in the SUPREME SELF, while Devahuti gets the most SUPREME knowledge from her son as Kapilopadesha.

            We will return back to the Bhagavatam slokas that occur when Kardama verbalizes the ideal characteristics he observes in his wife. Though it was about her, the ideal traits are for either gender and applicable to both spouses in every marriage.

विश्रम्भेणात्मशौचेन गौरवेण दमेन शुश्रूषया सौहृदेन वाचा मधुरया भोः
विसृज्य कामं दम्भं द्वेषं लोभमघं मदम् अप्रमत्तोद्यता नित्यं तेजीयांसमतोषयत्

viśrambheṇātma-śaucena gauraveṇa damena ca śuśrūṣayā sauhṛdena vācā madhurayā ca bhoḥ
visṛjya kāmaḿ dambhaḿ ca dveṣaḿ lobham aghaḿ madam apramattodyatā nityaḿ tejīyāḿsam atoṣayat

With the utmost attention, and devoid of selfishness, ostentation, annoyance, greed or pride, she served her husband of great power and splendor to his utmost satisfaction, evincing in her conduct purity of mind, respect, self-control, spirit of service, love and sweetness of speech.

Bhagavatam gives a list of desirable qualities first. Let us remind that this is ONLY for self analysis and not on the spouse.

विश्रम्भेण - With utmost attention - In a world where smartphones have taken center stage, giving undivided attention to the spouse may seem like a prehistoric practice. But healthy marriage revolves around giving complete attention to each other. In simple terms, it sends the signal that the other person is important. It is common observation to note that being intimate with spouse correlates with maximum attention. If  one were to again recall that relationship transcends the physical, then we appreciate this as intimacy at all levels.

आत्मशौचेन Purity of mind – The purpose of marriage is progressing to greater heights in dharma, and hence purity of mind is very critical. This must not be reduced to lack of infidel thoughts. As the mind gets more saatvic, it can clearly discern more subtle dharma. As one practices more dharma, Moksha is the outcome. Having a higher ideal at the core of our actions, raise us to a higher plane and hence purity of mind plays a deeper role than merely strengthening the marital bond.

गौरवेण - Respect - This will be a natural attitude if one’s grateful for all the services rendered by the spouse, however small or insignificant. Usually the mind starts comparing with other people’s spouses which dents the respect one has for their own spouse. Again being dharma centered helps the mind not to dwell on materialistic trinkets or hallucinate on unrealistic needs or embark on nonstop comparison sojourns. Selfless love gets expressed as respect.

दम - Self-control - As we have observed in other articles like How anyone can become a Brahmana – Bhagwan Krishna’s insight, Self control is a key component that propels us higher in the spiritual journey. But what has self control got to do with grihasthashrama? One must not forget that though the ashramas may be different, but the greater purpose is always self realization. Self control is perhaps the most easiest to slip with the spouse. All emotions readily flow without any barrier, usually the tighter a couple are, the less of a control. In such an environment, if one were to practice dama, it becomes an extraordinary feat as many a couple can read their spouses mind or body language with such an ease. Dama between spouses is definitely a high bar to cross and hence a great goal for all who like to take the added advantage of being a householder for accelerated spiritual growth.

शुश्रूषया – Service - This is neither demand nor expectation based, but one borne out of extreme love and is definitely done without hankering of some fruit. This is nothing but Karma Yoga. This is not merely doing the dishes or household chores or bringing in more money to run the family. Service is dependent on the timely fulfillment of a need. This may be as trivial as massaging the tired feet of the spouse who had a long day or a dedication of each spouse to become their best in their body, mind or intellect to serve one another. This may also include treating the spouse’s family as one’s own. This is basically an attitude of expanding the locus of the SELF to encompass a bigger circle. Service does not keep a counter for future exchange and the pleasure of having the opportunity to serve itself is the reward.

सौहृदेन – Wellwishing, friendly- There is a big element of heart in the spousal relationship. The foundation is wishing well for each other’s well being. Life becomes hell if this fundamental aspect is missing in a marriage. The western model pits competing individuals trying to cooperate, where as the dharmic model is based on cooperation and wishing well for each other. The latter enhances the expression of human potential to the fullest.

वाचा मधुरया - Sweet words – Many Indian literature glorify the choice of sweet words in communication. Since words have a lot of power to affect not just the moods and actions of the listener and beyond, it is critical to have a proper choice of words, but the expression of it must also be sweet, which emphasizes on the non verbal portion of the communication. The previous adjective and character ensures that there is no deceiving element in sweet words. Many of us have experienced sweet words from a poisonous heart, but सौहृदेन ensures that sweetness is not merely in the words but also in the real intent.

Bhagavatam also gives a big list of qualities that must be absent between spouses. The qualities listed here will be identical to anyone aspiring progress in the spiritual journey, which basically highlights the fact that marriage is a dharmic institution where one can grow not only as a family, but also spiritually. It may be a good idea to refresh the modifications of desire from the article - Desire – a Genealogical approach, as it will help in the better understanding of the modifications. The choice of the word विसृज्य indicates a complete absence of; being devoid of. The following MUST NOT EXIST in a marriage, as marriage is a very delicate relationship that is highly susceptible to these negative traits:

कामं – Lust, Desire - The biggest danger is to have a relationship centered solely on attractiveness or desire alone. As life alters the equation constantly, such a superficial relationship is bound to collapse, but will hurt the players of this game. As this strong emotion is purely ego based, we have read in detail in Desire – a Genealogical approach, how they morph quickly into other expressions.

दम्भं - Pride - This is again based on the EGO. The constant expression of a limited I, Me, Myself may be a factor of either their potential or past achievements or a false sense of superiority. If the earning member constantly keeps reminding of the primacy on account of income, how can there be peace and prosperity for such a family? The same is true for pride of any kind, for instance physical or mental attributes.

द्वेषं – Envy - As ridiculous as it may sound, this is rooted in the competition aspect of spouses rather than a completing, mission oriented outlook. This is very prominent where there are two strong personalities with success in the outside world are in a marriage. This is also possible where one of the spouses could be highly successful and the other is self centered in their absence of any achievement. This can get amplified by excessive pride of the other spouse.

लोभम - Greed - This can happen only where there is no semblance of family as a unit. Where is the question of greed in oneness? This is a sure shot torpedo to sink the family boat.

अघम - Sinful acts - Sin will include all Adharmic actions. The biggest sin, outside the listed bad traits, will be infidelity. It does not matter who and why they went off track or to what extend or the irrational psychological explanations given by experts analyzing such behavior, this is very detrimental to marriage. We are not debating the response of what the spouse should do in such an instance, here.

मदम - Vanity – This is a stronger obnoxious flavor of दम्भं

The list of traits to avoid is reinforced by two more positive ones with a strong emphasis on doing it constantly - नित्यं 

अप्रमत्त – Careful, Attentive, Vigilant - The qualities are subject to the constant guna interaction of ours with the rest of the world. Hence change and dynamism is its core attribute. Bhagavatam advises the spouses to be vigilant on themselves. Walking on this lofty path is fraught with missteps and hence being अप्रमत्त is emphasized. This along with उद्यत reinforces the dharma aspect of being a grihasta. These traits, though esoteric in suggestion, can be applied to daily life as well, so one has to be vigilant with health, finance or other aspects of running a household.
उद्यत - Prepared, Eager, Ready – This is a critical trait for all aspirants, but more critical for a grihasta as they support the other ashramas. Also a grihasta is the only one well positioned to evolve on all aspects of human endeavors – Purushartha. (Read more about the ideal human goals)

            Let us now apply these ideal traits to every marriage. These principles will keep both the spouses grounded in dharma and propel them rapidly on the spiritual path. To begin with unless both the spouses if not oriented along the same dharmic lines, it may be an ordeal for only one to be following this path. Still, one must not forget that these are individual character traits one is trying to refine.

            As we already have understood that marriage is a dharmic institution where the couple can evolve rapidly by cooperation, while serving the society, we MUST NOT use this information to:

  •                 Keep a list of score when the spouse failed, but only use it to raise oneself.

  •               Trade equations, compare other marriages or trying to point out the others’ faults.

If we imbibe and apply the spirit of this message from the rishis, then every marriage is bound to be successful, enrich the society and raise the standard for the future generations. It will be not an easy task given the fact that we have been intoxicated by the western model, despite seeing the disastrous consequences. Every marriage can create a piece of heaven, an exemplary role model in the society and put a permanent end to the menacing loss of values in the society. Will it be a surprise if such lofty characters are transferred to the next generation with a higher bar? All we need to do is follow the wondrous examples of the past.

तत् सत्

Suggested Reading:

  • How to Cultivate Virtues and Eradicate Vices – Swami Sivananda

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