Part 11 of Shedding light on the Buddha’s views on marriage By Bhante Dhammika in Australia There does not seem to be a word for divorce in the Tipitaka, other than perhaps vikirana meaning “to break” or “to separate” which is sometimes used in reference to conjugal relations. When a couple fell out of love [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

A focus on faithfulness and love


Part 11 of Shedding light on the Buddha’s views on marriage
By Bhante Dhammika in Australia
There does not seem to be a word for divorce in the Tipitaka, other than perhaps vikirana meaning “to break” or “to separate” which is sometimes used in reference to conjugal relations. When a couple fell out of love one or the other either left or was expelled from the household. It was usually the wife to whom this happened. When Ugga, one of the Buddha’s disciples, decided that he was going to become celibate he informed his four wives that they could continue to live in the house, return to their parents or take another husband. The eldest wife apparently already had her eye on another man and asked to be given to him and Ugga happily did so.

The Tipitaka preserves only fragments of information about how the first Buddhists conducted their wedding ceremonies. To distinguish their weddings from those of Brahmanism it seems that the elders of one or the other family conducted the marriage rather than having a Brahman priest officiate. The essential feature of the ceremony was when the father of the bride took her hand, put it in the groom’s hand and with a ceremonial vase or pot (bhinkara or kundi) in his right hand poured water over their joined hands.This event was called the Giving of the Hand (panipradana) and marked the culmination of the marriage. The person conducting the ceremony then imparted a benediction to the newly-wedded couple.

The pouring of water over that the hands is even today a part of Thai marriages and also in some parts of India and Sri Lanka. A benediction from the Jataka goes: “May your friendship with your beloved wife never decay”(Ajeyyames-atavahotumettibhariyayakaccanapiyayasaddhim).

With some sympathy, the Buddha described the discomfort of the newly-wedded bride. “When a young wife is led to her husband’s home, either by day or night, for a while she feels great timidity and shyness in the presence of her mother-in-law, her father-in-law, her husband and even towards the servants and slaves.”

The Tipitaka contains the first significant references to love and affection between spouses in Indian literature. Having been both a husband and a father, the Buddha was able to speak of marriage from personal experience. A husband, he said, should honour and respect his wife, never disparage her, be faithful to her, give her authority and provide for her financially. A wife should do her work properly, manage the servants, be faithful to her husband, protect the family income and be skilled and diligent. He said that a couple who are following the Dhamma should “speak loving words to each other” (annamannapiyamvada,and that “to cherish one’s children and spouse is the greatest blessing” (puttadarassasangaho … etammangalamuttamam. He said that “a good wife is the supreme friend” (bharyavaparamasakha) and the Jataka comments that a husband and wife should live “with joyful minds, of one heart and in harmony” (pamodamanaekacittasamaggavasam). The Buddha criticized Brahman priests for buying their wives rather than “coming together in harmony and out of mutual affection” (sampiyena pi samvasaṃsamaggatthayasampavattenti), implying that he thought this a far better motive for marriage. “In this world, union without love is suffering” says the Jataka (lokismim hi appiyasampayogova dukkha).

According to the Buddha’s understanding, if a husband and wife love each other deeply and have similar kamma, they may be able to renew their relationship in the next life. He also said that the strong affinity two people feel towards each other might be explained by them having had a strong love in a previous life. “By living together in the past and by affection in the present, love is born as surely as a lotus is born in water.” This idea is elaborated in the Mahavastu: “When love enters the mind and the heart is joyful, the intelligent man can say with certainty ‘This woman has lived with me before’.”

The ideal Buddhist couple would be Nakulapita and Nakulamata who were devoted disciples of the Buddha and who had been happily married for many years. Once Nakulapita told the Buddha in the presence of his wife: “Lord, ever since Nakulamata was brought to my home when I was a mere boy and she a mere girl, I have never been unfaithful to her, not even in thought, let alone in body.”On another occasion, Nakulamata devotedly nursed her husband through a long illness, encouraging and reassuring him all the while. When the Buddha came to know of this, he said to Nakulapita: “You have benefitted, good sir, you have greatly benefitted, in having Nakulamataā full of compassion for you, full of love, as your mentor and teacher” (anukampika, atthakama,ovadika, anusasika). From the Buddhist perspective, these qualities would be the recipe for an enduring and enriching relationship – faithfulness, mutual love and compassion and being each other’s spiritual mentor and teacher.

The Buddha pinpointed faithfulness as one of the most important ingredients for a successful marriage. A husband should not, he said, be unfaithful to his wife or a wife to her husband. A character in the Jataka says: “We do not transgress with another’s wife and our wife does not transgress against us. We relate to others’ partners as if we were celibate.” (Mayan ca bhariyamnatikkamamaamhe ca bhariyanatikkamamaannatratahi brahma cariyamcaramape). A good wife was praised in the Canon as “true to one husband” (ekabhattakini), a good husband could be similarly defined. The archetypical, devoted and loyal spouse in the Buddhist tradition is Sambula, the wife of King Sotthisena.

When he was struck by a disfiguring disease and had to renounce the throne and go into the forest, she ignored all his requests to stay behind and happily accompanied him in his exile. With patience and love she nursed him through and eventually cured him of his disease. Conjugal faithfulness and love is an important theme of many other Jatakas too. In one such story, a wife’s devotion to her husband saves him from the machinations of an evil king, and in another, the Bodhisattva instructs a husband to treat his dedicated and long-suffering wife with the respect she deserves. In a particularly moving story, all the friends of a husband desert him when he is confronted by a terrible monster, and even his wife’s courage momentarily to falter. His pleas for help dispel her hesitation and she rushes to his side saying: ‘Noble husband of sixty years, I shall not desert you. Even the four corners of the earth know that you are most dear to me.’ Another story tells of a wife whose willingness to die for her husband saves both of them from certain death (Ja.III,184-7).


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