Integrating Vedic Models into Marriage
When asked about ‘Vedic’ marriage, I never know if the question is loaded. What is a Vedic marriage?
Do I want…
- A formula to automatically solve all life’s problems for me?
- Stereotypes that will make me look advanced?
- Guidance in how my marriage can help my spouse and I advance in Krsna consciousness and serve the mission of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu with mutual love and devotion?
- Instructions to make my spouse submissive?
- Several of the above?
- None of the above?
Of important note, are my spouse’s eyes rolling when I ask the question?
Is the intent behind the question also as important the question itself?
There are concepts of Vedic culture that we try to assimilate. In our attempt it may seem easiest to mold ourselves into some Vedic stereotype. But in doing so we may miss the essence of the Vedas, which is to know, love and serve with selfless devotion, Krsna and His devotees (which incidentally includes our spouses).
Is it possible our quest can be so focused on being “Vedic” that we miss the actual goal?
We read in Krsna Book of Brahmans who did not want to offer food in charity to the cowherd boy friends of Krsna and Balarama because of stringent observance of Vedic protocol. The wives of these Brahmans, however, became immortalized in Srimad Bhagavatam due to their simple act of offering foodstuffs in loving devotion, without hesitation, to Krsna and Balarama.
These Brahmans, later realizing their folly, cursed themselves saying, “To hell with our threefold birth, our vow of celibacy and our extensive learning! To hell with our aristocratic background and our expertise in the rituals of sacrifice! These are all condemned because we were inimical to the transcendental Personality of Godhead.” SB 10.23.40
It can be seen that rote application of Vedic norms and even of Srila Prabhupada’s books may not necessarily be pleasing to Krsna or guru. In Srila Prabhupada’s purport to Mukunda-mälä-stotra, Mantra 2, a sobering caution is given. “Ordinary devotees bound up by the formalities of Vedic rites cannot enter deep into such confidential loving service to the Lord, and thus their realization remains imperfect. Sometimes they even fall victim to the calamity of impersonalism.”
“Fall victim to the calamity of impersonalism,” now that’s serious!
The process of understanding and applying the essence of Vedic teachings involves clear-headed devotional reflection as Lord Krsna tells Arjuna at the conclusion of the Bhagavad Gita, “Deliberate on this fully, and then do what you wish to do.” Srila Prabhupada comments here, “Before surrendering, one is free to deliberate on this subject as far as the intelligence goes; that is the best way to accept the instruction of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (BG 18.63 & purport)
So the question here is how to carefully and thoughtfully apply Vedic norms to time and circumstance with regard to marriage.
Below Srila Prabhupada addressed this issue in a beautiful, profound and deep paradox.
“But if the woman does not agree with the man and the man treats the woman as his servant that is not good. The man should give the woman all protection and the woman should give all service to the man. That is ideal life, family life, conceived in the Vedic way of life.” (Folio conversation with Hayagriva)
This wonderful sutra that Srila Prabhupada spoke captures the essence of loving reciprocation described in the following remarkable description of Vaisnava marriage written by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta in the Harmonist.
“The cardinal principle of gṛhastha āśrama is that no one may be the owner of any property or service of another. Everyone is only a servant whose activities are ever in the service of the Lord. Similarly, the sole object of everyone’s service as the only master, only friend, only son and only consort is Krishna.
Marrying and giving in marriage do not give rise to any rights of a master either to the husband or to the wife. Men and women are joined in wedlock for the purpose of serving each other in the performance of the joint service of Krishna. The wife is not an object of enjoyment of the husband, nor vice versa. They do not marry for gratifying their sexual appetites. They marry for pleasing the Lord, not for pleasing themselves.
They choose for their partners only such persons who serve God better than themselves. They offer themselves to be accepted by their partners for the favor of being allowed to share in their superior service of Hari. Neither the husband nor the wife should claim the services of his or her partner on their own account. Both of them are only to offer their services if and when their partner is pleased to permit them to share their service of Hari. None of them can force their partners to serve them.
This system of household discipline has its roots in the joint worship of the household deity by all members of the household.
The reason why the guru does not ordinarily ask any person to enter the state of wedlock is that it is very rare to ﬁnd anyone in this world who is willing to regard his or her wife or husband as worthy of his or her unconditional services. This is, however, exactly the only relationship between husband and wife that alone can be sanctioned by the guru.”
(From an article “Relations between the Sexes”,volume XXXII of the Harmonist on 7 November 1935.)
The above illustrates the pronounced responsibility and expectation placed upon husband and wife to become advanced in selfless devotion to the Supreme Lord Sri Krsna and to each other. This is ‘ideal life, family life, conceived in the Vedic way of life’, as Prabhupada stated above.
The process of sadhana bhakti in marriage involves examining our hearts and removing the vestiges of desire for control and domination by cultivating mutual selfless devotion. Without the purification of heart we may fall short of the goal, living a marriage of mutual dissatisfaction or worse, of exploitation.
In conclusion, a Vedic marriage is not a matter of cutting and pasting Vedic standards or Srila Prabhupada’s statements on our foreheads for our spouse to read and thus feel obliged to obey our bidding. Power and edicts are an exceedingly poor substitute for love.
The love and submission within a truly Krsna conscious marriage is nurtured by husband and wife mutually understanding and applying the rich values of Srila Prabhupada’s teachings in a mood of compassion and selflessness. In such a manner both can happily and peacefully serve Krsna and progress in their journey back to Godhead. Such relationships will undoubtedly be pleasing to Krsna and Srila Prabhupada