Marriage

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Marriage (àvàha-vihàha) is the formal and legal joining of a man and a woman. It is a secular institution, an arrangement between two people or two families and thus Buddhism does not insist upon monogamy, polygamy, polyandry or any other form of marriage.

Traditionally, Buddhists practised the form of marriage which prevailed in the society in which they lived. Although the Buddha did not advocate any particular form of marriage, we can assume that he favoured monogamy. His father Suddhodana had two wives and as a prince he could have had several wives also, but he chose to have only one.

In a discourse on marriage the Buddha only discusses monogamy, again implying that he accepted this as the best form of marriage (A.IV,91). Having been both a husband and a father, the Buddha was able to speak of marriage and parenthood 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 (D.III,190). The Buddha said that 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 (A.II,161). He also said that adultery is against the third Precept and that ‘to cherish one’s spouse and children was the greatest blessing’ (Sn.262).

It seems that throughout history most ordinary Buddhists have been monogamous, although kings were sometimes polygamous and polyandry was common in Tibet until just recently. During the medieval period in Sri Lanka polyandry was sometimes also practiced in the highlands. Today monogamy is the only legally accepted form of marriage in all Buddhist countries. There is no specific Buddhist wedding ceremony; different countries have their own customs which monks do not usually perform or participate in. However, just before or after the marriage the bride and groom often go to a monastery to receive a blessing from a monk. In Western nations where Buddhism is still new, Theravada Buddhist couples do get married in front of a monk or nun conducting the ceremony. In most states in the U.S. this can also be a legal wedding if the monk or nun conducting the ceremony is ordained and has a temple / community.

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