By His Grace  Kripamoya dasa  Adhikari

(Vaiñëava Society Vol. 12)


ISKCON  marriages are meant  to be revolutionary, for the couple,  for those around them, and for the world.

Since the 1960’s, a time in western democracies when many young people began to question the traditional culture  of their parents;  the institution of marriage has often been seen as something  relevant only to a previous  age. Marriage, the publicly witnessed, religiously binding, and legal, life-long commitment to one person  was essential in the past, but no longer, goes the argument.

The arguments against marriage, which have gathered volume over the past few decades,  go something  like this: In the early days of homo-sapiens when  we were  hunter-gatherers and  life was short,  there  was value  in a committed and (short) lifetime male-female bonding.  Only those who undertook this form of co-habitation would be able to raise children to ensure the next biological generation. Natural selection did its job.

Along came the invention of religion; that great glue of developed communities and the priests made sure that society had cohesion by creating codes of marriage. They also created magical ceremonies which drew down blessings from invisible gods who would bless the couple and make their commitment magically permanent.

In the last century,  when there  was no national welfare  system, when a woman’s social position  was at a considerable disadvantage to a man’s, and when there were no regularly effective methods of birth control, the institution of marriage, endorsed by Church and State, offered some individual protection and social stability.

But in the 21st century,  when there  is parity  between  men and women; when so many women have expressed how they have suffered at the hands of domineering husbands, and when they are no longer  considered to be the property of a man, what is the place for marriage? If we place a value on individual  freedom, goes the argument, and if an exclusive commitment to one  partner is not  always successful,  then of what  use is such  a serious commitment? Better to  arrange an escape  clause  as part  of the  nuptial agreement; or merely live together for as long as is convenient.

Yet statistics are revealing  that even those reasonable arguments, seemingly logical and persuasive, ostensibly based on the values of individual liberty and compassion,  do not always stack up after a few decades of living by them. The very fabric of society, beginning with the marriage, the family,and the neighbourhood, is unraveling  at an alarming  rate. The second generation results are everywhere to be seen. And it may be only in the third or fourth  generation when the results of such fluid social principles will be truly felt.

We are not the only ones to experiment with the rejection of marriage and concomitant parental irresponsibility. Social revolution didn’t begin in the Sixties. Historians tell us that there  have been plenty of civilizations before us where decadence – the pursuit of pleasure to the exclusion of moral principles (often in the name of compassion and common sense) – has so weakened the society that animalistic  propensities have dominated, social disintegration has proliferated and the resultant warring tribes destroyed each other in bloody civil wars.

Marriage is one of those principles which, if not always the most pleasurable in practice,  is a necessary  discipline to preserve individual  and social long- term happiness. And long-term happiness is the most important consideration in a truly developed society. In fact, marriage always was an essential part of a progressive life and stability of society. The past few decades have revealed that  alternatives to commitment and  marital  faithfulness create  mistrust, loneliness and, paradoxically, a lack of real personal psychological freedom. And when such negative  emotional experiences are multiplied in hundreds of thousands of homes, and millions of lives, we all suffer.

Both individuals and society are now paying a high price for abandonment of partners. No one has ultimately become  any happier from having a succession of relationships, and the terrible emotional consequences for the children are all around us. Important moral concepts like duty, commitment, trust, loyalty and doing what is honourable, have been exchanged for a culture of selfishness that threatens the very basic freedoms we had hoped to preserve.

And  yet even  in western  democracies, where  individual  freedom  and choice are enshrined as the highest concepts, the tide is beginning to change. Somehow,  we are  beginning  to look  at the  mess we’ve created and  we’re starting to redress the balance. Even in America, the land of the free, getting bound to one partner for life, and working through the difficult times so that you stay bound, is viewed by growing numbers as the remedy for many social problems. Rather than  a loss of freedom, marriage is now being hailed  by leading thinkers, both religious and secular, as an essential  step in personal growth, long-term happiness, and social stability.

That  doesn’t  mean  that  staying married to one person  has become  any easier.  The challenges  to life-long commitment are the same as they have always been. It requires individual  effort, compromise, mutual  service, and above all, genuine  love and understanding. It requires support from family, friends and needs continuing recognition of its social importance.

Within  ISKCON  we have the sacred  mission of creating  a refuge from Kali Yuga. We are a movement of people who follow the eternal principles of life, including those of marriage. We do not believe that marriage was created as a mere pragmatic biological pairing, or an arbitrary social glue dreamed up by manipulative priests in a remote past. All these notions come from the naturalists, anthropologists and sociologists  who, in their  sincere  desire  to explain society from the perspective of their own disciplines have inadvertently contributed to the mentalities behind today’s problems.

If we truly believe what our founder-acarya has told us, then we will view his movement – our movement – as a body which can bring about  a spiritual revolution in human  society. Nothing  less. And  that  means  our marriages must be revolutionary. Our marriages must be seen not only as our commitment to each other but as an offering to others who are yet to join us. When people see happy couples and happy families they will want to join us. If we have made a sacred and God-witnessed commitment to marriage then we must learn the scientific principles of how to create an enduring, unbreakable partnership. We must discuss our marriages,  honour them, and do everything  to support and protect them. We must speak up when we see couples in difficulty, help them, and never, ever, suggest the easy way out. The rewards  for us all are enormous: emotionally, socially, and spiritually.  And your great-grandchildren – and the future devotees of ISKCON  – will thank you from their hearts. LessengerArticlesGrhastaKripamoya dasaBy His Grace  Kripamoya dasa  Adhikari (Vaiñëava Society Vol. 12)   ISKCON  marriages are meant  to be revolutionary, for the couple,  for those around them, and for the world. Since the 1960’s, a time in western democracies when many young people began to question the traditional culture  of their parents;  the institution of...