“The relationship between husband and wife is firmly established when the wife is faithful and the husband sincere. Then even if the wife, being weaker, is unable to execute devotional service with her husband, if she is chaste and sincere she shares half of her husband's activities.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 6.19.18 Purport)
Along with releasing countless books each year, many famous marriage counselors appear on various television talk shows offering their services on how to fix problems in relationships. Each “expert” has their own specific theory on how to make a marriage work, but herein Prabhupada provides the definitive guide for all married couples to follow. Any advice or conclusion that deviates from these principles will inevitably lead to unhappiness and failure in a marriage.
The modern day definition of marriage is quite skewed from its original purpose. In most of the world today, men and women are free to intermingle. Even in the most traditional of countries such as India, many men and women are taking to dating before getting married. Indian marriages aren’t always of the arranged variety anymore. The concept of boyfriend and girlfriend is steadily engrained in the Western culture. Young children, even as young as twelve and thirteen years old, take to dating. As they get older and their relationships mature, it is usually the women who want to get married and have a secure lifestyle, while the men dread the idea of being tied down. Eventually, the institution of marriage is entered into as a mere formality, more of a legal definition than anything else. Many couples today even cohabitate for many years before getting married as a way of safeguarding any potential problems that might arise later on. Since these relationships are all based on the need for companionship and the satisfaction of sex desires, they tend to deteriorate after marriage. As the saying goes “Familiarity breeds contempt”, so the lifelong commitment of staying true to one person who you see day in and day out, leads people to have disagreements. These disagreements lead to anger, resentment and even hatred. The situation gets so bad that many relationships dissolve through the divorce process. In essence, the marriage ends up being nothing more than a piece of paper issued by the government.
The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, give us a completely different definition of the marriage system. We are all spirit souls at our core, but we have somehow or other been placed in this material world, forced to repeatedly accept new bodies after giving up our current ones. This is all due to karma, or our desires. The strongest desire in the material world is for kama, or sense gratification, and more specifically, sex desire. God is very kind and fair, and if we desire to have sex, he facilitates that desire by allowing us to take birth in the material world. Since sex desire is so strong, He put in place a system whereby man can control it. This system is known as marriage. As soon as a boy reaches the age of puberty, if he has a desire for family life, he is to be married immediately with a suitable girl. In this way, sex life is allowed, but in a regulated manner, only with one’s wife. There is no chasing after the love of your life, or wooing women that you fall in love with it. Marriages are arranged by parents, who compare the qualities of their children, their ancestral backgrounds, and their astrological charts.
If sex desire is curbed, people can focus clearly on the real mission of life, service to Krishna, or God. If one is sincere in their service, then after this life, they no longer have to take birth in this material world.
The husband and wife should perform this service together if possible, by rising early in the morning and performing puja of the deity, and chanting the Lord’s name. By preparing nice foodstuffs to be offered to the Lord, and partaking of the prasadam, husbands and wives can become completely purified, and free of all sins. However, it is not always possible for both husband and wife to be purely God conscious. Not to worry though, as the Vedas declare that the husband and wife share equally in each other’s spiritual merits. So it is only required that one person be purely Krishna conscious. It is then the duty of the other person to make sure that this service is performed peacefully and regularly. In this way, the spiritual success of both parties is guaranteed.
There are two notable examples in this regard. Goswami Tulsidas, the great saint and poet, was married and very attached to his wife in his younger days. She once left home to visit her parents without telling Tulsidas. He couldn’t bear the separation so he travelled through a storm just to see her. She couldn’t believe the extraordinary steps he took, so she chastised him for not having the same devotion to Lord Rama. From that point on, he took to the renounced order of life, known as sannyasa. The world was better off for it since Tulsidas went on to author such classics as the Ramacharitamanasa and Hanuman Chalisa.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada had similar problems in his married life. His wife angered him so much that he also left home and took to sannyasa. It was only after retiring from family life that Prabhupada was really able to focus all his efforts on spreading Krishna conscious all over the world, especially in the Western speaking countries. He eventually founded the modern day Hare Krishna movement and also went on to author many books. In both these situations, we see that the wives weren’t perfectly Krishna conscious, yet they achieved the highest result in life since their husbands were pure souls.
To have a successful marriage today, one need only follow the examples set forth in Vedas. Lord Rama and His wife Sita had the perfect marriage, as did Savitri and Satyavana, and also Lord Shiva and Parvati. The Shrimad-Bhagavatam, Mahabharata, and Ramayana detail examples of great marriages that we can all learn from. Above anything else, the best relationship one can have is with Krishna. Regardless of one’s position in life, whether in a marriage, living with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or even living alone, following the system of devotional service is the only means of achieving true happiness. If one can have a pure loving relationship with Krishna, then all other relationships will be benefitted.