Buddhism Online

by H.E. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche.

The vows of marriage are not only part of an external ceremony. More importantly, they represent an internal, mental commitment. To understand how to uphold that commitment throughout your life, you need to understand the larger framework of these vows.

Among the many kinds of beings in the universe, we as humans have attained a very rare and fortunate situation, a unique working basis for spiritual development. However, if we don’t recognize the preciousness of our human life, we can waste it—like someone who finds a piece of gold but, not recognizing its value, misuses it, perhaps as a doorstop. We now are like unrefined gold ore, not recognizing that our true nature is like gold. By using this opportunity well, we can refine the ore to reveal the purity of our inherent, goldlike nature.

In your marriage, the two of you can support each other’s spiritual path and help to ensure that the potential of your human life is not wasted. This is very important, for the opportunity that you have as humans is very brief. It is natural that you aspire to be together for a long time, but you cannot know how long either your lives or your relationship will last. Everything in our experience is impermanent. This universe that we inhabit wasn’t here at one time, and one day it will again be reduced to nothing. Once, our own physical body wasn’t here, and someday it will again be gone.

Of the many people who lived on this earth one hundred years ago, how many are here now? And of those, how many will be here in one hundred years? If you understand impermanence, you will know the importance of using your time together well.

From the very beginning of your marriage, you need to think clearly about the direction you want it to take. What’s most important is not so much your being together as how you will spend your time together. Marriage means making a commitment from this time forward, for the rest of your lives, to live together in harmony, with joy, love and affection and with the intention to benefit each other as much as possible. This means aspiring day by day to place the happiness of your partner before your own. On both a worldly and spiritual level, resolve to meet each other’s needs and contribute to each other’s spiritual growth. The genuine and selfless love you express for each other will create virtue which will lead to happiness in this life and sow the seeds of future happiness

Each of you has chosen the other out of all the flowers in this earthly garden. So it’s important that you approach marriage with a sense of altruism, of benefiting each other as much as possible, in joy and sorrow, happiness and unhappiness. If the man enters into the relationship thinking, “This woman is now my wife, it is up to her to provide me with what I need, to make me happy,” or if the woman thinks, “This man is now my husband, he owes me my happiness, he must satisfy me,” such expectations will only make problems. Rather than demanding this of each other and expecting something for yourself, make it your commitment to each other, undertake the responsibility of ensuring your partner’s happiness. Always keep in mind how what you say or do affects the other. Learn what is conducive to each other’s happiness and peace of mind.

If both of you have concern for the other’s happiness, you can never be separated. Your bond cannot be broken.

If, on the other hand, you place the responsibility for your happiness on your spouse, if you feel he or she owes you something, you will see only your partner’s faults. If your fundamental motivation is the hope that the other will make you happy, your marriage won’t be so easy, and your happiness will not last very long. Approaching marriage with a self-centered point of view automatically establishes circumstances that will thwart the greater good that is,possible. But if your motivation is to bring the other person happiness, you will both be happy in the short and long term, and you will bring happiness to those around you. This is the meaning of success in both a spiritual and worldly sense. The happiness we experience in life depends a great deal on our motivation. And our motivation is as important in marriage as it is in any other human undertaking. Although an altruistic motivation is not the same thing as bodhicitta, which has a much vaster scope—the temporary and ultimate benefit of all beings—it is a way of practicing selflessness in a very direct way, with the person right beside you. And you can use your relationship with your spouse as a model for your relationships with everyone.

In order to keep your commitment, you must be prepared to meet obstacles with fortitude. Although we aspire to the divine, friction can occur. None of us is perfect. In our relationships we often experience negative emotions, pettiness, self-centered thoughts, and all kinds of physical and mental states, some pleasant, some unpleasant. These things will put your commitment to the test—it must be able to withstand whatever comes up. The important thing is not what arises, but how you deal with it, how you work to ensure that your marriage will last a lifetime.

Vow to help each other, to be each other’s friend, under all circumstances. When difficulties occur, no matter how large or small, don’t make a big deal out of them. Remind yourself that your partner is a human being, not a god. Focus on his or her good qualities and don’t hold onto the difficulties.

When a problem arises, remind yourself that we are all human and drop it. During difficult times, remember that your union is for life; you owe it your best. You don’t have time to argue. Moreover, thinking you are right and others are wrong is one of the delusions that perpetuate suffering.

Instead, be patient and remember that the only thing of benefit at the time of your death will be the virtue you have created in this life. If you maintain this perspective from day to day, disagreements will be resolved and you will develop patience, love, compassion and acceptance, qualities that will enhance your relationship.

Your altruistic motivation in marriage embodies the first of the six perfections—generosity, the practice of which is one of the most excellent ways to accumulate merit and increase virtuous qualities. Through the love and commitment you bring to each other on this occasion and in the future, as you hold your love for one another in your hearts, as you speak your love to one another, as you exchange rings as the physical sign of your bond, you are expressing the quality of generosity. Your commitment, from this time forward, to use your body, speech and mind to make each other happy is a further expression of that generosity.

You also bring to marriage the second perfection, moral discipline. This means living together according to higher principles, eliminating habits that are not serving the relationship, behavior that is petty, selfish and disharmonious, and accentuating positive, selfless qualities such as loving kindness that bring greater benefit. Your spiritual path is one of virtue, bringing joy and happiness to others and refraining from careless actions that might cause harm or unhappiness. As practitioners, you should use your body, speech and mind to guard yourselves and your relationship from any potential obstacles or negativity and strive to benefit each other skillfully. If your focus is on your spouse’s needs, you already have found a very powerful means to avert problems.

There is no doubt that married life is a challenge. Do not hold onto a fixed idea about how the relationship should work, but rather learn how not to upset each other, how to achieve greater and greater joy and harmony. When things arise that you don’t like, work with the aversion in your own mind in the context of your dharma practice instead of trying to make your partner change. This is also very important if you decide to have children. When you treat each other with respect and love, and try to resolve peacefully whatever problems arise, your children will have a role model for developing their own positive and successful relationships.

The third perfection, patience, is one of the most important qualities you can bring to your marriage. Make the commitment always to maintain harmony and remember that regardless of external or emotional changes your partner is going through, he or she is not a buddha. Your spouse is a human being dealing with his or her own problems. Try to relate to that with compassion and with patience, focusing on the bond between you rather than on the problems. Try not to become upset by the difficulties that inevitably arise when people live together. At least don’t fixate on them; instead try immediately to resolve them.

Your practice of patience will bring great benefit in the short term, in the context of your marriage, and in the long term. When you practice virtue, especially virtue as powerful as patience, it will infallibly result in great happiness in the future, what might be called the experience of heaven or the pureland. Through anger, hurting your partner’s feelings, through selfish desire, thinking not of what would make your partner happy but only of your own self-centered wishes, and through ignorance, failing to understand what behavior is truly harmful and what is helpful, you will create short- and long-term suffering. For heaven and hell are not places that exist outside of you. Rather, they are the reflections of your own mind’s positivity and negativity.

Upholding the commitment you make to each other as husband and wife requires diligence, the fourth perfection. It necessitates an unflagging effort to remain true to your connection, to work both in the world and in the context of your spiritual practice to help each other meet your goals and bring benefit to yourself and others. All kinds of companionship on the path are crucial to our development as spiritual practitioners, and the qualities of our friends can influence us greatly. That is why it’s important for you to use your marriage as an opportunity to support each other’s dharma practice, never to allow each other’s actions, words or attitudes to become obstacles to your spiritual path. This requires diligent spiritual practice, trying not just once or twice, but throughout your lives together to accomplish these spiritual goals.

Always being mindful of your bond, holding it dear in your hearts and never letting it go, involves the fifth perfection of meditative stability. This means focusing one-pointedly on what will bring lasting happiness to yourselves and others. It doesn’t matter how young or attractive you are today as you take your vows together. Physical beauty won’t last forever. Don’t focus on it. Remember that everything in this world is subject to decay. Everything that is composite, that comes together, eventually falls apart. But in the time you have together, you can bring joy to one another, you can create virtue and you can support your own and your partner’s spiritual practice. Though this life may be very short, the connection that you establish through your positive and virtuous involvement together and through your spiritual practice will continue in future lifetimes to benefit both of you.

Finally, you bring to marriage the sixth perfection of wisdom, or transcendent knowledge.

Regardless of the joys and sorrows that you experience, as individuals and as a couple, remember that these passing events are like echoes, illusions that come and go, that nothing you experience has any inherent existence. Our entire life experience is like a night dream filled with joy and sorrow, happiness and sadness. And just as when we awaken in the morning and see that nothing really happened, we can look back on all the experiences of our lives and see that they were illusory. The many moments of happiness or sadness are all gone now.

Understanding the deeper nature of our experience doesn’t mean that we discount our happy experiences. We still rejoice, yet at the same time we realize that they’re not as real as we once thought. When we’re unhappy, we remember that our unhappiness, too, is impermanent. This perspective helps us to reduce our attachment to things going a certain way, as well as our aversion to difficulties. We realize that it’s not outer conditions that are responsible for our happiness or unhappiness, but the way that we react to these outer experiences. This brings acceptance and balance to our lives.

Try to maintain an uninterrupted awareness of your own true nature, which is beyond the extremes of happiness and sadness, pleasure and pain, hope and fear. Though you may seem to be a very ordinary person, if you have an inner connection to the essence of your practice, even as you go about your daily work you will achieve something very powerful and very beneficial. It doesn’t really matter where you live, what you wear, how you act if you maintain this view.

The perfection of wisdom, in its most profound sense, is embodied in the union of the masculine and feminine that is foundational to the spiritual path of the Buddhadharma. The manifest aspect of all phenomenal appearance corresponds to the masculine principle of skillful means and the true nature of those phenomena, emptiness, to the feminine aspect of wisdom, or transcendent knowledge. If we examine any element of our experience we find it is empty of self-nature, yet things still appear. Form and emptiness, emptiness and form exist in union with each other. The understanding of the inseparability of the emptiness of phenomena and their appearance is the quality of transcendent knowledge that can be cultivated and nurtured throughout your lives together.

In human society, the bond between women and men is the expression of that deeper truth, marriage an expression of that harmony. This brings an even more profound dimension to the marriage of two individuals who are involved in the path of dharma, because they have a means of incorporating into their lives this union of masculine and feminine that the teachings are founded upon.

If you remain true, in your marriage, to the view of wisdom and always, in your lives together, work to bring greater benefit to yourselves and others in the short and long term, your relationship will produce nothing but happiness in this and future lives and your union will embody the essence and principles of the sacred dharma.


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