Last year in Hong Kong, several venerables and other monks gathered together to marry the daughter of a Buddhist and her new husband. A joyous milestone indeed, but Buddhist love remains, at its core, very realistic. According to the traditional account of marriage, union is not really holy (in fact, it is nothing more than a mutual promise of commitment, much like secular marriage). Buddhism also allows for all kinds of marriages depending on the culture – this is an undeniable historical phenomenon. In our globalized, largely secular age, monogamy is the acceptable contract of love, and that is how the Buddha rolls with his ten points of guidance for husbands and wives (five for each).
Of course, let us not ignore the elephant in the room: marriages are not guarantors of happiness. In fact, I'll go even further: people underestimate how free and meaningful the single life can be. Buddhists should know this better than most - our role models - monastics - somewhat tend to be single. So let's not pay lip service to their commitment to the Dharma while denying ourselves the possibility that the single life is often a highly productive (and sometimes preferable) one. Then perhaps we can appreciate marriage in a more realistic and effective way - it is a way of life that needs work, not a one way street to bliss in the fairytale's sunset.
Interestingly, the Buddha (who knew what it was like to be in love, marry, and have a child), had his own opinion about an ideal marriage. It can be achieved if a husband loves and respects his wife in the following ways:
· Being courteous to her;
· Appreciating her (this point seems obvious, but can be forgotten);
· Being faithful to her;
· Sharing authority with her in family matters (this seems to be a progressive foresight for the Buddha’s historical context);
· Giving her presents (from the Buddha’s foresight or his personal experience? If only we knew).
Both parties share responsibilities, and the Buddha spoke of the ideal wife as someone who:
· Managed the household well (I think some feminists would like to have a word with the Buddha about this);
· Was hospitable to his friends and relatives;
· Was faithful to him (it is interesting to note that faithfulness is the third piece of advice for both husband and wife, and aligns identically with the Third Precept of refraining from sexual misconduct);
· Took care of the family’s wealth;
· Was industrious (hoo boy. Another thing the Buddha might be taken to task for due to its possibly sexist subtext).
From a modern perspective, it is perhaps no longer enough for each party to fulfill just five steps. I do not see why the husband should not manage the household well, and it would seem obvious that a courtesy is important to both. Perhaps the ideal is that both partners adopt all ten.
When a Buddhist marries, they are not supposed to feel like something was missing before they took their vows. People should feel whole and complete in themselves, be they single or married (contrary to the Hollywood tripe that is piddled around so gratuitously via the vehicle of American media). That is the whole point of practicing the Buddhist path. But as it is, there are many important aspects to marriage. Aside from the emotional, creative, and sexual possibilities it can offer, those in a marriage are privileged with the opportunity to pool their strengths and talents together, building with each other a future that would be better than one if they were apart. For a couple, happiness shared is happiness doubled, but suffering shared is suffering halved. And that might be why the Thus Come treasured marriage as a unit that brings stability, satisfaction, and sunshine.