Sri. Nithin Sridhar had written an article exploring the Indic view on Adultery: Sangrahana, where he explores the dynamics of marriage from the Shastra traditions.
Many points in this article reminded me of recent conversations, life experiences and an exploration I had done, sometime back responding to a request for advice to a bride to be or a newly married women, from the Dharmashastras.
The following is recapturing those explorations.
I start with three disclaimers.
Typically to opine on a subject, one must have expertise, experience or empathy.
(1) To channel Bilbo Baggins, I don’t know my own dharma per Dharmashastras 90% of the time; When I do know it, I don’t understand it for 9% of time; When I do understand, I fail to apply it for the rest .9%; And when I actually do get all three – know, understand, apply – correctly, I am not aware of that happening either. So no expertise
(2) And being a man, it is more a challenge to speak from a woman’s perspective. I am no Azhwar, who adopted the Nayaki Bhava, as Parakala Nayaki or Parankusa Nayaki, a female persona, to express Viraha Bhakthi to VIshnu. So can’t advice with the empathy either.
(3) Which leaves experience, and that I have more from failures than successes. But with experience, failures teach more than successes, so that might be helpful.
Men, depending on their inclinations look for a wife who is a combination of Katyayani and Maitreyi, but since they are not Yagnavalkyas, the women end up being Kaikeyis.
(Katyayani – standing for a conventional housewife, who is happy with domestic life and family;
Maitreyi – standing for a women who has her own sense of purpose in spiritual seeking;
Kaikeyi – for a women who with willful ways, destroys both domestic peace and pursuit of dharma.)
Nithin Sridhar’s article brings out the 3 pivotal points of a marital relationship. Sambhoga, Sahadharma and Supraja.
“It is a sacred bond standing on the three pillars of rati (desire), dharma (duty), and prajā (progeny). It is a special relationship which involves both saha-dharma and saṃbhoga, i.e. a pursuit of duties and the experiencing of life, both of which must be accomplished together”
I will not explore the aspect of Rati and Sambhoga, for that is still prevalent in the society. Even if it is fast becoming – Svayam Bhoga – experiencing the pleasures of life by oneself and for oneself, and not together. Spouses are being seen as means to keep life interesting and entertaining, for oneself and not together. Yet that aspect is relatively better.
But it is when it comes to the aspects Sahadharma and Supraja, that there is a marked deterioration in the society and in the institution of marriage.
Circling back to Maitreyi, her dialogue with Yagnavalkya brings this out.
Lo, verily, not for love of a husband is a husband dear, but for the love of the soul a husband is dear.
Not for the love of the wife is a wife dear, but for love of the soul a wife is dear.
— Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.4
This is simplistically and incorrectly reduced to selfishness, by “eminent” Indologists. But that is not it, is it?
The soul here is the Atman, which is the substrate of all creation, to access it, connect with it, love it through one’s own self, is to know that essential oneness with the substrate, therefore is to connect and love all Atmans, It is Self-ness and not Selfishness.
Still if the motive is to love all, then why the need for a special relationship between spouses, could be a question.
That is where the Sahadharma of marriage itself is purposed into seeking of that connection with the Paramatman, where as a first step, two people attempt to recognize the underlying unity between them, dissolve themselves in it, while still retaining their independent identities, a sort of kiddie-level jeevan mukthi, to connect with one other person in all levels, as a first step to connect with all creation in all levels.
We are complex creatures, often unnecessarily so and even in self-defeating manners; We presume many flaws, quirks, attributes about ourselves, in physique, in emotions, in intellect and so on; a lot of warts. And we build many mechanisms to present these attributes in the way we want, to all others depending on the relationship – parents, siblings, friends etc.
But to do so in marriage, where the dharma is to connect in every manner, such presentations are counterproductive. Ultimately, it is required to stand before the spouse – shorn of all these smoke and mirrors, warts and all.
If that is a challenge, even greater one is to ’embrace’ the spouse standing thus shorn of all disguises and defense mechanism, warts and all. And it is not merely avoiding judgement or ignoring aspects or merely accepting – but a proactive embrace, knowing everything about them. Parasara Bhatta in his Thanniyan-Single on Sri, Godha Devi, says of her,
“SvOchchishtAyAm sraji nigaLitham yA balAthkruthya bhungkthE
She who of her own will and desire, proactively embraced Sri Ranganatha – Vishnu”
(If Audrey Truschke read that Thanniyan, she would say Vishnu has a case of #MeToo)
So marriage which thus creates an ethos to embrace the spouse in such a manner, is a precursor, for us to embrace the Atman, shorn of all its Maya-Mechanisms.
That is the Sahadharma part of married life.
Then we also have Rna – a commitment to life itself, which is to sustain and propagate.
To quote Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory,
“We have to take in nourishment, expel waste and breathe in enough oxygen to keep our cells from dying. Everything else is purely optional”
Quite true, yet we do other things, and those we do is to supply purpose to life. Social constructs, family, relationships, culture, civilization, religion, philosophy etc. And why?
Because, life evolves like a great wave travelling through time, as entities are created and destroyed. And the thing we attempt, while we are here is, to give some shape and purpose to the wave. The propagation of the wave is not merely biological, it is also propagating the “Seeking of Purpose”. Everything humanity has built arts, science, technology etc. are only in service of that propagations – biological and cultural seeking.
And to do that, we must take from the generations preceding us and give to generations succeeding us.
Those things, they can’t be just facts and data, but insights and experiences – Qualia. This we do by forming many project teams – Nationality, ethnicity, linguistic groups, religious groups, communities and above all – ‘Family’, for no one person can transmit the entire experience. While we are doing transmitting this like a wave transmitting the movement, we also impact/contribute to that transmission.
So that propagation is both a biological and cultural imperative. Not just praja, but supraja.
Or to quote from American Television Drama, “This is the way the world changes: good people raising their children right – Grey’s Anatomy“.
There are many things we can achieve as individuals, but if our children grow up to be accomplished and virtuous, rooted in their culture, then that is the best of achievements. Vyasa has great accomplishments, comes from a great lineage – Vashista, Shakthi, Parasara, yet his greatness is complete only because he was Sukhabrahma’s father.
Sambhoga and Sahadharma, resulting in Supraja, would be the ideal.
It is not that for married couples, life is limited to rearing supraja, but nowadays, there is this inconsiderate trumpeting of individualism to the neglect of everything else, which is deplorable. When it comes to Grihastashrama – Supraja is an imperative, that is often taken for granted or underrated, these days.
The individual is not reduced or restricted by being a part of a greater entity. If they are in harmony, their melody is amplified. That is where Sahadharma and Supraja matter – harmony and amplification.
All these are concepts, how is a person supposed to internalize and live according to them. That is the challenge.
The Shastras are there as a guide, including the Kamasutra for Rati. But as mentioned we could learn from the role models in the society and in the family, who have lived as per values of the Shastras.
They who have faced the challenges of conflicting priorities in their lifetimes, yet have made it possible for us to be here today.
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