One evening meeting at the Dera, a man asked Baba Ji whether it was all right for him and his girlfriend to live together without getting married. Since marriage has been devalued to such an extent, what was the point of getting married? The vow that was solemnized between two people as a commitment for life, that was considered sacred within the context of one’s religion, in these days seems hardly worth the paper on which it is written. Where then, he asked, was the need for a formal ceremony?
The Master was clear in his reply. He said that by not getting married, the gentleman was simply avoiding his responsibilities. Baba Ji quickly put before us a vivid picture of the chaos that would ensue when none are clear about their responsibilities. We saw a world of confused and distressed people – adults and children – in which no norms could be established; a world in which everyone was going in different directions – each in the way he or she wanted – and no one was ready to compromise on his or her desires. We saw a world in which everyone’s priority was maintaining his or her individual rights and personal freedom. But without a commitment to something beyond oneself, who would decide what was right? How quickly would such a world become a lonely nightmare of disappointment, anger, bitterness and frustration?
Marriage is one of the key institutions of civilization. If we are to understand why it is important, we need to remind ourselves of two things in particular. First, no one can function as an island. Without cooperation and compromise, without mutually respected rules of conduct, who would decide what gets done? If I am going to pursue what I want at all costs, it may well be that what I want does not suit or appeal to you. Second, we have to remind ourselves of the simple and self-evident truth that nothing can be achieved without commitment. We have to put our roots down deep if we are to draw sustenance from life’s depths – and this cannot happen if we keep changing focus. We need to think through these issues. In a world where values are not shared, on whom would we be able to depend? How could we raise children? Don’t children absorb their values from within the family during their early years? If our early environment is stable and positive, it nurtures positive values within us. Has the science of human behaviour shown us a better way to learn the important lessons of life other than in the context of a loving family? In a world where the family unit does not exist, how would we transmit positive values from one generation to the next? Where there is no emotional and social stability, not only is life traumatic for the children, but it affects us too.
Our code of conduct creates order and stability out of potential chaos. It reflects our fragile spiritual understanding and provides a refuge from the confusion at the surface of life. By representing more than our immediate interests, it helps us contain our actions so that we can experience the deeper truths of life. The institution of marriage is a significant element in our moral code, for it provides a structure within which to grow and meet our responsibilities.
When we come into a physical relationship with a person of the opposite sex, when we act in accordance with one of the deepest forces of the creation and give birth to children, whose responsibility are they if not ours? If the union does not produce children, do we think this means that no responsibilities ensue? If we devalue the physical act of creation by treating it as a means of pleasure alone, then it can only point to our blindness: even if we do not have children, our involvement with each other runs deep through this union, so the consequences and responsibilities are commensurate, and will surely have to be met one day. When we have relationships outside marriage, we are looking for the pleasures of a partnership without the responsibilities. We do not even give ourselves a chance to experience the responsibilities, for without a supportive framework it is easy to think they do not exist. As soon as we feel trouble brewing, we are on our way – looking for happiness elsewhere.
It is a myth of our present times that happiness comes from being with the right partner. This suits the mind – it is always looking for variety. But we need to remind ourselves constantly that it is our mind that is our problem. It is the mind that prevents us from going beyond the physical. It alone keeps us from experiencing the inner music of the Shabd. Our mind is rooted in the layers of impressions from our previous actions and thoughts that sit like thick sound-proofing around our soul.
How far are we going to let it take us? And if we are not ready to make the commitment needed for marriage, how can we imagine that we will remain committed to the journey of our soul that lies ahead? How, without commitment, can we ever experience the depths of life? We will spend our entire lives skating on the surface. In our relationships, we may not even get to know our partner before we get disappointed or frustrated and look to change. Our problems may well manifest themselves in our relationships, but they do not originate there. We do not see that we have got things back to front, that it is for us to find happiness first within ourselves, and only then can we build a partnership of two happy people learning to live together in tolerance and love.
Marriage is a public statement of a commitment. By making our partnership public, we cement it. By institutionalizing it, we further cement it. No partnership is easy, and marriage is no different – so we need all the help we can get. Marriage provides a framework to hold two people together, so that in times of trouble they don’t split or drift apart. It gives a reference point beyond two minds, and creates space within which their differences can exist.
Some people may argue that a private commitment to each other is sufficient. In many countries this is acceptable by law – for taxation or other purposes – so who needs a piece of paper? But if we reflect a little, we will discover this is a way of avoiding commitment. Whatever the intellect may say, who would deny that legal marriage is a significant step, even if it is no more than the simplest of ceremonies? That is maybe why the proponents of this argument wish to avoid it: legal marriage is binding.
Commitment, responsibility, steadiness, a concern for the well-being of others – all are aspects of love. We should think of love as a verb, something we do, not just something that happens by chance. How many times does the Master point out that we do not even understand what love is. He explains how our difficulties arise because we confuse love with the physical. Love is beyond the physical, he keeps telling us; true love is constant and unconditional, true love does not alter with change.
We call ourselves satsangis – those who associate with the truth. In our essence we are the truth, the reality, for which we yearn. Call it God, call it truth, call it love, call it the Word; it is the essence of life, our life-force of you and me. By initiation into the practice of the Word, we are given the key to find this treasure within ourselves. It is for us to use the key. For this, too, we need commitment. We need commitment, steadfastness and courage – not every day is a sunny day on the spiritual path. We need to be clear about our priorities – but we keep forgetting them. We start to think our interests lie in our relationships, in emotional happiness right now. We lose sight so easily of the bigger picture.
By committing ourselves to live with one person, we give ourselves the opportunity to be constant and learn how to love. Marriage is “till death do us part, for richer for poorer, in sickness and health.” As we live through the years in one relationship, we learn that human love can be transformed from the excitement of romantic love and the passion of youthful lust into a deeper sort of love marked by the selflessness, compassion, and generosity that come with time. When things are difficult, there is only one practical option and that is to work on ourselves. To achieve harmony through the ups and downs of life, we have to keep on developing. Within a marriage we can nurture friendship, so aptly and beautifully described by Hazur Maharaj Charan Singh as a relationship “where you have a clean and clear understanding with someone – he accepts you for what you are and you accept him for what he is. He wants to help you. You want to help him. That is friendship. It is very rare.” For a good marriage, we need big hearts filled with positive qualities – tolerance, trust, patience, compassion and forgiveness; our commitment leads us to develop these qualities within ourselves.
Marriage is a purpose-designed vessel to hold, protect and nourish earthly love. This earthly love is precious and sacred, not because it has been sanctioned by a religious organization, but because it reflects the yearning of the soul for union with its Source. It can shape the order of our world and, as it expresses itself through the love of parent and child or husband and wife, it is one of the best ways we have of making the world a better place. Rightly directed, it is the same love that will take us home. In the Mathnawi, Rumi says:
Love is the astrolabe of the mysteries of God. Whether love be from this earthly side or from that heavenly side, in the end it leads us yonder.
Maharaj Charan Singh, after explaining at length the protective function of marriage for those with spiritual values, ended by giving us a simple metaphor: If we want the shoe to stay on, we have to tie the lace.