Buddhist Views on Marriage and Divorce
In Buddhism, marriage is regarded as a personal and secular affair, and not a religious duty as it is in other religions. Buddhist teachings reveal that marriage is a social convention and personal concern that is instituted by man for his own happiness and wellbeing. Besides, it further points out that man institutes marriage to distinguish the human society from animal life and also maintain order and harmony in the procreation process. Despite this, Buddha still gave several teachings on marriage and even declared in the Blessing Sutra that, ‘’to care for one’s wife…This is the highest blessing.’’
Even after a man and a woman come together in marriage, Buddha outlines the proper way in which the two are required to relate to each other as husband and wife. In the Sigalovada Sutra, Buddha declares that, ‘’in five ways should a wife… be ministered to her by her husband: by respect, by courtesy, by faithfulness, by handing over authority to her (in the home), by providing her with adornment. In five ways does the wife act in sympathy with him: her duties are well performed, she knows hospitality to kin of both, is faithful, watches over the gods he brings, and shows skill and artistry in discharging all her business.’’
Since marriage is not viewed as sacred duty in Buddhism, monks do not preside over wedding ceremonies. However, the can bless the couple during or after the ceremony has been conducted. In certain instances, they can even perform the blessing without any ceremony. There are no religious laws in Buddhism that compels a person to be married, to remain a bachelor or to lead a life of total chastity. Neither are there any laid down rules that Buddhists must produce children. The religion gives each individual the freedom to choose for himself the avenue to pursue with regards to marriage.
Buddhism does not prohibit divorce; however, the necessity would barely arise if the Buddha’s injunctions were followed strictly. Men and women are at liberty to separate in case they are unable to agree after marriage. Divorce is preferable in order to avoid living miserable family life for a long period of time. Buddha urges old men to avoid having young women as their spouses since the two are most likely incompatible.
According to most Buddhists, divorce can be viewed as an integral step towards self-knowledge. Just in the same way that the religion views marriage as an individual choice, divorce is also regarded as a choice that one can make if they feel that they are unhappy in the married life. Buddhism points out that man and woman who have been living as wife and husband are free to divorce on grounds that the first, third or fourth precepts (killing, lying and sexual misconduct) are broken and also where the amount of suffering arising from the marriage becomes disproportionate. If the husband and wife are content that divorce would alleviate that suffering, they are free to pursue the course.
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