Buddhism and Marriage
As in all Buddhist teachings, the institution of marriage is considered a personal and individual concern. It is not considered a religious duty or a sacrament ordained in heaven. It is rather a social convention designed to promote well being and happiness and to distinguish humans from animal life.
Because Buddhists are accepting of other religions, even within the same household, there are no religious laws that require that both individuals in a marriage should be Buddhist or that conversion to either's religious conviction is warranted or expected.
Although the Buddha expressed no specific rules and regulations regarding marriage, advice on leading a happy married life was offered, and suggested that fidelity and loyalty are the most essential attributes of a happy marriage.
Other attributes include:
- Supporting one's parents
- Loving one's spouse and children
- Being generous
- Having a sense of duty
- Helping relatives and acting blamelessly
- Reverence, humility, contentment, gratitude and listening to the Dharma (teachings)
The Five Precepts, a central teaching of Buddhism, offers a framework for a successful and happy marriage.
Refrain from destroying or harming living creatures - A partner's actions should never lead to harm of any kind including emotional suffering. Every action with regard to a partner should be based on the teaching of respect and love.
Refrain from taking that which is not given - In the context of marriage, this precept expresses the need to maintain an equal and respectful relationship and to share the duties and responsibilities of married life and family.
Refrain from sexual misconduct - One should be faithful to one's spouse and not participate in adulterous relationships. Respectful attention to the sexual needs and desires of one's spouse is an important part of refraining from misconduct.
Refrain from false speech - Marriage should be based in truthfulness. An essential component of this precept is to create and maintain an open channel of communication between spouses.
Refrain from intoxicating drugs or drink which cloud the mind - As a clear mind is important in living one's life, so too are clear headedness and clear thinking essential components in married life.
There are no religious laws regarding the necessity of marriage or of having children in the Buddhist tradition.
Buddhist monks who renounce worldly existence do not marry and are celibate. They are not allowed to attend marriage ceremonies and therefore do not perform wedding services. However, they can offer blessings to couples.
There is no official marriage ceremony, and regional customs and practices provide a wide range of ceremonial elements. It is common, however, to include the Homage to the Buddha, "Homage to The Exalted One, The Liberated One, The Fully Enlightened One." The Three Refuges, "I seek refuge in the Enlightened One, Buddha, I seek refuge in the Way to Enlightenment, Dharma, I seek refuge in the Enlightened Community, Sangha," and the recitation of the Five Precepts (see above.)
From the Sigalovada Sutta, the roles and responsibilities are presented and provide a structure for successful married life.
"In five ways... should a wife... be ministered to by a husband:
- by being courteous to her
- by not despising her
- by being faithful to her
- by handing over authority to her
- by providing her with adornments
The wife, thus ministered to... by her husband shows her compassion to her husband in five ways:
- she performs her duties well
- she is hospitable to relations and attendants
- she is faithful
- she protects what he brings
- she is skilled and industrious in discharging her duties."
The Buddha has said, "If a man can find a suitable and understanding wife and a woman can find a suitable and understanding husband, both are fortunate indeed."