Marriage

Buddhism has long been silent on the subject of marriage. There are no great romantic figures in Buddhist history as there are in other great religions. There are no Samsons and Delilahs, no Muhammads and Khadijahs. In Buddhist countries marriage is considered a secular affair, and therefore there is no turning to your monk or religious figure for a marriage ceremony. Perhaps this is due to Buddhism's strong monastic tradition. However, it is common for couples to turn to a monk for a blessing after their civil ceremony has been performed.

In the United States, a Buddhist monk, lama, or other Buddhist officiate can perform a marriage ceremony, depending on the laws of your state. Check your local marriage laws to verify that a Buddhist monk or nun can officiate. However, as there are not Buddhist marriage ceremonies within the Buddhist tradition, you might make up your own ceremony with the input of a Buddhist monk, Zen priest, teacher, or similar dharma teacher or friend. A Buddhist blessing on a civil ceremony is still a lovely alternative if a Buddhist cannot officiate.

The Buddha had a son named Rahula (which interestingly enough means “fetter” in Sanskrit). Although Siddhartha left his family when his son was newly born to search for spiritual truth, he did return after his enlightenment and welcomed Rahula into the sangha. Rahula followed in his father's footsteps and eventually became a fully ordained monk.

In a Buddhist wedding ceremony the couple might affirm their commitment to the Three Jewels of buddha, dharma, and sangha. They might vow to support each other on the path toward awakening. A Buddhist union may differ from the standard Western-style union. Each partner commits to working on his or her own salvation through dedication to Four Noble Truths and other teachings. As the poet Rilke elegantly said, “each appoints the other the guardian of his solitude, and shows him this confidence, the greatest in his power to bestow.” There is no ideal of two halves becoming a whole. Buddhism does not encourage marriage or discourage marriage, but it will lend advice on how to live a good married life.

The Buddha wasn't exactly the best role model for marriage. He left his wife and newborn son on his quest to find a Way beyond suffering. Buddhists could be said to view romantic love as suffering, just as all desire leads to suffering. But Buddhist marriages can be filled with compassion and friendship, and the challenges of being in a relationship can help each partner towards awakening. A relationship can be a path in itself. Living the precepts will promote a household of ethical strength, honesty, and faith-fulness. However, if one were to wonder if the Buddha was against marriage you would only need to turn to the Maha Mangala Sutra (the Blessings sutra), which tells us: “To support one's father and mother; to cherish one's wife and children, and to be engaged in peaceful occupations — this is the highest blessing.”

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