Spiritual Marriage

By Rudra Shivananda

pexels-photo-256737.jpegOne of my dear students is getting married in a few days and while I’m thinking of her from afar, and wishing both the happy bride and groom the best, it is instructive to review the role of what would be considered a spiritual marriage. This is the same whether one formalizes it with a ceremony or it is an informal arrangement as it often is these days.

Spiritual seekers are often confused about the role of marriage on the spiritual path. Those who are unmarried are conflicted by their needs and social pressures versus their perception of the freedom to pursue their path. The married seekers are conflicted about their family duties versus their time alone for meditation and other spiritual pursuits.

Often the single seeker will look for a soul-mate with whom she can tread the path together, supporting each other with love and harmony. Whether this happens or not will depend on their karmic tendencies. There are also some practitioners who wish to scale the heights of higher consciousness on their own and believe that they can do so faster without a partner. There is no right or wrong as far as partnering or not is concerned – it depends on the balancing of karmic tendencies and one’s dharmic role in life – that is to say, neither one is superior to the other and each person has to find their own way. It is one of the reasons I always counsel new students to get in touch with their higher intuition as soon as possible and provide the techniques for doing so – follow your heart and not your confused mind.

Often times, students come to me with their personal problems that include a marriage or relationship that has gone awry somehow. There are many instances where there is a divergence in their approach to spirituality. For example, the husband may be attracted towards yogic practices while the wife is a devoutly religious person believing in a personal savior and taught to denigrate a different approach from another culture. There are also cases where the materialistic husband opposes the wife’s growing spirituality as it takes her away from his control.

The common factors are differing beliefs, jealousy, fear, and control. Fear of losing a family member to some strange spiritual group often imperceptibly drives a wedge between loved ones. It is important to keep an open mind and cultivate harmony rather than conflict. Forcing someone else to share one’s beliefs will not succeed in
the long run for a health relationship.

In a traditional Indian marriage ceremony, there are many elements which are meant to teach the bride and bridegroom about how to live together in harmony with each one committing to make the relationship work, even if it means giving up something. However, it is important to remember that both partners must be willing to adjust from being single to living life as a partner, that is to say, both must be  willing to change and work together – it cannot be one-sided.

A highlight of the ceremony is the saptapadi – marriage knot symbolized by tying one end of the groom’s scarf with the bride’s dress. Then they take seven steps representing nourishment, strength, prosperity, happiness, progeny, long life and harmony and understanding, respectively. They make the following commitment
to each other:

1. Let us stay together for the rest of our lives and may we be blessed with an abundance of resources and comforts, and be helpful to one another in all ways.

2. Let us not separate from each other and may we be strong and complement one another.

3. Let us discharge our prescribed duties to others and may we be blessed with prosperity and riches on all levels.

4. Let us be of one mind in carrying out our responsibilities and may we be eternally happy, achieving both material and spiritual wealth.

5. Let us love and cherish each other, enjoying nourishing food and good health and may we be blessed with a happy family life.

6. Let our aspirations be united – just like the melody and lyrics of a vedic mantra and may we live in perfect harmony… true to our personal values and our joint promises.

7. Let us respect each other even where we may not agree and may we always be the best of friends.

To point out the spiritual dimensions of the rite, there is the abhishek – a sprinkling of water for purification followed by meditating on the sun and the pole star which signify the spiritual portal and guide.

To demonstrate their mutual affection, there is the anna praashan – the couple make food offerings into the fire and then feed a morsel of food to each other expressing mutual love.

Towards the end of the ceremony, the husband lifts the wife and places her right foot on a flat granite grinding stone and recites the following:

As we stand on this firm stone, may our relationship be rock-solid. Let us stand up to those who oppose us while we carry out our time-honored responsibilities as husband and wife as sanctioned by the wisdom and tradition.

Although I’ve updated the wordings of the ceremony to give a modern  interpretation, it still retains the spirit of the original intent of the great Masters
who gave us this traditional ceremony as guidance to a new phase on the path of a spiritual way of life.

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