Why Marriages Are Falling Apart
[The following is an excerpt of a bhāva anuvāda of the kathā given by Śrīla Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja on June 8, 2016 and December 4, 2016. Editors’ input: Additional text has been included in square brackets to facilitate the flow of content.]
DIVORCE – A PRODUCT OF LACK OF FAITH IN THE SCRIPTURES
People of this world refer to marriage as ‘vivāha’, however, the actual [vedic] term is ‘śubha-vivāha’ (auspicious marriage). Among the ten kinds of Vedic rites (daśa vidha samskāras), vivāha is one. Conducting the Vedic rites in itself does not constitute marriage. The real objective is that the two individuals commit themselves to lead a compatible life where they mutually help and support each other in the practice of following religious principles.
There is a difference in the way we interpret [the concept of] marriage; in our [vedic] case, the man accepts saha-dharmiṇi, or one who collaborates with him in following dharma – one who will protect the other from falling down [from the righteous path]. With respect to this saṅkalpa (solemn vow), when pāṇī-grāhāṇ saṁskāra is performed, it is done in the presence of Śāligrāma, Agni [fire], brāhmaṇas and relatives.
Why is everyone invited [for the marriage ceremony]? So that you testify in their presence that you will diligently follow the solemn vows you have taken. Inviting everyone is not just a part of the ritual, it is to testify in their presence that I will be fulfilling my commitments. This is vivāha saṁskāra.
Before accepting the hand of the partner, the husband says, “I forgive your hundred [countless] offences” and the wife responds by saying, ‘yādriṣam hṛdayam tasya, tādriṣam hṛdayam mama’ - let my heart become like yours. Then a sacred thread is tied around their hands. Yet, who cares to know its significance? These days, the priest ties the thread and that is it. While tying the thread one has to actually utter, “Just as Nārāyaṇa is with Lakṣmī, Śiva is with Pārvatī, Rāvaṇa is with Mandodarī…”; a knot is made for each of the names uttered and then the thread is tied. Along with that, the couple is made to circumambulate the sacred fire seven times which indicates that the relationship is meant for seven lifetimes – not just for a day.
Nowadays, faith in such conceptions has dissipated. More emphasis is given on food and drinks at the ceremony of marriage than on the vows. I have observed people say, “Paṇḍitajī, hurry up the rites, the food will get cold.” This is not how it is supposed to be. It is not a frivolous matter.
Please remember this, this is my only request. At least try to remember your sankalpa. Sankalpa was not meant to be some superficial act. All this exists only to make you follow your duty properly. Only if it is followed, it can factually be called śubha-vivāha.
ANNIVERSARY: THE DAY OF REMEMBERING YOUR SOLEMN VOW
Those who factually believe [in this rite], celebrate their marriage anniversary every year to remember this solemn vow. Through the remembrance of this solemn vow, their love for each other will grow. The saṅkalpa is not just for this life but for lifetimes to come - 'nā ca janma janmāntare vā' – we will not separate from each other even upon our next birth. Such a saṅkalpa is taken.
Some celebrate 25th, 50th or 75th anniversary. I have seen this myself when we used to go for collection at the residence of Lalit Bose, who was a judge. He celebrated his 50th anniversary. In the same way you celebrate your birthday, it is mentioned in the scriptures that you also celebrate your wedding anniversary every year – it is called saṅkalpa divas. It is nice that you all celebrate such days. However, you must remember your solemn vow that, ‘I had made such and such commitment on the day of my marriage’. One has to remind oneself every year [on the anniversary] of the solemn vow one has taken.
To the extent that one reminds oneself of the saṅkalpa, one will not experience any breakup in the relationship; it is not possible. [These days] If the [first] relationship breaks up, then other relationships follow as an outcome. However, the sambandha does not last [even in case of these relationships]. If one has faith in the injunctions and the scriptures, then such a situation will not arise. In our childhood, we never heard of divorce.
Before performing any action, one has to have a saṅkalpa. Even before a fire sacrifice (yajña) one has to take a saṅkalpa. Even before performing parikramā, one has to take saṅkalpa and then observe it. Everyone observes it by first taking a saṅkalpa – if this is observed, remembrance [hence firm resolve to abide by the vow] will increase, and each passing year, eternally, it will grow and never diminish.
THE POWER OF FOLLOWING DHARMA
There was one woman by the name Digdhā. Her husband had contracted leprosy and yet, she visited all the holy places while carrying him on her back. Chastity has so much power. One day upon seeing a prostitute, the husband became attracted and as a result, he gave up eating. The wife consoled her husband, “Why are you fasting?” At that time [understanding the situation], the wife went to that prostitute and began serving her by smearing cow dung and sweeping the floor. The prostitute was amazed to see such a cultured woman [belonging to a brāhmaṇa caste] engaging in menial service to her. The wife said, “I beg for your mercy. [Please attend to my husband]” The prostitute responded by saying, “I entertain only royalty, I do not attend to ordinary men. However, being pleased with your service, you can ask your husband to come to me tomorrow. I will refuse my other customers in advance, so no one will come.” When the brāhmaṇa arrived the next day, the prostitute had arranged for two sitting places for him. At one place was an exquisite carpet with a plate and drinking vessels made of gold and filled with meat and alcoholic beverages. In the other place she spread a kuśa mat, a container with Gaṅgā water and a plate with tulasī, fruits and sweets. She then requested, “Oh brāhmaṇa, kindly be merciful upon me and accept something.” Compelled by his upbringing, the brāhmaṇa sat on the kuśa mat and took ācamana using the Ganges water. He did not go towards the expensive carpet and golden vessels. Then the prostitute said, “Brāhmaṇa you did not come to me” [pointing out to that expensive carpet which represented her.] This is my svarūpa and that is your wife's svarūpa [the kuśa mat represents your saha-dharmiṇi].” And thus, the brāhmaṇa left her place.
When the brāhmaṇa was returning from that prostitute’s home, carried on the back of his wife, his foot touched Maṇḍūka Ṛṣi [Endnote 1]. [Angered by this,] the ṛṣi cursed, “The person whose foot has touched me will die by sunrise.” When the brāhmaṇi heard this, she said to the ṛṣi, “I am the offender here, as I am carrying him, so why should he be cursed instead of me?” For instance, in the case of a car accident, the driver is at fault, not the passengers. [Pastime continued] The ṛṣi responded, “I cannot take back my words”. The brāhmaṇi then responded, “If my husband will die at sunrise, then I pronounce that the sun will not rise at all.” So the sun was bound not to rise. Such was the empowerment the brāhmaṇi acquired by dint of following her dharma. Then Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Maheṣa approached Anusūyā [Atri Ṛṣi’s wife] to request the brāhmaṇi to give permission for the sun to rise. Yet the brāhmaṇi affirmed, “This is not possible. How can I tolerate a faultless person being punished?” But Anusūyā assured her, “The words of the ṛṣi cannot go in vain, however, as soon as your husband dies, he will immediately spring back to life. So quickly in fact that you won’t even notice.” As soon as the sun rose, the brāhmaṇa died and immediately came back to life. Additionally, he no longer had leprosy. There is so much power [in the chastity of a woman].
This [pastime] is in the bhakti-mārga (line of devotion), there is mention of it in Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya-līlā 20.57:
kuṣṭhī-viprera ramaṇī, pativratā-śiromaṇi, pati lāgi’ kailā veśyāra sevā stambhila sūryera gati, jīyāila mṛta pati, tuṣṭa kaila mukhya tina-devā
[“The wife of a brāhmaṇa suffering from leprosy manifested herself as the topmost of all chaste women by serving a prostitute to satisfy her husband. She thus stopped the movement of the sun, brought her dead husband back to life and satisfied the three principal demigods [Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Maheśvara].]
SEVERING THE THICK KNOTS IN MY HEART
[Adapted from Volcanic Energy] [In my early days in the maṭha] Due to the thick knots in my heart, I accepted prasāda alone, away from everyone else. Guru Mahārāja therefore arranged for a brāhmaṇa-born brahmacārī to daily deliver prasāda to my room. I would honor the prasāda on my plate without accepting a second serving. I considered that after taking my first bite, the remaining prasāda would become ucchiṣṭa (remnant), and thus not suitable for consumption. Therefore, in order to keep the contents of the plate pure, I would hold the plate with my left hand and keep kuśa grass pressed between my thumb and the plate.
Once I accompanied Guru Mahārāja and many other devotees during his preaching in Tejpura, Assam. There, Śrī Bhagavata-prasāda, the owner of Darang Tea Estate, who belonged to a vaiśya (bāṇiyā) family, invited all the devotees to honor prasāda in his home. When asked whether I would be in attendance, I replied, “I am feeling unwell. I will stay here”. No one understood that the real reason I declined the invitation was because my previous strong impressions and the hard knots binding my heart allowed me only to accept prasāda at the house of a brāhmaṇa, and not at the house of a vaiśya. Guru Mahārāja, however, understood my mood, and thus quoted [that same] verse from Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Antya-līlā 20.57) for my welfare:
kuṣṭhī-viprera ramaṇī, pativratā-śiromaṇi, pati lāgi’ kôilā veśyāra sevā
Externally, it appeared as if the wife of the leprosy-stricken brāhmaṇa served a prostitute. But actually, it was through such activities that she served her husband, who was the only true object of her service.
The purport of Guru Mahārāja’s words was that instead of giving prominence to satisfying the vaiśya host, I should give more importance to pleasing śrī guru and the Vaiṣṇavas. Realizing this, I went to the home of Śrī Bhagavata-prasāda and accepted prasāda there. Thus, I became completely freed from the last of my self-imposed restrictions. In this way, for my spiritual welfare, Guru Mahārāja most compassionately severed every last knot in my heart, one by one, with great patience.
THE POWER OF NIṢṬHĀ
Have you heard about Sāvitrī and Satyavān?
Sāvitrī was a princess (rājakanyā) and Satyavān was a prince (rājaputra). However due to the will of providence, Satyavān’s father lost his kingdom and also became blind. Thus, Satyavān was wandering in the forest with his parents.
Sāvitrī was foretold that her husband would die on a particular amāvasyā [new moon day]. It is famous as Sāvitrī-amāvasyā. She remembered this and on that particular day, she took permission from her mother-in-law to accompany her husband to the forest. As was destined, Satyavān left his body in the jungle and immediately Yamarāja came to take his soul. Generally, Yamadūtas come to take the soul, but for great personalities who have been pious, Yamarāja himself comes to take their soul. So Sāvitrī followed him along the path. Yamarāja tried to dissuade her, but she would not budge. She went on conversing with him. Yamarāja eventually asked her to request a boon from him, so she asked, “May I be blessed with a hundred sons.” He consented and blessed her and proceeded to move along. Then Sāvitrī said, “You are Dharmarāja and you are teaching the path of adharma (irreligion)? If my husband is gone, how can I beget sons?” In this way, Yamarāja became bound by his boon and awarded Satyavān a lifespan of five hundred years.
The point here is the power of her niṣṭhā [firm resolve]. So those who have firm faith in the scriptural injunctions get the fruits; there is power in their words and the scriptures back this fact.
[This was spoken by Śrīla Mahārāja during the same darsana, however to maintain the proper sequence, the following passage has been added as an endnote]
Maṇḍūka Ṛṣi was punished to die by being pierced with a lance. As a result he had cursed Yamarāja because this punishment was meted to him as a reaction for a sin he had committed as a five-year-old child. He had pierced a moth by a blade of grass and tied a string around his back to fly him around.
How did this punishment from Yamarāja come about? People were complaining to the king about the high incidences of stealing in their village. So, the king ordered his soldiers that if they failed to catch the culprits within a week, the cost of the stolen items would be deducted from their salaries. Later to escape from the soldiers, the thieves hid those stolen items in the hermitage of Maṇḍūka Ṛṣi and sat there posing as saints. So, the soldiers captured the thieves along with Maṇḍūka Ṛṣi thinking him also to be a thief and the king ordered all the culprits be pierced by a lance.