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Vedic Marriage

July 16, 1996

I was frustrated for a long time, in trying to know about the roots of our culture.  They're steeped in the Vedas, and the language is Sanskrit, it's not a spoken language anymore.  And I go and asked the priest who performed my marriage,  "What is the meaning of the mantras that you recite in the marriage?".  And they say, "Well, we study the vedas, but we don't study the meaning of the Vedas."  That was the standard reply I used to get.  And I used to get frustrated, because I wanted to know about my culture, but I didn't know how to go about it.  Learning from firsthand was not possible;  from knowledgeable  people, it was not forthcoming.  And I wondered why the information was being held back, what is the reason. When I was a young kid I did study a little bit of Sanskrit, from ages 5 to 11, I was involved in Sanskrit studies, and later I gave it up when I entered school.  Well, today what I want to talk about to you is the importance of our understanding about what really a Hindu marriage means.  And what we should look for in it, and how we should apply it to our lives.  What's really involved, why do we go through all that ceremony, and what is the meaning of saying that we don't have the concept of divorce in Hindu marriage and why is it so?  I'd like to delve into some of these questions here.  But let me start off on a philosophical note. 

Many of you understand probably, that we are all one.  Many of you know already that the body is a temple where God resides.  God resides in me, in you, in you, in you, in everyone.  Not only in the human beings , but also in the animals, the trees, the birds that fly in the air, in the air that we breathe, in the clouds that give us rain, in the stars in space.   There is not a single place or a single time where God is not.  We do understand this in principle, but when it comes to practice , we tend to differentiate a lot.  We accept God is there, but we do not accept God's creation.  We start saying, "If there's God, why is it there is so much disparity, why is it there is so much disharmony, why are these fights are going on all the time,  Why should hate be there, malevolent forces ruling the world and not love?  Two thousand years after the Prince of Love, Christ, died, still we are trying to find love among our hearts.  So there's a great wall that divides man from man, man from woman, man from beast, man from everything.  We should first look into the causes of why and how these divides come into existence.   The great Indian philosopher Sankara says,  Advaita, non-duality, means there is only one entity, and that is God.  No matter where you look, you can  only see God and nothing else.  But as I said, we are not able to accept God in his manifested state.  We say that God doesn't know how to make the world properly.  If only I had the power, I would eliminate all this strife, all this violence, and I would show God how I can improve his creation.  We become so full of ahamkara, I can do better than God.  This is not a surrender.  The first principle is that God exists not only in his pure, enlarged state of oneness, but also in the divided state where you see differences.  And I would want a balance, where these differences are  coming from and why and how.  How do we come to know about this world? Through our sense of sight; either we see the world or we read about it, or we touch it, or feel it, feel  its warmth.   So all these sensory and motor perceptions are the channels through which we communicate to the world, we know about the world.  But all these are deceptive.  What is near to us appears bigger than what is far away. That is called inverse square law; that is how our sense of sight works. You can hear me in this room, but people outside cannot hear me. That is how our sense of hearing works.  So all these senses or motor organs are acting as local magnifiers.  So given this mode of knowing this world, there's no way we can  get away from the attachment from the localizing perceptions, It is very hard  to get away from that.  In order to get away from that, and to be able to see the oneness and to break down the barriers between man and man, we have to somehow reach a state in which our vision is universal, not localized, where the far appears as close as the near appears to us; where with your consciousness, your awareness, you are able to penetrate the whole world and embrace the whole world in its perception.  That is the state in which you can perceive God as being yourself. 

Let's come down to a little lower level for illustration.  I say I am one, one being, but in me there are billions of living cells which are born in me, they're growing in me, they're dying in me.  I have not given them names, I have not married them, I do not even know who they are, why they are there, what they are doing; I am not even aware of them.  But I still have an experience of this continuous life of all these living cells together which is what I call my life.  I see through my eyes, and I hear through my ears; so I say this is my eye and this is my ear.  I do not say this is my ear and this is my eye.  See, the world I perceive through my eyes is totally different from the world I perceive through my ears.  Both these pieces of awareness are unified in my consciousness.  It is I who am perceiving these different fields of awareness, but  the seer is the same.  So it makes sense to call this an eye and this an ear, different names for sub parts of my awareness. They are both parts of me; they are parts of me because they are attached to me in some sense.  My hands are attached to my body, my legs are attached, my heart is attached.  So all these are attached to me.  So, can you find this attachment that we all have together?  I have life, you have life.  We are both attached to life.  I can speak, you can speak, we are both attached to speech.  And there are so many factors which are common to the seer and the seen. This  is what brings about the unity, the experience of unity as compared to the state of diversity.  We see that the division that we look at is superficial, but if we go deep, we see the unity.  The ability to see both the diversity and the unity at the same time is given to us.  And your birthright is to experience that unity.  And the concept of marriage as it exists now in the Hindu culture tells you how to translate this experience  of unity in diversity. If you know how to make two into one, then you know how to make three into one; by induction process, and then you know how to make four into one and so on.  So you experience the whole entire world collapsing into you.  So this is the foundation of the concept of marriage. 

So let me go over some details about some of the  vedic mantras that we recite and why recite them.  So I will start with  the idea that the God is in me.  So it makes sense for every one of us  to say that I am God.  But, if I said God is really in me and not in you, I am God and you're the Devil, then the problem comes.   I should  able to say I am God and you are also God.  It is then that the oneness, the unity comes about. 

So in the marriage, who is the bridegroom? The father of the bride worships the feet of the bridegroom in the marriage saying the following stanza:

Namostu anantaya sahasramurtaye Sahasrapadakshi shira uru bahave sahasranamne purushaya shashvate  sahasrakoti yuga dharine namah

The bridegroom is none other than MahaVishnu, physically present as an individual here, I am washing his feet.  Namostu, I bow down to him.  Anantaya, one who has no ending.  Sahasra murtaye, the one who has a thousand forms.  In Sanskrit, the word thousand is used in a different sense than we normally   understand . The three zeros are the three illusions of our wakefulness, of our dreaming and sleeping state.  The reality, the one is you; you are experiencing all these three states.  One thousand is meant to represent infinity of experiences in these three states of our being. Sahasramurtaye,  having a thousand forms.  Sahasra shira purushaya, having a thousand heads, because all of our heads belong to him, all of our hands belong to him.  Sahasrapadaksi  shiraurubahave.  He has got a thousand rays coming from him, and infinity of rays, an infinity of ways of knowing the world.  Purushaya.  He is the seer.  Shashvate, he is existing forever, through all life.  Sahasrakoti yugadharine namah.  For thousands of crores of eras, he has been there, and that is the Maha Vishnu who is the bridegroom.

So you see, you are not seeing the bridegroom as an individual.  You are considereing him as a manifestation of Maha Vishnu directly.  And it is to him the Kanya, the bride is being offered.  And what does the bride represent?  The wealth of the lord, Maha Laksmi, aishvarya.  All the wealth in the world, all the enjoyment, all the riches, all the experiences, they are the Maha Laksmi.  Kanyam kanaka sampannam sakala abharanih yutam.  This bride is offered as the  wealth of the world unto thee, unto the God who owns this wealth.  Then you may say, what is this giving of the bride to the bridegroom?  Is it not a sense of distortion?  Should the bridegroom not be given to the bride?  Why  this superiority of the male? Does it not interfere with the relationship?  But it's not so. To see this, let us go on with the concept of marriage.

The real muhurta, when the people get married,  is when they put their hands on each others' heads, it's called sumuhurta.  At that time, what happens?  You have a betel leaf, some jaggery, and some seeds, and that is kept on the heads of the bride and bridegroom mutually.  Now who puts the hand on your head?  Putting a hand on your head is a blessing.  And who blesses you?   The guru blesses you.  So the meaning of that sumuhurta, the real meaning of marriage is implicit there.  That you , the bride becomes the guru of the bridegroom, and the bridegroom becomes the guru of the bride.  So you are mutual guru and sishya.  But you have to understand this.  Where normally, we tend to place the guru on a pedestal, high up above, and think that we have obey or listen to whatever he or she says.   That is not the real meaning. The real meaning of the guru and sishya relationship is that  like a transmitter and receiver. When I'm talking and you're listening, I'm the guru and you are the chela or sishya.  But when you're talking and I'm listening, you're the transmitter and I'm the receiver; so you're the guru and I'm the sishya.  See, in advaita, it becomes very clear that you're not really talking to somebody else when you're talking to somebody else.   You're talking to yourself when you're talking to somebody else because the talker and listener are one. You learn to see the oneness of yourself with the other.  Therefore,  the talker and the listener become one.  In that sense the relationship between guru and sishya is just a resonance with your self, being in tune with yourself.

 So here, people say, that girls are not entitled to study the Veda.  Many people of the ascetic order say girls should not recite Vedas.  That's not true.  The boy goes through a state called upanayana.  Upanayana means taking you near God.   nayana means taking, upa means near.  You're being taken near the Goddess, the mother Gayatri,  by the thread ceremony.  The thread ceremony entitles you to recite Gayatri Mantra.  Gayatri is a Shakti who is ruling the whole world.  She is the creatrix, she is the sustainer, she is also the destroyer.  She combines all these powers into her.  And if you get the right to recite the Gayatri, you become a Shakti upasaka, then you go through the transition called upanayana. The dynamic nature   you have to understand, and implement, and expose yourself to in your life.  

Now, for Gayatri mantra upasana, the woman get the right too during the marriage ceremony.  How?  Because, from the husband, who becomes her guru, she's entitled to learn this Gayatri mantra.  So, what is considered upanayana for the male  is equal to the Kalyana or marriage ceremony, for the bride.  So from that moment onward, she is entitled to learn all the Vedas, all the Shastras he has learned.  And what ever she has learned, she can be a guru to him and she can teach him.  So this mutual guru sishya relationship is what we call the marriage.  You have to understand this.  If I say, I am always the guru and you're always the disciple, there's a superiority / inferiority relationship there.   But that's not true.   The relationship is built on total equality.  You're sometimes the guru, sometimes I'm the guru.  Sometimes you're the sishya, sometimes I'm the sishya.  So where's the question of superiority there?  If A contains B and B contains A, then we say A is equal to B, right?  It is this relationship which is the essence of our Hindu marriage.  

If in this relationship of marriage, if we assume the dominant male or the dominant female attitude, then the concept of the marriage is totally lost.  The marriage is supposed to be like a cart that has two wheels, and both wheels have to move forward at the same speed so that the cart can go forward.  If one wheel stops and the other is moving,  it goes round and round, it doesn't move forward.  But equality of the two wheels which are the husband and the wife, that is being established by this relationship, and that is the essence of the marriage. 

So I told you that the roots of marriage is friendship, right?  So, explore this friendship a little further.  If I am friend to you, and somebody else is a friend to you, should it mean that somebody must be enemy to me?  Not so. Marriage is like an equality.  If A=B and B=C then it does not mean that A is not equal to C, but it means that A is equal to C.  So to establish this relationship more completely, the Vedic mantras that are used in the marriage have what is called saptapadi, the seven steps that you walk together around the fire.  And in this saptapadi the following statements are there:  Sakha saptipadi bhava-  be my friend who walks these seven steps together.  Sakhyam te gameyam- may I aspire to your friendship.  Look at the words carefully - may I ASPIRE to your friendship.  It's not there now, we have to reach that understanding.   Sakhyam temayoshah; sakhyam me ma yoshtyas. That means, the bridegroom is telling the bride "You may have friends, they may be girls or  they may be boys, it does not mean therefore that they're my enemies.   So I aspire to your friendship, and your friends are my friends, they're not my enemies.  And similarly, I may have friends, girl friends or boy friends, and they're not your enemies, even if we were to make love to them. The fundamental cause for breaking up of marriages is to become jealous when you're talking to somebody else, when you're looking at somebody else, when you want to make love to somebody other than your married partner. It is denounced as adultery in our days, and is the cause of divorce.   It's this kind of jealousy which breaks up the marriage. It root is cut off in a vedic marriage.  So total freedom to have any number of friends is permitted in the Vedic marriage.  And then the great Rishis ask the question, for what purpose is the marriage?  Dharma praja sampatti artham striyam udvahe.  The spark of life  was given to us by our parents.   And we have to repay that debt.  And how do repay that debt?  By procreation.   By creating another spark of life, we repay that debt to our parents.  And that reason is one of the prime reasons for marriage.  So if you want to have children,  you must beget them through  a married  partner.  That is the dictum.   Now we got what are called four purushartas, which are called dharma, artha, kama, moksha.  In every samkalpa we say "Dharma, artha,, kama, moksha, cathur vidha phala purusharta siddharthyam.  I want to do my duty, I want to earn money, I want to fulfill my desires, and I want to be liberated.  These are the four basic desires that everyone has.  So dharma is defined as giving the spark of life which have received from your father and mother, and pass on that life to a new life. Because in the Convocation address given to the disciple after education is completed, it says, "Praja tantum ma vyavachetsih".   It says, life is so precious, please do not cut it short by not having children.  Life is so precious, in this whole wide world, there is a very little part where life really manifests in its full state.  So you have the bounden duty to continue this spark of life unbroken.  And let the life evolve into higher an higher forms.  So your defined purpose is to generate children and that is one of the prime  reasons for marriage. 

Artha, then Kama and moksha are there.  Kama is desire.  We have desires.  What are these desires?  We want to build a home, we want to raise good children,  we want to acquire wealth and peace of mind, we want to have friends, all these things are desires.  These  desires can take the forms of lusts; lust for money, lust for life, lust for enjoyment, lust for anything.  If you  have a desire in a relationship as intimate as a marriage is, then it cannot be called love.  Love is that which arises when the desire is not there.  Love is what we like to do and we simply do it.  Loving is loving yourself, basically, because you do not see the other person as different from you when you are in love, or when you are making love. You are connected, attached when making love; you know the other's feelings through the connectedness.  So when I love somebody, then whatever I do to that person I'm doing to myself.  Because love is that  which integrates, which unites.  It is not that which separates.  Love is a connection, a resonance. So you see, if you are giving to somebody something, say somebody has come to take alms from you, and  you give some money; if then you have a pride that you are giving that money, then it is not an expression of love towards that person.  If there is no pride, then it becomes an expression of love.  So love is that where you discover the real needs of the other person and you try to fulfill those needs.  Not because you're in a position where you can help and that person needs the help, but because it's your nature to help, and it hurts you not to help those whom you're helping.  So you see, love is a very delicate thing which blurs the sense of distinction between the giver and the given, or the receiver and the received.  So it is in total unity only that you can love.  If you feel separateness, then you cannot experience this love.  The purpose of marriage was to achieve the state where you make two into one, make three into one, make many into one, and to take you into that state where you are connected to the whole world, and become truly a divine person, a Goddess or a God.

 You think you are two separate bodies, you and your wife, or you and your husband.  But these two are connected so totally, that I know your thoughts as if they are my own thoughts.  I'm able to see through your eyes.  I'm able to hear through your ears.  I'm able to feel what you're experiencing without your having to communicate with me.  It is that total union of the spirit which enables you to circulate into the other state of consciousness, that is the aim of the marriage, to make two into one.  To realize that in a real life situation, that is the real purpose of marriage.

The seven steps that you go around the fire are supposed to be the seven chakras in your body, if you are aware of the psychic chakras, they are supposed to be seven centers where you're connected to the cosmos. By keeping your awareness in these centers you're able to connect to  the cosmos.  Those who are practicing yoga become the cosmos.  Marriage is considered as yoga.  Yoga is a part of samyoga, where two are merging together in total love, and then they practice yoga.

Then we come to the question of how this friendship is produced.  Can they have desires and how do they express their desires?  There is a freedom given and there is a freedom not given.  These are issues which are resolved in the marriage.  As I said, the marriage is between God and the world; between Maha Vishnu and this world.  Where does Maha Vishnu reside?  In everyone, right?  And where does Maha Laksmi reside?  In everyone.  So, you see, how can there be a divorce in such a situation?  When the bridegroom is the God and God exists in everyone.  The wealth of God also exists in everyone.  And the unity of these two, how can it be disturbed by separation?  There is no concept of divorce in the Hindu marriage.  Whomever marries whomever else, it still is the marriage of Maha Vishnu and Maha Laksmi. 

You know, there is the concept of worshiping the women who come to our house.  We give them gifts and say, "Who is it that is giving gifts?" .  We tell them , Devi, it is you who are giving gifts, who are also receiving gifts.  This is Devi puja.  So, though the names of the people are different, it is the same Goddess who is giving and the Goddess who is receiving.  So this non-distinction is built from the beginning of our life to the end of our life, and throughout our life.  This is the real basis of Hindu marriage.  In the olden days, the Vedic times, in the Tantric times, they used to marry the girls eight years after menstruation.  Eight years after she became a woman, she is married.  What happens between these eight years?  There used to be called Gandharva vivaha, which means you love somebody, so you are with that somebody.  In modern terms, it is called dating.  In olden times it was called Gandharva vivaha. 

The bride and bridegroom are married.  So who is the bride married to?  She's married to everyone, the whole world.  Who is the bridegroom married to?  He's married to the whole world.  Explicitly, the vedic mantras say, the bride is married to the purohit who is performing the marriage.  She's married to the Gandharvas.  Gandharvas are those with whom she had contact earlier, before her marriage.  She's married to all of them.  She's married to agni, the fire.  She's married to vayu, pritivi, apah, tejas, vayu, akasha.  All these things, she's married to.  And the priest had the first right of opening her up to the maritial bliss if she remained a virgin. 

The Vedic marriage concept is totally different.  In fact, we are using the same mantras, but we don't understand what they really mean.  So they give us the discipline.  They asked the question, for whom is this marriage required?  The world tried different approaches to marriage.  They tried, "I'll get whomever I can," that type of marriage.  The group marriage they tried.  And finally they have decided on monogamy.  Polyandry and polygamy were there, and finally they decided on this monogamy as the standard one for the lifestyles. 

So what happens to the desires that are left in you?  Now, if you understand properly our Hindu culture, we worship the Siva Linga.  Siva Linga is the union of the universal male and the universal female.  The Linga and the Yoni are united together.  We are worshiping that, which means we are worshiping the universal male and universal female.

 In the broadest context, let us understand Siva Linga at four different levels.  The lowest level at which we understand the Siva Linga is at the level of physical union.  It is the male phallus which is called Siva and the female yoni which is called Parvati.  It is their union that we are worshiping.  There, the union is for procreation. At the next highest level, the fire in the navel center and the love in the heart center, their union is called Siva and Shakti.  In the next higher level still, space is considered the womb and time is the linga which is moving.  The universe of space and time is called the Siva Linga.  All the five elements, all the ways in which we perceive, all these are considered to be lingas. 

After these three levels, we reach the fourth and transcendent level where there is no distinction between the seer and the seen.  They have become one.  That is the highest form of the linga.  It is called alinga.  There is no linga there.  There is no characteristic that differentiates one from the other.  You are joined so totally with the world.  You have absorbed the whole world into yourself and there is nothing other than you.  So, to reach that state is called moksa.  The purpose of marriage was to reach that state, moksa.  Not by denying yourself, not by the ascetic character of your life; but you enjoy life to the fullest, while at the same time there is union with God.  So the union between man and woman, the union between God and his wealth, was being proposed as a paradigm for our evolution.  This is the essential concept of marriage.