Establishment of Family Values through the Institution of Marriage

(This article appeared in a periodical magazine published by Sri Shirdi Sai Baba Temple at Pittsburgh, PA, USA. It has been made online with the author's permission. All typographic errors are mine.
- Sai Susarla)

Suka is described thus in Srimad bhaagavatam:
``A mahaayogi who has realized the equanimous Brahman, who does not see any difference between various happenings, who constantly resides and is focused in that stage, who is awakened from the reverie of mAya, and who is apparently dull witted.''

Once vyAsa was following his son across a river where women were bathing.  Suka was not wearing anything. The bathing women were indifferent to him. However, as vyAsa passed them, they covered themselves with clothes. When the surprised vyAsa asked the women the reason for this, they said, `You still have the discrimination between she and he, her and him whereas in SukAchArya's unsullied perception there is no such distinction!'

After his formal education in the Vedas and other scriptures, Suka was asked by his father to follow the natural path of gR^ihasthASrama. As we have seen earlier, Suka was already a realized sage for whom the pleasures of the senses had totally no relevance. He debated the futility of gR^ihasthASrama with his learned father.

Suka: Sir, why do you insist on the avidya of marriage, when you know that I am fully immersed in the higher self? Don't you agree that seeking happiness is also seeking sorrow? I am now in a state of absolute bliss focused as I am on the infinite. Where is the need for me to descend to a level when I would be deprived of that, and instead will have a mix of pain and pleasure? Marriage will make me a slave. Even a prisoner in chain has hopes of freedom, but there is no escape for a married person. The wise men, therefore, keep away from all sense pleasure as if they are the excrement of the body. For the learned souls there is no higher happiness than constantly dwelling in the aatman in a liberated state of mind. Please advise me, wise sage, why I should give up Satyam, Sivam and Sundaram. Why do you want to push me into the orbit of samsaara where I will be compelled to move round and round like the hapless planets? What valid reason is there to stoop to the level of pigs and dogs? After repeated lower births we attain the birth of human beings with the ability for higher learning. Why do you want me to dig low again? Now I am beyond the binding energies of triguNa. Why the bondage again?

VyAsa: I do not doubt, for a moment, your immense learning. My dear son, a house is not a prison. Detachment from the phenomenal world is a mental state. Even a married person can be free from attachment, and yet perform the role of householder. By earning in the right way, discharging duties with devotion, being truthful in thought, word and deed, it is possible to lead a flawless life of a liberated soul even in gR^ihasthASrama. You must marry in order to support brahmachaaris, yatis (saints), and those in vaanaprasthASrama. They depend on you so that they can discharge the duties appropriate to their aasrama. You also need to pay your debts to the other entities such as the birds and animals, forefathers and gods. Penance comes after fulfilling your duties to them.

You may not know how powerful the drives of senses are. You might think that you have them under complete control. Even R^Shi ViSvAmitra could not resist Menaka, in spite of his penance for three thousand years without a morsel of food. parASara, the very avatAra of mahAviShNu fell to satyavati. You have to marry and go through the motions if you want to avoid waywardness.

Suka: Respectful sage, please tell me how I can find happiness in the indrajAla of money, the poisonous bondage to the body? A desire-less person is happier than indra himself, even though he may be a mere beggar. How often indra was jealous of a mendicant seer doing penance and provoked the demons to disturb such penance! Hasn't he even sought Lord Siva to destroy the penance of a yogi? The materially wealthy spend sleepless nights. Why do you push me in to the vicious and miserable cycle of birth, suffering, old age and death?

Oh! To serve others for a living! Isn't flattery an important component of serving? Ugh! Sycophancy, after all my learning and wisdom! Even death is better.

Take food for instance. Now I do not have to worry about what I eat and when. Can I afford that indifference as a gR^ihastha? I am least interested in action. Teach me, worthy aachaarya, how to destroy karma and accumulation of asset and liability of action, and how to dissolve the cause of birth.

Hearing his son's fervent and logical appeal, vyAsa was overcome by grief.

Suka noticed his father's sadness and thought to himself, `My father is no ordinary mortal. He is a matchless scholar. But he is also in a delusion and is unhappy because of maaya. My only refuge is the Divine Mother. Even Gods Indra and Trimurtis are controlled by Her energy which is infinite. We are told that vyaasa is an amSa (integral part) of viShNu, but he is now like a wrecked ship, deluded and in tears. The five elements are the cause of his grief, and I am responsible for his sorrow.'

Suka prayed to the Divine Mother, and talked consolingly to his father, `Sire, you are verily my God. You have a great capacity for flawless reasoning, and discourse. I do not have to tell you that your sorrow is borne out of delusion. But dear father, can hunger be satisfied by looking at the sun? Food, water and all the related business can stop but not satisfy the sun. To control the sense related activity, they must be entertained, but not the sun! Are not all sense pleasures related to and be satisfied with materialism? Alas, only a miser can make and save money. What a misfit I am, in that sphere! I know that I am a brahmin, and that to be born so and be formed as a R^iShi is a boon. But I feel that I am not fully liberated. Teach me how not to enter a mother's womb again.' vyAsa felt happy and admired the wisdom and true humility of his son.

He looked at Suka fondly, and said, `Recite the bhagavad gIta. By constant recitation you acquire JNAna and viJNAna.'

Suka then went to vaTapatraSaayi viShNu, and asked `Divine Mother, why am I unhappy?' He heard Her reply, `I am in all. There is nothing new other than the ancient.' He also had Her darSan. Contemplating on her response and seeing Her in the purest form of viShNu, he queried, `How is this tree created? How did I come into being?' There was silence for some time. She then talked, `Why do you doubt my energy? You are confused. I know that I am the eternal energy. At the end of mahApraLaya, my unmanifested energy will manifest as Myself. Then everything - brahma, viShNu and even you - will be created, then the basic energy for the visible universe will emerge, and all that is moving and not moving will be created. So, self-knowledge is the source of liberation. But you need my grace and will for that. Touch your intuitive powers, and you will find secret of creation which is passed on in a chain reaction, and passed on. Recite the chapters of devii bhaagavataM relating to eternal energy. It will provide you relief from bondage which will help you banish darkness.'

Reciting devii bhaagavataM, however, did not bring the desired peace for Suka. He still felt disturbed; he became more aloof and depressed.

Seeing this, vyaasa talked to his wise son. `Why are you like an indebted person? Am I not with you to provide anything that you need? If all the theories do not bring you the inner calmness, go to janaka who is a brahmaJNaani, a true saint and incarnation of unsullied knowledge. Seek from him the essence of liberation, and eternal joy.' If formal learning does not help, residency with seers who can teach applied knowledge will certainly be of use. janaka mahaaraaja is an embodiment of perfect living. When Suka heard of the sterling qualities of janaka, he just could not believe that it was possible to lead such a life, like lotus in slime, and like water on the lotus leaf. He decided to meet the king in person, after assuring his father that he would return and pursue the study of the vedas.

It took two to three years to reach mithila, the capital of janaka's kingdom. On the way he met wise sages, yogis, relinquished people leading vaanaprasthASrama and others doing penance. He crossed the meru mountain, and at last reached the gates of mithila where he was stopped by the guards. However, the shining face of the young sage, his excellent posture and nonchalant looks did not earn him an entry. The guards stopped him politely, and asked for the reason of his visit. His ego punctured, Suka felt deeply depressed. He said to himself, `Why did I spend all my energy in this futile travel? This city looks dead; it is without body or soul.' Soon he overcame his anger and explained at length the purpose of his visit, after duly introducing himself as the son of vyAsa. The guards tested his wisdom by asking him to distinguish between happiness and sorrow.

Now Suka was in his elements. He said, `Lust, desire and avarice result in sorrow. Contemplation on the Atman and devotion to God is happiness. ekAnta - not that of a recluse as one generally misunderstands the term, but pursuit of sense pleasures leads to misery. vedAnta and aatma-chintana give lasting happiness. The guards were satisfied of the genuine wisdom of the young sage, and took him to a pleasant abode, passing through many security gates. The beautiful young women who served the sage did not cause a flutter in his heart. He was least agitated by their luscious presence even after the sun set when the cool fragrant wind pervaded the place.

The next morning, the Emperor arrived with his regalia, paid respects to Suka, inquired the health of his illustrious father, offered presents of cows and sweetmeat as befitting an eminent guest, and sought his permission for a conversation.

janaka: I am but a ruler of a kingdom with all the attendant responsibilities, but you are a detached, contended, peaceful person wanting nothing. I am honored by your visit. Pray, of what assistance can I be?

Suka was instantly struck by the true humility of the great king and paid due homage.

Suka:  Your excellency, the matter seems simple. My respectful father is eager that I should marry and lead the life of a gR^ihastha, but my mind does not accept his wish. He said Your excellency is the most liberated soul, and that you are the most detached person, burdened as you are with the onerous duties of a king. So he sent me to you for being convinced of the need for gR^ihasthaaSrama. I think that marriage and my temperament are a contradiction like the presence of a flower in the sky. I am interested in total liberation, and nothing else. I do not want to disobey my worthy father. Venerable king, please tell me why I should marry. Please also clear my other doubts. Are penance, pilgrimage, yaJNa and vedic learning true liberation or is there a higher JNAna?

janaka: `Let me tell you what little I know. After upanayanaM every young person should learn the Vedas through an aachaarya (worthy teacher), and then the vedAnta. On completion of formal learning, he should pay appropriate guru dakShiNa (compensation) before taking leave of the teacher.

It is expected that he should then marry and enter the next phase, that of gR^ihasthaaSrama. The apt dharma for a householder includes righteousness, contentment, eschewing desires, a pure heart and a truthful mind, and agnihotram (performance of homa and maintenance of the three perennial domestic fires). In due course of time, he has progeny and the responsibilities attached thereto.

After discharging the functions of a father, he enters the vAnaprasthASrama. He then strives to conquer the inner force. As he approaches success in this noble effort, he hands over the care of his wife to his children, having invoked the inner heat from his soul and realizing the dharma of renunciation. He then dons the robe of a sannyAsin and follows the path of final liberation through self purification and total detachment.

My son, sense gratification has no place in one's attempt to control the inner force which is the real wealth for the seeker of liberation. But all the prescribed steps are necessary without which one might falter.

Suka politely interjected.

Suka: If the heart is pure, doubtless and detached, can one not skip the steps?

(The question amounts to - can one do doctoral research skipping the undergraduate and graduate studies?)

janaka spoke with immense patience.

janaka: Dear young scholar, you are not fully aware of the power of the senses. Unless the mind matures (like the lemon fruit becoming pickle!) attractions will grip you and will try to bind you. The sensory motors will hold you. The eyes beholding beauty, the ears honing to sweet music, the nostrils flaring for fragrance, the palate of the gourmet eager for the best wind and food, and the whole physical body yearning for the pleasures of the couch will want to subdue the phenomenal self. Even a yati could be helpless under the onslaught of the senses!

The steps or phases of the first three ASramas help one to decelerate the runaway senses, to rein those horses of pleasures, to regulate them by floodgates as it were. You see, the person perched on a tree is always afraid of falling if he were to go to sleep, but there is no such fear for him who sleeps on the floor. Those who fly are in the danger (like the birds) of falling, but those who are closer to earth hurt themselves less even if they fall. Walking is safer than flying!

Even in the first three stations, one must learn to practice niShkaamakarma (action sans attachment), practice it well over a long period while performing action, so that, in course of time, it gradually becomes second nature. A true jiivan-mukta is not bound by karma. The first three stages are the preparatory ground for realizing the self effulgent aatman. They help one to be a mere witness for phenomenal existence. A doubting person can never realize that divine spark within.

You know, self or aatman needs no liberation, because it has never been bound in the first instance! If the mind is clear, then the delusion vanishes. I do not have to tell you, learned braahmaNa, that body and the mind are entities separate from the aatman. Intellect is the cause for any such confusion. Seek enlightenment by learning to free your mind from the aatman. It is the business of the senses to divert the intellect away from aatman; and that is maaya. But remember, that for all their mischief, they cannot taint the soul or aatman. However, following the paths of the first three stations of life - brahmacharya, gR^ihasthaaSrama and that of vaanaprastha - one can step on to the fourth with the confidence of the winner. They are prescribed in the scriptures which are never wrong, since they are the touchstone of wisdom and experience of the wisest. The path of the vedas are always auspicious.

Suka: The vedas recognize himsa and other vices. A person enjoying the sense pleasures is bound to have sorrow as a complement. How is it possible to live in a free state of consciousness while being married?

janaka: There is smoke only when wood is burnt. After wood is totally burnt, there is no smoke! Desires are to be completely burnt to do away with smoke or attachment. (baaba: fry even the seed) . Absence of ego binds not even where there is action. Act without thinking of or expecting fruits of action. Neither the action nor the results belong to you. Everything is His.

Suka: It is still not clear to me how one can be detached in the midst of the world of magic. How can moha and mukta be together? Unless the light is switched on darkness cannot vanish. Knowledge of the scriptures is like the light switch. Then the soul attains the love all and serve all status, whereas the married person is circumscribed by his own family limiting his attention. You are falsely promising the thief respect of a saint. Mine and yours can be gotten rid of by the gR^ihastha? How did you become bodiless, keeping at bay the inauspicious even while being engaged in activities that rightly belong to the first three aaSramas? Time cannot bind transcendental state. It can be experienced only by a yogi. Where is the time for you steeped as you are in a multitude of activities? You have an army to take care, a war to wage, a law to enact, a judgment to deliver, a visitor to host and a thousand things to do. How can there be a state of equanimity? It is like a serpent trying to wear a flower garland on its non-existent neck! For the people in the state of awareness, wood and gold are alike. They see the self (aatman) in all creations and serve them naturally as the liberated souls should. Oh! all this is hypothetical and far away from my main question. Convince me that marriage is good for me. As a sannyAsin, I would be aloof; having left the society behind, I would have overcome attachment. My mind would be in constant peace, living the physical existence of an animal, so to say, eating fruits, roots and leaves in the forest, neither seeking nor accepting anything from anybody. I wish to lead this kind of life, away from all sense needs. In this scheme of things and quality existence where is the place for a wife? In the created world of phenomena we recognize forms and their attributes. Creating is nothing but a mishmash of desires and consequent adherence. You claim to be a detached person. You are nothing but an unbelievable contradiction. (Suka's reasoning was not impeccable as it seems. His intellectualization is only an exercise in rationalization from conclusion to the premises, and thus a fundamental flaw in logic. He is overwhelmed by his own certainty, and even starts mocking at the great emperor, clearly exhibiting signs of arrogance and immaturity. He continued) Oh, mighty emperor, you always think of your treasury and taxes, battles won and to be won, men and women to be honored and punished - all that is your duty, is it not? - and anxious. Controlled senses and samsaara! Ugh, what a contradiction. Moderation and ceaseless activity; again, what an inconsistency! So, videha is only a surname for you. It is an unreal and even hypocritical world that you have created for yourself, where the fool is considered as a scholar, where the blind is known as sUrya and the poor considered as mahAlakShmi! You are a videha only because of your lineage and by merit or performance. Talking about lineage, was not nimi your forefather who fought and exchanged curses with vaSiShTha while preparing for a yaJNam for indra? Your life is a strange drama of falsehood.

Suka was exhausted after the outpouring. janaka listened to the vituperation patiently, and replied calmly.

janaka: Well spoken, revered young saint. You spoke much wisdom. vyaasa, your father was my aachaarya. Son of that great preceptor, you are of keener intellect. Oh, you mentioned about the forest and living with the animals. But, pray, are not the five elements in forest too? How can you, then, be dispassionate? You would need food, won't you? You may even need a stick for shooing animals and hide to protect against weather. Nowhere can you totally get rid of anxiety. My own worry is comparable to that. Doubt is worry too, my son. See how far you have traveled to clear a nagging doubt! Your obsession `not to marry' worries you. How can you attain detachment? I am fully conscious of my own anxiety in the realm of action. But I eat and sleep well, because I am not bound by that anxiety; I am serene. You are sad because you imagine things. Remove your doubts. Have a balance of mind that will lead you to a state of bliss. This is not my body, nor is this my house. Banish such thoughts. Absence of thinking that I am this body etc. is a state of nirvikalpa (unwavering and immutable; recognizing no distinction between object and subject and without distinct consciousness of the knower, known and the very act of knowing, and ultimately without even self-consciousness). Possessions do not bind me. You may own just a grain of sand and feel the weight of a mountain, or you may possess the whole world and feel it like a feather. As an intelligent person you have the freedom to choose the right attitude. Enjoy that freedom and use it well, my child! You have my blessings.

Suka was ashamed of his harsh words, and felt humble in the presence of janaka, a peerless sage who taught true renunciation.

He returned to his father who knew that he would - wiser, mellowed and mature. He married pivari who bore four children, kR^iShNa, gauraprabhaa, bhUridevaSR^ta and kIrti.

We thus conclude an interesting episode. The wisdom that janaka shared with Suka should clear our doubts too. There is an appropriate time for any action. We have to follow the traditional wisdom, because there is no question or doubt that has not been asked and not clarified in our scriptures. Celibacy, even in thought, is a somewhat unnatural quality. Renunciation comes more easily after going through the natural process. However, marriage is not a casual arrangement. All of us know that `love' between two young persons is often infatuation or a play of urge. A stable marriage calls for much giving, and the traditional system of arranged marriages is valid even these days when women are economically independent. Often, an `angel' during courtship turns out to be a `devil' soon after marriage, because assessing compatibility is a complex job. The probability of a stable and happy married life is much higher in an arranged wedding, if all the rules are followed. Moreover, the demands of gR^ihasthaaSrama is not restricted just to the man, his wife and children, but also to their extended family. The so called freedom of choice when young people attempt to seek a partner is more a myth than reality, as indicated by hard statistics! There is no shame in following the traditions of proven merit and there need not be a defiant pride in breaking them.