In the Vedic tradition, a human life is believed to comprise four stages (called “ashramas”) and every man or woman should ideally go through each of these stages: 1) the First Ashrama – “Brahmacharya” or the Student Stage, 2) the Second Ashrama – “Grihastha” or the Householder Stage, 3) the Third Ashrama – “Vanaprastha” or the Hermit Stage and 4) the Fourth Ashrama – “Sannyasa” or the Wandering Ascetic Stage.
For me, marriage happened before I fully understood the sacred vows of a marriage. A few days ago, an article in Nithyananda Times (June 2013 issue) about “Saptapadi”, the Sacred Vows of Marriage caught my attention because this is one aspect that I am seeking higher guidance so that I can play the different dimensions of my life unclutched. As a Grihastha (householder), I want to understand the spiritual dimensions of a sacred marriage as a path to liberation which was prescribed by the ancient masters, sages and saints centuries ago.
In Vedic culture, Saptapadi or ‘seven steps’ is a very important rite in a Vedic marriage ceremony. At the time of marriage, the couple sit in front of the sacred fire and take seven vows in the presence of the Guru or God that they will both live a blissful married life. These vows in the Vedic marriage have a very deep meaning and are designed to help the couple to evolve together in a holistic way. They pertain not only to the worldly pursuits of the couple together, but also their mental, emotional, social, ecological, and spiritual attitudes. If followed with authenticity, they lead to enlightenment itself.
The following are the Saptapadi mantras and their interpretation:
1st sacred vow: Concept of sharing
ekamiñe viñëustvä anvetu | “Let us both create, secure and enjoy all the things and comforts related to the physical body like food, clothing, shelter and other wealth needed for the physical body. This vow clearly states that the couple will create wealth and sustain it together.”
A big tick for me as creating wealth and sharing of all the best things in life together is something we live by. Interestingly, the dowry system of Indian society that they are practising is directly against this vow. I am glad that in Singapore, we don’t face such issue at all.
2nd sacred vow: Mental and spiritual strength, work towards enlightenment
dve ürje viñëustvä anvetu |“Let us join together without ego, to do all that is needed to increase the Shakti (energy) inside our body and thus enhance our intellectual strength by meditation, yoga etc.”
I am glad that to have introduced Yoga and meditation to my husband about 14 years ago which had helped him in his lower back pain and physical health. The next step is for us to evolve to the highest possibility in increasing our energy towards enlightenment without ego.
3rd sacred vow: Living independently dependent
tréëi vratäya viñëustvä anvetu | “I will not force myself upon the other at the physical or mental level when the other does not prefer it.”
One of the problems many couples face today is that they become too dependent on each other after marriage which creates possessiveness and bondage. The interpretation for this vow has to be understood in the right context. There are 2 aspects I noticed – one is about giving the space and respecting the other’s will when it comes to physical intimacy and the other is having the mental independence because even when the husband and wife come together to live as a family unit, both should remain as individuals and allow each other the space for spiritual expansion and growth. This takes both maturity and ability to raise lower energy of lust and fear to higher consciousness.
4th sacred vow: Transcend maya (illusion) by teamwork
catväri mäyo bhaväya viñëustvä anvetu |”I (the man) will help the woman overcome the illusions she holds in the form of her fear and insecurity. I (the woman) will help the man overcome the illusions he holds in the form of lust.”
This vow beautifully recognises the patterns each gender is suffering from and not to exploit each other’s weakness. Instead, it clearly advocates that both man and woman will work as a team in helping each other to overcome one’s illusions.
5th sacred vow: Social and eco-friendly responsibilities
païca paçubhyaù viñëustvä anvetu | “Let us look after our ancestors and elders who are alive, our Guru, Devatas and all animals that support us, like cattle or pets, and the entire nature like trees, hills, rivers etc.”
This vow is about taking responsibility jointly as spiritual beings in the family, community, Guru/God, the animals and the ecosystem.
6th sacred vow: Support each other without suffocating
ñaòåtubhyaù viñëustvä anvetu | “Let us support and strengthen each other in all moods and in all seasons, in all situations, at all times and spaces, not only when one of us is weak or in low mood, but let us share when we feel strong or when we are in high mood as well.”
This is one vow that truly opens my eyes because the parasite patterns of each individual sometimes bring suffocation in a relationship. Hence, learning the science of completion and sharing this science with your family is very important. This is one aspect which I had neglected in the past and definitely an area for more expansion.
7th sacred vow: Comply with promises and live as friends
saptasaptabhyaù hoträbhyaù viñëustvä anvetu | “We promise to follow all that is covered here and all that is not covered here as well. There could be many things that may not have been included in the previous promises. So this promise covers all those that have not been covered in any of the previous promises.”
The last vow gives room for future update whenever appropriate so as to keep this tradition relevant and alive for future generations to come.
After the seven steps are over the husband has to call his wife “sakhe” meaning “Oh my friend”. “sakhäyau saptapadä bhabhüva” – “By making these seven promises, we both have become friends. I have got your friendship and you have mine. We shall not let this be lost. We shall live forever as compatible companions.” It is by cultivating friendliness that we can burn our ego. Until a relationship becomes friendly, the relationship will not be fulfilled and complete. Friendship is the language of relating with human beings, the ultimate relationship to enjoy life.
By taking these vows, the couple agree to be friendly to each other. By chanting these mantras, the union between the husband and wife is solemnized in the presence of the Guru or God. They are united in their thinking and in the way they act. They pray that they may have pure love towards each other. By this mantra, they vow to become people who are like-minded in opinion and thus enjoy being together.
The 7 sacred vows of marriage from the Vedic tradition had given me a totally new perspective in my marriage and showed me the space of highest possibility which I could possibly hold for both of us. My heartfelt gratitude to Existence for continuously showing me the way! Namaste. 🙂