(A talk given at Cheswick Vihara at an English Buddhist girl’s
wedding on 30th March 1986)
Ven. Balangoda Ananda Maitreya
In Savatthi there was a king who spent his time mostly in merriment. One day he asked one of his officials to gather together the born-blind men in his country as many as he could and take them to the yard before the palace. He went about the country and after some days led a number of blind men to the palace garden. Then the king asked him to take them to the royal elephant and make them touch it and take them back to the king. The official took them to the elephant and made them touch each part of the elephant’s body and took them back to the king.
The king asked them to explain to him mas to what sort of a thing an elephant was.
One blind man who touched the head of the elephant said “Your majesty an elephant, is just like a pot in shape. Then the next blind man said “No, he tells a lie; I have touched it, it is just like a winnowing fan, He was the man who had touched the ears of the elephant. Then a third man who had touched its tusks shouted “No, no, both are liars; an elephant is just like a stick.” Then another man who had touched its trunk shouted “All these fellows are wrong an elephant is like a granary.” The man who touched its foot said “an elephant is like a pillar.” The man who had touched its tail shouted, “All these fellows are liars, the elephant is just like a rope.” Then they began to quarrel among themselves, each shouting “you are all wrong and I am only right.” The king and other people who watched their quarrel enjoyed laughing.
Just as those born blind men, some critics who have read very little of The Buddha’s teachings say that it is a pessimistic religion. Some others used to say it is a teaching meant only for monks and lay men could not follow Buddha’s teachings. Another said that Buddhism teaches that the life in the world is a misery and it discourages and prevents man’s progress. All those critics are just like those born blind who explained the form and shape of the elephant.
The world, according to Buddhism, is like a school which consists of all the classes or grades from the kindergarten section to the uppermost form. In a school the children of the kindergarten should be taught lessons suitable to their level of understanding. The highest form of the school must be taught the subjects like higher mathematics and so forth related to the examination they are preparing for. Suitable to the standard the lesson must be taught. If a man goes there and seeing only the highest forms and listening to what they are taught and returns and say the small children should not be sent to that school the lessons it teaches are too deep for the little ones. The one who geos there towards the kindergarten section and listens to what they are taught and say that our boys who expect to take a higher examination have nothing to learn from it. It is clear that he is wrong. Likewise are most writers who see one side of the Buddha’s teachings and criticise it taunting that Buddhism is a teaching related to annihilation, or that it is a pessimistic teaching or that it doesn’t help people live a successful household life.
It has been mentioned in many a place in Buddhist Scriptures the Buddha’s was a Caritanukula-desana. That means that the Buddha taught his hearers the Dhamma suitable to their temperaments. If a man wants to be rich and nothing more the Buddha would show him the way to earn wealth by right means. If he expects to live a married life and nothing more, the Buddha would teach him how to choose a suitable partner and live a righteous life. Suppose the man whom he meets is one tired of life and that has given up all hopes, the Buddha teaches and encourages him to see further and makes him hopeful and teaches him to develop his spiritual life successfully. Thus Buddhism is a system of teachings which covers or comprises all aspects of our life.
Now I deal with one aspect of Buddha’s teachings that concern the household life or the married life.
One day the Lord Buddha visited a house in the city Saketa. The head of the house was known as Nakula-pitu and his wife was called Nakula-matu because they had a well known son named Nakula. Both of them were very much familiar with the lord and they regarded the Buddha as their own son. That day they welcomed the Lord as usual and treated him with food and after the meal was over, they sat on one side and began to tell him the intimate details of their life. The householder said: “Lord, ever since this Nakula-matu, my wife was brought home to me when she was a mere girl, I have been not conscious of having transgressed against her even in thought, much less in person. Lord, we do desire to see each other not only in this very life but also in the life to come. Then his wife said to the Buddha, “Lord, ever since I, a mere girl came over here when this householder was a mere Lad, I have never transgressed against him even in thought, let alone in person, Lord, we want to see each other not only in this life but also in the life to come.”
Then the Lord Buddha said: If both wife and husband desire to see each other both in this life and in the life to come, both should be matched in four qualities: in faith, in good conduct, in gernosity and in the knowledge of Dhamma.
One day Dhammika the lay follower questioned the Buddha how a householder should live his life and the Buddha told him that a layman should keep five precepts, and he should live a life of chastity in peace with his wife. You find this account in Dhammika Sutta of Sutta Nipata.
To make the household life a happy one both husband and wife must equally fulfil their duties to each other. When advising Sigalaka the young householder the Lord Buddha said: In five ways should a wife be ministered by her husband: by respecting her, by courteous behaviour, by faithfulness, by handing up the authority of the house over to her, and providing her with needs, dress, ornaments and the like. Thus being ministered by the husband, the wife with love will fulfil her duties, she will treat the relations of both with hospitality, she will watch over the wealth he earns and she will do her works with skill and hard-working.
As regards choosing a proper wife a man should be very careful and the wife too should determine to be an ideal one. When the king Suddhodana told his son prince Siddhartha that it was time for him to marry a suitable girl, the latter wrote down the qualities that the girl he would marry should possess. It was a very difficult task for the king to find such a girl. But after long search he found that the princess Yasodhara was possessed of all those virtues. That is how their marriage took place. If the wife and the husband are not virtuous and not tender-hearted, the marriage would be an unfortunate and miserable one. With regard to this matter there is a description of the wives as the Lord Buddha expounded.
Anathapindika was the most devoted and most generous lay follower of the Buddha in Savatthi. Most frequently the Buddha and his disciples were often invited to his house and entertained with meal and other requisites. One day, at his request, the Lord Buddha paid a visit to his house.
While the Lord was sitting there he heard a noise of shouting and scolding on the backyard of the house. The Lord asked the householder what was that shouting. Then he went on saying: “Lord, recently a girl of a rich family was married to my son. She is very proud and hot-tempered. She doesn’t obey her husband, and doesn’t listen to our advice. She is almost always shouting and quarrelling with the servants. Since she came here the peace in our hose has been disturbed”. Then the Lord asked him to take her over there. He went there and told her that and she came over there, bowed down and sat on one side. Then the Lord asked her: Is it you that have shouted over there now? “Yes” said she. “Do you know that there are seven kinds of wives?”, asked the Lord. She said she did not know. “Then listen to me” said the Buddha and went on expounding the seven kinds of wives.
“There is a certain wife who is hard-hearted and hating her husband. She loves other men and wastes what her husband earns. She is called the wife the destroyer.
There is another kind of wife who tries to filch a little out what the husband earns. She is called thievish wife.
There is another kind of wife who is greedy, passionate, lazy, careless of her duties, foul-mouthed, full of wrath and hate, tyrannical to the members of the family. She is a tyrannical wife.
There is still another kind of wife who is compassionate, cares for the husband as a mother to her child. She takes care of the husband’s property unwasted. She is called motherly wife.
There is a fifth kind of wife. She is modest, obedient to her husband. As a younger sister reverences her elder brother, she pays respect to her husband. Such one is called sisterly wife.
There is sixth kind of wife. She is very pleased at the sight of her husband, as a friend is happy at the sight of his friend after long absence. She is high-bred, virtuous, and is always ready to sacrifice her life to save her husband, just as a dear and loving friend. Such is called the friendly wife.
There is still another kind of wife. She is calm. Even when abused by the husband she keeps silent. She if full of dogged patience, true-hearted, bending to husband’s will. She never shows rough face. She loves her husband as an obedient servant loves his master. Such is called the servant-like wife.
These are the seven kinds of wives. Out of these seven, the first three: the wife the destroyer, the thievish wife and the tyrannical wife – these there make the family unhappy and become miserable here and hereafter.
The other four kinds: motherly wife, sisterly wife, friendly wife and servant-like wife – these four wives make their families happy and fortunate. Here and hereafter they will be happy and become successful in every aspect.”
After explaining these seven kinds of wives the Lord Buddha questioned her, “To what kind out of these seven, do you belong?” She was convinced. She said “Lord, after this, I will behave to my husband and this family as a motherly wife, as a sisterly wife, as a friendly wife, and also as a servant-like wife.”
This instruction of the Lord Buddha brought blessings peace and fortune to the families of his real followers.
With regards to the ways of living a peaceful and successful family life, Lord Buddha gave instructions on many occasions. Now I have told you only a very little out of them. Before I put an end to my talk, I will tell how the Lord Buddha categorized married couples into four classes. One day he said:
“There are four kinds of couples living as husband and wife. What four? A female hobgoblin lives together with a male hobgoblin, a female hobgoblin lives together with a male angel, a female angel lives together with a male hobgoblin; and a female angel lives together with a male angel.
In what way does a male hobgoblin live together with a female hobgoblin? In this case a husband is a slayer of life, steals, commits adultery, a liar or given to the use of liquor. Such a wicked man lives together with a wife of the same type. This kind of life is called the life lived together by goblin couple.
How does a male goblin live together with a female angel? If the husband lives an immoral life together with a kind and good-natured wife, it is called a life being lived together by a male hobgoblin with a female angel.
In what way does a male angel live together with a female hobgoblin? The husband is good-natured and virtuous while the wife is wicked and immoral. This is called the life lived by a male angel along with a female hobgoblin.
These three kinds of couples live unhappy and unsuccessful life.
If both the husband and the wife are good-natured, kind and virtuous and live their life loving each other, it is called the life of an angelic couple.
Lord Buddha advised every husband and wife to live as an angelic couple. That is the life to be lived by a real Buddhist couple. Their family life is an ideal one which invites peace and success here and hereafter.