(The following article was posted in the "Meditations" column of the Hindustan Times, one of India's largest English language daily newspapers, on 23 January 2004.)
FIVE THOUSAND years ago the Bhagavata predicted marriage would be based on verbal agreement and physical considerations alone (12.2.5). Deterioration of the marital institution corroborates this.
Non-Vedic writers have noticed a rupturing in age-old traditions. Some have tried remedies. For example, Catholic encyclicals, starting in the mid-20th century, defined marriage as a 'contract', later as a 'covenant', and most recently as a 'communion of love'. On the surface, it appears these authors have grown with the times in making permanence of male-female relationships more meaningful.
In these church definitions, the idea of 'contract', although it seemed legal and impersonal, supported the concept that marriage is not to be taken lightly, and that legal implications would have to be weighed. This is vastly different from the popular 'nofault' divorce system, which enables one partner to easily bring a marriage to an end. 'Covenant' carries a far more religious-spiritual connotation, and downplays the fear and permanence aspect of 'contract'. The most recent definition, which promotes marriage based on 'interpersonal love', is ostensibly far more liberal than earlier designations, but has a touchy-feely colouring. We live in a lust-impregnated world.
Also working against any seeming progress are three powerful trends: the cost-benefit analysis of 'my life' (if it works for me, I'll keep it; otherwise, I'll trash it); the 'therapy relationship' model (my partner will solve all my problems); the Hollywood glamour quest (I need Mr or Mrs Right for the dream romance).
These trends are so entrenched that efforts to reinstate the sanctified aspect of marriage appear ridiculous. Today pre-and post-marital relationships are increasing and in most parts of the world are the norm. Nonetheless, the search for a lifetime partner is natural. The planned offspring of such couples readily contribute to the health of the planet. Neglected, uncared-for children often become criminals. Loved and wanted kids are usually the product of loyal partners who believe in the sacredness of their relationship.
If a better world is to arise, committed partnerships should be offered to God and sanctified with marriage vows. Such co-dependents can be lifetime companions, attracting wise souls to become their children.
The writer is emeritus member of the ISKCON governing body commission.