What does Buddhism say about marriage?

There is no obligation for Buddhists to marry and most Buddhists believe marriage is a choice. As long as they are both happy to do so, Buddhists are allowed to cohabit. As a result, Buddhists do not have any formal teachings on what the marriage ceremony should consist of. The closest that Buddhists come to one is to hold a blessing or celebration but there are no religious elements to the event.

However, Venerable Dhammananda Maha Nayaka Thera did state that:

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If a man can find a suitable and understanding wife and a woman can find a suitable and understanding husband, both are fortunate indeed.Venerable Dhammananda Maha Nayaka Thera

Marriage in Buddhism comprises of a civil ceremony that legally unites two people. Buddhist monks may bless a marriage but will not conduct the actual marriage ceremony. Therefore, the main content of Buddhist marriage ceremonies reflects the culture of the country the couple live in. This is more significant than religious content.

Most Buddhists believe the purpose of marriage is to:

  • unite with someone they love or who is a good partner in other respects
  • have children
  • create a sound basis for their extended family, including their parents

Buddhists accept that marriage may cause suffering and should be aware of this before getting married. The second Noble Truth, 'The truth of the cause of suffering', refers to desires which can cause frustration. Therefore, a Buddhist will try to practise teachings such as metta and ahimsa within the marriage so that the couple can sustain a positive relationship.

The Five Precepts are considered an important source of authority in Buddhism. The third Precept offers guidance on how to achieve a successful marriage. 'Do not engage in sexual misconduct', instructs Buddhists to be content within marriage and not to commit adultery as this will cause suffering.

Buddhists monks choose not to marry and remain celibate while living in the monastic community. This is so that they can focus on achieving enlightenment. They understand that the demands of marriage, raising a family and working to support both, will be a distraction from the full-time effort needed to follow the Buddhist path. Monks do not have to spend the rest of their life in the monastery – they are completely free to re-enter mainstream society and some only spend a year as a monk.

The Sigalovada Sutta offers advice for Buddhist couples on how to treat each other and have a happy and successful marriage. It contains guidelines for both the wife and husband.

The husband can ensure a good relationship with his wife by:

  • being attentive and courteous to her
  • not looking down on her
  • being faithful to her
  • sharing his authority with her
  • providing her with clothing, jewellery etc that she wants

This ancient text assumes that a wife is not economically independent. The wife can ensure a good relationship with her husband by:

  • performing her household duties well
  • being welcoming to all their relations
  • being faithful to him
  • budgeting properly within the household and protecting family resources

Elsewhere the Buddha advised that a married couple should not be harsh or oppressive with each other, and should be calm and compassionate.