The 20th century saw the transformation of the population and societal values, in the developed world, that would have been considered unthinkable for thousands of years prior to this. The importance of the individual over society (increased self-centeredness), consumerism, instant gratification, and the notion that everything is disposable, have completely changed society and its institutions.
While the scale of the breakdown of family is known, we have been slow to recognize its destructive implications on the wider society. For many the meaning and purpose of marriage has been utterly transformed into something unrecognizable by older cultures and societies.
Some of the quotes I used:
in the early 1920’s Paul Mazur of Lehman Brothers wrote – “We must shift America from a needs, to a desires culture, people must be trained to desire, to want new things even before the old had been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”
In 1927 an American journalist wrote: “A change has come over our democracy, it is called consumptionism. The American citizens first importance to his country is now no longer that of citizen, but that of consumer.
Adam Curtis ,the writer and producer of the BBC documentary series – The Century of the Self, makes an important point describing this documentary as “the story of the rise of an idea that has come to dominate our society. It is the belief that satisfaction of individual feelings and desires is our highest priority.”
Thus knowing oneself to be transcendental to material senses, mind and intelligence, one should control the lower self by the higher self and thus-by spiritual strength-conquer this insatiable enemy known as lust. – Bhagavad-gita 3.43
Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya
So tonight the subject is the Sacredness of Marriage, and you’re going to have kind of like two reactions to that. Somebody’s going to either really love it or completely hate it, the idea. The concept of marriage and what exactly it is has really radically changed. And that’s okay. People are free to change the parameters for operating in life. But with all choices there are always consequences, and I am not sure that people are going to be ready to fully embrace the consequences of some of the choices that have been made.
Somebody sent me a news link to a guy, I think he was in the UK, and he married a life-sized rag doll—I mean life-size rag doll! It wasn’t like a beautiful mannequin or something. It was a rag doll that he dressed up and put glasses on, and he’s embracing it and talking about how he hated being alone most of his life, and now he feels like he’s got somebody to relate to. And the big problem is of course, referencing it as a “somebody” when it’s a “something.” There’s a vast difference. I mean, we’ve seen this tendency of people to marry these, what do they call them, these sex dolls, these life-like—and it’s like [rolls his eyes]—and people talking about how they’ve become more complete. We’ve got—I’ve seen an account of somebody marrying their pet!
And in recent times it was this bizarre (and you might be offended by my statement, but to me it’s bizarre) people marrying themself, where in the marriage ceremony they hold up a mirror, and they look at the mirror, and they declare their love and vows and promise to love you forever. And it’s like, I know that a person may be mentally sort of stimulated or titillated by this idea of marrying oneself, and you don’t need anyone other than yourself, but it’s not true, from a spiritual perspective it’s actually not true, and it doesn’t breed happiness. It is delusional. Love, as people understand it, and even from a higher spiritual perspective, entails an exchange between two individuals, not yourself. Big subject, and we’ll probably touch on some of it a little bit later.
But there was a very recent article in the Daily Mail, the UK paper or media outlet, and in the headlines they stated that reports that were showing (and this is in their words) “shocking new figures”—shocking new figures, and it was regarding the breakdown of the family. So I was just going to read a little bit from the paper to give you a context,
“The scale of family breakdown has been laid bare by figures showing almost half of children do not stay with both parents throughout childhood. A major report reveals that growing numbers of youngsters live across more than one household with separations becoming ‘quite common’. [as it is quoted from the report]
According to the Office for National Statistics [and that of course it is from the UK] one in four families is headed by a lone parent and 90 percent of whom are women.”
And I know that in the USA that figure is actually much higher, and in certain communities as many as 70 percent of all children are raised in single parent households, and the vast majority of those are being raised by women.
“According to the Office for National Statistics [as it stated, here in the UK] one in four families is headed by a lone parent, however a review into contemporary family life, commissioned by the Government, has found the figure could in reality be as high as one in three.
The report from Rachel de Souza, the children’s commissioner for England, stresses that families have a crucial ‘protective effect’ that help shield people in times of crisis and can improve happiness levels and even future earnings.
Dame Rachel will today urge the next prime minister to put family [in her words] ‘at the heart of all policy decisions’.”
I mean that’s for me already a little bit shocking that we have shifted so far from what for thousands of years had been a norm, that now the government has to be encouraged to put family at the heart of all policy decisions.
“She said having a stable and supportive family, whatever form that takes, can determine a child’s future success. Children with happy families do better in their exams, go on to get better jobs and have higher hourly income at the age of 25…”
I mean, so this is not speculation. This is data driven. These are some of the realities. There are people that hold the view that family is not only unimportant, they feel that the nuclear family, the idea of a solid family unit being at the heart of a developed and civilized culture, they feel that that’s already archaic. And you have people that are meant to be in what’s called the social science area, who are actively engaged in dismantling the family. But yet you have this data that shows these outcomes in terms of how people do in life, their potential earning, their stability, the nature of their relationships, all of these things are deeply impacted by their own family environment.
“…and family can insulate us from life’s adversity and challenges.”
I mean this is a reality that many people don’t want to deal with—and particularly on all the social media platforms where people try to create these fantasy lives that they push as being fabulous and fulfilling, and then the average person who—especially young people that follow them, then feel that there is something terribly wrong with their own life, because their own life is filled with adversity and challenges. And the attempts to cover over that is leading to a catastrophic result in terms of people’s resilience, their ability to manage their life, dealing with depression, all of these things. Life by nature is difficult. It is filled with adversity and challenges, and they have found that family can insulate us from life’s adversity and challenges.
“The review examined the well-being of family members, long-term outcomes for children and the ‘ability of the family to withstand challenges’. It found that those who can turn to their family in times of crisis experience higher overall levels of well-being.”
So here in kind of beginning our conversation from this point, I’m just sort of like pointing out one component of marriage, the idea of family unit, the idea of raising children.
In the 20th century we saw a massive transformation of both societal and individual values, at least within the developed world. And these changes, many of them would have been would definitely be considered unthinkable to society as a whole over the past thousands of years. The things that are going on now would have been considered unthinkable. And it’s largely because of this massive rise in the idea of the importance of the individual over and above society, where me and my life take precedent over everything, and society is—it’s not even on the horizon in terms of my personal contributions to society and what it has to offer me. We have these growing ideas that everything is disposable. The focus on instant gratification and the fact that everything can be disposed of has deeply changed the way people think about an institution such as marriage, for instance
In my own life, I’ve mentioned before, when I was quite young I went off to India and lived there as a monk, and then after some time there I moved to the Philippines. And so, as a result of that, from quite early on and for most of my life, I have lived within much older cultures with substantially different value systems than modern society. In my own life, and I didn’t realize it at the time, it took, when I was a kid growing up and even up to high school level… My mother, unfortunately, was a constant complainer about how difficult life was, and so we tried to help her out but it was like—And my father on the other hand was a completely different personality. He was the patient, just get on with things, just do what needs to be done to maintain a peaceful atmosphere. And I grew up myself completely obsessed with the idea of doing what I want to do. It was all it was all about me, as it was with almost everybody I knew.
And suddenly I find myself in these older cultures, and I’m confronted with a radically different worldview, where people operate with a different sort of paradigm. And the big thing that I saw that was different was this enormous capacity for self-sacrifice, the willingness to put my life even on hold, if need be, in order to take care of a family, or for the betterment of society.
I mean I was just recalling, I think it was back in the 70s, when the Korean government had a massive financial crisis, and it was like Korea was going bankrupt, and spontaneously people started coming forward with all of the gold that they had been stashing and giving it to the government, wanting of course, to be repaid later, but to help the government and society survive this crisis. And massive hoards of gold was produced, and people used it—oh, the government used it, to bail themselves out of the situation. And of course, Korea went on to become a massively—a great industrial and technological society. And it was kind of like quite astonishing that people felt so passionate about the well-being of everyone that they were prepared to take a great risk, just bring all the gold they had and turn it over to the government to help bail them out. I think in just like 50 years (it was about 50 years since that happened, or less, 45 years) I think the world has changed so much that nobody would do that now. They would hang on to what they’ve got, and just hope that they’re going to survive.
So this, it really surprised me, that willingness for parents to make enormous sacrifice for their children, to try and get them educated. And then you would see something like the eldest child in the family that they have put through education (quite often the parents weren’t educated, and the first child goes to university and gets a degree, and then goes and gets a job), and immediately upon earning their salary they would return half of the money that they earned to their parents to help them out and to help out their brothers and sisters through their education. And they would even do things like put their own marriage on hold or starting a family, because they felt this need to, and a desire to want to try and uplift others that were close to them. And it kind of like, wow! it really blew my mind that people would do that voluntarily and happily, that people would do it quite happily. I mean it’s extraordinary.
And so this really impacted me, from quite a young age, to observe the distinctions between the society that I grew up in, where there were traces of this, but not in the way that I was seeing it in these much older cultures. And I held the view that this capacity and willingness for self-sacrifice, people to me seemed actually much more civilized and much more noble.
So the other thing that I observed, that societies that adopted those types of values were actually happier. I’m not saying that they’re perfectly happy, but they were definitely happier than cultures that are more self-centered and selfish, and it’s an observable phenomena. And it’s contagious. You become influenced and affected by it when you’re in the midst of such a society. In the Western world many people have adopted the idea that self-sacrifice leads to some deprivation and unhappiness: if I do that I’m going to be unhappy—whereas the opposite is true, that people that are more giving actually have more contentment and happiness in their life.
So of course, the roots of this transformation of the Western world (and it’s now infecting the entire planet) the roots, of course, (and we’ve talked about this a lot before) extend back to this massive experiment with consumerism, consumer-oriented economics, where this became the total focus. And the thing that’s always disturbing to me was the fact that it wasn’t spontaneous. It was actually—people had this plan. People that were considered leaders, and definitely the financial and political leaders of society, became convinced of an idea and set about re-educating the masses of people in their country.
And of course, one of my go-to’s is in a newspaper article, a column or a piece that was submitted by Paul Mazur, who was a one of the directors of, and board members of, Lehman Brothers who were the biggest bank at the time. It was about 1921 or 22. He wrote the following:
“We must shift America from a needs to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things even before the old had been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”
So I mean this is an extraordinary idea. We’re talking about a massive societal shift. And it was very much now directed at training people how to become greedy. One of the greatest or the most prominent economists of the time talked about greed and envy, envy of what others have and greed for more are like the powerhouse to have a thriving economy. So, it was a very conscious effort.
And within seven, or about five or six years after Paul Mazur stated that, and as a result of things being put into place, the use of psychology to fundamentally alter everybody’s value systems had become so powerful, the way it was used, it had caused such a shift, that an American journalist wrote:
“A change has come over our democracy, it is called consumptionism. The American citizen’s first importance to his country is now no longer that of citizen, but that of consumer.”
The importance of the citizen is their capacity to consume, not just to be a citizen!
So there was an amazing BBC documentary that was put out called The Century of the Self. And the writer and producer of that four part documentary, his name was Adam Curtis, in speaking about his docu, he described it as
“…the story of the rise of an idea that has come to dominate our society. It is the belief that satisfaction of individual feelings and desires is our highest priority”
And of course, most people today are not even shocked by that because everybody has, to a greater or lesser degree, completely embraced that as being what it’s all about. And you compare that to how human societies all over the world have been for thousands of years, this is a monumental shift away from ideas of duty, of responsibility towards family, society, and all of these things, to now just the greedy individual, who believes that the satisfaction of individual feelings and desires is our highest priority. Now that’s just par for the course. And of course, the world is currently and will grow to pay a monumental price for this shift. The whole climate change thing and—it’s just all driven by this.
So this consciousness, or mentality, has really contributed to a breakdown of families, where people see marriage as something that should provide them personally with high satisfaction and fulfillment. And if I’m not getting everything I want out of it then I need to move on and find somebody else to do it with—the disposability of things. And of course, at the scale of the breakdown of family, while it’s known (I mean, people have got all the data and statistics of how bad the breakdown is), I don’t think—society is actually being slow to recognize the destructive implications on the wider society. For many, the meaning and purpose of marriage has been utterly transformed into something that would be unrecognizable by older cultures and societies, and I don’t make that statement lightly. It is factual.
So tonight, what I’d like to do is present an alternative perspective, and that alternative perspective is based upon how marriage was viewed by the ancient Vedic scriptures, or texts, these profound philosophical texts which guided the subcontinent of India in its old form, which was vast. Firstly, the life was modeled by or around what was called the varnashrama system. This is made up of two words, varna and ashrama.
Varna had to do with four divisions of society that were determined by people’s mentality and their attraction for a certain kind of work, and so society was organized—it’s not like somebody organized them. There were these groupings where people had different types of responsibility, and different things were expected of the members of these different groups, according to which one they belong to.
And then you had the four ashramas. It’s the word ashram comes from these ashramas where people divided their life into four parts.
The extraordinary thing with this varnashrama system is that for people in their work and in their personal life there were—it was accepted that there was a higher purpose to life. The higher purpose was spiritual liberation, because there was this understanding, we are all eternal spiritual beings. This body is not who we are. We’re temporary inhabitants. The human form of life was highly valued, because in the human form of life one could develop spiritually and live such a life so as to gain spiritual liberation from material existence, which was considered inherently painful, temporary and unfulfilling. Yes, there’s happiness but the happiness is not enough. The great hedonists, the Rolling Stones singing, “I can’t get no satisfaction,” they’re doing it every which way you can. They’re stuffing everything conceivable into the different orifices of the body and just going for it with anything and everything; and yet they experienced the reality that these activities were not actually satisfying: “I can’t get no satisfaction, and I tried, and I tried, and I tried.”
So the idea that was proposed by Vedic teachings was that, because we are eternal spiritual beings, material activity is not going to fulfill us, and it will not give us the nature of the happiness that we actually seek. And even the desire to love and to be loved arises from the soul itself. It’s not something arising from the body or the mind. But if I only try to fulfill these fundamental spiritual needs on the material platform, I will not be fully successful. And so people organized their life for this purpose, for spiritual liberation.
The second of the ashramas was the ashrama known as the grihastha ashrama, which literally means, griha means a house, and a grihastha means a householder, one who possesses or owns a house, and so of course, they weren’t monks. They were people that were mostly married and had children, and had their parents also living with them. That was a common thing that is done, even up to today, in the much of the world.
They had two words, though, that described someone that was married. One was grihamedi and the other one was grihastha. Grihamedi is an interesting word. This second part medi, it is actually a name also given to the pillar in the middle of a threshing floor. And that pillar would be where oxen were tethered and driven around and round in circle, trampling on grains so that the grains become threshed, separated from the stalks, and were later collected. And so this idea of grihamedi, it was an idea that when people aren’t going to be spiritually directed in their life, then their house and their marriage and their family all becomes a tether, to tether to the world, and they become like beasts of burden just chasing after hopeful happiness but actually never coming to fully experience that. Whereas with the grihastha you saw that a married couple, and then later any children born from that marriage, they all shared a common goal, and that common goal was to do with what they saw as being the purpose of life.
Within the Vedic system they had different types of conceptions, or understanding, of some higher spiritual truth, some higher transcendent reality or God, but with all these different views, they all—there was this common approach that was embraced. And that was that I should not be trying to put myself at the centre of my life, I will be inherently unhappy if I do that; that if I place God or a higher transcendent reality at the centre of my life, and I see my partner and marriage and any children that come from it, I encourage that we all, together as a cohesive unit, work to simply be pleasing to God, then it produced a type of consciousness where people were more willing to self-sacrifice for some higher transcendent good.
Parents saw this as being important to set an example for their children. Children being raised in this environment saw the way the mother and the father related to each other and what was the central point of their life; and so what it did was it creates an environment where people naturally have respect for each other, not just within a family, but in society, that there is a natural compassion and empathy. And such an environment produced an incredibly nurturing environment that allowed individuals to grow spiritually.
And so that idea is kind of like massively in contrast to the point that I made earlier, what Adam Curtis had stated about his documentary, The Century of the Self, where he said the 20th century saw the rise in “the belief that the satisfaction of individual feelings and desires is our highest priority”. That’s like 180 degrees opposite to the idea of having someone else at the center of my life, and my striving to be pleasing to them, my striving to support and encourage and aid and assist my family members on this journey, this noble journey towards spiritual liberation, the spiritualization of one’s life.
And the act of being married was seen as an incredibly important thing and was a very conscious undertaking. It’s kind of different than you see a lot of—even weddings within churches, in the Western world. Whenever people attend a Vedic wedding that is performed by a real priest, a real brahman, one of the things that’s really different is the bride is not the focus, (laughs) nor is the couple the focus, that they have come together in this very solemn undertaking to bind themselves contractually, to bind themselves by vows to each other, but more importantly to God. And they are there not to celebrate their marriage but to humbly make an offering of what it is that they are now undertaking, making an offering of this to God, to be pleasing and praying for the blessings of everyone that they will grow in their patience and their understanding and their cooperation, and be able to successfully undertake this huge mission in their life. And that was just like a radically different environment.
So the contrast of it all being about me, it gives rise to many problems. From the Vedic perspective it was understood that another mundane personality—doesn’t matter how nice they are—cannot completely fulfill me. Wow! What a shocker! There was that understanding right from the beginning, and people entered into this contractual arrangement with very solemn vows that there would be no separation, for instance, and they would work with each other. I mean within Christianity you used to have these vows that everybody would take, “for better or for worse, in sickness or in health, till death do us part.” People actually used to take those kinds of things really seriously.
And when people entered into these contracts where their word was also considered sacred, and you give your word, and you don’t break your word, then what it does is sets up an environment where if people start—and for sure everyone is going to go through the experience sometime or other where there’s going to be conflict, where there’s going to be differences, where people are going to be unhappy about where they are. And then you’re faced with two choices: “Do I just give up on this, bail on it and run off somewhere else looking for my happiness?” Or do I rethink, “Okay, what do I actually need to do here for there to be a shift in my consciousness?” It’s not like I’m going to blame or put a load on someone else that they have to be the one to change. Every individual thinks, “What do I need to do to make this situation better? What do I need to do to make this work?”
And when people begin to operate like that, they have to really start thinking about their partners, their children, any crisis that they’re facing or whatever, with the thought of, “How do we move past this situation we’re in? How do we move to a better place?” First of all, you need a clear definition of, what is the better place that you want to move towards? And then what is it that we need to do to get there? And that effort to find a solution, to become more pleasing to God (I’ll just put it in that way, in very simple terms), made it so that people began to live more selflessly, less moved by the thoughts of instant gratification, “If I’m not getting the happiness I want now, I’m out of here. I’m going to look somewhere else, because I need it,” but the idea of, rather than taking, the idea of actually giving. And when people begin to do this, it begins to push small happiness buttons. The more that you are giving in nature and seeking better solutions, the more you’re acting compassionately, the happier you will become.
We are confronted with the reality that we have two natures in the human condition. We have the pure spiritual being covered by two bodies, a gross physical body, and a subtle body comprised primarily of the mind, and because of that our body and mind is constantly—desires are arising. I’m constantly being pulled everywhere. And if my life’s mission becomes to simply fulfill all of my urges and desires, then I am going to be more greedy and self-centred, and have less compassion for others. And while I’m doing all of these things, I will experience internally a massive lack of fulfillment and purpose.
And so, like in the Bhagavad-gita it talks about in the human condition: you have these two natures, the material condition and where that can go, and our spiritual nature. So there’s one verse speaking to this idea of higher and lower natures. It’s from the 3rd chapter of the Bhagavad-gita:
“Thus knowing oneself [oneself being the spiritual being] knowing oneself to be transcendental to material senses, mind and intelligence, one should control the lower self by the higher self and thus—by spiritual strength—conquer this insatiable enemy known as lust.”
Lust means intense self-centredness, selfish desire; and it was considered, and described as, “the all devouring enemy of mankind.” It is because of this that people come into conflict, can be so cruel, can be so harsh. And so it was seen that, yes, this is part of the journey through life, to become a more noble person, to be more connected to my true spiritual being and all of those spiritual qualities.
And so these vows were taken in marriage, knowing what human nature was, so that people would have this thing to go back to, and there was this understanding, “I can’t just discard this stuff.” Now people go into churches, or in city hall, or wherever, before a justice of the peace, they get married, they make vows, and they can just discard them like they were nothing, because they changed their mind. Whereas here the understanding was, “Okay, my mind is going to do all these different things. Do I follow my mind? Am I going to be a slave to my mind? Or am I going to take control of my mind and do what is truly in my best interest?”
So these people, they all embrace the reality that life is difficult. There are going to be hardships. It’s just the nature of things.
This idea of being guided by higher principle is really, really a noble thing, and people want to just discard, like they want to discard religion. I mean outside of religion what has really produced the amazing collection of principles that are to be embraced as being of enormous value, like compassion, kindness, charity, forgiveness? These were the principles that were promoted.
Just because there have been individuals within religions that were totally out there and may have done some horrible, horrible things in the name of religion, it doesn’t mean that that’s religion’s fault. It is people who have not actually embraced these spiritual principles. And if you’re just going to discard it and throw it to the wind, what are you going to have in its place? What’s going to be the guiding principles. The necessity for higher guiding principles that we’re constantly using as our north star, that we’re using to navigate life is of extraordinary importance.
And so for this reason the institution of marriage was seen as a sacred thing, and it was a sacred obligation that was meant to produce higher quality of people, more noble and finer human beings. And once again, just because there’s been horrible and bad examples, it’s not like, well that’s representative of what is being put forward. No. That’s representative of what’s not being put forward, what’s not being proposed.
So I feel that there is a massive need for a revitalization of these principles and the appreciation of the importance of, and the sanctity of marriage, and where people should not have this consciousness that everything is disposable. You think you can run? You think that you can escape the laws of karma and the laws of nature? You cannot. We cannot escape. We think we can, but you will be held accountable. You will carry this load, and you will pay the piper. There will come a time when you must be accountable and pay for everything. That is the nature of this material existence and the very stringent laws of material nature.
So I encourage people to really—we need to rethink everything, like really big time. There needs to be a revitalization. We shouldn’t use really bad examples as an excuse to not strive for that which is higher and more noble, and everybody knows it.
I mean, in my life I have on number of occasions performed these Vedic marriages, and everyone who comes to them, people that are completely unfamiliar, they’ve never seen or heard anything like this, they observe what goes on, and people come up later and just say, “It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever witnessed.” It was like—because of the meaning, and the fact that it’s an opportunity to give higher meaning to life, rather than this just base animalistic desire to stimulate my senses and to greedily try to get sensual enjoyment, which is all so fleeting and unfulfilling, and ends up acting as like gasoline that you’re putting on a fire, that just increases desire and hunger and the emptiness.
Big subject, and no doubt somewhat contentious for some people; but I can say with great certainty that if we do not take the warning and attempt to reconnect with that which is noble and good, then what we are seeing now is going to pale in comparison to what will come in terms of catastrophic breakdown of society, enormous unhappiness.
With that, I thank you very, very much. Not sure if that’s what people were expecting to hear or not. Probably wasn’t? What do you think, sounds like something we should be doing? Is it a message of hope? I think for everyone it is a message of hope. And the fact that we need to strive, we need good examples, but we need good advice, and we need to hold that good advice, those spiritual principles as our north star, and use it to navigate through life, and you will reap the reward in this lifetime.
Thank you very much. So we will chant. I will use the mantra, Haribol Nitai Gaur, and then maybe mahamantra.
Thank you very much for joining us and we will—I hope you will consider these things.