On Marriage and Related Topics
Lama Thubten Yeshe gave this teaching in Brisbane, Australia,
in April, 1975. Edited by Nicholas Ribush.
days, one of the main reasons that a man and a woman become friends is sexual.
They get together for sexual pleasure. In earlier times, marriage had a divine
quality—a couple came together out of respect, with the aim of creating a kind
of totality. That gave meaning to getting married, and marriages made with such
purpose became good ones.
of today’s marriages become disastrous because they lack purpose; there’s no
worthwhile goal for coming together. A couple should not come together out of
grasping at each other; there should be more meaning to it than that. But our
craving desire and lack of wisdom work together to create an extreme situation
that finishes up causing conflict: the woman agitates her man; the man agitates
his woman—in either case, it ends in “goodbye.”
days, I travel the entire world and many young people come to see me to discuss
their relationship problems, but they all boil down to people’s coming together
out of the wrong motivation. Whether you’re a man or a woman, it’s important
that there’s not too much grasping in your relationship, that you don’t agitate
your partner. Extreme grasping at sexual pleasure is a problem; sexual pleasure
is an irritant. You can see.
many couples aren’t together for the sex. Their relationship is deeper than
that, so their attitude is different. They are very comfortable, free, somehow,
with no tremendous expectations of each other. Therefore, they have a good
relationship. I’m sure you’ve seen examples of such couples, where there’s not
my limited experience of the Western world, many Christians, who believe in
God, have very respectful marriages. They believe in something deeper than
themselves and are not living for sense pleasure alone. I would say that such
couples have been blessed by God or Jesus.
course, many people these days believe that Coca-Cola is better than God.
“What’s the point of religion?” they ask; “Coca-Cola is more refreshing than
God or the Bible.” This is their problem. What to do? I’m joking!
of people the world over get married every day out of craving for sexual
pleasure. Others get married principally for reputation: “He’s world famous;
he’s great.” Still others marry for wealth or power. Those are all wrong
motivations for marriage. The purpose of marriage should be to avoid extremes
and gain balance in your life. However, it often turns out the complete
days, perhaps as many people get divorced as get married. Don’t think divorce
is easy. Psychologically, divorce can be hell. It’s not a simple as “OK,
bye-bye,” and it’s over. It’s not like that. First there’s a huge build-up of
psychological pressure and when it releases it’s like falling into hell. So,
sentient beings are suffering like this.
criticize modern society for such ills, but it’s not society’s fault. There’s
nothing wrong with society—it’s our mental attitude that’s mistaken. We create
all kinds of fantasies, grasp at sense pleasure and everything finishes in
explains that we circle from one life to another because of craving desire and
that we can put an end to cyclic existence, to rebirth in samsara, by
abandoning desire. Craving is what makes the wheel of life go round and it’s
our own clinging that binds us to it; nobody else makes us cycle from one
suffering life to another.
twentieth century example of this is those ladies and gentlemen who get
married, experience problems, grasp at another person, then at another, and
another…maybe they cycle through four or five marriages in a single lifetime.
Some people have hundreds of lovers in their life. Why can’t they stop? Why do
they keep on grasping? There’s nobody driving them to do this; they drive
themselves. They hang on continuously; non-stop. Desire is fickle in nature.
Freud tried to explain sex as the basis of most human problems. Buddhism
disagrees. The main human problem lies much deeper than that.
a course on mind and mental factors, Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa, Italy, 1978
Lama, is it possible to teach married people on the spiritual path some form of
modified tantric practice to help deepen their spiritual and sexual
Yes, it’s possible. But as the texts explain, you have to approach these things
gradually. Still, if married people study properly, they can learn the great
significance of tantric practice, have a good relationship and, in a simple
way, experience some kind of unity.
I can’t be specific about this because it depends greatly on the level of
development of the individuals involved. It’s similar with people who want to
be celibate: just because you’re intellectually ready for a certain type of
practice, the scientific reality—what Buddhists call the interdependent
origination of it—may be against it; the physical nervous system, which comes
from the mind, may not be ready. In such cases, the nervous system can crack
under the strain.
whatever practice you’re trying to achieve, you need to go slowly, slowly and
develop yourself organically. It’s not something that depends only on ideas. If
you take it gradually, any practice can become easy. You should not push or
squeeze yourself. If you pump yourself too hard, you run out of space, freak
out and go crazy.
Some people take teachings and then decide to live on the world and practice
Dharma without becoming a monk or nun. Is it easy to integrate worldly
responsibilities with spiritual practice?
That, too, depends on the individual. For some people it’s beautiful
experience. They get married, the marriage is good, they try to help and share
with each other. I think that’s beautiful; such couples are also a good example
of my married students were experiencing unbelievable suffering and conflict
when I met them. All I could do was to try to help them be happy and have as
good a relationship as possible. But, sometimes the circumstances are against
it. Basically, both people are unhappy; they have much conflict and many
problems within their marriage. I think this is common. It’s not just confined
to my students. Many Western people experience this. I think the grasping, sexual
relationship is one of the greatest problems Western people face, whether they
are religious practitioners or not.
some people understand each other and try to live with loving kindness, but
that’s really up to the individual. Some people can lead a beautiful married
life; others can’t. It really depends on the individual’s needs at the time.
an interview with a Catholic theologian, Kopan
Lama, many people have problems with their marriage. Do you have anything to
say about this?
Do I have anything to say? Yes! They don’t understand each other. They lack
good communication. That creates many problems. Many people, especially young
ones, marry for very superficial reasons: “I like him; let’s get married; I
like her, let’s get married.” There’s not much thought given to how they’re
going to spend their life together or much analysis of each other’s
personality. People are too influenced by external appearance; true beauty lies
within. People’s faces and behavior are constantly changing; you can’t rely on
we lack the knowledge wisdom to understand each other’s inner, human qualities,
we easily disrespect our partner. When things don’t work out as planned, when
our partner no longer appears attractive, our marriage fails. That’s because it
was built one hundred percent on ego; it was totally an ego-based relationship.
No wonder it didn’t work.
marriage built on mutual understanding, good communication and sincere efforts
to help each other has a much better chance of lasting. Mental communication is
much better than physical. That is very important. Superficial relationships,
those based on mainly external factors, never last.
say a couple buys a new piece of furniture. The husband says, “Put it here,”
the wife says, “No, put it there,” and a huge fight ensues. Here, there, what
difference does it make? It’s foolish and narrow-minded, but that’s how things
a public talk in Los Angeles,
Lama, what do you think about marriage?
Marriage is good; because of marriage, you and I exist on Earth. Without
marriage most of us wouldn’t exist. I have some Christian friends I like and
respect very much. Many Christian couples have a good relationship because they
keep love of God in their heart. I’ve also heard they have the attitude that
sex is for reproduction, not for pleasure. I think that’s a very good idea.
What about contraception?
I’m not going to talk about the Buddhist point of view; I’m going to talk about
this monk’s point of view. I have to be careful. However, my observation of the
Western world is that contraception is a very good thing because many young
people are not ready to have children and when they do, instead of growing, they
go crazy. I have students like this. They are young, super-intelligent and well
educated, but as soon as they have babies they become unbelievably miserable.
I’ve seen intelligent, worldly-wise girls suddenly become terrible, with no
capability, no happiness, and no love for their man; they hate everything. It’s
incredible. If those girls hadn’t had babies, over time, they could have become
incredibly spiritually developed.
brings with it many societal obligations; having a baby is a big responsibility.
So, for those who cannot control their desire for sexual pleasure,
contraception is essential. Also, if you can prevent an unwanted pregnancy from
occurring, you eliminate the possibility of having to consider killing the
fetus by abortion. Buddhism explains that for a sentient being to come from the
intermediate state into a human rebirth the mother’s womb should be healthy and
unobstructed. In other words, the conditions should be perfect. If you
interrupt the conditions through contraception, it’s OK. It’s certainly better
than madness. This is my own observation; I hope it doesn’t upset anybody.
Well, Lama, what about abortion?
For Buddhists, abortion is difficult. It’s a question of morality, or ethics.
But still, it’s a relative question. Let’s say that you don’t have an abortion
and that the next twenty years of your life are miserable. And even more misery
comes from that. Yet you think nothing of killing fish and small animals.
Relatively, which is worse? Good and bad are relative; good karma and bad karma
are relative. I’m not making any statement here; it’s just something for you to
At a course on death and rebirth, London, 1981