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Grihasta Ashrama

Marriage is not meant to satisfy carnal desires. Rather, it is meant to assist one’s spiritual progress, leading to God-realisation through a disciplined life. In marriage, a young man and woman practise self-discipline and self-control, even as they find support and companionship with the spouse and other members of the family, and learn to offer selfless service to society.

The Hindu scriptures refer to the married state as grihasta ashrama. May I draw your attention to the use of the word ashrama here; an ashrama is a place or a state that denotes discipline and restraint. Thus, marriage according to the Hindu ideals is not a pleasure hunting ground. It is not a license to do as one pleases. It is at once a discipline and a responsibility. In marriage, two persons—a man and a woman—offer the whole of their self, mind, body, and feelings to each other. They cease to live for their selfish ends; they live for each other, for their families and for the promotion and propagation of dharma or righteousness. True marriage thus becomes an abhyasa to attain to God.

Hindu shastras emphasise the value of grihasta ashrama as fundamental to the wellbeing of society.

Hindu shastras emphasise the value of grihasta ashrama as fundamental to the wellbeing of society. This is because the people in the other three ashramas (i.e. brahmacharya or bachelor state, vanaprastha or retired/contemplative state and sanyasa or the state of renunciation) depend on the grihasta (householder) for sustenance and support. They need the grihasta’s help to carry out their duties. As for the grihasta, he is permitted to earn his living by the right means in order to support his family, raise his children and perform those acts of charity and compassion that assist others in the three ashramas.

I often tell my married friends that they are lucky to be in the grihasta ashrama, where all they have to do is perform their duty well in order to attain salvation. However, this is not as easy as it sounds! Saints and sages refer to the life of the grihasta as jivayagna—a life-long saga of service and sacrifice for family and society. Is this not a sadhana in itself?

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