Transitions Part II: Blessings for a Marriage
Ven. Tenzin Namdag marries Paul Morris and Victoria Clayton on the beach at Noosa, Queensland, November 29, 2003.
In our last issue we talked about a Buddhist approach to welcoming a new baby. Now Geshe Tashi Tsering, resident teacher at Jamyang Buddhist Centre in London, explains how Tibetan Buddhists view marriage ceremonies.
Marking the occasions of birth, marriage, and death is very important. Buddhadharma can be practiced individually for enlightenment, but as a whole, Buddhists are working to benefit others – the whole of society. Buddhadharma must engage with society, not just perform rituals and give teachings in monasteries and temples. Those things are important, of course, but marking events such as the three occasions with blessings and prayers is also very important.
As for marriage, a couple that comes together grows through their understanding of each other’s current and potential needs, supporting each other’s potential to understand both. This can really help if they have children and, through that commitment, if they slowly support those children positively and, through that, if they support others in society. With that kind of understanding, two people can make their decision to live together, help each other, and share each other’s emotions, thoughts, and lives.
But it is very important to know to what extent fully ordained monks and nuns can be involved in the process of blessing a marriage. Fully ordained monks and nuns should not be involved in bringing two people together in having a relationship. To do that, a monk or nun would be breaking quite a high level of one of the vows. Therefore, they should not involve themselves at that level.
However, when two people come together by their own choice, making a complete decision that they want to get married and want to make that commitment more solid by public recognition, then I think a monk or nun can bless the occasion.
The purpose of the blessing here is to make sure these two people understand each other’s deep-down needs, not just their surface emotional and physical needs. So blessing a marriage really helps the couple to bring their minds and thoughts to a more profound level in order to develop a constructive and sharing life, starting with their own lives, their children, and their families and spreading to the wider community.
In terms of the blessing itself, it really depends on the monks and nuns who are blessing that ceremony. Reciting sutras that Buddha himself recited at this kind of ceremony or performing small short rituals are appropriate. There are many different ways of blessing the marriage.
Friends and lovers
Ven. Tenzin Namdag, with a grown family of her own and a successful business career behind her, is now a Buddhist nun and marriage celebrant. She has a busy teaching schedule and also travels round Australia officiating at weddings and other ceremonies. She lives in Cairns.
Here is an example of a wedding ceremony she uses. It starts with preliminary prayers, the four immeasurable thoughts, and The Foundation of All Good Qualities. Hands are washed in blessed water as a symbol of coming clean to the relationship. Here are some excerpts from this moving ceremony …
“C… and D… come to this commitment, today, as a serious occasion. They approach it with a sense of reverence, but also with joy and happiness. The wedding gives public recognition to the private experience of their love. At a different level we share it, we rejoice, and we support them.
“They see one another as friends, lovers, and partners standing in an equal relationship, with the goal of providing one another with energy and support, to enable each to grow, to show concern for others and to engage in actions to support others.
“C… and D… have chosen a Buddhist ceremony because its philosophy recognizes that human happiness is achievable only when it is shared and whether we are religious or not, we must agree that happiness is our goal. It is a natural state and so the import of this ceremony is not exclusively Buddhist; it is universal.”
A reading from His Holiness the Dalai Lama is then included:
“Ultimately, the reason why love and compassion bring the greatest happiness is simply that our nature cherishes them above all else. The need for love lies at the very foundation of human existence. However capable and skillful an individual may be, alone, he or she will not survive.
“However vigorous and independent one may feel during the most prosperous periods of one’s life, when one is sick, or very young, or very old, one must depend on the support of others. It is because our own human existence is so dependent on the help of others that our need for love lies at the very foundation of our existence. Therefore, we need a genuine sense of responsibility and sincere concern for the welfare of others.
“From the least to the most important event, the affection and respect of others are vital to our happiness. No one is born free of the need for love, and this demonstrates that, although some modern schools of thought seek to do so, human beings cannot be defined as wholly physical. No material object, however beautiful or valuable, can make us feel loved.
“Because we all share an identical need for love, it is possible to feel that anybody we meet, in whatever circumstance, is a brother or sister. No matter how new the face or how different the dress or behavior, there is no significant division between us and other people. We do not need to become religious, nor do we need to believe in an ideology. All that is necessary is for each of us to develop our good human qualities.”
The couple then exchanges vows. The rings are blessed and exchanged. The rings are described as “a circle representing compassion and wisdom and the circulation of our love, its wholeness and perfection, and with it, I place our marriage within the circle of wisdom and compassion….”
Everyone present is handed a copy of this to say together …
“May C… and D…, now married, fulfill this covenant that they have made. May they openly give and take from each other, encouraging each other in whatever trials may befall them, sharing their joys, helping one another as occasion requires. Having grown to trust themselves and each other, may they be unafraid to trust and welcome life. May they not merely accept and give affection between themselves but also seek the lonely and outcast in friendship. May they be willing and grateful to return love.
“We, who are present, and those who are not able to be here and who care, hope that the inspiration of this hour will not be forgotten. May these two ever seek to achieve the perspectives of serenity and courage in their lives.”
The ceremony closes with a dedication.