Reforming Marriage in Society

by Krishna-kirti das, 21 Sep 2014

“Even when therapists speak of the need for ‘meaning’ or ‘love,’ they define love and meaning simply as the fulfillment of the patient’s emotional requirements. It hardly occurs to them—nor is there any reason why it should, given the nature of the therapeutic enterprise—to encourage the subject to subordinate his needs and interests to those of others, to someone or some cause or tradition outside himself.”

— Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism (1979)

Marriage is a universal human institution. All human societies have it, almost everyone in the course of their lives will be married at one time or another, and almost everyone looks forward to not only being married but being happily married.  However, the problem with marriage in much of the world is that while the shared aspiration for happiness within marriage has not waned, there are a great number of marriages that end unhappily in divorce. According to the latest statistics from the U.S. Center for Disease Control, the marriage rate is 6.8 per 1000 people, and the divorce rate is 3.6 per 1000 people. That is, in America for every 100 marriages that take place, 53 end in divorce. In other industrialized countries like Britain and France, the statistics are similar, and India itself is also seeing a rise in divorce. Why is the institution of marriage so prone to dissolution nowadays, and what can be done to reform it?

In order to better understand why marriages today are so fragile, it is necessary to view the problem through an objective conceptual framework—a working theory about the phenomenon being studied—that can be used to understand the problem as it is. Many theories have been created to understand worldly phenomena, and these have been put forward by professional philosophers, scientists, and psychologists. They have produced different theories about human behavior, and these theories have informed and guided innumerable attempts to improve the quality of various facets of human life, including that of marriage. But these theories are defective, as they have been created by imperfect people with vested interests to see the world in one way as opposed to some other. Because these theories are subjective and defective, they cannot help us understand the trouble with marriage today. Indeed, despite vigorous research activity guided by these theories and backed by generous government funding, psychologists have been unable to substantially alter the high divorce rate in society at large. If substantial progress is to be made, efforts to improve marriage must be guided by an objective conceptual framework, an objective view of the problem.

That objective framework comes from Lord Krishna. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna analyzes all physical and psychic phenomena in terms of the three modes of material nature—goodness, passion, and ignorance. This framework is the correct starting point for understanding all natural phenomena, including marriage. Because it is put forward by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, it is to be accepted not simply as theory but as fact. Whatever the Lord says is to be accepted over the opinion of all others, as He is the supreme authority. He knows everything directly and indirectly about the world, and He is not prone to the defects of ordinary people. Thus whatever Lord Krishna says must be accepted as objective, without defect or error. In the Gita (10.12 – 13), Lord Krishna’s friend and disciple Arjuna confirms this truth about the Lord:

paraṁ brahma paraṁ dhāma pavitraṁ paramaṁ bhavān
puruṣaṁ śāśvataṁ divyam ādi-devam ajaṁ vibhum

āhus tvām ṛṣayaḥ sarve devarṣir nāradas tathā
asito devalo vyāsaḥ svayaṁ caiva bravīṣi me

“You [Krishna] are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the ultimate abode, the purest, the Absolute Truth. You are the eternal, transcendental, original person, the unborn, the greatest. All the great sages such as Nārada, Asita, Devala and Vyāsa confirm this truth about You, and now You Yourself are declaring it to me.”

Not only does Arjuna declare this, but he also notes that other great sages, Narada, Asita, Devala, and Vyasadeva, great authorities in their own right, also confirm the Lord’s superlative, absolute position. As Lord Krishna says, “There is no being existing, either here or among the demigods in the higher planetary systems, which is freed from these three modes born of material nature” (Gita 18.40). On the authority of Arjuna, the great sages, and Lord Krishna Himself, we accept this statement of Lord Krishna’s as factual and without error. Thus our analysis of the problem of marriage in modern times proceeds from Lord Krishna’s framework of the three modes of material nature.

According to this framework, happiness in marriage can be analyzed in terms of the modes of goodness, passion and ignorance. As per Lord Krishna,

Bg 18.37 — That which in the beginning may be just like poison but at the end is just like nectar and which awakens one to self-realization is said to be happiness in the mode of goodness.

Bg 18.38 — That happiness which is derived from contact of the senses with their objects and which appears like nectar at first but poison at the end is said to be of the nature of passion.

Bg 18.39 — And that happiness which is blind to self-realization, which is delusion from beginning to end and which arises from sleep, laziness and illusion is said to be of the nature of ignorance.

How is the dominant, modern notion of marital happiness classified within this framework? Today’s leading authorities on marriage are to be found in the profession of psychology, and the American Psychological Association is the largest organization of psychology professionals in the world. At their official website is an article titled, “Happy couples: How to keep your relationship healthy,” and this is what the article says we should do:

Between kids, careers and outside commitments, it can be difficult to stay connected to your partner. Yet there are good reasons to make the effort. In one study, for example, researchers found couples that reported boredom during their seventh year of marriage were significantly less satisfied with their relationships nine years later.

To keep things interesting, some couples plan regular date nights. Even dates can get old, though, if you’re always renting a movie or going to the same restaurant. Experts recommend breaking out of the routine and trying new things — whether that’s going dancing, taking a class together or packing an afternoon picnic.

Intimacy is also a critical component of romantic relationships. Some busy couples find it helpful to schedule sex by putting it on the calendar. It may not be spontaneous to have it written in red ink, but setting aside time for an intimate encounter helps ensure that your physical and emotional needs are met.[1]

What mode or combinations of the modes of nature does this prescription reflect? Here are some signs: “regular date nights”, going to “the same restaurant,” watching different movies, “dancing”, taking a class together, going on a picnic. The page also makes a big point about having sex. “Some busy couples find it helpful to schedule sex. . .” All these prescriptions are characterized by happiness that arises from contact of the senses with their objects—a sure sign of happiness in the mode of passion. And because happiness as prescribed in the article is so thoroughly defined in terms of sensual indulgence, it is blind to self-realization and therefore also has an element of the mode of ignorance. According Lord Krishna’s framework of the modes of material nature, the prevailing idea in society about happiness in marriage is dominated by the mode of passion and mixed with the mode of ignorance.

Marriage in the mixed modes of passion and ignorance explains why marriage today is so fragile. Happiness in the mode of passion is like “nectar in the beginning and poison at the end,” which explains the high divorce rate. In his purport to the verse about happiness in passion (Gita 18.38), Srila Prabhupada describes this all-too-familiar scenario:

A young man and a young woman meet, and the senses drive the young man to see her, to touch her and to have sexual intercourse. In the beginning this may be very pleasing to the senses, but at the end, or after some time, it becomes just like poison. They are separated or there is divorce, there is lamentation, there is sorrow, etc. Such happiness is always in the mode of passion. Happiness derived from a combination of the senses and the sense objects is always a cause of distress and should be avoided by all means.

Indeed, even the APA article notes that “more than 40 percent of new marriages” end in divorce, yet the article still insists that “romantic relationships are important for our happiness and well-being.” Not just any relationship will do, “romance” is important for our happiness. But is it? According to the conception of marriage in the mode of goodness, a topic we shall soon visit, romance at most is incidental to marriage, not essential to it. The happiness within a marriage in the mode of goodness comes not from sense gratification but arises from a different source, which is why marriages in the mode of goodness are much more durable and in the end much happier.

Nonetheless, a question naturally follows from the futility of finding happiness in the modes of passion and ignorance: how is it that an entire, influential profession cannot grasp that its recommendations are not actually a remedy for unhealthy relationships but are instead fundamental causes for unhealthy relationships?

The answer is simple: barring fringe exceptions, the most influential theories in the field of modern psychology define the self as nothing more than a collection of senses, either physical or psychological (mind, ego). Lord Krishna says that this belief is held by the asuras, those who have an ungodly nature: “They say that this world is unreal, with no foundation, no God in control. They say it is produced of sex desire and has no cause other than lust. . . . They believe that to gratify the senses is the prime necessity of human civilization. Thus until the end of life their anxiety is immeasurable” (Gita 16.8, 11). They believe that the senses, whether physical or mental, are who we really are, and therefore they cannot conceive of any aspiration higher than the satisfaction of those senses. They believe this is “the prime necessity.” Consequently, it never occurs to them that there could be some other, higher standard of happiness that should instead be pursued. That is why the APA article assures us that a sexually “intimate encounter helps ensure that your physical and emotional needs are met.” Their assumptions about the self are wrong, so their conclusions are wrong.

Because further research in marital satisfaction based on the principle of sense gratification results in a further refinement of happiness in the modes of passion and ignorance,  no lasting benefit can be obtained from the advice or therapies produced by modern psychology, at least in its current orientation. For example, the APA article notes that “in particular, negative communication patterns such as anger and contempt are linked to an increased likelihood of splitting up.” And thus it recommends avoiding these and developing positive communication patterns. But even if one adopts the best communication strategies, the stated objective for utilizing them is still to obtain sense gratification, and this is the real source of marital dissatisfaction. It is still “nectar in the beginning, poison at the end.”

Marriage in the mode of goodness however takes the opposite approach. Since anger is a product of unsatisfied lust and lust is the motivation for sense-gratification, marriage in the mode of goodness actively cultivates indifference to lust itself. Reduced lust means reduced anger, reduced anger means less marital dissatisfaction, less marital dissatisfaction means less divorce. Lord Krishna’s first lesson in Bhagavad-gita is that we are not the body, we are not the temporary mind and senses. We are spirit souls whose factual existence is beyond the sphere of matter. Hence, sense-gratification as the basis of happiness is discouraged. Therefore marriage in the mode of goodness focuses on carrying out prescribed marital duties regardless of pleasure or displeasure.

Lord Krishna explains (Gita 2.14) that the non-permanent appearance of happiness and distress arise from sense perception; one must therefore perform one’s duties without being disturbed. “According to Vedic injunction, one has to take his bath early in the morning even during the month of Māgha (January-February). It is very cold at that time, but in spite of that a man who abides by the religious principles does not hesitate to take his bath,” says Srila Prabhupada. “Similarly, a woman does not hesitate to cook in the kitchen in the months of May and June, the hottest part of the summer season. One has to execute his duty in spite of climatic inconveniences.”

Because the true self stands apart from the physical body and mind, carrying out one’s prescribed duties with indifference toward physical and mental pleasure and displeasure means that one is acting according to one’s true nature, and one’s activities are therefore considered to be in the mode of goodness. “Similarly, to fight is the religious principle of the kṣatriyas [warriors], and although one has to fight with some friend or relative, one should not deviate from his prescribed duty,” says Srila Prabhupada. “One has to follow the prescribed rules and regulations of religious principles in order to rise up to the platform of knowledge, because by knowledge and devotion only can one liberate himself from the clutches of māyā (illusion).”

The source of trouble for everyone in this world is misidentification of the true, eternal self with the temporary body and its temporary mind and senses. Activity aimed at becoming free from this misidentification is called self-realization, which is one of the defining characteristics of the mode of goodness—it “awakens one to self-realization” (Gita 18.37). Although it is difficult at first to act against one’s bodily and mental urges, doing so for the sake of self-realization inevitably brings one to a higher state of consciousness and therefore to a superior state of happiness—“poison in the beginning, nectar at the end”, another defining characteristic of the mode of goodness.

A marriage in the mode of goodness is a marriage in which self-realization is the focus of the couple’s endeavors. Because its objective is self-realization, it gives rise to the greatest happiness. It is enduring because couples in such marriages are determined to carry on with their duties despite the temporary disturbance of displeasure or pleasure. Efforts in the field of modern psychology to further refine marriage according to the modes of passion and ignorance will help no one. That will only perpetuate misery. Only reformation of the institution of marriage according the mode of goodness, for the sake of self-realization, will make for better, happier, and enduring marriages.


[1] American Psychological Association, 25 Aug. 2014,

Post Script

This was submitted on August 26, 2014, to the editorial board of Back to Godhead magazine, and the editors decided against running the article not on its merits but because of a personal bias. The correspondence is reproduced below, and a further response is to be found here:

Forwarded conversation
Subject: Article for submission: Reforming Marriage in Society

From: *Krishna Kirti Das* <kri...>
Date: Tue, Aug 26, 2014 at 2:35 PM

Dear Editors, PAMHO AGTSP.

Please accept the attached article for submission to Back to Godhead

Your servant, Krishna-kirti das

From: *Nagaraja Dasa* <>
Date: Wed, Aug 27, 2014 at 9:12 AM
To: Krishna Kirti Das <kri...>

Thank you, Prabhu. We'll review it, and I'll get back to you.

Your servant,
Nagaraja dasa

From: *Nagaraja Dasa* <>
Date: Mon, Sep 8, 2014 at 9:54 AM
To: Krishna Kirti Das <kri...>

Dear Krishna-kirti Prabhu,

BTG is aimed at the ISKCON congregation, especially people who don't know
ISKCON inside-out, and therefore we prefer to avoid controversies within
the movement. Considering your controversial writing in other forums, we've
decided that the safe course for BTG would be not to run your articles.

Hare Krishna.

Your servant,
Nagaraja dasa

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