Sikh Gurus clearly wanted the human beings to live a house holder’s life. They wanted us to fulfill our life’s duties, enjoy Waheguru’s blessings and be always in tune with the Supreme Being.
While many religions of the time considered a house holder’s life to be a distraction from Waheguru, the Sikh Gurus gave it a very important status by making relationship between a devotee and Waheguru analogous to the relationship between a husband and wife.
This important analogy has important implications on how a husband and wife can build a harmonious relationship and enjoy a blissful life. In this talk using this parallel, we will explore the basic underpinnings of a healthy marital relationship e.g. trust, commitment, love, truthful living, communication, contentment, forgiveness and continual rejuvenation of the relationship.
Disclaimer: The author is no expert in the field. He is a practicing Sikh and a practicing husband.
Body of Paper
The goal of relationship between the married partners is set very clearly by Sri Guru Amardas ji. He says
ਧਨ ਪਿਰੁ ਏਹਿ ਨ ਆਖੀਅਨਿ ਬਹਨਿ ਇਕਠੇ ਹੋਇ ॥
ਏਕ ਜੋਤਿ ਦੁਇ ਮੂਰਤੀ ਧਨ ਪਿਰੁ ਕਹੀਐ ਸੋਇ ॥ 3॥ SGGS p788
This implies that we do not become husband and wife, just by coming together, we need to have the same soul in the two bodies. The union of souls is the key to a successful and harmonious union between the two individuals. At the same time Guru Amardas Ji has tried to awaken the human mind to understand that at the root; our soul is a part of the divine and that our aim in life is to realize this unity. This realization, obtained by grace of Waheguru, is the key to knowing Waheguru (the soul husband) and understanding the meaning of life and death.
ਮਨ ਤੂੰ ਜੋਤਿ ਸਰੂਪ ਹੈ ਆਪਣਾ ਮੂਲ ਪਛਾਣ ॥
ਮਨ ਹਰਿ ਜੀ ਤੇਰੈ ਨਾਲਿ ਹੈ ਗੁਰਮਤੀ ਰੰਗ ਮਾਣੁ ॥
ਮੂਲ ਪਛਾਣਹਿ ਤਾ ਸਹੁ ਜਾਣਿਹ ਮਰਣ ਜੀਵਣ ਕੀ ਸੋਝੀ ਹੋਈ ॥
ਗੁਰ ਪਰਸਾਦੀ ਏਕੋ ਜਾਣਹਿ ਤਾਂ ਦੂਜਾ ਭਾਉ ਨ ਹੋਈ ॥
ਮਨਿ ਸਾਂਤਿ ਆਈ ਵਜੀ ਵਧਾਈ ਤਾ ਹੋਆ ਪਰਵਾਣੁ ॥
ਇਉ ਕਹੈ ਨਾਨਕੁ ਮਨ ਤੂੰ ਜੋਤਿ ਸਰੂਪ ਹੈ ਅਪਣਾ ਮੂਲ ਪਛਾਣੁ ॥ SGGS p 441
According to this a devotee of Waheguru is a soul bride of the Waheguru himself. This is elaborated in many other shabads also,
ਸਿਰੀਰਾਗੁ ਮਹਲਾ 1 ॥ ਆਵਹੁ ਭੇਣੇ ਗਲਿ ਮਿਲਹ ਅੰਕ ਸਹੇਲੜੀਆਹ ॥
ਮਿਲਿ ਕੇ ਕਰਹੁ ਕਹਾਣੀਆ ਸੰਮ੍ਰਥ ਕੰਤ ਕੀਆਹ ॥ SGGS 17
“Come, my dear sisters and spiritual companions; hug me close in your embrace. Let’s join together, and tell stories of our All-powerful Husband Lord”.
ਸਦਾ ਸੁਹਾਗੁ ਸੁਹਾਗਣੀ ਜੇ ਚਲਹਿ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਭਾਇ ॥
ਸਦਾ ਪਿਰੁ ਨਿਹਚਲੁ ਪਾਈਐ ਨਾ ਓਹੁ ਮਰੇ ਨ ਜਾਇ ॥ ਸਬਦਿ ਮਿਲੀ ਨਾ ਵੀਛੁੜੇ ਪਿਰ ਕੇ ਅੰਕ ਸਮਾਇ ॥ SGGS 66
“The happy soul-bride is always with her Husband Lord, if she walks in harmony with the Will of the True Guru. She attains her Eternal, Ever-stable Husband, who never dies or goes away. United with the Word of the Shabad, she shall not be separated again. She is immersed in the Lap of her Beloved.”
ਸਬਦਿ ਸਚੇ ਰੰਗੁ ਲਾਲੁ ਕਰਿ ਭੈ ਭਾਇ ਸੀਗਾਰੁ ਬਣਾਇ ॥
ਨਾਨਕੁ ਸਦਾ ਸੋਹਾਗਣੀ ਜਿ ਚਲਨਿ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਭਾਇ ॥ 2 ॥ SGGS 786
“So make the True Word of the Shabad your red dress, and let the Fear of God, and the Love of God, be your ornaments and decorations. O Nanak, she is a happy soul-bride forever, who walks in harmony with the Will of the True Guru.”
This relationship of human soul with Waheguru as a soul bride is unique in Sikhism. Many other religions have considered the married life as a distraction from Waheguru. The Sikh Gurus not only lived married lives and fulfilled their duties as householders, they gave relationship between wife and husband the highest status; same as that between a Devotee and Waheguru.
In this paper we will use this parallel in the relationship between Man & Waheguru and Wife & Husband to explore the basis of a harmonious married life according to Gurbani.
Elements of a Harmonious Marital Relationship:
I suggest the following elements as the basis of a marital relationship according to Gurbani.
- Truthful Living
- Continual rejuvenation of relationship
- Sangat of other successful families
- Relationship with in laws
- Prayer: Seeking Waheguru’s Grace
Let’s briefly explore these elements individually:
- Commitment: In Gurbani, the commitment of the seeker is to almighty Waheguru. It is commitment to the only one. There is no place for another. Sheikh Farid says so beautifully,ਢੂਢੇਦੀਏ ਸੁਹਾਗ ਕੂ ਤਉ ਤਨਿ ਕਾਈ ਕੋਰ ॥
ਜਿਨਾ ਨਾਉ ਸੁਹਾਗਣੀ ਤਿਨਾ ਝਾਕ ਨ ਹੋਰ ॥114॥ ਸ਼ੇਖ ਫਰੀਦ ॥ SSGS 1384
“You search for your Husband Lord (outside); you must have some deficiency within yourself. Those who are known as happy soul-brides, do not look to others.”
The attributes of the perfect one, are described by Guru Nanak Dev Ji in Mool Mantar. Gurbani also describes the path to be followed to achieve union of the human soul with the almighty lord.
Those seeking to get married need to decide on the partner in their married life very carefully. Besides their emotional needs, they should also be aware of the purpose and duties of married life. Many young people do not realize that the married life leads to raising a family. They should consciously ask the question “Am I ready to be a parent? Is my prospective partner ready to be a parent?”
A seeker of religious faith not only looks at the object of worship in a faith but also how the devotees of that faith conduct themselves. There were many monotheistic faiths before Guru Nanak. However he and other Gurus laid out a new path full of love, liberty, justice and respect for others to follow their chosen paths.
Similarly those seeking to get married should consider the families of their prospective partners. How do they conduct themselves in normal times, times of joy and during times of stress? How do they resolve their differences? Will it be possible to interact harmoniously with them? They should not hesitate to seek help of their families and friends to find the answers to these questions.
The purpose here is not to scare the young ones from entering into a relationship, but to caution them of the challenges they might face. This decision should be made very carefully. However once the decision is made, there should be full commitment to the chosen one. Thoughts of anybody else should simply not cross one’s mind. Just as a Sikh is asked to accept Waheguru’s Hukam in every aspect of one’s life, the commitment to the chosen marriage partner should be firm; in times good as well as bad.
- Trust: The two partners should be able to trust each other in every situation. In Gurbani, relationship between devotee and Waheguru is based on trust
ਰਾਮ ਜਨਾ ਕਉ ਰਾਮ ਭਰੋਸਾ ॥ ਨਾਮੁ ਜਪਤ ਸਭੁ ਮਿਟਿਓ ਅੰਦੇਸਾ ॥ SGGS 194
“The Lord’s humble servants place their faith in the Lord. Chanting the Naam, the Name of the Lord, all anxieties are dispelled.”
ਸਚਾ ਗੁਣੀ ਨਿਧਾਨੁ ਤੂੰ ਪ੍ਰਭ ਗਹਿਰ ਗੰਭੀਰੇ ॥ ਆਸ ਭਰੋਸਾ ਖਸਮ ਕਾ ਨਾਨਕ ਕੇ ਜੀਅਰੇ ]4] SGGS 398
“You are the True Lord, the treasure of excellence; O God, You are deep and unfathomable. Chanting the Naam, the Name of the Lord, all anxieties are dispelled. “
ਜਨ ਕਉ ਪ੍ਰਭ ਅਪਨੇ ਕਾ ਤਾਣੁ ॥ ਜੋ ਤੂ ਕਰਹਿ ਕਰਾਵਹਿ ਸੁਆਮੀ ਸਾ ਮਸਲਤਿ ਪਰਵਾਣੁ ॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ SGGS 677
Our actions should build trust in each other. Just as “Naam japna” removes any doubts from a devotee’s mind, knowing your partner well, is important for trust. Truthful living and good communication play an essential role in building and maintaining trust.
- Truthful Living: Both husband and wife must demonstrate truthful living in every sphere of life. This is the only way to build trust. However it is not easy in every situation.
- In modern business world, it is considered wise to “tell the truth, but not all the truth”. In the relationship between wife and husband, it may not work. We should use proper judgment if such situations arise. Pray for “Bibek Budhi”.
- How we perceive truth: Sometimes if our mind is pre-biased, we can perceive the truth differently. Always have an open mind and investigate more, in case you have doubts.
- Love: Love is the bedrock on which good marital relationship is built. It is very important in spiritual life as well. Nobody has said it better than Guru Gobind Singh Ji,
ਜਿਨ ਪ੍ਰੇਮ ਕੀਉ, ਤਿਨ ਹੀ ਪ੍ਰਭ ਪਾਇਉ ॥
“Only those who have loved, have attained union with God”
Love should be from the heart. We should respect each other’s emotions and always help each other. Only through love we can overcome ups and downs of our life and relationship.
- Communication: Good communication needs more attention and time than we ever pay. According to Gurbani the communication should be sweet and polite.
ਕਵਣੁ ਸੁ ਅਖਰੁ ਕਵਣੁ ਗੁਣ ਕਵਣੁ ਸੁ ਮਣੀਆ ਮੰਤੁ ॥
ਕਵਣੁ ਸੁ ਵੇਸੋ ਹਉ ਕਰੀ ਜਿਤੁ ਵਸਿ ਆਵੀ ਕੰਤ ॥ 126॥
“What is that word, what is that virtue, and what is that magic mantra? What are those clothes, which I can wear to captivate my Husband Lord?”
ਨਿਵਣੁ ਸੁ ਅਖਰੁ ਖਵਣੁ ਗੁਣ ਜਿਹਬਾ ਮਣੀਆ ਮੰਤੁ ॥
ਏ ਤ੍ਰੇ ਭੈਣੇ ਵੇਸ ਕਰਿ ਤਾਂ ਵਸਿ ਆਵੀ ਕੰਤ ॥ 126॥
“Humility is the word, forgiveness is the virtue, and sweet speech is the magic mantra. Wear these three robes, O sister, and you will captivate your Husband Lord.”
Communication involves mannerism, body language, written and spoken words, attire and many other channels. Even after our best efforts, we should be aware that these at best describe our intent only approximately; never perfectly. It may be a good practice to avoid using business language in a personal relationship. Such language can be sometimes rough and competitive.
- Contentment: “Santokh” or contentment is as important in our marital lives, as it is in spiritual life. Having made the commitment; respect your partner for whosoever he/she is. Each person is unique, do not wish that they were like someone else. Constructive suggestions to each other for self- improvement (conveyed in love) are okay. Also be equally receptive to such suggestions.
We should be content with whatever material blessings Waheguru has given us. We should share them with those in need.
- Forgiveness: In Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Bhagat Kabir Ji has explained the importance of forgiveness in one’s life,
ਕਬੀਰਾ ਜਹਾ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਤਹੁ ਧਰਮੁ ਹੈ ਜਹਾ ਝੂਠ ਤਹ ਪਾਪ ॥
ਜਹਾ ਲੋਭ ਤਹ ਕਾਲੁ ਹੈ ਜਹ ਖਿਮਾ ਤਹ ਆਪਿ ॥ 155॥ SGGS 1372
“Kabeer, where there is spiritual wisdom, there is righteousness and Dharma. Where there is falsehood, there is sin. Where there is greed, there is death. Where there is forgiveness, there is God Himself.”
We are imperfect people. Frequently, we or our partners will make mistakes. We should say “Sorry” if we make a mistake. We should forgive, if our partner makes a mistake. We should never keep a grudge. However if the mistakes are hurtful, we should let our partner know. If they are very hurtful, we should seek professional help.
- Continual Rejuvenation: Nature renews itself continually through seasons, life cycles and other changes and stays ever fresh. Sun rises every morning and fills the sky with fresh new scenery every day.
ਸਾਹਿਬ ਮੇਰਾ ਨੀਤ ਨਵਾ ਸਦਾ ਸਦਾ ਦਾਤਾਰੁ ॥ 1॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ SGGS 660
“My Lord and Master is forever new; He is the Giver, forever and ever.”
ਸਚੁ ਪਰਮੇਸਰੁ ਨਿਤ ਨਵਾ ॥ ਗੁਰ ਕਿਰਪਾ ਤੇ ਨਿਤ ਚਵਾ ॥ SGGS 1183
The True Transcendent Lord is always new, forever fresh. By Guru’s Grace, I continually chant His Name.
We too need to keep our relationship fresh and reinvigorate it constantly. Here are some tips,
i. Start everyday with smiles and new hopes.
ii. Celebrate life’s changes and achievements.
iii. Learn new skills and constantly improve yourself. Present your new self to your partner.
iv. Be playful as the nature itself. Try new fashions. Try new methods of communication.
Children and Grandchildren are nature’s way of refreshing the marital relationship. Celebrate them.
- Respecting the In-laws: Our in-laws are the ones who have nurtured and “prepared” our partner for us. Our partner has special emotional relationship with them. They are our extended family. We need to embrace them as our own, respect them and nurture the relationship with them. In an analogous manner a devotee embraces the entire creation of Waheguru and treats it with respect.
- Social circle: Our social circle now includes our friends, internet and other social media. Our attitudes and behavior are influenced by the TV programs we watch, websites we visit and kind of friends we make. Just as Sangat of Gurumukhs is needed for spiritual development, we need to pick our social circle that reinforces the healthy family values.
- Prayer: We achieve nothing with our own efforts. Divine Grace is a must for our success. We should pray to Waheguru for divine guidance and help to make our relationship strong. “Families that Pray together, Stay together”
Is a Harmonious Relationship in Marriage an easy thing? No! but we must try our best. The SGGS recipe lays out a very clear path. We may not get the perfect results, but this will make our lives in this world blissful and worth living.
Acknowledgements: I am thankful to Dr. I.J Singh and Dr. Inder Mohan Singh for critical reading of the manuscript and helpful suggestions. Help from Sardarni Inderjit Kaur in Gurbani Research and Sardarni Pushpinder Kaur for preparation of this manuscript is gratefully acknowledged.
Thanks are also due to Dr. Kulbir Thind for making available immense Gurbani resources at www.srigranth.org. I have freely made use of these.
Gurinder Pal Singh is Chairman of Religious and Education Committees at the Sikh Gurdwara San Jose. He is among the founding directors of Guru Nanak Khalsa School, San Jose and Chardi Kalaa Foundation. He is regional coordinator for Sri Hemkunt Foundation Keertan Darbar for the Western region.
He holds a Ph.D degree in Physics from Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, India and M.Sc in Physics (Gold medalist) from Punjabi University Patiala. He has worked as a scientist at Max Planck Institute in Stuttgart, Germany and IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California. He recently retired as Principle Engineer from HGST Company of Western Digital Corporation. He holds 13 patents and 36 publications in fields of Science and engineering.