Buddhist Beliefs About Monogamy
29 SEP 2017
As with many other religions, Buddhism is not a unified belief system -- a number of different schools, or sects, exist within Buddhism, each with its own interpretation of the teachings. Although spiritual leaders often offer guidance on the subject of monogamy, there are no absolute laws about marriage, or pre- or extramarital relations. Therefore, it is impossible to ascribe a single view to every Buddhist. The Buddhist way is often the middle way, so absolutes about relationships cannot reasonably exist within its philosophy.
1 Sacred Writings on Marriage
In "Buddhist Views on Marriage," world-famous monk Venerable Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda comments on the fact that Buddhist texts do not discuss monogamy or polygamy explicitly. At the same time, he concludes that, "There are ample inferences in [the Buddha's] sermons that it is wise and advisable to be faithful to one wife and not to be sensual and to run after other women."
Similarly, another monk and prolific writer, Bhante Shravasti Dhammika, mentions Buddha's own choice of having a single wife. The Tipiṭaka, a collection of sacred Buddhist scriptures, points out that co-wives tend to cause problems for each other. A section of the Tipiṭaka, known as the Jātaka, says, "Do not have a wife in common with other" (Ja.VI, 286). Since the Jātaka is largely made up of stories from people other than the Buddha, a statement like this one would not hold the same weight as one spoken by the Buddha himself.
2 Multiple Sexual Partners
One of the foundational principles of Buddhism is to follow a path of moderation. This idea applies to sex as much as to anything else. While monks generally abstain from sexual relationships, most Buddhists do not view sex as an abomination, whether within the confines of formal marriage or not. On the contrary, only the perversion of sexual or sensual activities is wrong. One of the Five Precepts, which function as moral guidelines for Buddhists, states: "I undertake the course of training in refraining from wrongdoing in respect of sensuality." In his article, "Buddhism and Sex," Maurice O'Connell Walshe explains that this statement can be interpreted and followed according to each individual's own understanding.
3 Divorce and Remarriage
Buddhist teachings do not clearly discuss serial polygamy -- for example, having multiple partners in sequence rather than at the same time. Thus, decisions about divorce and remarriage are left up to the individual. Many Buddhists are influenced by the culture around them or beliefs held before they converted to Buddhism. This means that many Buddhists can divorce and remarry another person without feeling that they have violated their religion or any kind of moral code.
4 Marriage as a Secular Institution
The Wisdom Library contains a passage about Buddhist views on marriage, where the writer says, "Buddha was explicit about His followers respecting the laws of a country." This statement shows that for many Buddhists, marriage is a legal, secular institution. It is not mandated by religious laws, so it is not an ethical issue, but if monogamy is prescribed by law, then Buddhists are required to follow it. The religion focuses more closely on a general morality, including questions of faithfulness and kindness within a couple. In this way, it leaves open the specific structure of a relationship.