Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Being faithful (anubbata, assava or sucarita) is to have a firm and enduring loyalty and commitment to something or someone. Socially, faithfulness has an important role in building trust, reliability and enduring relationships. The spiritual value of faithfulness is that it curbs the tendency to get sidetracked by impulsive desires, boredom or fickle-mindedness and enhances resolution and self-discipline. We do not need to be faithful in the same way and to the same extent to every commitment we have ever made. Our faithfulness should be reserved mainly to worthwhile objects and in proportion to their worth. The Buddha mentioned three things which are worthy of being faithful to – the Dhamma, friends and marital relations.
We should take the three Refuges only when we truly understand what we are doing and what it requires of us. And when we do this and are faithful to our commitment, it imparts to us a tremendous energy and confidence that speeds our journey along the Path. The Buddha said: ‘One should practice the Dhamma faithfully, without wavering. One who practices the Dhamma like this sleeps happily in this life and the next’. (Dhp.169). The Buddha also said that some of the characteristics of a genuine friend are that he or she is true to their word (avisam vadanataya), they will sticks by you in times of trouble (apadasu na vijahati), and that they might even give their life for you (jivitam pi’ssn atthaya pariccattam hoti, (D.III,187-190). In other words, the highest level of friendship does not change through changing circumstances. Such faithfulness tends to engender faithfulness in those it is maintained towards.
Faithfulness as one of the most important ingredients for a successful and marriage. A husband should not, the Buddha said, be unfaithful to his wife or a wife to her husband (D.III,190). A character in the Jataka says: ‘We do not transgress with another’s wife and our wife does not transgress against us. We relate to others’ partners as if we were celibate’ (Mayan ca bhariyam natikkamama amhe ca bhariya natikkamama annatra tahi brahmacariyam carama, Ja.IV,53). A good wife was praised in the Tipitaka as ‘true to one husband’ (ekabhattakini, Ja.III,63). The archetypical devoted and loyal spouse in the Buddhist tradition is Sambulaa, the wife of King Sotthisena. When he was struck by a disfiguring disease and had to renounce the throne and go into the forest, she ignored all his requests to stay behind and happily to accompany him in his exile. With patience and love she nursed him through and eventually cured him of his disease. When he doubted her faithfulness and shunned her, she would still not abandon him. Eventually, he recognized her faithfulness, apologized for not trusting her, and the two were reconciled (Ja.V,88-98).


Vasile Andreica said...

May I be always faithful to my beloved one and faithful to the noble teaching and faithful to noble friends. Very fitting for today. Thank you, Venerable.

reasonable said...

A rational/reasonable view: I suppose in the case of a marriage (which may be polygamy or other forms) or in a non-marital but committed relationship, if the lovers involved have agreed in having a "sexually open relationship", then the respective spouses' or partners' sexual activity with other persons not in that relationship would not be considered unfaithful in the relationship, since it is an agreed upon model between the partners in the marriage/relationship. So adultery does not apply in such cases. Adultery and unfaithfulness apply only when a person secretly cheats her/his partner(s) in the marriage or the committed relationship.

I keep all the terms used in this post as general as possible so that I do not subconsciously impose a monogamy model, a heterosexual model, a marriage model, or any model, on a love-relationship.

aah-haa said...

Faithful in religious context usually mean believing in the doctrine and following the dogma without waver. This can be 'dangerous'.
As for marriage, does it mean being truthful in the relationship?
And for friends, being faithful means being loyal. This is tricky. What if a friend commits a crime, and being loyal means not reporting him to the authority?

no said...

I have a few thots regarding the comments of reasonable and ahh-haa..

I think much depend on the cultural norms prevailing at the time, which will give rise to expectation of what is required and what is not required in the relationship and understood by both parties. This is a simplification, I think, because in real life expectations can be very complex and difficult to comprehend. Hence, great skill is always required for any relationship that is cherished for it to succeed. It requires considerable investment in thought, time and energy. Buddhism provides the moral and ethical principles in relationships, such as kindness, trustworthiness, unselfishness, etc, and the rest is up to us.

yuri said...

reasonable and aah-haa ask interesting questions. I feel that sexually open relationship is a kind of indulgence in sex and therefore objectionable in truth-seekers. The Buddha did not give universal Laws of behaviour (like the Jewish God did - in Ten Commandments). Buddhist ethical norms are parts of the Way to liberation and Truth for those who seek these goals.
Now about a friend committing a crime. I believe that not telling something is not unskilful, only telling lies is. Not reporting crime is a crime too but only for authorities. And exceptions are made for family members. By the same logic buddhists should not be seen like criminals in this situation. But that maybe a weak argument. :(
The Buddha once had a similar fix - the story about angry princes whose jewels were stolen by a hired prostitute. They sought her with swords in their hands. And they demanded from the Buddha who happened to rest near that place to show which way the woman had run. If the Buddha told them the way he would part of the possible murder. So he asked the princes what was more important to them - to find the thief or to find themselves. And it is so different from our modern life that the princes chose the latter.

aah-haa said...

Marriage is a social construct which has evolved to today's concept of one man, one wife. In the good old days, a man or a woman can have as many sexual relationships, much like animals. The female species consciously mate with different males so that their offsprings would not be harm by any 'jealous' mate!

yuri said...

Dear aah-haa, sexual relations in the wild nature are not idyllic, nor uniform. In many species males fight even to death with other males for having a female or several of them as their exclusive sexual partners. And forming couples for life is found not only among humans. But my point is that the Buddha was not the Law-giver for humanity like Manu or the God of Old Testament. His sole purpose was to suggest the way to liberation from dukkha. The Buddha dealt not with current norms of behaviour but with basic instincts of human beings, seeing in them impediments for spiritual development as well as the source of dukkha. Did he criticise young people for sexual promiscuity, or kings and rich people for polygamy? But he suggested that married people should be faithful to their spouses because unfaithfulness causes hurt feelings, pain and unhappiness. Sexual desire was seen as detrimental to spiritual growth not only by the Buddha. Jesus even recommended self-surgery if one's eye looked at a woman with desire! :)

aah-haa said...

Agreed being faithful to spouses is one less reason to be unhappy or suffering in the relationship. But isn't the concept of one man, one wife based on exclusivity, possession, and selfishness? Also, there is no conclusive evident that polygamy leads to unhappiness, certainly not when one can afford a harem.
Sexual desire is different from sexual need. Animals have sexual needs while humans have needs, desires and fantasies!

yuri said...

Not quite so — I mean the basis of family life. Of course, we can see possessiveness and selfishness in many family relationships. But there must have been more to the change from tribal mode of life to family life. Social and economic reasons, care of children and their upbringing, professional needs, more complex emotionality... I am not particularly interested in anthropology, but it was the universal change in the evolution of human society. This mode may change again in the future (anicca!:) but although family ties seem to get weaker nowadays, still they dominate over other forms of men-women associations. And you are right saying that sexual desire and sexual need are not quite the same. But very very close. ;) Almost to the point of coincidence! And it is a very different need if compared with hunger and thirst. Not critical for life of an individual. As we still have the institute of marriage, the Buddha's approach to it, I feel, is sound and helpful especially for those who follow his Teachings.

no said...

The Buddhist precept is about "sexual misconduct", hence, it is dependent on the accepted norms and expectations of the people involved. It does not say "it is a sin to commit adultery / to be gay / to have more than one wife / etc.

We might be thinking about evolution of the human species when we start comparing behaviour with that of animals. If so, I think we should also know that scientists have yet to understand why there were "spurts" of changes. It was not one even road of evolution for every species, if it were, we should find some half evolved "human-like" species around? Evolution is not just biological, as the mind-dimension should not be neglected.

yuri said...

Dear 'no'! You make a good and very logical point. And yet... I still think respect to existing sexual norms or mores is not what lies behind the precept. Sex, though biologically necessary for continuation of human race, has a powerful impact on human behaviour and can be in some way compared with drug addiction. It needs control and family life is one of such controls if not undermined by adultery. Hence the precept for lay people. And celibacy for monks because sex is one of the strongest sources of desire and temptation, distracting people from spiritual progress. It is a raw energy of nature and just like our natural instincts (tanha) it should be conquered, tamed and sublimated. I like very much what Jesus says (Gospel of Thomas): "Blessed is the lion which becomes man when consumed by man; and cursed is the man whom the lion consumes, and the lion becomes man." Lion here is exactly that raw natural power. And to consume here means to conquer.

Evolution is a very interesting subject. But the absence of “half-baked” species is easily explained because better fitted species push them out of the same niche and out of existence.

no said...

Dear Yuri,
Thanks for your comments. Usually I simply express some of my thoughts that arise, as briefly as possible, as I read the posts and I am not dogmatic over the interpretation. Perhaps allow me to first elaborate on my previous post, which might have been too brief.

Controlling the sex urge is very much part and parcel of the Buddhist teachings. Sexual restraint and the eventual overcoming of all "craving" (i.e. including sexual craving) will be the ultimate goal. The precept is the starting point, or the minimum, for a layman who is not yet ready to practise as a monk. Hence I think it was so formulated to take into consideration the prevailing norms of relationship between men and women. A good precept would be one that will be relevant in different societies.

Norms that have evolved through the ages, though they might not have the benefit of the dhamma in many olden societies, are usually not devoid of wholesome benefits and they serve to satisfy biological, social and psychological needs. Wholesome benefits include the curbing of excesses in human desires and their regulation. The main biological need is the continuation of the species; social needs include the raising and education of the offspring; and some of the psychological needs would include desire, affection, loyalty, possessiveness, respect.

When the sexual norms and expectations of the parties involved are not breached, feelings of the individuals concerned are not hurt. Anger, frustration and other negative emotions are not aroused. This is important in the Buddhist perspective, I believe. The observation of the precept therefore is a good foundation to build upon in one's practice of the dhamma. It is interesting to note that thare is an ethnic minority in Yunnan province, China, where there is no marriage and a household comprise only of the mother and her children. The man approaches the woman and when both parties agree, they spend the night. A woman can have multiple partners, so can the man, though nowadays most only have a single partner. Property is passed on only to female children. If I am not wrong, the religion of this ethnic minority is a form of Tibetan Buddhism. The precept is not breached and is still applicable here.

Just some thoughts. Perhaps our positions are not that different?

yuri said...

Thank you, dear "NO" for your detailed and thoughtful reply. And now I better understand your views and agree practically with all of them. The problem for me in your previous comment was the word "dependent" which probably I interpreted too narrowly. I felt that dependent was not the precept as such but its interpretation in varied and changing reality of the world. The precept itself, as I see it, defines sort of basic approach to sex relationships applicable even to the matriarchial relations in the tribe you mention. And, if I am not mistaken again :), that was what you meant from the start.

no said...

Dear Yuri... Glad our thoughts are agreeable :)