Marriage, the Starting Point…

(The following lecture was given by Ven. Pomnyun at a wedding ceremony)
Today, these two people are happily getting married. It would be wonderful if their love for each other lasted for ten, twenty or thirty years. However, among all of us here, how many of us are keeping our wedding vows?

“I take thee - to have, and to hold, from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part…”

At your own wedding, you made a promise when you said that statement. What has it been like trying to keep that promise? When was the last time you thought, “I cannot stand my spouse?” When was the last time you had some kind of conflict with your spouse?

Some of us who live with marital conflicts may feel regret. They may ask themselves, “Why did I get married? If I knew it was going to be like this, then I would not have gotten married.” These people can just get a divorce. However, since they took their vows in front of so many people on their wedding day, they will be reluctant to do so. Also, they may have had children during their time together. This will be another factor that will sway them to not get a divorce.

As these conditions continue to convince the couple that they cannot get a divorce, the resentment that they have for each other could grow. At first, they may fight and try to change each other. However, they will eventually give up trying to change each other and find ways to stay married. The problems that they had with each other before will be passed down to their children. Conflicts will begin once their children go through puberty and will continue until the couple dies. This is life.

On our wedding day, we say we are so happy and we envy no one. However, as life goes on after the wedding day, we start to say that we envy monks, even thinking that, “the life of a monk is looking good right now.” This is a problem. If you envy the life of a monk then you should have become a monk. Why did you get married and now envy the life of monk? There is a reason why life is an endless cycle of suffering. I will tell you that reason today, so that this newlywed couple does not follow a similar path.

If all of you have gotten married because of your love for each other, what was going through your mind at that time? We date many people and evaluate what they have. We measure things such as financial stability, educational background, social status, personality, and health because there is an unconscious motive within us of wanting to get something beneficial out of a relationship. We have no intentions of becoming the losing party. Therefore, we search and search to find the perfect match. If we live using this selective and egocentric mind, then eventually fights will break out in the relationship. Each spouse only gives 30%, but wants 70% in return. However, this also means that you will only get 30% of the 70% you expected. Thus, many married people feel that they are being shortchanged and furthermore, have doubts about their marriage.

If we do not have an egotistical mind, then how will the marriage be? If we are at least less egotistical to some degree, then how will it be? “I want to help this person for the rest of my life because their health is not good.” “This person is poor, so let me support them.” “This person has a temper, so let me help them be calm.” If we can have this type of generosity, then we are capable of marrying and living with a complete stranger with no problems. However, if we only think about how we can benefit ourselves, then we will end up marrying the wrong person. A long time ago in Korea, people got married without knowing who they were marrying, but they lived okay. At the time, women thought that marriage was like death. However, once they got married, they realized that their lives were okay and lived a satisfactory life.

These days, people expect too much out of marriage. Once they are actually married, they realize that it is not as great as they once thought and they become regretful. Many start to regret right after marriage. For some, such feelings begin even before their marriage. During the planning process for the wedding, some brides and grooms end up having big arguments, see their differences and clash with each other. I have seen some, who at this point wanted to cancel their wedding, still go through with their marriage because their planning was already in progress.

However, these two, who are getting married today, met at the Jungto Youth group and, since they have learned the Dharma, they will be firm in their dedication to each other. The most important thing is to get rid of the egocentric mind. Both spouses should think of what they can do for the other. “I should behave in a way that helps this person think that I am beneficial to their lives.” If you think like this, then there will be no problems in your marriage.

All the people who are here today likely have encountered failure a few times so when they see a loving couple, they might feel jealous. They might think, “Why are you so afraid of your spouse? It seems like you are the weaker link, you should not live like that. You are such a wonderful person. You can do better.” They are slowly encouraging you to be a fighter. They might clap their hands today, but starting tomorrow, they are going to be encouraging your fights. You two should never listen to these words. They are words coming from people who do not like to see others happier than themselves. State firmly that you intend to only think about each other and how to be more helpful to each other, no matter what your family and friends may think. Do not make a scene of wanting a divorce after having children. Are you willing to do it? Should you be a beneficiary or benefactor? A benefactor, at times, seems like they are the losing party. However, in reality, a benefactor is actually a winner. You have to be a firm believer of this.

Just like this, if two people have a harmonious mind, then the wife’s health will be well balanced physically and mentally. If the wife’s mind is very calm, she will be connected to a calm energy when she becomes pregnant. This will allow her baby to also be calm. However, if she becomes nervous, she will connect to a nervous energy that will transfer to her baby. The mind of the mother at the time of “conception” can determine the virtue of the baby. Therefore, the mother’s attitude at the time of “conception” is very important. Often times, we have a mindset of being the beneficiary in a relationship, which causes us to transfer a crooked attitude. Most of the time, we do not think about the importance of conceiving a baby with purity and devotion. Instead, we tend to conceive a baby without careful planning. This causes us to miss a good opportunity to provide good prenatal care. Conceiving babies without careful planning will make it hard for them to be virtuous.

Marriage should be beneficial to both partners. As for children, the most important growing period for them is their first three years of life, which starts from the time of their conception. As parents, we should be in a harmonious and calm state of mind for our children. However, in reality we typically start to have conflicts in our marriage around the same time period when conceiving a baby. When we think, “I cannot live with that man” or “I cannot live with that woman” and start having an attitude of staying in the marriage just for our children’s sake, a new rebellious mindset will form in the marriage and transfer to our children. This rebellious mindset will display itself within our children when they go through puberty.

When the children start becoming rebellious towards their parents, the parents often assume that external influences, such as their children hanging out with the wrong crowd, is causing their children’s change in attitude. However, this is not true. The seeds we plant are what we will harvest. The same is true for our children. What we have planted into their unconsciousness during their early years is what will sprout out of them. For those of you in the audience who might have had children who are rebellious, you might need to reflect back on the past and see if you need to let go of any pains that you have transferred to the other people in your lives.

You two who are getting married today, if you want to have children, then you should live in this manner. Both of you should consider each other as the number one priority in this marriage. The second priority should be your parents. The third priority should be your children. If you set your priorities in this manner, you will have a harmonious household. Afterwards, you should return back to your community. If so, then even if you have financial hardship, you will live happily. Even if you live in a house on the verge of collapse, you will live happily. Even when eating just bread and milk, you will live happily. We live our lives to be happy and not suffer, right? If you are blindsided by money, power, selfishness or a stubbornly egotistical mind, then marriage might not be for you. Please keep this happy mind you have today continuously until death and if you want to continue having it until your next life, then please keep what I said in mind. If you live this way, even if you do not choose to live a monastic life, you can attain nirvana.

When Bringing up Babies

In the past it was said that women had no one but their husbands to rely on. It was also said that if their husbands were not good enough, women had no choice but to depend on their children. But life has proved this untrue; neither of them could be rely upon completely. Accordingly, husbands and children came to be called ‘enemies.’ Women once considered husbands and children as ‘bundles of joy’, but they became ‘bunches of trouble.’ Is this because enemies from women’s previous lives are born as their husbands and children? No. It is because one’s own actions inevitably produce such a result. Those who are married should be responsible for their choice. Those who do not take responsibility for their choice will have trouble and conflict. To avoid such consequences, one must reinforce his or her sense of responsibility, and adapt to the people around them.

When your child makes trouble, you may ask yourself “who does he take after?” You are practically spitting on your own image. He of course takes after you. Being the stubborn troublemaker he is, who do you believe he is just like? You cannot attribute all faults to his teachers, friends, or mentors. The root of every problem begins with you. You should have a sense of responsibility, and willingly face any consequences. You have to reflect on your own life, and if you want to see improvement, you’ll have to analyze your life in depth. Husbands and wives should adjust to each other. In the case of problems with children, mothers should recall their own history. Mothers are usually the nurturers; in terms of appearance kids may look like both their mother and father, but mentally kids resemble their mother 90%. In other words, children absorb the emotions of those who nurtured them; if a grandmother raises a child, it takes after her, and if a father does, it takes after him.

If you are a mother raising a child, no matter the adversity, you should be able to protect your child. When a baby is in physical danger, its mother guards it from dangerous things. If there’s any potential threat, mothers should protect young children by calming them down. But moms don’t always do this, and get angry in times of hardship. Not only do they get upset but they can also impart negative attitudes onto their children. They may say “your father is a bad guy” or “you know how troublesome your grandma is.” Like this, they lament and complain about their lives, which results in their children resenting their father and grandmother. As the children’s minds develop in such a manner, later on such negativity will turn back to their mothers, and thus cause conflict between mother and child. It’s not that mothers intended for this to happen. They were merely lamenting over their lives when they found nobody on their side, looking to their children for support, but then ended up with the retributions.

Children grow as they receive influence from the surrounding environment. If they live under Korean parents in Korea, they become Koreans; if they live with Japanese parents in Japan, they become Japanese, and in America they become Americans. Physically, kids are affected mostly by genes, but mentally and culturally they are most affected by the society in which they spend their early years. The influence of the type of environment can also be seen before birth; e.g. if a mother thinks of having an abortion due to conflict with her husband, a fetus in her womb will live in constant fear. If this is the case, it develops a mistrust of the world. Who could the child trust after it felt the threat of death from its own mother? Naturally, the child will react defensively. It builds barriers against the world. In the case of a baby that is brought up by a mother who is easily irritated, the baby will inherit the mom’s irritability as its karma. For example, hearing Korean, a baby will speak Korean; being fed Kimchi often, will likewise make it develop a taste for Kimchi; being raised by an easily-irritated person will make the child the same way. Everything is formed like this. Therefore, babies bear resemblance not only to their parents’ appearances but also to their personality and temperament.

How can siblings, raised in the same family, be so different? It is similar to how we differ today from who we were yesterday. People change; those living the newlywed life are different from those three years after marriage. Couples who were happy as newlyweds but developed marital conflict later on have an easier time with their first child rather than their second one. Similarly, those couples who began with conflict as newlyweds but improved their relationship over time have more success with their second kid rather than the first. Look closely at your children; I am not talking about who does better at school. Examine your children’s personality or their traits. Their character takes after you and the environment which you created. Think about it this way; conflicts caused by selfishness in marriage not only affect you but also your children who grow with the resulting conflicts. Isn’t this undesirable? Therefore, it is significant to realize how causality works. When you get married the consequences of any conflict come from the married couple, which is then passed onto your children and will eventually return to create conflict between you and your children.

If you intend to have a baby, be fully prepared to raise your baby properly. First of all, before giving birth, what is important is the process of conception or “the moment of conception.” A long time ago, in Korea, the mother-in-law would choose a lucky day and time for the couple’s conception and would ask them to pray for the moment. This means that in the past, conceiving was not the result of sexual pleasure but for the purpose of conception itself. This way, mothers intending to have a baby put every effort into conceiving. They saw babies as the result of their devotion and felt grateful for them. If a couple has sex for pleasure and as a result, have a baby, it becomes the residue of the couple’s desire or pleasure since babies are, in some cases, unwanted or unplanned. Therefore, if you want to have a baby, you need to pray. It is significant in what mind you will conceive. This explains why a special day was chosen for conception in the past. The date itself was not important. The critical aspect was the couple’s devotion to conceiving. There’s a big difference between babies born “out of luck” and those born after sincere prayer. The same mother and father can give birth to a very different baby all dependent upon how they conceive.

If you are pregnant, you should make sure to practice prenatal care so that the fetus stays healthy and peaceful in mind. You too, should keep a good, peaceful mind. For a pregnant woman, the fetus is like her tiniest cell. When this cell grows enough, it becomes the size of a sesame seed. Even so, it is still dependent on the pregnancy, and cannot exist independently. Even when the fetus has formed its face, it is still a part of her body. All nutrition is delivered to the baby through her body. If she were to get upset after eating, she may have indigestion. Likewise, your irate feelings are then transmitted to the baby. If the baby, with its fragile nervous system receives a severe trauma, it can go blind or deaf; the pregnant woman’s emotions can even have such a severe impact on the fetus as to weaken its heart.

Therefore, the mind you have and the food you eat can determine the health of your baby. So if you get angry often, smoke, and drink, you will ruin the health of your baby. In the past, pregnant women were told to avoid funerals and tragedy because when they see such things, they get gloomy and depressed. They were talked out of indulgent behavior and unhealthy food, in order to keep a clear, bright mind, all of which to influence their babies.

A mother-in-law wanting to have grandchildren can make life difficult for her daughter-in-law. A husband, though wanting the best for his baby, will distress his wife by drinking and coming home late. No matter what, the mother has the fundamental responsibility of taking care of her baby. Her first priority should be protecting the baby no matter what happens. In order to do so, she has to cultivate her mind so that she can become free of whatever her mother-in-law and husband may say. She has to ensure that any stress she gets from the outside does not affect her baby. In the meantime, all of the family members around her should see to it that she is comfortable and well provided for.

After giving birth, the mom should raise the baby until it becomes three years old. No matter how hectic her life might be, she should raise the young child up to the age of three. She should even quit her job to rear her baby. However, right after giving birth, mothers will often leave their babies with hired help, for the sake of their own lives, work, and egos. Who can those babies that are left to and raised by hired people trust? Mothers’ selfishness will create this misery. Do you still wish your baby great fortune even with such selfishness in your mind? Mothers of the past could not always feed and dress their children adequately due to material shortages, but their devotion to raising their children was second to none. Nowadays, kids are left to others not because of a lack of resources but because of mothers’ jobs and careers. This is wrong. No matter how reputable the job a mother may have, say, a medical doctor or judge, etc., she has to take a maternity leave and dedicate herself to bringing up her baby until it turns three. Dedication here does not simply mean being nice to the baby. It means attaining a Bodhisattva-like mind while being at peace. Therefore, when pregnant, you have to listen to Dharma lectures a lot for practice; in addition, a few days’ rest after giving birth should be followed by continuous Dharma practice so that the baby can grow well. At the very least, you have to give up some part of your life for the sake of your own child.

Therefore when getting pregnant, it’s important to have a discussion with your husband. For the first three years, at least one parent should give up their job in order to stay home and live under one income as a family. If money doesn’t suffice, you may discuss moving to a smaller apartment. However, for most people money comes first before the child; a bigger car and a bigger house are more important. The child that should be valued most in the world becomes an afterthought because of money. If this is the case, how can the baby develop self-esteem? No matter how the world treats it, shouldn’t the baby be treated best by its own parents as the most precious being in the world? Oftentimes parents cannot do this, so they try to compensate for their lack of respect for their kids with expensive clothes and food. This causes children to remember their parents only as people who provide for them. With such images of their parents engraved in their minds, children end up demanding more from their parents. This is not the fault of the child. In order to raise a “good” child, which doesn’t necessarily mean a person who will become president but rather a person like a Buddha, you should cultivate and attain the mind that loves and respects your child. This mind translates as love to your children.