Legal Marraige and Cohabitation Before Fire Yajna?

Letter to: Omkara
2 September, 1975
Los Angeles

My Dear Omkara dasi:

Please accept my blessings. I have seen your letter dated August 17, 1975 and have noted the contents. I never said there should be no more marriage.

By all means legally you can get married. How can I object? They misunderstand me. Unless it is there from me in writing, there are so many things that "Prabhupada said.''

I have no objection to marriage, but to bless it by a fire sacrifice, that I am thinking that if they don't stay together, then it is not good. But if they can remain together for one year, then there can be fire sacrifice. But changing three times in a month husband and wife, that is not good.

I hope this meets you in good health.

Your ever well wisher,
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami

Cohabitation before Marriage

Might I humbly suggest that in the case of marriages, Srila Prabhupada's early instructions to his former hippy converts were not meant to be the end of the matter of marriage arrangements within ISKCON. Although I am well aware of the tendency to suggest what he would do now, I cannot imagine that 40 years later Srila Prabhupada would still have his devotees live together for a full one year before being properly married.

Having said that, I am personally aware of many cases of devotees who only get legal marriage, particularly in eastern Europe. The fire yajna seems relatively unimportant to them, a phenomenon sometimes due to the fact that religious weddings were either banned or made redundant by the Communist party and hence their parents generation.

I have also heard such devotees use the argument that: "The real relationship is in the heart, not with a Vedic ceremony" With this they equate the relationship with the guru - the representative of Krishna, who is eternal - with the relationship between husband and wife, which is temporary.

In the case of diksha, the ceremony is extraneous to the essence of the exchange. The soul is becoming connected with Krishna through the guru and the ceremony merely marks the occasion. Hence on some occasions Srila Prabhupada would initiate without any fire sacrifice. But in the wedding, the ceremony is the real thing, since it legitimises something which should not actually be taking place - the union of a so-called man with a so-called woman.

Those same devotees then sometimes say to me: "Besides, fire sacrifice is not our process in the age of Kali, we can simply have a legal wedding and a big kirtan afterwards."

May I humbly suggest that we might not be creating Vedic culture here, but ignoring it.

Furthermore, a young couple who get married for the most obvious reasons may not remain celibate for one year. Call me cynical, call me negative - I just don't see that immense level of self-control possible for a young couple. Not only that, but sometimes they will have a child within that first year too. Try having a wedding after that!

If we take Srila Prabhupada's earliest instructions as being good for 10,000 years, we'll be the only religion in the world that has no obligatory religious ceremony by which a couple may be deemed as socially married.

The question may be raised as to how, then, can we now guarantee that a couple will stay together such that marrying them by fire yajna will not become a farce? There are many things they can do to ensure this, both before and after the wedding, but that is not the subject of this response, so I'll finish here.

Kripamoya Das

My obeisances, Kripamoya

My obeisances, Kripamoya Prabhu.

Thank you for your thoughtful response. I wasn't aware that anyone of your esteemed character would even read my blog. I'm honored that you spent any time to educate myself and the readers here.

Srimad Bhagavatam 12.2.5: "A person will be judged unholy if he does not have money, and hypocrisy will be accepted as virtue. Marriage will be arranged simply by verbal agreement, and a person will think he is fit to appear in public if he has merely taken a bath."

Your explanation is sober and practical. I do feel that we should also consider that not everyone with an interest in Krishna's culture necessarily aspires for 1st class arrangements.

Marriage witnessed by Vishnu invoked in the fire yajna is 1st class and auspicious. My marriage was conducted this way and I'm very glad for that. I also feel that this auspicious inauguration of our relationship has benedicted our family in many ways and spared us some of the grossest aspects of cohabitation.

I do know of many devotees who have foregone this ceremony and, more or less, shacked up together as per Western standards. Still I respect that they are married. In a perfect world everyone would see the value in 1st class arrangements but these days I think that most people don't.

By posting this letter from Srila Prabhupada I wasn't implying that this was the ultimatum for marriage for the next 10,000 years. I was just pointing out that there is a precedent for alternate arrangements according to the adhikara of the marriage candidates. Sometimes I assume that those who read this blog can sensibly contextualize the quotes I post here. Maybe I should spend more time explaining things. It's just that I don't have a lot of time to spend writing.