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Inspirational Article


Expansive Marriage

by Swami Kriyananda

From Self-Expansion Through Marriage: A Way to Inner Happiness*

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One of the false expectations with which many couples approach marriage is that they will be, forever, all in all to each other. I can’t visualize any two people remaining satisfied for long with this thought, unless they are exceptionally dull. No one person is ever going to help you learn all your lessons in life. No one person is going to fulfill your every need: no one, that is, but yourself.

For all the fulfillment you have ever sought awaits you within. But that kind of fulfillment is never personal, for it transcends the ego.

One purpose of marriage is, as I’ve said earlier, to give people an incentive to expand their self-identity. By loving one other person we learn to break, to some extent at least, our ego-bondage. Once we’ve established self-expansion as our direction of development, it is easier to continue the process, broadening our affections to include other people, other races, other nations—the world.

To fix this expansive image more clearly in your mind, imagine a particular wave on the ocean as being endowed with a personality. This wave, concentrating on its own special reality, decides that only that which happens to it, out of all the waves on the ocean, has meaning for it.

Think of this wave, then, as pushing itself up ever higher in its self-importance, until it imagines it can dominate all the surrounding waves. It takes a strong wind, however, for a wave to rise high. Where one wave rises up, others will rise also. Thus, the wave finds itself increasingly threatened by other waves, each with a personality of its own, and each inflated, similarly, with a sense of its own importance. As the first wave tries to dominate all the waves around it, so they, too, strive for dominion. Thus, conflict develops among these self-seeking waves. Clashing together in arrogance and ambition, they experience fear, pain, and suffering.

People are like those waves. The more a person affirms his own self-importance, the greater is his desire to promote and protect his ego, and the greater the pain he experiences—and the more fleeting his pleasures.

There is no escape from suffering, so long as people seek their escape through the ego. The way to liberation lies in withdrawing the ego-wave back into the infinite ocean. It lies in realizing that its own greater reality is the reality of the ocean. To expand one’s awareness beyond the ego is no loss, though the ego perceives it as such and fights against it with all the skill at its command.

Marriage is one step toward breaking our attachment to the pettiness of ego-dominion. It is a step, but for many a vital one, toward soul-expansion. For anything that helps a person to break out of the confines of selfishness and selfseeking is good. Anything that further enmeshes a person in ego-consciousness is bad, imprisoning him in pain and limitation. It is bad, in short, because it is bad for him.

Since marriage is one means whereby people gain an incentive to learn self-expansion, marriage is a holy institution. It has a much higher purpose than mere selfish fulfillment.

If marriage is not viewed in this light, it can become a barrier to true fulfillment. Couples who marry only for self-gratification reinforce their contractive tendency, and strengthen their egos. Couples, again, who give lovingly to each other, but enclose themselves against further expansion, build walls around their little, shared reality that, by shutting out others, have a contractive effect on their own consciousness.

For life cannot exist without movement. Movement that is not expansive will be contractive. Life cannot hold a static pose for long. Even in the stillness of stagnation there is evaporation, and the proliferation of noxious insects.

Life is an adventure in self-awakening. Anything that stands in the way of this process is, in the end, damaging, because stultifying. To those who seek true fulfillment in their lives, marriage should be seen not as a cozy nook, but as a window opening onto ever-expanding realities.

For many people, marriage represents a reinforcement of their natural egoic tendencies. It represents an attempt to buttress their fragile sense of security and self-worth. But for those who approach life in an adventurous spirit—for those who seek constant self-expansion—marriage represents a glorious opportunity for self-development.

Selfish people marry for what they can get from one another. Generous people marry for what they can share with one another. Consciously or unconsciously, generous people realize that their greatest gain lies in expanding their sympathies, not in limiting them.

Selfish people think, “What can I get out of this relationship?” Generous people think, “What can I give to this relationship?”

Needless to say, the world is not divided simplistically into two distinct camps. People grow, moreover, beyond their first understanding. What we must emphasize in our lives is not the stage to which we have arrived so far, but the direction our journey must take us in future.

To refer to people too glibly, then, as “selfish” or “generous” would be a mistake. People are complex. People change. The important thing is to be aware of specific directions of growth. The more a person’s sympathies expand outward, the greater his or her fulfillment. And the more those sympathies shrink inward upon the ego—or, what is almost the same thing, upon their own family with the thought of “I and mine”—the more deeply that person experiences insecurity and a gnawing sense of unfulfillment.

An emphasis on universality is not for those people who haven’t learned first the importance of loyalty to one’s own. The husband who thinks, “I love all—so why be faithful to my wife?” has yet to develop the refinement needed for understanding the kind of expansion I am describing. True self expansion means escaping bondage to the ego. What the libertine accomplishes, on the contrary, is the strengthening of his ego-bonds.

It isn’t only charity, then, that begins at home: Loyalty begins there, too. Only through the windows of loyalty can one reach out and touch others—as, on deep levels of our consciousness, all of us really want to do.

Here, then, is a way to make your marriage expansive in the best sense. The method requires meditation and introspection— or, to put it differently, it requires really getting to know yourself, on ever deeper levels.

Learn to love yourself in the soul way, by perceiving in meditation the hidden joy of your own being. Then, with a love decreasingly selfish, reach out to touch your spouse, your children. Refine your love so that it becomes ever more pure, containing less and less of the consciousness of “I and mine.” Love your family as you ought to love yourself: for their souls, not only for their bodies and personalities. Then expand that love outward to include your neighbors, your countrymen, all mankind, and all sentient beings— everywhere. In this way your love will expand to become the love of God.

An outward expansion of love is what Yogananda called the social way of attaining cosmic consciousness. And a very important balance it is to the inner path of seeking union with God in meditation.

Marriage can be a doorway, in both an outer and an inner sense, to infinite awareness. But it will only become that if you work hard at making it so. The obstacles to success are many. While facing those obstacles as you struggle toward perfection, remember further these words: “There are no such things as obstacles: There are only opportunities!”

In describing spiritual marriage, I want to emphasize this final point: that marriage, as such, is in no way a panacea; it is what you do with marriage that determines whether you will progress toward greater freedom, or regress toward an increase of those delusions which, all your life, have brought you pain. The greater your inner freedom, the greater will be your happiness, and the deeper and more fulfilling your love.

*Self-Expansion Through Marriage: A Way to Inner Happiness, by Swami Kriyananda, Crystal Clarity Publishers. Formerly entitled: Expansive Marriage.