Working Out Your Karma

I have been in a very unhappy marriage for the last 10 years. There’s no affection, no sex, no kindness, no warmth, no communication. My wife has given me the silent treatment for the last 2 years. I am slowly going insane.

I realize that she is I and that I am she. There is only Self. So my question is the following: Would you stay in such a marriage if it drives you insane (literally) just to work out past karma? Or, would you leave? I remember the Buddha left his wife and children behind. Very confusing because he must have realized all was Self and that any action like leaving a wife and children behind was thus futile (there is no such thing as divorce; Self always is).

Not sure if you are married but you are a realized person so I wanted to ask your opinion. Sorry for the deep question.

Thank you,

V:  I’m sorry to hear that you’re unhappy but I’m a Vedanta teacher, not a marriage counselor. So I am not qualified to answer your question about marriage.  

But I can address your understanding of self and karma.  Realizing the non-duality of the self does not have anything to do with passively accepting one’s circumstances on the basis that they’re just an illusory appearance of one’s own self.  Sameness only applies at the absolute level of the self.  It does not apply to everyday circumstances.  In other words, not everything in life is equal, just because it’s all the self.  Some things are, relatively speaking, better, healthier and more constructive than others. 
Further, working out karma doesn’t mean accepting suffering and unhappiness.  Sure, everyone will have some degree of suffering and unhappiness in their karma.  But karma is not fate.  The point of the theory of karma is to put you in the driver’s seat. It says your current circumstances are the product of your past choices and actions.  The implication is that your future circumstances can be influenced by your current choices and actions.  

So once again, I am not qualified to give you relationship advice.  Nor am I interested in doing so because my purpose here is to teach Vedanta.  But I hate to hear that you’re unhappy.  So I wanted to say that Vedanta, non-duality and karma all allow for positive change in one’s “personal” well-being.  They are not in conflict with you doing what you feel is best for your happiness.  The point of this teaching is peace of mind.
All my best,

A: Your answer is incredible and I quote only partially: “But I can address your understanding of self and karma.  Realizing the non-duality of the self does not have anything to do with passively accepting one’s circumstances on the basis that they’re just an illusory appearance of one’s own self.”

I was stuck with this question for so many years and you understood it and gave the answer I was looking for so I will re-read it because it is so very very valuable.

Thank you very much,

Marriage & Moksha

K:  I have a partner, and want to marry. Does it mean I have to give up moksha?

V:  No.  There is absolutely no rule that says one must remain unmarried or even avoid relationships to get moksha (freedom from suffering).

To elaborate, in Vedanta, any idea of moksha comes from the scriptures, namely the Upanisads.  Is there any injunction against marriage in the Upanisads?  No. Take for instance the Mundaka Upanisad, where Shaunaka approaches the teacher Angiras seeking self-knowledge.  Shaunaka is described as “a great householder” which means he was a married man, presumably with a family.  Does Angiras turn Shaunaka away for being a married man, deeming him unfit to seek self-knowledge (moksha)?  No.  Angiras is looking for other qualifications besides marital status, specifically mental qualifications.  Because Shaunaka is “a great householder” is implies that he has lived a good and pious life, thereby preparing his mind for self-knowledge.  Therefore it could be said that something like marriage can even be helpful towards the pursuit of moksha.  Married and family life is rewarding but challenging and therefore it is an ideal place for spiritual growth, a key ingredient in the pursuit of moksha. 

Another scriptural example is the Bhagavad Gita, probably the most popular text in the Vedanta canon.  Both the teacher, Krishna, and the student, Arjuna are married men.  In fact, Arjuna had four wives.  And get this…Krishna had over 16,000!  While that is most certainly hyperbole the point remains that Krishna was not single.  If marriage were an impediment to moksha then certainly as a teacher, he would not have been married.  And he would have undoubtedly told his student that marriage is an impediment on the path to moksha. But Krishna doesn’t do that.  He simply tells Arjuna to go about his daily life with the proper attitude, the karma yoga attitude, in order grow spiritually.

However, Krishna does not present marriage or spiritual growth as an end unto itself. It is a means to prepare one for self-knowledge.  And an essential part of that preparation is clearly understanding that things like marriage will never give lasting happiness.  For that matter, neither will money, fame, achievement, family or religion.  That fact doesn’t make those things wrong and doesn’t mean they need to be avoided.  But they MUST be understood for what they are:  limited means of gaining temporary happiness.  Only then will one be able to look past them to the source of a lasting satisfaction:  knowledge of one’s own true nature.

So be married if you wish and enjoy it.  It is only an impediment to moksha if you don’t understand that things like marriage won’t give you moksha.