For Seven Lifetimes by Vatsala
For Seven Lifetimes:
An East-West Journey to a Spiritually Fulfilling and Sustainable Marriage
Vatsala and Ehud Sperling
My husband, Ehud, and I were married in India fifteen years ago, on February 22,
1996. During our traditional Hindu wedding ceremony, we walked around a sacred
fire seven times and took a vow that for seven lifetimes we would give each
other nourishment, strength, prosperity, happiness, progeny, long life, harmony,
and understanding. These vows were pledged according to Vedic tradition, with
priests, family and friends, and the fire god Agni as witnesses. Although no
prenuptial agreements and marriage contracts were signed to authenticate the
process, our vows are binding forever; according to Hindu tradition, there is no
way to break these sacred vows--not just in this lifetime, but in seven
lifetimes. As the seriousness of our commitment sank in, I felt more confident
that I had made a choice in which my mind and heart were fully engaged, and that
I was going to honor my choice. How Ehud felt, and how Ehud and I felt together
as a team, only time would tell.
After this rigorous wedding ceremony (and the hectic preparation
that preceded it), we were relaxing surrounded by friends and relatives
receiving compliments, blessings, hugs, kisses, and presents. Basking
in the warmth of our new relationship, we smiled nonstop -- there
was so much to be happy about. Just then, our friend Mrs. Lakshmi,
Dr. Ramakrishnan's mother, stopped in to greet us. She was in her late
seventies, had raised many children and grandchildren, and had lived her
entire adult life with her husband; they had been married for at least fifty
years. She looked at Ehud and me with a tiny smile and asked us, "How are you?"
It was as if we'd been waiting for this very question. "Great! We are very, very
happy," we replied, almost in unison.
Mrs. Lakshmi didn't buy that. "You are married for less than an hour right now.
It is so new everything looks rosy. You declare loudly that you are happy. Tell
me this same thing after you have clocked fifteen years together. After all
those years, i you can still say loud and clear that you are happy, I will
accept that you have a good marriage. Right now, it is too soon to tell. You
have not tasted reality yet. You have not set foot outside your country and
begun missing her yet," the older woman said, all in one breath and in a hushed
tone. Her wizened, wrinkled face was certain evidence that she had lived a real
life and was still living it. Her cynicism was clearly born from experience.
I was shaken by her blunt and direct denial of our happy state, but also
intrigued by her cheekiness at trying to bring the blissful newlyweds down to
earth with an uninvited dose of reality. I almost felt as if she were saying,
"What are you so happy about? You know, one of you could die right now."
Although it is true that freaky things do happen, it is not very tactful or
diplomatic to impart wisdom about the ephemeral nature of happiness to
newlyweds. By nature, happiness is transient. So long as people are in a happy
state, why burst their bubble by reminding them that happiness doesn't last
forever? Why not let life be the ultimate teacher?
Because I was not ready to spoil my composure by entering into an argument, I
refrained from responding to Mrs. Lakshmi. However, at that very moment, I
resolved to study the state of happiness for the rest
of my life and do a periodic evaluation about how we were doing. This older
woman had lived a full life. She was talking, though a bit out of
place, from her actual experience of having seen numerous cases of newly
wedded bliss shatter to smithereens as a young couple began their daily
life together. Even though her comment did not exactly suit the mood of
the moment, it had truth in it and was based on her practical experience
of the real world, so I couldn't brush it aside as a "lalala" from an embittered
old hag. Her comment also reminded me, in a moment of sublime
happiness, that seeking happiness is a fundamental and universal trait of
the human mind. We spend an entire lifetime seeking happiness, though it is
known only too well that happiness, like every other condition of the human mind
and every other emotional state, is transient. To maintain happiness permanently
in our marriage, I would have to work hard and hope I would succeed much of the
time, but there was no guarantee. No time-tested formula was secretly given to
me on my wedding day. I knew
I had to reinvent the wheel using my own ingenuity.
Hey, ho, ho, what's this? I thought I had just quit my job! But here I
was signing up for another job. I signed up to keep an eye on happiness--
what makes it, what breaks it, how it would affect our marriage, and how
it would be affected by our marriage. Quite a job, indeed! It promised to
be a lot of work with no paycheck and no career to build around the self-imposed
task of "studying happiness." Now that I have been on this new
job for almost fifteen years, it seems like a good time to take stock and get
back to the venerable Mrs. Lakshmi with my findings; maybe she'll
believe it this time around. But before I go on to the study of happiness,
I will share with you the story of how Ehud and I found each other.
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Vatsala Sperling, Ph.D., fluent in a number of
Indian languages and Sanskrit, learned these traditional stories at her mother's
feet and enjoys introducing them to children of the Western world. Before
marrying and moving to the United States, she was the chief of Clinical
Microbiological Services at the largest children's hospital in India. She is the
How Ganesh Got His Elephant Head,
How Parvati Won the Heart of Shiva,
Ram the Demon Slayer,
Hanuman's Journey to the Medicine Mountain,
Ganga: The River that Flows from Heaven to Earth,
Karna: The Greatest Archer in the World.
She lives in Vermont with her husband and son.
Sperling is founder and president of Inner
Traditions International, one of the world's largest publishers of books on
spirituality, religion, and alternative health. He lives in Vermont with his
wife and son.
*Excerpt from For Seven Lifetimes by Vatsala and Ehud Sperling C
2011 Inner Traditions. Reprinted with permission of the publisher Inner
Traditions / Bear & Co.
order For Seven Liftetimes from Amazon.com, click here!