Family life is a sacred activity in Hinduism, indeed, it is called the second ashram, for there sacred and holy duties conducted by the family. In this article, we bring an overview of Hinduism and Family life.
Hinduism and Family
Having a family, marrying and becoming a parent is the second ashrama (ashram, a place of sacred practices) and is seen by some Hindus as a duty. Many Hindus believe sharing wisdom with grandchildren and guiding them through rites of passage is part of the third ashrama.
In Hinduism, everyone is expected to show respect for elders, which many Hindus put into practice by caring for and housing older relatives.
Traditionally, many Hindus live in extended families. This is a cultural and financial arrangement and not a religious requirement. The number of nuclear families in India is rising as parts of the population become wealthier.
Men and women
The role of men and women in the family is a difficult issue for three main reasons:
- people interpret religious teachings in different ways
- sacred texts give conflicting teachings
- social and cultural traditions may be confused with religious practice
For example, the Laws of Manu teaches:
The father protects the woman in childhood, the husband protects her in youth, the children protect her in old age, a woman should never be independent.
Some sacred texts and the tradition of Shaktism portray female strength and power. In Devi Mahatmyam it states:
“Devi Chandika easily cut into pieces the men and all their weapons. With no sign of strain on her face and with the gods praising her, she threw her own weapons over their bodies.”
Devi Mahatmyam 2.49
Quotes like this are used by some Hindus to support the idea that women are as strong as, or perhaps even stronger than, men. Others refer to the popular Shivshakti image, which portrays male and female aspects of God as halves of one body.
Some Hindus would say that the focus on atman (the soul) in Hindu teaching means that gender should not even feature in how we view people, because only bodies have a gender, an atman does not.
The social and cultural traditions in many Hindu communities, like most other societies around the world, tend to favour men over women. Some Hindus have worked very hard to bring about equality for women where it does not exist.
The ideals of the roles of men and women for many Hindus come from deities such as Rama and Sita. Lord Rama is the ideal son, ideal brother, ideal ruler and above all, ideal husband to his wife Sita.
Swami Vivekananda encouraged all women to ‘be Sita’ but also reminded everyone “the people who worship Sita cannot do other than respect and adore all women”.
Many Hindu parents teach their children the path of dharma. Some follow the five principles for happy family life:
- good conduct – setting a good example
- home worship – including children in worship and celebrations
- introducing scripture and explaining it
- continuing to study and reflect upon Hindu scripture and teachings throughout life
- being part of a Hindu community
While getting married and having children is normal for most Hindus, some choose to be celibate. Being celibate is also the state recommended for Hindus in the first ashrama and some Hindus return to it in the third or fourth ashrama.
However, during the second ashrama, sexual activity in a loving goals in life described in scripture, though it is regarded as inferior to the other three.
Cohabitation is not really something considered by most Hindus, because having sex and/or having children before marriage is largely socially unacceptable. This situation is changing amongst Hindus living in the West, especially in the younger generations.
Hinduism is also known as Sanathana Dharma, the eternal way of life.
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