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Apologies if this seems a very sensitive issue but can you please help me understand what is considered an adultery?

If married male and female partners have mutually agreed and happy to have extra-marital relations with any other woman / man / married partners, usually for the purpose of material sense enjoyment, is it considered adultery since they are not hiding anything from each other and are involved together in such sensual activities.

Please also comment on what, as an individual, a person is expected in terms of such relations? Will be great to have any references from any scriptures.

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    There doesn't seem any problem in ethical grounds due to mutual agreement & it's difficult to find reference in scripture for such conditions. However there is a problem with material sense enjoyment, which creates unwanted attachment (Rajas) followed by misery. – iammilind Sep 26 '15 at 1:00
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    @iammilind As Swami Vishwananda said, just because something is mutually agreed to does not make it moral. – Keshav Srinivasan Sep 26 '15 at 15:16
  • @KeshavSrinivasan, as Bhishma says Morality is very subtle and people may interpret according to their own perception. However I don't recommend above on moral grounds either. That's why I use word "ethical". I interpret ethics as: 'If I want to do something relating to you, then will I be ok if you do the same thing to me?' e.g. A thief is ethical when he is ok with someone else robbing his home. Or I am not being ethical when I don't perform my duty to my senior but expecting salary from him to be proper. Again this is debatable based on meaning people derive. This is just IMO. – iammilind Sep 26 '15 at 15:30
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    @iammilind Yes, different people have different beliefs about what's moral and immoral, but some of those beliefs are correct and some are incorrect. There is an objective notion of dharma and adharma that remains the same regardless of what mistaken beliefs humans may have. – Keshav Srinivasan Sep 26 '15 at 15:35
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Mutual consent does not make the actions allowable or moral. Thieves may mutually agree on robbing someone and not each other, but it does not make their actions either moral or allowable. Such actions as you describe are condemned by all the scriptures. Swami Nikhilananda in his writings on Hindu ethics says:

Besides the objective duties based on the castes and stages of life, there are laid down the common duties of men, the sadharanadharma, which are the foundation of the moral life. Manu, the lawgiver, enumerates these common duties as follows: steadfastness (dhairya), forgiveness (kshama), good conduct (dama), avoidance of theft (chauryabhava), control of the senses (indriyanigraha), wisdom (dhi), learning (vidya), truthfulness (satya) and absense of anger (akrodha)...the aim of Hindu ethics is to enable a man ultimately to conquer his lower self and attain freedom from passion, desire, and attachment.

All Hindu philosophers regardless of their conceptions of the supreme end of man, admit the empirical reality of the individual, endowed with volition, desire, will, conscience or consciousness of duty, emotion, etc. The goal of Hindu ethics is to train these faculties in such a way that they shall lead the individual to the realization of Moksha, or Liberation. Therefore all the schools of philosophy have described the virtues and their opposites in detail. It is expected of the moral agent that he should follow the former and shun the latter. We propose to discuss the virtues and their opposites according to the classification of Nyaya and of Patanjali's system.

Vatsyayana, in his commentary on the Nyaya aphorisms, classifies will as impious (papatmika) and auspicious (subha). The impious will leads to unrighteousness (adharma), and the auspicious will, to righteousness (dharma). Righteousness, it is necessary to add, is conductive to the Highest Good, whereas unrighteousness produces evil. The purpose of ethics is to subdue the impious and to manifest the righteous will.

Unrighteousness may take three forms, namely, physical, verbal, and mental, depending upon the condition of its functioning. Physical unrighteousness manifests itself asa cruelty (himsa), theft (steya), and sexual perversion (pratisiddha maithuna); verbal unrighteousness, as falsehood (mithya), rudeness (katukti), insinuation (suchana), and gossip (asambaddha); mental unrighteousness, as ill-will (paradroha), covetousness (paradravyabhipsa), and irreverance (nastikya).

Patanjali...describes the virtues that must be cultivated...chastity or continence...

The practice of continence, highly extolled by all the philosophers and mystics of India, implies, besides the literal meaning of the vow, abstention from lewdness in thought, speech, and action through any of the sense-organs. Through the practice of this virtue, one develops the capacity for subtle spiritual perception.

Krishna says in the Gita (chapter XVI. 4-12):

Ostentation, arrogance, and self-conceit; anger, rudeness, and ignorance--these belong to him who is born to the heritage of the demons.

Men of demonic nature know not what to do and what to refrain from doing. Purity is not in them, nor good conduct, nor truth.

They say: "The world is devoid of truth, without a moral basis, and without a God. It is brought about by the union of male and female, and lust alone is its cause: what else?"

Holding such a view, these lost souls of little understanding and fierce deeds rise as the enemies of the world and its destruction.

Giving themselves up to insatiable desires, full of hypocrisy, pride, and arrogance, they hold false views through delusion and act with impure resolve.

Beset with innumerable cares, which will end only with their death, looking on the gratification of desire as their highest goal, and feeling sure that this is all;

Bound by a hundred ties of hope, given up wholly to lust and desire,...

and in verse 16:

...addicted to the gratification of lust, they fall into a loathsome hell.

and in verse 19-21:

These cruel haters, these evil-doers, these vilest of men, I hurl always into the wombs of the demons in the cycle of births and deaths.

Having fallen into the wombs of the demons and being deluded from birth to birth, they never attain Me, O son of Kunti, but go further down to the lowest state.

Three are the gateways of this hell leading to the ruin of the self--lust, wrath, and greed. Therefore let man renounce these three.

and in verses 23-24:

He who discards the injunctions of the scriptures and acts upon the impulse of desire attains neither perfection nor happiness nor the Supreme Goal.

Therefore let the scriptures be your authority in determining what ought to be done and what ought not to be done. Having learnt the injunctions of the scriptures, you should do your work in the world.

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    @iammilind Yeah, when you say non-sinful, intercourse for purposes other than producing offspring is sinful. – Keshav Srinivasan Sep 26 '15 at 18:04
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    @iammilind Let Osho and his followers explain how their teachings accord with Dharma and what the justification is for his teachings. As Krishna says in the last verse above, let the scriptures determine what ought to be done and what not ought to be done...and the Gita is pretty explicit on this matter. – Swami Vishwananda Sep 27 '15 at 4:24
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    @SwamiVishwananda The example of mutual consent you give is both illogical and legally invalid. The question here goes like this "My girlfriend and I decided to have sex". The example provided goes like this "My friend and I decided to rape a girl." – Notty Apr 12 '16 at 14:09
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    @SwamiVishwananda The robber and the robbed are the parties. I see no mutual consent between the two parties. – Notty Apr 12 '16 at 14:16
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    @wally You have completely misinterpreted my answer. Strongly suggest you read it again. – Swami Vishwananda Apr 13 '16 at 8:32
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Let me share my personal view, the central tenet of Vivaha is that, the husband and wife will together pursue to goals of Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha.

So, adultery was considered as adharma, because a. it involved cheating, b. it involved violation of marital vow of pursuing purushartas together.

Manu Smriti (9.29-30) states - "She who, controlling her thoughts, speech, and acts, violates not her duty towards her lord, dwells with him (after death) in heaven, and in this world is called by the virtuous a faithful (wife, sadhvi).But for disloyalty to her husband a wife is censured among men, and (in her next life) she is born in the womb of a jackal and tormented by diseases, the punishment of her sin."

Now, consider a case of extra-marital affair with mutual consent. The question to ask is, whether the consent is really mutual? Whether the spouses are really ok with this arrangement? Now, assuming that the arrangement is mutual and without any grievance, then definitely, there is no issue of cheating from such an arrangement.

Regarding the second point of Purushartas, though at a first sight it does appear that there is a violation as both the partners are not fulfilling rati/Kama with each other.

Manu Smriti (3.60) says that husband and wife should please each other. Further, in Manu Smriti (9.101-102) it is stressed that, living together happily and faithfully with each other is the highest duty of a married couple. And both the partners must exert themselves to live happily together and pursue all actions together.

Therefore, it is clear that the the scriptures say that husband and wife should be dedicated towards each other and should be loyal as well. Fidelity in all sense of the word is upheld.

Yet, on a deeper consideration, it can be easily argued that, both partners have mutually arrived at this arrangement of fulfilling their own sexual desires. So, in this sense, they are still pursuing Kama together itself.

But, the question is, does the arrangement really work? Is there a guarantee that any of the spouse does not develop emotional relationship with another person? Is it practical to maintain a strictly casual extra-marital relationship without any love or attachment? Is it really possible to continue to love your partner in every way including sexual even after having casual affairs?

If the answer to these question is affirmative that the casual affairs do not affect the couple or their love, relationship, or their duty towards each other, and if such affairs indeed help a couple to come even closer, then there is no fault on the count of purusharthas.

But, there is one more issue, that of Sadharana-dharma that is common to everyone. In Manu Smriti (verse 10.63) - Manu lists Indriya nigraha as one of the common duties.

And there is a definite violation of this. Because, the partners are seeking sexual pleasure outside marriage even after deriving the same pleasure within marriage.

On the other hand, if there is no sexual pleasure within the marriage, it raises other issues related to purusharta. There is a failure on the part of couple to make the marriage work! But that's a different case altogether.

In my opinion, if the extra-marital arrangement is really mutual and without any grievances, and it does not hamper your relationships or your duties, then there is no adharma committed on the count of adultery, but an adharma on the count of non-performance of Indriya Nigraha does exist.

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    I understand that. But, the question itself is of analytical nature. I can give quotes that condemn adultery, but that would not answer the question isnt it? Besides, several quotes have already been shared by Swami Vishwananda regarding sexual perversion. My intention was to reply to the specific question by analyzing the issue from standpoint of dharma. Pl let me know, if there is any fault in this. Thanks. – Nithin Sridhar Sep 26 '15 at 17:39
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    The thing is, there has to be some way for the reader to know whether your answer is correct or not; otherwise someone who doesn't know anything can also claim that he's analyzing things from the perspective for dharma. So you should cite sources to justify your conclusion that if it's done with mutual consent, without grievances, etc. then it's OK. – Keshav Srinivasan Sep 26 '15 at 17:45
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    The scriptures repeatedly say dharma is subtle for the very reason that every situation cannot be put down into writing. This particular question is one such. I have not come across any scriptures that explicitly speak about extra marital affairs by mutual consent. It may be present, but I have not come across them. Hence, I did not provide any quote for this point. I even added at the beginning that its my personal opinion, so that readers dont get confused. I get your point.But the nature of question is such that, there canot be any blanket answer by quoting from scripture that is the issue – Nithin Sridhar Sep 26 '15 at 17:51
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    It was not pure speculation! It was on the basis of dharma on which Marriage stands! Please go through the answer once more, I am sure you would realize that its not pure speculation based on my fancy, but instead it analyses the tenets of dharma associated with marriage. – Nithin Sridhar Sep 26 '15 at 18:01
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    @KeshavSrinivasan, though without many quotes, I find this answer more convincing as it includes everyone and similar is what I would have answered, but I preferred comment as lack of quotes. Let's see outside Indian subcontinent; in Africa, natural culture of Alpha-male is famous among tribes where husbands send their wives to stronger male. Artificially westerners have created legal swingers' club. Not that all legal things are Dharmic, but it can't be questioned on morality. Having sex with single/multiple partners just for lust is wrong but as part of duty is Dharma. e.g. Bhima-Hidimba – iammilind Sep 27 '15 at 3:14
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From the scriptures, if we see polyandry(women going out with men other than husband) was allowed at certain time. In Mahabharta, when Pandu was convincing Kunti for having sons from Gods instead of him, Kunti at first was not convinced with the thought but then Pandu told him that earlier there was no restriction with women being attached to only his husband. This rule was being formed later by Rishi Shwetketu, son of Rishi Uddhalkak, when he saw his mother going out with some other person. So, its clear in that case that there was no problem earlier but after the rule, people generally follow that. However, there are exceptions to the rule in case the husband is dead or not capable as seen in Pandu's case or in case of Ambika and Ambalika where the husband was dead and Sage Ved Vyasa was called for Niyog Vidhi.

But, if we see the examples from Ramayana, it seems that such kind of things were not allowed or considered bad in those times as Lord Rama had to take Agni Pariksha of Devi Sita to prove the world that she is pious. Infact, the washerman was not allowing her wife to stay with him on being doubtful of her whereabouts of previous night. So, this shows that extra marital affairs was not considered ok.

However, if we see other cases in which the husband and wife are dedicated to each other, in those cases the husband usually gets benefit as can be seen in case of stories of Savitri-Satyavan, Vrinda-Jalandhar and Tulsi-Shankhchoorh.

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