Closest word in English is Sacrament to a word in Sanskrit that gives meaning to leading a life through birth and death. The introduction these 16 sacrament is based on a series of lectures given by a well-known and an authority in this area – Dr. Ganesh. The lectures are in Kannada and each lecture is around an hour each, and I will attempt to present the highlights of his talk with my best effort in translating them and I am afraid it may not still do justice to the vigor of original lectures.
16 sacraments start once married life starts and are presented in terms of the philosophy behind it and the practicing of the same during the married life. These things revolve around the conditioning of mind and body to maximize the benefits and the purpose of married life.
The philosophy behind these sacraments revolve around the stages of conditioning of three main factors – physical, mind and knowledge. These factors are believed to affect the qualities of leading a life as a whole. A fourth factor revolves around communication – mainly in the way the things being communicated to others. However, there is no isolated or silo outlook to each of these factors as they are deemed to get developed in an integral manner. The purpose of these sacraments is an effort to make the things that have been learnt to be understood to lead a meaningful life.
The effects of leading a life of mindfulness are sometimes compared to the development of paintings by a painter over a period of time – the same canvass and the same colors evolving into paintings of different kind and meaning, yet fulfilling what the painter had to set to achieve from the very beginning of its creation.
These 16 sacraments are geared towards those who have not shown interest in delving into the pursuit of knowledge or don’t have time to do so.
These sacraments are established in such a way to include social, economic and spiritual development of the community as a whole where such married couples reside and with a purpose of procreation of life. These are prescriptive in nature than descriptive nature. Hence, there are no explanations given to why they should be performed or adhered to. A similar, prescriptive nature of sacraments can also be found in other areas of Veda and Vedanta for a community to co-exist and to develop both socially and economically to support the family units created by marriage.
In fact, many such directives exist across many other interpretations of the same to take anyone on a path to become a Brahmin (certified seeker of knowledge) and further onto the path to become a saint (certified seeker of spiritual knowledge).
The beauty of these sacraments revolve around that fact that there is a visible effort to bring in a formless God to a form that can be adopted to the time, the place and the lifeforms who are engaged in that effort. In that effort, certain know how’s have been believed to be under the jurisdiction of women, certain others under the men and the rest belonging to the community at large. There is nothing restrictive about the way in which the life needs to be led except to have a framework around it to suit the time, the place and the lifeforms engaged in that effort.
In every aspect of defining these sacraments and the intentions of following up on these sacraments during the married life, two factors are taken into account – emotional and physical. Most of the physical nature of these sacraments can be subjected to scientific validations, but those which are emotional are outside these validations, entirely depending on the circumstances of lifeforms existing at the time and place, and, participating at that time and place with other lifeforms in the community. Emotional aspects of the sacraments are believed to give the strength to the mind in terms developing confidence, conviction and comfort which are believed to be outside the scope of physical experimentations carried out scientifically.
In a nutshell, it is the responsibility of every married couple to give a gift to the nation a responsible citizen. This effort has been considered as the creation of the greatest asset of any nation, putting it front of the all other physical assets that a country can be said to proudly possess including the mines, the farms, the rivers and the temples.
The sacraments start from the stages of conceiving a baby. The blessing that a mother would seek for her off spring would be to have her baby to grow up as a friend to the community and for the community to in turn treat her off springs as a friend. The blessing that is expected to be given by the community is to provide support to let the baby to grow as strong as a stone having a mind as sharp as an axe. The gaining of nine attributes of soul during the development of the baby is believed to make anyone a Brahmin, which in turn is believed to deliver a responsible citizen.
Translating roughly those nine attributes, they fall under these attributes: being compassionate, having patience, devoid of jealousy, purity of mind and body, the ability to let go things without having internal or external conflicts, having no expectations from anyone or from anything, the ability to wish for goodness and see goodness, and, having noble thoughts that are not narrow and restrictive.
The aspect of ‘giving’ to the community has also been incorporated into these sacraments at each and every one of these 16 activities. The aspect of the incorporating both the living and the dead has been intended to steady the living forms during their unstable and difficult times to help them think beyond what they see or hear to accept the ups and downs, turns and twists of leading a life till death do us apart. The aspect maintaining a balance with nature has also been incorporated into these activities. The aspect of public and private behaviors suited for the married couple has also been incorporated.
It is believed that these sacraments lead to a lifestyle of the married couple to earn respect, earn suitability to be accepted both privately and publicly, give provisions for others to forgive mistakes and give advice, and, provide provisions for the married couple to accept such advice without any sort of uneasiness and conflicts.
These activities have been divided roughly into three stages, pre-birth, after-birth and after-death, and, are intended to strengthen the relationships between husband and wife, parents and children, teachers and students, sisters and brothers, and, the life and death to be able to exist as whole. The aspect of looking at any form of life or no life as if it is me or us has been incorporated into these 16 sacraments.
The purpose of accommodating these sacraments into the married life is to gain enough knowledge and strength to march towards truth and away from the fear of lies, towards light and away from the fear of darkness, towards life and away from the fear of death.