In Buddhism, ceremonial marriage is not necessary

By Cheong Knooi Cheng

Dr. Mohd. Ridhuan Tee, our so-called Islamic scholar has proclaimed a very wrong fact about Buddhism when he mentioned that the existence of sexual relationship before engagement or marriage is illegal. The very truth is that there is no such thing as illegal in Buddhism but only abstaining or refraining. One would wonders from which Buddhist authorities or texts he gets his facts.

According to the late Venerable Dr. K Sri Dhammananda in his book “What Buddhists Believe”: 

The Buddhist view on marriage is very liberal and is regarded entirely as a personal and individual concern, and not as a religious duty. There are no religious laws in Buddhism compelling a lay person to be married, to remain as a bachelor or to lead a life of total chastity.  Buddhist monks do not solemnize a marriage ceremony, but they do perform religious services in order to bless the couple.  

Celibacy is one of the requirements for those who like to develop their spiritual development to perfection. However, it is not compulsory for each and every person to observe celibacy in order to practice Buddhism. The Buddha’s advice is that observing celibacy is more congenial for a person who wants to cultivate his spiritual achievements. For ordinary Buddhist laymen, the precept is to abstain from sexual misconduct. 

The underlined statement is the 3rd precept of Buddhist tenets, kamesu micchã cãrã loosely interpreted as “refraining from sexual misconduct” had been taken in a narrow sense, thus many people including Buddhists had misunderstood this statement as “sex is illicit outside marriage”. In his lecture notes, Prof. HS Cooray from the Buddhist and Pali University of Sri Lanka opine that: 

Ordinarily the term kãma, √kam means “to take delight in”, therefore kãma means in a broad sense all sensual pleasures.

kamesu – in respect of the pleasures of the senses.

kamesu micchã  cãrã – wrongful conduct in respect of the pleasures of the senses (cãrã = conduct).

In that form, it is not just confined to sex, but one must not develop unnecessary possessiveness towards anything. 

Sex is being used in the text because it is the greatest lust of all sensual pleasures and the most difficult challenge to developing spiritual perfection in terms of understanding and mindfulness. Other more subtle pleasures of the senses include unnecessary possessiveness towards wealth which can lead to massive destruction of life, nature and environment. 

Buddhist teachings on family and marriage could be classified under socio-philosophical teachings but it is not necessary to differentiate from the spiritual teachings (the 3rd. precept). If one or the other violates the virtues governing marriage where both agreed to live as husband and wife; commits adultery – sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than his or her spouse and not between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman; then the bond of marriage is transgressed. One of the distinct characteristics of the functioning of this system of relationships for the Chinese is that sometimes they are not legally defined and the smooth functioning is not controlled by law, but traditionally defined and customarily controlled. In this context, traditions and customs including social values, norms etc. are of prime importance.  

In Teoh Beng Hock’s case, if his parents from both sides consented to the engagement or marriage, then they are husband and wife there and then, period. They are also righteously right by the tenets of Buddhist doctrine. Our position relating to this problem of authority is that the Buddha has given the authority to dhamma in this respect. Dhamma here means what is conducive for increasing pleasure and decreasing suffering in the family; what is fruitful in providing smooth functioning of the family. It is a system of values based on right views. To quote the Buddha himself, “… if both husband and wife wish to behold each other both in this life and in the life to come, both should be matched in the virtues of faith, morality, generosity and insight …” (Anguttara Nikaya II). They deserve to be a good couple not on the basis of matching of things by some authorities but on virtues particularly love and trust.  

So, how could Dr. Mohd. Ridhuan Tee state that sexual relationship is illegal from Buddhist teachings, by not signing the marriage or engagement documents?  He is utterly wrong. Mind you, these documents are man-made laws juxtaposed if not similar to secular laws. Signing marriage documents is just a formality. He waxes lyrical on the subject without much delving into the issue and has a proclivity towards uncharted racial and religious minefields.

I do not wish to express further on the Three Signata and the Law of Karma but one advice for the BN government  – tell your people you cannot fight hatred with hatred, you can only fight hatred with love, and this is an eternal law. If you lose, concede defeat gracefully for the love and respect to each and every Malaysian and you will rise again and become stronger. Everything is impermanent and nothing lasts forever. But if you fight hatred with hatred, when the last sword is drawn, destruction will befall not only to BN but to all Malaysians and Malaysia will burn in hell.


– I'm holding a B.Sc (Hons) degree in Physics from USM and a Post Graduate Diploma in Buddhist Studies from Pali and Buddhist University of Sri Lanka. However, I did not complete my M.A. in Buddhist Studies from International Buddhist University and L.L.B (Hons) from UOL.