Whenever I think of the lives of our ancestors, a kind of anxiety envelopes me. Is there any future for joint family system in our country? Is it not declining at present? If we decide that this system is good from a broader perspective, is it possible under the current circumstances to keep it alive?
I find that the joint family system is helpful for the development of a quality namely self-expansion. In a family, if four or five brothers live together, each one of them cultivates the habit of dissolving and unifying his ‘self’ in the with that of his brothers. The wives of those four or five brothers too develop the feeling of non-duality. It is not rare to find that the clothes used by one person is the family is used by the others too.
Because of the feeling of oneness, the feeling of empathy for others gets enhanced too. This is the path of self-expansion. Among such brothers, there might be one who has lesser strength and another who has a smaller income. There might be someone who is of a weaker character as well. Because of his constant contact with others in the family who are stronger and better people, he also tends to overcome his shortcomings and develops magnanimity. This is large-heartedness. Man has to live with others by developing a feeling that hardships, sufferings and weakness of others are his own; then the attitude of differentiating disappears. For this kind of feeling of oneness, joint family is greatly helpful.
Philosophers say – “sarvabhūtasthamātmānaṃ sarvabhūtāni cātmani” - the quality of feeling of 'one for all and all for one' is a means of attaining ātma-śānti. But it is not as easy to put it into practice as having said. If we have to experience it in our daily lives, we have to control our lower instincts – anger, greed and jealousy - and we will need to learn being one with all. An undivided family is the school which teaches us this value.
Having said the above, we have to concede the disadvantages in this system. As the family grows in size, certain difficulties arise. When we don’t even have as much as ten rupees to bring home some fruits, a person with a rupee might manage to bring four mangoes home. He will need to split the fruits to feed twenty mouths. The mouth that craves for five pieces gets only one. Why this stinginess? When her husband has spent his hard-earned money and bought a fruit, why should the other children get a share from it? [The wife may think so]
Let me narrate an incident that I have witnessed with my own eyes. A big man had four sons and two daughters. The eldest son earned five hundred rupees. The second earned four hundred rupees and the third six hundred. The fourth son was studying in the college and desired to earn a lot as well. The father was not a poor man at all. He had his own house and enough property and was earning too.
In that undivided family, one day, the eldest son brought a packet containing food from a shop. Upon entering the house, he rushed upstairs, kept the packet in his room. After dinner that night, his wife and he ate the snack in their room and kept aside a chunk of laddu and a few savouries. It appears that he fed his dear little child the next morning. Will the uncle’s children remain silent? A fight broke out in the house akin to that of Vāli and Sugrīva. What started in the bedroom became a matter of heavy breaths and heated fights between the sisters-in-law.
This is the kind of environment in an undivided family. How long can someone tolerate this?
What is the root cause for this break up in the family? Disparity in the income of brothers. The moment our society started considering wealth in the form of grains and groceries as a lower form as against economic wealth, there was a kind of revolution in the socio-economic system. Upheavals in the families all over the world started with money in its physical form. Whether money is in the form of gold coins, bronze coins or a different metal, even if it is made of paper, money is money. Agricultural produce is no match for physical money. This is true in two to three sense:
- It is easier to buy and sell goods through the medium of money – barter system does not provide such ease. Money facilitates transactions and this is one of its best features
- It is easier to hide money in the form of cash as against grains and groceries in their physical form.
- It is not as easy to quantify and count grains as it is to do with hard cash. This feature of cash is an advantage
Money in its physical form is a ready resource. A person can receive a fixed amount of salary in his hands if he works for thirty days. Grains and other agricultural products depend on rains, winds, sunlight and other weather conditions. Therefore, everyone is ready to sell themselves for wealth in the form of money. Agriculture is difficult and is full of uncertainties. Common man, thus, cannot take it up.
When salary in the form of physical money took predominance as the main goal of man’s life, it gave scope for divisions within the family. Firstly, not everyone earns the same kind of salary. Secondly, each one’s earning is his own and his expenses are as per his own wish. One need not question the other. Thirdly, it is convenient to reside close to the place where we earn. This makes it unlikely that all brothers can live together. In this manner, joint families broke apart.
In sum, it can be concluded that earning in the form of physical money is not conducive for a joint family. Thus did the families break apart and got scattered.
We did say that there are certain spiritual benefits from an undivided family – don’t we need them? If a couple has a limited number of children, they can eat what they want, wear clothes that they desire and enjoy all material comforts. Aren't these the aspects of material benefits that we have experientially understood? Should we aim to achieve some invisible spiritual benefit foregoing these material comforts and coping with hardships? This is a natural question and this is how common man thinks. The answer that we are going to provide to this maybe useful to a person who has at least some inclination towards spirituality. For those who have no affinity for adhyātma, telling anything is a fruitless endeavour.
Nevertheless, it is the duty of those who have some taste for adhyātma to narrate its principles even to those who have no affinity. Therefore, I will put it forth in a couple of words.
To be continued...
This is the English translation of the tenth essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 8) – Sankirna Smrutisamputa. Late Sri IS Venkatesh made an abridged translation of the article sometime in November-December 2020 - a few days before he fell ill and eventually passed away. The current version is edited and updated by his grandson Arjun Bharadwaj, one of the Contributing Editors of Prekshaa