An Upper Bound for the Number of People in the Family
It is not possible for anyone to argue that a joint family should remain intact for eternity. Division at some point is inevitable and natural. Our śāstras have accepted it from the beginning. Segments connected with dāya-bhāga (division of property) and dattaka-svīkāra (adoption) are parts of the dharma-śāstra. This shows that the authors of the śāstras had the division of families under their purview. An undivided family, at a certain point in time can be a system which inculcates positive values and at another, might lead to diminishing of values. If fifty or hundred people need to live under the same roof, can any one of them get any comforts? Dissatisfaction and distress are inevitable if the family grows so large. Having said so, there must be an upper limit for the number of people in an undivided family.
Today, we cannot have as many members in a family as we could in the past. The reason behind this is the new system of money that has come into currency: wealth is acquired in the form of physical money. In this system, we can say that division of family is inevitable under many circumstances. To earn their livelihood, one of the eldest brothers might have to stay in Bangalore, his younger brother in Madras, another one in Calcutta and yet another in Kallikota. Thus, the family invariably breaks apart. Even under such circumstances, it is important to inculcate at least a few spiritual values and put them into practise – it is important to find a path to achieve this.
Oneness - Unity
We need not get frightened at the mention of spiritual values (adhyātma-nīti). It is a simple matter. Ninety out of hundred people are already living such a life in practise, only unaware of its name. It is impossible for a society to work unless it is guided by positive values. These set of values take the form of friendship and empathy in our day to day lives. We will need to give up our selfish attitude at least for the well-being of others and this takes the form of an affinity to assist. The more we give up selfishness, the more we can become one with the soul of the other. This kind of cultivation of oneness with others is adhyātma-nīti, i.e., a spiritual value. When we share and blend our joys and sorrows with that of our companions, when we participate in their joys and deeply feel for their sorrows, this spiritual value gets naturally cultivated. An undivided family is the first step towards practising this.
Empathy and Affection
Division of a family consists of two factors:
- Division of physical properties that have been inherited from ancestors
- Love and affection between brothers, their children and grandchildren to be continued at all times.
Now, we will need to discuss about the aspect of affection. Love for one another and helping nature are important spiritual values.
The word mamatā should not be misunderstood. The word literally translates to ‘pride of my-ness’. The elder brother is my own and so is my younger brother; sisters are my own and the children of my siblings are my own too– this kind of feeling of oneness is one of the ways of cultivating collective unity. By doing so, a person rises over and above his sense of ‘mine’ limited to his own self and extends it to his people. This is what we need as well.
Let a person never lose affection from his heart when sharing of land, money, gold and other gems happens. This is what we will need to achieve.
It has been a practise from the past to include the following line while composing a will for the division of a family – “Here after, the people involved are only going to be related by blood and not by wealth.” This blood relationship is what I call affection. We will need to protect blood relationship and transcend all relationships that are functions of material wealth. I hereby narrate a couple of suggestions that occur to me:
- When a certain member of the family expresses his wish to get separated, it is best to get the properties of the family divided.
- If the arrangement for division of property is not done at the right time and is constantly postponed, it will lead to ill-will. This is neither right nor comfortable.
- Division does not necessarily mean that there are different fires for cooking (for each segment of the family). If everyone has a clear idea about what belongs to whom, it can avoid ill-will among the members and bring peace of mind to everyone.
- If it is necessary for the members of the family to reside under one roof even after property division, it is important that they exercise self-control. If the older brother eats more ghee, let him do so and if the younger one wishes to watch plays, he may do so as well. ‘The joy he got out of eating ghee is mine too and the joy the other got out of watching a play is mine as well’– this kind of broadmindedness is important. If such affection and generosity are absent in the prime members of the family, it will no longer be a home, but only a battlefield.
- Let us look at another instance now. Suppose, brothers of a family live separately in different cities and if their relationship due to common wealth is long dissolved and their only connection is due to blood. What can we say of such people?
- It would be best if the brothers consider one person as senior to them all and respect him, it is do good for everyone. It appears like people of today’s generation have forgotten a certain philosophy – when we place a person on a higher pedestal considering him superior to us or as our guru, it is not just him who feels gladdened; irrespective of whether the person in particular feels happy or sad, his junior will certainly feel pleased due to his association and proximity to the elder one. This should be acknowledged by the younger ones and the others who have board worldly experiences. If there is any value for the words which I speak out of my experience, I shall speak my mind out. As a person grows and experiences difficulties in the world, he feels the need for the existence of a guru or an elderly guide. When a family is in trouble or is unsure how to act, we feel that we can consult an elderly lady who is at home. It gives us great contentment to think that there is someone who we can love and anoint them with our nectar of love. This in itself is a matter of great pride. Thus, if the members of a family consider a certain person as a senior and revere him, it is not the old man or the lady who derives any benefits from it – the entire family derives advantages. We don’t have to search around with a magnifying glass to figure out who should be the senior person we respect. It is sufficient if we accept as our guiding light, a person who many hold in high reverence.
- Brothers who live in different places should meet at least once a year and spend two or three days together. This frequent meeting strengthens the cords of affection.
- Brothers should give up the attitude of differentiating between each other’s off-springs especially in matters related to their education and health. The stronger person should help the weaker one. The richer brother should assist the poorer one. However, this needs to take place in a gentle and delicate manner. The person who provides assistance should never have the feeling “It is I who provided for him”. The one who receives help should never feel small thinking – “I extended my hand for help”. When there is a feeling of superiority or inferiority between brothers, mutual affection between them vanishes.
- Everyone needs to work towards protecting traditional practises that have come down in the family. Festivals, rathotsavas, <aravattige pooje>, dīpārādhana in the temples, rāmotsava – these dhārmic activities are observed in a small or large scale in most houses. They are useful in uniting brothers and their families. In the past, if not for any other occasion, brothers would come together for the śrāddha of their deceased parents. It is important that they all get together at least once a year.
Curbing of Ego
- For a family, an institution or the society to survive without getting disintegrated, everyone associated with it should be ready to subdue their personal preferences and individuality. ‘It’s I who is important’ – this kind of feeling breaks families apart. How does it matter whether I enjoy a certain dish or an ornament or my brother does so? What difference does it make whether my wife wears it or my young sister puts it on? This gives me delight and that gives me delight as well – this kind of an attitude of non-difference is of utmost importance. When this attitude of non-difference gets strengthened, the overall robustness of the family improves as well. More than brothers being untied in this fashion, it is important for their wives to bring their ego under control. “My son passed and her son failed”; “My daughter is fair and his is dark complexioned”; “My ornaments are beautiful and hers are old” – This kind of attitude is more natural for women. Wives of brothers have the tendency of being proud of their children or about the earnings and stature of their husbands. Therefore, a man should keep his wife’s display of ego under control.
There is nothing cryptic or new in the set of suggestions narrated above. These kinds of advices have been given by hundreds of wise people in our country for thousands of years. There is a proverbial saying in Telugu:
There are several such sayings in other regional languages too. The summary is as follows:
Men born as brothers should live like brothers. This naturally implies dissolution of ego, seeing everyone as one’s own, attitude of generosity and magnanimity. Division of property need not mean division of family. If the unity of the family needs to be protected, the benefits of an undivided family should be kept in mind – it leads to ātma-saṃskāra. Being broadminded is always greatly beneficial.
In sum, my mind is not greatly hopeful in this matter. Wherever I go, I hear people say the following about their children – “Let him do whatever he desires. It is enough if he is happy”, “let her do whatever she wishes to, it is sufficient if she is content.” This kind of exclusive living seems to be important. Marriage, family and traditional customs help in culturing the self – it is being forgotten today that these are not merely meant for material pleasure. It appears that people are thinking more about luxuries and pleasures of the flesh than refinement of the self. Under such prevailing circumstances, how can the ārṣeya-dharma and tradition of India undergo any rejuvenation? How should it survive? If it does not survive and goes into oblivion, what does the world lose? – if honest and sincere intellectuals think about this, then my hopes might find some encouragement.
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