Being faithful (anubbata or assava) is to have a firm and enduring loyalty and commitment to something or someone. Socially, faithfulness has an important role in building trust, reliability and enduring relationships.
We do not need to be faithful in the same way and to the same extent to every commitment we have ever made. Our faithfulness should be reserved mainly to worthwhile objects and in proportion to their worth. The Buddha mentioned three things which are worthy of our faithfulness – the Dhamma, friends and marital relations.
We should take the three Refuges only when we truly understand what we are doing and what it requires of us. When we do this and are faithful to our commitment, it imparts to us a tremendous energy and confidence that speeds our journey along the Path. The Buddha said: ‘One should practise the Dhamma faithfully, without wavering.
The Buddha also said that some of the characteristics of a genuine friend are that he is true to his word (avisaṃvādanatāya), a friend will stick by you in times of trouble (āpadāsu na vijahati), and that might even give his life for you (jivitaṃ pi’ssa atthāya pariccattaṃ hoti, (D.III,187-190).
We relate to others’ partners as if we were celibate.’ (Mayañ ca bhariyaṃ nātikkamāma amhe ca bhariyā nātikkamāma aññatra tāhi brahma cariyaṃ carāma pe, Ja.IV,53). A good wife was praised in the Tipiṭaka as ‘true to one husband’ (ekabhattakinī, Ja.III,63). The archetypical, devoted and loyal spouse in the Buddhist tradition is Sambulā, the wife of King Sotthisena.
Conjugal faithfulness and love is an important theme of many other Jātakas too. In one such story, a wife’s devotion to her husband saves him from the machinations of an evil king (Ja.II,122-5) and in another, the Bodhisattva instructs a husband to treat his dedicated and long-suffering wife with the respect she deserves (Ja.II,203-5).
In a particularly moving story, all the friends of a husband desert him when he is confronted by a terrible monster, and even his wife’s courage momentarily to falter.
His pleas for help dispel her hesitation and she rushes to his side saying: ‘Noble husband of sixty years, I shall not desert you. Even the four corners of the earth know that you are most dear to me.’ (Ja.II,341-4). Another story tells of a wife whose willingness to die for her husband saves both of them from certain death (Ja.III,184-7).