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. The spiritual value of faithfulness is that it curbs the tendency to get sidetracked by impulsive desires, boredom or fickle-mindedness and enhances resolution and self-discipline. 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 Ý 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. One who practises the Dhamma like this sleeps happily in this life and in the next'(Dhp.169). The Buddha also said that some of the characteristics of a genuine friend are that he is true to his word, a friend will stick by you in times of trouble, and that might even give his life for you (D.III,187). In other words, the highest level of friendship does not change through changing circumstances. Such faithfulness tends to engender faithfulness in those toward whom it is directed.
Faithfulness is one of the most important ingredients for a successful marriage. A husband should not, the Buddha said, be unfaithful to his wife or a wife to her husband (D.III,190). A character in the Jàtaka says: `We do not transgress with another's wife and our wife does not transgress against us. We relate to others' partners as if we were celibate' (Ja.IV,53). A good wife was praised in the Tipiñaka as `true to one husband' (ekabhattakinã, Ja.III,63). The archetypical, devoted and loyal spouse in the Buddhist tradition is Sambulà, the wife of King Sotthisena. When he was struck by a disfiguring disease and had to renounce the throne and go into the forest, she ignored all his requests to stay behind and happily accompanied him in his exile. With patience and love she nursed him through and eventually cured him of his disease. When he doubted her faithfulness and shunned her, she would still not abandon him. Eventually, he recognized her faithfulness, apologized for not trusting her, and the two were reconciled (Ja.V,88-98).
Conjugal faithfulness and love are important themes of many other Jàtakas 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 faltered. 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).