EVERY NEW INITIATE in the Krsna consciousness movement vows to follow for the rest of his or her life four regulative principles: no gambling, no meat-eating, no illicit sex, and no intoxication.
Gambling, meat-eating, illicit sex, and intoxication disturb any spiritual practice, and they are said to be the four pillars of irreligion. They are at the root of all sins.
Our tendency to sin to transgress God's laws and act independently goes a lot deeper, of course, than drinking a pint of beer. But restricting harmful behavior helps create a suitable internal and external environment in which to practice Krsna consciousness.
If the four regulative principles seem strange or daunting, more to restrict than free us, we need to consider this: how severely restricted we are now as conditioned souls. Even our body shackles us at every turn as it goes through its phases of birth, growth, disease, dwindling, and death.
In fact, our present condition is a kind of disease. But Krsna consciousness offers us the correct diagnosis (that we are sleeping in maya), an effective medicine (chanting and hearing about Krsna), a suitable diet (prasadam), and the proper behavior (mercy, cleanliness, truthfulness, and austerity the antitheses of the four sins).
If we try to be free by going our own way and neglecting the regulations of Krsna consciousness, we'll find that we end up under the dictatorship of our senses. The late Christian theologian Thomas Merton wrote, "It should be accepted as a most elementary human and moral truth that no man can live a fully sane and decent life unless he is able to say 'no' on occasion to his natural bodily appetites. No man who simply eats and drinks when he feels like eating and drinking, who smokes whenever he feels the urge to light a cigarette, who gratifies his curiosity and sensuality whenever they are stimulated, can consider himself a free person. He has renounced his spiritual freedom and become the servant of bodily impulse. Therefore his mind and his will are not fully his own. They are under the power of his conditioning, his appetites."
We need to understand that we are never masters but always servants. By our very nature we always serve someone either "the devil" or the Lord. A person may be more or less sophisticated in serving the senses, but the end is the same: under dictatorship of the senses we do things that repeatedly get us into trouble, body after body.
Actually, we are thieves. For many births we have been taking and using Krsna's property and calling it our own. I may not consider myself a very big thief, but even if I take a glass of water and think, "This is mine," I'm a thief. As it's said in India, whether you steal a cucumber (khira) or a diamond (hira), stealing is stealing.
And because we are thieves, we are imprisoned by the walls of our independent spirit. A devotee therefore wants to become free of such "independence," and he feels great relief in his humble submission to the Lord.
In other words, a devotee feels a change of heart and a sense of contrition. He thinks, "My dear Lord, for so long I've avoided You. Trying to be the master, I've caused suffering to myself and others, and also, in some respect, to You. But now I intend to change; from now on I am Yours."
Despite such sincerity of purpose and conviction, one may still have difficulty following the four regulative principles. Despite the higher taste of Krsna consciousness, one may still retain the lower tastes.
Here are some tips to make following the regulative principles easier:
Suppose we find giving up meat-eating difficult. Within the Krsna conscious diet are preparations that taste almost like "the real thing." A dish called kofta deep-fried dal patties in tomato sauce tastes surprisingly like meat. Eggplant pakoras, made by deep-frying eggplant coated in a spiced batter, can satisfy the taste for fish.
We can also satisfy our hankering for meat by cooking with ghee. Ghee is said to contain the essence of meat because ghee comes from milk, which is produced from the cow's body. Also, on the market today are many meat substitutes, often made mostly of soya, which may help a person make the transition away from meat.
Another great tip and guiding principle concerns choosing the people with whom we associate. When my family and I visit my mother, for instance, she often remarks that if she could be with us all the time, for her to be a vegetarian would be easy. But as soon as we go, she slips back into her old habits. So association is important, and we should try to always associate with devotees.
But if we are determined to change we can, good association or no, despite our lifelong habits. Though living alone, a woman I knew became a vegetarian at age eighty-six.
What about the sex problem? The regulation "no illicit sex" does not mean "no sex." It means sex for pro-creation only. Sex can be a spiritual act in the service of Lord Krsna. Devotee couples usually bring their newborn babies to the temple and place them before the altar as offerings to the Lord. Children are an important fruit of a marriage, and that fruit is all the sweeter when a child is planned for and wanted.
Knowing that in Krsna consciousness the rule is to have sex only to conceive children, couples coming to Krsna consciousness can try to create a suitable atmosphere of restraint, mutual support, and open communication, so that they can naturally and happily remove illicit sex from their relationship and replace it with the higher taste of Krsna conscious loving exchanges. Otherwise, attempts at celibacy may feel repressive, and the resultant frustration may create great strain for both the couple and their family. Repression, Lord Krsna says, doesn't accomplish anything.
Gambling is a popular pastime, and for some people a dangerous addiction. In the United States alone, sixty percent of the people gamble away millions upon millions of dollars. What a waste of human potential!
How to give up a penchant for gambling? We can start, as we do with the other principles, by dovetailing our gambling proclivity. In 1973, in England, Srila Prabhupada said that we don't actually give up gambling, because we are, in a sense, gambling that Lord Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. We stake our lives on this truth. If you are fascinated by the thrill of staking your hard-earned money, imagine the thrill of staking your hard-earned human life!
We can also consider that there's no such thing as chance. We can never successfully deny or beat the law of karma. Narada Muni explains in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.5.18) that happiness from sense enjoyment comes automatically in the course of time, just as miseries come even though we don't desire them.
We can also meditate on what must be the most momentous gambling match of all time: Maharaja Yudhisthira's game of dice with Sakuni and Duryodhana which led to the great Kuruksetra war.
As for intoxication, I vividly remember how in the same 1973 lecture I mentioned earlier, Srila Prabhupada said that in Krsna consciousness we don't actually give up intoxication, because Krsna consciousness, or love of God, is itself a form of spiritual intoxication. We must simply learn to swim in the ocean of this kind of intoxication to leave our shallow, stagnant backwaters far behind.
People commonly use sex, eating, gambling, or intoxication compulsively to try to numb inner pain or assuage cravings for love and attention. But with the support of loving friends in Krsna consciousness, one can recognize and meet those inner needs and so feel more whole and fulfilled. When a person no longer feels driven to fill up an empty hole inside himself, following the "four regs" becomes much easier.
To want happiness and pleasure is natural. The Vedic mission, Srila Prabhupada says, is to make everyone happy: sarve sukhino bhavantu. Lord Krsna is as ananda-maya by nature full of happiness. So we, as part of Him, are naturally happy too. The only thing that remains, therefore, is to uncover and connect with the source of our natural happiness. Srila Prabhupada has written a small book about this, called Krsna, the Reservoir of Pleasure.
In fact, as Krsna is unlimited and ever-increasing, so is the pleasure felt by His devotee. We will not find anywhere within the material world the intensity of happiness for which we hanker, because the material world is by constitution temporary (anityam) and unhappy (asukham), as certified by its creator, Lord Krsna (Bhagavad-gita 9.33). The very fact that we hanker for unending, unlimited, ever-increasing pleasure is proof in itself that this place is not our home.
If we still feel daunted by the prospect of following the four regulative principles, we can remember that we have a very powerful and kind friend who has our interest at heart. If we put ourselves on the line for Krsna, He will help us. "God helps those who help themselves." There are many wonderful accounts of how Krsna has helped people who sincerely try to walk the spiritual path but who sometimes slip and stumble.
Beginners who sometimes fall short in their efforts to follow the regulative principles can still chant Hare Krsna and add the lotus-eyed Lord Krsna to their lives. Sooner or later everyone who does this will become fixed in the regulative principles, progress to the perfect stage, and go home, back to Godhead. That is Srila Prabhupada's wonderful gift.
Rohininandana Dasa lives in southern England with his wife and their three children. Write to him in care of Back to Godhead.