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Devotees of the Lord
Rules and regulations

With the fear of losing freedom, no one likes to be restricted. If we are confronted with rules and regulations stating that we shouldn't do this or that, we naturally keep our distance. Yet restriction doesn't necessarily mean loss of freedom. Restrictions for our own benefit are a requirement for freedom.

According to the ancient Vedic teachings, the present age we live in, Kali-yuga, is the age of quarrel, hypocrisy, and degradation. We only have to open a newspaper or to look around us to realize the accuracy of this assertion. And things are bound to get worse as time goes by.

The Four Pillars of Sinful Life

Still, the effects of Kali-yuga can be avoided by rejecting certain activities. The Srimad-Bhagavatam mentions these activities as suna (meat-eating), striyah (illicit sex), panam (intoxication), and dyutam (gambling).

To most modern people the ability to engage openly in these acts is a sign of freedom, but they are unaware of the bondage and karmic reactions involved. The freedom they speak of is the freedom of a football -- to be kicked from here to there.

These so-called sense gratificatory acts are a sign of degradation below the human level. The scriptures therefore advise four regulative principles to keep us on the human level. They directly counteract the four pillars of sinful life and uplift us to the stage from which we can approach spiritual life.

No Meat-eating

To many people being a vegetarian means being a fruitcake, but reality shows that meat-eating has caused global problems that make one wonder whether those who favor it should not be considered nuts. For instance, research and comparative studies over the past twenty-five years show that a meat-based diet is the number one cause of heart disease and cancer.

More than half the world's grain production (1 billion tons annually) is fed to livestock, returning only a seventh in consumable meat. The remaining 860 million tons become inaccessible for human consumption. A loss representing almost half a kilo of grains a day for every person on this planet. This kind of inefficiency is the chief cause of the present world hunger problem. Besides that, the production of meat is one of the main factors of the destruction of our environment.

More than 25 billion animals and a much bigger amount of aquatics are mercilessly slaughtered for food yearly -- hardly a claim of civilized humanity. It makes us merciless and devoid of compassion for all that lives, humans included.

Although these few points are topics on which volumes of books could be written, our main concern here is to show the usefulness of the principle of non-violence. Vegetarianism is not an end in itself, but a first step toward an individual's living in harmony with himself and the world.

No Illicit Sex

We seem to have liberated ourselves from the foolish and primitive shackles of sexual restraint. Yet serious problems have caught up with our progressive march toward newer and stranger sexual practices.

A plague of sexually transmitted disease claims ever-increasing victims. Most prominent and difficult to handle, is AIDS. Now an estimated 12 million adults and 1 million infants are infected and the expectations for the year 2000 are an estimated total of 30-40 million. So far a steady 40% of the cases have proven fatal.

Promiscuity also generates detrimental social effects. Unwanted children that have escaped the gauntlet of birth control and the annual 50 million abortions are often raised with insufficient affection and guidance, and therefore easily fall prey to bad association. City streets and jails abound with these youngsters. And it all began with some sexually preoccupied parents.

Why this nightmare? Why can't we just enjoy a full and healthy sex life? Perhaps we have the wrong idea about the purpose of sex. Sex is meant for having children -- the natural result of sexual union. But we try to avoid nature's arrangement with contraceptives and abortions and thus spoil society. Then if nature tries to tell us that unrestricted sexuality is unnatural, we complain or blame a merciless God. The idea is not to give up sex altogether but to follow its real purpose.

But what about overpopulation? Overpopulation is a myth. The burden lies in the type of population. Therefore we advocate regulated sex and better children over unrestricted sex and unwanted progeny. Sexual pleasure should not be an excuse for a careless way of life full of disturbing side effects.

Therefore we don't find unwanted children, abortion or contraception in ISKCON. We only indulge in sex within marriage, and then only to have children that will be raised in Krishna consciousness. By following the original purpose of sex, nature does not retaliate.

Sex for any other purpose is the cause of bondage and will ultimately lead to disease or unwanted progeny. Sex, more than anything else, fixes our false identification of ourselves with the body, and sexual desire can never be satisfied, for it grows by what it feeds on. Yet this desire for sex can be purified, and once purified it turns to love. By the process of Krishna consciousness we awaken our eternal nature and natural love of God, of which sex is just a perverted reflection.

No Intoxication

Intoxication refers to taking into the body substances that are not required for bodily sustenance and have altering effects on the mind and body. Vedic scriptures therefore include as intoxication everything from tea, coffee and tobacco to liquor, heroine and other more powerful drugs.

Nowadays countless people depend on these substances to stimulate their otherwise boring lives or relieve the many anxieties of urban life. But any objective observer will conclude that such enjoyment or relief is transitory and therefore insubstantial.

Such habits have destructive results. Besides the huge cost and resultant crime, addiction and loss of bodily and mental health eventually ends in disease, premature aging, and the inability to fix the mind intelligently and steadily on any subject or problem. Thus such habits impede spiritual advancement. Beyond this, the use of stronger and stronger intoxicants gradually destroy austerity and cleanliness, which the living conditions of drug-dependent persons confirm.

Drug abuse has penetrated all levels of society, from grade schools to the elite. The crave for artificial pleasure reveals that the average person's daily life lacks real satisfaction and pleasure. Yet after the effect of the drug wears off, the user must return to his usual unsatisfactory condition of consciousness.

To those for whom intoxication has become an integral part of their daily lives, intoxicants may seem to be just another part of reality. But seeming real doesn't qualify something for being real. If we want to deal with reality, we should first of all stop stuffing our brains with unreality. Refraining from drugs helps one become eligible to understand actual reality, and the highest reality is God. One fixed in God consciousness stays high forever.

No Gambling

Five thousand years ago, when the personality of Kali asked Maharaja Pariksit to designate where he could live, the King gave Kali four places -- places of gambling, drinking, prostitution and meat-eating. Where there is gambling, the other prominent symptoms of this age of quarrel and hypocrisy automatically appear.

They used to open treatment centers for heroin addicts, now they open them for the compulsive gamblers. Compulsive gamblers run into enormous financial difficulties -- borrowing or even stealing from others. Heavy debt is a constant factor of their lives. They sleep poorly, usually drink a lot, and are tense, irritable, and indifferent toward eating and affection. They often think of suicide, but always think of the next bet.

Any gambler thinks that with his manipulative ways he can get rich and enjoy. But certain laws defy these dreams, like the laws of nature, which are controlled by the Supreme Lord. These laws are not subject to gambling.

Can you bet against disease? Can you bet against old age? Can you bet against death? No. You will never be able to try your luck with the most stringent law of nature: karma. Therefore the term "chance" in gambling is a denial of the laws of God. One thinks that somewhere in the system is a loophole, a place to beat the odds, a chance to win -- but there isn't.

The soul is not independent but a servant of God. The gambler thinks, "I'm independent, I'm the controller, I can change the odds." In this way everyone caught in the material world is a gambler to one degree or another. If we decide to gamble with the laws of nature, we will be cheated. The Lord is described as the greatest of cheats, but His cheating is different. It is an act of mercy, for he cheats us out of the illusion of being enjoyers.

In Russian roulette, you never know when the loaded chamber will come up and blow your brains out. The game is dangerous, yet men play it. By denying the supremacy of the Supreme Lord and our existence as His eternal servants, we are all playing Russian roulette.

In time, we will again be blown away by death, again cheated by the laws of nature. Who knows when our number of human existence will come up again -- simply because we decided to gamble our lives away...

Pleasure and Defeat

The conditioned soul in this world mistakes temporary forgetfulness of misery for happiness. Thus in conditions that are miserable, we take relief to be pleasure. The same logic may be applied to the four pillars of sinful life.

The so-called pleasure of the material realm is not pleasure at all. In our endeavors for material happiness, we either don't get what we want or we get what we want but it doesn't live up to our expectations, or we get what we want but we cannot keep it. Just by trying to enjoy, we are defeated. Material existence leads to misery, and even the temporary cessation of misery must end.

Spiritual advancement, not material sense gratification, is the real necessity of our civilization. We have dealt here with four of the materialist's most cherished enjoyments, but we have seen the stark truth behind these heinous activities. The very thing embraced as the cure is the cause of disease.

Therefore devotees in ISKCON take a vow during initiation to follow the four regulative principles for the rest of their lives. Although no vow is required before initiation, following the four regulative principles is mandatory for those who want to stay within ISKCON and want to seriously progress in spiritual life.

The Krishna consciousness movement invites all the spirit souls of this world to recognize the importance of the four regulative principles outlined here and to engage in acts of devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who alone promises to take the surrendered soul back home, back to Godhead.

Marriage in Krishna Consciousness

Devotees follow a program of systematic development through different ashrams, or statuses of social life, coming from the ancient varnashrama system mentioned in the Bhagavad-gita and other Vedic texts. The ashrams are spiritual divisions meant to help the devotee pass through the different stages of life. There are four ashrams:
  • Brahmacarya -- celibate student life (about 5-20 years of age)
  • Grhastha -- married, family life (20-50 years)
  • Vanaprastha -- retired life (after 50)
  • Sannyasa -- renounced life
After the students have developed sufficient knowledge and renunciation through study of the Vedic literature under the direction of a bona fide spiritual master, they may either remain as brahmacari and later become a full-time renunciant, a sannyasi, and preach all over the world, or they may get married and have a family.

If they decide to marry, a suitable partner is found. After an engagement period, they are married with a fire sacrifice before the Deity in the temple. Those desiring marriage may find their own spouses or they may request an arranged marriage with their approval. They may have children as they like, but they must be able to support them and offer them a proper standard of spiritual education.

Married couples generally have two choices for economic support. If they are needed in the temple as sankirtan devotees, cooks, pujaris (priests), or managers, then the temple will supply their material needs. If they want to live on their own outside the temple, then they will support themselves by distributing books or prasadam, setting up a business, or even getting a job.

Married life in Krishna consciousness carries a great burden of responsibility. No one should become a mother or father unless they can deliver their children from the cycle of birth and death. Therefore one must be more than a parent; one must be a spiritual guide to the children as well. To properly guide the children, one has to be able to control the mind and the senses. This is often difficult while encumbered with family responsibilities as well as living within an atmosphere where sense gratification is easier to obtain than in the temple. Therefore it is considered harder to be a householder than to be a renunciant.

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