“Shri Krishna, the Personality of Godhead, who is the Paramatma [Supersoul] in everyone’s heart and the benefactor of the truthful devotee, cleanses desire for material enjoyment from the heart of the devotee who has developed the urge to hear His messages, which are in themselves virtuous when properly heard and chanted.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.17)
For strict followers of the Vedic tradition, the highest societal designation one can achieve is that of a brahmana. A brahmana is a person who knows Brahman, or the all-pervasive spiritual energy, the representation of the Absolute Truth. All living entities are Brahman, but they are currently unaware of it. When one takes the necessary steps to realize Brahman, they can be recognized as a brahmana. In order to achieve this high platform of understanding, one must refrain from certain activities, with special attention given to four specific engagements. These four activities constitute the pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex. While it is fairly obvious why violence towards animals, excessive drinking, and overindulgence in sex life are harmful, the restriction on gambling may seem a bit puzzling. How does refraining from playing dice, betting on sporting events, and hitting up the blackjack table help us in spiritual life? The issue boils down to honesty, a key prerequisite for returning to the spiritual world.
While most of the spiritual disciplines practiced today put forth an idea as to what the ultimate objective in life is, i.e. that of returning to the kingdom of heaven, the cause of the living entity’s current situation is usually omitted. It’s nice to know that our goal should be to act piously so that God will be happy, but why does this behavior please the Lord? Moreover, how did we separate from Him in the first place? The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that this separation and connection ultimately come down to the issue of desire.
Lord Chaitanya, one of India’s most famous preachers, philosophers, and divine figures, established the ultimate philosophical and spiritual conclusion of achintya-bhedabheda-tattva, which states that the living entities, the autonomous individual spirit souls residing in both the spiritual and material worlds, are both one with and different from the Supreme Absolute Truth, the original Personality of Godhead. This equality with God means that the individual souls are blissful in nature and completely independent in their desires. No one can tell the spirit souls what to do, where to go, and more importantly, what to want. At the same time, the original Personality of Godhead, the person we refer to as God, is superior in quantitative powers. God is always superior to and different from the individual souls, so in this respect, His autonomy is greater. Since God resides in the spiritual world, He is the king of His castle, the master of His domain. When the individual souls, the tiny separated expansions of the Absolute Truth, desire to imitate God and His power of authority, they are sent to a different land, a replica of the spiritual world. This isn’t meant to be a punishment, but rather a way for the kind and compassionate Supreme Lord to allow His internal energy expansions to live out their desires. The individual souls have independence in their desires, so if they want separation from the supreme object of pleasure, it is granted.
When religious leaders speak of behaving piously and acting according to the dictates of established scriptures, the underlying motivation is the hope for changing the worshiper’s desires. If a person sincerely desires to return to their original home, the spiritual sky where the Personality of Godhead resides alongside His liberated associates, their wish will come true. The key is to have this desire at the forefront of one’s consciousness, in a purified state, not tinged by any defects. This is where the issue of honesty comes into play. Since God is the Absolute Truth, those who associate with Him must also be truthful. This pure honesty especially applies to desire, the pure passion to associate with God in a loving way, without any need for the usurpation or imitation of the Lord’s powers of creation, maintenance, and destruction. For one who extirpates all dishonesty from the heart, there is every chance of achieving the ultimate objective of returning to the spiritual sky after death. From the Bhagavad-gita, a concise and complete treatise on Vedic philosophy, we learn that the purified souls, those who honestly desire God’s association, immediately ascend to the spiritual sky upon quitting their body. Having returned to the imperishable realm, the liberated soul never has to descend to the flawed material world again.
“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.16)
Why is the material world considered flawed? At this point, the reason should be fairly obvious. Lord Krishna, or God, created the material world to be a place separate from His spiritual abode. Having placed exalted living entities known as demigods in charge of the various departments of the creation, the Lord sits back and acts as a neutral witness as the living entities go about their activities. Since God is not directly involved in the day-to-day dealings of material affairs, the separated realm must be considered a miserable place. Why does Krishna play a passive role? In the spiritual world, all activities are directed at pleasing Krishna, or one of His primary expansions. The liberated spirit soul offers service to Krishna in their particular mood of choice, either as a friend, parent, servant, lover, etc. In the material world, the nature of activities is different. Separated in terms of consciousness from Krishna, everyone is trying to be the Supreme Controller and the Supreme Ruler. While the magnitude of this desire may vary from person to person, the underlying penchant to be lord and master is there.
Now that we have established the root cause of all material activities, the path to success in spiritual life can be easily deduced. If we can eliminate the root cause of our material bondage, the one thing that causes us to repeatedly go through births and deaths, we can begin to take the necessary steps towards liberation. Routing out the flawed desire to imitate God is not an easy thing; therefore the revealed scriptures divide spiritual activities into different sections, with various do’s and don’ts prescribed for the conditioned living entities. For the people of this age, the primary “do” is the chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This “do” is more effective than refraining from any “don’t” because it tackles the root cause of our bondage with an assertive approach. In any field of activity, game, or competition, it is always better to play offense instead of relying on defense. Offense is proactive; the practitioner has a choice in what moves to make, and they don’t live in fear. By proactively engaging in the chanting process, the central component to the sublime engagement known as bhakti-yoga, one can very quickly eradicate the flawed desire to imitate Krishna, and reassume their true nature of Brahman.
Dedication to this offensive strategy is certainly effective, but for most conditioned souls, there must be a defense as well; a set of don’ts that need to be adhered to. In the Vedic tradition, as in any other spiritual discipline, the list of restricted activities is quite comprehensive. Therefore, for the people of this age, the four most dangerous activities, those things which are the greatest hindrances towards advancement in spiritual life, are given attention. These activities are meat eating, illicit sex, intoxication, and gambling. Meat eating is sinful because it requires unnecessary violence, something is not allowed in the spiritual world. The laws of karma are quite fair, so if we kill another living entity without justification, we are forced to suffer the negative consequence, the worst of which is the repetition of birth and death. Illicit sex is considered the greatest sin because it keeps one’s desires firmly fixed on the illusory energy known as maya. Maya means that which is not, or that which is the opposite of pure spirit [God]. Attachment to maya, manifested through sex life, guarantees that one will remain in the material world. Intoxication takes away cleanliness and intelligence. An intoxicated person will have trouble understanding matters pertaining to God and also adhering to guidelines. It’s difficult to play offense while drunk. If the goal is to defeat our flawed desire to imitate God, we must be sober during our fight.
Gambling is one of the more interesting sinful activities. At quick glance, it seems sort of strange to include gambling as a primary sin. After all, isn’t gambling just having fun? You get a bunch of your friends together and hit up a casino. You play a little craps, roulette, and blackjack, and have a good time. You can also gamble on sporting events, something which increases the enjoyment of watching the game. If you have something at stake in the game, you’ll take a greater interest in it. The reason gambling is listed as one of the primary sins is that it takes away one’s honesty. This honesty is a requirement for one wanting to return to the spiritual world. If a person is dishonest, how can they be trusted? If we’re telling Krishna that we want to be with Him at all times and that we want to love Him without any motive, how can He believe us if we are committed to dishonesty?
To illustrate the influence of dishonesty in gambling, let us study a simple example. In the modern age, playing fantasy sports has become one of the more popular pastimes. Playing a fantasy sport involves getting a group of other individuals together to form teams in a league. Each player owns their own team, which is a lineup consisting of real-life players in a specific sport. The fantasy league follows a sports league, like the NFL, MLB, NHL, etc. For this example, let’s use Fantasy Football. Prior to the NFL season starting, the fantasy teams will hold a draft, where each owner gets to pick the players that will play on their team. Once the draft is over, the teams set their lineups for the first week. In most fantasy football leagues, the format is that of head-to-head, with one team putting their lineup of players against another team’s lineup. Winning and losing are determined by the performance of the real-life players. For example, say that the quarterback I have on my fantasy team has a great week in his game, he will accumulate a certain number of points for my fantasy team. The team with the most accumulated points by all the players in the lineup wins each week.
So far so good, right? No cheating? One of the more intriguing aspects of fantasy sports is the trade. No matter what league you play in, there will always be someone who is looking to swindle other players. They will offer up trade after trade, where they make a proposition to give up certain players on their team in exchange for certain players on the other team. The concept of trading is built exclusively on the principle of cheating. The idea is to cheat the other player, taking his good players while giving him not-so-good players in return. The goal is to find someone who is gullible or unintelligent enough to not realize that he is being swindled.
It can certainly be argued that this tactic isn’t cheating, but rather just an ordinary part of any game. Cheating is usually associated with breaking the rules, ignoring established codes of conduct in order to gain an advantage. Yet why should the definition be limited in this way? The aim of playing dice, roulette, blackjack, or sports in general, is to gain an advantage over the competition. For example, in the sport of hockey, if the goaltender is leaning towards one side during a particular play, the announcers will say that he is cheating. This references the fact that in all fairness, the goaltender would take a certain position in the net, but since he wants to gain an advantage on a particular play, he is leaning towards one side instead of taking the more neutral position.
“I am also the gambling of cheats, and of the splendid I am the splendor. I am victory, I am adventure, and I am the strength of the strong.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 10.36)
The desire to gain an advantage stems from the desire for victory, which is an outgrowth of the desire to imitate God. One of Krishna’s names is Ajita, which means unconquerable. No one can defeat Krishna in any venture without His sanction. Desiring to imitate the Lord, the conditioned living entities are allowed to pursue their dream of attaining “Ajita” status. This desire, however, can never be accomplished, for none of us can cheat the way that Krishna can. God is so great that if He wants to gain an advantage in a particular venture, He’ll gain the best possible advantage. The living entities don’t have this ability.
The great Vaishnava saints didn’t concoct the idea of the four regulative principles on a whim. There is intelligence behind these restrictions. Gambling robs us of our honesty, an honesty which is required in our dealings with our supreme object of pleasure, Lord Shri Krishna. Gambling also causes agitation of the mind, for one is always looking for the next big pay out. There is the famous concept of the gambler’s fallacy, wherein a person thinks they are due a victory after having suffered so many defeats while playing a game of chance. The odds of winning and losing are purely mathematical, statistics which are easily deduced by students of logic. The gambler, however, desperately desiring victory, throws logic and mathematics out the window.
For these and many other reasons, we should pay careful attention to the activities that we take up. The ultimate objective is to change our desires. Whatever we can do to regain our pure loving attachment to God is what we should be committed to. The most effective method is the chanting process. By having a strong offense, along with an alert defense, we can gain victory in our battle against maya. Checking all other desires at the door, we can reenter the spiritual world as liberated souls who love Krishna honestly and purely.
Categories: four regulative principles