“By keeping regular habits and eating simple food, any man can maintain his health. Overeating, over-sense gratification, overdependence on another’s mercy, and artificial standards of living sap the very vitality of human energy.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.1.10 Purport)
Overindulgence in sense pleasures is eliminated through regulation, and regulation is a byproduct of following a disciplinary system. A disciplinary system is followed to reach a certain end, to condition the living entity towards success in a particular venture. Since there is a chain linking these different practices, if the ultimate purpose, the end being furthered, is pure and of the topmost quality, then naturally the other areas will improve in their effectiveness. In the Vedic scriptures this top down approach is ironically likened to “watering the root”, wherein the living entity, who is spirit at the core, takes to their constitutional engagement first, making the pleasure of the Supreme Personality of Godhead their primary business. Through following this non-circuitous route, the ancillary concerns in life get taken care of at the same time.
And what are some of these ancillary concerns? Without a properly situated consciousness, what the spiritualists would view as being secondary in importance actually becomes the primary focus for hankering in the conditioned soul. The mind has two businesses: hankering and lamenting. There is hankering after those things that we want, such as places to go and future situations. Then there is lamentation over what was lost. “I can’t believe how horrible that was. I can’t believe I said that to such and such person. Why am I so stupid?”
Through a regulative system, the mind gets to focus on something more important, thus eschewing its tendency towards hankering and lamenting. Without the proper focus, however, the hankerings can deal with all kinds of issues that are only temporary in their manifestation. For instance, health is an important target for the mind worried about the future. What will happen if we get sick? Will we have enough money to pay for medical treatment? Will our health insurance still be there? Moreover, how do we prevent disease? Can we eat certain foods and be safeguarded that way? Should we try to exercise regularly, for that seems to help keep weight down?
To label these concerns as secondary in importance seems a bit silly, for if we don’t properly maintain our body, how can we perform any vital functions? But in the Vedas, the importance is given first to the spirit soul, who is transcendental, beyond the dualities of health and disease, heat and cold, and happiness and sadness. The body is known to be temporary, for we have been diseased in the past and somehow managed to feel better afterwards. Once the particular ailment was cured, life didn’t suddenly miraculously get better. When we are suffering from a cold or flu, when we wake up in the morning the hope is to just have the disease go away. “When will I get better? When will this stupid cold go away?”
If the health of the body were of primary importance, then on the days that we weren’t diseased we would be ecstatic, no? On most days when we wake up and don’t have the flu, do we say to ourselves, “Wow, I feel great today. I’m so happy that I don’t have a cold or any other disease.”? This may be the sentiment in the immediate aftermath of the disease’s departure, but after a while the healthy condition becomes the norm, something taken for granted. Then the mind focuses on other areas, places where it seeks pleasure.
Lasting pleasure cannot be found through temporary sense enjoyment; so say the Vedas and the wise person who has experienced every variety of temporary sense pleasure. Disease or no disease, if the soul is not intimately tied in a loving bond to its life partner, the Supreme Lord, no condition can be deemed beneficial. On the other hand, one who follows the highest system of religion, bhakti-yoga, automatically finds a way to maintain their health and keep the rest of their lifestyle maintained. The issue, of course, is which religion to adopt and which system to follow. After all, everyone seemingly has their own religious icon, the person who insists on worship. “Jesus says that he is the only way to the father. If you don’t worship him, you’re going to hell.” “Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita that you simply surrender unto Him and be delivered of all fear.”
So which version is correct? Using dogmatic insistence, groups can argue for years and years and never reach a conclusion. One set of scriptures has their particular deity and another has their own. In the Vedic tradition, there is a singular Supreme Lord, but He is not limited to just one form. Neither is there only one doctrine of spirituality. Rather, depending on time and circumstance, only certain pieces of information are given to the people at large. This is because, for whatever reason, the people of the time are not equipped to handle every single piece of information. Indeed, the human mind is severely limited in its thinking abilities, even if it may think otherwise. In this sense there is no real way to completely understand God.
If different groups are only told certain things, how do we find the root, the real beneficiary of religion? While many spiritual traditions espouse the belief in God and the need to worship Him, the Vedic tradition, and especially its works describing bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service, gives more details into the features of the Supreme Lord, His tendencies, His qualities, and His relationship to the living entities, which include us mortal human beings. One who follows bhagavata-dharma actually doesn’t violate the principles of any other religion. Indeed, every single aspect of maintenance and regulation in spiritual life is meant to lead up to the point of devotion to God in full surrender, or sharanagati.
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.66)
Lord Krishna does say that one should surrender unto Him, but this does not come with any threat of punishment, nor is it intended to instill fear. Rather, Krishna declares this in the Bhagavad-gita only after having explained so many other intricate topics, such as reincarnation, the position of the spirit soul, the relationship between spirit and matter, the reason for the creation, the Lord’s position as both personal and impersonal, the three modes of material nature, and what results from following different classifications of behavior.
Even if there is a profession of faith towards a spiritual personality, the words are empty unless acted upon. For instance, if someone insists that we surrender unto such and such person or go to hell, what should happen if we say, “Okay, you’re right. I agree with you. I believe in him now.”? Is that it? Are we free then? We will not suffer in hell? We can just go about doing whatever we want and not suffer the consequences? Obviously the logic is flawed, for a person could then say that they are law-abiding while going out on nightly robbery runs. From applying a little intelligence, the fanatical insistence of religious zealots is exposed to be a complete joke, something which already isn’t taken seriously by the sober mind; hence one of the causes for the rampant lack of religiosity seen around the world.
With the more detailed information provided by Krishna and His Vedas, we understand that as soon as the living entity turns its back from God there is trouble. This means that a hellish condition is automatically created; it doesn’t need to be explicitly inflicted in the future. Reincarnation itself is seen as the worst kind of punishment, because the individual soul voluntarily surrenders to material nature, which doesn’t bring it the happiness that it wants. Even if one doesn’t want to believe in the transmigration of the soul, they can understand that their own bodies have changed many times during their lifetime. At the same time their identities haven’t changed; thus proving that the soul remains unchanged while travelling within a particular body that does always change.
Bhagavata-dharma turns the tides by pointing the living entity back in the direction of the spiritual world, where they get to see the Supreme Lord and His smiling face. The aim of reaching the supreme destination is best furthered by regular chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. More than just a profession of faith, chanting in this way sacrifices time and effort. Moreover, consciousness gets changed. If the prevailing thoughts within our mind are directed towards furthering the goal of loving God, then naturally the activities we follow will be altered as well; thus giving meaning to the original profession of faith.
The quickest way to find true happiness is to simply hear about God. That is why the Vedic scriptures exist; to allow the hearing to take place for many generations of mankind. The crown jewel of Vedic literature is the Shrimad Bhagavatam, whose most blissful message is found in the tenth canto, which nicely presents the early pastimes of Lord Krishna, who is considered the original form of Godhead. Yet in order to truly relish these pastimes, one must purify themselves. This makes sense if we think about it. If someone’s worldview, their ultimate conclusion in life, relates to sense gratification, then when they hear about Krishna they will apply an incorrect filter. They will judge all of Krishna’s actions and teachings in the scope of their relationship to sense gratification. The same defect is there in every kind of worldview not related to love of God.
When one follows the principles and regulations of spiritual life as passed down by the Vedas, they get to purify their consciousness to the point that they can really relish Krishna’s pastimes and understand them for what they are. The first instruction taught to aspiring transcendentalists of the Vedic school is aham brahmasmi, which means “I am Brahman.” If we understand that we are not our body, then we can accept that sense gratification, the accumulation of huge amounts of wealth, the possession of worldwide fame, the enjoyment of endless sex life, and so many other things have nothing to do with us. With this knowledge, we will better be able to relish Krishna’s glorious lila.
“There is no possibility of one’s becoming a yogi, O Arjuna, if one eats too much, or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 6.16)
The practice of regulative principles is meant to culminate in loving devotion to God. Therefore one who follows bhagavata-dharma from the start will gradually ascend to the liberated platform. Lest we think the ancillary concerns in life won’t be covered, the system of maintenance provided accounts for everything. Even health is accounted for. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna states that the transcendentalist aiming for perfection in consciousness, the yogi, does not eat too much or too little. He also doesn’t sleep too much or too little. Seems like a pretty simple regulation to understand. Follow a dedicated routine, and don’t go down either extreme. From regulation comes sobriety of mind and a better opportunity for understanding the highest concepts of spiritual life.
Those following bhagavata-dharma keep a steady routine, wherein they eat just the right amount of food and follow basic principles on a daily basis. The first guiding principle is the regular chanting of the holy names, up to sixteen rounds of japa meditation on the maha-mantra daily. Then there is abstention from meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. The rest of the time is spent immersed in bhakti, which can follow pretty much any avenue of activity. Arjuna, the famous bow warrior, remained in bhakti even while fighting. The aim is to stay connected with Krishna and to act in a way that will increase one’s God consciousness. Overindulgence in sense gratification, overeating, being too reliant on other people, and other extremes keep the body in an unsteady state.
Through simple living, the vitality of the body can be maintained. Rather than try to force this upon oneself through rigid austerity, if one simply keeps the goal of God consciousness in mind, the rest will take care of itself. Just as we know to fall asleep at a certain time to avoid being tired the next morning for work, if our aim is to follow our religious principles to stay connected with God, we will think twice before doing something that will jeopardize the successful outcome. Simple living and high thinking is the Vedic motto, and one who follows it will find happiness at every step in life.
Motto is to follow simple living,
Leaves extra time for high thinking.
Keep the goal of God in mind,
For happiness in life to find.
Difficult to keep track of regulation,
Without knowing the proper direction.
By trying to reach God with devotion,
Other pieces fall into place without effort.
With eye on prize one will use discretion,
So that aim of reaching God will not be hurt.
Harmful is overindulgence in sense gratification,
And relying on others and eating too much.
Follow devotion to Krishna with dedication,
To gain knowledge and feel transcendental touch.
With goal in mind to stay with the spiritual,
Comes ability to easily handle the material.