The Four Regulative Principles

The Mahabharata tells us that addiction to hunting, dice playing, women, and wine are the four things that lead to a man’s downfall. These four activities translate into the pillars of sinful life; meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication.

We usually associate the idea of sins and sinful life with holier than thou preachers
pointing their fingers at people telling them they are going to hell or what not. In truth, sinful life doesn’t have such a direct correlation. Sinful activity really means anything that will keep us bound in the material world. According to Vedic philosophy, we are all spirit souls, who are part and parcel of God. We have entered the material world due to our desire to enjoy it and to think of ourselves as God. Our souls are constantly transmigrating between different bodies in different lives due to our desires and the work we perform in this life, or our karma.  Lord Krishna, or God, states that our next life is determined by our consciousness at the time of death in our current life.

“In whatever condition one quits his present body, in his next life he will attain to that state of being without fail” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-Gita).

Committing sins really means performing activities that will cause us to be attached to the material world and to cause us to return as human beings or other species in our next life. Lord Krishna also states that one who thinks of Him at the time of death is guaranteed to permanently return back to Godhead, or back to Krishna’s spiritual abode.

On a material level, meat eating is bad for our karma since it involves the killing of innocent animals simply to satisfy the tongue.  God is very fair, so
if we kill unnecessarily, we are bound to suffer for it eventually. On a spiritual level, meat eating binds us to this material world since we become addicted to satisfying our senses, namely the tongue and the stomach. The best way to purify one’s eating habits is to eat Krishna prasadam as much as possible.

Gambling is bad for us since it entangles the mind in the mode of passion. When playing dice or betting on sporting events, we are constantly on edge. We anxiously await the result of the next game to see what our potential payout might be. If we
lose a bet, we are quick to wager again, hoping for a different outcome. If we win, then our egos get puffed up and we wager again, raising the stakes in order to increase the excitement. In this way we get bound up into material activities which are in actuality a waste of time. We can achieve an even greater thrill simply by constantly chanting the Holy name of God in a loving way.

Sex life is the highest material pleasure and also the root cause of most of our grief. Illicit sex life, namely any sex outside the bounds of marriage or for any purpose other than to create progeny, leads to the most trouble. Teenage pregnancy, single parenthood, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, divorce, domestic violence are a few of the common problems that are rooted in illicit sex life. God knows that the desire for sex is very strong, so that’s why he gave us marriage. Marriage is God’s institution where regulated sex life is allowed, so that the husband and wife can focus on their primary duty of serving God together.

Intoxication is one of the more obvious sinful activities because so many people develop addictions to it. Whether it be alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, or caffeine, addiction to intoxication is very common. Considering the fact that our senses are impossible to satisfy, it is no surprise that many take to intoxication in an attempt to break free of the senses. Instead of trying to escape the senses, the Vedas tell us to purify them through practicing devotional service to God, or bhakti yoga.

His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the foremost teacher of Vedic wisdom in our time, instructs us to completely abstain from the four pillars of sinful life. This seems like a very difficult regulation, but it is not meant as a punishment. In Sanskrit, these penances are referred to as “tapasya”.
Tapasya doesn’t mean ordinary everyday penances. It means austerities performed with the intent of improving spiritual life. Success in spiritual life requires training and austerities from us just like in any other discipline. In order to attend college, we had to suffer through twelve years of grade school. Practicing medicine is not allowed until one undergoes the long training and passes many exams. Olympic athletes train rigorously for four years in order to perform at their peak.  Similarly, we have to train ourselves now so that we may think of God at the time of our death.

These regulative principles may seem difficult, but why not give them a try? Don’t be discouraged if you are not successful right away. The easiest way to refrain from these activities is to always keep yourself engaged in God’s service wherever you are and whatever you may be doing. Keep chanting “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” and you will be guaranteed of success.

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