From ancient Vedic scriptures like Bhagavad-gita comes the message that our human life, with its developed intelligence, is meant for spiritual realization. These scriptures teach the principle that in the body there is an eternal unchanging soul who has a fully blissful relationship with the Supreme Soul, Lord Krsna, or God, that he has now forgotten. Because of this forgetfulness, we all undergo the inconveniences and miseries of material life, like old age, disease, apparent death and many others, and we lead lives that fail to give us enduring happiness or full satisfaction. Therefore Bhagavad-gita recommends that one seek out a spiritual master who has received the Vedic messages from a line of spiritual masters coming down from Lord Krsna Himself and from such a master learn the true nature of spiritual life and the most practical means of experiencing it.
The Vedas say that any society based on these principles of spiritual realization will automatically be peaceful and prosperous because spiritual culture naturally gives rise to simple and austere living with ever increasing satisfaction. People living in this spiritual way have little cause for envy or quarrel. Because their simple life takes only the bare necessities from the world, they do not disturb the natural harmony of God’s material nature, which is meant to provide amply for all when undisturbed by greedy men. Moreover, Lord Krsna is pleased when fallen souls endeavor to associate again with Him, and so He sees especially to their needs, even when the general, godless civilization has put itself into difficulties. He also gradually reveals Himself to His devotees, and thus their happiness is ever increasing.
In the present human society around the world, we observe neither peace nor general prosperity, but, rather, increasing division, discord and calamities of all kinds. From the Vedic viewpoint, these clearly arise from a complete neglect of the need for spiritual advancement. Although some people still profess various religious creeds, they have but little interest in actually liberating the spirit soul from material conditions for returning to the spiritual association of God. As human society in this way neglects the plan of the Supreme Lord, we can expect only ever increasing difficulties as our fallible leaders and planning commissions compound error upon error in a futile attempt to establish the kingdom of God without God.
The ancient Vedic scriptures say that in a proper culture the human mind will naturally take interest in understanding God and spiritual life. Vedic histories tell us that 5,000 years ago and beyond, such proper culture and spiritual orientation were prominent. But in the present iron age—called the Kali-yuga—doubtfulness and lack of interest in spiritual life bring an era of gross materialism, hypocrisy and quarrel. In this age we see the rise of an improper culture where passion for sensual enjoyment gives rise to inauspicious activities that pollute human consciousness, gradually destroying the spiritual inclination of human intelligence.
The scripture Srimad-Bhagavatam explains that a peaceful, spiritually progressive culture rests on four pillars-austerity, truthfulness, cleanliness and mercy. These four qualities indicate a state of goodness conducive to spiritual aspiration. Unfortunately, the characteristic of this Kali-yuga is that men become inclined toward four basic sinful activities that break these four pillars of religiosity, leading men into the darkness of passion and ignorance. These four degrading activities, which cause humanity in this age to fall from the spiritual path into frustrated materialism, are gambling, intoxicating habits, illicit sex, and animal slaughter and eating of animal foodstuffs (meat, fish and eggs).
I know very well that nearly all the people of the world today commonly engage in many or all of these practices. One of them, eating of animal foods, is usually begun in the first year of life, and the other three are usually taken up-with or without society’s consent—in the teen-age years or even before. In fact, the reader may well find that in the course of presenting this information, I have identified his favorite pastimes. My purpose in doing so is not to condemn or even criticize. But I know that few people in the world have a good understanding of why one should not engage in these four activities. The problem, therefore, is not so much negligence as a lack of understanding, and my only interest in now presenting criticism of these activities is to help the reader understand why one should abandon them if he wants to awaken his eternal Krsna consciousness, or even lead a peaceful, happy life in this world.
The first sinful activity is gambling. By Vedic standards, gambling is taken to mean not only betting with money over games or sporting events, but also speculative, dishonest or illicit business dealings. The primary result of such activities is excessive material attachment due to increased greed and avarice. Other results are loss of mental equilibrium because of anxiety, suffering of the participants because of loss, and an increase of dishonesty and cheating that destroys the elevating quality of truthfulness. People gamble because they are attracted by the excitement of risk and the possibility of material gain, but the resulting excessive attachment eliminates the possibility of liberating the eternal soul from material entanglements, and it also causes dishonesty, enmity and even violence in social relationships.
The gambling propensity extends itself even into the sphere of religion and spiritual life when men want to understand or explain spiritual matters and revealed scriptures on the strength of their speculative abilities although they have no factual experience of spiritual reality. One should try to understand spiritual life only by hearing receptively from those who appear to be fully self-realized spiritual masters. If one instead chooses to rely on his own cleverness, even though he is fallible in every way, he is gambling away the valuable spiritual opportunity of human life.
Lord Sri Krishna appearing in His beautiful two-handed form is the original Personality of Godhead. Yet the Lord also appears in innumerable other forms for various pastimes. As four-handed Visnu, the form pictured here, the Lord becomes no bigger than a thumb to appear in the heart of every living being. The Lord is personal, not impersonal and meditation on His personal form is much easier and more sublime than impersonal meditation. Perfect yogis concentrate their minds on this transcendental form of the Lord beginning from His lotus feet and gradually rising higher and higher, up to His smiling face. The more one meditates on this transcendental form of the Lord, the more his intelligence will be purified and thus he will be freed from all material desires and attain the highest spiritual perfection. This is fully described in Srila Prabhupada’s Srimad-Bhagavatam, Second Canto, where this original oil painting first appeared.
Intoxication refers to the taking into the body of various chemicals that are not necessary for bodily maintenance and have stimulating or depressive effects on the mind and body. Under this heading the Vedic scriptures include everything from tea, coffee and tobacco, with their caffeine and nicotine, to liquor and other more powerful drugs. Countless people in this age depend on some such intoxicants for stimulation or relief from anxiety, but any objective observer will conclude that such enjoyment or relief is only transitory and therefore has no real substance.
Instead, there are many detrimental results coming from such intoxicating habits. They cause dependency on material, worldly supports that are never certainly available, and this dependency can increase with the strength of the intoxicant, up to the point of addiction. These habits generally cause loss of bodily or mental health, resulting eventually in disease, premature aging, and inability to fix the mind intelligently and steadily on any subject or problem. In this way, such habits impede spiritual advancement by binding a person with material attachments and at the same time agitating the mind so that it cannot be fixed in meditation on the self and God. Beyond this, with the use of stronger and stronger intoxicants, cleanliness is gradually destroyed—witness the usual living conditions of addicts, alcoholics and drug-dependent hippies—and the mind is led into degradation and a miserable future. Of course, the stronger the intoxicant, the more pronounced the effects, but we can easily observe in these days how the use of milder intoxicants gradually leads toward dependence on stronger ones.
“Illicit sex” refers to any sex life outside of marriage and, more than that, for any purpose other than begetting children. While this may seem to imply undue restriction of our greatest physical enjoyment, there are many reasons why unrestrained sex indulgence is the cause of both social breakdown and failure to attain spiritual life in Krsna consciousness.
When one engages in sex outside of marriage, or even in marriage when not children but sexual pleasure is the desired product, the result is that if children come, they are unwanted. “We desired only to enjoy sex,” the parents lament, “but now this child has come, and we are being inconvenienced.” Or, worse than this, the father abandons the mother and child, or the child is rejected by both parents. Such unwanted children are naturally brought up with insufficient affection and guidance. Lacking any kind of proper upbringing and lusty because they were conceived out of lust only, they easily fall into bad association with demoniac people and become dangerous, vice-ridden rascals. City streets and jails around the Western world are presently becoming overburdened with gangs of such dangerous ruffians, and the original responsibility lies with their irresponsible, sexually preoccupied parents.
Another consequence of this unrestrained sexual indulgence in a society without spiritual understanding is that people become more and more inclined toward contraception and abortion. Although a soul is meant to take birth as a result of their sexual intercourse, the parents deny him entrance to the womb by contraception, or they kill his body while he is yet unborn. It is foreseeable that as this godless, materialistic outlook advances, people will discreetly begin to kill born offspring as well if such children do not suit their schemes for sensual enjoyment. Although everyone can sense that all these activities are abominable and against the laws of nature, and although the scriptures identify them as murder, which will send those responsible into hellish conditions after death, people are nevertheless resorting to such killing processes more and more to avoid impediments or restraints to their sensuality.
Vedic scriptures like Bhagavad-gita therefore inform us that one should indulge in sex only in marriage, and then only at the times when children are likely to be conceived. The husband and wife should be devotees of the Lord, and they should raise and educate their children to be Krsna conscious. Lord Krsna states that such sex life, which is not contrary to religious principles, is a representation of Himself.
When intended for sensual pleasure however, sex not only degrades human society but also destroys austerity, creating excessive attachment for the body and bodily pleasures. Thus a person engrossed in sexual indulgence has no possibility of uncovering and experiencing the eternal nature of his soul, not to speak of directly perceiving God in his heart. In this way, unrestrained sex roots us in bodily consciousness rather than Krsna consciousness.
The fourth degrading activity, and probably the most sensitive subject for most people in the West, is animal slaughter. This refers to slaughtering or troubling animal forms of life in order to eat their bodies or eggs. Implicated in this process are not only the actual killer of an animal but also the farmer, the transporter, the distributor, the retailer, and the server and eater of meat, fish and eggs.
When there is no other healthy food available, and where the land is unsuitable for cultivation for vegetable production and dairy farming (conditions generally found only in some desert areas and near the poles), a human being is justified in killing and eating animals. Otherwise, Vedic scriptures inform us that institutionalized animal slaughter and subsistence on animal flesh and eggs are the most condemned of all sinful activities, resulting in personal and social misery and effectively blocking any attempt at spiritual advancement.
Scriptural rules and regulations are not meant simply to inconvenience us in our attempt to enjoy life, but rather to open the door to higher and fuller enjoyment by spiritual realization in a peaceful culture. Please consider, therefore, the reasons offered by our line of spiritual masters to justify this Vedic injunction.
The first reason is the reaction due to slaughter. In Bhagavad-gita it is explained that every action performed on the material platform—that is, with the intention to enjoy the result—will subject us to a reaction-in-kind in the future (generally in the next material body we take because of our material desires at the time of death). In other words, we will reap what we sow, as the Bible puts it, in terms of enjoyment and suffering in our next life, in exact accordance with the enjoyment or suffering we cause other living beings in this life.
Now, it is a cruel fact of life in the material world that one living being can feed himself only by troubling or killing another, and we all need to eat, even if we are culturing Krsna consciousness, simply to maintain our bodies. This does not, however, justify troubling or killing conscious animals who can experience fear and pain when systematically slaughtered. When milk products are available, as well as simpler forms of life that do not suffer when their fruit is removed or even when they are killed, such slaughter is completely unnecessary.
The cows, sheep and other animals we slaughter, as well as the chickens whose eggs we take, are all capable of consciously suffering, just as we do, because they have developed minds and senses. (Plants also, of course, can register rudimentary sensations, but nothing like the fear, pain and pleasure of animals.) Humans are more intelligent than animals, however, and if we misuse our intelligence simply to gratify our lusty tongues, causing misery to animals when we could instead subsist on simpler forms of life that do not suffer when killed, then, according to the Vedas, we ourselves will be liable to slaughter in the future. For example, today soldiers and civilians all over the world are being maimed and slaughtered in wars, just as they have previously slaughtered animals. The Vedas say that there will be constant wars as long as there are slaughterhouses, and in this way parents will have to suffer as their sons are killed, just as a cow suffers when her calf is dragged away and butchered to provide our veal cutlets. This is the law of karma (material activity).
Adverse Psychological Effects
The second reason for the Vedic injunction against meat eating is that eating of flesh (or unborn flesh—e.g., eggs) creates inauspicious psychological effects, especially for those who want to understand spiritual life. The animal food we eat has been dead for hours or days, usually by plan (as meat is aged to increase its flavor), and this means that it is decomposing. The harsh juices from such decomposing flesh cause corrosion in the nervous system, and this can ultimately result in senility, palsy or insanity. It is a verifiable fact that for those peoples of the world who are primarily vegetarian (such as the older generation in India) these three curses of life are much less common than in the West. On the other hand, the Vedas inform us that cows’ milk provides us with necessary animal fat in a form just suitable for the development of the fine brain tissues and higher intelligence necessary for understanding spiritual life.
The more general psychological effect of eating animal foods is the creation of a gross state of consciousness in which one easily becomes harsh, angry and morose, and in which it is very difficult to understand the philosophy and practice of spiritual life The Vedas inform us that after many years of meat eating it is virtually impossible for a person to understand or accept spiritual principles, and even if he does understand, he cannot advance in the very subtle culture of spiritual knowledge and bliss until he puts aside this grossest habit. In addition to the Krsna consciousness movement, there are many groups interested in spiritual culture around the world who accept this principle of vegetarianism as essential, including some Christian sects and monastic orders and even some nondevotional sects such as the practicing Buddhists and impersonalists (monists) of Asia. Lord Buddha especially stressed the inauspicious psychological effects of flesh eating in preaching his doctrines of ahimsa (nonviolence) and meditation.
The third reason applies particularly to those who want to advance in love of God, or Krsna consciousness. In Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna advises that we eat only food first offered to Him in loving sacrifice. He says that if food is offered with love and devotion, He will actually eat it with His unlimited, all-pervading eyes and ears, without actually removing it, as it is offered on the altar with suitable prayers. Offering food in this way forms a purifying link with the Lord through devotion, and Lord Krsna instructs that if one subsists only on the purified remnants of such offerings (Krsna prasada), his whole existence becomes sanctified, and he advances surely in Krsna consciousness.
In Bhagavad-gita Krsna specifically requests that “a leaf, a fruit, a flower or a little water” be offered to Him, and similarly the Vedas instruct in other places that milk products, fruits, grains, vegetables and sugar are the foods to be offered and eaten. Thus, a devotee automatically becomes a vegetarian, since he accepts only Krsna prasada. Others, who do not care to accept this reasonable process, but who instead go on gratifying their tongues with the products of slaughter and misery, can be assured that in the future they themselves will become more and more bestial, losing entirely the quality of mercy and being themselves slaughtered in hellish conditions, even birth after birth.
These, then, are some of the more salient reasons offered in the Vedic scriptures why gambling, intoxication, illicit sex, and animal slaughter and meat eating should be shunned by everyone. Basically, each of them results in future individual suffering and the breakdown of society, and, at the same time, each disqualifies one from experiencing his eternal, blissful spiritual life in direct touch with God. One cannot free his eternal self from material illusion if he engages in any of these practices, even if he practices some religious or yogic process, because such activities root us in material consciousness.
A Higher Taste
The difficulty is that each of these four activities is a source of strong sensual stimulation and mental diversion. Because we are accustomed to accept such stimulation as pleasure, we are generally very much attached to some or all of these sinful activities. If we are now asked to give them up, even with the best of arguments, we will find this difficult.
To put aside what we accept as enjoyment is naturally difficult because originally, as spirits, we are meant to enjoy fully. Lord Krsna speaks of this in Bhagavad-gita (Chapter Two) when He says that even one who puts aside an inferior activity but maintains a taste for it in his mind is simply pretending and will later fall down from his artificial renunciation. He goes on to say, however, that one who puts aside unwanted so-called enjoyments by experiencing a higher taste-the taste of spiritual enjoyment-becomes firmly fixed in spiritual consciousness.
The necessity, then, is to understand the spirit soul’s way of enjoying and a practical method by which we can actually experience that enjoyment, regardless of our past activities. Only in this way can we become truly detached from materialistic life, easily putting aside all sinful activities.
As I have already mentioned, the Vedic scriptures tell us that we are actually eternal servants of Lord Krsna, or God. Now we are in a fallen condition, but in our constitutional state we enjoy unlimited bliss by lovingly associating with the Supreme Person, who is the reservoir of all pleasure. If we can practically engage even our temporary bodies and minds-all we presently have to work with-in the service of the Lord, then only will we begin to experience the higher taste of spiritual pleasure that will give us relief from material lust and sinful life.
In the Krsna consciousness movement we are practicing such devotions life under the guidance of our spiritual master and the Vedas, and because the process is pure, we are finding that we can strictly, but without strain, abstain from these four degrading practices By fully engaging our minds, bodies words, work, wealth—everything at our disposal—in the service of Lord Krsna we are actually relishing spiritual plea sure in the culture of love of God am making progress toward regaining our eternal positions in the spiritual world In the process, our society of devotee is naturally becoming peaceful and harmonious, showing that the quarrel and hypocrisy of the Kali-yuga quickly vanish wherever sinful life is stopped.
The keys to beginning to experience Krsna consciousness are easily available to everyone. Not everyone can immediately put aside gambling, intoxication and so on, even if one can understand that he should do so, but anyone car sing or chant the holy names of the Lord—any such names around the world—and perhaps also taste a bit of food first offered to the Lord. Perhaps he may also be able to understand an authoritative discourse or publication about Krsna consciousness.
The Vedas say that the Supreme Lord is unlimited and that He personally pervades such devotional activities, and thus anyone who engages in them is gradually delivered by His supreme potency. Even the most sinful of all sinners can be delivered by the simple process of chanting the names of God and gradually become determined to give up all sinful activities and go on from this platform to relish supreme enjoyment in love of God.
Therefore, regardless of your present habits, whether pure or impure, we invite you to please join us in chanting Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, and perhaps visit a center for Krsna consciousness to taste some Krsna prasada and hear more as well. In such harmless activities there can be no loss, and you may find the greatest gain.