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Four Regulative Principles

Counting down to zero karma
Initiated devotees within the Krishna consciousness movement vow to chant a minimum quota of the Hare Krishna mantra each day on beads. They also take vows to avoid 1) intoxication, 2) illicit sex, 3) meat eating, and 4) gambling. These are commonly known as the "four regulative principles."

Anyone can chant anywhere and anytime and get spiritual benefit. At the same time, mantras are more potent when received from a teacher and chanted as part of a process of self-purification. All formal training requires discipline. When we chant the Hare Krishna mantra while avoiding things that intensify our material illusion, we can more easily experience our natural spiritual consciousness.

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Indulging in the above four things strongly reinforces our mistaken idea that our temporary, material body is the same as our self, and that bodily and mental pleasure equals happiness. When we follow the four regulative principles, it's easier to focus on the mantra with a peaceful mind, and chanting with greater focus can awaken an unparalleled sense of well-being. The more we realize the pleasure of Krishna consciousness, the more we want to avoid anything that would compromise it.

Intoxication comes from the word "intoxicate," which literally means "to poison." Our list of intoxicants includes alcohol, recreational drugs, tobacco, and caffeine. Why avoid them? Needless to say, such things tend to be addictive. And to chant a mantra meant for achieving freedom from all material bondage while becoming dependent on substances we ingest is counterproductive.

Plus, we're already intoxicated if we think that we—eternal, spiritual beings—can find perfect, permanent happiness in the material world, a place where everything grows old and dies. If we're serious about any kind of yoga, we'll avoid anything that further skews our perception. A clear and steady mind is needed.

Illicit sex has both gross and subtle components. According to dharma—codes of behavior recommended for spiritual upliftment—sex is most appropriately engaged in between husband and wife for the purpose of having children. Sexual activity aside from that is considered illicit, since it doesn't connect the activity to any spiritual purpose. Contemplating and fantasizing about sex are also distractions from spiritual meditation, since thinking tends to lead to feeling and willing. And where there's a will, there's a way.

Meat eating includes fish and eggs. Becoming vegetarian doesn't make one more "spiritual," but eating meat dulls the consciousness to such a profound degree that one isn't able to understand spiritual philosophy. The real point is to only eat things offered to Krishna. Such spiritualized food, prasadam, benefits whoever eats it. Cows who provide milk products offered to Krishna also benefit spiritually, as do the plants from which the grains, fruits, and vegetables come.

Gambling includes not only casino-style games of chance but also lotteries, card games, dice, bingo, etc.. Such activities foster a cheating mentality, of getting something for nothing, and can lead to addictive behavior and dishonesty in general.

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We like to quote our sources. This page is based on the following:

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 1.1.6, Purport:

    "The four major vices of Kali-yuga are (1) illicit connection with women [or men], (2) animal slaughter, (3) intoxication, (4) speculative gambling of all sorts."

  • Bhagavad-gita, 2.44:

    "In the minds of those who are too attached to sense enjoyment and material opulence, and who are bewildered by such things, the resolute determination of devotional service to the Supreme Lord does not take place."

  • Bhagavad-gita, 2.59:

    "The embodied soul may be restricted from sense enjoyment, though the taste for sense objects remains. But, ceasing such engagements by experiencing a higher taste, he is fixed in consciousness."

  • Bhagavad-gita As It Is, 2.59, Purport:

    ". . . restrictions are there for the less intelligent neophytes in the spiritual advancement of life, but such restrictions are only good until one actually has a taste for Krishna consciousness. When one is actually Krishna conscious, he automatically loses his taste for pale things."

  • Bhagavad-gita, 2.66:

    "One who is not connected with the Supreme [in Krishna consciousness] can have neither transcendental intelligence nor a steady mind, without which there is no possibility of peace. And how can there be any happiness without peace?"

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 9.20.24-26, Purport:

    ". . .in this age of Kali people all over the world should refrain from the four principles of sinful life—illicit sex, meat-eating, intoxication and gambling—and in a pure state of existence should perform the simple yajna of chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. Then the earth will certainly produce all the necessities for life, and people will be happy economically, politically, socially, religiously and culturally. Everything will be in proper order."

  • Path of Perfection, Chapter 8:

    "This chanting of Hare Krishna is so potent that through it we will immediately be purified. We should have the determination, however, not to become implicated in further impious activities. Therefore, for those who want to be initiated in this Society for Krishna consciousness, there are four principles: no illicit sex, no intoxication, no meat-eating, and no gambling.

    We don't say, "No sex." But we do say, "No illicit sex." If you want sex, get married and have Krishna conscious children. "No intoxication" means not even taking tea or coffee—to say nothing of other intoxicants. And there is no gambling and no meat-eating (including fish and eggs). Simply by following these four basic rules and regulations, one becomes immediately uncontaminated. No further endeavor is necessary. As soon as one joins this Krishna consciousness movement and follows these rules and regulations, material contamination is immediately removed, but one must be careful not to be contaminated again. Therefore these rules and regulations should be followed carefully.

    Material contamination begins with these four bad habits, and if we manage to check them, there is no question of contamination. Therefore, as soon as we take to Krishna consciousness, we become free."

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 10.1.4, Purport:

    "The instructions of Bhagavad-gita and the descriptions of Srimad-Bhagavatam are so pleasing that almost anyone suffering from the threefold miseries of material existence will desire to hear the glories of the Lord from these books and thus benefit on the path of liberation. Two classes of men, however, will never be interested in hearing the message of Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam—those who are determined to commit suicide and those determined to kill cows and other animals for the satisfaction of their own tongues."

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