Practical Spirituality – The regulative principles
Everything in this universe, except for the Supreme Lord, has to follow rules and perform the prescribed duties. But Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita that though he is not bound by any rules, he still executes his duties so as to set an example to all the souls.
BG 3.22: O son of Pṛthā, there is no work prescribed for Me within all the three planetary systems. Nor am I in want of anything, nor have I a need to obtain anything — and yet I am engaged in prescribed duties.
BG 3.23: For if I ever failed to engage in carefully performing prescribed duties, O Pārtha, certainly all men would follow My path.
Spiritual practice can be a different experience depending on which path one takes. In general, the best path to take would be and should be the easiest one, is it not? This applies to spirituality as well. But easy does not mean “no rules”. There is a common misconception that is going around that you can do anything you want as long as you say a few prayers and ask for forgiveness. Some even go to the extent to say “Oh, Krishna is like my friend. He just wants us to enjoy like he did!” There are people who even seek to justify their bad habits using Vedic philosophy.
A story I heard: A Krishna devotee was visiting a home once. The lady of the house, during the course of her discussions, mentioned that her son was a good ‘naishtika brahmachari’ and a pious person but he smokes a lot. She requested this devotee to go and talk her son to put some sense in to him. The devotee went outside to the back of the house and found the lady’s son puffing out smoke like a steam engine. When he asked the son: “Sir, why do you smoke this much? Do you not know this is bad for health?” The son replied, “I am not smoking, my body is smoking!”
So, this kind of dangerous ideas can be the result of unguided, self improvised spiritual practice. Vedic Spirituality is not a simple “Be good, Get good” scheme. It is not a way to get material wealth and happiness through ‘grace of God’. Certainly, it is not wrong if someone prays to Krishna for protection in dire times or relief during extremely difficult financial or family situations, but treating Krishna or any of the devatas as “order suppliers” should be strongly discouraged and avoided.
Let’s get back to the topic. For any aspiring, sincere spiritualist, there are 4 basic regulatory principles that must be followed. These rules were followed as a matter of habit in the past, but Srila Prabhupada gave them prominence since he was preaching in a place which was abound with the below practices.
1) No meat eating (meat, fish eggs etc.)
2) No intoxication (smoking, drinking liquor, coffee and tea (yes, you read it right) etc.)
3) No gambling
4) No illicit sex
We will look at these one by one in detail in the order shown.
Before we get in to the details, here are some statements to consider.
From Śrī Īśopaniṣad:
Iso 1: Everything animate or inanimate that is within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord. One should therefore accept only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one should not accept other things, knowing well to whom they belong.
From Upadeśāmṛta (The Nectar of Instruction) of Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī:
NoI 1: A sober person who can tolerate the urge to speak, the mind’s demands, the actions of anger and the urges of the tongue, belly and genitals is qualified to make disciples all over the world.
I will leave these at this point. We will come back to these as and when needed.
Now, for the first rule… being a vegetarian. There will be so many people who might have raised their eyebrows at the other rules, but I am sure the first one comes as no surprise.
Why vegetarianism? For spiritual practice, one of the goals is going beyond the control of the 3 modes of nature. But the first step is to be in the mode of goodness… sattva guna. The other two modes of nature are mode of passion (Rajas) and mode of ignorance (Tamas).
Ok. Quote time.
BG 9.26: If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.
BG 17.7: Even the food each person prefers is of three kinds, according to the three modes of material nature. The same is true of sacrifices, austerities and charity. Now hear of the distinctions between them.
BG 17.8: Foods dear to those in the mode of goodness increase the duration of life, purify one’s existence and give strength, health, happiness and satisfaction. Such foods are juicy, fatty, wholesome, and pleasing to the heart.
BG 17.9: Foods that are too bitter, too sour, salty, hot, pungent, dry and burning are dear to those in the mode of passion. Such foods cause distress, misery and disease.
BG 17.10: Food prepared more than three hours before being eaten, food that is tasteless, decomposed and putrid, and food consisting of remnants and untouchable things is dear to those in the mode of darkness.
You with me still? Good.
Basically, to get situated in the mode of goodness, one must avoid eating foods that are detrimental to such a progress. As such, non-vegetarian items are not categorized as ‘sattvic food’. There are several reasons why this is stressed by the Acharyas. I am not going to go in detail… but will briefly touch upon them.
There is no need to kill animals for food when the same is accomplished through grains, vegetables, fruits and milk. It is quite understandable that this is not possible for people who are desert nomads or Arctic Eskimos. But for people in civilization, where there is plenty of the vegetarian stuff available, to be eating meat is sheer indulgence which takes the animals for granted as being at our disposal. There will be some people who claim animals don’t have souls and hence ‘killing’ them is fine. That is very a foolish argument, as are the claims of some people that we cannot get all nutrition from vegetarian food.
Does this mean it is ok to gorge down on vegetarian food and kill plants as well as trees at our will?
No. Absolutely not! Here is where we refer to the quoted verse of Śrī Īśopaniṣad. Everything belongs to the Supreme Lord but we are allowed our quota for sustenance. Nothing more, nothing less.
There was a question from David on this topic. It is true that many vegetarians take pride in being so, and put down the other side. I was one too, to be honest. I have just one verse to quote on that.
Srimad Bhagavad Gita Canto 3, Verse 13
bhunjate te tv agham papa
ye pacanty atma-karanat
“The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin.”
This is a direct statement from Krishna which is self explanatory. Anything that is prepared as food and eaten without offering it to the Lord is basically sinful. So, even it is vegetarian food, if it is not first offered as ‘nivedya’ and consumed later as ‘prasadam’, it is sinful. Obviously, non-vegetarian food cannot be offered as nivedya (as well as preparations with onion, garlic, mushrooms etc. but more on this later.) This concept of ‘prasadam’ is directly tied to the verse which mentions about controlling the urges of the tongue.
Trust me, in the current world, being a vegetarian is an austerity where one has to be very vigilant in what one eats. But I have seen the effects of food on one’s mental disposition, behavior and mood first hand as well as heard of the same from many others.
I will stop here for this article. In the next installment, we will look in what the other regulative principles are meant to accomplish.
Practical Spirituality – Introduction
(Fair warning: This series of article was born after some pretty nasty incidents that were reported in the news over the last couple of months. This would be of the very direct and no-holds barred kind of series. By the way, all opinions expressed in the articles are mine and my own.)
I am sure everyone would have heard (and probably seen the video courtesy of Sun TV) of Nithyananda and Ranjitha. No, these are not some yesteryear cinema stars. These two are just the most recent ‘famous personalities’ to be brought to disrepute by a hidden video camera, showing them in, let’s just say, compromising positions.
Were you were truly shocked upon hearing this news? Not me.
Did you also see the news item where the infamous ‘Amma Bhagavan’ – the one who named himself as ‘Kalki’ – and his ‘ashramites’ are indulging in some pretty weird stuff under drug induced frenzy?
Were you were truly shocked upon hearing this news? Not me.
(I just saw a news item again few days back which showed Mr. Nithyananda doing some odd ritual… seems like he is undergoing some ‘deep’ penance. What a show!! I really pity his ‘followers’.)
Here he goes… What is the relevance of this sleaze news item to the topic? Ambi is in rambling mode again.
Hear me out, will you?
There is another ‘famous one’ who is very market savvy, and in the guise of teaching people to live, he has made a good living himself, trying to involve in politics now and then. I was at a store last week where I saw a CD of lectures by this person. It was something about contradictions in the Bhagavad Gita. I was kind of amused, actually. Here is a person, who is ‘revered’ by oh-so-many, models himself as a spiritual teacher and yet instead of trying to teach the essence of Bhagavad Gita, he is trying to show himself to be scholarly and giving lectures on a topic which I have no doubt would simply confuse the people more.
Then, there are the VERY famous ones who actually let their followers claim them to be God himself (or sometimes they get followers by making that claim). They make statements like ‘not an ounce of dirt moves without me knowing it’ and create a mystic aura around themselves, make politicians and socialites kneel in front of them and project themselves to be the savior of the masses. It does not matter if such ‘Gods’ are confined to a wheelchair to be able to move around. The sad part is I get justifications for such a position saying ‘oh, it’s just the body. Swamiji is just acting his role in this jada (gross) world’.
The list of such people is only growing every day.
These swamis are no better than some of the fake missionaries who hold huge prayer meetings on the beach or an auditorium claiming to heal cancer and lame legs. And the more I look in to such matters, the more I am convinced that ‘most’ of the people go to such ‘famous swamis’ only for instant gratification… be it wealth, cure from a disease, or generally showing off to the world that they are also ‘spiritual’. The highest and most dangerous form of such gratification comes when you are told “You are God”. But a disclaimer follows: “You haven’t realized that yet. But I have. So worship me.” How ridiculous is that!! Well, to be fair, these are just a small but growing lot of ‘gurus’ who take advantage of the growing lack of knowledge amongst people, on what real spiritual life is.
Srimad Bhagavatam, Canto 12, Chapter 2, Verse 4:
A person’s spiritual position will be ascertained merely according to external symbols, and on that same basis people will change from one spiritual order to the next. A person’s propriety will be seriously questioned if he does not earn a good living. And one who is very clever at juggling words will be considered a learned scholar.
Is this verse relevant here? Well, Canto 12 is titled as “The Age of Deterioration” and the chapter 2 is titled “The Symptoms of Kali Yuga”. Get the idea? In just 4 lines, this verse summarizes what we have been seeing for quite a while and what is getting more and more commonplace these days.
If someone wants to feed you poison, they will not give it for you to drink saying that it is poison. They will say it is nectar and by the time its true nature is revealed, the damage is done on you. It is even more dangerous if the person feeding you thinks the poison to be nectar. So, we need to be aware of what is conducive and what is not for spiritual well being. And for that, I have to do my fair duty in pointing out the poisons from the nectar, and justifying the distinctions. And this is exactly what I will try to address in this series.
I am aware that some people might get offended or feel irritated that I go against ‘established’ Gurus or some popular siddhantas. But that is just a small inconvenience compared to the satisfaction I gain by doing my part to disperse the knowledge which I have received by the mercy of my teachers.
The next article in this series will deal with very basic information on what is spirituality, what it does it take to actually understand spiritual science, what are the first steps that someone can take in getting on to the spiritual path. Of course, all of this will be from the perspective of the Vedic teachings.