On one Hand, The Lifestyle Characteristics Discussed in this book might seem difficult to attain. On the other, that they are extremely relevant for contemporary society. The fact that many people may or may not be able to (or want to) adhere to them in no way diminishes their relevance and importance.
As a physician, people often come to me seeking direction on the road to well being, and I point them toward a positive coupled with a routine of healthy habits. The four principles of freedom, as outlined in this book, underlie such habits, offering a framework for well being.
These principle, based on India's Vedic texts, partake of timeless wisdom. The Vedas, known to humanity for approximately 5,000 years, cover such subjects as Ayurveda (holistic healing) and Yoga, which have come to the fore only recently. Similarly, in the twentieth century, His Divine Grace A.G. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder and spiritual leader of the Hare Krishna movement, has distilled Vedic wisdom, revealing the importance of certain sub-religious principles, such as the avoidance of meat-eating, illicit sex, intoxication and gambling. The book you now hold in your hands follows in that tradition, renaming these four principles: vegetarianism, continence, sobriety, and honesty. The positive perspective in the wording of these principles is reflected throughout this book.
But do not let its positive spirit dissuade you from its urgency. While reading this book I ask you to deeply contemplate its content, for its message can have significant ramifications in your life.
There is a proverb that says today will become yesterday tomorrow. Life is no longer about what could have been but what will be. It is thus vital to achieve significant goals, indicating that you as a human being have contributed to the world, physically and spiritually-changing it for the better. We are here for many reasons, not least of which is to better all that is and as assist the soul on its endless journey toward betterment.
Back of the Book
His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder and spiritual leader of the Hare Krishna movement distilled ancient India's Vedic wisdom, revealing the importance of certain subreligious principles, such as the avoidance of meat-eating, illicit sex, intoxication and gambling. The book you hold in you hands follows in that tradition, renaming these four principles: vegetarianism, continence sobriety, and honesty. The positive perspective in the wording of these principles is reflected throughout this book. Each of these principles in illuminated in terms of the underlying morals and ethics that rests at their base. A thorough reading of this book, then, will function as a ladder for the discerning reader, from the fundamental rung of proper behavior to the topmost steps of spiritual realization.
NO ONE LIKES TO BE TOLD WHAT TO DO. We pride ourselves on our freedom. If we want to act inappropriately, who can stop us? After all, we are mature human beings-we’ve the right to do what we please. If I feel like eating red meat-even though I know it’s bad for me-I will. If I want to play games of chance and lose a little money-hey, it's fun. If I want to have an occasional drink or even get downright drunk!-who's to tell me not to? And if I want to enjoy one hundred sexual partners, well, that’s up to me. Fact is, I’m my own Person, and I don’t need anyone telling me what to do.
Still, it’s only reasonable to heed good advice. If there’s evidence that eating meat is dangerous, maybe I should lay off. If I could spend my time more constructively, why gamble? And maybe getting straight and being faithful to one partner isn’t such a bad idea. The problem is, we don’t want to lose our sense of freedom. We want to make sure that if we’re going to give up certain simple pleasures, we’re doing it because we want to, or because we know we should-not because of irrational fear or because someone is telling us to. Moreover, in the name of caution, we don’t want to weed out the few fun things that life has to offer. Change is difficult, and before we commit to it, we want to make sure it’s worthwhile. Generally, we’d rather fight than switch.
When change comes into our lives, it naturally meets resistance. Especially when we’re asked to change things that are near and dear-like immediate sense pleasures. We feel restricted. Our freedom seems stifled.
But restriction is not necessarily opposed to freedom. In fact, certain restrictions allow one the opportunity to become truly free. For example, if I tell you “don’t jump off the roof,” by restricting your jumping I am helping you to truly exercise your freedom. Indeed, your freedom of movement would come to an abrupt end if you were to ignore that simple bit of good advice. Similarly, if I ask you not to drink poison, you could hardly consider that to be restricting. Unless, that is, you are determined to kill yourself. Although restricting in one sense, in a far larger sense refraining from poison is nothing less than a requirement for freedom.
Yet many people in our present day and age are willingly drinking poison in the name of freedom.
Readers of this short book may think it unfair to compare the principles presented here to being free. These principles can’t possibly be as important for our freedom as is abstaining from drinking poison. But we ask our readers to view the following with an open mind. We feel that sufficient evidence is given to support our contention that these particular restrictions are indeed required if we are to know freedom in our day-to-day life. Moreover, they will help us interact with the world in a more appropriate way, empowering our neighbors with the freedom that they, too, deserve. Unless we are concerned about such things, we can hardly be considered moral and ethical beings, as we shall soon see.
According to the Vedic literature, the world’s oldest religious scriptures, we are presently in the age of Kali, an age that is characterized by immoral and unethical behavior, by quarrel, hypocrisy, and general degradation. Of course, we need not consult scriptures to know for certain that this is true. Just open the newspaper. Headlines abound with stories of murder, rape, thievery, and criminal activity of every description. And things get worse as the years pass.
Still, one can avoid the effects of the age of Kali, at least in one’s own life. By fully understanding and practicing the regulative principles outlined in this book, one can remain free from the vices that generally plague the common man. The Srimad Bhagavatam (1.17.38), the cream of ancient India’s Vedic texts, advises us to reject certain activities and thereby avoid the demeaning effects of the age of Kali. These activities are striyah (“illicit connection with the opposite sex”), suna (“meat-eating”), panam (“intoxication of any kind”), and dyutam (“gambling”). While these activities may appear harmless enough, the Bhagavatam says that they are the root of all our problems, and that they have subtle implications that go far beyond the gross activities themselves. Modern research tends to support this point of view. Thus, in the same way that a lotus flower has the peculiar characteristic of being able to be in the midst of a great lake and yet be untouched by its waters, a person may exist in the age of Kali and know genuine freedom, untouched by the iniquities of the age. For such people, Kali-yuga becomes Prema-yuga, or the age of Divine Love. Nonetheless, most people today think that the ability to engage in heightened sensual activity-primarily centered on these four types of common pleasure-will lead them to happiness. They see it as a sign of freedom-that they can do what they want-com-pletely unaware of the bondage that such indulgence naturally entails. The late Christian theologian and writer Thomas Merton has properly assessed the nature of such “freedom”:
It should be accepted as a most elementary human and moral truth that no man can live a fully sane and decent life unless he is able to say no on occasion to his natural bodily appetites. No man who simply eats and drinks whenever he feels like eating and drinking, who smokes whenever he feels the urge to light a cigarette, who gratifies his curiosity and sensuality whenever they are stimulated, can consider himself a free person. He has renounced his spiritual freedom and become the servant of bodily impulse. Therefore his mind and his will are not fully his own. They are under the power of his conditioning, his appetites. And through the medium of his appetites, they are under the control of those who gratify his appetites. Just because he can buy one brand of whisky rather than another, this man deludes himself that he is making a choice; but the fact is that he is a devout servant of a tyrannical ritual. He must reverently buy the bottle, take it home, unwrap it, pour it out for his friends, watch TV, feel good, talk his silly uninhibited head off, get angry, shout, fight and go to bed in disgust with himself and the world. This becomes a kind of religious compulsion without which he cannot convince himself that he is really alive, really fulfilling his personality. Such a person is not merely sinning but is simply making an ass of himself, deluding himself that he is real when his complusions have reduced him to a shadow of a genuine person.
This’ book proposes that meat-eating, illicit sex, intoxication, and gambling-though usually seen as harmless, everyday activities-are in fact the four main pillars of sinful life, and that the kind of blind, materialistic ritual to which Merton refers above is nowhere as pronounced as in the indulgence of these four appetites. We ask that you patiently peruse this volume. If you do, you will learn that not only do these four pillars run directly counter to the four basic pillars of religious life, namely, vegetarianism, continence, sobriety, and honesty, or, in a more broad context, mercy, cleanliness, austerity, and truthfulness, but that these things directly affect you and your loved ones in adverse ways. Meat-eating runs counter to mercy; illicit sex runs counter to cleanliness; intoxication runs counter to austerity; and gambling runs counter to truthfulness. Of course, the pillars of sinful life are interrelated, as are the pillars of piety. Thus, in our analysis, we more often than not simply show the overall detriment of the four sinful pillars. This consequently allows the pillars of religiosity to emerge naturally.
We begin by describing the ethical and moral foundations of common human behavior, surveying the problems associated with both moral absolutism and moral relativism. We then explore the touchy relationship between ethics and religion. After this, we show that certain ethical codes and moral principles are universally sound and that most people, given the chance, would accept them. Finally, we show how these universal codes of morals and ethics relate to the four principles of freedom.
It should be pointed out right from the beginning, however, that the four regulative principles of religious life, while virtuous in themselves, are not the sum and substance of true spirituality; they are merely subreligious principles. While one who adheres to these principles may be setting the proper stage for approaching spiritual life, actual spirituality may still elude him. Therefore, we feel it incumbent upon ourselves to direct our readers to the Srimad Bhagavatam, which points out, “My dear king, although kali-yuga is full of faults, there is still one good quality about this age. It is that simply by chanting the holy name of God, one can become free from material bondage and be promoted to the transcendental Kingdom.”
Readers of this book-a book that gives scientific perspectives on the four principles of freedom and their underlying spiritual basis-are encouraged to chant the holy name of the Lord according to their respective religious traditions. By this process one will naturally develop an affinity for following the four regulative principles, for one will thereby be situated in the mode of goodness, mindset that sits well with these four principles, as we shall see. If, to the contrary, one chooses not to engage in any religious activity, one is still encouraged to explore the basic subreligious principles outlined in this book, for this will give one the necessary information required to live a good life in this world, even if divorced from a theistic perspective. There is no loss, and only freedom to gain.
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