Four Regulative Principles

Initiated devotees within the Krishna consciousness movement vow to chant a minimum quota of the Hare Krishna mantra each day on beads.

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.