Written for Krishnacore.com (site defunct, view the archive here)
The whole inspiration behind the genre [Krishnacore] comes from ancient India’s sacred texts known as the Vedas. Written in Sanskrit, the ‘mother of all languages’, by the sage Vyasa, these vast writings constitute arguably the most comprehensive knowledge known to man, both spiritual and secular. The essence of the Vedic literatures can be found especially in two books – Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam.
“History of the universe 18,000 verses for our edification
I sat like an ass in class for 14 years at least I got some real education… It’s the message of the Bhagavat”
– Shelter ‘Message of the Bhagavat’
The most fundamental understanding is that we are not these bodies, we are spiritual beings inhabiting a body of matter. The material elements that the body consists of have no life in themself, but are animated by the presence of the living force. This living entity is know as the ‘atma’ or in simple terms, the soul. However, the common understanding is that we are bodies that have a soul, but it should be understood that we are souls that have a body. Once one understands this most basic of truths, which is sadly lacking in modern civilisation, they can then begin to understand deeper spiritual truths. But if we start an equation with 1 + 1 = 3, no matter how far we extend the sum, the answer will be wrong. Modern thinking assumes that we are these bodies – that consciousness arises from a combination of chemicals – hence the origin and purpose of life has no spiritual significance, and the goal simply becomes how to enjoy gratifying the senses of the body for temporary pleasures for as long as possible until death.
“I am being, trapped in body, I am being, am not body, mantra freeing, liberation of being.”
– 108 ‘Being or Body’
To understand we are not these bodies changes our perspective on life completely, and makes us redirect our energies towards understanding that rather than ploughing headlong into enjoying (and thus exploiting) the world for ourselves. The Bhagavad-gita teaches that each living entity is eternal, therefore what we call death is is not the end of the living being but just the gross material body encasing it. That living being continues to live, as does the subtle body consisting of the mind, intelligence and ego – elements we can all experience as factual though cannot be seen directly. The living being is carried by the subtle body into another gross body, which according to the desires and activities can be any of the 8,400,000 different species.
This is known as ‘samsara’ – the cycle of birth and death, in which the living being transmigrates through the various levels until the consciousness evolves up to the human platform, which is distinct in that only humans can objectively understand the situation they’re in and try to change it. Animals lack that choice and therefore concern themselves only with the necessities for survival such as eating, sleeping, defending etc. Unless a human being utilises it’s intelligence to understand this predicament of changing bodies, then his or her activities remain on the platform of sense-gratification, and ultimately the chance to escape the cycle is lost when these activities oblige one to be born into a lower species. The human form isn’t very well equipped to eat much, sleep much, or enjoy sex a lot, whereas some animals can eat all day, sleep for months at a time, and enjoy sex dozens of times a day.
If it begins to sound good to become an animal and enjoy these things to their limit, remember that each animal is food for another, and apart from the very few at the top of the food chain each has to fear for it’s life by being eaten by another. Also consider the fact that every being within the material realm is imprisoned by the same four walls – birth, disease, old age and death. These are inescapable sufferings for one who is embodied, so the only solution is to stop the cycle altogether by returning to the spiritual realm which is eternal and free from the constant changes that characterise the world of matter.
“Sometimes, sometimes, sometimes I feel it.
Sometimes I feel so all alone.
And yes, yes I must confess, I feel so far from home.
Mantra, take me home I trust you.
Mantra, take me to the place where I belong.”
– Shelter ‘Mantra’
So the question is how to understand this fact, rather than just accept it? This is why a spiritual practice is required, rather than simply the study of books – to gain direct experience of a phenomenon. The process to gain this realisation differs in different ages and changing circumstances, and in this age when our lives, memories and patience are increasingly short, the most efficacious method has been described as being mantra meditation.
“‘The sound that sets me free’ no more pain, reclaim identity, I call your name.”
– Never Surrender ‘The Sound That Sets Me Free’
A mantra is a transcendental sound vibration, that is, a sound which is not of this world but rather descends from a spiritual realm which is eternal and blissful. By vibrating and hearing that sound our original blissful nature is awoken, somewhat like an alarm clock waking you up in the morning. The more the sound is chanted and heard, this dormant consciousness becomes completely revived and one sees directly their identity as separate from the present body. To attain this state of complete peace, bliss and knowledge, is the purpose of human life, as opposed to animal life which is concerned simply with survival through eating, defending, sleeping, reproduction etc.
“…and life’s meaning can be hard to grasp.
All that’s certain is it won’t last.
We’re all spirits looking for transcendence.
O mantra grant me that independence.
Mantra, take me home I trust you.
Mantra, take me to the place where I belong.”
– Shelter ‘Mantra’
This sound vibration can be practiced as a personal meditation, usually chanted softly with a set of wooden beads to keep count of sets of 108 mantras, or as a group practice together with instruments – whether traditional or modern. The ancient instruments of mridanga drums and hand-cymbals (karatalas) can be easily accompanied, or replaced, with modern guitars, drums (or drum machines) etc. and the effect is the same. The sound vibration permeates the consciousness of the hearer according to the purity and sincerity of those singing it. In the same way the mantra can be broadcast with modern instruments and electrical means, the philosophy can be taught as the lyrics to songs in the language appropriate to the time and circumstances.
“Before I want to hear your news, I want the news on me.
Been caught up so long in all of life’s hype,
I haven’t had time to see
That beneath the disguise the real self lies
which needs a soul satisfying activity…”
– Shelter ‘The News’
By taking an ancient wisdom and presenting it in a context that the citizens of a modern world can relate to, a civilisation which died long ago can be brought to life as a viable way to live and practical alternative the the characteristically chaotic situation we see around us today.
Thousands of people around the world are seeing the sense in following a way of life which isn’t destructive to the body, mind and soul, and instead tapping into a source of pleasure which doesn’t cost the earth, doesn’t go stale in time, and doesn’t cause terminal diseases such as the alcohol, tobacco and other drugs which are practically daily essentials to be able to cope with the stress of our so-called superior Western way of life.
It is a central theme of Vedic culture to avoid that which is destructive to a progressive lifestyle, and to avoid activities which cause unneccesary suffering to others and implicate one in a web of action and reaction that binds the performer of actions to their own suffering and ignorance. The literature lays down a code of avoiding such detrimental behaviour, which are divided into 4 main categories as intoxication, animal slaughter, immoral sex and gambling. It is in avoidance of these vices that the four regulative principles are followed by civilised sections of such a society – no taking of any drugs; no eating of meat, fish or eggs; no sexual connections outside of marriage ties; and no gambling.
Many of these basic principles are followed by people today anyway, not just those immersed in the cultivation of yoga, who see it simply as common sense to exercise self control, though the proportion of such adherents at this time is very small. The straightedge subculture started in the 1980’s in particular addresses these issues to a certain degree, although where to draw the line has been an ongoing debate. The basic principle began with avoidance of alcohol and promiscuous sex, and extended to vegetarianism/veganism for many, though some say these have nothing to do with what straightedge is about.
Because straightedge principles parallel to a large degree those of Krishna conscious culture, it has attracted many adherents looking to deepen their commitment to a life free from vices and search for a higher purpose. By voluntarily accepting restrictions on so-called enjoyments of this world, one frees themself from the concomitant suffering, and becomes a positive example for others that may otherwise find it impossible to practice such a level of renunciation. The continued practice of these principles shows one that it is not only sensible, but actually desirable, to not indulge in things that gradually become distasteful to one who has gained a platform of pleasure with a far higher taste which endures without diminishing.
“The Four Regs”
One only has to analyse the word ‘in-toxic-ation’ to see why it’s sensible to avoid consuming it in it’s various forms. Putting poison in the body may produce an effect which is taken to be enjoyable, but in actuality it is a reaction the body produces trying to tell you that something’s wrong. The effect some plants like psilocybin mushrooms, for example, have is a defence mechanism that stops animals eating them. Ironically, human animals have long since ingested them as ‘magic mushrooms’ to experience the effects of a seemingly higher state of awareness. However, this state produced by having the senses amplified only temporarily gives one the vision beyond the mundane perceptions of everyday life, and without a basis to understand the true nature of reality usually produces psychosis in a repeated user. A similar effect is achieved by taking marijuana, and the fallacy is that it is lauded as being ‘natural’. Of course, it does indeed grow naturally, like many things. However, many things in nature are also poisonous, even deadly, so the argument from the point of view of being natural is redundant. One may argue on the basis of the medicinal value of such intoxicants, the ability to relieve one of stress and anxiety, which to some degree may be true for one suffering from such conditions. But to get to the root of the problem is far more beneficial than to temporarily treat the symptoms. When a modern pace of life is lived to the max, simply in order to make money and acquire as many toys as possible, the resultant anxiety can only be relived by taking drugs in some form – legal or illegal. But whether it’s going to the bar after work on a Friday, popping Valium to cope with the strain of housework, or sticking a needle in your arm – the principle is the same. We’re looking for relief from pain and suffering of various kinds, without addressing what’s causing the problem or what is missing from our lives that we need to fill the void with drugs.
“I don’t smoke,
I don’t drink,
I don’t f***,
at least I can f***ing think”
– Minor Threat ‘Out of Step’
At a time in the 1980’s this famous song lyric sparked a whole movement of people who shunned alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. Without even intending it to be a doctrine for others to follow, singer Ian MacKaye expressed his own opinions on the fact that such hedonism clouds your thinking. Pardon the French, but the statement rings true today for many who are still inspired to stay on the straight and narrow when most of the world continues to drown their sorrows in this way. This became the true rebellion within the punk rock scene, which otherwise was steeped in many of the same values of the generation it claimed to despise.
Another of the bands songs entitled ‘Straight Edge’ was to be name of the movement, though the lyric above addressed not only intoxication but also promiscuity as a cause of ignorance. Hence both principles were adhered to by certain members of the hardcore-punk subculture, which was formerly synonymous with sex and drugs much like any other form of rock’n’roll. As other bands and individuals followed suit, the clear thinking that resulted from abstinence soon addressed other issues, not least of which was vegetarianism.
When the New York band Youth of Today wrote the song ‘No More’ about the cruelty of meat-eating, practically the whole straightedge movement turned vegetarian. Later, more extreme opinions were expressed by a branch known as Hardline, particularly those on abortion. The Syracuse band Earth Crisis became champions of the cause for straightedgers who were also vegan and against abortion, though not necessarily ‘pro-life’. The clearheadedness of many saw the evils of casual sex and the resultant abortion rate as being equally important as the cause of animal rights, considering the similarly helpless situation of both innocent animals in the slaughterhouse and innocent children aborted in the womb to be on a par with each other. This issue divided people perhaps more than any other, controversial as it is, especially in a society that was almost cent-percent liberal and pro-choice. This is a subject in itself, which will be covered later.
“The consumer always pays the fee
with great hope and anxiety.
But he’s always left wanting more.
We’re all hungry that’s agreed
but we don’t know what we need.
You see there’s more than just this body to feed.”
– Shelter ‘Consumer’
The Vedic point of view is that intoxication of any degree prevents straight thinking, which is crucial to understand the philosophy of transcendence, and simply disturbs the mind which needs to remain steady and focussed in meditation upon the source of existence. That source is personal, just as we are persons, and not simply a bright light or indescribable energy. Such philosophies were expounded by people in the ages after the original Vedic culture began to disintegrate, and their thinking permeated Eastern culture to this day, which is why this impersonal conclusion of the absolute truth often prevails in spiritual cultures. This itself causes the problem that if our source and goal is impersonal or void, as is believed by the Sankarites/Shaivites and Buddhists respectively, again there is no point in our present existence which is taken as illusion. This nihilistic paradigm hasn’t helped much in giving a positive alternative to the Western hedonistic way of life, except to bring people from a negative consciousness to one of zero. However, to bring one above the level of zero suffering and hence zero enjoyment, is the purpose of the Vedic literatures, whose conclusion is that the ultimate source to which we all belong is both eternal and personal, and full of unlimited pleasure.
When this is one’s goal in meditation and spiritual practice, the need for escape through intoxicants diminishes to nil, proportionate to the level of realisation of that spiritual truth. When one experiences a tangible pleasure from a non-material source, only then can they begin to shed the bad habits that keep one encaged in the body, and taste real liberation fro material misery. It is in connection with Krishna, the supreme all-attractive person, that ones needs for unconditional love are fulfilled, and all other relationships take on real meaning. The need for intoxication as an escape then isn’t at all required, as one has already escaped the mundane platform by being absorbed in service to Krishna, and factually exists on the transcendental plane even whilst in the body, as a lotus flower sits on the water without ever being submerged.
“See the picture through the smoke,
Through the light of Vedic thought.
But you claim the world’s not fair,
God is cruel, and doesn’t care.
…Sadly we’ve all been tricked, By false Christian rhetoric.
Bathed in bliss and ignorance, Apocalyptic arrogance!”
– Cause for Alarm ‘Clear’
In Vedic standards, all intoxication is deemed as detrimental to progress in life, even tea and coffee are forbidden by those adhering to initiation vows. Caffeine is a drug which isn’t thought to be at all harmful by Western society, or even modern Eastern society now as India and other countries lead the way in producing and consuming tea and coffee. Yet the symptoms of one trying to kick a caffeine habit can be quite strong, and the profit margins of Coca-Cola will attest to the fact that caffeine is addictive, and addiction to anything means we’re slaves to something outside of ourselves that we depend upon for happiness. A famous t-shirt slogan in the hardcore-punk scene is ‘God is just another addiction’, yet one has to intelligently discriminate what the meaning of addiction is. Addiction means one is dependent upon something although it is harmful.
Admittedly, religion can become harmful when taken to extremes by fundamentalists and fanatics. Look at the war on terror or the history of the Christian crusades. The principle in itself however is that religion or spirituality isn’t harmful when practiced properly, and can’t be said to be an addiction any more than we’re ‘addicted’ to good food, clean air, sunlight etc. – all of which are necessary for a healthy existence. Since we have to be engaged in some activity, at every moment, it’s simply a choice of whether we direct our energy into something positive for our benefit or negative for our destruction. Many groups have given God a bad name, worse than a four-letter word for many, but that shouldn’t change the fact that there is still a tried and tested method for realising the self and God as a directly perceivable fact, and we should be open minded to the degree that we try to experience it before making our judgments.
No Meat Eating
Perhaps the most detrimental activity to spiritual progress is the unnecessary killing and eating of animals. Since to be spiritually conscious means to see with equal vision all living beings as inseparable parts of an infinite and intricate creation, and to develop compassion and love for all of them as brother and sister beings, to cause harm to another being when it can be avoided becomes a great impediment. Not only is it anathema to seeing other beings as equal in their right to exist, but the causing of suffering to another ultimately comes back as karma to inflict the same pain on the protagonist. This understanding of karmic reactions is integral to Eastern culture, and produces a sense of responsibility to other creatures which is sadly lacking in most parts of the world. Without understanding that there is a price to pay for the slaughter of millions of sentient beings, to most people there doesn’t seem to be enough reason to stop eating other animals apart from it being cruel, an that cruelty is hidden from view leaving people to think the process of killing is done quite ‘humanely’.
“Satanic ritual set the corpse upon the table,
cosmetic religion, hide your horns, if you are able.
Killer of the animal,
only a demon could dine on the flesh of the dead.”
– 108 ‘Killer of the Soul’
The Vedas teach that if a person kills another being then they have to suffer the same fate, either later in this life or in a future lifetime. All the reactions accumulate and form a vicious cycle – those whose karmic destiny is to be killed are put to death by people who desire to kill, all arranged by a higher intelligence beyond our perception in the perfect system of universal justice. In turn, those who perform the killing accrue their own reactions, and are not simply the instruments carrying out anothers karma due to their own desire to cause suffering. The system gradually teaches one by example what it feels like to have pain inflicted on you, and why we shouldn’t unnecessarily cause any suffering to others knowing well the experience. However, due to ignorance, we again cause the same pain until we are able to learn it is not in our own interest (or anyones) to do so.
So an intelligent person who has learnt from both written knowledge and personal experience, ceases to cause suffering to other beings by living in a way that minimises harm and thus lives peacefully with a clear conscience, and also stops producing further reactions for themself. One who understands the fact that what goes around comes around, quickly realises the price to pay for the taste of anothers flesh is certainly not worth the tariff of their own great suffering. Indeed, the degree of suffering inflicted is reflected proportionately to the one implicated in causing it – not just the one who does the killing. Just as in a crime many people are convicted and punished by being directly or indirectly accomplices to the fact, or after the fact, in the same way the activity of transporting, cooking or selling meat and fish etc. also carries due reactions to those involved.
The Vedic standard of a vegetarian diet varies, but certainly includes the consumption of eggs as being unacceptable. Perhaps not because of the factor of causing suffering, the egg being a potential life not yet fertilised and thus impregnated with life, but certainly because the embryo of a chicken-to-be is not to be taken as food for a human being. The same cannot be said of milk and dairy products, which is a by-product of the cows which by natures arrangement produce far in excess of the milk required by the calf, and is not a part of an animal. The modern method of producing milk however is condemned by Vedic standards, as in the factory farms much suffering is inflicted in the name of convenience and profit, whereas the natural methods are free from causing pain to the animals and rather relieve them of the burden of full udders. Any human female will attest to this, but doesn’t justify the cruel mechanical methods developed in today’s industrialised society which treat living beings as commodities and simply means to an end. A farmer following Vedic culture not only utilises methods in line with nature to produce grow foodstuffs and produce milk, but considers the animals (and indeed plants and trees) as equally part of God’s creation to be treated with love and respect. Appreciating that they are providing sustenance for others, the animals are treated carefully and also considered citizens of the country, thus given protection from harm and allowed to live out their natural lifespan. It is under this principle that the majority of Krishna’s devotees are vegetarian and not neccessarily vegan, though there are many exceptions that follow not only vegan standards but even of fruitarian ones.
Visit krishnadairyian.com for how the ISKCON movement is gradually moving away from commercial dairy
“There’s a war in the day no peace at night,
there’s blood on the hands of man yet we don’t sympathize.
The meateater kills the cows they just depersonalize,
to justify their own lust as the helpless die.
And it’s ironic how we cry for world peace,
but the violence won’t decrease unless our murders cease.
So understand in the slaughterhouse who’s the beast,
and I demand that the innocent be released!”
– Shelter ‘Civilized Man’
Beyond even the understanding of meat and dairy causing harm, Vedic culture teaches that even plants have life that shouldn’t be taken away without due cause. Anyone can understand the presence of life in plants since nothing grows that is not alive, and plants even have intelligence enough to direct themselves towards light and water for their survival. But since we all have to eat living beings in one form or another to live, it simply becomes a choice of how to minimise the violence caused in the course of our survival. Taking the life of plants is obviously much different than slaughtering animals for food, and often the plant has died before cultivation as in the case of wheat and food grains, or the fruit of the plant is taken leaving the plant to continue living. However, there is an unavoidable amount of violence caused unknowingly in almost every action we undertake, so the karmic reactions we accumulate even whilst trying to live righteously have to be absolved.
The Vedas explain that these reactions that cause us to suffer can be nullified only by the fire of devotional service to the Supreme Godhead, as fire burns to ashes everything in it’s wake, and only that personality from which everything emanates has the power to absorb karma otherwise destined for ourselves. It is this higher understanding that obliges every devotee to first offer all that is to be consumed to that personality who has arranged all necessities for living beings, and in so doing, relieve themselves of the inherent karma.
This principle actually takes one to the highest level of dietary perfection, beyond merely being vegetarian/vegan like many animals are without a higher understanding. Since it is impossible to exist without causing any suffering, the ultimate solution is to act on behalf of the creator of the laws of nature who bears those reactions, as a general takes responsibility for soldiers in the battlefield who act under his direction. This principle has to be understood by a practitioner who can perceive the subtleties of natures laws, which are not understandable on the gross material platform, who becomes increasingly free of the entangling web of karmic action and reaction.
No Illicit Sex
This integral principle to the practice of genuine spirituality is possibly the least understood, and the hardest tenet to implement in today’s atmosphere of promiscuity and general moral degradation. It is also one of the most important principles to strive for in understanding the self beyond the temporary body, perhaps since sex more than anything else traps us in the conception that we are these bodies and our senses are to be enjoyed to the limit. What is also debated constantly in various societies, is to what degree sexual union can be expressed naturally without the consequences of repression which have characterised the history of religion for centuries. It isn’t a clear cut topic and can be analysed from many angles, but as usual the Vedic version sets an absolute moral standpoint on the topic of sex, which although eludes many practitioners, is something to strive for in order to attain a much greater level of pleasure meant for a civilised human society.
“Just see he uses love for sex,
and sure she uses sex for love.
And they’re both hoping for the best,
I also have that dream you’re thinking of.
If we place a blindfold on our eyes,
yes iron and gold appear the same.
It’s intense hope that makes us try,
so we go on and play the game.
And once again we get attached,
and think we’ve found the answer.
Here we go again…”
– Shelter ‘Here We Go’
The topic of promiscuous sex has been addressed in the hardcore scene since the early 80’s, and the songs of Minor Threat were perhaps amongst the first to inspire many people to avoid something which was previously seen as the ultimate goal of life. As people became increasingly aware of the need to address issues of animal and human rights, of racism, sexism and homophobia – the inevitable topic of sexual exploitation had to be discussed as one of society’s evils. However, the problem was where exactly to draw the line, which became intrepreted by personal opinions and often so ambiguous as to lose it’s meaning. Of course, counter-cultures previous to the punk/hardcore of the 70’s and 80’s had dealt with the same issues, though in particular the 1960’s era was one of ‘sexual revolution’ and freedom of expression that took an extreme view of regular sex being an absolute necessity of life. It remains one of the great ironies of modern civilisation though that although sex was claimed to be perfectly natural, the unnatural birth control methods that were being increasingly developed failed to be seen as any kind of contradiction. And this is where the crux of the issue lies…
Casual sex requires that the natural result of sexual intercourse, namely pregnancy, be somehow prevented – by hook or by crook. One can’t enjoy the sensual pleasures of the flesh while at the same time feeling the great anxiety of producing an unwanted child in the process, so to prevent the fertilisation of the female egg by the male semen modern civilisation developed and implemented numerous techniques and instruments that would achieve this effect – though none of them foolproof. In fact, to this day, science continues to come up with increasingly elaborate ways for people to enjoy sex without having to worry about children. We only have to think about the word ‘contraception’ to see clearly the inherent flaw in it. A compound of the two words ‘contrary’ and ‘conception’, it literally means that which contravenes the conception of a child which is the natural consequence of sex and inarguably it’s purpose, since it involves the union of the generative organs.
So, just like contradiction or contraband, contraceptives are devices which go against the laws of nature, whose laws are seen to be an impediment to the very enjoyment we so crave. Seems cruel from that point of view, doesn’t it? Nature has given as a gift something so intensely pleasurable, yet the drawback is probably the most painful and difficult of tasks – giving birth to, and raising, children that demand our attention for much of their lives. If it seems cruel, then perhaps we need to adjust our thinking, and consider the current paradigm that everything around us is for our enjoyment, just there by chance for the taking, without any consequence. And that is what we have created – a fools paradise, wherein the very things we try to hard to enjoy are our very undoing and end up causing so much suffering to ourselves and others.
“Chew the thorn, Drink the blood, Call it pleasure,
But you¹ll never quench that thirst.
Sex is suffering, Bleed the envy,
Bleed the jealousy, Bleed the heartache.
Call it pleasure. Chew the thorn. I won’t”
– 108 ‘Thorn’
If we change our thinking though, into that in line with natures laws, we find that the system isn’t indeed cruel, just our exploitation of it is, and that there is another level of pleasure which we can attain, instead of perpetually chasing an illusory satisfaction that is like a mirage in the desert. It is because we identify so strongly with the body of flesh that we feel we have to squeeze our pleasure from that body, and can hardly conceive of another pleasure that is not intangible or simply a future heaven. When one lives on the gross platform of temporary sensual experience, then they can’t experience or even understand the lasting satisfaction and bliss that exists on the level of pure consciousness, a perfectly tangible reality that is experienced by many but remains elusive to those addicted to feeding the hungry bodily senses.
Another problem which is concomitant with sexual promiscuity, much greater than the predicament of how to stop the fertilisation process, is the problem of how to deal with pregnancy when it occurs without wanting it, leading to millions of abortions every year. The topic of abortion is certainly one of the most heated debates of our time, with extreme positions on both sides arguing with seemingly no conclusion as to whether abortion is morally acceptable and to what degree. This is a large topic in itself which can’t be covered adequately here, except suffice to say from the Vedic knowledge why it is considered reprehensible.
The key issue at stake in the abortion debate is whether the fetus is conscious and living at the time it is terminated, and the number of weeks science determines that the tissue becomes a living being in it’s own right always changes. The predicament is one of trying to determine that which is beyond our sensual perception – we can’t see consciousness but only perceive it’s presence by the symptoms of life. However, the primary symptom of consciousness being present is growth, and since nothing that is dead continues growing, surely we must conclude the fetus is living even if not yet conscious.
And whether something is conscious or not is no justification for killing it, since people are often made unconcious by medicine or by anothers attack and yet don’t deserve to die. The way in which abortion is usually justified is to speak in terms that the subject in question isn’t a living being, but simply a mass of tissue, and so talking of the removal of ‘section a’ and ‘section b’ sounds so much more humane than severing the head from the body. Many abortions are carried out well into the term, when the baby has developed most of the features of a human being, and the images of those are amongst the most horrific and disturbing on earth, animal slaughter pictures notwithstanding. There are cases of children being born less than half the usual term who have survived – the same age which many babies are terminated, which must therefore lead to the conclusion that these babies could well have also lived their natural lives had the chance not been taken away from them.
“I can tell you that the murder’s plain to see,
every time I think about the unborn’s misery.
I know that every soul’s got a right to live,
and so you take that life that only God could give.”
– Cro-Mags ‘Death in the Womb’
Clear thinking and objectivity can help to decide an issue, but emotional propaganda often clouds the way and doesn’t help in solving a complex issue. The very term ‘pro-life’ has become pejorative, even though certainly no sane person would object and declare themselves ‘pro-death’! Which is probably why the label ‘pro-choice’ has been chosen to represent those in defense of abortion, sounding as it does very liberal and civilised. After all, who would want to say they are against free choice and risk sounding like a fascist dictator? But we should ask ourselves an important question – if someone in exercising their free choice takes away the choice of another, should they be free to act or should preventative measures be in place to stop someone’s so-called freedom of expression encroaching on another’s right to live peacefully? The irony is that in another liberal debate, that of animal rights for example, those in favour of protecting the innocent creatures from the hands of their torturers want to take away the ‘freedom’ that allows them the chance to continue their abuse, and so in that case being ‘pro-choice’ doesn’t benefit the cause and so becomes a hypocrisy. Of course, we have to live in a society where there is freedom to choose to a certain degree, lest we live under a dictatorship, and the taking away of that freedom often drives underground the problem making it still harder to contain. So the key lies not in enforcing a particular view on an entire nation or society, but in educating the people of that society in order to make a clear judgement. And this is the problem, that the information and reality of what goes on in abortion clinics is hidden from the public as much as what takes place in the slaughterhouse, and those enlightened into the horrors of animal abuse (or any other oppression) must surely consider carefully the plight of the unborn child which parallels the issue of animal rights in that both are defenceless and voiceless in the face of their oppressors, depending solely on us as individual members of society to make the right choices.
The abortion issue at the centre of the debate of sexual freedom isn’t black and white, and the individual circumstances can certainly affect the decision whether something is right or wrong, but nevertheless, if casual sex was to somehow decline then at a proportionate rate so would the abortion figures and thus begin to solve a major problem we face today. The argument that the it’s the mother’s choice because it’s her body is another fallacy, because we’re not talking about just a part of the body like a tumour that has to be removed, but another living being which is independent in it’s existence, just temporarily dependent on the mother for sustenance much as it is after birth also. The baby is completely dependent on the mother in the womb, at her mercy whether it lives or dies, but still shouldn’t be thought to be the sole property of the mother, any more than children already born are able to be treated by their parents in any way they see fit.
We can claim proprietorship only over that which we created, and since we didn’t create even our own bodies, the bodies that it then further creates are not ours either but remain in the hands of material nature as their source. We are only the caretakers of the living beings whose bodies emanate from ours, and those living persons are separate from their shells which are simply made of inanimate matter. Therefore even assuming we own our bodies, still we can’t claim to own any other being not even our own children. They are given to us to care for and love just as we need to be loved, and discrepancies in the course of that duty will surely come back to us to experience first hand as life’s lessons.
“But it’s all Yours. What can we own?
Not family, property – it’s all on loan.
But our miserly minds, of “I”, “Me”, and “Mine”,
fight in wars for what’s not ours.
So here’s my plea for Saranagati: Surrender.”
– Shelter ‘Saranagati’
So even without bringing religious factors into the argument like a personal God whose word allows or forbids certain actions, the issue can be explained in terms of objective realities and show how something so commonplace as abortion is unnaceptable in a morally sound society. The fact that religious groups have lobbied against abortion using often more heineous methods than the doctors themselves, has turned many people away from supporting their cause, and though militancy is often required in a situation which can’t be resolved by discussion, such acts of violence haven’t helped the cause but rather polarised the two sides even more. It shouldn’t become a war of factions, nor should it be contradictory to be both pro-life and pro-choice, but can be both a rational stance in defence of fellow beings and an empathic understanding of the women who have had to make the decision. The fact that abortions are the consequences of rape scenarios doesn’t alter the judgement that abortion is morally wrong when taken as another, albeit late, birth control method, and is another separate issue in itself. The issue is that abortion is seen to not be an act of killing an unborn child, but an advancement of medical procedure which improves the quality of life. It is because of propaganda by the medical establishment, with obvious vested interests at stake and not just moral ground, and the lack of open information on abortion procedures that opinion is generally in support of it, just as the majority of people accept a meat based diet to be perfectly normal and acceptable. When the facts are out in the open then informed opinions can quickly change, and the repression of truth only temporarily serves those with vested interests in keeping others in the dark.
Another debate is that which determines ‘casual sex’, as it has come to be known, to be acceptable in society where monogamy was traditionally seen to be the norm. And also what consitutes a steady relationship that justifies sex as being moral rather than sexual activity with constantly changing partners? The answers will vary as much as the people that give them, but since every relationship practically speaking is of a temporary nature, it’s just a matter of degrees of promiscuity where sex is enjoyed aside from procreation with a spouse or committed partner. The degree of morality is a sliding scale from one extreme of one-night-stands and prostitution, to the other (admittedly rarer) end where partners restrict sex only to producing offspring or are celibate altogether. If sex is taken to be a casual affair, then the consequences can seem to be taken casually also, and getting an abortion is often as simple as is going to the dentist in terms of practicality, though psychologically obviously infinitely more harrowing. But when we understand the sexual act shouldn’t be a casual one to be enjoyed on a whim, but a sacred loving union with a purpose and meaning, that understanding and the weight of the issues surrounding sexual behaviour should hopefully change our habits. Everyone has to decide the level which is realistic for them, but those interested in a progressive life should understand objectively the ultimate standard for a proper human civilisation and take gradual steps to acheive it in their own lives.
“Well I just did what they all do, and everyone else is doing.
I’ve heard stories of romance,
and I wanted to take a chance,
to taste what they’re pursuing.
Love stories told to me, in books, TV, and magazines.
So excuse me if you can. But try to understand.
I’m a victim too…”
– Shelter ‘Progressive Man’
If we think it impossible to change, then we become another statistic in an ever degrading time, an without an effort to march forward we’ll certainly be dragged down by the strong desires and urges that can spiral a person down into despair. Since society is simply a collection of individuals, we all bear the responsibility to act in the right way to benefit all, and in changing ourselves we can improve society as a whole by not contributing further to it’s problems. The problem that arises in the vast majority of relationships based mainly on sex rather than real love and affection, is they become exploitative and begin to disintegrate as each partner sees the other as an object of desire rather than an individual person. Often the male caters to a myriad of desires of his partner to keep her as a plaything, and tolerates so many differences in order to have a regular sex partner. And because the nature of diminishing returns on the sensual platform, becomes tired of the same body no matter how attractive, and yearns for a change of partner to enjoy a slighty different flavour of the same thing.
From a purely physiological viewpoint, sexual restraint benefits bodily health, strength and duration, as well as improves concentration and determination. From a male perspective particularly, the semina not discharged travels up the spinal column and nourishes the brain tissue improving it’s function considerably. One evidence is that in ancient times when abstinence was taught from youth students could memorise huge amounts of knowledge and retain it perfectly, something much lacking in today’s generations. The male semen is produced by the blood at 64 parts to 1, and so discharging it unnecessarily literally drains the life energy and thus shortens life’s duration. In this sense even masturbation, though not causing harm to other beings apart from microscopic ones involved (though also having rights and purpose), is considered unbeneficial as a waste of valuable energy and not just perhaps psychologically unhealthy. The modern paradigm doesn’t lend itself well to any of these principles however, and the self-gratification of the genitals is often the last recourse to find satisfaction in a civilisation so sexually driven and devoid of any higher purpose.
“Advertisers create false necessities.
Send us out on shopping sprees.
‘One more thing that’s all we’ll need.’
Sex sells: billboards rely on it.
Any product with some woman trying it.
Are you laughing or are you buying it?”
– Shelter ‘Consumer’
Last but not least on this topic, Vedic culture stresses the importance of cleanliness in attainment of spiritual awareness, and illicit sexual connection is a major factor in destroying that cleanliness both external and internal. Obviously externally casual sex causes the spread of many diseases, some of them deadly and presently incurable, and certain contraceptives attempt to deal with this factor as well as prevent pregnancy. As mentioned before though they are certainly not guaranteed to protect one from some diseases, and so even utilising them some fear and anxiety remains of the risk of acquiring them. Internally speaking, sex desire interrupts the purity of mind required for any meditational practice, in fact it is usually the greatest hurdle to overcome for those steeped in Western culture and it’s obsession with sex. It is perhaps ironic that the very fact that casual sex is unclean is one of the ways it is advertised as being desirable. With common phrases as ‘talk dirty to me’, ‘dirty dancing’ etc. it would seem that uncleanliness is pleasurable, and for human beings to wallow in dirt like pigs is the pinnacle of enjoyment!
Animals like pigs have sex without discriminating if the partner is their mother, sister or daughter, and in a time of moral decay such things become prevalent in human society sometimes also. When a person comes firstly to a level of cleanliness and hygienic bodily habits, and then elevates the mind to a platform of purity (known in Sanskrit as ‘sattvic’ – literally meaning virtue or proper existence) these lower activities become automatically distasteful. Furthermore, when one eventually transcends the bodily demands completely, even moral sex between married partners becomes abhorrent as a temporary high that takes one away from a permanent and unending blissful state of being. For the less advanced though, Vedic knowledge recommends marriage and procreative sex as a realistic alternative to immoral sexual habits, thus elevating one gradually to higher levels of understanding.
“This isn’t a song of flattery
as I am pointing out our stupidity,
your femininity, our masculinity, think about it;
Did you dream you were more than his trophy?
Sex turns us to stone an non-entity,
sex turns us to stone and that’s the reality.”
– 108 ‘Woman’
Sex rivets us to the bodily conception, and uncontrolled lust is like nails in the coffin of this fleshy frame which carried with it fear and anxiety because that very body is growing old and decaying and subject to destruction at any moment. Being unnattached to the body while maintining it properly, and identifying oneself as a spiritual being within, frees one from mortality which only applies to the gross covering while the consciousness is never destroyed.
The key to self control or complete abstinence is gaining this higher platform of satisfaction, without which trying to avoid sexual experience simply becomes repressive and psychologically dangerous, but this solution requires diligence and patience and is no overnight fix. Because spiritual practitioners may attempt to jump to an unrealistically advanced level instead of working in gradual progression, this can and has manifest problems of repressed sexuality which simply appear in other various ugly forms we need not detail here. Because of the many negative examples often people are quick to jump to the conclusion that abstaining from sex at all isn’t healthy, and use this as an excuse to indulge without having to feel shame. But the bad examples of anything don’t paint a clear picture of the goal, and instead if we look to the exemplary for inspiration and strength, even though they may be rare souls, still, many righteous people have been living proof of the benefits of purity of body and mind and have achieved great heights of philosophy and spirituality which we should all aspire to.
Restrictions on gambling may at first not seem to have any connection to spiritual progression, but on analysis of what drives people to gamble it becomes clearer why Vedic culture condemns it for higher sections of society who wish to attain freedom from the cycle of material miseries.
Since practically every society utilises money as a way for people to buy and sell between themselves, rather than exchange services as is a more primitive way of trading, that very currency which make life practical can also become it’s undoing, as greed for money can drive people to extreme behaviour probably more than anything else. As the saying goes, ‘money is the root of all evil’, and while that is certainly not always the case, it quite often rings true as we see examples of people eager to get rich no matter what the cost. Bribery, corruption, extortion, exploitation, murder… the list is endless what results from the illegal pursuit of wealth, as the almighty dollar reigns supreme above morality, justice ad truth, and nowadays can buy one out of practically any situation.
It’s no wonder the situation has become like this, when the acquisition of money has become the goal of life, and propaganda constantly pushes sense-gratification to be the very source of pleasure and thus the money required for it becomes a life or death pursuit. Long gone are the days where necessity rules, and now a whole host of unneccesary gadgets fill the stores promising to improve the quality of life but never quite deliver…
The nature of money is that it is never enough for someone who requires it for anything more than the necessities of survival, such as food, clothing, shelter and medical aid. The more you acquire, the more you desire to acquire more, as if the next million will bring peace and satisfaction where the last one somehow failed, as we see many business magnates continue the pursuit right up until death. Like a dog chasing it’s tail, the end of our desires don’t come by pursuing them but rather by controlling them and tolerating the pushes of the senses and the mind. For one who has achieved peace of mind and freedom from the body’s constant demands, nothing is left wanting for them, and working for what is required to live doesn’t require much effort. Modern times see people work ridiculously long hours and everyone is forced into compliance if they want to survive in a world of ever growing competition. Modern society just isn’t geared for most people to work part time, except the fat cats at the top of the chain who enjoy the spoils that the workers slave away for, fighting amongst themselves for the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table and kept ignorant so as not to question the system and it’s great inequality.
So, with the picture of reality painted regarding money, this sets the scene for why gambling is suicidal for a spiritual aspirant, since gambling is the pursuit of money without having to work hard for it – the ‘get rich quick’ scheme. Or so it seems…
If it were a fact that by gambling one could really earn money by this easy and quick method, then it wouldn’t perhaps be so bad, as long as one just acquired the funds they need. But gambling itself is an illusion in that a tiny percentage of people gain money where the vast majority of people lose it. Millions of people buy lottery tickets and only one wins. Because of this people get caught in a vicious cycle of chasing a mirage in hope of one day reaching it, and most of them simply throw money down the drain in the attempt. Often that money is required for necessities like paying for food or rent, whereas the money that is hoped to be won is often for less than noble causes such as alcohol and drugs. So many of the vices go hand in hand – when one indulges in one of them they inevitably become victims of other ones also…/’
“Their idea of success is all I detest I say forget it.
All the value today soon gets taken away. Don’t they get it?
They think that happiness can be purchased,
I don’t buy it anymore.
The people run to have some fun.
But their frowns give them away.
Give up the chase for a higher taste.
We found a better way.”
– Shelter ‘Better Way’
Even those who stand to gain wealth by gambling usually do so only temporarily, as they proceed to then lose whatever has been won so far, because the very nature of getting money by such a quick method causes greed more than having to work for it. This is especially true when the stakes are high, as they are often are, and the gambling business is a multi billion dollar one whose interests often need to be protected by mafias. One may ask if it is so wrong to have a little flutter now and then, but like anything is usually the small end of the wedge which in time leads to greater addiction to something which isn’t beneficial even to a small degree. Gambling is another release, an temporary escape from reality which sooner or later has be to faced. It is like a drug in itself which many people can’t control, hence there is need for societies of gamblers anonymous just like alcoholics anonymous.
It is because gambling is addictive that it is an impediment to spiritual progress, because it diverts the mind away from reality and into a fantasy world where the happiness one pursues is in getting more money, as if money in itself can buy happiness. The feeling of euphoria we get when we acquire a large sum of money inflates the ego making us think we actually possess the wealth or the objects which it can purchase. But the reality is that we don’t factually own anything around us because it is all a transformation of material elements in constant flux, thus material things are elusive to our possessing them and run like sand through our fingers. Gambling is like a short cut to acquiring possessions, which increases the sense of false proprietorship since one doesn’t even have to work to acquire them, and causes laziness rather than promoting the ethic of working for an honest living. This austerity of working with determination and tolerating difficulties that we encounter is an important principle in attaining the platform of transcendence, since it is a battle against the flow of the mind and senses which have been habituated to self gratification and not to inquiring into the absolute truth of existence.
“Born foolish dull and self absorbed, but my life’s dedicated to reformation and education,
In a nation that thinks great pleasure is a Disney vacation.
I never fit in to their system, I couldn’t understand people,
Wasting their time with so called love
and drugs and occupations,
While outside the window
is a crumbling nation.”
– Shelter ‘Metamorphosis’
So whether the addiction is one of the aforementioned vices, or of wealth and items of sense gratification, the predicament is the same – the temporary objects we squeeze a little pleasure from keep us distracted from the lasting pleasure of blissful spiritual consciousness, and thus cheat us out of our real birthright as human beings which is to relish the pure existence which is now covered by lower habits. Experiencing even glimpses of the higher platform of pleasure gives us impetus to resist the temptations presented to our senses by the material surroundings, and continue to progress in further tasting the delights of the spiritual realm. That pleasure and vision of a higher dimension makes the so called enjoyable activities of this world first pale in comparison, then actually appear detestable, just as a civilised human sees the misery of certain lower species who are condemned to wallow in the mud of ignorance.
In a broader sense, gambling is taken to also mean mental speculation, which is taking the risk of trusting our own mind which is often mistaken and leads us astray. The Vedic wisdom is there to guide people with that knowledge which is beyond sense perception and mental speculation, and trying to figure everything out without that knowledge is likened to a frog in a well attempting to understand the size of the ocean. The power of the mind is relative to how it has been conditioned. If it is programmed in a certain way then our thinking is unavoidably skewed in that direction, therefore our ideas are not independent of many outside influences. The mind can be guided in the right direction and cleansed of all misunderstandings, and only then can be completely trusted not to cheat us. It requires diligence and patience to extricate our thinking from modern Western paradigms of capitalism, self centredness, impersonalism and blind atheism. Because we’re taught to trust in our perception and to believe others who have mistakenly trusted theirs, our limited view of things has led us to the completely wrong conclusions about reality.
If there really isn’t anything out in the vast universe we can’t see, hear or touch directly, then surely there isn’t anyone in control since we have explored practically as far as we can and come up with nothing but an array of chemicals. Progress in materialistic science simply means to discover increasingly more complex subatomic structures yet never witness the designer of such mind-boggling living systems, and thus conclude all is created by chance interactions of matter including the presence of consciousness. Anyone can understand though with a little intelligence and reason, that they are something more than a combination of chemicals, and feelings of compassion, justice and love, can in no way be explained in terms of matter.
Therefore, taking the tenet of no gambling in it’s broadest sense, a follower of Vedic culture doesn’t take what is conjured up by the mind to be absolutely true without consulting this age old wisdom, which has been transmitted through time by faultless sages. It takes implicit trust in the Vedas to follow their path through the matrix of illusion, and that trust takes time to develop. When one steps progressively towards the absolute truth they begin to perceive themselves that which is stated to be true, and discovering deeper truths of existence one can shed old habituated thinking about the nature of reality. This may appear itself to be a gamble, to place one’s faith in something we are unsure about, but since we have to put our conviction into something it is recommended to place it in time tested knowledge rather than the fault ridden faculties we try to gain understanding from alone.
The true nature of reality becomes revealed to a sincere seeker, but if we choose to remain in illusion then that covering will perpetually prevent us from escaping it’s grasp. So the real gamble is trusting the mind and senses which verily are a part of the illusory energy they are trying to understand, so it becomes a catch-22 situation of trying to objectively understand our surroundings while tightly bound up by them. That knowledge which is beyond the boundaries of matter and is absolute – unchanging in the course of time, can alone free one from the clutches of matter which enslave one to all the aforementioned vices. In this way the Vedas perfectly solve the predicament of addiction in this world by leading one to a reality of unlimited pleasure in which there is no necessity at all for what are activities of insanity and self-destruction.
“Is there a point behind mindless determination?
Is there a goal behind all of the aggravation?
It’s labelled success, it seems like sheer frustration.
Like running a race, thats got no destination.
You never ask why, you’ve got a career.
It’s nine to five, year after year.”
– Shelter ‘Busy Doing Nothing’
When the goal of life is unknown, or assumed to be simply to enjoy as much as possible before death, then that pursuit becomes more and more futile when you realise that you spend far more time working to acquire the things than you do actually enjoying them.
We work 5 or 6 days a week to get 1 or 2 off. People work hard all day and the short time left in the evening isn’t even enough to recover from the strain, then they’re back into jobs which most of them hate. No wonder the liquor and tobacco industries are multi-billion dollar affairs, what to speak of the suicide rate around the world. Modern civilisation has failed to give any profound meaning to life, which is why people are starting to turn to Eastern philosophies to find answers. Nor have the religions in the Western world been able to answer satisfactorily the questions about existence, and instead dogmatic thinking has put many people off trying to find answers from spirituality altogether leaving the frontiers of science to attempt to find meaning in the seemingly vacant universe.
To the person who brought the knowledge of the Vedas to the Western world
for the first time in modern history – we thank you.
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Founder of The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)
The solution is in the chanting of the Hare Krishna Maha-mantra which is stated in the Kalisantaraṇa Upaniṣad: “The sixteen words-Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare-are especially meant for counteracting the contaminations of Kali. To save oneself from the contamination of Kali, there is no alternative but the chanting of these sixteen words.”