Chakra Discussions

Regulative Principles: The Quest for Clarification

by Susheel Gopalan

Posted July 2, 2003

In recent months I have observed a barrage of commentaries justifying and countering conservative and liberal views on the regulative principles set by Srila Prabhupada as the founding principles for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). I am hardly qualified to make further assertions on this subject. However, since the subject matter is one that impacts core ISKCON values, I can certainly reveal my impressions, impressions that I have conjured based on exposure and introspection.

While sexuality is undoubtedly the predominating force in architecting material societal structures and the primary focus of most of the discussions I have alluded to in my introduction, I feel the clarifications that are sort may be obtained by analyzing the spirit behind regulative principles in general.

Srila Prabhupada founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness on the basis of 4 regulative principles: No meat eating, No intoxication, No illicit sex and No gambling. He went on to add that ISKCON was an institution that empowers individuals with the knowledge and a process that allows them to become first class citizens in any society and thereby enables them to better fulfill the primary goal of human existence -- self- realization.

There is little doubt in my mind as to whom Srila Prabhupada would consider a first-class citizen. Srila Prabhupada offers no wiggle room on the regulative principles. In other words, no meat eating precludes the consumption of muffins made out of eggs, no intoxication precludes the consumption of coffee and tea, no illicit sex precludes anything and everything that does not share the genuine intent to procreate and no gambling precludes day trading in the modern day stock market.

Having said that, I also believe that Srila Prabhupada did not establish ISKCON as an exclusive club where membership of the congregation was reserved for "first class" individuals. But instead, ISKCON was meant to provide a system that enabled people to reach these higher standards at an individual pace. This distinction, I believe, is important and relevant to the majority of ISKCON related discussions that I have observed.

In other words, while ISKCON promotes the highest standards in human existence, it offers shelter, and a northbound path, even for those who have trouble meeting the minimum bars of human civilization. Indeed, it is this concession that allows individuals like myself to benefit from this program that Srila Prabhupada has so meticulously implemented.

Equality is often presented as an antidote to discrimination in our contemporary society. When confronted with the deeper validity of this assertion, clarifications often state that what is intended is really an equality in opportunity rather than equality in the absolute sense. Of late even this clarification is proving to be difficult for the highest judicial bodies of our societies who are entrusted with the responsibility of reconciling fundamental constitutional rights of all people. Arguments that promote equality often lead to competing fundamental rights that seem mutually unsustainable.

Coincidently, Srila Prabhupada had addressed this very issue by indicating that the quest for equality was opposed to the rulings of material nature and hence any attempt to artificially promote equality in the material world would lead to a breakdown of society. Instead, his remedy was to elevate those seeking equality to the spiritual world. Only there, he said, one will find true equality.

I think it is important to recognize that discrimination that impedes the progress of an individual on the spiritual path is unwarranted and despicable. I think it is equally important to ensure that we do not compromise on the high standards that Srila Prabhupada has asked us to aspire for in an attempt to justify our current positions. The promotion of equality as a panacea for discrimination is misguided in my view.

Ultimately the journey of self-realization is an individual journey. We get inspiration and impetus from those who have more realizations of the spiritual world than we do. But that is the extent of help we can expect. To focus and debate on justifying and fortifying our current position takes valuable time from focusing on our goals. After all, what truly unites us as an institution is our agreement on our goals. And the more we focus on those goals, the less we need to worry about our current circumstances. Unfortunately we are entangled in yet another human weakness, a weakness that insists on comparing our current positions and competing for relative positions of respect and power.

In conclusion, let me state once again that I am not particularly qualified to address subjects of this depth, nor am I qualified to be an initiated member of ISKCON. So my opinions should carry very little weight. I share them simply because it is a subject matter that I have contemplated at some length and I hope it will be of some benefit to some people.

Susheel Gopalan