Flexibility in Following Rigid Rules
Posted November 15, 2008
This article is about problems we encounter in following standards given to us by Srila Prabhupada, specifically the vows we take at initiation. We find little difficulty in lacto-vegetarianism when our taste buds are saturated with so many delightful delicacies. (See, for example, my Veggie Patties.) There is much purpose and good effects from that vow, from being able to be a true friend to all living entities, to helping to drastically reduce one's ecological footprint. With purpose and a higher taste comes an assured following that is durable; one could say rigid. Few of us fall from it.
Similarly, eschewing gambling and intoxication assuredly bestows immense benefits to health, wealth and wisdom, all of which are tangible and experienced immediately, with no negative side effects whatsoever. The same cannot be said for illicit sex as interpreted in the initiation vows — that is, to be utterly celibate except if one desires children, and then only to engage in sex once a month until pregnancy occurs.
The problem with this is that many couples do not have the psychological and financial means to support many children and that some do not actually want any children; they would prefer to serve Krishna in some other way. To have children not because they are actually wanted but because one has sex desire is certainly irreligious, as it is diametrically opposed to the concept of love. Srila Prabhupada has used the term varna-sankara (See Bhagavad-gita 1.40) to describe such unwanted and unloved progeny. What a social disaster is caused when children are unwanted and undernourished emotionally, a prime cause of psychopathology and the many social tragedies that that spawns, up to and including the tragedy of the Holocaust. Hitler was also such an unloved child.
If we are to avoid having children that we would much prefer to be without, then we must avoid sex life altogether — which unless one is liberated is impossible to do without repression. We are not supposed to repress our desires; rather, by experiencing a higher taste, automatically the lower taste vanishes. To repress is to utterly oppose ourselves to the Gaudiya siddhanta of natural progression — progression without force and through being completely honest with oneself and others. One could use the equation progression = confession – repression. The other option is to entirely avoid the opposite sex, which was exemplified by Lord Chaitanya to the extreme but somehow is not considered important by our own sannyasis. Interesting, isn't it?
In marriage such distance from the opposite sex is impossible, at least physically but not emotionally. Since affection so often can express itself in sex, some couples try to avoid being affectionate with each other. This may work for a time, while they desperately hope the higher taste will kick in before they go their separate ways in search of the affection they crave, or experience the terrible anguish and guilt of falldown, perhaps on a regular basis.
What we have here is an utter contradiction staring us in the face. On the one hand, we are supposed to have sex only if we want children, and not because of sex desire. Yet we are not supposed to repress sex desire, even if we do not want children. The “good” devotees either really love having multitudes of kids to care for — and have heaps of money to do it with — or totally lack sex desire — which is hard to believe, since they chose to get married. The rest of us struggle to achieve a higher taste, but that higher taste is not under our control and is certainly not subservient to our desire to avoid sex. It responds to our love for the Lord — that, and that alone. So we try to love Krsna so we can follow a rule which is supposed to be necessary before we love Krsna — because, after all, initiation is just the beginning. Yet at this beginning we vow to do what is impossible to do except at the successful end of our spiritual sojourn.
What a mess. Is there a way out of it? We can just pretend it is not there, as we have done, and live in our isolative loneliness of utter secrecy, enduring torturous feelings of either guilt or repression, the shame-and-blame game. Or we can review what the essence of our path is, see where we are on that path and adjust accordingly. Srila Prabhupada wanted intelligent following, not blind following, yet mostly we have followed him blindly, and the proof of it is this mess we are in.
Certainly if Srila Prabhupada had been aware of the difficulty this vow has put us in, he would have adjusted it, just as he adjusted the vow to chant 64 rounds when it was pointed out that following it would cause difficulty. Continuous chanting is certainly more central to our siddhanta than peculiar versions of marital celibacy which are not required of us in sastra. He was not informed of the problems that devotees encountered with the vow, so nothing was done. The assumption is that the guru just knows, which is a nonsensical assumption.
Possibly, devotees felt too ashamed to mention their difficulty. The goal is to love Krishna, and the guru makes adjustments accordingly, but when disciples are secretive about their difficulties, the guru cannot help them. Without honesty, there cannot be progression in the guru-disciple relationship and, therefore, no progression towards the ultimate Truth. How can there ever be truth without honesty?
An adjustment to this vow may take a few more seconds in front of the fire, but patience is a virtue: “I vow to avoid illicit sex — that is, sex not for the purpose of showing affection, or sex that is infidelity, subtle or gross. I vow to uphold the right to life of the unborn child and to accept only that contraception that is before conception and that is absolutely necessary to avoid having children that I cannot support emotionally or psychologically. I vow to love with all my heart all children, my own and others, and love and respect all living entities in all forms of life. I vow that I will try to see all things in their relation to the Lord and not for my own enjoyment and, to this end, to conscientiously work toward the goal of celibacy and other states of total non-exploitation, to love Mother Earth and not pollute or exploit Her, to uphold honesty by avoiding gambling, to uphold compassion by avoiding meat and milk that is not from protected cows, and to uphold the Lord's place in my heart by avoiding intoxication and other types of forgetfulness.”
Such vows vary only in the detail, not the essence, of Srila Prabhupada's instructions. It is the essence that we must always uphold when making adjustments according to time, place and circumstance. The essence is to see things in their relationship to the Lord. We avoid gambling because all wealth is the Lord's; we avoid meat eating because the Lord is in the heart of the animal; we avoid intoxication because it makes it hard to remember our relationship with the Lord; and we are celibate because we see not the body, but the Lord in the heart — well, not yet, but we work towards it, step by step, gradually cultivating that vision and, when fixed in that vision, then celibacy follows and only very much-wanted children ever come into our loving care. That is flexible following of the rigid and inflexible rule of love for the Lord and all that is associated with Him, which is everything bar the illusion of our separateness from Him.
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