by His Holiness Bhakti Vikas Swami
(This is one of the essays meant for eventual publication in a book about Vaiṣṇava culture and etiquette.)
Based on Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.17.38, 11.5.11), Śrīla Prabhupāda instituted as an initiation vow that all disciples follow four regulative principles:
The beginning of religious life is to abandon the four principles of prohibited activities—namely illicit sex life, meat-eating, gambling, and intoxication.[i]
In our Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement, the requirement is that one must be prepared to give up the four pillars of sinful life—illicit sex, meat-eating, intoxication, and gambling[ii]
These principles are to be observed under all circumstances, without any exceptions:
You have made a promise when you took initiation that there will be no illicit sex connection. If still you are unable to fulfill that promise to your spiritual master, then what is the use of calling yourself a devotee and disciple? That is simply pretending. So you should think like this, that I have promised my spiritual master this, now I must obey him without any exception, otherwise I have no business calling myself his disciple. But if you want to call yourself devotee and serve Kṛṣṇa in that capacity, then you must avoid these four basic principle restrictions under all circumstances, without any exceptions.[iii]
Breaking any of these principles is sinful, and: “One who commits sinful acts consciously cannot be worthy of being a devotee of the Lord.[iv]
These four major sinful activities destroy the basic religious principles of austerity, cleanliness, mercy, and truthfulness.[v] Therefore these principles are not to be compromised:
To become Kṛṣṇa conscious means that he has to give up his sinful activities. No illicit sex life, no meat-eating, no intoxication, no gambling. These are the four pillars of sinful life. So people are not ready to give up this. But we do not make any compromise, that you go on with your sinful life and at the same time I sanction that you have become Kṛṣṇa conscious. No, that we cannot do. There is no compromise on this point. You must give up all this sinful life. Because there is no chance of becoming Kṛṣṇa conscious. Why shall you make a show? There is no benefit by making a show.[vi]
Hence: “Intoxication of all description—even smoking cigarettes, chewing tobacco, or the drinking of tea—must be prohibited.”[vii] Other intoxicants that should not be taken include alcohol, psychotropic drugs (including cannabis and its derivatives), pan, betel nuts, betel powder, coffee, and those soft drinks and other items (such as chocolate) that contain artificial stimulants, such as caffeine.
Illicit sex means any sexual activity other than within marriage for the purpose of begetting Kṛṣṇa conscious children. Extramarital relationships are grossly sinful and spoil spiritual advancement and therefore should not even be considered. Abortion, contraception, and sterilization are also sinful. Masturbation is also illicit sex because it uselessly wastes vital fluid and contaminates the consciousness.
Garlic and onions, as well as meat, fish and eggs, are forbidden for devotees. Food cooked by nondevotees is also forbidden. Devotees take only kṛṣṇa-prasāda, food prepared specifically for the pleasure of the Lord and offered to Him with love and devotion. As Śrīla Prabhupāda once explained while outlining the four regulative principles: “One of the restrictions is that you cannot take anything which is not offered to Kṛṣṇa.[viii]
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura defined gambling thus:
Playing cards, chess, dice, checkers, and so on, are all in the category of gambling. The modern-day lottery is also called gambling. If we discuss the histories of King Nala, Yudhiṣṭhira, Duryodhana, and Śakuni then we can see that fierce quarrel and ruination have resulted from attempts to accumulate wealth by cheating and stealing at the place of gambling. Even today, places of gambling are destroying many persons’ religiosity, economic development, sense gratification, and liberation. Those who engage in gambling certainly become lazy and quarrelsome. They cannot perform any religious or pious activities.[ix]
Gambling includes even petty betting for small stakes. Śrīla Prabhupāda also equated speculative business enterprises with gambling.[x] As all business involves some risk, this may be understood as high-risk ventures whereby a person hopes to gain a big return for a relatively small investment, based on market fluctuations rather than personal endeavor. Śrīla Prabhupāda further clubbed “mental speculation”[xi] and “unnecessary sporting” with gambling.[xii]
Śrīla Prabhupāda also stipulated that initiated devotees:
Must attend evening and morning classes
Should not extensively mix with nondevotees
Should not eat food cooked by nondevotees
Should not waste time in idle talks
Should not become engaged in frivolous sports
Should always chant and sing the Lord’s Holy Names
Chanting as enunciated by Lord Caitanya is the only means for spiritual realization in this age of dissension. So chant at least 16 rounds daily.-[xiii]
Apart from these most basic principles, there are other standard practices of Kṛṣṇa consciousness that all devotees who claim to be followers of Śrīla Prabhupāda are expected to observe, as evinced by the following quotes from Śrīla Prabhupāda’s letters. They are by no means an exhaustive list. Śrīla Prabhupāda repeated these instructions in literally dozens of letters written to his disciples, and especially to the leaders of ISKCON.
Everyone should attend maṅgala-ārati and chant sixteen rounds daily.[xiv]
You must see that they strictly follow the regulative principles, the four prohibitions, as well as the devotional practices of arising early, taking morning bath, putting on tilaka, attending maṅgala-ārati, chanting japa sixteen rounds, and attending Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam class. This is the duty of all my initiated disciples, whether they are big or they are small. Actually in our movement there is no such thing as big or small. Everyone is a devotee. So everyone is expected to follow the devotional practices. Here in Vṛndāvana I am enjoying my disciples how they are speaking. So two times daily everyone must attend the classes. During the morning and evening times there should be no business, simply kīrtana, chant, dance, and be purified. Do not be paramahaṁsa that now I haven’t got to hear Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and Bhagavad-gītā. Don’t be a better paramahaṁsa than your Guru Mahārāja. I go and sit and I enjoy the lectures and how they are performing kīrtana. So as I am doing, you must also do.[xv]
These principles are “essential,” “of the utmost importance.” Without them, “there is no spiritual life”:
That is of utmost importance. Do not fail to chant sixteen rounds daily, rise early, come to maṅgala-ārati, come to classes and follow the four regulative principles. In this way your life will become free from all anxieties.[xvi]
Keep yourself pure and fixed up in Kṛṣṇa consciousness by following the four regulative principles, rising early, attending maṅgala-ārati and classes, etc. This is of the utmost importance.[xvii]
Rise early, attend maṅgala-ārati, attend class, chant sixteen rounds, and follow the four basic rules and regulations. This is most important. Without these things, there is no spiritual life.[xviii]
Learning the philosophy will have no effect without this practical application:
Yes, reading my books will help you, philosophy must be there, but if you do not also apply the philosophy by participating in all temple affairs like rising early, attending maṅgala-ārati, performing devotional service, then simply learning the philosophy will have no effect.[xix]
Failure to adhere to these principles hampers spiritual life and puts a devotee at risk of falling from the spiritual position.
As soon as one discontinues his staunch following of the regulative principles, such as no meat-eating, no illicit sex, no intoxication, no gambling, rising early before four, coming to maṅgala-ārati, chanting at least sixteen rounds, etc., then his spiritual life is hampered and there is a chance that at any time he may become a victim of māyā.[xx]
Indeed, without following these principles, “there is no question of spiritual life,” and downfall becomes inevitable:
Please impress upon the initiates the necessity of chanting sixteen rounds daily on the beads and following the four regulative principles. Avoid sinful life and spiritual life becomes easier. Without following these principles there is actually no possibility of spiritual life.[xxi]
Everyone must rise early, take bath, attend maṅgala-ārati, chant at least sixteen good rounds, attend class, and follow the four regulative principles. If these things are lax, then there is no question of spiritual life. Anyone who does not accept these things staunchly will have to fall down. You must teach them by your own personal example; otherwise, how will they learn?[xxii]
Everyone should join the maṅgala-ārati. Gradually, we should become more regulated and strict for following the rules and regulations. Otherwise, we shall fall down.[xxiii]
On the other hand, adherence to this system will safeguard us from māyā’s attack:
Rūpa Gosvāmī has introduced this system of regulative principles which I have taught to you also. These regulative principles, such as rising before four a.m. for maṅgala-ārati, chanting sixteen rounds minimum on beads daily, reading books, going for the street saṅkīrtana, preaching to anyone and everyone, offering the prasādam, like that, these principles of devotional service are there to safeguard us from māyā’s attack by keeping us always enthusiastic.[xxiv]
All success, both of individual devotees and of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement, will come by following these basic principles:
Never neglect to chant your sixteen rounds of beads daily, rise early without fail, attend maṅgala-arati, take bath, and follow the other regulative principles, and everything will come out very successfully, you can rest assured of that.[xxv]
So the future of this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is very bright, so long the managers remain vigilant that sixteen rounds are being chanted by everyone without fail, that they are all rising before four in the morning, attending maṅgala-ārati—our leaders shall be careful not to kill the spirit of enthusiastic service, which is individual and spontaneous and voluntary.[xxvi]
And if you simply keep to our standard program… that means chanting daily sixteen rounds, rising early, attending maṅgala-ārati, like that, if this program is strictly maintained amongst all the devotees, they will remain pure; and if preaching is pure, automatically leaders, managers, funds, everything, will be given profusely by Kṛṣṇa without any doubt.[xxvii]
This process leads to perfection:
Please continue to follow all of the rules and regulations very carefully and strictly so that your spiritual life will flourish. Rise early, chant sixteen rounds, attend maṅgala-ārati and classes, and your life will be perfect.[xxviii]
Rise early, attend maṅgala-ārati and class, chant sixteen rounds, and follow the four regulative principles without deviation. This will guarantee your spiritual perfection.[xxix]
By simply following this process without deviation, chanting sixteen rounds, following the four regulative principles, attending classes and maṅgala-ārati, rising early, these things will gradually bring you to the platform of pure love of Kṛṣṇa.[xxx]
The “main thing” for leaders is to train others in these standards by setting a good example:
The main thing is that you must set nice example for the others by following very rigidly the regulative principles, such as chanting sixteen rounds on beads, reading the books, getting up to attend maṅgala-ārati, etc. In this way everyone shall be encouraged. We must be so careful to train the devotees nicely.[xxxi]
Most importantly, Śrīla Prabhupāda becomes pleased if devotees follow these principles:
I am also glad to hear that in your temple no one misses maṅgala-ārati and that everyone is becoming steady and peaceful in their service. It sounds as if you are taking care of your men very nicely. This is first-class management.[xxxii]
 See appendix re chocolate.
[i] SB 4.26.7.
[ii] Cc 2.24.330.
[iii] Letter, 31 Dec 1972.
[iv] SB 2.7.15.
[v] SB 1.17.38, ppt.
[vi] Lecture, 24 Jul 1973.
[viii] Conversation, 9 Mar 1968.
[ix] Bhaktivinoda-vāṇī-vaibhava 64.36.
[x] SB 1.17.38, ppt.
[xi] E.g., Letter, 2 Feb 1970.
[xii] E.g., Conversation, 9 Mar 1968.
[xiii] Letter, 30 May 1968.
[xiv] Letter, 3 Sep 1974.
[xv] Letter, 19 Sep 1974.
[xvi] Letter, 28 Dec 1974.
[xvii] Letter, 28 Dec 1974.
[xviii] Letter, 9 May 1975.
[xix] Letter, 7 Jul 1972.
[xx] Letter, 15 Dec 1974.
[xxi] Letter, 11 Sep, 1976.
[xxii] Letter, 16 Jan 1975.
[xxiii] Letter, 3 May 1972.
[xxiv] Letter, 31 Dec 1972.
[xxv] Letter, 13 Jun 1972.
[xxvi] Letter, 22 Dec 1972.
[xxvii] Letter, 23 Dec 1972.
[xxviii] Letter, 3 Feb 1975.
[xxix] Letter, 14 Mar 1975.
[xxx] Letter, 28 Dec 1974.
[xxxi] Letter, 31 Jan 1973.
[xxxii] Letter, 28 Dec 1974.