By Urmila Devi Dasi
Please accept my obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada!
Certainly we Gaudiya Vaisnavas, members of ISKCON, should know what is sinful and what is not. In the ultimate sense, “sin” is anything that is not done 1) for Krishna, 2) with a desire to please Him without wanting anything in return, and 3) without any interruption in the service. Such pure bhakti is the nature of the soul, and anything contrary to that, or less than that, is untruth and sinful.
But sin is of different kinds and degrees. Just as one cannot say that because a cat is an animal and a dog is an animal that a cat is a dog, so one cannot say that because two things are both sinful that they are the same kind of thing, or to the same degree. Murder is a different kind of sin than is stealing, and there are degrees of both, with different types and severity of consequences. First degree murder is of a different degree than manslaughter; and manslaughter is a different kind of sin than armed robbery with a deadly weapon, which is of a different degree than burglary.
Therefore, to gradually elevate conditioned souls, “upper levels” of sin are considered pious. In other words, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors which are to some degree and of some kind of sin, when dovetailed with bhakti, under the guidance of a bona fide guru, can lead us to bhakti. As Narada Muni instructed, “Does not a thing, when applied therapeutically, cure a disease which is caused by that very same thing?”
In this regard, there are both kinds and degrees of illicit sex. The fact that one can categorize them all as “illicit” does not equate them, nor will there be the equivalent type and severity of reaction. And some types of “illicit” sex are more likely to bring one to a pious platform than are others. In fact, there are kinds and degrees of pious or “licit” sex, as well, and even pious sex will only take one to the heavenly planets.
For an analogy, there are different types of eating. The most first-class eating is to eat food grown, cooked, and offered by first-class devotees. The offering should be made to Deities who receive regular top grade worship. And, when eating, one should be meditating on the mercy of Krishna, loving the Lord. However, we all recognize that there are “lower” platforms which are still within the range of acceptability for a Vaisnava “in good standing.” Although strict devotees cook the food and offer it to the Lord, that food may be grown or produced by non-devotees, or we may have to make offerings in a situation where regulated worship is impossible, as when traveling. Someone who offers vegetarian food that non-devotees have grown and cooked does not have a very high standard, but could still be considered “acceptable” in a general way. Below that standard is the vegetarian who perhaps eats prasadam when it is available. Such a standard is still better than meat-eating. Then, in the “kind” of sin of meat-eating, there are degrees. Eating a chicken’s egg is not as sinful as eating a goat, which is not as sinful as eating a cow or a human being. One cannot possibly equate the eating of a cow or human with eating vegetarian food offered to Krishna but prepared by a non-devotee or by a “loose” devotee and then offered in a relatively casual manner.
Regarding sexual behavior specifically, the main point is that sex should be connected with pleasing Krishna, who has designed the function of sex to be connected with creation. The main criterion in the sastra for righteous sex is that which is “pro-creation.” And the children produced should be trained as devotees. The best way for such training of children is for children to be produced within marriage. Limiting procreative sex to marriage is also beneficial for the parents as it practically and mentally connects pleasure to responsibility and service. Further limiting sex to only the most favorable time for procreation, and an even further limitation of a deliberate preparation of the parents’ mental state, is the most beneficial. The closer sexual behavior is to the ideal of responsibility and service, both in regards to the sexual partner and the offspring, the more “pious” and the less hindrance for the development of bhakti. As one gets further from this ideal, bhakti becomes more and more difficult, though in an ultimate sense bhakti is independent of material circumstances. There are also sexual behaviors that by their very nature cannot be offered in service and are therefore great obstacles to bhakti, just as there are foods which cannot be offered.
Ideally, a Vaisnava’s mentalilty when striving for personal purity should not be to define the “bottom line” of acceptability so as to justify staying a millimeter above the line. Rather, in each of our personal lives we should seek the highest platform we can maintain at our current level of realization and detachment, always seeking further purity and love for Krishna.
But the most important element of our spiritual advancement is the chanting of the Holy Name. We do not discourage anyone–even a cow eater–from chanting. As a person chants with sincerity and attention, he or she will naturally lose all desire for anything except Krishna’s pleasure, and all forms of personal sense gratification will become detestable.
Your servant, Urmila devi dasi