“Properly established, your legs are simplicity, purity, compassion and truthfulness. They are broken by the triplicate immoralities: arrogance, copulation, and intoxication.”
– Pariksit to Dharma (SB 1.17.24)
Among the scriptural statements I have yet studied this is one of the closest to the somewhat famous “four regulative principles” of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. There they have a stature reminiscent of the 10 Commandments. I believe they were originally enunciated by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī for his organization, the Gauḍiya Maṭh.
The common expression of the “Four Regs” is: (1) no meat eating, (2) no intoxication, (3) no illicit sex, and (4) no gambling. I would like to explain these rules more deeply and thoroughly than is common.
These four prohibitions are said to break the four legs of morality. So we should first understand the four legs of morality a little more clearly.
- Tapaḥ – This means to be simple, spartan, minimalist, austere, and self-sacrificing.
- Śaucaṁ – This means to be pure. Purity means to be emotionally, mentally, and physically clean, free from contamination.
- Dayā – This means to be kind, compassionate, merciful, forgiving, generous, etc.
- Satyaṁ – This means to be truthful. It also means to be “real” and not concerned with irrelevant and meaningless gossips and diversions.
In this verse and the next, Parīkṣit identifies four aspects of immorality which break the four legs of morality:
- Smaya – This means arrogance and conceit.
- Sanga – This means “coming together” and can have a social or physical context. In a social context it means gathering in a close and emotionally intimate group. In a physical context it means physical intimacy, sex.
- Madaiḥ – This means excitement, passion, lust, and the intoxication and insanity which tends to result.
- Anṛta – This means falsehood, lying, cheating and being out of touch with reality.
Smaya (arrogance) breaks the leg of dayā (compassion).
Compassion means to feel empathy for the needs and wants of others. When we are self-absorbed and self-important we overlook the needs and wants of other people. We will even kill them if it suits our whims, just as millions of people kill animals and destroy nature every day because it suits their tastes.
Not eating meat is one way to counteract arrogance because it forces us to value the lives of animals more than we value our own fancies. It is not the only way. And it should be clear that a vegetarian who remains arrogant, conceited, and insensitive to the human beings he or she lives with hardly makes much progress towards dayā (compassion). We should be compassionate in all ways, not just in our diet.
Sanga (copulation) breaks the leg of śaucaṁ (purity).
It is not that sex is evil. In fact, all acts which unify express a godly principle, “aditi.” But intimacy, especially sexual intimacy, with anyone and everyone is immoral because it violates our ideological and emotional purity. It also threatens our physical purity and cleanliness and creates needless disease.
Some form of abstinence is therefore an important principle of morality. Total celibacy is an extreme application, but the same principle also positively operates whenever sexual intercourse is held within reasonable limits such as marriage or even in long-term relationships. Sexual restraint alone does not itself make us pure. We must also seek to be free from emotionally intimate relationships with unsavory persons.
Madaiḥ (the intoxication of lust) breaks the leg of tapaḥ (simplicity).
Simplicity means to be content with whatever you have. It means to be free from the complications that arise by always desiring more, bigger and better. Simplicity and sobriety have something important in common, as a sober person doesn’t chase whims and desires here and there.
Literally drinking alcohol or taking other sorts of drugs is certainly an important part of madai (lustful intoxication), but it is not really the essence of it. To restore the leg of tapaḥ we must be “sober” in much more than merely a literal sense of the word. Surely a person who is literally sober has a head start, but it is not that intoxicants themselves are evil. A person who does not drink alcohol is not necessarily a simple, austere person. Nor is a person who occasionally and moderately drinks incapable of being minimalist, simple and austere. We must strive to be sober in all ways, so that we have more time and energy to dedicate to the service of others.
Satya (truthfulness) is broken by anṛta (deceit).
Playing poker or gambling is not the essence of untruthfulness! Still, gambling is based on bluffing, cheating, tricking, or just risking what is comparatively real (money) on something comparatively unreal (dice). Thus to restore the principle of truthfulness we would do well to avoid such behavior, but a game of cards, or a bluff at stealing second base in a game of baseball does not make one a “sinner.” Simply put, we must not tell lies, must keep promises, fulfill responsibilities, disclose the truth plainly but with good manners and sensitivity, and not risk what is real for the sake of what is unreal.
The fourth leg (sat-ya) still has significant potency in the fourth age, the age of Kali. It endures even in adverse conditions because it is the principle, most durable, powerful leg of morality. This is why sat-sanga and sat-kathā are such essential aspects of religion and spirituality. These prevent us from sacrificing the truly real for the truly unreal: and that is actual morality.
What is truly unreal? Our ego.
What is truly real? The All-Attractive Divine Identity (“Śrī Krishna”). The Śrīmad Bhāgavatam describes Śrī Krishna as satyam-param: the paramount truth. Thus krsna-sanga (emotionally intimate association with Krishna, via those who are deeply absorbed in contemplation of Krishna) and krsna-kathā (discussion and broadcast of Krishna’s name, qualities, beauty and activities) can restore all the legs of morality fully and deliver happiness, satisfaction and enlightenment to anyone and everyone.
The four principles of morality are four “legs” that hold up the “bull” of dharma. What is the bull itself? What are the principles actually supporting? Divine Love for the All-Attractive. Without divine love, all behavior – moral or not – is pretentious and ugly. When one focuses on cultivating divine love through krsna-sanga and krsna-kathā the four principles of morality automatically become firm, strong and whole.