Recently a devotee posted a quote from one of our leading sannyasis about following the fourth regulative principle. The gist of it was that there’s a big difference between sex inside and outside of marriage. Sex outside of marriage is sinful and ruinous for spiritual life while recreational sex between married people is simply unfavorable for spiritual progress.
I thought that was very odd because Srila Prabhupada has never made such a distinction. There are tons of quotes on this and these two sound very convincing:
..in the Vedic civilization sex life is allowed only in a restricted way; it is for the married couple and only for begetting children. But when sex life is indulged in for sense gratification illegally and illicitly, both the man and the woman await severe punishment in this world or after death.
SB 3.30.28, purport
These laws and scriptures are meant for human beings. As such, if one violates these laws, he becomes sinful. The conclusion is that unrestricted sense enjoyment means sinful activities. Illicit sex is sex that violates the laws given in the scriptures. When one violates the laws of the scriptures, or the Vedas, he commits sinful activities.
SB 4.27.5, purport
So my first reflex was to point how maharaj clearly diverges from Srila Prabhupada on this. Thinking about it some more, however, I realized that this was a reply to a question, and if the question was “What to do if ..?” then one certainly has to make distinctions between husband and wife slipping into a bit of sense enjoyment and a sannyasi sexually abusing children.
Maharaj also called devotees who don’t see the difference “foolish and fanatical”. I don’t know about that – there’s no difference in principle, but if the question was “Should I drown in Ganges like Chota Haridas?” then the comment would be totally appropriate.
This question of in and out of marriage sex made me think of what a marriage is, too. From a karmic/devotional point of view – what constitutes marriage? Registration with civil authorities? Performing vivaha? Declaring their status publicly? That doesn’t seem to be definitive enough for marriage as it is accepted in “heaven”. What if a devotee performing the yajna made a mistake? What if all our yajnas are useless and no demigod/higher power ever recognizes them as a proper sacrifice?
Perhaps the most important part is the commitment to raising Krishna conscious children. Traditionally it’s the commitment to stay together until death but from devotional point of view the purpose of marriage is procreation, not the commitment to enjoy/annoy each other no matter what.
Perhaps we should define marriage as an arrangement for producing and raising Krishna conscious children, and everything else consider only as a tribute to society. Devotees aren’t meant to stay together until death anyway, after their procreational duties are over they should leave the family and devote themselves solely to spiritual practices.
Anyway, after submitting some of these arguments in hope to clarify maharaja’s statement it turned out that the question was about some other gurus who openly declare that any sex within marriage is okay and are not demanding abstaining from it neither for the first nor for the second initiation.
I don’t know what to say to that. Here I thought this particular guru was very liberal in his interpretation of how to follow the fourth reg but now he turns out to be the “strict” one!
There’s a confusion about what Prabhupada meant by establishing this fourth requirement for ISKCON devotees, the argument goes. I don’t know about that. To me it can’t be any clearer – no illicit sex, and illicit sex is sex outside of marriage, and in marriage it’s sex not for creating children.
What is there to be confused about?
Never mind the rules, there’s no surprise that some guys come along with easier versions, but rewriting the rules can’t change the fundamental principle – those who are attached to sex life, illicit or otherwise, will never become devotees. As long as attraction to sex enjoyment is there we can’t even dream of going back to Krishna. Pure, spiritual sex desire will not manifest itself as long as we cling to our base, material lust.
We can’t have the cake and eat it, too.