Vanity thought #709. Living the 4th

Talking about the fourth regulative principle opened my eyes to the wide variety of options and situations out there. In our Bhagavatam classes it’s mostly about devotee families maintaining strict spiritual standards but out there, in the ever growing community, we have so many complicated cases you wouldn’t even know where to start.

The fourth regulative principle covers all of the humanity regardless of the status on devotional ladder and when you think about it that way you get to see the principle behind the rule. I mean it’s called a principle for a reason, right?

We have women married to meat eating non-devotee “sex crazies” and these women desperately want to become pure and spiritual but are torn between their obligations as wives and as members of ISKCON, and if they choose their families and children you can’t blame them for also wanting to be “normal”, ie initiated and marching towards spiritual goals.

Is it okay to demand following the fourth from women in such situations? What if it was a man who is married and had children with a non-devotee wife? Can he be initiated and expected to follow the fourth? How should he treat his wife when she needs him physically?

Then we have devotees who got married in ISKCON but with time drifted away. How are they supposed to follow the fourth if one day they come to their senses but their partners are still not ready? Divorce for the sake of spirituality? And then what? Remarry?

Then we have devotee women who marry outside on purpose, arguing that ISKCON men are unreliable and fickle and can easily abandon their families in pursuit of “spiritual progress”. How are they supposed to follow the fourth, considering that their marriage has a perfectly healthy raison d’etre – protection, stability, and procreation. This probably won’t happen in the West but in traditional societies men are still brought up with solid family values.

Then we have male devotees who simply fall in love with non-devotee women. Oh, such a falldown! As if anyone can fully protect his heart from falling in love. It happens, and they still want to be devotees, how are they going to follow the fourth with women who don’t want children just yet, or ever?

What about devotees who can’t get married for one reason or other. Maybe they can’t find the right person, or maybe they can’t find the right job, or maybe they are brought up in this modern non-marrying culture. Not being married they can’t stay brahmacharies for long and eventually hook up with strangers. What is better in this case – one night stand with devotees or with karmis? Or prostitutes?

When I sat down to type this post I thought I had all these cases organized and sorted in my mind but now it doesn’t matter anymore if I forgot something. The point is that they are all devotees and they all know the value of the fourth but their situations are not favorable to following it. Should they be initiated?

Easy answer – no, only devotees who commit themselves to following regulative principles should be given initiation. That is too simplistic, however, because following the fourth is a matter of karma and external arrangements, as you can see from the above examples. We can’t restrict initiations only to people who have enough good karma to start and maintain a proper, Krishna conscious family with proper, Krishna conscious partners, and most importantly, can afford abstaining from birth control.

If we do that we’ll become a caste society – some would be pure enough for initiations and some won’t and would never have a hope until they get a better birth.

As far as I know no one has figured out a solution to this yet, and I don’t have one either, but understanding the situation and accepting the difficulties is a good start already. At least it will make us a bit more mature and less judgmental.

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