"We don't simply prohibit that ‘You don't do this,’ but we supply something which is engaged by the senses and the mind, the intelligence, so that you do not require to be engaged otherwise.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Lecture 690101BG.LA)
Religion is sometimes misunderstood as being something very restrictive, full of rigid rules and regulations that must strictly be adhered to. While there are many rules that exist, they serve only a beginning step, a way to guide a person to a much higher end goal.
Understanding God and learning to love Him is the real purpose and meaning behind religion. In the Vedas, this is referred to as sanatana dharma. Sanatana means that which has no beginning and no end, and dharma means duty or prescribed occupation. So the idea of religion really refers to the eternal occupation of man and not simply to blind faith.
Due to rapid advancements in technology, today’s society has more free time to indulge in leisurely activities and sybaritic pursuits than generations past. We spend our free time watching movies, playing different sports, or surfing the internet. Many people focus all their free time on activities of intoxication, gambling, and chasing after sex life. If one becomes overly attached to these activities, they trap themselves in an endless cycle of mundane sense gratification that always leaves them wanting more.
These activities may be bad for us, but what else are we supposed to do with our free time? This is where bhakti yoga, or devotional service, comes in. Not to be confused with the modern day definition of yoga involving various breathing exercises and sitting postures, bhakti yoga is a way of life where all of one’s activities are dovetailed with service to the Supreme. Instead of retreating to a mountain top and chanting the syllable Om over and over again, devotional service is a call to action. In the Vedas, if one is serious about making spiritual progress, it is recommended that they abstain from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, illicit sex, intoxication, and gambling. Abruptly renouncing something, quitting it “cold turkey”, isn’t very easy for most of us to do. We have built up an attachment to sinful activity over many many births and it is very difficult to break free of them. To help us in our renunciation, the Vedas recommend that we constantly engage ourselves in God’s service. By taking this approach, we will be so busy that we won’t have any time for sinful activity. If we prepare all our food to be offered to Lord Krishna first, we will automatically stop eating meat, for the Lord does not accept food consisting of animal flesh.
“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.26)
If we engage ourselves in chanting His names and reading books about Him, we’ll experience a feeling of bliss that surpasses any highs that we get from intoxication. By using our hard earned money to purchase nice flowers for the Lord’s deity, or to construct nice temples for Him, or to support His devotees, we’ll lose any desire we may have to gamble. The husband and wife serving the Lord together, performing various sacrifices and rituals in their home, will become even more committed to each other, losing any desire they may have for illicit sex life.
Renunciation is commonly viewed as an end-goal, something that we have to strive for. In actually, renunciation is automatically acquired by those actively engaged in a higher cause. If we gradually devote ourselves to God’s service, our love for Him will increase, and our desire for sinful activity will diminish without us ever having to think about renouncing anything.