“(Men in the Kali Yuga) behave contrary to the modes of life to which they betake themselves. They are addicted to consuming intoxicating drinks and their unfettered sexual desires make them capable of even coveting the wife of their guru. Their desires are all on the material platform.” (Markandeya Rishi speaking to King Yudhishthira, Mahabharata, Vana Parva)
This statement is part of a conversation between the venerable Markandeya Rishi and the five Pandava brothers along with their cousin Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The epic Mahabharata describes the plight of the brothers to regain their kingdom, detailing the many trials and tribulations they endured while travelling across India around five thousand years ago. Along the way, they took instruction from many great sages, with Markandeya being one of them. In this instance, the sage is acting as spiritual master to the five brothers, headed by King Yudhishthira, describing to them the defects of Kali Yuga.
According to the Vedas, each creation is divided into four time periods or Yugas. Dharma, or religiosity, declines amongst the population by one quarter with each successive Yuga. Kali Yuga, the age we are are currently in, is the fourth and final time period where dharma is notable by its absence. Existing at only one quarter its full strength, most of society today is dedicated to adharma, sinful life. It is an evolution of sorts, but not of the Darwinian variety. Instead of the species evolving, it is man’s penchant for sinful activity that has gradually evolved and gained in strength. When man first inhabited the earth, he was almost completely pure. The first age is known as Satya or Krita Yuga, meaning the age of truth. Most people were truthful and honest during that time. Gradually however, due to contamination caused by contact with this material world, mankind increased its propensity for sinful activity, to the point now where most are encouraged to act in ways that are completely against the injunctions of the scriptures.
Of all the various types of sins, illicit sex life is considered the greatest. People have many definitions of what exactly constitutes a sin, but the Vedas tell us that sinful activity is anything which causes us to be bound to the repeated cycle of birth and death. Our souls are eternal, but our material bodies are not. At the time of death, we give up our current bodies and get a new one according to our karma. Our current life is not the first one that we’ve had. This is confirmed by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita.
“The Blessed Lord said: Many, many births both you (Arjuna) and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O subduer of the enemy!” (Bhagavad-gita, 4.5)
If we are pious, then we take birth in a high family in our next life, and if we are overly sinful, we take birth in a lower family or species. This cycle can be stopped however, by those who really want out of this material world. God actually is very kind to us and gives us exactly what we want. If we want to constantly enjoy unending sex life, He obliges by giving us the body of a dog or a monkey. If we want to be very pious and intelligent, he gives us the body of a great scholar or yogi. By the same token, if we want eternal association with God as His servant, then He obliges by permanently removing us from this material world. If one thinks of Krishna at the time of death, then he or she no longer takes birth in this material world.
“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt. Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail… That abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by electricity. One who reaches it never returns to this material world.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.5-6, 15.6)
Illicit sex is the cornerstone of sinful life because it is the one thing that keeps us bound to this material world more than anything else. Sex is considered the highest form of material enjoyment. If we are attached to this kind of enjoyment, why would God want to remove us from it? One may ask the question, “Well, what is wrong with sex? I enjoy it. I don’t see any harm in it.” It is not that the Vedas prescribe one to completely give up the practice, but rather it should be regulated. One can see the negative effects of unregulated sex life in society today. Teenage pregnancy, “deadbeat dads”, single parenthood, poverty, and sexually transmitted diseases are some of the more widespread problems caused by unchecked sexual activity. Instead of trying to get people to abstain from such activity, our leaders today encourage illicit sex by pushing the use of contraceptives such as condoms and birth control. No form of birth control is foolproof, so many of the unwanted pregnancies that result are then terminated through abortion, a practice which is condoned by the government. Illicit sex life is sinful as it is, but killing an innocent child in the womb is a most abominable act.
Poverty is a problem that most of today’s world leaders are focused on solving. Their solutions typically focus around massive redistribution of wealth programs, but the cure for poverty actually lies elsewhere. According to statistics, in America if one graduates high school, gets married, stays married, and only has children while they are married, then they have a very low probability for living in poverty.
“…Let's examine some numbers from the Census Bureau's 2004 Current Population Survey. There's one segment of the black population that suffers only a 9.9 percent poverty rate, and only 13.7 percent of their under-5-year-olds are poor. There's another segment of the black population that suffers a 39.5 percent poverty rate, and 58.1 percent of its under-5-year-olds are poor. Among whites, one population segment suffers a 6 percent poverty rate, and only 9.9 percent of its under-5-year-olds are poor. Another segment of the white population suffers a 26.4 percent poverty rate, and 52 percent of its under-5-year-olds are poor. What do you think distinguishes the high and low poverty populations? The only statistical distinction between both the black and white populations is marriage. There is far less poverty in married-couple families…” (Walter E Williams, Are the Poor Getting Poorer?)
The Vedas advise one to get married as soon as there is any inkling of sex desire. In males especially, sex desire is very strong. We see evidence of this all around us, for people are always looking for new ways to enhance their sexual experiences. Internet pornography is a huge business, and today’s television shows and movies keep getting more and more raunchy. In the traditional varnashrama dharma system, boys wanting to enter into family life would get married to a suitable girl as soon as they finished school, all arranged by the parents of both parties. In this way, sex life is allowed, but in a regulated manner. The husband and wife can live together peacefully, leaving time to focus on the real aim of life, service to Krishna. This type of mentality is in stark contrast to the modern day notion of men “sowing their wild oats”. It is quite typical for college age men and those in their twenties to have multiple female partners, jumping from one girlfriend to the next until they find someone that suits their needs. Men and women both have more freedom today than they used to, but it has come at a cost. In the Vedic system, the husband is required to provide complete protection to the wife in all circumstances. Even those men that take to the renounced order of life, sannyasa, they make sure that the wife is taken care of by the eldest son or other family members in their absence. In today’s world, men are free to exploit women, getting what they can out of them without taking any responsibility for their well-being. Such a system will always always lead to chaos.
As with all our problems, we need only look to Krishna for the solution. Bhakti yoga, or devotional service, is the highest dharma for every person in any age. The Mahabharata declares that one should avoid attachment to the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex life. One who avoids these activities while regularly chanting the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, will be free from all sinful reactions. We aren’t required to just give up sinful activity and sit in meditation all day. Rather we should engage in devotional service by reading about Krishna, offering Him prayers, preparing and distributing prasadam, and regularly viewing the archa-vigraha or deity of the Lord. The husband and wife who engage in this activity together will live very peacefully and happily. Illicit sex desire will then go away on its own.