“Depending on one's consciousness, the individual is either polluted or clear. If one's mind is fixed on Krishna (His name, quality, form, pastimes, entourage and paraphernalia), all one's activities-both subtle and gross-become favorable. The Bhagavad-gita's process of purifying consciousness is the process of fixing one's mind on Krishna by talking of His transcendental activities, cleansing His temple, going to His temple, seeing the beautiful transcendental form of the Lord nicely decorated, hearing His transcendental glories, tasting food offered to Him, associating with His devotees, smelling the flowers and Tulasi leaves offered Him, engaging in activities for the Lord's interest, etc.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Preface)
The purpose of human life is to elevate one’s consciousness to the point where all thoughts are directed towards Krishna, or God. At this stage, one’s consciousness is completely pure and the spirit soul thus becomes eligible to return back home, back to Godhead after the current life ends. The purification of our thoughts can only be achieved by directing every thought towards the supreme object of worship, Lord Shri Krishna. Directing our consciousness anywhere else can lead to trouble.
Unchecked desires lead to lust and anger.
“I want this. I want that…From now on, I’m going to act in this certain way, or I will avoid this certain thing. This will make me happy.” The mind is always making plans for sense gratification. This is due to the fact that the material senses can never be satisfied. Even if we have momentary feelings of bliss and peacefulness, tumult, chaos, and despair are sure to return. Then the cycle repeats itself. Desire can be very dangerous because it can cause us to act without knowledge. The world of sports gives us many examples of this. In the sport of tennis, the annual Grand Slam tournament Wimbledon is considered the most prestigious. Having a long history and tradition, Wimbledon is the only major tournament that still plays on a grass court. Every aspiring tennis player hopes to one day win this tournament. In the mid 1980s, Ivan Lendl was the number one male tennis player, completely dominating the sport. The one thing missing on his resume was a Wimbledon title. He had trouble playing on grass early in his career, but he steadily improved on the fast surface. In 1986 and 1987, Lendl made the Wimbledon final, only to lose both times. As the years went by, Lendl became more and more desirous of winning Wimbledon. Tennis Magazine even ran a story about this desire, calling it The Magnificent Obsession. Sadly, Lendl would never win this most coveted of titles.
Fast forward to today and we can see that this “obsession” turned out to be a waste of time. Lendl never won Wimbledon, but it hardly matters. He’s a retired family man, focused on raising his daughters. People still remember him as one of the greatest tennis players of all time. What may have consumed his mind twenty years ago, now barely can even be remembered. We all go through similar events in our lives. In our youth, there maybe was a particular boy or girl that broke our heart. “Oh, I will never live through this. I can’t live without her. How will I go on?” But somehow we managed. As time goes on, our desires shift towards other areas.
Sex desire is probably the most difficult to control. Sex is the ultimate material enjoyment, and for this reason, it serves as the greatest impediment towards advancing in spiritual life. God is very smart, much smarter than us. Knowing full well the dangers of unrestricted sex life, He put into place the four ashramas of life, with grihastha being the second. Marriage is the cornerstone of grihastha life; a man and woman living together through the bond of holy matrimony. Householder life isn’t meant simply to enjoy material pleasures, but rather it is a way to restrict sexual activity. As we can see in today’s society, chasing after a boyfriend or girlfriend can be quite time consuming and distressful. One has to find someone they like, chase after them, and then hope that the other person feels the same way. If a relationship starts, then the troubles increase even more. Couples have to worry about how their relationship is progressing, and whether or not each person is happy. They have to decide when or if they should get married, where they should live, etc.
God doesn’t want us to worry about all these things. For this reason, the Vedas advise parents to arrange their children’s marriages at a very young age, when the child first has inkling for sex desire. In this way, a husband and wife can live peacefully, leaving more time for service to God. That is the true purpose of each of the four ashramas, including grihastha. They are all stepping stones aimed at purifying one’s consciousness.
The other three pillars of sinful life, gambling, intoxication, and meat eating, are other side effects of unfettered desires. Each one of these activities is unnecessary, yet we see modern society completely devoted to such acts. The reason these activities are so dangerous is because they have no relation to Krishna. That is the true definition of sinful life. Any activity done on the level of karma, where material reactions are associated, such activity will cause one to be bound to the cycle of birth and death. Only bhagavata-dharma, Krishna consciousness, will enable one to fulfill the real mission of life.
A question that is bound to be asked is, “Ok, so we’re supposed to avoid all karmic activity? Fine. What about all the hours in the day? What are we supposed to do with our time?” The Vedas have an answer for this. Naturally, the living entity must be active. That is the nature of the soul. One cannot artificially renounce all activity and just sit in meditation all day. That is not possible in this day and age. Even if it were, if one were to stop all activity on the surface, the mind would still lead them to desire things. As long as this desire exists, the effect is the same as if one was actually engaging in sinful activity:
“One who restrains the senses and organs of action, but whose mind dwells on sense objects, certainly deludes himself and is called a pretender.” (Bg. 3.6)
The Vedic prescription is that we should all be active in Krishna’s service. In its initial stage, this discipline is known as karma yoga, and in the advanced stage it turns into bhakti yoga, or devotional service. Not merely a yoga system or a disciplinary process, bhakti yoga is the natural disposition of the spirit soul. We are all devotees of God at our core, but we have somehow or other forgotten our relationship with Him throughout our many births in this material world. This love for Krishna doesn’t have to be created, but rather has to be aroused or reawakened. The regulative principles of bhakti yoga help us to rekindle that love.
There are nine distinct processes that constitute devotional service: hearing, chanting, remembering, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, worshiping Him, offering prayers, carrying out His orders, becoming friends with Him, and surrendering everything unto Him. It’s not possible for most of us to engage in all of these processes. That is reserved for the highly advanced devotees like Sita Devi, Lord Rama’s wife. Nevertheless, we need only engage in one of these activities perfectly in order to achieve success in purifying our consciousness.
Lord Chaitanya prescribed a very simple method: simply talk about Krishna wherever you go and with whomever you meet. Sravanam and kirtanam; hearing and chanting are two very simple processes that can fill up all our time. Reading books about Krishna is the same as chanting or hearing. The key is to always be thinking about God. Even if we reach an advanced stage where we are always Krishna conscious, there is still room for further growth because we can take to teaching others about devotional service. As we can see, the opportunity for engagement is there for all of us to take.