Illicit sex outside of marriage is illicit sex with a capital ‘I’ and illicit sex within marriage is the small ‘i’

Sex within marriage is acceptable vow for taking initiation in ISKCON. Sex outside marriage is far worse than sex with husband or wife.

Question: If a devotees is seeking initiation but is not being able to follow the regulative principle of no illicit sex fully – meaning, no sex apart from procreation within marriage – should such a devotee take initiation or avoid initiation?

This is a personal question that has to be analyzed and applied on individual level with guidance from one’s own personal counselor or guide and based on one’s own understanding of one’s personal situation. So I cannot give a specific answer in terms of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but I can explain broad principles.

The principle of no illicit sex especially when Srila Prabhupada talked about it in the context of initiation, whether it was initiation lectures or letters which he sent at the time of initiating devotees, he primarily talked about in terms of no sex outside marriage, and that is the primary trust of the vow of initiation. Of course Srila Prabhupada has written about in his books that even sex within marriage which is not for procreation is also considered illicit. But at the same time there is a substantial amount of difference between the two. For example, we could say illicit sex outside of marriage is illicit sex with a capital ‘I’ and illicit sex within marriage is the small ‘i.’ The capital ‘I’ indicates that it’s a very serious violation and it’s a violation not just devotional vows; it is also a violation of moral principles and legal principles and it can disrupt many many lives, many families by that. So it has far graver implications.

When Srila Prabhupada was personally questioned about this Srila Prabhupada was on one level uncompromising but on another level he was understanding. At one time there was a devotee who came to Mayapur and then in Mayapur that devotee went to some local society girl over there, and the news spread among the devotee community and then they told Prabhupada. And then Prabhupada called the devotee and Prabhupada asked him, “Why did you do that?” He said, “I couldn’t control myself. I was too much tormented by lust.” And Prabhupada said, “But you are married! Why did you have to go to a prostitute!?” He said, “No Prabhupada, my wife wanted to follow the principle of no illicit sex so she refused and I didn’t want to force her.” So Prabhupada said that actually the violation within marriage is extremely minor as compared to what is outside of marriage. So Srila Prabhupada was actually very clear about this.

And if you look at the broad Vedic principles, if you look at Prabhupada’s broad context, Prabhupada is harping within every other purport that there shouldn’t be illicit sex within marriage apart from procreation. And Srila Prabhupada is talking about various standards. Prabhupada sometimes quotes standards from Manu Samhita  where one can have sex once a moth during the time when a woman is likely to bear a child so that one can get a child. So there are various things that Srila Prabhupada is talking about; there is not one absolute standard for within marriage. And if you look in the 6th canto of Srimad Bhagavatam it is described there that because a woman took part of the karma of Indra – one thing that happened is that a woman can enjoy sex life even while pregnant as long as it’s not injurious to the embryo. So that is a facility that is given; but it is not something that is recommended or glorified. Certainly that is discouraged, but that was something that was given to them – not as a blessing but because they took up part of the karma.

So if you look at the broad Vedic context, the emphasis of Srila Prabhupada, if you look at his purports – was that actually in the traditional Indian culture, and not just Indian culture in all cultures – the act of copulation, sexual union, what was naturally connected with procreation, with begetting new children, it is the artificial separation of the two. That is what Srila Prabhupada is condemning. So actually speaking, when there is artificial separation of the two there is contraception or abortion and abortion is nothing but cold blooded murder of the child which has serious karmic complications. So actually if you look at Srila Prabhupada’s statements, he condemns animal slaughter and abortion far far strongly and far far more repeatedly in his purports than this principle of no illicit sex in marriage. So it is not that the principle of no illicit sex in marriage is meant to make married life perpetual torture for a person where a person has to live with the spouse and still restrain ones desires.

Actually in a traditional Indian society it is not that woman and man will be living together and sleeping on the same bed and room constantly. Generally the woman would have the anta-pura and the woman would be associating with other women in the family. There would be joined families. And the men would be working with other men and living with the men, and it would not happen that the man and woman would sleep together every day. So in such a situation the man and woman, even when they are married it is not that they would come together regularly. And when they would come together there would be bodily union and then there would be the begetting of children. So in a traditional Indian society there would not be such thing as a question of abortion.

The important point over here is that at one level if one becomes unrestrained in sexual life then one can have the consequences of aborting the child which is very unfortunate and massively sinful. And of course another level is that if one gets very caught up in sex cannot focus on Krishna and that will certainly be a major distraction in the practice of one’s spiritual life. But at the same time when we are committed to the practice of devotional service and we are seriously wanting to advance in devotional life and we are striving towards the standard, so we should make a serious attempt and a serious commitment to attaining the standard but it is not absolutely essential or mandatory that one be able to follow the principle of no illicit sex within marriage to be able to take initiation.

Certainly one should not reject the principle as impractical and become completely unrestrained and not even trying for any kind of restraint, saying that it’s just impractical. If that is one’s attitude and one has no intention of developing restraint and one is not trying for restraint then certainly one should not take initiation. But if one is seriously determined and is trying one’s best even if one has not come to that level of self-control but at least one is surely confident and completely determined to not break the principle by seeking illicit sex outside of marriage or before marriage then that is the primary trust of the vow of initiation.

In our consciousness, lust is like the constant background noise but occasionally there are peaks of that lust when the desires increase very strongly. But a devotee who is seeking initiation should be able to restrain  the peaks within certain limits. That means as one practices Krishna consciousness more and more the general level of lust in consciousness goes down. But even as it’s going down by purification, sometimes peaks will come which will suddenly make us feel agitated and at that time also one has to remember one will not go beyond certain limits. So if one is confident that one will not break the regulative principle beyond the bounds of marriage then that is the essential trust of qualification for initiation.

In general one has to observe sudden peaks of lust, how frequently they come and how often they force one to engage in illicit sex, even within marriage. And if that is too frequent; if it is too irresistible then one may have to wait for adequate purification. But in general this may not be taken as an absolute prerequisite for the practice of commitment to initiation. So in a broad sense the basic emphasis of principle is that there should not be sex outside of marriage and sex within marriage should not lead to heavy karmic complications like abortion. So for that purpose the best way to do is it to avoid sex that is not meant for procreation and one should at least be strongly determined to go towards that; and if one is not determined and is not able to move towards that goal then certainly one may have to think again about initiation. But if one is seriously trying for that one is gradually progressing towards that goal but one may not be fully confident to sticking to that level, but one is fully confident that they will not allow the peaks of lust make one go into illicit sex outside of marriage then one can also go for initiation.

The ultimate decision should be taken by considering and discussing with one’s spiritual guides and looking at one’s consciousness. This answer is a broad guideline and is not a specific answer to this question. Thank you.

  • Amara Das Wilhelm

    GBC Resolution 303, in this regard:

    “The GBC Body wishes to clarify that according to Srila Prabhupada’s teachings, sex life according to religious principles followed by Gaudiya Vaisnavas is for the propagation of children, not for any other purpose, and that the responsibility of the parents is then to make their offspring Krsna conscious. As stated in the Fifth Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam, ‘Sex is allowed only for the begetting of children, not for enjoyment. One can indulge in sex to beget a good child for the benefit of the family, society and world. Otherwise, sex is against the rules and regulations of religious life.’ (SB 5.14.9, purport)

    “While Srila Prabhupada’s definition of illicit sex is clear, it is also clear that some devotees have difficulty maintaining this initiation vow. The GBC recognizes this, and suggests that rather than trying to adjust Srila Prabhupada’s definition we should go on with devotional service and humbly and sincerely keep endeavoring to reach the proper standard. In this regard, Srila Prabhupada writes, ‘In the beginning of Krsna consciousness, one may not fully discharge the injunctions of the Lord, but because one is not resentful of this principle and works sincerely without consideration of defeat and hopelessness, he will surely be promoted to the stage of pure Krsna consciousness.’ (BG 3.31, purport)

    “It is also said in Srimad Bhagavatam 11.20.27-28, ‘Having awakened faith in the narrations of My glory, being disgusted with all material activities, knowing that all sense gratification leads to misery, but being unable to renounce all sense enjoyment, My devotee should remain happy and worship Me with great faith and conviction. Even though he is sometimes engaged in sense enjoyment, My devotee knows that all sense gratification leads to a miserable result, and he sincerely repents such activities.’ ”

    (ISKCON GBC Resolution 303, Annual Meeting in Mayapura, India, February 7-19, 2001)

    • Ani

      Very good verses quoted here prabhu, especially the 11.20.27-28

  • Priya

    Agreed, Prabhupada spoke strongly against illicit sex outside of marriage either in the form of adultery or polluting women, but I do not recall him speaking against going to a prostitute except in the case of marrying one, such as Ajamila. Please give some reference because in Srimad Bhagavatam 1.11.19 and purport, prostitution is supported as “necessary citizens for the proper upkeep of society”. Of course, they were more like the trained escorts depicted in the film “The Geisha” (2005) rather than the horribly downtrodden prostitutes of today.

    • Brahmastha

      Can a devotee remain unmarried without joining Brahmachari ashram?

    • Hare Krishna!

      ” Prabhupada spoke strongly against illicit sex outside of marriage either in the form of adultery or polluting women”

      Polluting women?!

  • Alexander Shenkar

    Thanks for pointing that out. Fixed.

  • Gauragopala Dasa

    The great secret of the cosmos is controlling sex desire, by doing so you become very powerful

    Sexual activity and contemplation rivets one to the bodily concept, even in marriage one is meant to have sex for the procreation of children, semen is very powerful substance and the only way to retain it is by engaging the mind in higher conscious activities of Krishna Consciousness which is difficult however, if achieved and one controls the mind from being controlled by sexual thoughts, then one will become very powerful, if one can do that and refrain from passing semen then ones energy increases and one becomes extremely strong minded.

    Only the great preachers are truly celibate, unfortunately there are many pretenders in the garb of a saintly men out there and their laziness and impotency in old age is due to the addiction of passing semen during their youth, only a lusty fool contemplates marriage after 55 years of age.

    The true platform of celibacy cannot be achieved artificially either, one must elevate their consciousness by controlling the mind and the process of marriage is part of that however, even in marriage one is suppose to have sex only once a month, but really, who is doing that? Very few in today’s world

    So without even knowing their full potential, most men restrict themselves due to addiction to sex life not realizing that by having total control over it, one taps into a reservoir of enormous strength and clarity of mind.

    One of Mayas duties is to make sure you remain weak and under her control which means addiction to the sexual feeling that binds and rivets one to their material body and therefore makes you plan everything around that ‘feeling’ or addiction. Maya will not let anyone disturb Krishna so she tests everyone who tries to approach Him through a pure devotee by testing one and that test is mostly sexual attraction in its variety of ways.

    Sex desire cannot be suppressed either, if you are not attracted to a women or attracted to women and cannot get one, then it will pop up as masturbation, homosex or even paedophilia that has plagued most religious traditions today who artificially attempt celibacy, in this way Maya uses sex to keep one down there bewildered and enamoured by her material energy, so far down there that one does not realize the power of sex desire or how fallen and restricted by Maya they really are.

    All problems in life stem from uncontrolled sex desire that causes bewilderment and then acting in ways that disturbs others and oneself never realizing the true mystical qualities of practicing celibacy

    Maya also even makes you believe it a taboo subject that no one likes talking about because in truth its too close to ones inner secrets and true polluted nature of attachment to this material body. It is those inner ‘personal’ secrets that remain ‘unspeakable’ that keep one ignorant of how amazingly powerful sex desire is and if totally controlled will change you life in ways you could not even imagine

    Controlling sex desire can make you materially powerful or Spiritually powerful, the choice is yours, many great demons practiced celibacy and also become very powerful. The point is, for spiritual advancement it is necessary otherwise it is impossible to advance

    Marriage life is part of the process of Spiritual life and bringing children into this world is the purpose of sex life, that is also controlling sex life because one is using it for what it is meant for and if sex life IS performed only once a month as recommended by scripture, then ones married life also becomes very strong and one will have many sons however, at age of 55 or 60 it is recommended both you and your wife give up family life because what is the purpose of sex life at that advanced age if your wife cannot bear children?

    In this way both of you should dedicate the remainder of ones life fully to God and become in harmony with nature and the universe, in this way avoiding the cycle of birth and death again and instead return back home back to Krishna

  • Acarya dasa

    Srila Prabhupada many times stated that within the category of meat-eating, eating cows is the most serious. Therefore I suggest that we have capital “M” Meat-eating, and small “m” meat-eating, and we should tolerate and accept eating bacon and chicken but not, eating beef.

    • Alexander Shenkar

      Bhaktivinoda Thakur himself followed the standard of lowercase meat-eating that you describe prior to getting initiated. Hmm…. Fortunately giving up meat eating is easy for most devotees – considering the availability of vegetarian food. But perhaps it’s a bigger issue than needs to be discussed as you’ve pointed out.

  • Shak

    this is F’ing bullsh’t with a capital F and why a monk is talking about this he should go f’ck himself with a small f unless he is not attracted to sex life

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  • Gunavatar Das

    Another angle in viewing the question of what is licit or illicit, is seeing it from the point of view of transformation of consciousness. material consciousness is LUST, and spiritual consciousness is LOVE (of Krishna). The whole devotional process is the trasformation of the consciousness from lust to love. Drugs are considered harmfull, but when taken by the prescription of the doctor, they can be very valuable. In this way, sex is harmful to devotional life (it creates enjoying spirit, separation from Krishna), but is helpful to someone who is addicted to sex, but tries whole heartedly to give it up – gradually.

    • Alexander Shenkar

      Good point. Also, sex in itself is not equivalent to materialism. Sex like anything else can be favorable and unfavorable to Krishna consciousness. We should reject the things unfavorable and accept the things which are favorable. If having sex helps you remember Krishna then it is favorable, whether for procreation or not.

      • Gunavatar Das

        This is a universal principle – whatever helpful – accept, and whatever unhelpful – reject. But first of all it must be clear what is really helpful, and what is not. Because of our cheating propensities, very easily we can misinterpret what is beneficial sex and what is not. therefore we have to work closely under the guidance of an advance devotee who can examine our consciousness and guides us.
        going deeper into this subject – sex is not the problem; Lust, which is the force behind sex, is the problem. Lust is our greatest enemy. Giving up lust is the greatest challenge. The way to give up lust is by developing love to Krishna. this is done also by engaging our lustful propensities in the service of the Lord. Srila Prabhupada was very expert in this. He engaged our subtle lustful propensities in the service of the Lord in the form of spreading Krishna consciousness.
        Another point is the difference between sex outside the marriage and inside marriage. Sex outside marriage is sheer exploitation, and takes us away from Krishna, while sex within marriage is part of a responsible relations. One who wants to enjoy sex within marriage, at least should be ready to bear the consequences and take care of his partner and the by products. this responsibility creates better environment to develop Krishna Consciousness.

        • Alexander Shenkar

          Lust can be compared to hunger. When we’re hungry, the solution is not to stop the hunger desire but to offer food to Krishna and eat it. There are some ascetics who learn to stop eating and thus they disengage their senses from the sense objects and become renounced. But the bhakti yoga process of renunciation engages the senses, and does so in the service of Krishna. So similarly, lust can be engaged in Krishna’s service, if not for procreation then to facilitate remembrance of Krishna. Just like when you are cooking, you can lust after the bhoga thinking it to be an object of your gratification. But you can also cook with the consciousness of offering the bhoga to Krishna, and instead of being degraded into material consciousness, you are actually uplifted. And after the bhoga is prepared and offered; it is not gorged but eaten with the consciousness of the food being Krishna’s mercy. This is exactly how lust can be engaged and how sex can be used as a facility for remembering Krishna. Both eating and having sex with a selfish motives are material activities, but if done in Krishna consciousness then these activities are spiritually uplifting and purifying.

  • Hare Krishna!

    “In a traditional Indian society there would not be such thing as abortion.”

    Throughout Punjab, Haryana, UP and Rajasthan where the majority of people live in a traditional joint family household as described by the author, sex selective abortion rates are so high as to skew the gender ratio.