Among the many ways in which Srila Prabhupada differed from other gurus who arrived in America in the sixties was his insistence that his disciples follow certain rules, or “regulative principles,” the four main ones being no gambling, no illicit sex, no intoxication, and no meat-eating. “Disciple,” he would say, “means discipline.”

Prabhupada would often quote a verse from the Srimad-Bhagavatam (5.5.1) where Lord Rishabhadeva instructs his sons to not waste their lives chasing the pleasures available to hogs and dogs, but to undertake “penance and austerity” to attain unending happiness.

Prabhupada often compared our condition in material existence to being sick. We’re spiritual beings, and in our healthy state we taste full satisfaction and bliss at every moment. But now the poison of desires hostile to our natural position as servants of Krishna has infected us. To recover our health and live happily again in pure Krishna consciousness, we need to get rid of the poison.

Ordinary medical treatment usually requires sacrifice on the part of the patient, such as taking medicine and adjusting one’s daily activities. Similarly, to cure our spiritual illness, we need to follow the healing regimen prescribed by Lord Krishna and His representative, the authorized spiritual master.

Srila Prabhupada would point to two main components of many cures: medicine and diet. The medicine for returning us to healthy Krishna consciousness is the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, and the diet is krishna-prasadam. Their power to act effectively requires a supportive way of life. And that’s the role of the four regulative principles and other rules of behavior. We accept them because we want to get rid of the disease infecting our consciousness.

The first step in any cure is the diagnosis; unless we know we’re sick, we won’t do anything about it. The symptom of our spiritual disease is our inability to acquire the happiness we work so hard for. The urge for happiness powers everything we do.

Once, when a reporter asked Srila Prabhupada what the purpose of life is, he replied, “To enjoy.” The answer surprised his disciples, who had often heard him say that human life is not meant for enjoyment but for austerity. Prabhupada explained that, as pure spirit souls and eternal parts of Krishna, our true nature (our true life) is to enjoy but we’re not enjoying now because we’re caught up in material bodies, which can never deliver real enjoyment. Our very bodies are a symptom of our diseased state.

In former ages, yogis would perform severe tapa, or penance, to raise their consciousness from the material plane to the spiritual. The most effective tapa, however, and perhaps the most difficult, is to give up one’s challenging spirit and agree to follow the direction of Krishna’s pure representative. As Srila Prabhupada writes in his purport to the Srimad-Bhagavatam (2.9.24), “The order is received from the Lord, either directly or through the bona fide spiritual master, and to execute that order, however painstaking, is the severe type of penance. One who follows the principle rigidly is sure to achieve success in attaining the Lord’s mercy.”

The desire for happiness is natural for all living beings. But, as the fourteenth-century poet Vidyapati wrote, the little happiness we manage to eke out by material means is like a drop of water in a desert. It’s nowhere near enough to satisfy us. Though we legitimately long for lasting happiness, we’re not getting it – because we’re spiritually sick. Fortunately for us, Srila Prabhupada has brought the cure.

– Nagaraja Dasa