On Keeping Vows

Category: Article

Title: On Keeping Vows

Upload date: 2006-08-24

Śivarāma Swami

Today it is not uncommon to hear some devotees rationalize the breaking of the strict vows they took at initiation. This rationale goes something like this: “When I was initiated I was very young and did not know the consequences of making such vows. Therefore I should not be bound for life to a promise I made in ignorance.”


Of course devotees generally take their vows neither as infants, nor in ignorance. Devotees are initiated when they are at least young adults and after they have been educated at least a year in the principles of Kí¥í±í«a consciousness.

It may be true that one cannot foresee all the consequences of a vow or promise. But it is dishonesty and cheating to argue that such lack of foresight validates breaking a vow or promise.

Neither materialists nor spiritualists can envisage the future; hence they cannot be fully aware of the consequences of their decisions or vows. For instance: until a married couple have their first child, they cannot understand what a serious and long term commitment they embark upon by starting a family. Still the parents cannot say about their 1 year old baby “We didn t know how troublesome, expensive, and exhausting it would be to raise a child, therefore we changed our minds and will abandon him in the local park.”

Similarly, youths decide on a profession without knowing what such work will be like, boys and girls marry without knowing what married life is like, and so on.

Life is full of decisions and commitments based on a present assumption, without full understanding of future consequences. It is only children who either do or say something and then later change their minds because they “didn t like” the consequences. But when children grow up they are meant to mature, and part of maturity is that one stands by one s promises, by one s vows.

And of all vows, the one of sexual abstinence is the one most generally broken. No doubt we may have been unaware of how difficult it is to keep this vow. But, Srila Prabhupada says, sticking to that vow and accepting the inconvenience the sex-drive causes is our austerity, tapasya, without which there is no meaning to Krishna consciousness.

[Srila Prabhupada s class on S.B. 6.1.13-14] “So brahmacarya, tapasya begins””brahmacarya, celibacy, no sex life. That is the beginning of tapasya”¦ Sama, to control the senses, to keep in equilibrium. Senses may not be agitated. Damena, even it is agitated, by my knowledge I have to curb down. Just like if I become agitated by seeing a beautiful girl, or for woman, a beautiful boy… That is natural. Yuvatinam yatha yunor yunor yatha yuvah(?). Young boy, young girl, they are naturally attracted. There is nothing surprising. But tapasya means that “I have taken vow, no illicit sex.” That is knowledge. “Why? Even if I am attracted, I shall not do this.” This is tapasya. And “Because I am now attracted, now we shall enjoy”””that is not tapasya. Tapasya means even one is attracted, he should not act. That is tapasya. There may be some difficulty to control, but that should be practiced. It can be practiced. It is not very difficult. But one has to practice the determination: “Now I have taken vow before Deity because at the time of initiation, it is promised before the Deity, before the fire, and before the spiritual master, before the Vaisnava, that “˜I ll not have illicit sex. That is promised. How can I break it?” This is tapasya. “I have taken vow before the Deity, before fire, before my spiritual master, before the Vaisnavas, “˜No illicit sex, no meat-eating, no drinking or intoxication, no gambling. I have promised it. If I am gentleman, how can I break my promise?” This is called jnana. With knowledge one has to respect. That is called tapasya.”