In this article, I begin with a confession of what I experience as a common experience for men with an addiction to pornography, based on my life and deep empathetic conversations with others. I will share what I believe to be the way to overcome this addiction in Krishna consciousness. This includes the necessity of an environment with minimal temptations, knowing of the science of overcoming anarthas, and the value of being genuine in relationship with others. I will take the liberty of writing on these topics as a commentary to the Shrimad-Bhagavatam, 1.2.16-22, in literal English verse, which describes the progression of Krishna consciousness from beginning to consummation.
First, the heart’s clear and vulnerable confession; statements of honesty which express common themes in men who have an addiction to pornography—hurt, shame, coping, and secrecy.
“I did not feel safe to connect with my parents emotionally. I was disappointed by my father because I felt uncared for and judged by him. As much as she tried, my mother had her own limitations. Without a father role model, I feel lacking, hurt, and afraid of failure. It’s hard to be vulnerable with others—especially someone as close as a partner. So I withhold parts of myself in relationships. I do not know if I could be a good husband or father. Other kids used to make fun of me and I would retreat. I prefer isolation to being hurt by other people. At the same time I have so much desire. It’s easier for me to use pornography than risk failure or being humiliated. A part of me just wants to dominate and enjoy. I am terrified to confess the degree of my perversion. I feel stuck in my spiritual and personal life. I don’t know what to do. I make an effort and fail to control myself, year after year. So I work really hard and I do so many things to be good enough. But I am never satisfied. I guess need pornography. I hide my habit from others and rationalize it. I invest my energy and self in this way, so often I get disconnected with other people. All this is going on inside of me, and hardly anyone knows. I’m in conflict with myself. And I use masks to protect myself from being exposed because if anyone knew, it would be over for me. I want to live my life and so I just get it over with when I feel lusty. If I’m defeated in overcoming this, then I might as well be important. I show off. Inside I am depressed and afraid of being honest with my family, with my friends, and community. I cope with pornography, where I am in control and I can enjoy any time in whatever way I desire. Part of me is doubtful and pessimistic about ever changing.”
śuśrūṣoḥ śraddadhānasya vāsudeva-kathā-ruciḥ
syān mahat-sevayā viprāḥ puṇya-tīrtha-niṣevaṇāt
To give a faithful audience to tasteful talks of Vasudev
Is done, O sages, serving saints—embodiments of pilgrimage.
Even if the desire and impressions of sense enjoyment remain within the heart, one can maintain his spiritual integrity by the power of a higher taste. In the actual stage of taste it does not matter whether the external situation or aesthetics are supportive and pleasant or not. Until one comes to this unconditional stage, then it is crucial to intentionally maintain an environment which is conducive to getting a higher taste. Therefore, the first consideration in overcoming an addiction to sense enjoyment is to have an environment which has both minimal temptations and the association of devotees. By serving saints for even a short time, Narada Muni attained a taste for the glorification of Krishna. When the Supreme Personality of Godhead spoke to Narada thereafter, He said that,
avipakva-kaṣāyāṇāṁ durdarśo ’haṁ kuyoginām
sakṛd yad darśitaṁ rūpam etat kāmāya te ’nagha
“For amateurs with dirt still left, I’m hard to see—much more for cheats.
But once I show my form to you—to spark desire, sinless one.” (SB 1.6.21-22)
Krishna is not realized by the cheater. “You are the Supreme Truth. Indeed, unless one is completely truthful, one cannot achieve Your favor, which therefore cannot be achieved by hypocrites.” (SB 10.2.26) Since the impure heart is apt to cheating, it is sober to recognize one’s own limitations. Technology offers many utilities which can be used in integrity with Krishna consciousness, but it comes with risks as well. And although inconvenient, I suggest that a devotee with an addiction to pornography consider how to eliminate or minimize the option to cheat through technology. This may mean filters and accountability software, or even renouncing smart phones and private access to the internet. And if that sounds excessive, consider the logical advice of Jesus Christ in the Bible, Matthew 5.29-30, where he says that it is better to remove one’s eye or hand, if they let one sin, than to let his whole body to burn in hell. Bilvamangla Thakura removed his own eye to protect himself from falling down again. So what is the sacrifice of a smart phone compared to the hell of hypocrisy? In any case, what supports an individual will vary from person to person, and every devotee has the responsibility to apply his intelligence to apply the general principles of devotional service according to his situation. Therefore, Visnu further said to Narada that,
matir mayi nibaddheyaṁ na vipadyeta karhicit
prajā-sarga-nirodhe ’pi smṛtiś ca mad-anugrahāt
“A firm resolve that’s bound to me is never thwarted any time.
Although beings are born and die, you will remember all my grace.” (SB 1.6.24)
There are no impediments in this world which are capable of thwarting the intelligence by which Krishna inspires a devotee, not even dementia or death. And a conducive environment for Krishna consciousness is maintained by the collective consciousness of sincere devotees who strictly and honestly practice devotional service.
śṛṇvatāṁ sva-kathāḥ kṛṣṇaḥ puṇya-śravaṇa-kīrtanaḥ
hṛdy antaḥ stho hy abhadrāṇi vidhunoti suhṛt satām
By hearing talks of Krishna’s own—so virtuous when heard and spoke—
Impurities within the heart are cleansed by him, the truthful’s friend.
Overcoming impurities within the heart requires honesty. One may prefer to keep his problems to himself. And it is said that hearing and chanting about Krishna purifies the heart of all inauspicious things. So it is a natural process that requires patience. But purification only develops to the degree to which one is a truthful devotee. If a devotee holds on to impurities through shame, denial, rationalization, blaming, or other ways, then Krishna does not interfere with his petty stubbornness. It is necessary, therefore, to be honest. A truthful devotee takes full responsibility for his material attachments rather than holding on to them while simultaneously requesting Krishna to take them away. In the association of like-minded devotees, the progressive practitioner reveals his mind and inquires confidentially within relationships of trust and love. He accepts where he is at presently. And at the same time, he commits himself to be accountable to devotional guardians as he relentlessly distinguishes reality from illusion within himself. Without such relationships, a miser cheats himself of closeness with Vaisnavas who are better well-wishers to him than he is to his own self in his lust and shame. There is no spiritual intimacy without trust, honesty, and respect. And without spiritual intimacy everything remains shallow.
naṣṭa-prāyeṣv abhadreṣu nityaṁ bhāgavata-sevayā
bhagavaty uttama-śloke bhaktir bhavati naiṣṭhikī
Impurities all nearly gone, while always serving Bhagavat,
One’s loving service takes its place for He who’s praised in choicest verse.
Within the intelligence, mind, and senses, are strongholds of lust which bind one up, apart from the Supreme Lord. The word nityam means that to purify oneself of lust is a proactive process. It requires one to regularly offer service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead through the directions of the scriptures and the devotees, including the spiritual master. When one finds that despite being apparently fully engaged in such service, that impurities remain, then proactive introspection and intimate association are ways to reveal the cause. This means being fully truthful about both the instruction of spiritual authorities and one’s personal experience. For example, after compiling all the Vedic scriptures, Vyasa felt unsatisfied, and so he revealed his heart to his spiritual master with an intention to identify the hidden root of this feeling (tan-mulam avyaktam [SB 1.5.5]). When one is controlled by emotions or the past, it is transformative to introspect and consult authorities with an intention to identify the inner cause.
One holds on to impurities to get a material benefit, and so one must let go of the material benefits to overcome impurities. Otherwise, one simply wastes effort in self-conflict by resisting a habit while remaining attached to it on a subconscious level. Illicit sex is a way to gratify oneself without the challenges of marriage and children, like vulnerable communication, responsibility, and negotiating partner’s different desires. A person who resists vulnerability and responsibility in relationships may over-endeavor in life to compensate for the lacking he feels. And to reduce the pain of violating his integrity by falling down, an addict may rationalize, compromise the philosophy, or apparently repent. In modern society, the majority of men are exposed at an early age to pornography. But lust becomes an addiction when one becomes emotionally dependent on it. Often, a man becomes addicted to pornography because he is lacking the foundation of a good father role model and experiences pain in approaching or developing relationships with women with his undeveloped character. Therefore he retreats into the easy pleasure of pornography where he will never be disappointed or hurt. To overcome an addiction to pornography requires one to introspect and consult authorities to identify the root and appeal of the habit, and then choose to let it all go. It requires one to come to terms with uncomfortable realities about oneself, as he takes full responsibility for the events of his life and how he responds to them. The past is perfectly resolved by the attitude of the following verse:
“My dear Lord, one who earnestly waits for You to bestow Your causeless mercy upon him, all the while patiently suffering the reactions of his past misdeeds and offering You respectful obeisances with his heart, words and body, is surely eligible for liberation, for it has become his rightful claim.” (SB 10.14.8)
tadā rajas-tamo-bhāvāḥ kāma-lobhādayaś ca ye
ceta etair anāviddhaṁ sthitaṁ sattve prasīdati
Then states of passion and inertia known in faults like lust and greed
Do not disturb the mind again because one’s happ’ly fixed in truth.
The goal of life is be happy. Moral judgements aside, slaughter houses and online pornography are advanced operations created and maintained by superior human intelligence. No animal could do such things. What this hedonistic intelligence lacks, however, is knowledge and wisdom. Although one can avoid the responsibility of family life through illicit sex, one also misses the personal growth and detachment that come from that challenge. And the consequence is that women are exploited, men are perverted, and children are robbed of innocence. The family and society disintegrate by the sinful influence of pornography. An ethical or religious human life offers more fulfillment and harmony. But still, disease, old age, and death are unavoidable laws of God which thwart even the most ethical efforts to be happy in this world. Transcendentally speaking, pleasure only comes through the mind and senses as long as the soul is present within, and therefore pleasure actually belongs to the soul. A lifeless body does not enjoy anything. So actually the material mind and body are just coverings of a soul seeking happiness. But this is a mistake because matter is foreign to the soul, and therefore it cannot fulfill her. So where is there unobstructed spiritual pleasure? The Vedas reveal that the pure devotional service of the Supreme Person, unobstructed by misconceptions or material desires is the source of unlimited dynamic bliss. In this age especially, the only way to experience this is through chanting of the Holy Name of the Lord: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.
Every choice in life is a battle between immediate gratification and ultimate self-interest, and every choice gives strength to one direction or the other. After the mind and senses have been indulged to the point of addiction, the intelligence is weak. And when the intelligence is weaker than the mind and the senses, then it is not possible to resist the appeal of immediate gratification simply by will-power. Rather, if one fights in this impractical way then the intelligence will become further weakened with shame and doubts. One will wonder if there is something inherently wrong with oneself or the process. Instead, one may use his intelligence to proactively identify and weaken the root causes of his addiction to the lower modes of nature. Just as a dark planet is visible in the presence of the full moon, so the impurities within the mind become visible when the mind is illuminated by the mode of goodness. This is the effect of focused chanting and intimate devotee association (prasanga).
“O My mother, O virtuous lady, these are the qualities of great devotees who are free from all attachment. You must seek attachment to such holy men, for this counteracts the pernicious effects of material attachment.” SB 3.25.24
When one gains specific insight into one’s personal obstacles, rather than just a general philosophical understanding of anarthas, then one is able to address them. The soul is life itself, whereas lust, anger, and envy, have only has as much power as one gives them. So as long as one is proactive, then one can outdo lust and realign himself—crowning the spiritually-directed intelligence a sovereign ruler over the mind and senses. Trying harder is not effective in countering addiction. The key is to become aware of the appeals of one’s impurities and then let go of them. This happens through intelligence directed towards one’s pure spiritual identity and self-interest.
evaṁ prasanna-manaso bhagavad-bhakti-yogataḥ
bhagavat-tattva-vijñānaṁ mukta-saṅgasya jāyate
With heart enlivened in this path of loving service to the Lord
The scientific truth of God is realized in liberty.
In the same spirit, the Apostle Paul says in the Bible (Roman 12:2):
Do not conform to worldly ways, but be transformed by renewed mind.
Discern the will of God—all good, acceptable, and perfect, true.
Krishna consciousness means to change the quality of influence upon oneself. At every moment, all beings are influenced either towards Krishna or away from Him based upon their desire and aversion. The influence towards Krishna is always present from the Supersoul within the heart, and it becomes clear when the strongholds of lust are eliminated from within the mind. This may be from a mature realization of devotional service or a glimpse of grace. Then the mind becomes enlivened with the bliss and knowledge of Godhead realization. These spiritual energies reveal the science of Godhead and allow one to perceive the spiritual nature of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, devotional service, and pure devotees. Even a glimpse like this is profoundly transformative. And Krishna is independently powerful so he can award a glimpse to anyone. This glimpse is a kind of spiritual investment by God which reveals one’s potential to overcome all material obstacles.
All that is needed to fulfill the purpose of the scriptures by returning back home, back to godhead is invested by Krishna within oneself. Whereas an addict avoids pain and copes using pleasure, a spirit soul trusts Krishna in all dualities. Whereas an addict is dependent on immediate gratification, a spirit soul delights only in the Absolute Truth. Whereas an addict is ashamed because he identifies with his perversion, a spirit soul is always pure and untouched by matter. Whereas an addict hides in secrecy, a spirt soul shines with love for others. Whereas an addict is lonely, a spirit soul is connected. Whereas an addiction is helpless, a spirit soul is powerful and responsible. Whereas an addict is desensitized, a spirit soul is empathetic. Whereas an addict is in denial, a spirit soul is genuine. Whereas an addict is resentful, a spirit soul is unhurt.
When one experiences self-realization through the merciful revelation of Krishna, then one is connected with the power to overcome addiction, as well as the power to help others. In this way, weakness becomes a strength and obstacles become blessings. The relief of returning home is as great as the journey, the relish of food is as great as one’s hunger, and the meaning of being understood by another person is as great as the lonely burden one carries. The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 2.8.4-6 says:
śṛṇvataḥ śraddhayā nityaṁ gṛṇataś ca sva-ceṣṭitam
kālena nātidīrgheṇa bhagavān viśate hṛdi
For those with faith who always hear and chant the Lord’s activities
In not too long a span of time the Lord will enter in their hearts.
praviṣṭaḥ karṇa-randhreṇa svānāṁ bhāva-saroruham
dhunoti śamalaṁ kṛṣṇaḥ salilasya yathā śarat
Thus entered through his dear ones’ ears into their lotus ponds of hearts,
There Krishna cleans impurity, like autumn rains refresh the scene.
dhautātmā puruṣaḥ kṛṣṇa-pāda-mūlaṁ na muñcati
mukta-sarva-parikleśaḥ pānthaḥ sva-śaraṇaṁ yathā
The cleansed of heart will never quit the shelter found at Krishna’s feet.
All hardships gone and freed at last like travelers who rest at home.
The testimony of a formerly sinful person redeemed to godliness is the most impactful preaching, and the greatest qualification for serving others to arise. Overcoming incredible difficulty with a particular problem often becomes a life purpose for the one who conquers it. Everything is included in the Lord’s plan for each of us, and His will is all-good, acceptable, perfect, and true.
bhidyate hṛdaya-granthiś chidyante sarva-saṁśayāḥ
kṣīyante cāsya karmāṇi dṛṣṭa evātmanīśvare
The knot is pierced within the heart and all one’s doubts are cut as well,
The chain of karma terminates by seeing one’s own Self and Lord.
The knot in the heart is the false ego, which takes on the colors of the three modes of material nature. In the mode of ignorance, shame is a knot in the heart which creates doubts about oneself. A shameful person either identifies with or is fearfully controlled by lust, and so he believes that there is something wrong with him. The following are real confessions of shameful false beliefs that come from lust and other anarthas.
“If people knew what goes on in my mind, I would be in jail.”
“No matter how hard I try, I can’t resist temptations for long, so honesty with others is an unnecessary humiliation.”
“If I’m not perfect, then people will not pay attention to me.”
“If I express my real feelings, someone is going to get seriously injured.”
Shame leads to self-deception and duplicity with others. This is because a person controlled by shame leads a double life to protect the part of himself which he hides. He invests personal energy into suppressing, hiding, filtering, denying, or compensating for his dark side. This limits his capacity to empathize, or in Krishna’s words, to see himself in others (atmaupamyena). Also, because he does not own his shameful feelings, all his feelings become stifled. He is a stranger to his own self, and under the control of false ego. He may chant regularly, and even cry out to Krishna with emotion. He may change his behavior for the better, while the inner mechanics of ignorance remain. The false ego is not threatened simply by devotional service with great endeavor. But it is threated by a conscious choice to let go of desires for gross and subtle sense gratification with women, money, and power.
“If one is infested with the ten offenses in the chanting of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, despite his endeavor to chant the holy name for many births, he will not get the love of Godhead that is the ultimate goal of this chanting.” (CC Adi 8.16)
“Certainly that heart is steel-framed which, in spite of one’s chanting the holy name of the Lord with concentration, does not change when ecstasy takes place, tears fill the eyes and the hairs stand on end.” (SB 2.3.24)
In order to make actual progress, one has to have a change of heart, chanting and living from an attitude of honesty with intention to realize oneself in relationship with Krishna. Otherwise, one risks fueling material desires while projecting a false image of oneself and remaining stuck in diseased patterns of thought and behavior. The false ego advances while the inner soul remains inactive and unseen. This cheating propensity is like a shameless prostitute kept in the heart, who takes the treasure of pure devotional service away in exchange for the pleasures meant for those who are meant for death. If a devotee is fortunate, then he will reject duplicity with disdain. And instead, he will live vulnerably from his genuine self, imperfections and all. He will take ownerships of all his desires and feelings, and effectively channel his energy towards advancing in spiritual integrity. The energy that he wasted in self-conflicted hiding and suppression he redirects to devotional service. And gradually, he experiences himself as a spirit soul, an integral part of Krishna.
ato vai kavayo nityaṁ bhaktiṁ paramayā mudā
vāsudeve bhagavati kurvanty ātma-prasādanīm
And thus the sages ever keep with love supreme and inner joy
Because that greatest Lord of all delights the Self in every way.
Pornography is an impediment to spiritual life which is founded upon hurt, shame, coping, and secrecy. Krishna consciousness is the complete and perfect process for complete healing of the soul. I believe that where devotional service is apparently prominent, but individuals are secretly stuck in addiction to pornography, that a culture of honesty, introspection, and accountability are lacking. We are all on the same side in the fight against maya, and superficiality only allows the forces of Kali the opportunity to weaken our brothers. So let’s be real and address this problem. If you or a friend struggle with lust and shame, or you want to start your own men’s group, I welcome to you contact me at email@example.com about personal coaching or the Satyam online men’s group.
By letting go of the appeals of anarthas, introspective devotees will redirect energy from self-conflict to real spiritual growth. This shift is reinforced by the protective measures that one makes for himself, such as limiting access to the internet and keeping accountable with other devotees. The elimination of hidden struggles with pornography will create the room for increased genuineness and depth of relationships with others. And the Holy Name will become sweeter than ever. Then one will no longer feel the need to chew the chewed, or better said, view the viewed.
Yours in service,
Dhameshvara Mahaprabhu Dasa