Many people get confused between morality and religion. Even well known religious leaders and philosophers seem to have this blur between the two. Many think they are synonyms. In other words, they think that the goal of religious systems is to make their followers righteous people. Let us not talk about those who commit wanton violence in the name of religion. They are neither religionists nor moralists. They are the greatest rascals and demons.


Coming back to the point, there is a distinction between morality and religion. They are not synonymous. Morality is only a byproduct of religion. Religion has a much loftier ideal than to just be morally upright. The goal of religious practice is to attain love of God, Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Kṛṣṇa consciousness is so nice that anyone who takes to it automatically acquires all desirable moral values without separate endeavor. This is confirmed in the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (5.18.12) as follows:

yasyāsti bhaktir bhagavaty akiñcanā

sarvair guṇais tatra samāsate surāḥ

“All the demigods and their exalted qualities, such as religion, knowledge and renunciation, become manifest in the body of one who has developed unalloyed devotion for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vāsudeva (Kṛṣṇa).”


There are many desirable moral virtues that are listed in various parts of our scriptures but they boil down to four broad categories —  tapaḥ śaucaṁ dayā satyam: “austerity, cleanliness, mercy and truthfulness.” [Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 1.17.24] These four major moral principles comprise all other desirable moral principles. These four are said to be the legs of religion or the pillars of religion. In other words, they are the base of a religious life.

Just as pillars uphold a building and the legs uphold the body, these moral principles uphold religion. If any or all of these four are compromised in human society, it is very difficult to have a religious order of life and the society is thrown into chaos, lacking proper direction. These four principles of austerity, cleanliness, mercy and truthfulness are destroyed by four corresponding sinful activities — dyūtaṁ pānaṁ striyaḥ sūnā yatrādharmaś catur-vidhaḥ: “gambling, intoxication, illicit sex life and animal slaughter.”

Gambling destroys the quality of truthfulness, intoxication destroys the quality of austerity, illicit sex life destroys the quality of cleanliness and animal slaughter destroys the quality of mercy or compassion. The sum total of all sinful activities are simply permutations and combinations of these four sinful activities.

“The material world is conducted by the three modes of material nature — mode of goodness (sattva-guṇa), mode of passion (rajo-guṇa) and the mode of ignorance (tamo-guṇa). When the purely transcendental living entity comes in contact with material nature, he becomes conditioned by these modes. The mode of goodness, being purer than the others, is illuminating, and it frees one from all sinful reactions. Those situated in that mode develop knowledge, but they become conditioned by the concept of happiness. The mode of passion is born of unlimited desires and longings and because of this one is bound to material fruitive activities. The mode of ignorance causes delusion. The result of this mode is madness, indolence and sleep, which bind the conditioned soul.” [Bhagavad-gītā 14.5-8]

Those who are predominantly conducted by the modes of passion and ignorance develop all undesirable qualities. In Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (7.15.43-44), the bad qualities are enumerated as follows: “In the conditioned stage, one’s conceptions of life are sometimes polluted by passion and ignorance, which are exhibited by attachment, hostility, greed, lamentation, illusion, fear, madness, false prestige, insults, fault-finding, deception, envy, intolerance, passion, bewilderment, hunger and sleep. All of these are enemies. Sometimes one’s conceptions are also polluted by goodness.”


Pollution in the mode of goodness means that because of his superior position, he feels a sense of pride and this causes his downfall into the modes of passion and ignorance. Therefore the best course is to rise above these three modes and come to the pure stage of life called Kṛṣṇa consciousness. One can rise above the modes by constantly engaging in the transcendental activity of bhakti-yoga. But at least, one must situate himself in the mode of goodness and cultivate Kṛṣṇa consciousness to avoid the influence of the modes of passion and ignorance.

But these four aspects of morality — austerity, cleanliness, mercy and truthfulness — are not the entirety of religion just as much as the legs are not the entire body or pillars the entire buidling. Morality is recommended and promoted in all scriptures of various religious systems because that is the foundation for God consciousness or Kṛṣṇa consciousness. By constant performance of pious activities, one’s existence is purified in the mode of goodness and he may come to accept Kṛṣṇa consciousness. The Bhagavad-gītā (7.28) confirms this as follows:

yeṣāṁ tv anta-gataṁ pāpaṁ

janānāṁ puṇya-karmaṇām

te dvandva-moha-nirmuktā

bhajante māṁ dṛḍha-vratāḥ

“Persons who have acted piously in previous lives and in this life, whose sinful actions are completely eradicated and who are freed from the duality of delusion, engage themselves in My service with determination.” Devotional service is the culmination that is to be achieved from the execution of all kinds of pious activities. Therefore, for those who are not yet ready or willing to execute devotional service directly, ordinary pious activities are recommended so that they may gradually become purified over many lifetimes. But if such purification does not culminate in the devotional service of Kṛṣṇa, or Kṛṣṇa consciousness, then it is a failure.

In the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (1.5.22), the ultimate purpose of all activities is clearly mentioned.

idaṁ hi puṁsas tapasaḥ śrutasya vā

sviṣṭasya sūktasya ca buddhi-dattayoḥ

avicyuto ‘rthaḥ kavibhir nirūpito


“Learned circles have positively concluded that the infallible purpose of the advancement of knowledge, namely austerities, study of the Vedas, sacrifice, chanting of hymns and charity, culminates in the transcendental descriptions of the Lord, who is defined in choice poetry.”


On the other hand, all cultivation is a waste of time and labor if not culminating in Kṛṣṇa consciousness as stated in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (7.15.28):


sarvā niyama-codanāḥ

tad-antā yadi no yogān

āvaheyuḥ śramāvahāḥ

“Ritualistic ceremonies, regulative principles (such as morality, etc.), austerities and the practice of yoga are all meant to control the senses and mind, but even after one is able to control the senses and mind, if he does not come to the point of meditation upon the Supreme Lord, all such activities are simply labor in frustration.”

But Kṛṣṇa consciousness is so nice that in one stroke, one automatically acquires all good qualities and also goes further to develop love of God. The ultimate goal of life is not to become a good man in the estimation of this material world but to get out of it altogether and be engaged in the eternal devotional service of the Lord in the kingdom of God.

So one should not be attracted by the flickering fame and adoration associated with becoming a strict moralist. One should give up attachment to such so-called prestigious material position and become a humble devotee of Kṛṣṇa and serve Him favorably. Such devotional service is transcendental to both pious and impious work of the material world.

Both piety and impeity result in rebirth in this material world and are therefore impediments in the forward march of the human mission which is to return to the kingdom of God, Vaikuṇṭha. Pious activities give rise to a higher status of life in the heavenly planets and impious activities give rise to lower status of life like that of the animals. But the pangs of birth, death, old age and disease have to be endured by both the pious and the impious. Therefore one has to perform the transcendental activity of devotional service in order to end his cycle of birth and death.


One who preaches the message of Kṛṣṇa consciousness is actually doing the greatest moral activity in this world. The sufferings of humanity exist not because they are a random occurence or an inadequacy on the part of Kṛṣṇa to supply the necessities. They exist because of a lack of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.

For example, however developed a country may be, the life of a criminal in the prison house of the country is never comfortable. The government cannot be held responsible for the poor living conditions of the criminal. It is his own immoral activities that brought about his condition. But if he rectifies himself and becomes morally upright, then he can be reinstated into the normal society and he can then take advantage of all the good facilities offered by the government and live a comfortable life.

Similarly, when the living entities become devoid of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, they are punished and hence their sufferings. So a Vaiṣṇava, a devotee of Kṛṣṇa, knows this exact reason for his suffering. Therefore he administers Kṛṣṇa consciousness through the chanting of the holy names of Kṛṣṇa, through the distribution of Kṛṣṇa literature and through the distribution of Kṛṣṇa prasādam. In this way he performs the greatest moral and welfare activity.

Welfare activity means it should provide relief from suffering. As long as one remains in this material world, one has to suffer. So the only welfare activity is that which ends all his material existence once and for all. That is only possible by Kṛṣṇa consciousness. No other so-called welfare activity, no matter how much advertised and glorified, can give complete, permanent relief from all suffering. Therefore, other than the broadcasting of Kṛṣṇa consciousness or God consciousness, no other moral activity is a real welfare or moral activity per se.


Taking the discussion a little further, a person who is not Kṛṣṇa conscious cannot actually be a moralist. He is bound to be immoral because, to start with, he is a thief. Why? Because everything belongs to the Lord and is meant for His pleasure. But if he takes it and enjoys it for himself, he is a thief. How can a thief be a morally upright person? This is confirmed in the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (5.18.12) as follows:

harāv abhaktasya kuto mahad-guṇā

manorathenāsati dhāvato bahiḥ

“A person devoid of devotional service and engaged in material activities has no good qualities. Even if he is adept at the practice of mystic yoga or the honest endeavor of maintaining his family and relatives, he must be driven by his own mental speculations and must engage in the service of the Lord’s external energy. How can there be any good qualities in such a man?”

There is a nice allegory in this connection. A team of four bandits planned to loot a village during the night and share the booty equally. So the four of them went in four directions and looted as much as they can and before dawn, returned to the forest. The leader then asked everyone in his team to be honest and fair and declare every single item that has been stolen. Then everyone would take their equal share. Now, what is the value or meaning of honesty, fairness and equality when it is all based on stolen property? The very foundation is immorality. Eventually, despite all their so-called honesty and equality, they were punished by the police.

Similarly, the modern world leaders are talking about honesty, fairness and equality under the banner of the United Nations and similar other undertakings but they all consider their countries to be theirs. They do not consider them as the property of God and offer all resources at His service. They may even harass the sincere devotees of God who are trying to spread His pure message for the welfare of the whole world. But they are ever ready to exploit God’s resources for their own sense gratification. That means they are all thieves. They hardly give any credit to God. But they take all credit for themselves for their so-called scientific advancement and award themselves Nobel Prizes for inventing nuclear bombs and similar other destructive devices. Material nature, being the police of the Supreme Lord, will eventually punish such atheists in the form of wars, natural disasters and the like.


The conclusion is that only a pure devotee of Kṛṣṇa can be a really morally upright person in this material world because he not only recognizes everything to be Kṛṣṇa’s property but also uses everything in His service. Therefore one must, in all circumstances, endeavor to learn the art of devotional service of Kṛṣṇa under the guidance of a pure devotee of Kṛṣṇa. In that endeavor all subsidiary perfections like morality are already present but if one wants to endeavor for morality alone in exclusion of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, that is a hallucination. It is just not possible. Therefore the Bhagavad-gītā (18.78) declares:

yatra yogeśvaraḥ kṛṣṇo

yatra pārtho dhanur-dharaḥ

tatra śrīr vijayo bhūtir

dhruvā nītir matir mama

“Wherever there is Kṛṣṇa, the master of all mystics, and wherever there is Arjuna, the supreme archer, there will also certainly be opulence, victory, extraordinary power, and morality.” Therefore, we have to become Kṛṣṇa conscious in order to become the perfect moralist. [End]