Freedom is a universal human value — the freedom of speech, the freedom to worship, the freedom to pursue a happy and fulfilling life. But what does freedom really mean?
The Bhagavad-gita explains that true freedom comes from wisdom and self-realization. Misperception leads to bondage, and freedom arises from seeing things as they are. If you haven’t already, read the first part of this series before moving on.
The Chains of the Ego
Factually the soul never comes into contact with matter, any more than oil mixes with water, although the two appear to comingle when poured into one glass. The soul is imperishable and blissful by nature, whereas the body is never alive in any real sense. It is merely a combination of dead material elements: blood, fat, muscle tissue, nerves, bones, and so on. The soul identifies with the physical body due to the influence of ahankara, or false ego. When a living being wants to forget Krishna so that he can pursue his own selfish interests, Krishna places that person in the care of Maya, His illusory energy. Through the agency of Maya, the soul is outfitted with a false ego – the sense of being an independent, all-powerful, all-important actor – as well as a physical body equipped with a mind and senses that allow him to interact with the phenomenal world. Forgetting the all-pervading presence of God and the mortality of his temporary, machine-like body, the soul believes he is in complete control, convinced that his present life is all that matters. It never occurs to him that his actual self has nothing to do with his temporary, physical form. Learn more: Check out our Overview of the Bhagavad-gita.
Chasing Illusory Happiness
A self-realized person understands his awkward position in this material world. Happiness in material terms is only a figment of the imagination. It is the stuff of dreams only. We search for the dream-job, the dream-house, the dream-girlfriend or boyfriend. We are disappointed to discover that reality is not a Utopia. When everyone is constantly harassed by diseases, debt, the death of loved ones, and the aches and pains of an aging body, how can there be real happiness? The Bhagavad-gita defines misery as being caught in the pursuit of sensual and mental pleasures. For an ordinary person, the senses are just like snakes that strangle his consciousness and bind him to material life. In this state it is impossible to realize one’s actual position as a servant of God. Krishna explains in His Gita that lust conceals a person’s natural transcendental consciousness, just as smoke covers a fire. This thirst for material enjoyment is actually a perverted reflection of the soul’s intrinsic love of God. By the process of devotional service to Krishna, one can easily restore is natural loving consciousness. But without adopting a life of regulation and self-discipline, no one can claim to possess genuine love of God. Seeking selfish material enjoyment while simultaneously trying to cultivate God-consciousness is like trying to start a fire while pouring water on it. The two cannot coexist.
Freedom Through Self-Restraint
The first duty of the yogi, therefore, is to learn how to control his mind and senses. Just as one can recognize a rich man or a diseased man by his specific symptoms, one can recognize a yogi by his perfect self-control. Knowing that the true purpose of the human form of life is to cultivate self-realization, the transcendentalist avoids excessive indulgence in eating, sleeping, sex, or other types of frivolous activity. As one advances in his practice of devotional service to the Supreme Person, Krishna, he is gradually able to relish permanent spiritual happiness within himself. Eventually the devotee completely loses taste for pale, material things, being constantly overwhelmed with the ecstasy of love of God. When one is situated in his original transcendental position, he feels embarrassed to have wasted so much time chasing after cheap, flickering pleasures. The devotee realizes newer and newer tastes in his service to Krishna. The Vedas explain that Krishna is also called Rama, or the Ocean of Pleasure, because yogis derive unlimited bliss simply by meditating on His name, form, qualities, and activities.
Bhakti: A Life of Total Freedom
Any activity performed for the pleasure of Krishna is instantly spiritualized. Unlike the Buddhist method of attempting to detach oneself from all sense-enjoyment, the devotee of Krishna need only dovetail his enjoyment with the higher purpose of self-realization. It is not that spiritual practice is dull and joyless. Actually, spiritual life is full of pleasure. A devotee sings the names of the Lord and dances in kirtan. He cooks delicious vegetarian dishes, offers them to Krishna, and then takes the Lord’s remnants as His prasadam, or mercy. There are innumerable historical and philosophical texts which stimulate the mind and intellect and cause one to always remember Krishna. In this way the life of devotion is always vibrant and active. There is no need to struggle while attempting to make a vacuum in the mind. One can simply meditate on the beautiful forms of the Lord and His devotees and their unlimited wonderful and inspirational qualities and pastimes. These subjects are all fully transcendental. By contemplating them one can easily ascend to the stage of samadhi, or complete absorption in the Absolute Truth. In this state one is no longer influenced by the false ego and the intoxicating allurement of the material energy. This is the real freedom of the soul: an existence of unending bliss.
Learn more: To learn more about these topics, you can read the following verses from the Bhagavad-gita: 2.52; 2.55–2.64; 2.71; 3.6–3.8; 3.37–3.43; 4.34; 4.35; 4.41; 5.7–5.14; 5.22; 6.3–6.7; 6.16–6.18; 6.24; 6.25; 6.35; 7.14; 7.27; 7.28; 9.13; 12.13-14; 13.20–13.22; 13.33–13.35; 14.26; 15.10; 18.11; 18.17; 18.55–18.59