Śrīla Bhakti Rakṣak Śrīdhar Dev-Goswāmī Mahārāj explains the difference between worldly and spiritual freedom.
I lived through two world wars. During the first great war while I was studying in college, a man asked an astrologer whether India would become free after the war. The astrologer said that India would not become free after the war but that after the present war there would be a pause in fighting followed by another larger world war and some years after that second world war India would become free. And that is what happened. I am a witness to it. The first world war ended and India could not immediately attain freedom, but another larger world war came that ended in 1945 and India attained freedom in 1947.
We consider that British rule, however, was better than our present situation because the condition of the present government is anarchical. Śrīla Bhakti Vinod Ṭhākur recommended British rule very much because during the British period everyone had the right to go on with their own religion very safely; there was no interference in religious feelings, sentiments, preaching, or anything. So, Bhakti Vinod Ṭhākur liked British rule. What liberty have we got with the independence of India? I was in the camp of Gandhi for his first movement. There were three movements led by Gandhi, the first movement non-cooperation, the second civil disobedience, and the third do or die.
In the first movement, I was with them, but in the second, I was in the Maṭh and I had to fight against those with whom I worked. I said to them, “What is this world? It is a prison house. You are fighting for freedom for the senses, but the real fight must be to conquer the senses, to attain freedom from the senses. That is the real fight, the fight with māyā.” Māyā is our enemy, and we must fight with māyā. India may be independent or not. What of that? I shall be born again as a jackal in the jungle of Africa, and you also may have such a chance. So, what is the benefit of a free country? Are the people in a free country necessarily happy? There too, men are dying, suffering from disease, and facing so many difficulties. So, being in a free country is not freedom proper.
Now, we are slaves of the senses, but we must be controlled by our own self, the ātma, by our real self-interest. The ātma must have control over our field (body) and take the power out of the hands of the senses. That is real freedom.
In Sanskrit, the word for freedom is svādhīnatā, which means adhīnatā, to acquire control, of sva, the self. Now, we are slaves and under the control of foreign temptation, material temptation. The whole fight must be to attain real freedom inside. That is necessary. Svādhīnatā means to get back self-control, not physical control of the physical environment. That is not freedom proper.
Sva means the self, and what is the self? Svarūpeṇa vyavasthitiḥ: the real position of the self in connection with the whole universe, with the Absolute, is that of Kṛṣṇa-dāsya, service to Kṛṣṇa. That is svādhīnatā. So, slavery to Kṛṣṇa is freedom proper.
jīvera svarūpa haya kṛṣṇera nitya-dāsa
(Śrī Chaitanya-charitāmṛta: Madhya-līlā, 20.108)
When we can think and come to the real fact that we are a part of the whole and that we are to be in proper harmony with the whole, then we are free. No other freedom can be thought to be real. Freedom proper is when we realise our proper position, our proper function, in consonance with the environment. Freedom for the senses, freedom for the mind, freedom for the group, freedom for a particular forged culture—all these things are slavery to mania. Surrender to the truth is real freedom. Serving various forms of mania is simply slavery. What is natural? Reality is for itself and we are for Him, and to live according to this concrete fact is natural. But we have come to ignore what is concrete. That is our position. We are part of the potency of the Absolute Whole, and we must submit to that. We must accept that in an unmiserly way. Then, we will be free in our own position, and otherwise, we will fight with each other. When everyone has local interests, provincial interests, then there is a clash and fighting. Only accepting our proper position in the harmonious movement of the whole, the Absolute, is freedom.
jīvera svarūpa haya kṛṣṇera nitya-dāsa
So, freedom means slavery, slavery to the absolute good, absolute knowledge, absolute judgement, absolute friendship, absolute love. We must surrender to that. That is proper freedom.
There are Hegelian expressions that are very favourable for me: “die to live” and “reality is by itself and for itself”. These formulas are a good basis for Vaiṣṇavism.
Freedom is to do away with all our manias of different types and return back to our real position of so-called slavery. And what does that mean? Thereby, we can have the whole represented in a person, Kṛṣṇa, as our friend. That is the highest attainment of a speck, of a point, within the whole: to get the whole as one’s sincere friend:
bhoktāraṁ yajña-tapasāṁ sarva-loka-maheśvaram
suhṛdaṁ sarva-bhūtānāṁ jñātvā māṁ śāntim ṛchchhati
(Śrīmad Bhagavad-gītā: 5.29)
You are to acquire the controller of all that be as your friend. That is your best position. And what freedom is there? With freedom in the land of love, everyone is out to give, to help others. That is more than freedom. Freely, what can you do? What can you acquire? You can get more when you live amongst guardians. There, all are your well-wishers. That is more than freedom.
29 September 1982