What Price for Freedom?
We all want our freedoms, but it seems they are not so free. Recent figures reveal that the cost of freeing Iraq and hopefully the rest of us from tyrants and terrorists is well over one trillion dollars and rising. Then there is the grisly cost of casualties, over ninety thousand dead and innumerable others injured.
That is just one war among so many, all fought with the hope of gaining or preserving someone’s freedom. But even in peacetime we still have to pay for freedom. To be free to walk the streets without fear, for example, we have to pay for a police force and justice system. Then the freedom of thugs to pounce on us is curtailed.
In this world freedom is relative. Hitler wanted to be free to rampage across Europe and establish his so-called master race, but the rest of the world demurred, preferring to see it as tyranny. As individuals we are also not free to do anything we please, we must accept certain constraints or else we will likely find our freedom rather restricted. This of course is the law and it is there for everyone’s benefit, to ensure our free society stays that way. God’s law is also there for our good, but rather than ensuring just our worldly freedoms, it is meant ultimately for our eternal emancipation.
In this world there are many unwanted but nevertheless unavoidable impositions. Disease, old age and death, for example, stare all of us in the face. These natural conditions of life cannot be overcome by material adjustment. We can strive to defeat them with science, which indeed is the basic aim of all scientific endeavor, but if we are honest we have to admit that we are not winning that battle. We may stop one disease and then dozens more are discovered, and all around the world millions still die of illness every year. As for old age, we are still seeking that elusive elixir of eternal youth, nowadays known as the ‘longevity gene’. It’s not looking too hopeful. And the Grim Reaper doesn’t look like he’s about to be defeated any time soon.
A bleak picture, but the good news is we are not meant for any of these miserable conditions. We are meant to be free from them all, forever, and that is the real point of God’s laws. As Christ said, the truth will set you free. And that truth is itself free, but for the small price of our faith. No trillion dollars are needed here, thankfully, but we do have to make some sacrifice. Truth is given by God and if we want it to set us free we have to accept it — and that means act upon it. Rather than trying to overcome God’s laws by our material power, if we simply abide by them we will be peaceful and ultimately liberated. It is something like state law. If we break it we will be obliged to languish for a while in the company of other pleasant fellows who had a similar idea. But if we follow it we can live peacefully and remain free.
But following divine direction is fast going out of fashion. We want to do whatever we please, whatever feels good. We like to have our “freedom of choice” without too many of those pesky religious impositions that so troubled our more superstitious ancestors. But if we analyze our situation we can see that our assumed freedom to do what we like is actually not so free at all. All we are doing is following the dictates of our mind and senses. We cannot sit peacefully for very long before our agitated mind and senses impel us to get up and seek some kind of gratification. Blaise Pascal said that “all men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” We constantly rush about trying to satisfy the insatiable dictators of our senses – that is when we are not struggling on all sides to stave off problems, many of which we have managed to create ourselves.
On the other hand, a God conscious person who follows divine direction is always peaceful, enjoying inner happiness. The Bhagavad-gita says that for such persons the miseries of life “exist no longer”, for they see the truth of their spiritual existence, different from matter and all its tribulations. In other words, they are not bound by the conditions of this world.
For this reason Srila Prabhupada called Krishna’s instructions the “regulative principles of freedom”. Only when we have the power to deny our powerful senses can we say that we truly have free choice. Then, by serving God instead of material desires we begin to experience the freedom of eternity, a spiritual state of endless ecstasy. As the Gita says, “”¦in that joyous state, one is situated in boundless transcendental happiness, realized through transcendental senses.”
So why not pay that small price asked by Krishna? We have nothing to lose but our suffering— and if it catches on we might just save the odd trillion into the bargain.