“Independence Means You Can Do Whatever You Like”
A conversation with His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Srila Prabhupada: Independence means you can do whatever you like. That is stated in the Bhagavad- gita: yathecchasi tatha kuru.
[Turning to a disciple:] Find this verse in the Eighteenth Chapter.
That independence is there. After speaking the whole Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna, Krishna gave him independence—“Now whatever you like you can do.” Krishna never forced him to accept the teachings of Bhagavad-gita. He gave him independence. “Now whatever you like you can do.”
And Arjuna agreed. “Yes. Now my illusion is over. I shall act as You say.”
In Bhagavad-gita, Arjuna had the same independence that we have.
[To the disciple, now ready with the requested verse:] Yes.
iti te jnanam akhyatam
guhyad guhyataram maya
yathecchasi tatha kuru
“Thus I have explained to you the most confidential of all knowledge. Deliberate on this fully, and then do what you wish to do.”
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Now, if you say, “Why should the soul become so foolish?” that is his misuse of his independence. An intelligent father has got an intelligent son, but sometimes the son becomes a fool. So what is the reason? He is part and parcel of the father—he should have become exactly like the father. But he does not.
I have seen. In Allahabad there was a big lawyer or barrister, Mr. Bannerjee. His eldest son was also a barrister. But his youngest son—on account of bad association, he became an ekala wala. In India there is a carriage drawn by one horse. So he liked to be an ekala wala. That means he fell in love with a low-class woman, and by her association, he became an ekala. There are many instances. Take Ajamila. He was a brahmana, but then he fell down very low. So this freedom to misuse our independence is always there.
Disciple: Srila Prabhupada, here in this material world, in our materially contaminated state, when we behave foolishly or madly, we know that tamas, the mode of ignorance, is acting upon us. But in the spiritual sky—when the living entity is in his pure state of consciousness—what acts upon him? Does something act upon him to make him illusioned at that point, also?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Take, for instance, the gatekeepers Jaya and Vijaya. They committed an offense. They did not allow the four Kumaras to enter the spiritual world. That was their fault. And the Kumaras became very sorry. Then they cursed Jaya and Vijaya: “You are not fit to remain in this place.”
So we sometimes commit a mistake. That is also misuse of our independence. In general, we are prone to fall down, because we are small. Just like a small fragment of fire—although it is fire, it is prone to be extinguished. The big fire does not become extinguished. So Krishna is the big fire, and we are part and parcel of the big fire—sparks, very small. So within the fire there are sparks—fft, fft—there are so many. But if the sparks fall down, then they are extinguished.
Coming to this material world is like that. Fall-down means coming to this material world. There are three different grades: tamo-guna, or the mode of darkness; rajo- guna, or the mode of passion; and sattva-guna, or the mode of goodness.
For instance, when a spark falls down, if it falls upon dry grass the grass becomes ablaze—so the fiery quality is still maintained, even though the spark has fallen down. On account of the atmosphere of the dry grass, the spark makes another fire, and its fiery quality maintains. That is sattva-guna. And if the spark falls down on green grass, then it is extinguished—yet when the green grass becomes dry, there is a chance that the spark will again come to the stage of blazing. But if the spark falls onto water, then it is very difficult.
Similarly, when the soul comes into the material world, there are three gunas, or modes. So if he comes into contact with tamo-guna—with darkness, laziness, and delusion—then he is in the most abominable condition. If he falls down and associates with rajo- guna, the mode of passion, then there is a little activity; for instance, most people are working. And if he falls down into the sattva-guna, then he at least keeps himself in the knowledge that “I am fire—I do not belong to this dull matter.”
So we have to bring the soul again to the sattva- guna, the mode of goodness—brahminical qualification—so that he can understand, aham brahmasmi: “I am spirit soul. I am not this matter.” Then his spiritual activity begins. Coming to the platform of sattva-guna means giving up the business of rajo-guna and tamo-guna—no meat-eating, no illicit sex, no intoxication, no gambling, so many nos—to protect the soul from the influence of material qualities. Then, once he is situated in the sattva-guna and remains on this platform of goodness, the base qualities of passion and ignorance cannot disturb him. So tada rajas-tamo-bhavah kama-lobhadayash ca ye: we want to see that one is free from at least these base qualities, namely kama, or lusty desires, and greediness.
In the material world, generally, people are under these base qualities, meaning they are always filled up with lusty desires and are not satisfied—greedy. So when we conquer over these base qualities, then we become happy. Tada rajas-tamo-bhavah kama-lobhadayash ca ye, ceta etair anaviddham. When one’s consciousness is not influenced by these base qualities and when—sthitam sattve prasidati—he is situated on the platform of sattva-guna, then he feels happy.
That is the beginning of spiritual life. So long as the mind is disturbed by lusty desires and greediness, there is no question of spiritual life. Therefore, the first business is how to control the mind, so that it may not be influenced by the base qualities, lusty desires and greediness. We have seen in Paris that even an old man, seventy-five years old—he is going to a night club. Why? Because lusty desires are there. He pays fifty dollars for entering the club, and then he pays further for other things. So even though he is seventy- five years old, lusty desires are there.
Professor Mize: Did all the souls that were in the spiritual sky fall out of the spiritual sky at once or at different times? Or are there any souls that are always good? They’re not foolish—they don’t fall down?
Srila Prabhupada: No, not all the souls have fallen out of the spiritual sky. The majority—in fact, ninety percent—are always good. They never fall down.
Professor Mize: So we’re among the ten percent.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Or less than that. In the whole material world, all the living entities are as if in a prison house. In a prison house there are some people, but they are not the majority. The majority of the population—they are outside the prison house. Similarly, the majority of living entities—being part and parcel of God, they are in the spiritual world. Only a few fall down.
Professor Mize: Does Krishna know ahead of time that a soul is going to be foolish and fall?
Srila Prabhupada: Krishna? Yes, Krishna may know, because He is omniscient.
Professor Mize: Are more souls falling all the time?
Srila Prabhupada: Not all the time. But there is the tendency of fall-down. Not that all fall down, but there is independence. Of course, not everyone likes to misuse his independence. The same example: a government constructing a city also constructs a prison house—because the government knows that some persons will be criminals, so their shelter must also be constructed. It is very easy to understand. Not that cent percent of the population will be criminals, but the government knows that some of them will be. Otherwise, why do they construct the prison house? One may say, “You are constructing a prison house, but where are the criminals?” The government knows—there will be criminals. So if the ordinary government can know, why can’t God know? Because there is the tendency.
Professor Mize: What is the origin of that tendency? From where does that tendency come?
Srila Prabhupada: “Tendency” means independence. Everyone can know that independence means one can use it properly or one can misuse it. That is independence. If you make it one way only—that you cannot become fallen down—that is not independence. That is force. Therefore, Krishna says, yathecchasi tatha kuru: “Now you do whatever you like.”