from Back To Godhead Magazine #32-04, 1998
by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
Imagine you are at the ancient forest known as Naimisharanya, hearing directly from the learned Suta Gosvami. He has just finished describing the instructions given by the sage Narada to Vyasadeva, the author of the great book of wisdom Srimad-Bhagavatam. Suta says that Narada is “bhagavan,” then tells us that after Narada took leave from Vyasadeva, Narada “left to wander at his free will.” Just imagine being free like that. Narada has no obligations and no reason to be anywhere, and as Srila Prabhupada states, “No one can stop him from his free movement.”
Everyone hankers for a life free of restriction because it’s the natural, transcendental state of the soul. Unfortunately, a soul who chooses material consciousness also chooses unlimited restrictions. Every action performed in material consciousness entails reactions, forced upon us as the result of what we do. If we choose birth, we have to accept death. If we choose to enjoy ourselves at another’s expense—and all enjoyment is had at the expense of another—we have to be enjoyed by someone else doing the same.
Therefore, the scriptures say that freedom is to be found only when we practice devotional service. Because Krishna is above the laws of cause and effect, performing acts for His pleasure carries no reactions.
The main pivot of devotional service is freedom. Krishna is free to bestow His mercy upon us, and we are free to accept His mercy or not. Without choosing to depend upon Krishna’s strength, power, and love, we cannot free ourselves from the restrictions imposed upon us by illusion. Bhakti, devotional service to Krishna, is given freely only when someone wants it.
To prove we want it, however, we may have to accept some restrictions. The mind and senses have to be controlled. We need to be careful to avoid people who disdain the devotional path. Prabhupada calls these restrictions “the regulative principles of freedom.”
It sounds like a paradox: surrender equals freedom. It’s like entering into a contract. We give up our so- called freedom and agree to practice pure Krishna consciousness to achieve the real freedom of our true nature. Real freedom doesn’t mean sleeping late or not having to go to work; it means freedom from birth and death. To be free, we give up pretending we’re enjoyers to become what we really are: servants. To be free we abandon our conquest of the world to turn to love of God. Then Krishna, the unconquerable, consents to be conquered.
Getting to the point of wanting real freedom is not as easy as it looks. People usually equate freedom with the ability to fully express themselves without guides or regulation. They think freedom is not to be found in charted waters but in uncharted explorations. They think real freedom starts when they overcome fear of the unknown.
Even those who try to free themselves from the pull of their senses do not always find satisfaction. The Bhagavatam (1.6.35) states, “It is true that by practicing restraint of the senses by the yoga system one can get relief from the disturbance of desire and lust, but this is not sufficient to give satisfaction to the soul …”
To feel real satisfaction the soul has to be in a natural condition. The Vedas define such a natural condition as that of full bliss, full knowledge, and full eternality. If we are constitutionally eternal but find ourselves bound, then that’s called imprisonment.
Then how to end our incarceration? Surrender is first practiced by hearing the words of those who are engaged in devotional service. By hearing, we remember who we are. Narada emphasizes this point: “It is personally experienced by me that those who are always full of cares and anxieties due to desiring contact of the senses with their objects can cross the ocean of nescience on a most suitable boat—the constant chanting of the transcendental activities of the Personality of Godhead.”
That takes us back to Naimisharanya and the words and activities of the sages. Suta Gosvami has just related the story of Narada Muni instructing Vyasa. He will now go on to describe Vyasadeva’s meditation and the perfect vision of the Absolute Truth that Vyasa received. We can be with Narada through the pages of the Bhagavatam, living as we like in the world of freedom-seeking and freedom-tasting souls.