Do devotional rules take away our freedom?
Question: Don’t the many rules in devotional culture take away our freedom?
Short Answer: No. Though these rules may take away our ‘freedom to’, they bestow upon us a far greater ‘freedom from.’
Materialistic culture impresses us with a stereotyped, superficial definition of freedom. We are taught to believe that freedom means freedom to engage in materialism: to own any car, to flirt with any sexual partner, to eat anything anytime, to travel anywhere and everywhere, and so forth.
This definition of freedom indentures us to a feverish chase after money: “If I just had enough money, then I would be free to enjoy the way I wanted.”
Would we, really?
No matter how much money we had, would we ever become free from the limits that our body places on enjoyment? Could we ever eat more than our stomach’s capacity or have sex beyond the body’s biochemical capacity?
Unpalatable as it is to acknowledge, the hope of freedom that materialism promises is a mirage. Given our body’s inescapable limitations, we can never ever become as free to enjoy materially as we want to.
Bhakti offers us a more realistic definition of freedom: not ‘freedom to’, but ‘freedom from.’ By harmonizing with the rules of bhakti-yoga, we become free from the cravings that make us dependent on external material things for our happiness. When we diligently cultivate the remembrance of Krishna especially by chanting his holy names, we experience a higher, inner happiness that frees us from external dependencies. First, we become free from any self-defeating addictions that we might have. Then we become free from our dependence for stimulation on less harmful distractions like tea and TV. Gradually, we become free from self-centered obsessions like anger, greed, lust and jealousy that jeopardize our integrity and dignity.
The more we relish the joy of ‘freedom from,’ the more we realize that the materialistic ‘freedom to’ is not just a mirage, but also a mesh. The more people exercise the freedom to, say, smoke whenever they like, the more that impulse to smoke becomes frequent and potent. It impels them to smoke excessively, thereby distracting them mentally and sometimes even physically from more important and productive engagements. Over time, their addiction becomes a mesh that entraps them mentally.
The same principle of mental distraction applies even for less harmful forms of ‘freedom to;’ they all suck outrageous quantities of our mental energy. When ‘freedom from’ empowers us to start conserving and utilizing that mental energy for serving and remembering Krishna, then we reclaim the ultimate ‘freedom to’: freedom to relish the loving remembrance of Krishna at all times.
Then do we realize beyond all doubts: “devotional rules have not taken away but brought back my freedom.”