Returning Home to Freedom

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A ten-year-old wonders, "Will Krishna recognize us when we return to Him?"

"Oh, these ropes of desires are strange indeed! A person tightly bound by them runs all around seeking happiness, but one freed from them stays calmly in one place." (Niti-shastra)

"What's it like to go back home to Krishna?" wondered ten-year-old Kiran at the weekly gathering for children from our congregation.

I responded by speaking about Goloka Vrindavana, our real home, where we aspire to go after our tenure in this world.

"The spiritual world of Goloka is free from all school exams and home assignments," I told the kids. "It's all fun, day and night—no interruption in play!"

"Wow!" Kiran replied.

"But," he probed, "since we've been away for so long, will Krishna recognize us when we get back?"

"Of course," I said. "He's our loving father, eagerly awaiting His lost child to return home."

"But there are so many of us. If we don't go back, will it really make a difference to Him?"

"Yes, because each soul is dear to Krishna. He will embrace you and shed tears of joy when you return home."

The discussion lasted an hour.

Later that evening the nation celebrated Mr. Karamjit Singh's historic reunion with his family. Cameras flashed on the beaming family members, as other relatives rushed in to the emotionally charged gathering at Singh's home. The neighborhood joined in the festivities while sons, daughters, and grandparents hugged each other and wiped away tears of joy.

One evening in the winter of 1973, Karamjit Singh, a young Indian citizen, sneaked across the border into Pakistan hoping to earn some extra money there. The Pakistani Rangers quickly pounced on the unsuspecting Singh, and soon convicted him of espionage. For the next thirty-five years he languished in Pakistan's jails, in one city after another, undergoing unimaginable torture at the hands of his captors. To appease the Pakistan authorities in hopes of getting a quick, favorable judgment, he even tried adopting Islam. Thanks to diplomatic intervention by the government of India, he was finally released after three and a half decades.

As we share the pains and joys of Mr. Singh, we can also draw a parallel between his case and our own plight in the prison of the material world. Every living entity is an integral member of God's family in the spiritual world. There, situated in our constitutional position of giving pleasure to the Supreme Lord, we experience unlimited freedom and ceaseless happiness. When we sneak into the material world for that extra spice—the chance to be an enjoyer—the Lord's illusory energy, maya, instantly pounces on us.

A resident of Punjab, Mr. Singh missed his home and village. As he transferred from Lahore to Karachi to Islamabad, in each jail his plight was the same—physical and mental agony in the face of intense interrogation. His repeated pleas of innocence fell on deaf ears.

Because we are residents of the spiritual world, we too are away from home. As spirit souls, we are naturally servants of God. In rendering service to God, Krishna, in the spiritual world, we experience the bliss of complete freedom. But when we exercise our free will to attempt to be a master in the temporary material world and enjoy independently of Krishna, we are imprisoned in material bodies. We then wander through the universe, taking on bodies in millions of plant, animal, and human species. In the human body, however, we entrapped souls are blessed with the ability to break free from the chains of repeated birth and death.

Unfortunately, most humans use their advanced mental faculties only to further their bodily comforts and thereby ensure prolonged imprisonment in this world. Yet despite all attempts to squeeze out happiness from perishable bodies, the soul—the prisoner in the material body—experiences only constant frustrations and a deep sense of void.

In the Bhagavad-gita (15.7) Lord Krishna says,

mamaivamsho jiva-loke
jiva-bhutah sanatanah
manah-shashthanindriyani
prakriti-sthani karshati

"The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind." In his commentary on this verse, Srila Prabhupada reveals the reason for the living entity's struggle in this world:

Every living entity, as an individual soul, has his personal individuality and a minute form of independence. By misuse of that independence one becomes a conditioned soul, and by proper use of independence he is always liberated. . . . In his conditioned life he is dominated by the material modes of nature, and he forgets the transcendental loving service of the Lord. As a result, he has to struggle very hard to maintain his existence in the material world.

Adjustments in Jail

The jail authorities inflicted on Mr. Singh a combination of miseries, ranging from breaking stones and cleaning public toilets, to mental torture to elicit confessions that suited their interests. In the jail of the material world, we face the miseries of birth, death, old age, and disease, as well as troubles caused by nature, other living beings, and our own body and mind. In the prison of the material world we make desperate adjustments to forget the unfailing harassment by the material energy. Karamjit Singh's conversion to Islam was his desperate attempt to please his captors. That saved his life but didn't give him freedom. Similarly the living entity takes on different designations and possessions to be happy in this world. We identify ourselves with our external designations: Indian, American, wealthy, beautiful, and so on. Despite the external change of his religious faith, Mr. Singh wasn't happy. Similarly the living entity feels incomplete despite many adjustments on the bodily platform.

A fish out of water can't be satisfied with the best iPod, succulent cakes, or designer outfits. He's desperate to be back in water. Likewise, exciting relationships, attractive cinemas, and promising careers may lure the living entity trapped in the human body, but the heart always hankers for more than what the body can offer. The living entity's "water" is the spiritual world, where he renders uninterrupted service to his beloved, Lord Krishna. This loving service to Krishna and His devotees is the most natural position of freedom for the soul.

Srila Prabhupada writes, "When a living entity gives up this material embodiment and enters into the spiritual world, he revives his spiritual body, and in his spiritual body he can see the Supreme Personality of Godhead face to face. He can hear and speak to Him face to face, and he can understand the Supreme Personality as He is." (Bhagavad-gita 15.7, Purport)

Freedom Within the Prison

Karamjit Singh was enticed with false hopes of freedom. He cried alone, remembering his loving family and friends, hoping against hope for freedom. He found relief and happiness only on returning home.

A devotee practicing Krishna consciousness, however, needn't wait to go back to the spiritual world to gain freedom and relief from suffering. Even within this world, remembering Krishna through the daily chanting of His holy names gives the experience of the spiritual world, and the freedom that comes with it. The joy of this spiritual path transcends bodily miseries and happiness.

Looking back at that traumatic phase of his life, Karamjit Singh is glad it's over.

"I wish to forget the whole episode as if it were a bad dream."

Our nightmare in this world ends when we connect to Krishna and His devotees. A devotee regrets his decision to leave Krishna. Yet he's happy to be reconnected and gratefully grabs on to the process of Krishna consciousness and associates with Krishna's loving devotees. The practices of chanting Krishna's names, dancing in joy, hearing Krishna's pastimes, and feasting on Krishna's prasadam create Goloka Vrindavana even within the fortress of the material world.

Krishna Is Waiting

When I met with the children of our congregation the following Sunday, I related to them the Singh story. Kiran was quick to catch the resemblance.

"But for us it's not just thirty-five years," he said. "We've been away for ages. It's time we get back home. Krishna is waiting, isn't He?"

Yes indeed. Krishna is waiting for all of us.