Free Speech In Krishna Consciousness
By Kesava Krsna Dasa
Does the liberty of free speech earn us the right to say what we please, on matters that bother or irritate us, even if our words sometimes hurt the feelings of other devotees? If free speech means to either like, or not like what we say – because we cannot please everyone – does it mean that the hard truths must be revealed, to appease the irresistible urge for information? Does vaisnava culture allow free speech? Are there limitations to what can be said at any time?
Sometimes, devotee advocates of unfettered free speech like to quote certain amendments to the American constitution, and thinkers like Chomsky. If we learn from history how the likes of Goebbels and Stalin also favoured free speech, that they liked, how can there be any consistent basis upon which to speak freely? Where does this freedom begin and end? If one man’s freedom is another mans imprisonment, how do certain devotees subscribe to free speech of this sort?
Yes, we devotees utilise our democratic freedoms to preach Krishna consciousness, and perhaps have a good old moan about irritable issues, but does free speech really exist? The answer is no. How can a world population governed by the three modes of material nature speak freely? To put it another way, how can people in general whom the intransigent chains of goodness, passion, and ignorance rigidly shackle, ever be free to speak freely?
Srila Prabhupada wrote, “…it is to be understood that the conditioned soul is tightly tied by the ropes of illusion. A man bound by the hands and feet cannot free himself – he must be helped by a person who is unbound. Because the bound cannot help the bound, the rescuer must be liberated.” (BG 7.14 purport). So clearly, vaisnava culture does not subscribe to bound speech.
There are unlimited relative things to talk about within this ‘endlessly mutable’ world, like assassinations, the clash of civilizations, earthquakes, war, soaring oil prices and so on, which make for grim, fearsome reading. These relative truths are indulgent for bound people who think they have the freedom to do so. Occasionally, we may read or hear vague ideas of truth like, “the truth is out there”, “born free”, or “the truth shall set you free”. However, who among the bound people know what these truths are?
The scientists will certainly stake a claim to truths that will free us form the evil bondage of religious beliefs and superstitions. The innumerable religious charlatans will claim their truths to be the one and only ways to bounden salvation. The truth is, these binding relative truths simply keep everyone imprisoned in this world of fear and death. Therefore, to appeal for freedom of speech based on bound thinking has no value in vaisnava culture.
Another inconvenience of bound speech is that a devotee is supposed to just grin and bear it, while a bound thinker vilifies and slanders all that is dear and sacred. So-called free speech cannot accommodate genuine truth in its fold; in fact, it belongs to the same league as the “all paths lead to the same goal” sentiment, which seeks to impose an artificial equality in society, which can never happen. However noble and accommodating these bound ideals sound, again, they have no place in a genuine truth culture.
Having come to Krishna consciousness, and following the regulative principles of freedom, while chanting in Nama-bhasa, our freedom path is paved, though not yet free in mind. As we inquire about freedom from this world, and perform devotional activities meant to free us, gives us a free-bound status, just like our tastastha constitution. How we communicate with each other as devotees can differentiate whether our speeches are free or bound.
If ever we read supposed devotional subject matter, which aims at addressing certain issues, but has some motivated reasoning behind it, or takes subtle swipes at individuals, or are offensive, critical, mundane and the rest, they are bounden speeches. An agitated mind is hardly a transcendental mind, and to plead with arguments on the basis of free speech, is to risk deriding other devotees, and lower the standard of dignified communication.
While hearing or reading questionable critiques, we should know if they are liberating, inspiring, and able to grant us freedom, or the opposite of these. If we are unable to distinguish, then our consciousness is quite bound. The great freedom manual, the Bhagavad-Gita even has austerity of speech as a requirement to surrender freely. This shows how vaisnava communication is highly evolved as it were, and restraints are obligatory to ensure boundless happiness.
What we say to our friends may not be said to the guru, and neither to the juniors, who should be given affectionate words. We can inquire without unnecessarily challenging, and we can follow certain protocols without publicising an issue. However, the irresistible urge to know about what is going on inside something we have given our life for, will always find a way out, even past attempted censorship. Again, we should think, “Do these things raise my consciousness?”
Being in Krishna consciousness should be a perpetual conscious raising engagement. In this regard, there is really such a thing as free speech. Though we may be bound ourselves, if we perfectly repeat what guru, sadhu and sastra says, we are engaging in free speech. Real free speech is that which frees us from fear and misery, and is the best medicine for us. This taste for continual Krishna katha is derived by loving and caring for our fellow devotees, and serving them. “O twice born sages, by serving those devotees who are completely freed from vice, great service is done. By such service, one gains affinity for hearing the messages of Vasudeva.” (SB 1.2.16).
It follows then, that if ever we feel flustered, down, irritated or whatever, that we create an excuse to serve a devotee, or group of devotees, and feel the difference. There is something special in serving a vaisnava, because it can change the heart. A clean heart wants to speak and hear of Krishna related freedom matters, and shun bound agitations. To serve is to hear, and to hear is to serve. It has the power to make us speak and hear genuine free speech.
“Whenever pure topics of the transcendental world are discussed, the members of the audience forget all kinds of material hankerings, at least for the time being. Not only that, but they are no longer envious of one another, nor do they suffer from anxiety or fear.” (SB 4.30.35). While this may sound like a temporary relief from misery, we can make it continual if we take to heart the instructions of those who are really “born free”, the pure ever free, unbound acaryas.
Ys, Kesava Krsna dasa – GRS.
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