What follows is a conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, one of his disciples, and a reporter from a leading Paris newsweekly.
Interviewer: To me, God means freedom.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes—God means freedom, provided you surrender to God. That is real freedom.
Interviewer: But I may not accept your idea of God. I may want to worship God, or I may not want to worship God. That is my freedom, and that’s the most important thing to me.
Srila Prabhupada: A child’s freedom, for instance, is to live completely under the protection of his parents—then he has freedom. But without their protection, he’ll have no freedom, only suffering. If the child is very rebellious, he may think he doesn’t need his parents—he wants to be free. But he is just a rascal. He does not really know what freedom is. Similarly, if you don’t surrender to God, then you are misusing your freedom. And you’ll lose your freedom. The Bhagavad-gita says, daivi hy esa gunamayi mama maya duratyaya: “Material nature is so strong that she will not allow you to get free.” But, mam eva ye prapadyante: “If you surrender to Krsna instead of Krsna’s maya, then you’ll become free.” If you don’t agree to accept the control of Krsna, you’ll be forced by Krsna’s material energy. So what is this so-called freedom? You have to surrender.
Interviewer: But isn’t that a rather stifling kind of slave mentality?
Srila Prabhupada: We want to become the slave of Krsna, and you want so-called freedom. But you do not know that if you don’t become a slave of Krsna, then you must become a slave of maya. The nature of the soul is to be a slave—that is your natural position. And we can see this practically: if people are not slaves of this material nature, then why are they dying? You don’t want to die, but you’ll be forced to die. So how are you free? But because people are rascals, they don’t understand this. They are imagining themselves free.
Interviewer: But throughout history people have fought valiantly for the freedom to enjoy life to the fullest—the pursuit of happiness.
Srila Prabhupada: That means that they’re thinking that freedom means to become the servant of the senses. Our Krsna consciousness philosophy teaches, “Don’t become the servant of your senses.” And people think, “Oh, but this is our freedom.” They do not know that by trying to become free, they are becoming servants of their senses. Where is your freedom? To freely enjoy sense gratification means to become the servant of your senses. This is maya’s illusion. You are voluntarily accepting maya’s slavery and thinking, “Now I’m free.” This is illusion. Your senses are pulling you by the ear—”Come here. Do this and you’ll be happy.” Just like a dog: as soon as his master pulls the leash—”Come on! Come on!”—he has to follow. So people are becoming just like dogs, and they are thinking “free.” Because they are unintelligent rascals, they cannot understand what real freedom is. But we are teaching that real freedom comes when you surrender to God.
Interviewer: But how can you surrender to something you don’t know? You can’t really know God. You can’t even speak about Him.
Srila Prabhupada: Our position is that we know God from God’s explanation of Himself. We don’t try to speculate about God like you. We’re not such rascals. I agree that I cannot know God, but in the Bhagavad-gita God Himself says, “I am like this,” and I accept it. That’s all. That is my position—this is my full surrender to God. I may not know what He is, but when He says, “I am like this,” I accept it. I never say, “I have understood God.” How can I know God? I am limited, and God is unlimited. But He says, mattah parataram nanyat: “There is no greater truth than Me.” And I accept this. You can call it “slave mentality” or whatever you like, but I accept the words of Krsna. Instead of endeavoring foolishly to know God by mental speculation, I submit to the statement of God that He is the Supreme Person. So which way is better: to speculate on God foolishly, or to accept the statements of God? Which is better?
Interviewer: To accept the statements of God.
Srila Prabhupada: So, you are more intelligent than the rascals. The rascals will remain fools by speculating on God for many, many lives. And when they become actually wise, they’ll surrender to God. This is also stated by the Lord in Bhagavad-gita—bahunam janmanam ante jnanavan mam prapadyate: “After many, many births of mental speculation, when one actually becomes wise he surrenders unto Krsna.” I have already surrendered to Krsna. Why should you wait?
Devotee: One problem is that they never had authorities they could surrender to. Even their parents have cheated them.
Srila Prabhupada: That is a fact. The parents are also rascals. Unless you approach a person who is the representative of Krsna, who has understood Krsna, then the rascaldom continues. You have to find out a person who has understood the Supreme Truth—otherwise, you’ll simply find another rascal, another rascal, another, another.
But you should not think that just because you have been cheated, there is no genuine authority. That’s simply another kind of rascaldom. If someone has been cheated with counterfeit money, he should not conclude that there is no real money. So, don’t become illusioned just because you were cheated by counterfeit authorities in the past. Unfortunately, people are so unintelligent that they cannot judge what is the real authority and what is unreal. They take the real to be counterfeit and then follow the blind rascals.