H.H. Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji Maharaj (Muniji)

August, 2003



It is the special time of year in which we celebrate the anniversary of Mother India�s Independence. We revel in memories of Her strong yet non-violent victory over the British. We shout with pride, �Bharat Mata ki Jai!� 


This ardent pride in our culture and loyalty to our Mother Land and Mother tradition are hallmarks of the Indian people.  Many historians have noted that India is the only country where the people were colonized so forcibly for so many thousands of years, yet where the people lost neither the depth nor richness of their ancient culture; nor did the people�s loyalty to their original culture wane or dissipate.

As we celebrate this glorious holiday, as we rejoice in our hard-earned freedom, let us look beyond our external freedom to rule independently. Let us look at whether, internally, the people of India are truly free. Swarajya means �self-rule;� it means that we, the Indian people, have control over our own land, our own government and our own rules. So, we achieved outer swarajya; we achieved freedom from the British. But, have we achieved inner swarajya? Do we, each of us, have control over ourselves? Are we truly free internally?

The chains used to be imposed by the British. They were overt and obvious. Many of us are still bound by chains, yet these chains are more subtle and insidious. They are the chains of our attachments to worldly possessions; they are the chains of our craving to be more and more Western, thereby leading us to forsake the richness of our culture; they are the chains of corruption � both external and internal; they are the chains of desires for sensual fulfillment.

The chains of our attachments to worldly possessions and sensual pleasures keep us prisoners even more than the British imperial rule.  When our focus in life is on attaining more and more wealth, more and more material objects, more and more prestige and fame, and more and more comforts then we must live within a set of rules even more limited than those imposed by the colonizers. We must forsake our family for our job. We must spend less time engaged in spiritual pursuits in order to �get ahead� at work. We must travel extensively, thereby weakening the bonds of family. But, most importantly, when we are focused on material success or sensual pleasures, we are not even free in our own minds. Check yourself. Sit quietly. What comes to you first? Is it God? Is it a passage from the scriptures? Is it a desire to go to temple? Or is it a thought about work, a project or some material object you�ve been craving to attain? When we are committed primarily to material prosperity, our predominant thoughts tend to be those pertaining to our careers, our investments, our colleagues, our projects and our desires. These concerns trap us and prevent us from finding true freedom in life.

Yes, it is wonderful to be successful. It is wonderful to be prosperous. It is wonderful to be comfortable and to enjoy life. Even in our scriptures, Bhagwan Shri Krishna was a king who lived in a city of gold. However, it is the pre-occupation with the accumulation of more and more that binds us. It is the obsession with �success at all costs� that becomes our captor.  In order to be truly free, we must loosen the chains of this attachment. We must perform our duties for God and take whatever comes as prasad. However, we should never become slaves to our desires for possessions, because these desires can never be satiated, and they simply lead to our misery and bondage.

Another chain that, sadly, is enslaving many Indians today is the desire to be Western. The Western media � television, movies, commercials, magazines � have convinced the Indian people, especially our youth, that the keys to happiness lie in being as Western as possible. Thus, they chase after Western fashions, Western entertainment and Western lifestyles. Although the West has a great deal to offer in terms of academic and professional excellence, the materialistic culture does NOT hold the keys to true peace, meaning and joy in life. These keys lie in the ancient, yet timeless, culture of India which emphasizes simplicity, piety and focus on spirituality. They lie in the wisdom of our scriptures. They lie in our rich tradition. Thus, our youth (and now, unfortunately their parents as well) are trapped in a vicious cycle in which with each effort to become more and more Western they must forsake another piece of their Indian culture. Although they are searching for deep and lasting happiness, they will find only superficial, temporary pleasure.

The key to breaking this chain lies in love and acceptance of Bharat Mata and Her culture. It lies in learning as much as we can � academically, professionally, technically, scientifically � from the West without abandoning our loyalty to our own value system and our own sanskaras. When our children can look at themselves and their friends and say, �I am proud to be Indian,� then and only then will they truly be free.

Sadly, we are also bound by chains of corruption within our own hearts. Are we honest people? Are we righteous? Do we uphold the principles of dharma? We fought a long, arduous battle to win our right to freedom from the British.  Let us truly bask in this freedom, realizing the real richness of our values, ethics and sanskaras. The principles set forth in our scriptures are just as applicable to people living in modern Mumbai or Delhi as they were to people living thousands of years ago in the Himalayas. Let us not be bound by the chains of jealousy, anger and greed. These chains bind not only our hands but also our hearts. Instead, let us live lives of generosity, seva, love, purity and divinity.

Our country won independence more than 50 years ago. When will we win independence over ourselves? When will we be the ones to determine the path of our lives, rather than let that path be dictated by our desires, our attachments, our lust and our greed? God has given each one of us the veto power. We must exercise it.  We are not light bulbs that can be switched on and off at the will of others. Yet, too frequently, we act like that. Too frequently, we let the rest of the world determine our state of mind, our choices and our values. Let us take our lives back into our own hands, and turn the reins over only to God. When our lives become surrendered to His service, to service for Bharat Mata and to service for dharma, then we will be a truly free nation and people.