“Only by devotional service is the Supreme Truth, Krishna, pleased, and by His inconceivable energy He can reveal Himself to the heart of the pure devotee. The pure devotee always has Krishna within his heart; therefore he is just like the sun that dissipates the darkness of ignorance. This is the special mercy rendered to the pure devotee by Krishna.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 10.11 Purport)
“It’s Saturday night, man,” Ishan loudly proclaimed as he entered his friend’s room. “We need to have fun. What are you guys doing just sitting around?” A junior in college, Ishan was the life of his friends. If ever they were bored, they knew that he would have some fun in store for them. The chain of events would seemingly repeat every Saturday night. After finishing their school assignments for the day, they would all meet up in one friend’s room in the dormitory. Ishan would then start his persuasion. This night was no different.
“Can we play just one game of Mario Tennis, please?” he asked.
“Dude, aren’t you sick of that game already,” replied one of his friends.
“Yeah, we played it for like four hours last week,” offered another.
Ishan enjoyed playing doubles in that game very much, mostly because it allowed for spending quality time with his three other friends. On this night, he once again convinced them to play. The games were many, but the outcome was always the same. Ishan’s team won every single time. Sometimes the matches were won in dramatic fashion, with Ishan’s team coming back from a two set deficit.
After a few hours of playing, the friends knew what was coming next. “I’m hungry guys,” said Ishan. “Let’s go somewhere to eat.” On cue, everyone got ready. Ishan was the most excited, and he did his typical sprint out the door towards the car belonging to the friend who was driving that night. Just prior to running, he made sure to utter his now signature pronouncement. “Follow me. Follow me to freedom,” he said loudly while holding one hand in the air with the index finger pointing up. Ishan had picked up the line from a television commercial promoting a show called Sportscenter, which aired on the ESPN network. The commercial was a spoof on the upcoming Y2K scare, which was to occur at midnight on New Year’s eve of that year. One of the anchors for that show at the time, Charley Steiner, shows up at the end of the commercial holding a lantern and wearing his tie around his head. He then delivers that line that stuck with Ishan.
As usual the friends got a kick out of Ishan’s exuberance, and on this night they would get another surprise. As it was the middle of winter, there was much snow on the ground. Just after Ishan made his proclamation, he wiped out, falling straight on his side. The friends got a good laugh out of it. While at the restaurant, Ishan realized he had lost his keys. The friends went back to help him look for them, but in the darkness of night there was no luck. The next morning, however, they were able to find the keys.
Many years later, Ishan was reminded of that period in his life when someone at work sent him a link to an online video showing the famous Sportscenter commercial. After getting a good chuckle, Ishan relayed the story to his coworker about how he used to repeat that line back in his college days. “Man, you must have been a lot of fun,” said this coworker. “I can’t picture you doing anything of the sort.” “Hopefully I’m older and wiser now, my friend,” Ishan replied.
On the drive home from work that day, Ishan couldn’t keep that line out of his head. “Follow me to freedom,” he kept repeating. Every time, it drew a chuckle from him, but then he began to meditate further on it.
“You know, these spiritual masters of the Vedic tradition actually do just that. They tell us to follow them to freedom. They calm the rough waters of the material ocean.”
Next his mind turned to one of his favorite writers, a Vaishnava saint himself.
“You know, look at Valmiki’s story. Poor guy was reduced to highway robbery. He thought it was the only way to earn a living. He had a family to support. In this way there was no freedom. Mentally, he was bound by this awful work. Then, as if by chance, along came Narada Muni. Without being forceful, without going into a long lecture on the need to give up sinful activity, Narada got him to change his ways. And the initial method didn’t even work. Narada wanted him to chant the name of ‘Rama’ over and over again. But the robber was so sinful that he couldn’t utter the name properly.”
Ishan’s appreciation then grew further as he realized that the success was due to the saint’s perseverance, his strong desire to bring freedom to the struggling robber.
“Narada wasn’t going to quit that easily. He then told the robber to chant the name of ‘Rama’ backwards. He tricked the poor guy into hearing ‘Rama’ anyway. And what was the result? The Ramayana, the book that I love so much. How great Valmiki must have felt in writing that. How great he must have felt sharing that wonderful poem with the rest of the world. Living in his hermitage, he had real freedom. It was all due to following Narada.”
Upon reaching home, Ishan immediately read a few verses from the Ramayana, all the while feeling so thankful for the true freedom fighters, the Vaishnava saints. He again reflected.
“True freedom is love for God. It is the best gift anyone could ever receive. Material gifts have a shelf-life. Eventually they dissipate. The gift of Krishna-prema, or love for God, never goes away. It gives meaning to life, day after day. It is the only real definition to freedom, and the true saints of this world are those who lead others to this kind of freedom.”
For freedom’s horizon to see,
Take my hand, follow me.
The promise land to you I’ll show,
The Supreme Lord Krishna you’ll know.
Even if easy for you at start not,
To keep pressing you, I won’t stop.
Just His names chant in some way,
So happy when as His devotee you’ll stay.