What is real freedom, what is liberation, what is that, the spiritual inquiry beyond the base necessities of existence? That’s actually the hallmark of spiritual culture.
So Vedanta says, athāto brahma jijñāsā. Athāto—now that you've achieved human life, inquire about Brahman. That is where it begins, that is why it starts with word “now”. Some commentators explained, “It means, yes, now that you have achieved human life, this is what it is meant for.”
What did Socrates say, whom we mentioned earlier? “The unexamined life is not a life worth living.” That's Socrates’s opinion, expressed so long ago, thousands years ago.“An unexamined life is not a life worth living.” Meaning ātma- samīkṣa, self-analysis—to try and understand: who I am? Where have I come from? What is my purpose? And they say, “Well, what if someone is not interested in who they are, where they have come from, what their purpose is, but they are just basically interested in reproduction and family maintenance?” Hm ... okay ... [laughs]. You mean like an animal? Who doesn’t, who has no capacity for self-inquiry, can reproduce and maintain their family.
Prabhupad said in one place about human beings in kali-yuga, “Man is a royal edition of the animal.” And there is one famous artist in the 20th century, he used to ... you have probably seen these pictures somewhere on the network, like dogs playing poker. They are all dogs in suits, smoking cigars, playing cards. I am not the first person to make these observations. And it is not just, “Oh, a bunch of fanatical people of this opinion.” Read "Steppenwolf" by Hermann Hesse.
The Steppenwolf, Harry Haller, goes to attend a lecture and everyone is there, and they are very impressed with the man. I forget if he even mentions what the subject is. And the host, who is writing about the Steppenwolf, he says, the lecturer said, maybe he’s talking about the Universe, whatever it was, it doesn’t even matter. It was the 19th century ... whatever the latest theory was. And he said, “The Steppenwolf shot me a look, turned, looked at me.” And he said, “And in that look he”, I am paraphrasing now, “annihilated all of modern civilization. And it said to me, ‘Look at what monkeys we have become’”. Written by Hermann Hesse a hundred years ago.
Solzhenitsyn, “Serene voluntary self-restraint.” He said, “You have the freedom ...” When he came to America, and they invited him the give the Harvard address to the students, and they thought, “Oh, now Alexander, Sasha, will tell everyone how wonderful the United States is.” And he said, “Well, I could never recommend what’s going on in the Soviet Union, what you have got going on here is less than something for the dignity of men.” And he said, “You have the right to express anything and everything, but you've given up the right not to have your mind and soul stuffed with nonsense, with gossip, with mundane, useless trivia and information. That you have given up. And in the name of freely expressing anything and everything.” Many have called his address, “A World Split Apart”, a scathing indictment of Western civilization.
What did Gandhi say, when they said, “Mahatmaji, what do you think about Western civilization?” He said, “I think it would be a good idea.” How does Dostoevsky begin “Notes From the Underground”? “I am an ugly man. I am an unhappy man. I am a sick man.” That's the state of affairs. Why is he appreciated? For his honesty. What does he say? “I would wonder how it is—I could in one moment be raising a glass, a toast, to the Truth, the highest, the best, the spiritual. And in the next moment capable of sinking into the lowest slime?” He is an honest man. Telling the situation, not trying to hide.
You have to call a spade a spade. And I know, you are going, “What does that mean?” [Laughs] Means being naked truth, be honest. We are told, don’t speak a truth that is unpalatable. I have a problem with that from time to time. But sometimes they say, “Sadhu means one, who cuts sharply with unpleasant language.” The doctor, who removes the cancer does it with a scalpel—is he cruel? Or is he your real friend? He is removing the cancer. And this is how you do it. If somebody can do it in a sweet way, with the least amount of pain—all the better.