H enri-Louis Bergson was a French philosopher, influential especially in the first half of the 20th century and after WWII in continental philosophy.
Bergson is known for his influential arguments that processes of immediate experience and intuition are more significant than abstract rationalism and science for understanding reality. He is also known for having engaged in a debate with Albert Einstein about the nature of time, a debate which eventually contributed to a partial diminishment of Bergson's reputation, until most of his fundamental contributions to French Philosophy were vindicated by the discovery of Quantum Physics.
Hayagriva dasa: Bergson maintained that God's reality can be intuited only by mystical experience. The creative effort "is of God if it is not God Himself." This knowledge of God leads to activity, not passivity.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, knowledge of God certainly leads to activity. For instance, in bhakti-yoga we are engaged twenty-four hours daily in Krsna's service. It is not that we just sit down and meditate. In Bhagavad -gita, Krsna says that the best activity is to preach the message of Bhagavad-gita:
ya idam paramam guhyam
bhaktim mayi param krtva
mam evaisyaty asamsayah
"For one who explains the supreme secret to the devotees, devotional service is guaranteed, and at the end he will come back to Me." ( Bg. 18.68) This is also Caitanya Mahaprabhu's order: "Become a guru by spreading Krsna consciousness." To be a guru means to be active.
Hayagriva dasa: The word "mystic" can have many different meanings. When Bergson says that God's reality can be intuited only by mystical experience, what is meant?
Srila Prabhupada: God is mystical for one who does not know God, but for one who knows God and receives orders from Him, God is a perceivable person. The word "mystic" may imply something vague or obscure.
Syamasundara dasa: Bergson believed that the mystic who has contact with God can lead others and teach them to become godly.
Srila Prabhupada: That is very nice. Then by "mystic," he means God's representative. That is the spiritual master who is following in the disciplic succession. The Bhagavad-gita tells us to approach a guru who has realized the truth, God. It is not that the mystic poses himself to be God. No, he surrenders unto Krsna and teaches others to do so. In this way, he teaches us how to become godly. Actually, it is better to say God conscious instead of godly. One who is God conscious is a true mystic.
Syamasundara dasa: According to modern interpretations, a mystic is someone mysterious or magical.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, the meaning has degraded to that because so many gurus come over, display miracles, and claim to be God. So these rascals are misleading the unintelligent who want to see miracles, and the unintelligent look on these miracles as mysticism. It is another case of the cheaters and the cheated.
Hayagriva dasa: Originally, the Greek word mystikos referred to one initiated in secret religious rites, and today the word has degenerated to mean something obscure or occult. For Bergson, a mystic is one who can commune with God through contemplation and love, participate in God's love for mankind, and aid the divine purpose. This is the real meaning of "creative evolution."
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, everyone is in ignorance due to a long separation from God. In the material world, the living entity has forgotten his relationship with God; therefore he acts only for sense gratification. He awakens to his real life when he is given instructions on how to become God conscious; otherwise, he lives like an animal. Sentiment is one thing, but when religion is understood in the light of good logic and philosophy, we can attain a perfect understanding of God. Without philosophy, religion is simply sentiment. Sentiment in itself does not help very much. A sentimentalist may be interested one day and disinterested another. As stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam, religion means learning how to love God. At the present moment, in our physical condition, we cannot see God, but by hearing about Him, we can develop our dormant love.
Syamasundara dasa: Bergson envisioned two types of religion: static and dynamic. Static religion is comprised of myths devised by human intelligence as a means of defense against life's miseries. Fearful of the future, man attempts to overcome his condition by constructing religious myths.
Srila Prabhupada: Whatever is created by human beings is not acceptable. We do not follow such faiths because human beings are always imperfect. We cannot accept anything manufactured by human beings; we must take our information directly from God, as it is given in Srimad-Bhagavatam,Bhagavad-gita and other scriptures. Dharmam tu saksad bhagavat-pranitam. "Real religious principles are enacted by the Supreme Personality of Godhead." (Bhag. 6.3.19) Krsna says, "Surrender unto Me." This is real religion. It is not man-made. Man is constantly creating so many ism's, but these are not perfect. Religion that leads us to surrender to God is real religion. Otherwise it is bogus.
Syamasundara dasa: For Bergson, real religion is dynamic.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is so. It is not static because it is on the spiritual platform. The spirit is the dynamic force in this body. There is no question of the spirit being static.
Syamasundara dasa: Bergson says that prompted by the vital impulse, by dynamic religion, the human will identifies with the divine will in a mystical union.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is the process of Krsna consciousness. We are teaching people to agree with the divine will, which means surrendering to God. Oneness means agreeing with this teaching.
Syamasundara dasa: Real religion is a mystic oneness with God.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, oneness means that I agree with God. God says, "Surrender," and I say, "Yes, I surrender." God tells Arjuna, "Fight," and Arjuna fights. Oneness means that we agree with God on all points.
Hayagriva dasa: Bergson felt that the greatest obstacle to creative evolution is the struggle with materialism. He believed that politics and economic reforms cannot help matters.
Srila Prabhupada: Politics and economic reforms can help provided they are properly guided—that is, provided they aim at helping our understanding of our relationship with God. Vedic civilization was divided into four varnas and four asramas, and these divisions were meant to help people develop their dormant God consciousness. Unfortunately, today the ksatriyas, the administrators, have forgotten the real objective of human life. Now they are thinking only of caring for the body, living comfortably, and gratifying their senses. But that is not the real purpose of human civilization.
Hayagriva dasa: Bergson believed that the spirit of mysticism must be kept alive by the fortunate few who know God "until such time as a profound change in the material conditions imposed on humanity by nature should permit, in spiritual matters, of a profound transformation."
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, and this Krsna consciousness movement is dedicated to bringing about this change. I have already said that a perfect society is centered in love of God. This love is without motive. It is a natural love, like the love between a son and his father or mother. The material conditions provoke certain bodily demands: eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. At present, people are interested only in these four activities.
Hayagriva dasa: How are these material conditions going to change?
Srila Prabhupada: These daily bodily necessities will remain, but in addition, people should understand God and His instructions. That will bring about change. We are not neglecting the bodily necessities, but we realize that our main business is advancing in Krsna consciousness. Presently, Krsna consciousness is not supported by the state or social leaders. People are busy thinking of eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. It is not that these activities stop when we are Krsna conscious; rather, they are regulated.
Hayagriva dasa: Bergson was optimistic in his belief that the mystics, through love, would eventually help mankind return to God.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, this is the real purpose of human life. Man has the opportunity afforded by nature to understand the instructions of the Vedas and the spiritual master. Only a suicidal civilization remains in darkness, concerned only with the bodily necessities.
Syamasundara dasa: For Bergson, the nature of God is love, through which the world comes into being.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, of course God loves. Unless He loves, why does He come down personally to give us instructions through the scriptures?
Hayagriva dasa: In Creative Evolution, Bergson writes: "For an ego which does not change does not endure, and a psychic state which remains the same so long as it is not replaced by the following state does not endure either." He sees all psychic states of the individual, including the ego, as constantly changing.
Srila Prabhupada: This is the false ego that says, "I am this body." By education, we can come to understand that we are spirit soul. Then the activities of the soul begin. The first lesson of Bhagavad-gita instructs us that the living entity is not the material body but the soul within. That soul is Brahman, pure spirit. Once we understand that we are not the body, our struggle to maintain the body stops. Brahma-bhutah prasannatma (Bg. 18.54). Once we understand that we are spirit soul, we concern ourselves with elevating the spirit soul to the highest perfection. We then come to understand that we are not only spirit soul, but that everyone else is spirit soul as well. We then want everyone to be given a chance to attain perfect understanding.
Syamasundara dasa: Bergson's Vitalism states that the life force cannot be explained by physics and chemistry or the other sciences. It is separate from Darwin's mechanical laws. Science will never be able to accurately explain the source of life, which is nonmaterial.
Srila Prabhupada: That is very nice. He is speaking of the soul, but he is unable to capture the idea positively. It is true that the soul is not controlled by physical laws, and that is verified by Bhagavad-gita itself:
nainam chindanti sastrani
nainam dahati pavakah
na cainam kledayanty apo
na sosayati marutah
"The soul can never be cut into pieces by any weapon, nor can he be burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind." (Bg. 2.23) The vital force, or the soul, can be temporarily covered by physical elements, but the soul itself does not belong to any of the physical elements. The soul is a living force, and it has a little independence. The supreme living force is God, and the individual soul is part and parcel of God, just as sparks are part of a great fire. The individual soul misuses his independence when he himself wants to become God and lord it over material nature. He then falls from his purely spiritual position into the physical encagement, and, forgetting his real identity, he thinks that he is the body. But he is not. The body is a circumstantial covering, a dress. The living, vital force is different.
Syamasundara dasa: Bergson says that the reality, the living force, is always in a state of becoming and never at rest. Logical or scientific explanations are ineffective because they deal with static problems.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, so-called scientists do not know the real basic principle; therefore they are misled and misleading. The soul is living force. The soul has a little independence, and he wants to enjoy the material world, which he cannot do. By running after phantasmagoria and trying to lord it over material nature, he becomes more and more entrapped.
Syamasundara dasa: Being constantly dynamic, changing, and unpredictable, the life force is too elusive for scientific investigation.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, this is so. Because it is living force, it must be dynamic. Living force is not dead stone. We are all living force. We may be sitting here now, or we may be leaving. No one can check these movements in time. Not even God interferes with our dynamic force. He allows us to do whatever we like. If God interferes with our independence, we are no longer living entities. We become dead stones. Therefore God does not interfere; He gives us full freedom. At the same time, He comes down to instruct us, saying, "Why are you so engaged in this foolish activity? Please come to Me, back home, back to Godhead. Then you will be happy."
Syamasundara dasa: For Bergson, the unpredictable life force is constantly creating new things.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, it is creating new things in the material phenomena, but when the life force is spiritually situated, there are no such changes. Our only business is to serve Krsna. And even in the service of Krsna, there are many varieties, but those are spiritual varieties. At the present moment, we are creating material varieties and a variety of bodies, all subject to the threefold miseries and to birth, death, old age, and disease. As long as we are materially entrapped, our dynamic force is creating trouble, and we are becoming more and more entangled.
Syamasundara dasa: Can we ever predict the movements of the life force?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, it is moving in a variety of dresses, but its ultimate future is to return home, back to Godhead. But because the individual soul is acting unintelligently, he has to be kicked in the face very strongly by material nature. Then he will come to his senses. That is his position. When he thinks intelligently, he realizes that it is his duty to serve Krsna instead of his own material body. In this material world, we see that everybody is trying to be happy, but everyone is constantly being frustrated. This is because material happiness ultimately means frustration. This is maya's way of kicking.
Syamasundara dasa: In any case, the life force will eventually return to Godhead?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, everyone will sooner or later. Some sooner, and some later.
Syamasundara dasa: But can we predict that the process of punishment will have some permanent effect? Many prisoners leave the prison, but some come back.
Srila Prabhupada: There is nothing permanent. Because we have a little independence, we have the freedom to misuse our independence again and return to the prison; otherwise there is no meaning to independence. Independence means that you can do what you like.
Syamasundara dasa: Bergson spoke of the soul as elan vital, "vital impulse."
Srila Prabhupada: The soul is a living, vital force, and is therefore dynamic. It is never at rest, but is always working through the mind, intelligence, and body.
Syamasundara dasa: Is the soul present in the same quantity in every living body?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Its measurement is the same: one ten thousandth part of the tip of a hair.
Syamasundara dasa: But what about its amount of energy?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, the same amount of spiritual energy is everywhere, in the ant and in the elephant.
Syamasundara dasa: When you say that the soul is one ten thousandth part of the tip of a hair, this seems to denote a physical size. That is, this seems to be a physical concept.
Srila Prabhupada: Material size and spiritual size are not the same. Spiritual size is permanent, and material size is changing. We give this example of the tip of a hair because you have no spiritual vision. Therefore you have to understand by a material example.
Syamasundara dasa: Bergson believes that the qualities of the soul can be perceived only by intuition, not by the senses.
Srila Prabhupada: That is correct. The soul cannot be experienced by the senses, but we can understand that the soul is absent from a dead man. We see the dead body, and this is called perception. Then we understand that there is something intangible that is absent, and we call that the soul. This is the process of intuition.
Hayagriva dasa: Concerning remembering and forgetting, Bergson writes: "The cerebral mechanism is arranged just so as to drive back into the unconscious almost the whole of this past, and to admit beyond the threshold only that which can cast light on the present situation or further the action now being prepared—in short, only that which can give useful work."
Srila Prabhupada: The cerebral mechanism is a machine, just like this microphone. This machine has nothing to do with my voice, but it amplifies it so that others may hear. In this way, the machine can help. Similarly, the brain is a machine that can help us understand God. Human beings have a good machine, but they do not know the use of it. That is their misfortune.
Hayagriva dasa: Doesn't Krsna arrange this cerebral mechanism, causing remembrance and forgetfulness?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, because He is the supreme power, He can do this. If we persistently want to forget Krsna, despite Krsna's instructions, Krsna, who is within the heart, gives us a chance to become more and more forgetful so that we completely forget our relationship with God. Krsna says:
tan aham dvisatah kruran
ksipamy ajasram asubhan
asurisv eva yonisu
"Those who are envious and mischievous, who are the lowest among men, are cast by Me into the ocean of material existence, into various demoniac species of life." (Bg. 16.19) He also says:
sarvasya caham hrdi sannivisto
mattah smrtir jnanam apohanam ca
"I am seated in everyone's heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge, and forgetfulness." (Bg. 15.15) It is Krsna's punishment that the living entity remains in perpetual darkness, but it is the mercy of Krsna's devotee, the Vaisnava, that he remembers his relationship with Krsna. Therefore Bhaktivinoda Thakura says, "O Vaisnava, please accept me as your dog." The cerebral mechanism, the brain, is a machine, and according to one's desires, he remembers Krsna or forgets Him. Just as Krsna enables the demoniac to be punished, He gives the devotee the intelligence by which he can remember and understand.
dadami buddhi-yogam tam
yena mam upayanti te
"To those who are constantly devoted and worship Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me." (Bg. 10.10)
Hayagriva dasa: Can we forget Krsna eternally?
Srila Prabhupada: No, it is not possible. A son may be separated from his father, but it is not possible for him to forget his father eternally. Sometimes he remembers his father. The father is always remembering the son, and looking forward to the time when the son will obey his orders. So there is no question of forgetting perpetually.
Syamasundara dasa: Because the living entity has independence, at one moment he may be liberated, and at another moment, conditioned?
Srila Prabhupada: Krsna has given you liberation. When you misuse your liberation, you become entrapped.
Syamasundara dasa: But is this all predictable? Can we know it beforehand?
Srila Prabhupada: What is the use of all this prediction? The prediction is that the living entity will be kicked, kicked, kicked, and kicked, until someday he will come to Krsna.
Syamasundara dasa: So after falling down many times, the living entity will eventually come to Krsna and remain permanently. Is that right?
Srila Prabhupada: No, there is no question of permanence. Because the living entity has independence, he can misuse that independence and fall down again. A man is not permanently free just because he's released from prison. He can return to prison again. There is no guarantee. This is what is meant by eternally conditioned. The living entities in the spiritual sky who are eternally liberated will never be conditioned because they never choose to misuse their independence. They are very experienced.
Hayagriva dasa: Concerning karma and transmigration, Bergson writes: "What are we, in fact, what is our character, if not the condensation of the history that we have lived from our birth—nay, even before our birth, since we bring with us prenatal dispositions. Doubtless we think with only a small part of our past, but it is with our entire past, including the original dint of our soul, that we desire, will, and act." Although we cannot recall much of the past, our present state has grown out of it.
Srila Prabhupada: It is our defect that we cannot recall the past; therefore little tests are there to remind us of our opportunity to take advantage of Vedic knowledge. We have forgotten, but our forgetfulness is not perpetual. When we are reminded, we can come to our real consciousness, Krsna consciousness. Forgetting Krsna, God, people are thinking that they are masters of everything. Many so-called scientists are decrying God, and claiming that they can do everything independently. This attitude is demoniac. Sadhu, sastra, and guru are here to remind us that we are under the clutches of maya and that we are not to remain in this position.
Hayagriva dasa: Bergson is essentially saying that our past activities have determined what we are today.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is karma. According to our past karmas, we are in a particular position. However, this position can be changed; it is not that it will have to continue indefinitely. Krsna says that we are suffering due to our past misdeeds, and this suffering was caused by our not surrendering to Him. If we surrender to Krsna, He will put an end to all the reactions of karma. So we do not have to continue to suffer the reactions of our past activities.
Hayagriva dasa: Bergson writes: "From this survival of the past, it follows that consciousness cannot go through the same state twice. Circumstances may still be the same, but they will act no longer on the same person, since they find him at a new moment of his history. Our personality, which is being built up each instant with its accumulated experience, changes without ceasing."
Srila Prabhupada: There is no cessation because the soul is eternal. Consciousness is also eternal, but it is changing according to the circumstances, association, time, place, and personalities involved. Good association is required, because by it, our consciousness can be changed from material to spiritual. The purpose of this Krsna consciousness movement is to change our consciousness from absorption in material things to Krsna. This requires guidance, which is provided by Krsna's instructions and the spiritual master. Krsna is so kind that He has given us sastra, sadhu, and guru.
Hayagriva dasa: But if the personality is determined by experience, and experience is forgotten at death, then a new personality must emerge at rebirth. How can the personality be built up with accumulated experience?
Srila Prabhupada: We may forget our deeds in the past, but Krsna does not forget them. He therefore gives us a chance to fulfill previous desires. At death, the body changes, but the soul does not change. The soul continues and brings with him reactions of past deeds. Even though the soul forgets what he has done in the past, Krsna is there to remind him that he wanted to do this or that.
Hayagriva dasa: So the person is the same, but the personality changes?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. This personality can be perfected if we follow the instructions of Krsna.
Hayagriva dasa: But personality, as we understand it, changes from life to life, doesn't it?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, but according to your work, your body will be selected. It is not that you select your body. Because you have acted in a certain way, superior authorities select your body according to your activities.
Hayagriva dasa: If at death the soul takes the mind, intelligence, and ego with it into a new body, isn't it possible for the mind to remember past lives?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, and there are many instances of this. Bharata Maharaja received the body of a deer, but by the grace of Krsna he remembered everything about his past life. Although Bharata Maharaja was a devotee, he neglected his devotional service due to being overly attached to a deer. Since he was thinking of the deer at the time of death, he received the body of a deer, but out of His great mercy, Krsna reminded him of his situation. In his next birth, therefore, Maharaja Bharata was born into a good brahmana family.
Hayagriva dasa: Bergson says that "our personality shoots, grows, and ripens without ceasing." If this is so, how can the jiva regress to a lower form of life? How could a greater experience be confined to a lesser one?
Srila Prabhupada: According to nature's process, everything is calculated at the time of death. Here in Hawaii we see that there are many boys addicted to the water sport called surfing. Now they are creating a mentality which will enable them to become aquatics. So naturally at the time of death they will think of all these things, and nature will give them a body accordingly. We cannot check this process. After death, we are completely under nature's control. We cannot dictate. Since people cannot or will not understand this, they conclude that there is no life after death.
Hayagriva dasa: How could a great personality like Indra, with his mind, intelligence, and ego all intact, possibly become a hog?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, this can be done, because as long as we are materially existing, our thoughts are under the modes of material nature. Sometimes our thoughts are in the mode of goodness, sometimes in passion, and sometimes in ignorance. Accordingly, we go up and down the scale in different species. In order to keep ourselves on the proper platform, we should engage in devotional service. This is confirmed in Bhagavad-gita:
mam ca yo'vyabhicarena
sa gunan samatityaitan
"One who engages in full devotional service, who does not fall down in any circumstance, at once transcends the modes of material nature and thus comes to the level of Brahman." (Bg. 14.26) If we stay on the Brahman platform, there is no degradation. We are trying to do this by engaging ourselves every moment in Krsna consciousness.
Hayagriva dasa: Bergson saw change as maturation. He writes: "We are seeking only the precise meaning that our consciousness gives to this word, 'exist,' and we find that, for a conscious being, to exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly."
Srila Prabhupada: It is not necessary to struggle to attain our highest position, because that position is indicated by Sri Krsna: "Abandon all dharmas and surrender unto Me. I will give you all protection." (Bg. 18.66) Unfortunately, the living entity thinks that Krsna is an ordinary human being and therefore incapable of granting the topmost position. Therefore he goes on with his plan making. After many, many births, he finally comes to the conclusion that everything is Krsna. Vasudevah sarvam iti sa mahatmasudurlabhah (Bg. 7.19). But why go through many births of struggle? If we at once accept Krsna's instructions, we can become perfect immediately.
Syamasundara dasa: Bergson sees the life impulse moving through the universe and creating new forms and varieties, just as an artist creates different paintings. The creations progressively improve.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, you might call that evolution. The living entity moves through 8,400,000 species, and each is better than the last, until one comes to the human form. Once he has reached the human platform, he may choose to become a demigod like Lord Brahma. Brahma is also a living entity; he is not in the Visnu category. Yet Brahma has such power that he can create this universe. God can create infinite universes, but Brahma can create at least one universe. Of course, from the human form, one can also regress to lower forms.
Syamasundara dasa: For Bergson, world evolution moves progressively through history as instinct, intelligence, and intuition.
Srila Prabhupada: Then he agrees that one moves from the lower stages to the higher.
Syamasundara dasa: To realization?
Srila Prabhupada: Realization means arriving at the truth.
Syamasundara dasa: Bergson says that understanding through intuition is superior to understanding through the intelligence.
Srila Prabhupada: That is correct.
Syamasundara dasa: He sees the creative process as advancing up to the level of immortality.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, we are receiving different types of bodies, and when we are perfectly situated in Krsna consciousness, we no longer receive material bodies.
Syamasundara dasa: Then although the life force itself is eternal, the forms advance up to the form of immortality?
Srila Prabhupada: The forms are changing, but the living force is not changing. The forms are changing, but the person within the forms is permanent. When he identifies with the body, he thinks that he is changing.
Syamasundara dasa: Is the progress toward human immortality a creative process? By creative, Bergson implies that we are creating our immortality.
Srila Prabhupada: No, you are always immortal. You are immortal by constitution, but you are changing bodies. The process is creative in the sense that you create your own body or your next body as you desire. If you create within yourself the mentality of a dog, you will get the body of a dog in the next life. Similarly, if you create the mentality of a servant of God, you return to Krsna.
Hayagriva dasa: In Creative Evolution, Bergson writes: "We may conclude, then, that individuality is never perfect, and that it is often difficult, sometimes impossible, to tell what is an individual, and what is not, but that life nevertheless manifests a search for individuality, as if it strove to constitute systems naturally isolated, naturally closed."
Srila Prabhupada: Why is there a search for individuality? We are all naturally individuals.
na tv evaham jatu nasam
na tvam neme janadhipah
na caiva na bhavisyamah
sarve vayam atah param
"Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be." (Bg. 2.12) We are individuals in the past, present, and future. Our individuality is always there, but in quantity we are not as great as Krsna. Compared to Him, our intelligence is very meager. When we utilize our individuality properly and follow Krsna's instructions, we perfect our lives. Mayavadi philosophers want to annihilate this individuality, but this is not possible. We are perpetually individuals, and God is also an individual. It is incorrect to think that by killing individuality, we become one with God.
Our individuality is retained. Even though for a time we may think, "I will merge into the existence of God," we will fall down again due to individuality. In any case, there is no need for a search for individuality because we are always individuals.
Hayagriva dasa: According to Bergson, we can see the creation as either coming from God, or moving toward Him. Depending on our viewpoint, "we perceive God as efficient cause or as final cause."
Srila Prabhupada: God is always there. He was there before the creation, and when the creation is finished, He will be there. God is not part of the creation. Being the creator, He exists before, during, and after His creation. This is standard Vedic knowledge.
aham evasam evagre
nanyad yat sad-asat param
pascad aham yad etac ca
yo 'vasisyeta so'smy aham
"It is I, the Personality of Godhead, who was existing before the creation, when there was nothing but Myself. Nor was there the material nature, the cause of this creation. That which you see now is also I, the Personality of Godhead, and after annihilation, what remains will also be I, the Personality of Godhead." (Bhag. 2.9.33)
Hayagriva dasa: Bergson is saying that God is the beginning, middle, and end, depending on our point of view.
Srila Prabhupada: It is not dependent on our viewpoint. God is always there, but because we are imperfect, we are thinking in this limited way. This cosmic manifestation is a temporary creation to give the individual soul a chance to develop his consciousness. If he does not do so, and there is universal annihilation, he must remain in an unconscious position. When there is creation, he again comes to consciousness. This is the cycle that is going on. But God is always there.
Hayagriva dasa: Bergson further writes: "If life realizes a plan, it ought to manifest a greater harmony the further it advances, just as a house shows better and better the idea of the architect as stone is set upon stone. If, on the contrary, the unity of life is to be found solely in the impetus that pushes it along the road of time, the harmony is not in front but behind. The unity is given at the start as an impulsion, not placed at the end as an attraction."
Srila Prabhupada: This is what is called nature's course. First of all, something is created, it develops, stays for a while, leaves some by-products, grows old, dwindles, and finally vanishes. These are the changes that all material things are subject to, but the spirit soul is not material and therefore has nothing to do with bodily changes. The soul has his perpetual duty and activity, which is devotional service. If we are trained in our perpetual duty, we can put an end to bodily changes, remain in our eternal, spiritual body, and return home, back to Godhead.
Hayagriva dasa: So creative evolution must necessarily be the evolution of the soul?
Srila Prabhupada: No, since the soul is ever existing, there is no question of evolution. As long as the soul is entangled in material existence and bodily conceptions, he thinks that a superior body evolves from an inferior one. However, if his consciousness is changed, there is no changing bodies. He remains in his eternal body.
Syamasundara dasa: Bergson thinks that it is the vital force that is guiding everyone and creating its own evolution.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, the vital force will determine this. But the individual must be educated to know how to make progress. It is ultimately up to the spirit soul whether to surrender to Krsna or not. The living entity has the right to accept or reject. If he takes the right path, he progresses, but if he rejects this path, he will regress. This depends on him.
Hayagriva dasa: There seems to be a basic contradiction between Bergson and the Vedas, as far as the evolution of the universe is concerned.
Srila Prabhupada: Anything material, be it the universe or whatever, undergoes the basic changes I mentioned. Since its birth, this universe has been increasing in volume, and that is material change. This has nothing to do with the spiritual. Just as we have a soul within this body, the universe also has a soul within, and that is the Garbhodakasayi Visnu. Visnu is not changing, but the universe is.
Hayagriva dasa: Bergson theorizes that the further life advances, the greater harmony is being realized.
Srila Prabhupada: There is harmonious change, just as a child's body harmoniously changes into a boy's body. In any case, change is there.
Hayagriva dasa: So there is harmony in the beginning, middle, and end?
Srila Prab hupada: Everything is in harmony, be it material or spiritual. That is God's law.
Hayagriva dasa: If everything is always in harmony, evolution has an incidental meaning.
Srila Prabhupada: This is harmony: One is an aquatic, then an insect, then a plant, then a tree, and so on up to the body of a human being. Change is there, but there is harmony. Once one has attained a human body, he can decide whether or not to stop this evolutionary process, or to remain in it. If one accepts the instructions of Krsna, he can put an end to this bothersome evolution. If not, he remains. This is the version of Bhagavad-gita:
aprapya mam nivartante
"Those who are not faithful on the path of devotional service cannot attain Me, O conqueror of foes, but return to birth and death in this material world." (Bg. 9.3) By following Krsna's instructions, we can become completely detached from the cycle of birth and death.
Hayagriva dasa: Bergson sees man as the culmination of earth's evolution. He writes: "Man might be considered the reason for the existence of the entire organization of life on our planet."
Srila Prabhupada: On this planet there are different types of men. Not everyone is in the same position. There are fools and sages, rich men and poor.
Hayagriva dasa: He is speaking of mankind in general.
Srila Prabhupada: What does he mean by all mankind? Everyone is an individual. In any case, man is not the highest form of life.
Hayagriva dasa: Bergson sees the material worlds as being basically isolated from one another. He writes: "It is not artificially, for reasons of mere convenience, that we isolate our solar system: Nature itself invites us to isolate it."
Srila Prabhupada: We feel isolated because we are individuals. In a prison, every criminal is different from every other criminal, and everyone has to suffer the consequences of his criminal activities. Thus every individual is suffering or enjoying according to his past deeds. If there is combination, you forget individuality. But that is not possible.
Hayagriva dasa: We feel isolated as individuals, but in addition we feel isolated communally on this planet. Man has never been able to communicate with beings on other planets.
Srila Prabhupada: What is the point in communicating with other planets? They are also like this planet. People there have their individuality also.
Hayagriva dasa: Well, man has always had the desire to communicate with something outside of this world, something higher. Basically, this must be a desire to reach God.
Srila Prabhupada: Since God is there, why not communicate with Him? There is no point in communicating with other planets. Other living entities cannot help us. If we communicate with God, Krsna, we automatically understand everything else. If you hear people talking on other planets, what benefit will you derive? It is better to listen to Krsna speaking Bhagavad- gita.
Hayagriva dasa: Is this isolation between worlds characteristic only of the lower and middle planetary systems? Is there as much isolation between the higher systems?
Srila Prabhupada: Isolation is always there. Even in this world, crows remain to themselves, and swans remain to themselves. This isolation is natural because everyone is functioning under the different modes of material nature. However, if people come to Krsna consciousness, there is no longer isolation because everyone is engaged in the Lord's service.
Hayagriva dasa: Bergson sees the universe itself as expanding and evolving. He writes: "For the universe is not made, but is being made continually. It is growing, perhaps indefinitely, by the addition of new worlds."
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, the universes emanate from the breathing of Maha-visnu. If we accept the fact that the universe is increasing, then universes may come out like particles and then begin to develop. We see that for everything material, there is a small beginning. When the living entity enters the womb, he is very small indeed. A banyan tree begins to grow from a small seed. This is the way of nature. It is a fact that the universe is increasing, but not perpetually. It increases to a certain extent, stops, dwindles, and vanishes.
Hayagriva dasa: Modern astronomers theorize that the universe is expanding and that the systems are exploding outward into space and moving proportionately further and further from one another, just like raisins expanding in dough when it is heated in the oven.
Srila Prabhupada: That expansion goes on to a certain extent. Then it Stops.
Hayagriva dasa: But Bergson sees the universe as evolving toward some grand harmony.
Srila Prabhupada: What does he mean by grand harmony? Everything is increasing, and everything will eventually dwindle and be annihilated. That is the course of material nature, and the harmony is in this process.
Hayagriva dasa: In attempting to relate God to the universe, Bergson speaks of "a center from which worlds shoot out like rockets in a fireworks display."
Srila Prabhupada: The creation is like a wheel rotating. There are spokes, and there is a rim. There is also a center around which everything revolves. Ahamsarvasya prabhavo mattah sarvam pravartate. "I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me." (Bg. 10.8) That center is God, and all the parts are revolving around Him. In any case, the center remains where it is, and is always the same.
Syamasundara dasa: Bergson spoke of the world as "a machine for the making of gods." In a sense, this world is a training ground wherein we can make ourselves immortal.
Srila Prabhupada: You are immortal already. You have just forgotten.
"The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal, fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind." (Bg. 15.7) There is bewilderment, but no change. We are fixed as spirit soul. It is as if we are dreaming: "Oh, I have fallen into the Pacific Ocean. I am drowning. Save me!" We may dream so many troublesome things, but actually there is no Pacific Ocean, and we are not drowning. It is simply a dream. The temporary covering of the body is just like a dream, and as soon as you come to Krsna consciousness, you wake up. When you are awake, the dream has no value. However, when the dream is happening, you are thinking that it is real, but since it has no value, it is called maya. Maya means "that which has no real existence but appears to."
Syamasundara dasa: Does maya mean nothingness?
Srila Prabhupada: You cannot say that. It is nothing appearing like something, but we do not say that it is nothing. Mayavadis say that it is nothing, but we say that it is temporary. How can you say that a cloud is nothing? A cloud appears, remains for a while, and then goes. The body is there temporarily for a few years, or a few hours. It is like a cloud. We cannot say that it is nothing, but that it is temporary.
Syamasundara dasa: Bergson thought that the life force, passing through different bodies, will eventually become immortal on this planet.
Srila Prabhupada: At present, people are living for an average of seventy years, at the utmost a hundred. They are thinking that they would like to live for a hundred and seventy years, but in this material world, seventy, a hundred and seventy, or seventeen million years are the same. The years will eventually end. However, one who only lives for seventy years thinks that a million years is immortality.
Syamasundara dasa: Bergson is interested in knowing the course of future evolution. He feels that because man has progressed from the instinctive stage to the intelligent and then to the intuitive stages, he will eventually attain the immortal stage.
Srila Prabhupada: That is very nice, the idea that man will attain perfection. Progress means that you go forward, that you do not remain stagnant. The Vedas say:
tad visnoh paramam padam
sada pasyanti surayah
diviva caksur atatam
visnor yat paramam padam
"The lotus feet of Lord Visnu are the supreme objective of all the demigods. These lotus feet of the Lord are as enlightening as the sun in the sky." (Rg Veda 1.22.20) Those who are learned and advanced in knowledge are called surayah. Modern scientists are looking forward to going to other planets, but those who are learned are looking forward to going to the lotus feet of Visnu. They are thinking, "When will I reach You?" The goal is there, and those who know it do not miss it. One who is Krsna conscious knows the goal and attempts to reach it. Those who do not know the goal waste their time philosophizing and misleading others. This is the blind leading the blind.
Hayagriva dasa: So when Bergson refers to the universe as "a machine for the making of gods," in what sense is he correct?
Srila Prabhupada: Well, in one sense there is no making of gods, because the demigods are already there. All the parts of the wheel are there complete. Our normal life is a life in Krsna consciousness. That is mukti, liberation. It is not a question of becoming something different, but of returning to normal health, to our constitutional position. In maya, a man is diseased, and in his delirium, he speaks all kinds of nonsense.
Hayagriva dasa: Then instead of speaking of the universe as a machine for the making of gods, it would be better to call it a hospital for the curing of souls.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, it is a hospital. When we are cured, we are freed from all designations, which begin with the body. People are thinking, "I am European, American, Christian, Hindu," and so on. These are all misconceptions. Our real position is that we are part and parcel of Krsna and are His eternal servants. It is not that a man can be made into a demigod or God. Man is already part and parcel of God. He has to understand his position in order to attain mukti. After all, what is a demigod? There is no difference between a demigod and a man. A demigod is in a better position, that's all. A high court judge and a layman are both human beings, but the judge is in a superior position. The demigods are elevated due to their being situated in a higher mode, in sattva- guna. On this earth, rajo-guna and tamo -guna, passion and ignorance, are prominent. Being spirit soul, however, we are not subject to any guna. We are transcendental. If we keep ourselves in our constitutional transcendental position by engaging in devotional service, we are above all the gunas, including sattva-guna. This is the liberation attained by devotional service. The devotees are not interested in becoming demigods. After all, the demigods are also rotting in this material world. For a devotee, Brahma, Indra, Candra, and the other demigods are no better than small insects. Everyone has a different type of body according to karma, whether it be Brahma's body or an ant's body. One who has attained liberation is not at all concerned with the body; therefore devotees are not interested in being elevated to higher planetary systems. In fact, one devotee prays, "I don't care to be a Brahma. I would prefer to be a small ant in the house of a devotee." This is the Vaisnava position.
Syamasundara dasa: Bergson conceived of two types of morality: closed and open. Closed morality depends on prevailing conventions, or social pressures. This is traditional morality.
Srila Prabhupada: That kind of morality changes according to time and circumstance. What is moral in one society may be considered immoral in another.
Syamasundara dasa: Open morality is determined by individuals and is guided by intuition. Bergson saw this as the morality of saints like St. Paul or St. Francis.
Srila Prabhupada: If we are God conscious, we can tell what is real morality. Because St. Paul was a sadhu, he could say what morality is. Our process is sadhu, guru, sastra. We have to accept knowledge through saintly persons, and this knowledge has to be confirmed by the scriptures and explained by the guru. In this way, our knowledge can be perfect. The scriptures are already there. We have to read them and understand how they have been realized and followed by saintly persons. If there is any difficulty in understanding, we should inquire from the spiritual master. In this way, sadhu, guru, and sastra confirm one another. It is not that we try to understand these scriptures directly. We have to see how the scriptural injunctions are being followed by saintly persons.