R ene Descartes was a French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. Dubbed the father of modern western philosophy, much of subsequent Western philosophy is a response to his writings, which are studied closely to this day. He spent about 20 years of his life in the Dutch Republic.
Hayagriva dasa: In Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes writes: "The power of forming a good judgement and of distinguishing the true from the false, which is called good sense or reason, is by nature equal in all men.... God has given to each of us some light with which to distinguish truth from error." Is he speaking of the Supersoul, or another form of intellection?
Srila Prabhupada: The Supersoul is one thing, and reasoning is another. Still, reasoning should be there. For instance, through reasoning, we can understand that the body is just a lump of matter composed of skin, bone, muscle, blood, stool, urine, and so forth. Through our reasoning power, we can ask if a combination of these ingredients can bestow life, and we can come to understand that life is different from a lump of matter.
Syamasundara dasa: For Descartes, all truth can be derived from reason, which is superior to and independent of sense experience. Knowledge is deductible from self-evident concepts, or innate, necessary ideas. In other words, he disagrees with those empiricists who believe that truth can be derived only from sense experience.
Srila Prabhupada: We cannot understand God through sense experience, but through our reason we can understand that there is God. We can reason, "I have my father, and my father also has a father, who has a father, and so on. Therefore there must be a Supreme Father." God is the supreme and original Father, and by reasoning we can understand that He exists. Similarly, we can also understand by reasoning that God is the creator. We see that everything has a maker, a creator, and we can conclude that this great cosmic manifestation also has a creator. This is reasoning, but rascals speculate that in the beginning there was a big chunk of matter and an explosion, or whatever, that started the universe. But if there were an explosion, there must have been some explosive, and if there were some explosive, there must have been some worker to set it off. Otherwise, how did the chunk of matter explode? Through our reason we can perceive that everything has some creator or cause.
Hayagriva dasa: Descartes claims that good sense or reason is by nature equal in all men, but doesn't the reasoning power differ?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, otherwise why is one man intelligent and another ignorant? When, through reasoning, one concludes that the living force within the body is different from the body itself, he is on the human platform. If he considers life to be nothing more than a combination of material ingredients, he remains an animal. That is the verdict of the Vedas.
yasyatma-buddhih kunape tri-dhatuke
sva-dhih kalatradisu bhauma ijya-dhih
yat-tirtha-buddhih salile na karhicij
janesv abhijnesu sa eva go-kharah
"A human being who identifies this body made of three elements with his self, who considers the by-products of the body to be his kinsmen, who considers the land of birth worshipable, and who goes to the place of pilgrimage simply to take a bath rather than meet men of transcendental knowledge there, is to be considered like an ass or a cow." ( Bhag. 10.84.13) If one thinks that he is the body, he is no better than an animal. So through reasoning, we can conclude that the soul is not this and not that. This is the neti-neti process. We then have to continue our search and ask, "What is soul? What is Brahman?" We can then conclude that Brahman is the origin of matter and that matter is developed by the soul. That is the Vedic conclusion in the Vedanta- sutra. The act of sex, for instance, cannot bring about pregnancy unless a soul is present. People may have sex many times, and no pregnancy may result. You may sow a seed, and a tree may develop, but if you fry that seed before sowing it, it will not fructify because it is unsuitable for the soul to remain. The conclusion is that the soul is the basis of matter. Although the soul cannot be perceived materially, it is certainly there. Yet its presence can be understood by its symptoms, which are consciousness and bodily development. Just as the individual soul is the living force that gives life to the body, God is the supreme living force that gives life to the entire cosmic manifestation.
Syamasundara dasa: Descartes's method involved searching within one's self for a basis of truth. That basis he found to be self-consciousness. He concluded that first of all, I exist, and then reasoned that God exists necessarily.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. I exist, my father exists, my grandfather exists, and so on; therefore God exists. In Sanskrit, we use the word ahankara, "I am." At the present moment, we exist, but our conception of existence is incorrect. We are thinking, "I exist through my body." We do not understand how it is we exist. By reasoning and understanding, we have to come to know that we are spirit soul and not the body. It is the spirit soul that exists. By reasoning, we can understand that we existed as a child, as a young man, and as an old man, and that after the body is finished, we will continue to exist. I still exist, and I have passed through many bodies, and by reasoning I can conclude that even after this body is destroyed, I will continue to exist. It is stated in Bhagavad-gita:
na jayate mriyate va kadacin
nayam bhutva bhavita va na bhuyah
ajo nityah sasvato 'yam purano
na hanyate hanyamane sarire
"For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain." (Bg. 2.20) Even when the body is annihilated, the spirit soul continues. We can arrive at this conclusion through experience, and our experience can be confirmed by the sastras. This can also be concluded by reason. If this is supported in so many ways, it is a fact.
Syamasundara dasa: Descartes claims that truth must be self-evident and innate, like the intuitive knowledge "I exist."
Srila Prabhupada: This is innate knowledge: I exist now, I existed in the past, and I shall continue to exist in the future. This is also confirmed by Bhagavad-gita:
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) This is confirmed by Krsna, and my reasoning also agrees. The body changes during one lifetime. As I exist in a body that is different now from my childhood body, in the future I will continue to exist in a different body.
Syamasundara dasa: For Descartes, whatever is clear and distinct—such as the mind's consciousness of itself—must be true.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, this is true. I think in this way, and this is corroborated by authoritative scriptures and confirmed by the acaryas. It is not that we think in a whimsical way. Sri Krsna, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and all the acaryas agree; therefore there is no doubt.
Hayagriva dasa: In Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes further writes: "I fall into error because the power which God has given me of distinguishing the true from the false is not in me an infinite power." If we can never be certain that we can distinguish truth from error, where does certainty lie?
Srila Prabhupada: Certainty is in Krsna because He is absolute. He is infinite, and we are finite. The soul is finite Brahman, and the infinite Brahman is God. All religions accept the fact that God is the Supreme Father and that all living entities are His sons. Our existence is based on the mercy of the Supreme Father, and we can reach this conclusion by reasoning.
Syamasundara dasa: Descartes claims that the elementary truths of consciousness are innate in man's personality and that they provide man with immediate and rational proof.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is a fact. Because I am part and parcel of the Supreme Perfection, I am minutely perfect. A particle of gold may be minute, but it is gold nonetheless. Because I am part and parcel of the Supreme Perfection, I am perfect in minute quantity. Of course, I cannot become as great; that is the difference. We are qualitatively one with God and quantitatively different. All of the qualities found in God are also found in us in minute quantity. Due to association with maya, we have become imperfect. The whole process is to return to the perfectional point through Krsna consciousness, and that is called mukti, liberation. When we are situated in our original form, we attain perfection.
Syamasundara dasa: Descartes says that the alleged truths which appear to our senses are unreliable and that only innate ideas are clear and unmuddled by the senses because they are derived from our own nature.
Srila Prabhupada: Is it that the truth has to be established by oneself and not by others?
Syamasundara dasa: He first searched within himself to find some innate basis for truth. First of all, he discovered that "I am."
Srila Prabhupada: Ages ago, there were many people who could understand this. A fool thinks that all others are fools. A deaf man will talk very softly because he thinks that the sound he is making is sufficient. He has no other experience. Everyone thinks that all others are like himself. It is not that Descartes was the first man to realize the identification of the self, "I am." This awareness has been existing a very long time. Krsna says:
aham evasam evagre
nanyad yat sad-asat param
pascad aham yad etac ca
yo 'vasisyeta so 'smy aham
"Brahma, 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) This is Krsna talking about the creation, but we can also say the same. We existed before these bodies were created, and we will continue to exist when these bodies are annihilated. However, our business involves these little bodies, and Krsna's business involves the whole universe. That is the difference. So this conception of "I" is present in God as well as in the living entity. What is so new about all this?
Hayagriva dasa: Descartes considers God a substance that is infinite, immutable, independent, all-knowing, and all-powerful. He is the creator of all things. Descartes writes: "Perhaps all those perfections which I am attributing to God are in some fashion potentially in me, although they do not show themselves, or issue an action."
Srila Prabhupada: I have often explained that the qualities that are infinitely present in God are finitely present in the living entities. For instance, the creative force is also within us, and we can create an airplane that can fly. However, we cannot create another planet that can float in space. Although we may be able to create so many wonderful devices, we are still finite. The creative power is present both in God and in the living entities because the living entities are part and parcel of God. God's knowledge is total, and our knowledge lies only within our limited sphere. God knows everything, and we know some things. The difference was pointed out by Krsna in Bhagavad-gita:
bhavisyani ca bhutani
mam tu veda na kascana
"O Arjuna, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, I know everything that has happened in the past, all that is happening in the present, and all things that are yet to come. I also know all living entities, but Me no one knows." (Bg. 7.26)
Syamasundara dasa: Descartes worked with a four-part methodology which is now called Cartesian methodology. First of all, one is never to accept anything as true which is not known truly and distinctly to be true.
Srila Prabhupada: Of course it is commendable not to accept anything blindly, but if you do not have the intelligence to understand, you have to consult one who is intelligent.
Syamasundara dasa: He felt that the truth must be as clear and distinct as mathematical proof.
Srila Prabhupada: That is good provided one is a mathematician, but if one is a plowman, what can he understand about mathematics?
Syamasundara dasa: According to Descartes, it was up to those who could understand mathematics to chalk out the truth and pass it on to those less intelligent.
Srila Prabhupada: In other words, higher truth cannot be understood by everyone. We have to accept the truth from authorities. Therefore we take the Vedas as truth. Sruti-pramanam. When the Vedas give evidence, we accept it whether we understand it or not.
Syamasundara dasa: The second part of his methodology involved dividing the complex into simpler and simpler parts in order to arrive at a solution. In this way, the whole will be proved.
Srila Prabhupada: But one must be expert in analysis. If I give you a typewriter to fix, and you know nothing about the machine, you will open it up, see all the parts, and not know how to adjust it. It is easy to open the machine up, but it is very difficult to adjust it.
Syamasundara dasa: The third part involved arranging ideas from the simplest to the more complex according to the sequence of events.
Srila Prabhupada: First of all, we must understand that we are spirit soul. That is the first step in our process. We must first understand ourselves and how we are existing despite these changes of bodies. We have to study ourselves as masters of our bodies. Then we can conclude that for the universal body there is another source. That is the Supersoul, or God. Just as my body is existing due to my presence, the gigantic virat body exists due to the presence of the Supersoul. Everything in the universe is constantly looking fresh and new; therefore there must be a large soul maintaining it. This is confirmed by the Vedas: andantara-stha-paramanu-cayantara-stham (Brahma-samhita 5.35). God is all-pervasive as Brahman, and He is also within the smallest atom. By His plenary expansion, God pervades the entire universe. According to the Vedas, there are different manifestations of God: Maha-visnu, Karanodakasayi-visnu, Garbhodakasayi-visnu, and Ksirodakasayi-visnu. What is the difficulty in understanding this? In large lamps and small lamps there is the same electricity. The Mayavadi philosophers consider only the similitude; they do not take the varieties into account. God is all-pervasive, but there is variety.
Syamasundara dasa: How is it that we create the body by our presence?
Srila Prabhupada: You create your body by your work. A dog has created his body according to his desire, and a tiger creates his body according to his. In any case, the soul is the same. The learned man, the pandita, does not see the external varieties, but the soul within. According to their desires and activities, souls are acquiring different bodies; therefore there are 8,400,000 different types of bodies. Krsna claims all of these as His sons. Aham bija-pradah pita. "I am the seed-giving father." (Bg. 14.4) Krsna, the Father of all, gives the seed, but the son creates his own situation. Some of His sons are very rich, some very poor, some are great scientists and philosophers, and some are simply rascals. When a child is born, the father does not say, "You become a rascal," or, "You become a scientist," or whatever. The father sees them all as his sons.
Syamasundara dasa: The fourth part of Cartesian methodology involves taking into account the most detailed points and making sure that nothing is omitted.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is knowledge. For instance, we are considering the details when we consider the difference between the Supreme Lord and ourselves.
Syamasundara dasa: And we can place everything in the scheme of Krsna's creation?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Krsna says aham sarvasya prabhavah. "I am the origin of all." (Bg. 10.8) Krsna says that He is the bija, the seed or soul, the spiritual spark of all living entities.
Syamasundara dasa: Descartes also suggested rules of conduct which everyone should follow. He felt that we should obey the laws and customs of our nation, religious faith, and family tradition, and should avoid extreme behavior.
Srila Prabhupada: That is a good proposal. Actually, family tradition is respected in Vedic civilization. In Bhagavad-gita, Arjuna argues:
dharme naste kulam krtsnam
adharmo 'bhibhavaty uta
"With the destruction of dynasty, the eternal family tradition is vanquished, and thus the rest of the family becomes involved in irreligious practice." (Bg. 1.39) This means that Arjuna was respecting family tradition, but Krsna pointed out that this consideration was material. It really has no spiritual value. Therefore Krsna chastised Arjuna, telling him that he was situated on the material platform. Arjuna was lamenting over things for which a learned man does not lament. So, perhaps Descartes made these propositions for ordinary men, but they are not for those who are highly elevated or spiritually advanced.
Syamasundara dasa: Descartes considered these practical rules for daily conduct. He also believed that we should stand by the convictions we have formed and be resolute in the course of action we have chosen.
Srila Prabhupada: This could also be a dog's obstinacy. However, if our final conclusion is true, then this obstinacy is nice. But if we have not reached the final goal, the Absolute Truth, such obstinacy is an impediment to advancement. This should not be generally applied because in the neophyte stage, we must be flexible. In the advanced stage, when we are firmly situated in the truth, it is, of course, good to stand by our convictions. That is determination. For instance, we have understood that Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. No one can change us in this conviction. In the Christian system, they say that only Jesus Christ can help one go back to Godhead. That was meant for those whom Jesus Christ instructed because Jesus Christ saw that if the people left him, they would go to ruination. He saw that these inferior people had to stick to him in order to progress. Lord Buddha rejected the Vedas, but this does not mean that Vedic authority is diminished. The men to whom he spoke were not able to understand the authority of the Vedas, and they were misusing the Vedic rituals. This is all relative truth, but Absolute Truth is different. Relative truth is within Absolute Truth, but Absolute Truth is independent of relative truth.
Syamasundara dasa: According to Descartes, we should adapt ourselves and our ambitions to our environment and fortune, instead of defying them. In other words, we should be satisfied with what we have and utilize it to the best of our ability.
Srila Prabhupada: That is nice. In Vedic civilization, for instance, there is no great endeavor for economic development. In India, you will still find villagers satisfied with whatever they have. There are even street sweepers who are great devotees. After they work, they bathe, put on tilaka, and sit down to chant and worship the Deity. Why should we be unnecessarily ambitious? Better to be satisfied.
Syamasundara dasa: Descartes also believed that we should carefully choose the life work which is best for our personal selves.
Srila Prabhupada: Well, if you are given that freedom, a drunkard will say that the best thing is to drink and sleep. Everyone has his own program, which he thinks is the best. So who will judge what is best? According to Vivekananda's philosophy, whatever philosophy you select is all right. That is nonsense.
Hayagriva dasa: In the same Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes writes: "It is not in truth an imperfection in God that He has given me the freedom of assenting or not assenting to things of which He has not placed a clear and distinct knowledge in my understanding. On the other hand, it is an imperfection in me that I do not use this freedom righ...."
But then, why doesn't God give us the understanding by which we can choose properly in all cases? Why can't we have free will and at the same time infallible judgement?
Srila Prabhupada: Free will means that you can act wrongly. Unless there is a chance of your acting properly or improperly, there is no question of free will. If I only act in one way, I have no freedom. We have freedom because we can sometimes act improperly.
Hayagriva dasa: In other words, freedom means that a man may know better, yet still act wrongly?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is free will: the freedom to misuse free will. A thief may know that stealing is bad, yet he steals. That is his free will in action. He cannot check his greed, despite his knowing that he is acting improperly and that he will be punished. He knows all the repercussions that result from stealing, yet he steals and misuses his free will. So unless there is a possibility of misusing our free will, there is no question of freedom.
Hayagriva dasa: In the Meditations, Descartes maintains that when one does not know God, he really has no perfect knowledge of anything, and when he knows God, he knows everything else.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, and knowledge of God means following the instructions of God. In Bhagavad-gita, Krsna imparts the most confidential knowledge to Arjuna, but it is ultimately up to Arjuna to accept it or reject it. At the conclusion of Bhagavad-gita, Krsna tells him:
iti te jnanam akhyatam
guhyad guhyataram maya
yathecchasi tatha kuru
"Thus I have explained to you the most confidential of all knowledge. Deliberate on this fully, and then do what you wish to do." (Bg. 18.63) This is free will. It depends on the individual whether to act according to the instructions of God or according to his own whims and sensual inclinations.
Hayagriva dasa: Descartes further writes: "I see that the certainty in truth of all knowledge depends on knowledge of the true God, and that before I knew Him I could have no perfect knowledge of any other thing.
And now that I know Him, I have the means of acquiring a perfect knowledge of innumerable things...." Descartes goes on to conclude that since God is all good, He would not deceive him in matters pertaining to the Godhead.
Srila Prabhupada: If he follows God's instructions and has real knowledge of God, he will never be misled, but if he selects a false God, or if he has not met the real God, he is subject to being misled. To save him from this danger, God imparts instructions in Bhagavad-gita. Whoever follows these instructions will be perfect. If we receive knowledge of the soul from God, there is no chance in being mistaken. As soon as we think in our own way, we are subject to error because we are imperfect and finite. Krsna precisely says that the soul is within the body, and if we accept this, we can immediately understand that the soul is different from the body. Krsna says that the owner of the body is the soul within the body, and immediately the false impression that one is the body, which is a fool's conclusion, should be eradicated. The light is there, but those who do not accept it prefer to live as fools and speculate.
Syamasundara dasa: It was Descartes's contention that the most perfect and highest emotion is intellectual love of God.
Srila Prabhupada: That is also confirmed in Bhagavad-gita. Krsna says that the jnani-bhakta, the intelligent bhakta, is very dear to Him.
tesam jnani nitya-yukta
priyo hi jnanino 'tyartham
aham sa ca mama priyah
"Of these, the wise one who is in full knowledge in union with Me through pure devotional service is the best. For I am very dear to him, and he is dear to Me." (Bg. 7.17) An unintelligent devotee may accept the principles today, and leave tomorrow. A person who accepts the Krsna conscious philosophy intelligently is very rare. We should not accept it by sentiment, but by intelligence.
Syamasundara dasa: For Descartes, real happiness arises from consciousness of perfection.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that consciousness is Krsna consciousness, the awareness that God is the supreme and that I am His eternal servant. This consciousness is happiness, and it is confirmed by Bhagavad-gita. When Dhruva Maharaja was offered all the riches in the world by Kuvera, the treasurer of the demigods, he said, "Please benedict me so that I may have unflinching faith in the lotus feet of Krsna." That is proper intelligence. Similarly, when Prahlada Maharaja was offered whatever he wanted by Lord Nrsimhadeva, he said, "What should I ask from You? My father was a great materialist, so great that the demigods were afraid of his anger, yet You have finished him in one second. What then is the value of this material power and opulence? Please engage me in the service of Your servants. That is all I want."
Syamasundara dasa: Descartes maintains that a man is virtuous insofar as his reason controls his passion.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, if one can control his passions somehow or other, he is freed from many troubles.
rasa-varjam raso 'py asya
param drstva nivartate
"The embodied soul may be restricted from sense enjoyment, though the taste for sense objects remains. But, ceasing such engagements by experiencing a higher taste, he is fixed in consciousness." (Bg. 2.59) People are suffering due to their passionate activities. Therefore there are many Vedic rules and regulations governing action. If we can subdue our passionate impulses, we can save ourselves a great deal of trouble. Due to passion, one becomes a drunkard, engages in illicit sex, gambles, and acts unreasonably. If one can check his passion by reason, he can save himself from the greatest danger.
Syamasundara dasa: Descartes had a great reverence for theology, the science of God, because he felt that it was an open road to heaven for everyone, the intelligent and unintelligent alike. For Descartes, theology is concerned with real truths that transcend human reason.
Srila Prabhupada: This means that we have to take the truth from the revealed scriptures. Every revealed scripture gives some hint of an understanding of God.
Syamasundara dasa: First of all, Descartes tried to find some basis for truth. Then he came to the proof of the existence of God. As far as philosophy is concerned, he maintained that it lacks certainty and that its tenets are always subject to dispute.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, we agree with that. It is said that a philosopher is not a philosopher unless he differs from other philosophers. If one is to be a great philosopher, he has to defy all his predecessors. Scientists also work in the same way. If we try to find out whose statement is true, we have a great deal of difficulty. Therefore the Vedic sastras enjoin that we follow the personalities who have realized God, and therefore we follow Prahlada Maharaja, Dhruva Maharaja, Vyasadeva, Lord Brahma, Lord Siva, Kapila-deva, the twelve mahajanas, and their followers, the followers of Brahma's disciplic succession, the Brahma-sampradaya, the Rudra-sampradaya, the Visnusvami-sampradaya, the Ramanuja-sampradaya, and so on. If we follow the acaryas in the disciplic succession, our path is clear.
Syamasundara dasa: Descartes felt that because science is based on philosophical principles which have no basis in themselves, science is not worthy of our cultivation. He condemns people for using scientific technology to make more money. He said, "I am resolved no longer to seek any science other than knowledge of myself."
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, but he had no guru.
Syamasundara dasa: No, he didn't accept a guru. He accepted only what he could know through self-realization, the innate truths that he discovered in himself by meditation. First, he came to the understanding that I am, and later he concluded that because I am, God is.
Srila Prabhupada: That is a nice conclusion.
Syamasundara dasa: He had an obsession for the need of absolute certainty because he felt that all the conclusions of the philosophers before him were dubious. He believed that every idea must be subjected to doubt until the truth or falsity can be ascertained, just as a mathematical formula can be ascertained. Every idea must be subjected to cross examination.
Srila Prabhupada: But when will these doubts be finished? Your standard of understanding self-evident truths may be different from mine. So what is the standard? He must give some standard.
Syamasundara dasa: When Descartes meditated on the first philosophy, he concluded, cogito ergo sum, "I think; therefore I exist." He felt that everything was subject to doubt with the exception of the act of doubting itself. Since doubting is a part of thinking, the act of thinking is an undeniable experience. Therefore he concluded that because I doubt, I think, and because I think, I exist.
Srila Prabhupada: That is a good argument. If I do not exist, how can I think? But is he condemning doubt or accepting doubt? What is his position?
Syamasundara dasa: He accepts doubt as the only real fact. Because I can doubt that my hand exists, it may be a hallucination, a dream. I can doubt that everything perceived exists because it may all be a dream, but the fact that I am doubting cannot be doubted.
Srila Prabhupada: So what is his conclusion? Should one stop doubting or continue doubting? If I doubt everything, I may come to the truth and then doubt the truth.
Syamasundara dasa: His point is that the truth cannot be doubted, but that to discover the truth, we have to doubt everything. When we come to the truth, the truth will be undoubtable.
Srila Prabhupada: But how do you come to the truth if your business is simply doubting? How will you ever stop doubting?
Syamasundara dasa: Well, I cannot doubt that I am, that I exist. That truth is undoubtable. So he proceeds from there to the fact that since I exist, God exists.
Srila Prabhupada: Then his point is that by doubting, we come to a point where there is no more doubt. That is good. Doubt in the beginning, then the truth as the conclusion. But in any case, that doubt must be resolved. I doubt because I am imperfect and because my knowledge is imperfect. So another question is how we can obtain perfection. As long as we are imperfect, there will be doubt.
Syamasundara dasa: He says that even though I am imperfect, there exists perfect knowledge, or a self-conscious awareness of perfect ideas within myself. Knowledge of the perfect is innate within me, and I can know it through meditation.
Srila Prabhupada: That is also acceptable.
Syamasundara dasa: Because I understand that I think, I can establish existence of my soul beyond all doubt.
Srila Prabhupada: Everyone thinks. Everyone is there, and everyone has a soul. There are countless souls, and this has to be accepted.
Syamasundara dasa: What about a blade of grass, for instance?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, it has a way of thinking. That has to be accepted. It is not that we have souls and that the grass has no soul, or that animals have no souls. Jagadish Candra Bose has proved by a machine that plants can feel and think. "I think, therefore I am" is a good proposition because everyone thinks and everyone exists. There are 8,400,000 species of living entities, and they are all thinking, and they all have individual souls.
Hayagriva dasa: There is a lot of conjecture in Descartes concerning the location of the soul. In his Meditations, he writes: "Although the soul is joined to the whole body, there is yet a certain part in which it exercises its functions more particularly than in all the others; and that is usually believed to be the brain, or possibly the heart; the brain, because it is with it that the organs of sense are connected, and the heart because it is apparently in it that we experience the passions." Descartes then goes on to conclude that the soul is situated in a small appendage of the brain called the pineal body.
Srila Prabhupada: This speculation means that he has no definite information. Therefore we have to accept God's instructions. In Bhagavad-gita, Krsna specifically states:
hrd-dese 'rjuna tisthati
"The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone's heart, O Arjuna." (Bg. 18.61) There are two kinds of isvaras, controllers. One is the individual living entity, the jiva, and the other is the Supreme Living Being, the Paramatma, or Supersoul. From the Vedas, we understand that both are sitting together within this body, which is compared to a tree. Both the Supersoul and the individual soul are living within the heart.
Hayagriva dasa: But at the same time, doesn't the soul pervade the whole body?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. That is also explained in Bhagavad-gita:
yatha prakasayaty ekah
krtsnam lokam imam ravih
ksetram ksetri tatha krtsnam
"O son of Bharata, as the sun alone illuminates all this universe, so does the living entity, one within the body, illuminate the entire body by consciousness." (Bg. 13.34) This is the illumination of the soul. It is like the sun, which is situated in one particular location, yet its illumination is spread everywhere. Similarly, although the soul is situated within the heart, his illumination is characterized by what we call consciousness. As soon as the soul leaves the heart, consciousness is immediately absent from the entire body. At one moment, there may be consciousness, and at the next moment there may be no consciousness at all. When there is no consciousness, one may hack the body to pieces, and no pain will be felt. This is because something is missing, and that something is the soul. When the soul is gone, consciousness is absent from the body. Both the individual soul and individual consciousness are immortal. Under the influence of maya, the illusory energy, our consciousness is absorbed in many material things: society, nationality, sex life, speculation, and so forth. Krsna consciousness means purifying the consciousness so that it will remain fixed only on Krsna.
Hayagriva dasa: Descartes writes: "I know that brutes do many things better than we do, but I am not surprised at it; for that also goes to prove that they act by force of nature. If they could think as we do, they would have an immortal soul as well as we. But this is not likely, because there is no reason for believing it of some animals without believing it of all, and there are many of them too imperfect to make it possible to believe it of them, such as oysters, sponges, etc."
Srila Prabhupada: First of all, living entities do not act by force of nature, but by force of God. Even in the heart of the brute, God is also present. God is within all, and He gives us instructions so that we can advance. When we attain the platform of human life, we have the alternative to refuse God's instructions. Lower life forms do not have the power to refuse.
Hayagriva dasa: You have just said that whatever grows has a soul, including the grass.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, in a dormant stage. For instance, a child has a soul, but it is not yet developed because the body is not yet developed. According to the body and circumstances, the soul acts.
Hayagriva dasa: Descartes equated the mind, the higher mental processes, with the soul. He believed in an incorporeal, immortal, human mind, which has been mysteriously injected somewhere into the body.
Srila Prabhupada: No, the mind is not the soul but an instrument through which the soul acts. The mind is rejecting and accepting according to the dictations of the soul. Although I walk with my legs, I do not consider myself to be my legs. Although I think with my mind, I am not my mind. Some philosophers identify the mind with the self, and this is a mistake. Intelligence is subtler than the mind, and the mind is subtler than the senses. The gross senses can be seen, but the center of the senses, the mind, cannot be seen. Therefore it is called subtle. The mind is guided by the intelligence, which is even subtler. The background of that intelligence is the soul. The mind is the instrument by which we think, but that instrument is not "I."
Hayagriva dasa: For Descartes, animals are mere machines that react. He felt that they have no souls or minds, and hence no consciousness at all, and the basis for this view is ratiocination, language. In other words, because they have no language, they simply act as machines.
Srila Prabhupada: They have languages, but you do not understand them.
Hayagriva dasa: Scientists claim to be able to communicate verbally with dolphins.
Srila Prabhupada: That may be, but Krsna was speaking with everyone, even with the birds. When one gopi went to the Yamuna to bathe, she was surprised to see that Krsna was speaking with the birds. Because Krsna is God, He can understand everyone's language. That is a qualification described in the Nectar of Devotion as vavaduka. When a human being can understand many languages, he is called a linguist. Another name for Krsna is vavaduka, which indicates that He can understand everyone's language, even the languages of the birds and bees. That is the potency of God.
Syamasundara dasa: Descartes considers five basic ideas to be inherent within every man, ideas which every man knows without having to verify. One is that God is innate to us as our own soul.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, this is because we are part and parcel of God. For instance, in the material world, everyone knows that he has a father. This is common knowledge.
Syamasundara dasa: Secondly, it is impossible for something to originate out of nothing; every effect must have a cause, and therefore there is a cause of everything.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, we have discussed this. That ultimate cause is Krsna. We do not accept the Mayavadi philosophy because they philosophize in a negative way to try to make the ultimate truth zero.
Syamasundara dasa: Thirdly, it is impossible for a thing to exist and not exist at the same time.
Srila Prabhupada: Who protests this? Who says that something can exist and not exist simultaneously? Who is he trying to refute?
Syamasundara dasa: He is not refuting anyone. He says that this is an innate idea that we know for certain without having to verify.
Srila Prabhupada: This body is a temporary manifestation, and this soul is always existing. Eventually, this body will not exist, but the owner of the body is eternal and existing eternally. If something is a temporary manifestation, we can say that it is simultaneously existing and not existing. On the material platform, everything is existing and not existing because it is temporary. For instance, we are existing in this room right now, but at the next moment we may not be existing. The whole cosmic manifestation is like that. As stated in Bhagavad-gita:
nasato vidyate bhavo
nabhavo vidyate satah
ubhayor api drsto 'ntas
tv anayos tattva-darsibhih
"Those who are seers of the truth have concluded that of the nonexistent there is no endurance, and of the existent there is no cessation. This they have concluded by studying the nature of both." (Bg. 2.16) Because the soul is never created, the soul never dies. Everything that is born must die.
Syamasundara dasa: Descartes's fourth innate idea is that whatever is done can never be undone.
Srila Prabhupada: Karma cannot be undone. However, it can change. In Bhagavad- gita, Krsna tells us to abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Him. If we do so, He will relieve us of all the reactions of karma. (Bg. 18.66) So in this sense it is not a fact that what is done cannot be undone.
Syamasundara dasa: Descartes is thinking in the realm of the physical. After I throw a ball, that ball can never be unthrown.
Srila Prabhupada: That is a child's knowledge, not a philosopher's. Direct perception is childish. A child believes so many things by direct perception. I remember that when I first saw a train in Calcutta, I thought that within the engine there must have been horses, otherwise the train could not have run. This kind of thinking is not really philosophy. Of course, it is a part of philosophy because all philosophers are nature's children. Therefore they think in that way.
Syamasundara dasa: Descartes's fifth principle is that we cannot be nonexistent as long as we are thinking.
Srila Prabhupada: We have already discussed this. Everyone thinks, and therefore everyone is a soul.
Syamasundara dasa: Descartes also gives two arguments for the existence of God. First, an innate idea of an infinite being necessitates the existence of that infinite being because a finite being could not possibly create such an idea. In other words, because I can think of the infinite, the infinite must exist. The infinite must have put that thought in my head.
Srila Prabhupada: There are many ways of thinking of the infinite. The voidists think of the infinite as zero, void. Descartes may be thinking in one way, but someone else may be thinking in another.
Syamasundara dasa: Descartes argues that because we can conceive of perfection, perfection must be there.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, but just because I am thinking of something does not mean that it exists. Everyone is thinking in his own way. Who will decide which way of thinking is correct? Who will judge? Therefore we ultimately have to accept the confirmation of authorities. If our thinking is confirmed by the authorities, it is all right; otherwise it cannot be accepted.
Syamasundara dasa: Descartes was thinking more in terms of mathematics. If we begin counting, we can conceive of numbers stretching to infinity. So the fact that one can think of infinity necessitates the infinite.
Srila Prabhupada: But the voidists are thinking that the infinite is zero. Some mathematicians calculate that infinity means zero.
Syamasundara dasa: Secondly, God is an absolutely perfect being, and perfection necessarily implies existence. Since God's existence is the same as His essence, He must exist.
Srila Prabhupada: That is our proposition. We say that Krsna is the sum total of all wealth, knowledge, fame, power, beauty, and renunciation. Because these opulences are attractive, and Krsna has them in full, Krsna is all-attractive. All these attractive qualities must be there in Krsna in totality. That is Parasara Muni's definition of God.
Syamasundara dasa: This is similar to Descartes's contention that perfect beauty and wisdom must exist somewhere because we can conceive of the fact.
Srila Prabhupada: Isvarah paramah krsnah (Brahma-samhita 5.1). No one is richer, more famous, wiser, more beautiful, or more powerful than Krsna. Krsna is the sum total of all qualities; therefore He is complete. Because we are part and parcel of the complete, we can think of the complete. Because I am the son of my father, I can think of my father. Similarly, Krsna is the Father of all living entities, and every living entity has the power to offer his respects to God. Unfortunately, the living entity is artificially educated by society not to obey God, and that is the cause of his suffering.
Syamasundara dasa: When Descartes inspects reality, he concludes that reality consists of substances. He defines substance as "a thing which exists in such a way as to stand in need of nothing beyond itself." He says that there is only one absolutely independent substance—God. All other substances are created by Him. There are also two types of substances—matter and spirit.
Srila Prabhupada: This is all described in Bhagavad-gita. The summum bonum substance is Krsna, and everything emanates from Him. All these emanations can be divided into two categories: inferior and superior. The inferior energy is matter, and the superior energy is spirit. Everything that we see or experience is a combination of the inferior and superior energies. Since these energies emanate from Krsna, Krsna is the origin of everything, the cause of all causes.
Syamasundara dasa: Descartes states that the chief attribute of this spirit or soul is consciousness.
Srila Prabhupada: That is so.
Syamasundara dasa: And the chief attribute of the body is extension. Both the body and mind are finite and depend upon God for their existence, whereas God is completely independent.
Srila Prabhupada: Jivera 'svarupa' haya—krsnera 'nitya-dasa' (Caitanya-caritamrta, Madh. 20.108). Therefore every living entity is the eternal servant of God, or Krsna. Since we all depend upon Krsna for our existence, it is our duty to please Him. That is the process of bhakti. In the material world, we see that we depend upon our employer for our salary. Therefore we always have to please him. Eko bahunam yo vidadhati kaman. (Katha Upanisad 2.2.13) God is providing everything for everyone. So why not please Him? Our only duty is to please Him, and that process is perfectly manifested in Vrndavana. It is in Vrndavana that everyone is trying to please Krsna, and because they are trying to please Him, they are happy. Krsna in turn is pleasing them.
jaya radha-madhava kunja-bihari
"Krsna is the lover of Radha. He displays many amorous pastimes in the groves of Vrndavana. He is the lover of the cowherd maidens of Vraja, the holder of the great hill named Govardhana, the beloved son of mother Yasoda, the delighter of the inhabitants of Vraja, and He wanders in the forests along the banks of the River Yamuna." (from Bhaktivinoda Thakura'sGitavali) Krsna engages in pleasing the gopijana, and the gopijana is engaged in pleasing Krsna. That is the perfect relationship. In a perfect family, the head of the family tries to please all the members by providing them with food, shelter, clothing, and everything else. Therefore he works hard to please them, and their duty is to please him. When the father comes home, the wife and sons try to please him, and that makes the perfect home. Similarly, God is the original creator, and we are all subordinates maintained by Him. Our only duty is to please Him, and if He is pleased, we will all remain pleased. If we pour water on the root of a tree, all the parts of the tree—the leaves and flowers and branches—are nourished. The process of bhakti-yoga is the process of pleasing the Lord. This is our only business, and as long as we take to some other business, we are in maya. We have no other business. The living entity who does not serve Krsna is in maya and is diseased, and the living entity who is constantly engaged in Krsna's service is liberated and situated in his constitutional position. If anyone within the creation is not cooperating with God or not satisfying the senses of the Lord, he is not in his normal condition. It is the function of this Krsna consciousness movement to engage everyone in Krsna's service and bring everyone to his normal condition. People are suffering because they are in an abnormal condition.
Syamasundara dasa: Descartes believed that God's truth is the basis for our knowledge of the truth, and that God is truth.
Srila Prabhupada: Since God is truth, everything is emanating from the truth. We are trying to employ everything in the service of the truth. Because God is truth, we do not say that the world is false. The Mayavadis claim that the world is false, but we say that it is temporary. For instance, this flower is the creation of God. It therefore cannot be false; it is truth. It should therefore be employed in the service of the truth, and that is our reason for offering it to Krsna. Suppose you work very hard to make something beautiful, and then you bring it to me, and I say, "Oh, it is all false." Will you be pleased with me? You will say, "What is this nonsense? I have travelled so far and have made such a beautiful thing, and he says it is false." Similarly, since God has created such a wonderful universe, why should we say that it is false? Our philosophy is that the universe is God's creation and therefore should be employed in God's service. For instance, we are using this tape recorder to record this conversation. It is being used for Krsna. We do not say, "Oh, it is false. It is material. We won't use it." That is the position of the Jains, who do not take advantage of these things. We say, rather, that we can use these devices, but not for our personal sense gratification. That is real vairagya, detachment.
Syamasundara dasa: Descartes maintains that we can know and understand truth because God is true. This is the basis for our knowledge. God's existence assures us that this external world is not a fiction.
Srila Prabhupada: This is what I was explaining. Because God is truth, His creation cannot be untrue. It is untrue when I see everything devoid of God. If I see this table as unrelated to God, it is untruth. However, when I see this table as a product of God's energy, I am seeing it in the proper way. In other words, I am seeing God. One who has no sense of God sees the table as a temporary creation, something produced by nature's law. He sees that it comes from zero, and that it will return to zero, and that ultimately it is zero, false. We do not say this. We do not say that Krsna is zero but that this table comes from Krsna's energy. Krsna's energy is not zero, and the table is not zero. Whatever is within our experience has some relationship with Krsna. The vision of that relationship is Krsna consciousness. Generally, people have no vision of Krsna. Their only vision is that of their family, their wife, their children, their this and their that. That is maya.
Syamasundara dasa: If people see nothing in relation to Krsna, how can they justify saying that it is all a dream, that it is unreal?
Srila Prabhupada: Because they cannot understand the beginning, they say that it is a temporary manifestation. People may say that this tree has come out of nothing and that when the tree dies, it will again become nothing. However, this tree has not come out of nothing, but from a seed, and Krsna says, aham bija-pradah pita. "I am the original seed of all existences." (Bg. 14.4) In a cinema, an image comes from a small hole, and we see it expanded on the screen. When the projector stops, the pictures on the screen cease to exist. People may say that these pictures come from nothing, but actually they are focused by the projector that projects the film, and behind that film there is an actual performance. Similarly, the material world is a perverted reflection of the spiritual world. That spiritual world is reality, not zero. When we see a photograph, we understand that it is an image of something actual. This material world is like something being played on a screen. Therefore the Mayavadi philosophers say that it is false. In one sense, it is false, in that the show is not an actual performance. But it is a reflection of the original play under a different process. Because the original play is not within our vision, we are thinking that the projection on the screen has come from zero. However, one who knows things as they are knows that the projection has come from reality, even though it is temporary and not permanently existing. In other words, the reality is the basis of what is being shown. When we see this, there is no question of anything being false.
Syamasundara dasa: Descartes sees matter operating like a machine under mechanical laws. The sum total of all motion in the world is always constant; it neither increases nor decreases. However, he claims that the soul is unaffected by mechanical causes and is therefore immortal.
Srila Prabhupada: Yet somehow or other he has been put into this mechanical process.
Syamasundara dasa: Yes, and this was Descartes's problem. He could not understand how spirit and matter interact, how the nondimensional, nonextended spirit can have a three dimensional body.
Srila Prabhupada: When you are on the land and fall into the water, your struggle begins. This means that on land you are safe, but somehow or other you have fallen into this material struggle. Spirit is spirit, and matter is matter, but now they have come in contact with one another. We have caused this contact because we have misused our independence. A boy may stand firmly beside the water, but if he wants to enjoy the water, he may fall in. If he cannot manage to swim, he is lost. This is our position. The spirit soul has a spiritual body, but he accepts a foreign body. The spirit soul has a body, and his business is to enjoy life, but because he falls within the jurisdiction of matter, he cannot enjoy his labor. As long as he is within water, there is no possibility of happiness.
Syamasundara dasa: Does the spiritual body have dimensions? Does it exist in space?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, it has dimensions. It has length, breadth, and everything. Otherwise, how can we say that it is one ten-thousandth of the tip of a hair? In other words, there is measurement, but that measurement is beyond our imagination. The soul is something different. It is inconceivable. If the spirit soul has no body, how can the material body develop? A material body is like a coat molded in the form of the spiritual body. You cannot make a dress without measuring the body.
Syamasundara dasa: Then the spiritual body is very small?
Srila Prabhupada: You cannot imagine it. Because the materialists cannot see or measure the spiritual body, they say that it does not exist.
Syamasundara dasa: Descartes says that the soul exists, but not that it occupies space.
Srila Prabhupada: This means that his conception of space is limited. The material body is a body that has a beginning and an end. Your coat is made at a certain date. The spiritual body is changing dress from one material body to another, just as you change your clothes.
Syamasundara dasa: After the soul has fallen into matter, can it be delivered through proper knowledge?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is the purpose of this Krsna consciousness movement. Even if a person is an expert swimmer, how long can he swim? He will eventually succumb because he is in a fallen condition. However, if one is elevated just one inch above the water, he is immediately safe. The water may remain in its position, but he is transcendental to it. This transcendental position is Krsna consciousness.
Syamasundara dasa: In other words, the spirit soul can rise above matter, above the water.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, just like a flying fish. This fish may swim within the water, but suddenly he may fly over it. As soon as you become Krsna conscious, you can fly over the water of material existence. Then you can gradually come to land.
Syamasundara dasa: If the spirit is unlimited and has unlimited power, how does it fall within matter?
Srila Prabhupada: It does not have unlimited power. Its power is so great that in the material sense it is unlimited, but actually it is not unlimited.
Syamasundara dasa: How is it able to be confined by something as limited as a body?
Srila Prabhupada: I have already explained this. It is like falling into the water. As spirit soul, we have nothing to do with this material body, but somehow or other we have come in contact with it. There is a cause, but instead of finding out this cause, we should realize that we are in a dangerous position.
Syamasundara dasa: But if the spirit has great power, and the body has limited power, how is it that this limited power is able to hold onto the great power, to capture it and keep it?
Srila Prabhupada: The material energy is Krsna's energy, and each and every energy of Krsna is as great as Krsna. Therefore Krsna says in Bhagavad- gita:
daivi hy esa gunamayi
mama maya duratyaya
mam eva ye prapadyante
mayam etam taranti te
"This divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it." (Bg. 7.14)
Syamasundara dasa: In other words, it is sometimes stronger than the spiritual energy?
Srila Prabhupada: When you come in contact with the material energy without a specific purpose, it is stronger. Krsna's representative comes into the material energy in order to preach. Although he is within the material energy, he is not under its control. But if you come in contact with material energy without serving Krsna's purpose, you suffer. For instance, in a jail there are many superintendents and government officials. There are also prisoners. However, their conditions differ. We cannot say that because they are all in jail that they are all suffering in the same way. The superintendent is there because he is serving the government's purpose. Therefore he is not subject to the laws of the jail. When you are in the service of Krsna, you are no longer under the laws of maya. You are liberated.
Syamasundara dasa: So the prisoners who have forgotten their real service have been weakened?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, because they have disobeyed and have forgotten their subordinate position. They want to be independent of the state, and therefore they have been put into jail.
Syamasundara dasa: Then for them, the material energy is stronger.Srila Prabhupada:
Yes. It is stronger for them. Those who are conditioned and are serving the material energy cannot escape through their own endeavor. They are dependent on the mercy of Krsna and His representatives.