S ocrates was a classical Greek (Athenian) philosopher credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy. He is an enigmatic figure known chiefly through the accounts of classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon and the plays of his contemporary Aristophanes. Plato's dialogues are among the most comprehensive accounts of Socrates to survive from antiquity, though it is unclear the degree to which Socrates himself is "hidden behind his 'best disciple', Plato".
Hayagriva dasa: When a student of Socrates once said, "I cannot refute you, Socrates," Socrates replied, "Say, rather, that you cannot refute the truth, for Socrates is easily refuted." He thus considered the Absolute Truth transcendental to mental speculation and personal opinion.
Srila Prabhupada: That is correct. If we accept Krsna, God, as the supreme authority, the Absolute Truth, we cannot refute what He says. Krsna, or God, is by definition supreme perfection, and philosophy is perfect when it is in harmony with Him. This is our position. The philosophy of this Krsna consciousness movement is religious because it is concerned with carrying out the orders of God. That is the sum and substance of religion. It is not possible to manufacture a religion. In Bhagavad-gita andSrimad-Bhagavatam, manufactured religion is called dharma-kaitava, just another form of cheating. Our basic principle is given in Srimad-Bhagavatam:
dharmam tu saksad bhagavat-pranitam
na vai vidur rsayo napi devah
na siddha-mukhya asura manusyah
kuto nu vidyadhara-caranadayah
“Real religious principles are enacted by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Although fully situated in the mode of goodness, even the great rsis who occupy the topmost planets cannot ascertain the real religious principles, nor can the demigods, nor the leaders of Siddha-loka, to say nothing of the asuras, ordinary human beings, Vidyadharas and Caranas." (Bhag. 6.3.19) The word "dharma" refers to the orders given by God, and if we follow those orders, we are following dharma. An individual citizen cannot manufacture laws, because laws are given by the government. Our perfection is in following the orders of God cent per cent. Those who have no conception of God or His orders may manufacture religious systems, but our system is different.
Syamasundara dasa: It seems that Socrates was more or less a dhyana-yogi because he thought that we could arrive at the truth by approaching a subject from every mental angle until there was nothing left but the truth.
Srila Prabhupada: He was a muni, a great thinker. However, the real truth comes to such a muni by that process after many, many births. As stated in Bhagavad-gita:
bahunam janmanam ante
jnanavan mam prapadyate
vasudevah sarvam iti
"After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare." (Bg. 7.19)
These people are known as jnanavan, wise men, and after many births, they surrender themselves to Krsna. They do not do so blindly, but knowing that the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the source of everything. However, this process of self-searching for knowledge takes time. If we take the instructions of Krsna directly and surrender unto Him, we save time and many, many births.
Syamasundara dasa: Socrates believed that the soul, which is tied up with intelligence, carries knowledge from existence to existence. The truth can be evoked through the maieutic method, the Socratic dialectic. Since someone can make us understand the truth and admit it, we must have known the truth in a previous existence. Thus our intelligence is eternal.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, because the soul is eternal, the intelligence, mind, and senses are also eternal. However, they are all now covered by a material coating, which must be cleansed. Once this material coating is washed away, the real mind, intelligence, and senses will emerge. That is stated in the Narada-pancaratra: tat paratvena nirmalam. The purificatory process necessitates being in touch with the transcendental loving service of the Lord. This means chanting the Hare Krsnamaha-mantra. Caitanya Mahaprabhu said: ceto-darpana-marjanam (Siksastaka 1). "We must cleanse the heart." All misconceptions come from misunderstanding. We are all part and parcel of God, yet somehow or other we have forgotten this. Previously, our service was rendered to God, but now we are rendering service to something illusory. This is maya. Whether liberated or conditioned, our constitutional position is to render service. In the material world, we work according to our different capacities—as a politician, an industrialist, a thinker, a poet, or whatever. But if we are not connected with Krsna, all of this is maya. When we perform our duty in order to develop Krsna consciousness, our very same duty enables liberation from this bondage. In any case, both life and knowledge are continuous. Consequently, one person can acquire knowledge very quickly, whereas another cannot. This is proof of continuity.
Syamasundara dasa: In a dialogue with Socrates, Protagoras said, "Truth is relative. It is only a matter of opinion." Socrates then asked, "Do you mean that truth is mere subjective opinion?" Protagoras replied, "Exactly. What is true for you is true for you, and what is true for me is true for me. Thus truth is subjective." Socrates then asked, "Do you really mean that my opinion is true by virtue of its being my opinion?" Protagoras said, "Indeed I do." Socrates then said, "My opinion is that truth is absolute, not subjective, and that you, Protagoras, are absolutely in error. Since this is my opinion, you must grant that it is true according to your philosophy." Protagoras then admitted, "You are quite correct, Socrates." Through this kind of dialogue, or dialectic, Socrates would logically convince many people.
Srila Prabhupada: That is what we are also doing. The Absolute Truth is true for everyone, and the relative truth is relative to a particular position. The relative truth depends on the Absolute Truth, which is the summum bonum. God is the Absolute Truth, and the material world is relative truth. Because the material world is God's energy, it appears to be real or true, just as the reflection of the sun in water emits some light. That reflection is not absolute, and as soon as the sun sets, that light will disappear. Since relative truth is a reflection of the Absolute Truth, Srimad-Bhagavatam states: satyam param dhimahi, "I worship the Absolute Truth." (Bhag. 1.1.1) The Absolute Truth is Krsna, Vasudeva. Om namo bhagavate vasudevaya. This cosmic manifestation is relative truth; it is a manifestation of Krsna's external energy. If Krsna withdrew His energy, the universal creation would not exist. In another sense, Krsna and Krsna's energy are not different. We cannot separate heat from fire; heat is also fire, yet heat is not fire. This is the position of relative truth. As soon as we experience heat, we understand that there is fire. Yet we cannot say that heat is fire. Relative truth is like heat because it stands on the strength of the Absolute Truth, just as heat stands on the strength of fire. Because the Absolute is true, relative truth also appears to be true, although it has no independent existence. A mirage appears to be water because in actuality there is such a thing as water. Similarly, this material world appears attractive because there is an all-attractive spiritual world.
Hayagriva dasa: According to Socrates, the real pursuit of man is the search for the Absolute Good. Basically, Socrates is an impersonalist because he does not ultimately define this Absolute Good as a person, nor does he give it a personal name.
Srila Prabhupada: That is the preliminary stage of understanding the Absolute, known as Brahman realization, realization of the impersonal feature. When one is further advanced, he attains Paramatma realization, realization of the localized feature, whereby he realizes that God is everywhere. It is a fact that God is everywhere, but at the same time God has His own abode. Goloka eva nivasaty akhilatma-bhutah (Brahma-samhita 5.37). God is a person, and He has His own abode and associates. Although He is in His abode, He is present everywhere, within every atom. Andantara-stha-paramanu-cayantara-stham (Brahma-samhita 5.35). Like other impersonalists, Socrates cannot understand how God, through His potency, can remain in His own abode and simultaneously be present in every atom. The material world is His expansion, His energy.
bhumir apo 'nalo vayuh
kham mano buddhir eva ca
ahankara itiyam me
bhinna prakrtir astadha
"Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence, and false ego—all together these eight constitute My separated material energies." ( Bg. 7.4) Because His energy is expanded everywhere, He can be present everywhere. Although the energy and the energetic are nondifferent, we cannot say that they are not distinct. They are simultaneously one and different. This is the perfect philosophy of acintya-bhedabheda-tattva.
Hayagriva dasa: The Good of which Socrates speaks is different from sattva- guna. In The Republic, Socrates says that it is the Good which gives truth to the objects of knowledge and the very power of knowing to him who knows them. He speaks of the Form of essential goodness as the cause of knowledge and truth. Although we may consider the Good to be an object of knowledge, it would be better if we regarded it as being beyond truth and knowledge and of higher value. Both knowledge and truth are therefore to be regarded as like unto the Good, but it is incorrect to identify either with the Good. He believes that the Good must hold a higher place of honor. Objects of knowledge derive their very being and reality from the Good, which is beyond being itself and surpasses it in dignity and power.
Srila Prabhupada: Sattva -guna, the mode of goodness, is a position from which we can receive knowledge. Knowledge cannot be received from the platform of passion and ignorance. If we hear about Krsna, or God, we are gradually freed from the clutches of darkness and passion. Then we can come to the platform of sattva-guna, and when we are perfectly situated there, we are beyond the lower modes. Srimad-Bhagavatam says:
bhaktir bhavati naisthiki
kama-lobhadayas ca ye
ceta etair anaviddham
sthitam sattve prasidati
"By regularly hearing the Bhagavatam and rendering service unto the pure devotee, all that is troublesome to the heart is practically destroyed, and loving service unto the glorious Lord, who is praised with transcendental songs, is established as an irrevocable fact. At the time loving service is established in the heart, the modes of passion (rajas), and ignorance (tamas), and lust and desire ( kama), disappear from the heart. Then the devotee is established in goodness, and he becomes happy." (Bhag. 1.2.18-19)
This process may be gradual, but it is certain. The more we hear about Krsna, the more we become purified. Purification means freedom from the attacks of greed and passion. Then we can become happy. From the brahma-bhuta platform, we can realize ourselves and then realize God. So before realizing the Supreme Good, we must first come to the platform of sattva-guna, goodness. Therefore we have regulations prohibiting illicit sex, meat eating, intoxication, and gambling. Ultimately, we must transcend even the mode of goodness through bhakti. Then we become liberated, gradually develop love of God, and regain our original state.
atmanah saha saktibhih
muktir hitvanyatha rupam
"When the living entity, along with his conditional living tendency, merges with the mystic lying down of the Maha-visnu, it is called the winding up of the cosmic manifestation. Liberation is the permanent situation of the form of the living entity after giving up the changeable material gross and subtle bodies." (Bhag. 2.10.6) This means giving up all material engagements and rendering full service to Krsna. Then we attain the state where maya cannot touch us. If we keep in touch with Krsna, maya has no jurisdiction.
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) This is perfection.
Hayagriva dasa: Socrates taught a process of liberation comparable to that of dhyana-yoga. For him, liberation meant freedom from passion, and he approved the saying gnothi seauton—"Know thyself." By knowing ourselves through meditation, or insight, we can gain self-control, and by being self-controlled, we can attain happiness.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is a fact. Meditation means analyzing the self and searching for the Absolute Truth. That is described in the Vedic literatures:dhyanavasthita-tad-gatena manasa pasyanti yam yoginah ( Bhag. 12.13.1). Through meditation, the yogi sees the Supreme Truth (Krsna, or God) within himself. Krsna is there. The yogi consults with Krsna, and Krsna advises him. That is the relationship Krsna has with the yogi. Buddhi-yogam dadamyaham. When one is purified, he is always seeing Krsna within himself. This is confirmed in Brahma-samhita:
santah sadaiva hrdayesu vilokayanti
govindam adi-purusam tam aham bhajami
"I worship the primeval Lord, Govinda, who is always seen by the devotee whose eyes are anointed with the pulp of love. He is seen in His eternal form of Syamasundara situated within the heart of the devotee." ( Brahma-samhita 5.38) Thus an advanced saintly person is always seeing Krsna. In this verse, the word syama means "blackish," but at the same time extraordinarily beautiful. The word acintya means that He has unlimited qualities. Although He is situated everywhere, as Govinda He is always dancing in Vrndavana with the gopis. In Vrndavana, Krsna plays with His friends, and sometimes, acting as a naughty boy, teases His mother. These pastimes of the Supreme Person are described in Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Syamasundara dasa: As far as we know, Socrates was a self-taught man. Is it possible for a person to be self-taught? That is, can self-knowledge be attained through meditation, or introspection?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Ordinarily, everyone thinks according to the bodily conception. If I begin to study the different parts of my body and seriously begin to consider what I am, I will gradually arrive at the study of the soul. If I ask myself, "Am I this hand?" the answer will be, "No, I am not this hand. Rather, this is my hand." I can thus continue analyzing each part of the body and discover that all the parts are mine but that I am different. Through this method of self-study, any intelligent man can see that he is not the body. This is the first lesson of Bhagavad- gita:
dehino 'smin yatha dehe
kaumaram yauvanam jara
dhiras tatra na muhyati
"As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change." (Bg. 2.13)
At one time I had the body of a child, but now that body is no longer existing. Still, I am aware that I possessed such a body; therefore from this I can deduce that I am something other than the body. I may rent an apartment, but I do not identify with it. The body may be mine, but I am not the body. By this kind of introspection, a man can teach himself the distinction between the body and the soul.
As far as being completely self-taught—according to Bhagavad- gita and the Vedic conception, life is continuous. Since we are always acquiring experience, we cannot say that Socrates was self-taught. Rather, in his previous lives he cultivated knowledge, and this knowledge is continuing. That is a fact. Otherwise, why is one man intelligent and another man ignorant? This is due to continuity.
Hayagriva dasa: Socrates believed that through meditation, a person can attain knowledge, and through knowledge he can become virtuous. When he is virtuous, he acts in the right way, and by so doing, becomes happy. Therefore the enlightened man is meditative, knowledgeable, and virtuous. He is also happy because he acts properly.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is confirmed in Bhagavad-gita:
na socati na kanksati
samah sarvesu bhutesu
mad-bhaktim labhate param
"One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman. He never laments nor desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me." (Bg. 18.54) When one is self-realized, he immediately becomes happy, joyful (prasannatma). This is because he is properly situated. A person may labor a long time under some mistaken idea, but when he finally comes to the proper conclusion, he becomes very happy. He thinks, "Oh, what a fool I was, going on so long in such a mistaken way." Thus a self-realized person is happy. Happiness means that you no longer have to think of attaining things. For instance, Dhruva Maharaja told the Lord: Svamin krtartho 'smi. "I don't want any material benediction." Prahlada Maharaja also said, "My Lord, I don't want any material benefits. I have seen my father, who was such a big materialist that even the demigods were afraid of him, destroyed by You within a second. Therefore I am not after these things." Real knowledge means that you no longer hanker. The karmis, jnanis, and yogis are all hankering after something. The karmis want material wealth, beautiful women and good positions. If one is not hankering for what one does not have, he is lamenting for what he has lost. The jnanis are also hankering, expecting to become one with God and merge into His existence. The yogis are hankering after some magical powers to befool others into thinking that they have become God. In India, some yogis convince people that they can manufacture gold and fly in the sky, and foolish people believe them. Even if a yogi can fly, there are many birds flying. What is the difference? An intelligent person can understand this. If a person says that he can walk on water, thousands of fools will come to see him. People will even pay ten rupees just to see a man bark like a dog, not thinking that there are many dogs barking anyway. In any case, people are always hankering and lamenting, but the devotee is fully satisfied in the service of the Lord. The devotee doesn't hanker for anything, nor does he lament.
Hayagriva dasa: Through jnana, the path of meditation, it seems that Socrates realized Brahman. Could he also have realized Paramatma?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Hayagriva dasa: But what of the realization of Bhagavan, Krsna? I thought that Krsna can be realized only through bhakti.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, no one can enter into Krsna's abode without being a purified bhakta. That is stated in Bhagavad-gita:
bhaktya mam abhijanati
yavan yas casmi tattvatah
tato mam tattvato jnatva
"One can understand the Supreme Personality as He is only by devotional service. And when one is in full consciousness of the Supreme Lord by such devotion, he can enter into the kingdom of God." (Bg. 18.55) Krsna never says that He can be understood by jnana, karma, or yoga. The personal abode of Krsna is especially reserved for the bhaktas, and the jnanis, yogis, and karmis cannot go there.
Syamasundara dasa: When you say that Krsna consciousness is the ultimate goal of life, does this mean always being conscious of Krsna?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, we should always be thinking of Krsna. We should act in such a way that we have to think of Krsna all the time. For instance, we are discussing the philosophy of Socrates in order to strengthen our Krsna consciousness. Therefore the ultimate goal is Krsna. Otherwise, we are not interested in criticizing or accepting anyone's philosophy. We are neutral.
Syamasundara dasa: So the proper use of intelligence is to guide everything in such a way that we become Krsna conscious?
Srila Prabhupada: That is it. Without Krsna consciousness, we remain on the mental platform. Being on the mental platform means hovering. On that platform, we are not fixed. It is the business of the mind to accept this and reject that, but when we are fixed in Krsna consciousness, we are no longer subjected to the mind's accepting and rejecting.
Syamasundara dasa: Right conduct then becomes automatic?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. As soon as the mind wanders, we should immediately drag it back to concentrate on Krsna. While chanting, our mind sometimes wanders far away, but when we become conscious of this, we should immediately bring the mind back to hear the sound vibration of Hare Krsna. That is called yoga-abhyas, the practice of yoga. We should not allow the mind to wander elsewhere. We should simply chant and hear. That is the best yoga system.
Hayagriva dasa: In addition to believing in the value of insight, or meditation, Socrates also believed that knowledge can be imparted from one person to another. He therefore asserted the importance of a guru, which he himself was for many people. Sometimes, posing as an ignorant person, Socrates would question his disciples. He would not offer the answers but would try to draw them out of his disciples, a process known as the maieutic method. He considered himself to be a kind of midwife drawing the truth from the repository of the soul.
Srila Prabhupada: This is similar to our method because we say that you must approach a guru in order to learn the truth. This is the instruction given in all the Vedic scriptures. In Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krsna Himself advises:
tad viddhi pranipatena
upadeksyanti te jnanam
"Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth." ( Bg. 4.34) A guru who knows the truth is one who has seen the truth. People say, "Can you show me God?" It is a natural tendency to want to know something by direct perception. This is possible by advanced devotion. As I have already explained: santah sadaiva hrdayesu vilokayanti. The realized devotee is constantly seeing the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Syamasundara. You can constantly see the Supreme Lord as Paramatma sitting within your heart, and you can take advice from Him. Krsna also confirms this: buddhi-yogam dadamyaham. Yoga means concentrating the mind in order to see the Supersoul within. Therefore you have to control the activities of the senses and withdraw them from material engagement. When your concentration is perfect, when your mind is focused on Paramatma, you always see Him. In Bhagavad-gita, Krsna says:
yoginam api sarvesam
sraddhavan bhajate yo mam
sa me yuktatamo matah
“And of all yogis, he who always abides in Me with great faith, worshiping Me in transcendental loving service, is most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all." (Bg. 6.47) The perfect yogi sees God constantly within. That is perfection. The process that Socrates used gave his disciples a good chance to develop their understanding. When a parent raises his child, he first of all takes his hand and teaches him how to walk. Sometimes he gives the child freedom to walk on his own, although he may sometimes fall down. The father then encourages the child, saying, "Ah, you are doing very nicely. Stand up again and walk." Similarly, the guru gives his disciple the chance to think properly in order to go back home, back to Godhead. Sometimes, when a person comes to argue, the guru says, "All right, what do you consider important?" In this way, the person's position is understood. An expert teacher knows how to capture a fool. First, let the fool go on and speak all sorts of nonsense. Then he can understand where he is having difficulty. That is also a process.
Syamasundara dasa: Socrates recommended good association because if one is to develop good qualities, he must associate with those who are virtuous and similarly interested.
Srila Prabhupada: That is very valuable. Without good association, we cannot develop Krsna consciousness. Narottama Dasa Thakura sings: Tadera carana-sebi-bhakta-sane bas janame janame hoy ei abhilas. "My dear Lord, please allow me to live with those devotees who serve the lotus feet of the six Gosvamis. This is my desire, life after life." ( Nama-sankirtana 7) The aim of this Krsna consciousness movement is to create a society in which devotees can associate with one another.
Hayagriva dasa: It has been said that Socrates's philosophy is primarily a philosophy of ethics, pointing to the way of action in the world. Jnana, or knowledge in itself, is not sufficient. It must be applied, and must serve as a basis for activity.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, ethics form the basic principle of purification. We cannot be purified unless we know what is moral and what is immoral. Unfortunately, everything in this material world is more or less immoral, but we still have to distinguish between good and bad. Therefore we have regulative principles. By following them, we can come to the spiritual platform and transcend the influence of the three modes of material nature. Passion is the binding force in the material world. In a prison, prisoners are sometimes shackled, and similarly, material nature provides the shackles of sex life to bind us to this material world. This is the mode of rajas, passion. In Bhagavad-gita, Krsna says:
kama esa krodha esa
viddhy enam iha vairinam
"It is lust only, Arjuna, which is born of contact with the material mode of passion and later transformed into wrath, and which is the all-devouring sinful enemy of this world." (Bg. 3.37) Rajo- guna, the mode of passion, includes kama, lusty desires. When our lusty desires are not fulfilled, we become angry (krodha ). All this binds us to the material world. As stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam:
kama-lobhadayas ca ye
ceta etair anaviddham
sthitam sattve prasidati
"As soon as irrevocable loving service is established in the heart, the effects of nature's modes of passion and ignorance, such as lust, desire, and hankering, disappear from the heart. Then the devotee is established in goodness, and he becomes completely happy." (Bhag. 1.2.19) When we are subjected to the lower material modes (rajo-guna and tamo-guna), we become greedy and lusty. Ethics provide a way to escape the clutches of greed and lust. Then we can come to the platform of goodness and from there attain the spiritual platform.
Hayagriva dasa: Is meditation in itself sufficient to transcend these lower modes?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. If we seek the Supersoul within, our meditation is perfect. But if we manufacture something in the name of transcendental meditation in order to bluff others, it is useless.
Syamasundara dasa: Socrates believed that ignorance results in bad actions, and that the knowledgeable man will automatically act properly.
Srila Prabhupada: When an ignorant child touches fire and is burned, he cries. His distress is due to ignorance. An intelligent person will not touch fire because he knows its properties. Thus ignorance is the cause of bondage and suffering. It is due to ignorance that people commit many sinful activities and become entangled.
Syamasundara dasa: Does this mean that when people are enlightened with proper knowledge, they will automatically become good?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. It is stated in Bhagavad-gita:
yathaidhamsi samiddho 'gnir
bhasmasat kurute 'rjuna
bhasmasat kurute tatha
"As the blazing fire turns firewood to ashes, O Arjuna, so does the fire of knowledge burn to ashes all reactions to material activities." ( Bg. 4.37) The fire of knowledge consumes all sinful activities. To this end, there is need for education. People are born ignorant, and education is needed to remove their ignorance. Since they are born illusioned by the bodily conception, people act like animals. They therefore have to be educated to understand that they are different from the material body.
Syamasundara dasa: Why is it that some people who receive this knowledge later reject it?
Srila Prabhupada: Then it is not perfect knowledge. When one actually receives perfect knowledge, he becomes good. This is a fact. If one is not good, it is because he has not received perfect knowledge.
Syamasundara dasa: Is there not a class of men that is always evil?
Srila Prabhupada: No.
Syamasundara dasa: Can any man be made good?
Srila Prabhupada: Certainly, because the soul is by nature good. The living entity is covered by the inferior modes of material nature, by passion and ignorance. When he is cleansed of this covering, his goodness will emerge. The soul is originally good because it is part and parcel of God, and God is all good. That which is part and parcel of gold is also gold. Although the soul is covered by matter, the soul is all good. When a sharpened knife is covered by rust, it loses its sharpness. If we remove the rust, the knife will once again be sharp.
Syamasundara dasa: Does the existence of evil in the world mean that there is absolute evil?
Srila Prabhupada: Absolute evil means forgetfulness of the Absolute Truth. Krsna is the Absolute Truth, and lack of Krsna consciousness is absolute evil. In terms of the absolute evil, we may say that this is good and that is bad, but all this is mental concoction.
Syamasundara dasa: Generally speaking, Socrates was more concerned with God as a moral reality than as a personal conception.
Srila Prabhupada: Moral reality is necessarily personal. If a man is moral, we say that he is honest. If he follows no moral principles, we say that he is dishonest. Thus morality and immorality refer to a person. How can we deny personal morality?
Syamasundara dasa: Then if God is pure morality, He must be a person.
Srila Prabhupada: Certainly. All good. God is good, and this means that He is full of morality.
Syamasundara dasa: Socrates taught that good deeds bring happiness and that to perform them is the real goal of life.
Srila Prabhupada: That is the law of karma. If I work hard in this life, I earn money. If I study hard, I acquire an education. However, if I neither work nor study, I remain poor and uneducated. This is the law of karma. According to the Vedic varnasrama-dharma, society is divided into four castes: brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya, and sudra. Each caste has its particular duty, but that duty is connected to God's service. In other words, everyone can satisfy the Supreme Lord by performing his duty. By walking, the legs perform their duty, and by touching or holding, the hands perform their duty. Every part of the body performs a duty alotted to it. Similarly, we are all part and parcel of God, and if we do our duty, we are serving God. This is the system ofvarnasrama-dharma. Krsna Himself says in Bhagavad-gita:
catur-varnyam maya srstam
"According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me." ( Bg. 4.13)
It is further stated:
yatah pravrttir bhutanam
yena sarvam idamtatam
svakarmana tam abhyarcya
siddhim vindati manavah
"By worship of the Lord, who is the source of all beings and who is all-pervading, man can, in the performance of his own duty, attain perfection." (Bg. 18.46) Thus the respective duties of the brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya, or sudra can be dovetailed to the service of the Lord, and by doing so, any man can attain perfection.
Syamasundara dasa: Is moral improvement the highest goal of mankind, or is there something higher?
Srila Prabhupada: First of all, we must understand what morality is. Morality means discharging our prescribed duties without hindering others in the execution of their duties. That is morality.
Syamasundara dasa: What do you consider the shortcomings of a philosophy devoted to moral improvement and knowing oneself through pure reason alone?
Srila Prabhupada: Knowing oneself through pure reason alone will take time. Of course, in European philosophy, there is an attempt at more independent thought, but such independent thinking is not approved by the followers of the Vedas. The Vedic followers receive knowledge directly from authorities. They do not speculate. We cannot attain knowledge through speculation because everyone is imperfect. A person may be proud of seeing, but he does not know that his eyesight is conditioned. Unless there is sunlight, he cannot see. Therefore, what is the intrinsic value of eyesight? We should not be very proud of seeing or thinking because our senses are imperfect. We therefore have to receive knowledge from the perfect. In this way, we save time.
According to the Vedic system, we receive knowledge from Vyasadeva, Narada, and Sri Krsna Himself. This knowledge is perfect because these personalities are not subjected to the four defects of conditioned living entities. The conditioned living entity has a tendency to commit mistakes, to be illusioned, to have imperfect senses, and to cheat. These are the four imperfections of conditional life. We therefore have to receive knowledge from those who are liberated. This is the Vedic process. If we receive knowledge from Krsna, there cannot be any mistake, nor any question of illusion. Our senses may be imperfect, but Krsna's senses are perfect; therefore whatever Krsna says, we accept, and that acceptance is our perfection. A person may search for years to find out who his father is, but the immediate answer is available through his mother. The best way to solve this problem is by directly asking the mother. Similarly, all knowledge received from the perfect liberated person or from the mother Vedas is perfect.
Syamasundara dasa: Socrates's emphasis was on humanity and ethical action. He said that our lives should be composed of good deeds because we can attain the highest perfection by being virtuous.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, to do good work is also recommended in Srimad-Bhagavatam. It is possible to go home, back to Godhead, if we always work for the benefit of others. This Krsna consciousness movement means benefitting others twenty-four hours a day. People are lacking knowledge of God, and we are preaching this knowledge. This is the highest humanitarian work: to elevate the ignorant to the platform of knowledge.
Syamasundara dasa: But wouldn't you say that there is something more than moral improvement? Isn't that just a by-product of something else?
Srila Prab hupada: Yes, real improvement is realizing God and our relationship with Him. In order to come to this platform, morality or purity is required. God is pure, and unless we are also pure, we cannot approach God. Therefore we are prohibiting meat eating, illicit sex, intoxication, and gambling. These are immoral habits that are always keeping us impure. Unless we abandon these impure habits, we cannot progress in Krsna consciousness.
Syamasundara dasa: Then morality is just a qualification for becoming God conscious, isn't it?
Srila Prabhupada: If we take to Krsna consciousness, we automatically become moral. On the one hand, we have to observe the regulative moral principles, and on the other hand we have to develop our tendency to serve Krsna more and more. By serving Krsna, we become moral. However, if we try to be moral without serving Krsna, we will fail. Therefore so-called followers of morality are always frustrated. The goal is transcendental to human morality. We have to come to the platform of Krsna consciousness in order to be truly moral. According to Srimad-Bhagavatam:
yasyasti bhaktir bhagavaty akincana
sarvair gunais tatra samasate surah
harav abhaktasya kuto mahad-guna
manorathenasati dhavato bahih
"All the demigods and their exalted qualities, such as religion, knowledge, and renunciation, become manifest in the body of one who has developed unalloyed devotion for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vasudeva. On the other hand, a person devoid of devotional service and engaged in material activities has no good qualities. Even if he is adept at the practice of mystic yoga or the honest endeavor of maintaining his family and relatives, he must be driven by his own mental speculations and must engage in the service of the Lord's external energy. How can there be any good qualities in such a man?" (Bhag. 5.18.12)
The conclusion is that we cannot be moral without being devotees. We may artificially try to be moral, but ultimately we will fail.
Syamasundara dasa: By virtue of his intelligence, Socrates could keep his passions controlled, but most people do not have such intellectual strength. They are not able to control themselves rationally and act properly. How does Krsna consciousness help in this endeavor?
Srila Prabhupada: Krsna consciousness purifies the intelligence, the mind, and the senses. Since everything is purified, there is no chance in being employed in anything but Krsna consciousness. Anyone can do this under the proper guidance, whereas not everyone can do as Socrates did. The common man does not have sufficient intelligence to control himself without spiritual exercise. Yet, despite his intelligence, Socrates had no clear conception of God. In Bhagavad-gita, Arjuna tells Sri Krsna:
param brahma param dhama
pavitram paramam bhavan
adi-devam ajam vibhum
"You are the Supreme Brahman, the ultimate, the supreme abode and purifier, the Absolute Truth and the eternal divine person. You are the primal God, transcendental and original, and You are the unborn and all-pervading beauty." (Bg. 10.12)
The word pavitram means "the purest." This includes all morality. Acting in Krsna consciousness is the best morality, and this is supported in Bhagavad-gita:
api cet suduracaro
bhajate mam ananya-bhak
sadhur eva sa mantavyah
samyag vyavasito hi sah
"Even if one commits the most abominable action, if he is engaged in devotional service, he is to be considered saintly because he is properly situated." (Bg. 9.30) Even if a person is considered immoral from the mundane point of view, he should be regarded as moral if he acts on the platform of Krsna consciousness. Sometimes a person in Krsna consciousness may appear to act immorally. For instance, in the dead of night, the young cowherd girls of Vrndavana left their husbands and fathers to go to the forest to see Krsna. From the materialistic point of view, this is immoral, but because their actions were connected with Krsna, they are considered highly moral. By nature, Arjuna was not inclined to kill, even at the risk of his kingdom, but Krsna wanted him to fight; therefore Arjuna entered the battle and acted morally, even though he was killing people.
Syamasundara dasa: Then, you are saying that morality is absolute as long as it is in relation with Krsna?
Srila Prabhupada: If Krsna or His representative says, "Do this," that act is moral. We cannot create morality. We cannot say, "I am a devotee of Krsna; therefore I can kill." No. We cannot do anything unless we receive a direct order.
Syamasundara dasa: But can leading a life that is honest, or based on doing good to others, lead us to ultimate happiness?
Srila Prabhupada: Unless we are Krsna conscious, there is no meaning to honesty and morality. They are artificial. People are always saying, "This is mine." But our accepting proprietorship is actually immoral hecause nothing belongs to us. Isavasyam idam sarvam (Isopanisad 1). Everything belongs to Krsna. We cannot say, "This table is mine. This wife is mine. This house is mine." It is immoral to claim another's properly as our own.
Syamasundara dasa: Socrates defines right as that which is beneficial to others, and wrong as that which does harm to others.
Srila Prabhupada: That is a general definition, but we should know what is beneficial for others. Krsna consciousness is beneficial, and anything else is not beneficial.
Syamasundara dasa: For instance, he states that stealing, lying, cheating, hating, and other evils, are absolutely bad. Yet if there is a necessity to cheat or lie in order to serve Krsna, would that be bad?
Srila Prabhupada: Cheating and lying are not necessary. By cheating, we cannot serve Krsna. That is not the principle. However, if Krsna directly orders us to cheat, that is a different matter. But we cannot create that order. We cannot say, "Because I am Krsna conscious, it is all right for me to cheat." No. However, once Krsna asked Yudhisthira to go tell Dronacarya that his son was dead, although his son was not. This was a kind of cheating, but because Krsna directly ordered it, it was all right. Orders from Krsna are transcendental to everything—morality and immorality. In Krsna consciousness, there is neither morality nor immorality. There is simply good.
Hayagriva dasa: The Athenian government accused Socrates of fostering atheism and blaspheming the gods because he felt that worship of the demigods in the Greek pantheon did not lead to self-realization.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, Socrates was right. Worship of the demigods is also discouraged in Bhagavad-gita:
kamais tais tair hrta-jnanah
tam tam niyamam asthaya
prakrtya niyatah svaya
"Those whose minds are distorted by material desires surrender unto demigods and follow the particular rules and regulations of worship according to their own natures." (Bg. 7.20) Demigods are worshipped out of lust for some material benefit by one who has lost his intelligence (hrta-jnana), You may worship the demigod Sarasvati, the goddess of learning, and thereby become a great scholar, but how long will you remain a scholar? When your body dies, your scholarly knowledge is finished. Then you have to accept another body and act accordingly. So how will scholastic knowledge help you? However, if you worship God Himself, the results are different.
janma karma ca me divyam
evam yo vetti tattvatah
tyaktva deham punar janma
naiti mam eti so 'rjuna
"One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna." (Bg. 4.9) To worship God means to know God. Knowing God means understanding how material nature is working under His directions. Krsna says:
"This material nature is working under My direction, O son of Kunti, and it is producing all moving and unmoving beings. By its rule this manifestation is created and annihilated again and again." (Bg. 9.10) Because impersonalists cannot understand how a person can direct the wonderful activities of material nature, they remain impersonalists. But actually God is a person, and this is the understanding we get from Bhagavad-gita:
mattah parataram nanyat
kincid asti dhananjaya
mayi sarvam idam protam
sutre mani-gana iva
"O conqueror of wealth [Arjuna], there is no Truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung on a thread." (Bg. 7.7) The word mattah refers to a person.
aham sarvasya prabhavo
iti matva bhajante mam
"I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who know this perfectly engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts." (Bg. 10.8)
The Vedanta-sutra also confirms that the Absolute Truth is a person, and when Arjuna understood Bhagavad-gita, he addressed Krsna as param brahma param dhama pavitram paramam bhavan. "You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the ultimate abode, the purest, the Absolute Truth, and the eternal Divine Person." (Bg. 10.12) Understanding the Absolute Truth means understanding the three features of the Absolute Truth: the impersonal, the localized, and the personal.
vadanti tat tattva-vidas
tattvam yaj jnanam advayam
bhagavan iti sabdyate
"Learned transcendentalists who know the Absolute Truth call this nondual substance Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan." (Bhag. 1.2.11) The Absolute Truth is one, but there are different features. One mountain seen from different distances appears different. From a far distance, the Absolute Truth appears impersonal, but as you approach, you see Paramatma present everywhere. When you come even nearer, you can perceive Bhagavan, the Supreme Person.
Syamasundara dasa: Socrates deliberately took poison in order not to contradict himself. The government told him that if he retracted his statements, he could live, but he preferred to be a martyr for his own beliefs.
Srila Prabhupada: It is good that he stuck to his point, yet regrettable that he lived in a society that would not permit him to think independently. Therefore he was obliged to die. In that sense, Socrates was a great soul. Although he appeared in a society that was not very advanced, he was nonetheless a great philosopher.
Hayagriva dasa: Socrates considered the contemplation of beauty to be an activity of the wise man, but relative beauty in the mundane world is simply a reflection of absolute beauty. In the same way, good in the relative world is but a reflection of the absolute good. In any case, absolute good or beauty is transcendental.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is also our view. Beauty, knowledge, strength, wealth, fame, and renunciation are all transcendental. In this material world, everything is a perverted reflection. A foolish animal may run after a mirage in the desert, thinking it water, but a sane man knows better. Although there is no water in the desert, we cannot conclude that there is no water at all. Water certainly exists. Similarly, real happiness, beauty, knowledge, strength, and the other opulences exist in the spiritual world, but here they are only reflected pervertedly. Generally, people have no information of the spiritual world; therefore they have to imagine something spiritual. They do not understand that this material world is imaginary.
janma karma ca me divyam
evam yo vetti tattvatah
tyaktva deham punar janma
naiti mam eti so 'rjuna
"One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna." (Bg. 4.9) Although people are reading Bhagavad-gita, they cannot understand this very simple point. After giving up the material body, the devotee goes to Krsna. Of course, the Christians say that after death, one goes to heaven or hell, and to some extent that is a fact. If we understand Krsna in this lifetime, we can go to Krsna's eternal abode; otherwise, we remain in this material world to undergo the same cycle of birth and death. That is hell.
Hayagriva dasa: At the conclusion of The Republic, Socrates gives the analogy of humanity living within a dark cave. The self-realized teacher has seen the light outside the cave. When he returns to the cave to inform the people that they are in darkness, many consider him crazy for speaking of such a thing as the light outside. Thus the teacher often puts himself in a very dangerous position.
Srila Prabhupada: That is a fact. We often give the example of a frog within a dark well, thinking that his well is everything. When he is informed that there is an Atlantic Ocean, he cannot conceive of such a great quantity of water. Those who are in the dark well of material existence are surprised to hear that there is light outside. Everyone in the material world is suffering in the dark well of material existence, and we are throwing down this rope called Krsna consciousness. If people do not catch hold, what can we do? If you are fortunate, you can capture the Lord with the help of the teacher, but it is up to you to catch hold of the rope. Everyone is trying to get out of the misery of material existence. Therefore Krsna says:
aham tvam sarva-papebhyo
"Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear." (Bg. 18.66) Still, due to obstinance, people refuse, or do not believe Him. The Vedas also tell us, "Don't remain in the dark well. Come out into the light." Unfortunately, people want to become perfect and yet remain in the dark well. This material universe is by nature dark, and therefore Krsna has supplied the sun and moon for light. Yet there is Krsna's kingdom, which is different, as Krsna Himself tells us in Bhagavad-gita:
na tad bhasayate suryo
na sasanko na pavakah
yad gatva na nivartante
tad dhama paramam mama
"That supreme abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by electricity. One who reaches it never returns to this material world." ( Bg. 15.6) In Krsna's kingdom there is no need for sun, moon, or electricity. His kingdom is all effulgent. In the darkness of this material world, the only happiness is in sleep and sex. As stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam:
nrnam santi sahasrasah
nidraya hriyate naktam
vyavayena ca va vayah
diva carthehaya rajan
"Those who are materially engrossed, being blind to the knowledge of ultimate truth, are interested in hearing about many different subjects, O Emperor. The lifetime of such envious householders is passed at night either in sleeping or in sex indulgence, and in the day either in making money or maintaining family members." (Bhag. 2.1.2-3)
Materialists spend much time reading newspapers, novels, and magazines. They have many forms of engagement because they are ignorant of self-realization. They think that life simply means living in a family surrounded by their wife, children, and friends. They work hard during the day for money, racing their cars at breakneck speed, and at night they either sleep or enjoy sex. This is just like the life of a hog constantly searching for stool. Yet all of this is taking place in the name of civilization. This kind of hoggish civilization is condemned in the Vedic literatures. Krsna advises us to produce grains, eat fruits, vegetables, drink milk, and cultivate Krsna consciousness. In this way, we can become happy.
Hayagriva dasa: Socrates speaks of everyone sitting in the cave, watching a kind of cinema composed of imitation forms.
Srila Prabhupada: This means that people are in darkness, and everything seen in darkness is not clear. Therefore the Vedic version is: "Don't remain in darkness. Come to the light." That light is the guru.
om ajnana-timirandhasya jnananjana-salakaya
caksur unmilitam yena tasmai sri-gurave namah
"I was born in the darkest ignorance, and my spiritual master opened my eyes with the torch of knowledge. I offer my respectful obeisances unto him."Sri Guru Pranama