S oren Aabye Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher, theologian, poet, social critic and religious author who is widely considered to be the first existentialist philosopher. He wrote critical texts on organized religion, Christendom, morality, ethics, psychology, and the philosophy of religion, displaying a fondness for metaphor, irony and parables. Much of his philosophical work deals with the issues of how one lives as a "single individual", giving priority to concrete human reality over abstract thinking and highlighting the importance of personal choice and commitment.
Hayagriva dasa: Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher, a Christian, is often called the father of existentialism. He believed that if the truths of religions are not innate within man, they must be transmitted by a teacher. Since man would be overawed by God, if God Himself came to teach as He is, God comes instead as a servant of God in human form, or, for a Christian, as Jesus Christ.
Srila Prabhupada: Generally, because men are on the animal platform, some system of education is required. When man's consciousness is advanced, he can be educated in the understanding of God through the teachings of the authorities. That is the Vedic system. In the human form, the living entity is sometimes very inquisitive, and wants to understand God. That is technically called brahma-jijnasa: interest in the Absolute. That is possible only in the human form. If we are anxious to know about God, we have to approach a guru, otherwise we cannot understand the nature of God or of our relationship with Him. Accepting a guru is not a fashion but a necessity. A guru is one who is fully trained in the ocean of spiritual knowledge, or Vedic knowledge. Vedic words or sound vibrations are not ordinary, material vibrations. They are completely spiritual. The Hare Krsna maha-mantra, for instance, is a purely spiritual sound. Once a person is fully trained in the ocean of spiritual sound, he is no longer interested in materialistic life. Nor does such a person manufacture gold, or juggle words to attract foolish people and make money. A guru by definition is one who is no longer interested in material things. He has taken shelter of the Supreme Lord, and his material desires have completely ceased. We should approach such a bona fide guru, surrender unto him, serve him, and then question him about God and our relationship with God.
Hayagriva dasa: Is Kierkegaard correct in maintaining that man would be overawed if God came to teach as He is? Didn't Krsna, as He is, come to teach Bhagavad-gita?
Srila Prabhupada: Krsna came as He is, but people misunderstood Him because He appeared to them as an ordinary human being. Because they could not surrender unto Him, He came later as a devotee, Caitanya Mahaprabhu, to teach men how to approach God. That is the concept of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya understood His activities and wrote about a hundred verses in appreciation. Two of these verses read:
siksartham ekah purusah puranah
krpambudhir yas tam aham prapadye
kalan nastambhakti-yogam nijam yah
avirbhutas tasya padaravinde
gadham gadham liyatam citta-bhrngah
"Let me take shelter of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krsna, who has descended in the form of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu to teach us real knowledge, His devotional service, and detachment from whatever does not foster Krsna consciousness. He has descended because He is an ocean of transcendental mercy. Let me surrender unto His lotus feet. Let my consciousness, which is like a honeybee, take shelter of the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who has just now appeared as Sri Krsna Caitanya Mahaprabhu to teach the ancient system of devotional service to Himself. This system had almost been lost due to the influence of time." ( Caitanya-caritamrta, Madh. 6.254-255) Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya thus understood that Caitanya Mahaprabhu is the very same Krsna come to teach bhakti-yoga and the process of renunciation. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu taught the very same philosophy: Bhagavad-gita . However, instead of coming as Krsna, He came as a devotee of Krsna. Rupa Gosvami also appreciated Caitanya Mahaprabhu as the most munificent incarnation because He not only gives Krsna, but pure love of Krsna. Namo maha-vadanyaya krsna-prema-pradaya te. [Madhya 19.53] In order to give Himself to the devotee, Krsna demands full surrender, but Caitanya Mahaprabhu, without making any demands, gives pure love of Krsna. Because we are all His sons, Krsna, the Supreme Lord, is affectionate towards us. Because we are rotting in this material world, Krsna comes Himself, or as a devotee, and leaves His instructions. He is always anxious to enlighten a human being and show him how to return home, back to Godhead.
Hayagriva dasa: Concerning God's personality, Kierkegaard writes: "God is certainly personal, but whether He wishes to be so in relation to the individual depends upon whether it pleases God. It is the grace of God that He wishes to be personal in relation to you; if you throw away His grace, He punishes you by behaving objectively (impersonally) towards you."
Srila Prabhupada: That is a very good point. As stated in Bhagavad-gita:
kleso 'dhikataras tesam
avyakta hi gatir duhkham
"For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifested, impersonal feature of the Supreme, advancement is very troublesome. To make progress in that discipline is always difficult for those who are embodied." (Bg. 12.5)
Hayagriva dasa: Because the ordinary man does not wish to have a personal relationship with God, "in that sense one may say that the world does not have a personal God, despite all the proofs....There are no longer the men living who could bear the pressure and weight of having a personal God."
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, a personal God makes demands, just as Krsna demands in Bhagavad-gita:
man-mana bhava mad-bhakto
mad-yaji mam namaskuru
mam evaisyasi yuktvaivam
"Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, offer obeisances and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me." ( Bg. 9.34) This is God's demand, and if we carry it out, we attain perfection. Tyaktva deham punar janma naiti mam eti (Bg. 4.9) It is clearly stated that when a devotee gives up his material body, he does not accept another, but returns back to Godhead in his original spiritual body.
Syamasundara dasa: Kierkegaard observed three basic stages in a typical life: the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious. In the aesthetic stage, a person may be either a hedonist in search of pleasure or romantic love, or an intellectual interested in philosophical speculation. Kierkegaard says that both are uncommitted because they do not have specific goals.
Srila Prabhupada: How can a philosopher have no ultimate goal?
Syamasundara dasa: On this platform, they are only mental speculators. They become bored, and their lives become empty.
Srila Prabhupada: This is the result of impersonalism and voidism. Impersonalists or voidists are not necessarily overcome by despair, but they are often disgusted with their present lives because they do not know the aim of life. When one has no goal, he becomes disappointed in life, and that is the cause of despair.
Syamasundara dasa: Kierkegaard sees men as indulging in sense gratification and mental speculation in order to cover up their basic despair.
Srila Prabhupada: In the material world, when a man's business fails, or when he experiences some great shock, he takes to intoxication in order to forget.
Syamasundara dasa: Kierkegaard suggests that this despair may serve as the first stepping stone toward self-realization. Understanding that the aesthetic life ends in despair, a person abandons it for the next stage.
Srila Prabhupada: We agree with this. According to the Vedanta-sutra, people begin to inquire about self-realization after they have worked very hard and still have not attained life's goal. At this point, people begin to think, "What is the purpose of life?" That is called brahma- jijnasa, inquiry into the ultimate truth of life. Such an inquiry is natural, and necessary for further development.
Syamasundara dasa: In order to attain self-realization, we must face certain choices. For Kierkegaard, life is an "either/or" decision. Realizing this, we advance to the ethical stage. The emphasis here is on action.
Srila Prabhupada: First of all, we must understand how action or activity comes about. What is the origin of action? Modern science is interested in describing or witnessing life's activities, and scientists claim that life develops automatically due to nature's interactions, but from Bhagavad- gita we understand that behind all these material activities, there is God. Material nature is a machine working under God's directions. Vedanta-sutra explains that the Absolute Truth is that from which all things emanate, and Srimad-Bhagavatam discusses the nature of that origin. First, we must understand that the origin is consciousness. Life does not arise from bones and stones. Once we understand that the creation does not take place automatically, we must admit that there is a creator.
Syamasundara dasa: At the ethical stage, man may perform pious works or humanitarian deeds, and Kierkegaard sees this as a step in the right direction toward authentic selfhood. By making the proper ethical decisions, we can approach self-awareness and the religious stage.
Srila Prabhupada: But what is the ultimate decision? Why do people become moral? Simply to feed the poor and become humanitarians?
Syamasundara dasa: For Kierkegaard, it does not much matter what we choose, but the fact that we make the choice. Through choosing, we discover our own integrity.
Srila Prabhupada: But it is not clear how a person makes the right decisions. One man may choose to slaughter, and another may choose to help others. A man may give charity to others, and at the same time encourage killing animals. What are the ethics involved? On the one hand, Vivekananda was advocating feeding the poor, but on the other hand he was suggesting feeding them with Mother Kali's prasadam, with bulls. So what kind of ethics are these? What is the value of ethics if they are based on imperfect knowledge?
Syamasundara dasa: Kierkegaard would say that by-turning inward, we would make the proper decision. This entails self-knowledge and self-commitment.
Srila Prabhupada: But what is that inwardness? One may simply think, "I will protect my brother by killing another." What are the ethics involved? We must have some standard by which to make the right decision.
Syamasundara dasa: His standard would be, "Choose thyself."
Srila Prabhupada: But without knowing yourself, how can you make a choice? And how can you know yourself unless you go to one who knows things as they are? Most people think that they are the body. What kind of self-knowledge is this? If one identifies with the body, he is no better than an ass. Then what is the value of his philosophy?
yasyatma-buddhih kunape tridhatuke
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 places of pilgrimage simply to take a bath rather than meet men of transcendental knowledge there, is to be considered like an ass or cow." (Bhag. 10.84.13)
Syamasundara dasa: Kierkegaard emphasizes the very act of deciding, not the decision.
Srila Prabhupada: But unless we know the aim of life, how can we make the right decision? It is childish to say that we become enlightened by choosing either this or that. A child chooses to play sometimes with one toy and sometimes with another, but where is his enlightenment? Animals also make their decisions. The ass decides to eat a morsel of grass and work all day carrying loads. If the decision is not important, why not decide for unrestricted sense gratification?
Syamasundara dasa: Kierkegaard would say that unrestricted sense gratification ultimately leads to boredom and despair.
Srila Prabhupada: But if we think that it is the aim of life, it is not boring. If we choose according to our whims, we can make any decision. A man on the Bowery may decide to purchase a bottle of whiskey as soon as he gets some money.
Syamasundara dasa: Kierkegaard would say that there is no commitment to a higher ethic there. On the ethical level, we would have to take up a good cause and make decisions based on that.
Srila Prabhupada: But such good causes are relative. Who is to decide what's a good cause?
Syamasundara dasa: If we begin to anticipate death, we will make the right decision, considering each act to be our last. In this way, the truth will emerge.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, a man should think, "I do not wish to die, but death is overcoming me. What is the cause of this? What should I do?" No one wants to die, but death overcomes everyone. No one wants to be diseased, but diseases are inevitable. These are real human problems that cannot be overcome simply by making some whimsical decisions. We should decide, "I do not wish to suffer, but suffering is coming upon me. Now, I must make a permanent solution to this problem." This is the real decision: putting a permanent end to suffering. We should understand that the body exists for a few years and then is doomed to perish, that the body is external, and that we should not make our decisions on the basis of the body, but the soul.
Syamasundara dasa: For Kierkegaard, a man whose consciousness is unhappy is alienated from both past and future. He wishes to forget the past, and the future holds no hope. In proper consciousness, when the personality is integrated, the past and future are unified, and we can make the proper decision.
Srila Prabhupada: Your decision should be based on the fact that you are part and parcel of Krsna. Krsna told Arjuna that in the past he was existing, and that he would continue to exist in the future. Our decision should be based on the platform of the soul.
Syamasundara dasa: Kierkegaard sees the self as unifying past and future and thus establishing its integrity as an integrated whole. Then the self is capable of making decisions.
Srila Prabhupada: If he comes to the platform of the self, he must accept the fact that the self is eternal in order to integrate past, present, and future.
Syamasundara dasa: Yes, this is the highest stage, the religious. On this platform, one commits himself to God and obeys God.
Srila Prabhupada: That would be the stage of Krsna consciousness.
Syamasundara dasa: Kierkegaard believed that in the religious stage, there is intense suffering, comparable to the suffering of Job.
Srila Prabhupada: Why is this? If one is Krsna conscious, why should he suffer?
Syamasundara dasa: Well, Kierkegaard was a Christian. Christ suffered for our sins, and the process of overcoming sin is a kind of suffering.
Srila Prabhupada: But that is a wrong theory. If Christ is God, or the son of God, why should he suffer? What kind of God is subjected to suffering? Why should either God or man suffer? The whole point is that if there is suffering, you must put an end to it. Many so-called Christians think that because they have some contract with Christ, because Christ suffered for their sins, they can go on sinning. Is this a very good philosophy?
Syamasundara dasa: As an existentialist, Kierkegaard believed that existence is prior to essence, and that to attain self-realization, we must pass through these various stages.
Srila Prabhupada: That is correct. We are transmigrating through different species and eventually arriving at the human form wherein we can understand the purpose of life. At the perfectional stage, we become Krsna conscious; therefore existence precedes essence.
Syamasundara dasa: For Kierkegaard, the culmination of commitment is religious life, which is epitomized in the inwardness of suffering.
Srila Prabhupada: Suffering arises because we identify with the body. When a person has an automobile accident, he may not actually suffer, but because he identifies himself with matter, with the body, he suffers. Because God is always in full knowledge and is always transcendental to the material world, God never suffers. It is a question of knowledge whether there is suffering or not.
Syamasundara dasa: But don't penance and austerity involve suffering?
Srila Prabhupada: No. For those who are advanced in knowledge, there is no suffering. Of course, there may be some bodily pain, but a person in knowledge understands that he is not the body; therefore, why should he suffer? He thinks, "Let me do my duty. Hare Krsna." That is the advanced stage. Suffering is due to ignorance.
Syamasundara dasa: But doesn't one forsake bodily comforts by serving God?
Srila Prabhupada: Rupa and Sanatana Gosvami were high government ministers, but they abandoned their material opulence in order to bestow mercy upon the common people. Thus they accepted a mere loincloth and slept under a different tree every night. Of course, foolish people might say that they were suffering, but they were merged in the ocean of transcendental bliss writing about Krsna's pastimes with the gopis. They engaged their minds in thoughts of Krsna and the gopis, and they wrote books from day to day. There was no question of their suffering, although a fool may think, "Oh, these men were ministers, high government officials, and they were so comfortable with their families and homes. Now they have no home, and are going about in loincloths, and eating very little." A materialist would think that they were suffering, but they were not suffering. They were enjoying.
Syamasundara dasa: Some Christians emphasize the value of suffering, thinking that to abandon worldly life is to abandon pleasure and to suffer.
Srila Prabhupada: This is due to a poor fund of knowledge. They have developed this philosophy after the demise of Jesus Christ. It is more or less concocted.
Hayagriva dasa: Apart from suffering, Kierkegaard emphasized the importance of love in the religious life. In his book Works of Love, he considers God to be the hidden source of all love. "God you must love in unconditional obedience," he writes, "even if that which He demands of you may seem injurious to you For God's wisdom is incomparable with respect to your own "
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is also the instruction of Bhagavad-gita. God demands that we give up all our plans as well as the plans of others, and accept His plan. Sarva-dharman parityajya ( Bg. 18.66). "Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me." If we fully depend on Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, He will guide us home.
Hayagriva dasa: In defining love, Kierkegaard points out that St. Paul considered love to be "the fulfillment of the law." "Love is a matter of conscience," Kierkegaard writes, "and hence it is not a matter of impulse and inclination; nor is it a matter of emotion, nor a matter for intellectual calculation Christianity really knows only one kind of love, spiritual love...."
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, love in the material world is impossible, because everyone is interested only in his own sense gratification. The love experienced between men and women is not actually love, but lust, because both parties are interested in their own sense gratification. Love means that one does not think of his own sense gratification, but of the sense gratification of his beloved. That is pure love, and that is not possible in the material world. We see examples of pure love, however, in the Vedic depictions of Vrndavana, a village wherein men, animals, fruits, flowers, water, and everything else exist only for the sake of loving Krsna. They are not interested in any return from Krsna. Now, that is real love. Anyabhilasitasunyam. If one loves God with some motive, that is material love. Pure love is interested only in satisfying the desires of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. When we speak of love in the material world, we are misusing the word. Lusty desires take the place of real love. Real love applies only to God—individually, collectively, or any other way. Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the supreme object of love, and this love can be expressed through adoration, service, or friendship. Or we can love Him as a child, or as a conjugal lover. There are five basic relationships expressing true love of Godhead.
Hayagriva dasa: For Kierkegaard, love of God is the decisive factor, and from it stems love of neighbor. "If you love God above all else," he writes, "then you also love your neighbor, and in your neighbor, everyman....To help another man to love God is to love the other man; to be helped by another man to love God is to be loved."
Srila Prabhupada: That is the basis of our Krsna consciousness movement. We're learning how to love God, and teaching the same principle to the whole world. We're teaching that God is one, and that no one is equal to Him, nor greater than Him. God is never dead. If love of God is taught by a religion, that religion should be considered first class, be it Christian, Hindu, Moslem, or whatever. The test of a religion is this: "Have the followers learned how to love God?" God is the center of love, and since everything is God's expansion, a lover of God is a lover of everyone. He does not discriminate by thinking that only man should be loved and given service. No. He is interested in all living entities, regardless of the forms in which they are existing. A lover of God loves everyone, and his love reaches everyone. When we water the root of a tree, we are nourishing all parts of the tree: the trunk, branches, twigs, and leaves. When we give the stomach food, we satisfy the entire body. God is everything. As stated in Bhagavad-gita, maya tatam idam sarvam ( Bg. 9.4). Nothing can exist without God because everything is His expansion. Visnu Purana says that God is present everywhere, although situated in His own abode, just as the light and heat of the sun are present everywhere, although the sun is situated in one place. God is all pervading. Nothing can exist without Him. At the same time, this does not mean that everything is God. Rather, everything is resting on His energy. Despite His expansions, He maintains His personality.
Syamasundara dasa: Kierkegaard also considered faith to be an important part of religion. For him, the opposite of faith is sin, which is the same as despair.
Srila Prabhupada: If you are in Krsna consciousness, there is no question of sin. It is not a question of faith, but of fact. At the beginning of Bhagavad- gita, Arjuna did not want to fight, but he finally decided to abide by the order of Krsna. That is piety: satisfying the higher authority, God. In the material world, we imagine this or that to be sinful or pious, but these are mental concoctions. They have no value.
Syamasundara dasa: Kierkegaard would define piety as faith in the orders of God.
Srila Prabhupada: That means he must receive God's orders. But if a person has no conception of God, if he conceives of God impersonally, there is no question of God's orders. If God is impersonal, He has no mouth with which to speak, no eyes with which to see. Therefore there is no question of His giving orders.
Hayagriva dasa: In his Journals, Kierkegaard writes: "There is a God; His will is made known to me in holy scripture and in my conscience. This God wishes to intervene in the world. But how is He to do so except with the help of man?"
Srila Prabhupada: Sadhu-sastra-guru . We can approach God by understanding a saintly person, studying the Vedic scriptures, and following the instructions of the bona fide spiritual master. Sadhu, sastra, and guru should corroborate. A sadhu is one who talks in terms of the scriptures, and the guru is one who teaches according to the scriptures. A guru cannot manufacture words that are not in the sastras. When we receive instructions from all three, we can progress perfectly in our understanding of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Hayagriva dasa: Kierkegaard writes: "The only adequate way to express a sense of God's majesty is to worship Him....It is so easy to see that one to whom everything is equally important and equally insignificant can only be interested in one thing: obedience."
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, and God demands that full obedience: sarva-dharmanparityajya mam ekam saranam vraja (Bg. 18.66). Our original obedience should be to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and we should obey the spiritual master because he is God's representative. If a person does not directly receive the orders of God, he cannot be a bona fide guru. A guru cannot manufacture anything; he simply presents what God speaks in the sastras. When God comes as an incarnation, He also gives references to the scriptures, just as Krsna referred to the Brahma-sutra in Bhagavad-gita. Although Krsna is God, and His word is final, He still gives honor to the Brahma-sutra because in that work spiritual knowledge is set forth logically and philosophically. It is not that we accept just anyone's proclamations about God. Statements must be corroborated by the standard scriptures.
Hayagriva dasa: Kierkegaard says that we should "renounce everything as an act of worship offered to God, and not so because He needs to use us as an instrument; but to renounce everything as the most insignificant superfluity and article of luxury—that means to worship."
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, worship begins with the renunciation of ulterior motives. Our only business is to love God, and a first-class religious system teaches its followers to love God without ulterior motive. Such worship cannot be checked by material considerations. We can love God in any condition, and God will help.
Syamasundara dasa: Kierkegaard lamented the disintegration of Christianity as an effective form of worship. He considered modern Christendom to be a kind of sickness, a corruption of Christ's original message.
Srila Prabhupada: Christianity is Christianity, and you cannot call it modern or ancient, nor can you say that God is modern or ancient. We say that either a person is a Christian or not. Either he follows the orders of Christ, or he doesn't. If you do not follow the tenets of your religion, how can you claim to belong to that religion? This applies to all religions. For instance, there are many so-called Hindus who do not believe in anything, yet they consider themselves Hindus and brahmanas. This is insulting.
Syamasundara dasa: Kierkegaard saw Christian despair as a "sickness unto death." The wish to die is the result of despair.
Srila Prabhupada: People try to avoid the results of their sinful activities by killing themselves, but this is not possible. Suicide is just another sin. Therefore those who commit suicide become ghosts.
Syamasundara dasa: Kierkegaard believed that a man should live as if he were to die at any moment. He should act as if each act were to be his last.
Srila Prabhupada: This requires practice, and therefore we are recommending the chanting of Hare Krsna without cessation. Of course, death may come at any moment, and if we are chanting Hare Krsna, that death is a happy death.
Syamasundara dasa: According to Catholicism, at the time of death, a priest can absolve you of your sins.
Srila Prabhupada: Provided you have the consciousness to understand the words of the priest.
Syamasundara dasa: Even though one has committed many sins throughout his life, he can be absolved of his sins on his deathbed.
Srila Prabhupada: That is quite possible because a priest can remind you of God at the time of death. Your thoughts at the time of death are very important. There are so many examples: Ajamila, and Bharata Maharaja. Therefore King Kulasekhara prays, "Let me die immediately while I am thinking of Krsna." Of course, unless we are practiced, it is not possible to think of Krsna at the time of death, because at that time there are many bodily disturbances. Therefore from the beginning, austerities are required.
Hayagriva dasa: Kierkegaard writes: "The true relation in prayer is not when God hears what is prayed for, but when the person praying continues to pray until he is the one who hears what God wills."
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is very nice. Through prayer, one becomes qualified to understand God, talk with God, and receive His directions.
dadami buddhi-yogam tam
yena mam upayanti te
"To those who are constantly devoted and worship Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me." (Bg. 10.10) Our ultimate goal is to give up this material world and return to God. Prayer is just one form of service. There are nine basic processes we can follow in the rendering of devotional service:
sravanam kirtanam visnoh
arcanam vandanam dasyam
"Hearing and chanting about the holy name, form, qualities, paraphernalia, and pastimes of Lord Visnu, remembering them, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering the Lord respectful worship with sixteen types of paraphernalia, offering prayers to the Lord, becoming His servant, considering the Lord one's best friend, and surrendering everything unto Him—these nine processes are accepted as pure devotional service." ( Bhag. 7.5.23) Prayer is vandanam. If we accept all nine processes, or just one of them, we can progress in spiritual life. Christians and Mohammedans offer prayers, and Hindus render service in the temple. The Deities are decorated, the temples are cleansed, and food is offered. This is called arcanam, and through this process we can engage in devotional service. God is within, and when He sees that we are sincere in His service, He takes charge and gives directions by which we can swiftly approach Him. God is complete in Himself; He is not hankering after our service, but if we offer Him service, we can become purified. When we are purified, we can talk with God and see Him. We can receive His instructions personally, just as Arjuna did.
Syamasundara dasa: For Kierkegaard, faith is revealed in the selfs relation to its own self, through its willingness to be its authentic self and to stand transparently before God in full integrity.
Srila Prabhupada: For the Mayavadis, self-realization means becoming one with the Supreme Self, but such merging is not possible. Standing transparent before God means engaging in God's service. To engage in God's service, you must understand that you are part and parcel of the Supreme. A part of the body engages in the service of the entire body. As soon as you engage in God's service, you are self-realized. That is mukti, liberation. The karmis, jnanis, and yogis are trying to realize the self, but because they are not engaged in rendering service to the Supreme Self, they are not liberated. We are therefore pushing this Krsna consciousness for the ultimate self-realization of everyone.
Syamasundara dasa: Kierkegaard sees self-realization arising out of the expression of the will. The more self-realized a person is, the more will he has. When we are fully ourselves, we are fully willed, and able to make the proper decisions.
Srila Prabhupada: But if you are part and parcel of the whole, you have to take decisions from the whole. You cannot make the decisions. A finger does not make decisions for the entire body. The only decision you can make is the decision to serve Krsna. The orders come from the superior. Arjuna was ordered by Krsna to fight, and at the conclusion of Bhagavad- gita, he decided to abide by Krsna's will. This is the only decision we can make: to abide by Krsna's will or not. Krsna or His representative makes all the other decisions.
Syamasundara dasa: Then what is the meaning of full will?
Srila Prabhupada: Full will means to surrender fully, to follow absolutely the orders of the Supreme.
Syamasundara dasa: Kierkegaard saw that even despair can bear fruit in that it can lead us to desire a genuine life of self-realization. It can be a springboard for a higher consciousness.
Srila Prabhupada: When one despairs, that is a great happiness. Then everything is finished. All responsibility is gone, and the person is relieved. Out of despair, Arjuna was thinking of becoming a mendicant. When we despair of all happiness in material life, we may then turn to spiritual life. Sometimes Krsna smashes all of our material resources so that out of despair we may fully engage in Krsna's service. Krsna sometimes wrecks a person materially when a person wants to become God conscious but at the same time wants material enjoyment due to strong attachment. Sometimes, when God smashes a person's material hopes, the person thinks that God is unkind to him, and the person despairs. He doesn't realize that this is God's mercy, that God is removing impediments so that the person can fully and absolutely surrender.
Once Indra, the king of heaven, was forced to be a hog, and he had to enter the material world as a lowly animal. As a hog, he had a hog-wife, hog-children, and so on. Finally, Lord Brahma came down and told him, "My dear Indra, you have forgotten your position. You were once a heavenly king and possessed great opulence. Now that you are a hog, you have forgotten your previous exalted existence. Please leave this filthy life and come with me." Yet, despite all Brahma's pleadings, Indra was not convinced. He said, "Why should I go with you? I am very happy. I have my wife, children, and home." Seeing that Indra had become very much attached to his hog-existence, Brahma began to kill all his hog-children, and eventually his hog-wife. When Indra saw that his wife was killed, he despaired: "Oh! You have killed all my family!" It was only then that Indra agreed to go with Lord Brahma. Similarly, Krsna sometimes creates a situation in which the living entity will despair, and, out of despair, turn to Krsna and fully surrender unto Him.
Syamasundara dasa: Kierkegaard was considering the despair of thinking, "Oh, I am a sinner," and believing that we will never be relieved of sin. He claims that this leads us even further into a sinful life.
Srila Prabhupada: There is no question of despair because of sin. A person sins out of ignorance. If you ask a butcher, "Why are you committing sins?" he will say, "This is my business. What is sinful about it?" When Narada informed the hunter that killing animals was sinful, the hunter did not despair, but was elevated to Krsna consciousness by Narada's instructions.
Syamasundara dasa: Kierkegaard believes that faith conquers sin and despair.
Srila Prabhupada: Faith means faith in God. To strengthen our faith in God, we have to give up all hope of happiness in this material life. We have to despair of material happiness.
Syamasundara dasa: For Kierkegaard, existence is continuous and therefore forever incomplete.
Srila Prabhupada: The system is complete when we surrender unto Krsna. God has a complete system by which we can progress to God consciousness. When we become fully conscious, we have attained completion. As long as we have not reached that point, we are progressing.
Hayagriva dasa: "God is the wellspring of all individuality," Kierkegaard writes. "To have individuality is to believe in the individuality of everyone else; for the individuality is not mine; it is the gift of God through which He permits me to be, and through which He permits everyone to be."
Srila Prabhupada: This fact is also explained in Katha Upanisad: nityo nityanam cetanas cetananam. God is a living being, and we are also living beings. Just as He is eternal, we are also eternal. Qualitatively, we are one; but quantitatively, we are different. God is maintaining everyone, and all the living entities are being maintained. We are all individual, eternal parts of God, and our natural position, being parts of Him, is to love Him.
Syamasundara dasa: Kierkegaard sees the individual in a continuous state of becoming.
Srila Prabhupada: Becoming what? What is the goal? The goal is Krsna consciousness. Therefore in Bhagavad-gita, Krsna says:
mattah parataram nanyat
kincid asti dhananjaya
mayi sarvam idam protam
sutre mani-gana iva
"O conqueror of wealth, there is no truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me as pearls are strung on a thread." (Bg. 7.7) Krsna is the ultimate truth, the supreme goal, and completion means coming to Krsna consciousness.
Syamasundara dasa: But isn't there still a process of becoming, even when we are fully Krsna conscious and in association with Krsna?
Srila Prabhupada: No. The becoming process ends. There are, however, varieties, which are spiritual. Everything is complete, but varieties are enjoyed. Sometimes, Krsna is a cowherd boy, sometimes He is Yasoda's child, sometimes He is Radharani's consort, sometimes He is in Mathura, sometimes He is in Vrndavana. There are many spiritual varieties, but everything is complete in itself. There is no question of becoming. We reach the point where we are simply enjoying variety. That is all.
Syamasundara dasa: What is the difference between spiritual variety and material variety?
Srila Prabhupada: Material variety is artificial. It is like a man satisfied with a plastic flower. Enjoyment of a plastic flower cannot be the same as the enjoyment of a real flower. A plastic flower has no aroma. It is artificial, bluff.
Syamasundara dasa: Whereas Hegel emphasized speculative thought, Kierkegaard emphasized action. He saw freedom in proper action.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, spiritual life means proper action. It is improper to think that one is inactive when he attains the perfectional stage. That is the Mayavadi theory. Mayavadis contend that a jug will make a big sound if it is not full of water. They equate fullness with silence. But from Bhagavad-gita, we understand that the soul is never inactive. Sometimes, however, we see that inactivity is recommended. This means that we should not speak or act foolishly. If we cannot talk intelligently, we had better stop talking. But that inactivity cannot be equated with perfection.
Syamasundara dasa: Kierkegaard found truth in the relative and subjective, in personal, individual reflection, in what he calls "inward passion."
Srila Prabhupada: Truth is truth, and that is absolute. You may manufacture relative truths, but the Absolute Truth is one. If we have no knowledge of the Absolute Truth, we emphasize relative truths. There may be inward passion, or whatever, but if we do not know the ultimate goal, we may be misled. It is all right to say that passion is truth, but passion means activity. Where will your activity end? What is the purpose of your activity? You may drive your car, but if you do not know where to go, what is the point? You are wasting your energy. Of course, one may say, "I do not know where to go, but that doesn't matter. Just let me start my car and go." But is this a very good proposal?
Syamasundara dasa: For Kierkegaard, it is not what is done, but how it is done.
Srila Prabhupada: This is a dog's obstinacy.
Syamasundara dasa: This is a kind of subjectivity that is always uncertain. Uncertainty creates anxiety.
Srila Prabhupada: One who does not know life's aim will always be in anxiety.
Syamasundara dasa: For Kierkegaard, this anxiety and uncertainty are dispelled by what he calls "the leap of faith."
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, but the leap must be made when there is a goal. Unless you know the goal, the fixed point, your passion and energy may be misused, misdirected.
Syamasundara dasa: As a Christian, Kierkegaard felt that our energy should be used to reach God through Christ.
Srila Prabhupada: That is a good position. That is our process. But it is not necessary to pass through the lower stages. Why not take to God immediately, if you can reach God through Jesus Christ? Our process is that you must surrender yourself to the guru in order to understand the highest truth.
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) Srimad-Bhagavatam also states:
tasmad gurum prapadyeta
sabde pare ca nisnatam
"Any person who is seriously desirous of achieving real happiness must seek out a bona fide spiritual master and take shelter of him by initiation. The qualification of a spiritual master is that he must have realized the conclusion of the scriptures by deliberation and arguments and thus be able to convince others of these conclusions. Such great personalities who have taken complete shelter of the Supreme Godhead, leaving aside all material consideration, are to be understood as bona fide spiritual masters." ( Bhag. 11.3.21) This is the process. It is not that we continue in our own way, hoping to take the right path through experience. In the middle of the vast ocean, you do not know where to direct your ship. You may go one way, and then you may go another. If you do not know the direction, your endeavors will be frustrated. A captain, a compass, and a sextant are needed. The captain is the guru who gives directions. If you have a ship without a captain, you will go one way and then another, and waste your energy. If Kierkegaard accepts Christ, he is accepting some guidance.
Syamasundara dasa: Kierkegaard says: "God does not think, He creates; God does not exist, He is eternal. Man thinks and exists, and existence separates thought and being."
Srila Prabhupada: What does he mean that God is eternal and does not exist?
Syamasundara dasa: For him, the word "existence" refers to that which is coming into being. God does not "exist" in the sense that He is always the same.
Srila Prabhupada: That means He is perfect. God does not progress from one state to another. If that is Kierkegaard's philosophy, he should agree to follow the orders of God. Why experiment? God is omnipotent and all powerful. We agree that He does not have to make plans. He creates automatically. His energies are so perfect and subtle, that as soon as He thinks, a thing is realized. It is created perfectly.
Syamasundara dasa: Kierkegaard sees man's existence as a state of constantly becoming. Man's thought is separate from his being.
Srila Prabhupada: Then why not unite thought and being by surrendering to Krsna?