T homas Hobbes was an English philosopher who is considered one of the founders of modern political philosophy. Hobbes is best known for his 1651 book Leviathan, which established the social contract theory that has served as the foundation for most later Western political philosophy. In addition to political philosophy, Hobbes also contributed to a diverse array of other fields, including history, jurisprudence, geometry, the physics of gases, theology, ethics, and general philosophy.
Syamasundara dasa: It is Hobbes who declared, "Whatever exists is matter, and whatever changes is motion." For him, mental or spiritual entities are not realities in their own right, but are merely by-products of matter. Spirit and mind perish when the material basis is destroyed.
Srila Prabhupada: Spirit is not a combination of material conditions. If so, why not combine matter in such a way as to produce living spirit, living forms?
Hayagriva dasa: Hobbes believed that a "substance incorporeal" is contradictory because nothing exists in the world but bodies. He defined God as "a most pure, simple, invisible, spirit corporeal."
Srila Prabhupada: Why invisible? When Krsna came, He was certainly visible, for Arjuna was talking to Him face to face. God's visibility or invisibility depends on God's own good will. He is visible to one who is competent or perfect. Not only was He visible to Arjuna, but He reciprocated by answering Arjuna's questions. If we become qualified like Arjuna, we can see God and talk with Him. Then God will give direct instructions. God is invisible for one who is imperfect, but for one who is perfect, He is certainly visible.
Syamasundara dasa: Empiricists maintain that the only proof we have of anything is through our senses.
Srila Prabhupada: We say that since the senses are imperfect, whatever you believe through them is imperfect. This is very simple. When the sun rises in the morning, it is many millions of miles away, but can a child tell how far away it is? Who can really tell how far away the sun is?
Syamasundara dasa: They have invented certain instruments to measure distance.
Srila Prabhupada: Therefore they have learned from some authority. Because they could not measure with their own senses, they have turned to instruments. But we should take the help of the expert instrument driver, Sri Krsna. What is the value of our senses if they are imperfect?
Syamasundara dasa: So the mind or soul is not simply a physiological system?
Srila Prabhupada: The soul is a different energy. Heat and light emanate from the same source, fire. Nonetheless, heat is not light, and light is not heat. Sometimes we may feel heat, but that does not mean that there is light. Sometimes we may have light, but that does not mean that there is heat. Still, heat and light come from the same source.
Syamasundara dasa: How is it that the soul and mind are different from the body?
Srila Prabhupada: They are not different, but they are being manifested in different phases. At the moment, we are experiencing sunshine, and we are feeling heat from the sun, but if we approach the sun, we feel much more intense heat. If we approach very closely, we will be disintegrated.
Syamasundara dasa: But how is it that the soul is not produced by the body? How do we know that it is not a mere by-product?
Srila Prabhupada: At death, all the physical parts of the body are present. But why is the man dead? What is missing? His heart may be present, but why is it not beating? All the parts of the body may be present, yet you can see that the body is dead. What is it that is missing?
Syamasundara dasa: Impulses are no longer being sent from the brain to the heart.
Srila Prabhupada: But why has the brain stopped? The brain's construction is all there. What is missing? Why not replace what is missing? If you are a mechanic, and the machine stops, you should be able to find the defect and immediately repair it. But no one has been able to do this with the body, no scientist or philosopher. They cannot meet such a challenge.
Hayagriva dasa: Hobbes is best known as a political philosopher, and in his most famous work, The Leviathan, he set forth his socio-political theories, as Machiavelli had done in The Prince. Hobbes's ruling body, or monarch, his "mortal god," who was under the immortal God, was The Leviathan, who would rule above the law. Now, according to the Vedic conception, is the king, or head of state, above the law?
Srila Prabhupada: No. The king is also under the law. As we understand it from Bhagavad-gita, Sri Krsna imparted His laws to the sun god. Since the sun god followed these laws, he is, compared to a common man, a supremely elevated being. The king is supposed to be the representative of God in the state, and the king's perfection lies in following the laws of Krsna. If the king follows the order of Krsna, the king's orders are final. In Bhagavad-gita (4.1-2), Krsna says that He originally imparted the laws of Bhagavad- gita to the sun god, Vivasvan, who imparted them to Manu, the father of man, who in turn imparted them to Iksvaku, and in this way Bhagavad-gita was received via disciplic succession and imparted to the rajarsis, the saintly kings. If the king rules according to Bhagavad-gita, he cannot be subjected to any other law. If the king follows the laws given by God, he is above mundane laws and conventions.
Hayagriva dasa: Hobbes compares man to a machine ultimately made by God, but he does not consider this machine to be controlled directly by God but by The Leviathan, the king or ruler.
Srila Prabhupada: No. God is situated in everyone's heart, and every moment He is witnessing the actions of the soul. He knows what the soul desires, and He sees how the soul is manipulating the machine of the body. This is clearly explained in Bhagavad-gita:
hrd-dese 'rjuna tisthati
"The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone's heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine made of the material energy." (Bg. 18.61) If a person wants to enjoy this material world as a human being, God gives him the opportunity to become a human being, and if he wants to enjoy it as a dog, God gives him the body of a dog. This is all God's mercy. As long as the individual living entity wants to enjoy this material world, God gives all facility through a particular body. The body itself is material and is supplied by prakrti, material nature. The machine is composed of material ingredients supplied by prakrti, which follows the orders of Krsna, and it is given for the enjoyment of the living entity. The living entity, or jiva, sits in that machine and travels, just as a person travels in a car. He receives a particular machine in some species on some planet. There are innumerable planets, and over eight million different species. Due to his contact with material nature, the living entity desires so many things, and God is so merciful that He supplies all facilities. At the same time, God is a friend to everyone, and when the jiva is prepared to understand ultimate happiness from God, God says, "Give up all your nonsensical plans and surrender unto Me." This is the living entity's perfection, and if he does not come to this perfect stage, he will constantly desire so many things. God will then supply an unlimited number of machines to go here and there, and up and down, within this universe. Either you go up, or you come down. When you come down, you enter the lower species, and when you go up, you enter the higher species. These include the demigods like Lord Indra and Lord Brahma. There are different types of life, and some endure millions of years, while others endure only a few moments. In any case, every opportunity is given by the Supreme Lord because He is the supreme controller. Man proposes, and God disposes. As long as we continue to propose this and that, we'll never be happy, but when we agree to comply with God's plans, we will attain happiness.
Hayagriva dasa: Hobbes would say that since warfare is perpetual, and the struggle for existence goes on and on, the Leviathan is necessary. It is the fear of death that drives men together into a social contract, and it is the Leviathan who places everything under a common power and authority. This Leviathan is like God's representative or lieutenant, who has sovereignty under God.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is the perfection of monarchy. Therefore the king is called nrpadeva, or naradeva, God in human form.
Syamasundara dasa: For Hobbes, the Leviathan must be sufficiently strong to enforce the social contract, the law. It is he who can punish anyone who does not live up to his end of the bargain. In this way, society and peace will be preserved.
Srila Prabhupada: But who is the right man? Since men are always defective, how is this possible? This means that we have to accept a man or an authority who is infallible, who is beyond suspicion.
Syamasundara dasa: Yes, and therefore Hobbes says that such a man must be something like a mortal god. If such a mortal god cannot be found, a government has to be instituted.
Srila Prabhupada: Such a man has to be the direct representative of God. He not only has to understand what is written in the scriptures; he has to follow the instructions as well. This is the exalted position of the bona fide spiritual master.
saksad dharitvena samasta-sastrair
uktas tatha bhavyata eva sadbhih
kintu prabhor yah priya eva tasya
vande guroh sri-caranaravindam
"The spiritual master is to be honored as much as the Supreme Lord, because he is the most confidential servitor of the Lord. This is acknowledged in all revealed scriptures and followed by all authorities. Therefore I offer my respectful obeisances unto the lotus feet of such a spiritual master, who is a bona fide representative of Sri Hari [Krsna]." ( Sri Gurv-astaka 7) The spiritual master, or guru, is the direct representative of Krsna because he is the most confidential servant of Krsna. Therefore his position is as good as Krsna's. He renders the most confidential service by trying to bring everyone to Krsna consciousness. Unless we come to that position, we will never be happy. Hobbes says that we have to find some sort of mortal god, but such a person must be one who actually knows God. We have to understand the qualifications of the bona fide guru from the Vedas. Then we have to approach the guru submissively. The guru is expert in transcendental Vedic knowledge, and he has fully given himself to Krsna. He is no longer disturbed by anything material. He is full in Brahman realization, and he is free from all material contamination. These are some of the preliminary qualifications of a godly man, but since Hobbes did not know these qualifications, he could never find such a man. Even when Krsna Himself was present, not everyone could understand that He was the Supreme Personality of Godhead. How will we be able to find the godly man unless we know what is God and what is a godly man? In order to find this out, we have to approach Bhagavad- gita; otherwise our knowledge will remain imperfect.
Syamasundara dasa: In Hobbes's case, a godly man is only necessary insofar as he is required to maintain peace.
Srila Prabhupada: But since godly men cannot be found, peace is maintained for a while, and then again there is disturbance. Social contracts can never be absolute because things are always changing. A certain social condition may prevail for a while, but in fifty years it will be totally different. How can we make a social contract that will never change? It is not possible in the material world. In the Vaikuntha-loka, the spiritual sky, the social condition never changes. It is eternal. The inhabitants there are pleased to be with Krsna and dance, eat, play, and live with Him. That condition is eternal, nitya-siddha. Krsna is always there, and He is always tending surabhi cows. He is always playing on His flute, and He is always dancing with His friends, the gopis. Our business should be to enter into that eternal play, and that is the process of Krsna consciousness.
Hayagriva dasa: Hobbes claims that the Leviathan could not only be an individual but also a group of individuals.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, a group of individuals can run the government provided they are devotees. But if this group is composed of rogues and rascals, it cannot represent God. Representatives of God abide by the laws of God.
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, or the leaders of Siddhaloka, to say nothing of the asuras, ordinary human beings, Vidyadharas and Caranas." (Bhag. 6.3.19) Actual religion, or law, consists of what God Himself says. If we manufacture our own laws, without referring to God's program, we will ultimately fail.
Hayagriva dasa: In Leviathan, Hobbes writes: "Some men have pretended for their disobedience to their sovereign a new covenant, made not with men but with God, and this also is unjust; for there is no covenant with God but by mediation of somebody that represents God's person, which none does but God's lieutenent, who has this sovereignty under God." But might not this argument of divine right be used by a tyrant to discourage his subjects from rebelling? What guidelines are there to assure against this?
Srila Prabhupada: Everything depends on the king's accepting the absolute instructions of God. In the Vedic civilization, the king absolutely followed the regulations given by God. The king's activities were confirmed by saintly persons, sages, and then they were carried out. It was not that the king acted whimsically. There was always an advisory board composed of saintly persons, who knew the Vedas very well. The sages used to guide the monarch, and therefore the monarch was the absolute governing body. The ministers helped, but the king was educated by God's direct instructions. For instance, Krsna gave direct instructions to the sun god (Bg. 4.1). According to Vedic tradition, there are two ksatriya (administrative) families: one coming from the sun god (surya-vamsa), and one coming from the moon god (candra- vamsa). Surya, the sun god, is the original ksatriya, and from him came Vaivasvata Manu. This is the age of Vaivasvata Manu, and from him came his son Iksvaku. Krsna's instructions are explicitly given in Bhagavad-gita, and if governments throughout the world take them up, they will attain perfection. Then there will be no disturbances, and there will be peace and happiness. That will make a perfect world. Krsna has given instructions in all fields of activity, but people are so foolish due to their demoniac tendencies that they attempt to manufacture their own standards. If the heads of state are degraded either individually or collectively, how can there be good government?
Syamasundara dasa: Hobbes contends that in the natural state, man is like all other animals. Might makes right, and the strongest always prevail. Therefore it is necessary that man form a social contract and volunteer to restrict natural liberties for the sake of self-preservation.
Srila Prabhupada: That is not natural liberty but ghostly liberty. There are many haunted people, and in their unnatural condition they are falsely thinking, "I am God." The natural condition is to think, "I am God's servant." Any condition devoid of Krsna consciousness is unnatural. Krsna is the supreme, and I am His subordinate. My business is to render service unto Him. This is the natural position.
Syamasundara dasa: Yet when men group together in a society to preserve themselves, they make a contract to the effect that they will not kill one another.
Srila Prabhupada: Why not a group of asses? What is their utility? Do you mean to say that because a group of asses congregate that some good will come of it? These rogues are always making contracts after a big war. After World War I, they made a contract through the League of Nations, and that failed. Then they had a Second World War, and they formed the United Nations and made more contracts. Eventually that will all be dissolved again. These contracts and compromises may serve some purposes for the time being, but ultimately they are useless.
Syamasundara dasa: Men in society volunteer, "I will not kill you or steal your property if you will not kill me or steal my property."
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is the thieves' contract. But, after all, if you remain a thief, what is the improvement? Thieves may steal some valuable things, and afterwards they congregate and say, "Let's divide the property honestly." Thieves are all dishonest, although they talk of honesty among themselves. Originally, everyone immigrated to America, and the whole land was stolen from the Indians. Now the thieves have formed a government and will not allow outsiders in without visas and passports and so many things. This is the kind of morality that is going on.
Syamasundara dasa: Hobbes's social contract was something like the converse of the Golden Rule: "Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you."
Srila Prabhupada: That was also Buddha's theory. Lord Buddha pointed out that if someone hurts us, we feel pain. Why, therefore, should we hurt others? Of course, third and fourth-class men have to be taught in this way. But in Bhagavad-gita, Krsna tells Arjuna, "Kill them!" Does this mean that Krsna's position is reduced? It is a question of the intelligence of the men involved.
Syamasundara dasa: Well, Hobbes is trying to determine how society can live peacefully.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, people have tried many times but have always failed. There cannot be any peace in this material world. Krsna says plainly:
punar avartino 'rjuna
mam upetya tu kaunteya
punar janma na vidyate
"From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again." ( Bg. 8.16) Since this is a place of misery, how can we establish peace here? We cannot. The material universe is structured in such a way that peace is not possible. As Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura says: samsara-davanala-lidha-loka (Sri Gurv-astaka 1). This material world is exactly like a blazing forest fire. No one wants fire in a forest, but it takes place naturally. No one wants to fight, but fighting takes place. How can you check it simply by making a contract? We are thinking that the material world is a nice place to live, but this is like a man thinking that stool is nice because it has been dried in the sun. If the stool is soft, it is not so good. But in either case, it is stool. Padam padam yad vipadam na tesam (Bhag. 10.14.58). In this world, there is danger at every step. Throughout history, people have tried to make contracts for peace, but it is not possible. One may refuse to submit to Krsna, but nature will not allow this. If we do not submit to Krsna, nature will punish us so that we will finally be obliged to submit to Him. That is nature's law. If We voluntarily submit to Krsna, that is for our benefit, but if we do not, nature's laws are so stringent that they will always give us trouble, and at the end we will be obliged to agree: vasudevah sarvam iti. "Vasudeva, Krsna, is everything." ( Bg. 7.19) If, after many births of struggle, we have to come to this point, why waste our time? Why not surrender to Krsna immediately? Otherwise, we will go on suffering according to nature's law.
Syamasundara dasa: Hobbes is called a utilitarian because he accepts a thing only if it's pragmatic or useful.
Srila Prabhupada: That is relative. A child is satisfied if you give him five rupees, but if you give his father five rupees, the man will think, "What is the use of this?" So the utility of five rupees is relative. Hobbes's conception of utility is not the same as Krsna's conception. Arjuna was thinking that he was speaking like a very learned man, but immediately Krsna told him that he was not (Bg. 2.11). All this is relative. The hog thinks that he is in a comfortable position and is eating very nicely, but he is eating stool and living in garbage. Crows believe one thing, and swans believe another. An imperfect man like Hobbes may believe one thing to be pragmatic, but one who is perfect may consider something totally different to be pragmatic.
Syamasundara dasa: Hobbes accepted religion only as a practical instrument. He says that it doesn't have any real value as a science but that it may be used by the state to pacify the people or to keep them confused.
Srila Prabhupada: This means that he does not know what religion is. Of course, some people have made religion into a certain type of faith, but actually religion means one's inherent characteristic. Religion is to the living entity what sweetness is to sugar. It is an inherent characteristic that cannot be separated. Every living entity is rendering service to someone. Everyone is subordinate to someone else, or to his senses. It is the characteristic of the living entity to be subordinate and to render service. InBhagavad-gita, Krsna says, "Surrender unto Me." ( Bg. 18.66) That is our first business, but we are too busy trying to become Krsna. Therefore we say, "I am God," or, "You are God," or, "We are all God." The living entity is not the Supreme God, but he is playing that way. When a man is haunted by ghosts, he says many nonsensical things. Similarly, when the living entity is under the clutches of the material energy, he speaks in such a way.
Syamasundara dasa: What about this idea of utility? What do you think of something being accepted only as long as it is useful?
Srila Prabhupada: It is our foolishness that we accept something temporarily useful. Our real desire is to have eternal life. We want something that is eternally useful, but in the material world we are always being frustrated. We want to live here permanently, but nature will not allow this. Even if there is no disturbance in the form of war, we will still not be allowed to remain.
Syamasundara dasa: A utilitarian would say that a thing should be used only insofar as it is required for some time. Then something else can be used, and in this way we can adjust things indefinitely.
Srila Prabhupada: But another point is that no one wants anything to change. Why? People want permanence because they are seeking their eternal, spiritual nature.
Syamasundara dasa: Hobbes might say that although we may be seeking something eternal, we may employ temporary things just as long as they are useful.
Srila Prabhupada: First of all, we must know what our eternal life is; then we can try to use everything favorable to further that end. Krsna is the ultimate goal, and whatever is favorable in helping us toward Him should be accepted. That is real utilitarianism. For instance, Arjuna said, "What should I do? Kill or not kill? Krsna wants me to kill. All right, I'll kill." This is utilitarianism.
Syamasundara dasa: For Hobbes, the goal is a peaceful society.
Srila Prabhupada: That is not possible. The goal should be the advancement of Krsna consciousness. Then peace will follow automatically.
Syamasundara dasa: His utilitarianism means the acceptance of whatever is favorable for the preservation of society.
Srila Prabhupada: In any case, society cannot be preserved. So many societies have come and gone. British society. Roman society. Greek society. Only Krsna's society is eternal. Knowing this is intelligence. Nitya-lila-pravista. "Now he has entered the eternal society of Krsna." This is what we say when our guru passes away. We are accepting Krsna as the Supreme and glorifying Him here on earth. This same process will go on there in the spiritual sky, in Krsna's abode. However, there it will take place in a perfect way. Here we are just practicing.