B enedict de Spinoza was a Dutch philosopher of Sephardi/Portuguese origin. By laying the groundwork for the 18th-century Enlightenment and modern biblical criticism, including modern conceptions of the self and the universe, he came to be considered one of the great rationalists of 17th-century philosophy.
Hayagriva dasa: Spinoza asserts that God cannot be a remote cause of the creation. He sees the creation flowing from God just as conclusions flow from principles in mathematics. God is free to create, but He is the immanent cause; the creation is but an extension.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, because He creates through His energy. As stated in Bhagavad- gita:
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) The material world is composed of these eight material elements, and because it is made out of God's energy, it is called the creation of God. More directly, however, it is His energies that create the material universe. The ingredients come from Him, and prakrti, nature, creates. God is both the remote and immanent cause of the creation because the elements are God's energies.
Syamasundara dasa: Spinoza sees God as the universal principle that binds together all the relationships in the material world.
Srila Prabhupada: If God is nothing but a principle, He has no personal activity. Is it that Spinoza is an impersonalist?
Syamasundara dasa: He states that God is the sum total of everything.
Srila Prabhupada: Certainly God is everything, but why shouldn't we utilize discrimination? By saying that God is a principle like light, we imply that God is like a material thing. According to him, what is man's position in relationship with God?
Syamasundara dasa: He states that the infinite universe is like a machine, yet all things are conditioned to exist in a particular way, and this is necessitated by the divine nature.
Srila Prabhupada: Everything may be like a machine, but a machine is devised by a person. So according to him, who is God? Is God the machine, or the person who devises the machine?
Syamasundara dasa: For him, God is the absolute universal principle behind everything. God is a thinking thing.
Srila Prabhupada: If He is thinking, He must be the creator of that machine.
Syamasundara dasa: Yes, he says that God is the creator, but we cannot know anything beyond the fact that God is that thinking and extended thing. Because we are aware of mind and matter, God must be thinking, and God must have extension. He claims that man cannot know more than that about God. Extension means that God takes up space.
Srila Prabhupada: If God is everything, He must exist in space. That is understood. But it must also be understood that if God is thinking, He is a person. How can He simply be a principle? How can we say that God is nothing but a principle and yet is thinking? The sun is working according to certain principles. It has to be at a certain place at a certain time. There is no question of thinking. If I say that the sun, which is a principle, is thinking, I am contradicting myself. If God is reason, God is a person, not a principle. Has Spinoza not explained what that principle is?
Syamasundara dasa: He says that everything is God, and that God is everything.
Srila Prabhupada: That is logical, but what is his conception of God? Is He a person or not? According to the Vedic version, the person is the origin, and the impersonal aspect is secondary. God is a person, and His influence or His supremacy is in everything.
isavasyam idam sarvam
yat kinca jagatyam jagat
tena tyaktena bhunjitha
ma grdhah kasya svid dhanam
"Everything animate or inanimate that is within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord. One should therefore accept only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one should not accept other things, knowing well to whom they belong." ( Isopanisad 1) Everything is made of God's energy, and therefore indirectly everything is God. Yet at the same time, everything is not God. That is Caitanya Mahaprabhu's philosophy of acintya- bhedabheda-tattva: everything is simultaneously one with and different from God. Everything is God, but at the same time, we are not worshipping this table. We are worshipping the personal God. Although everything is God, we cannot necessarily conceive of God in everything.
Syamasundara dasa: Spinoza says that we can appreciate God by intellectually appreciating all of His creation and therefore understanding that God is the perfect principle behind everything. In this way, we can have an intellectual love for Him.
Srila Prabhupada: God is a person, otherwise why are we worshipping the Deity? What is the difference between the Deity and this table? God has a personal form, but this table is not that form. Everything is the manifestation of God's energy. The Visnu Purana gives the example of fire, which expands as light and heat. Light and heat are nothing but fire, but at the same time, light and heat are not fire. They are simultaneously one and different. God is everything, but everything is not God. This table is God in the sense that it is part of God, but we cannot worship this table. In Bhagavad- gita, Krsna says:
mayatatam idam sarvam
na caham tesv avasthitah
"By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them." (Bg. 9.4) For instance, in the solar system, everything is resting on the sun's energy, but everything is not the sun. The sunshine is different from the sun, yet the sunshine is nothing but the sun. It is simultaneously one and different. This is perfect philosophy. Everything that is manifest is due to God, and when God withdraws His energy, there is no existence. It is insufficient to understand God simply as a principle. Spinoza says that God is a principle, but actually God is the Supreme Person. God expands His energy, and that energy is His principle.
Syamasundara dasa: God is identical with the substance of the world, the stuff the world is made of.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, you cannot separate the energy from the energetic. That is one fact, but at the same time you cannot say that the sunshine is the same as the sun. It is identical and at the same time different.
Syamasundara dasa: In a sense, Spinoza would agree in that he says there is a God who is substance but who also has an infinite number of attributes unknown to man.
Srila Prabhupada: That's all right, but the attributes are simultaneously God and not God. There is substance and category. Gold is the substance, and a gold ring is the category. The gold ring is certainly gold, but the original substance gold is different.
Syamasundara dasa: Spinoza would call God the substance and the things of this world the categories. Because the categories are made of the substance, they are all God.
Srila Prabhupada: This clay pot is made of earth, but would you say that it is the whole earth? You may call it earthly, just as you may call the creation godly. That is pantheism.
Hayagriva dasa: Spinoza writes: 'The more we understand individual objects, the more we understand God." Is this the proper process? Or is it that the more we understand God, the more we understand individual objects?
Srila Prabhupada: Everything is related to God. In the material world, for instance, things are composed of the five gross elements, which are expansions of God's energies. An intelligent person sees everything in relation to God's expansions of energy. A devotee does not look on anything as being separate from God. Since he is a lover of God, he wants to engage everything in God's service because he understands that everything is God's property. The asuras have no conception of God, nor do they obey or love Him. The demoniac living entity thinks that the material world is created for his enjoyment. He does not see the material world as an expansion of God's energy. One who uses material products for his personal benefit is called a thief because he does not acknowledge the proprietorship of the creator, God. If we do not consider everything to be prasada, the mercy of God, we become thieves subject to punishment. The conclusion is that the devotee sees every material object related to God and tries to use everything for God's benefit.
Hayagriva dasa: The emphasis in Spinoza is on intellectual knowledge of God through self-knowledge. He writes: "He who knows himself and knows his affections clearly and distinctly—and that with the accompaniment of the idea of God—is joyous, for he knows and loves God." Through knowledge of the self, we can come to know something of God. In this way, man can be happy and love God. There is no mention of service, however.
Srila Prabhupada: Love means service. When a mother loves her child, she renders him service.
guhyam akhyati prcchati
bhunkte bhojayate caiva
"Offering gifts in charity, accepting charitable gifts, revealing one's mind in confidence, inquiring confidentially, accepting prasada, and offering prasada are the six symptoms of love shared by one devotee and another." (Sri Upadesamrta 4) Love means giving to one's beloved and also accepting some gift from him. Dadati pratigrhnati. Love means feeding one's beloved and also taking food from him. It means disclosing one's mind to him, and understanding his mind also. There are six reciprocal relationships in love. Love includes service.
Hayagriva dasa: Spinoza's God is basically not personal. His love for God is more intellectual or philosophical than religious. He takes the typical impersonalist stand in his belief in the identity of the individual soul with God. This is not to say that he believed that the individual soul is infinite but that it is not distinct from God. He writes: "Thus that love of the soul is a part of the infinite love with which God loves Himself." He sees the soul's intellectual love of God, and God's love for the individual soul, to be one and the same.
Srila Prabhupada: There are five kinds of love: santa, dasya, sakhya, vatsalya, and madhurya. In the beginning, there is love in awe and adoration (santa), and one thinks, "Oh, God is so great. God is everything." When the soul understands God's unlimited potencies, the soul adores Him, and that adoration is also love. When our love advances, we serve God as a servant serves his master ( dasya). As the service becomes more intimate, friendship is established, and a reciprocal relationship of service is developed. This is the kind of service one friend renders to another. As this develops, the love turns into paternal love (vatsalya), and this expands into conjugal love (madhurya). Thus there are different stages of love of God, and Spinoza only touches the beginning one: adoration and appreciation of God's powerful expansions. That is commendable, but when this love expands, it reaches the platforms of dasya, sakhya, vatsalya, and madhurya-rasa.
Hayagriva dasa: It appears that Spinoza believes in the Paramatma present within all beings but not in the jiva accompanying the Paramatma. Is this not a typical impersonalist position?
Srila Prabhupada: This means that he does not know what is love. If God loves the living entity, He must be both well-wisher and friend. Because God expands Himself unlimitedly, He lives in the living entity. This is the conclusion of Bhagavad-gita:
hrd-dese 'rjuna tisthati
"The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone's heart, O Arjuna." (Bg. 18.61) The Upanisads also give the example of two birds sitting on a tree. One bird is eating the fruit of that tree, and the other is simply witnessing. The bird that witnesses is God, the Paramatma. Thus God, the Paramatma, and the individual soul, the jivatma, live together on the same tree of the body. This is confirmed throughout the Vedic literature.
sarvasya caham hrdi sannivisto
mattah smrtir jnanam apohanam ca
"I am seated in everyone's heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge, and forgetfulness." (Bg. 15.15) God reminds the living entity that unless Brahman is present, he cannot remember anything. The Paramatma is always there with the jivatma.
Hayagriva dasa: Spinoza does not believe that God has a body because "by body we understand a certain quantity possessing length, breadth, and depth, limited by some fixed form; and that to attribute these to God, a being absolutely infinite, is the greatest absurdity."
Srila Prabhupada: God has a body, but it is not like this material body, which is limited. Spinoza's view comes from imperfect knowledge of God's spiritual qualities. It is confirmed in Vedic literatures that God has a body: sac-cid-ananda-vigraha [Bs. 5.1]. Vigraha means "body" or "form." God's form is eternal, and He is all-aware. Sac-cit. He is also always blissful. The material body is neither eternal nor blissful, nor all-aware, and therefore it is different from God's body, which possesses different qualities and is all spiritual.
Hayagriva dasa: Concerning the individual material body, Spinoza asserts that each soul coincides with its body. That is, the soul acquires the body that befits it. However, the soul can progress beyond bodies to come to know spiritual truths by turning toward God rather than the material world, or, as Spinoza would put it, God's "extensions."
Srila Prabhupada: The extension or expansion is also God, but at the same time, God is not personally present in the extension. The extension or expansion comes from the person. We might compare the expansions to the government and the person to the governor. The government is under the control of the governor, just as the impersonal expansion of God is under the control of the Supreme Person, Krsna. Pantheism says that because everything is God, God Himself has no individual personal existence. To say that everything is God and that God is no more than everything is a material conception. In the material world, if you tear a piece of paper into pieces and throw the pieces away, the original paper is lost. The spiritual conception is different. God may expand Himself unlimitedly through His extensions, but He still remains complete in His own person.
Hayagriva dasa: Spinoza believed that as long as man is composed of body and soul, he will be under the mode of passion, and as long as the soul is confined to the body, the living entity will necessarily be attached to the physical world.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, we call this maya, forgetfulness. The real aim of life, however, is to learn how to distinguish the soul from the material body so that when they separate, we may remain in our original, spiritual form. As long as we are attached to the material body, we have to continue to transmigrate from one body to another. If we give up our attachment to the material body, we are liberated from transmigration, and this is called mukti. It is possible to remain in our spiritual body by always thinking of God. That is the real meaning of meditation. This is confirmed by Sri Krsna in Bhagavad-gita:
manmana bhava mad-bhakto
mad-yaji mam namaskuru
mam evaisyasi satyam te
pratijane priyo 'si me
"Always think of Me and become My devotee. Worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend." (Bg. 18.65)
Hayagriva dasa: Spinoza considered good and evil to relate only to man. They have no basis in God, who is beyond both.
Srila Prabhupada: But if everything is in God, as Spinoza thinks, what is man's position? God is there, but what is the position of evil? Evil is there, but he says that there is no evil in God. If this is the case, where does evil come from? According to the Vedas, good and evil also emanate from God. It is said that evil is His back, and that good is His front.
Syamasundara dasa: Since the absolute reality is perfect, error and evil do not really exist because they would imply imperfection. According to Spinoza, since everything is God, everything must be perfect.
Srila Prabhupada: Purnat purnam udacyate (Isopanisad, Invocation). Everything that is produced from the perfect is also perfect. Because God is perfect, the expansions of God are also perfect. If things are perfect in themselves, as long as we keep them in a perfect state, they are perfect. Because material nature is temporary, in the course of time it will become imperfect.
Syamasundara dasa: Spinoza says that imperfection or error arises from a partial view of the whole. They are not viewed under the aspect of the eternal.
Srila Prabhupada: In Bhagavad-gita, Krsna says that when the material energy is wound up, it again enters into Him. In the material world, everything is temporary, and everything will eventually be annihilated.
prakrtim yanti mamikam
kalpa-ksaye punas tani
kalpadau visrjamy aham
"O son of Kunti, at the end of the millennium, every material manifestation enters into My nature, and at the beginning of another millennium, by My potency I again create." (Bg. 9.7) This body will eventually catch some disease, and there will be some so-called imperfection. You cannot consider that disease or imperfection is not in perfect order. This cosmic manifestation is created by Lord Brahma, maintained by Lord Visnu, and annihilated by Lord Siva. There is perfect order here, and this annihilation is also perfect. Thus in a larger sense you can also say that when the body grows old, catches some disease, and dies, these events are also in perfect order. From one point of view, we may see birth, old age, disease and death as imperfections, but actually they are in perfect order. In order to fulfill the whole plan, there must be some disease, or some destruction. We cannot call this imperfection. The plan of destruction is there from the beginning, and that plan is perfect.
Syamasundara dasa: Spinoza says that we err because we cannot see the whole.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, the mistake is also in perfect order. For instance, it was the plan of Krsna that so many warriors die on the battlefield of Kuruksetra. That was all in perfect order because it was all planned by God. Parasyasaktir vividhaiva sruyate ( Svetasvatara Upanisad 6.8). The Vedas say that the energies of the Lord are multifarious, and just as God is perfect, His energies are also perfect.
Syamasundara dasa: For Spinoza, evil is due to ignorance, an inability to see reality in its entirety, which is all good because it is God.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, evil is due to ignorance. That is a fact. In a higher sense, there is no evil. Ignorance may be considered the cause of evil.
Hayagriva dasa: In his Ethics, Spinoza writes: "Properly speaking, God loves no one and hates no one; for God is not affected with any emotion of joy or sorrow, and consequently, He neither loves nor hates anyone."
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, and therefore He is called atmarama. Being complete in Himself, He doesn't require anything from anyone. However,. He states in Bhagavad-gita:
patram puspam phalam toyam
yo me bhaktya prayacchati
tad aham bhakty-upahrtam
"If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water, I will accept it." (Bg. 9.26) It is not for God's benefit that He accepts the offering of His devotee; rather, it is for the devotee's benefit to offer something out of love so that his love for God will develop. If we are decorated, our reflection in the mirror is automatically decorated. If we are God's reflections, we also become decorated if God is decorated.
Hayagriva dasa: When Krsna destroys demons, does He do so without passion or hatred?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. He kills demons for their benefit.
Hayagriva dasa: Spinoza writes: "No sorrow can exist with the accompanying idea of God. No one can hate God."
Srila Prabhupada: By nature, God is always full of pleasure. He is sac-cid- ananda. He is the very source of pleasure. When Krsna dances with the gopis, He appears very pleasing, and when He kills a demon, He appears very pleasing also. It is not that He is morose when He destroys a demon. He knows that He is not killing the demon, but awarding him salvation.
Hayagriva dasa: What about the contention that no one can hate God? What of Kamsa and others?
Srila Prabhupada: Hatred of God is demoniac. Naturally, the living entity is in love with God, and he certainly should love God, but when he is in maya, he considers himself separate from God. Instead of loving Him, he begins to consider God a competitor and hindrance to sense gratification. It is then that he thinks of avoiding God, or killing Him. The living entity then thinks, "I will become an absolute sense gratifier." In this way, he becomes demoniac.
Syamasundara dasa: Spinoza defines the supreme virtue to be understanding God.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Therefore Bhagavad-gita says:
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) Unless we come to that point, our knowledge is necessarily imperfect.
Syamasundara dasa: Spinoza's idea of understanding God is understanding nature. This is because he believes that God reveals Himself in nature.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, just as in order to understand the sun, we have to understand the sunshine. If we study nature, daiva-sakti, we can get some idea of God. Those who are just beginning to understand God are nature worshippers. They cannot go directly to God. The study of nature is the first stage of understanding God.
Syamasundara dasa: Spinoza stresses the importance of the intellect, which allows a man to understand the laws of his own personality and thereby control his emotions.
Srila Prabhupada: What does he mean by the emotions?
Syamasundara dasa: Acting emotionally means acting instinctively by one's senses without intelligent consideration.
Srila Prabhupada: A madman acts according to his emotions. But what is the source of these emotions? Unless there are emotions in the whole substance, how can emotions exist? There must be emotions in the whole. The substance is the origin, and therefore emotion is a category. Unless emotions are already there in the substance, how can they be manifest? How can you neglect your emotions? If emotions exist in the substance, they have some purpose. Why is he trying to negate his emotions?
Syamasundara dasa: He thinks that emotions will only lead one to error.
Srila Prabhupada: Whatever the case, emotions are concomitant factors in the substance. Every madman also has a mind just as a sane man, but the sane man does not commit mistakes because his mind is in order. Similarly, when emotions are not in order, they lead to trouble, but when emotions are in order, they serve a purpose and are proper. Spinoza does not know this?
Syamasundara dasa: He claims that the intelligence can direct the emotions.
Srila Prabhupada: Love of God is an emotion. One may cry in the perfectional stage of devotional service. When Caitanya Mahaprabhu threw Himself into the ocean, that was an emotional act, but that was also a perfect act. According to his emotions, Caitanya Mahaprabhu was considering one moment to be like a yuga, like forty-three million years. This was because He was feeling separation from Krsna. When we feel separation from Govinda, Krsna, our emotions are in perfect order. That is the perfection of life. However, when the emotions are misused, that is maya.
Syamasundara dasa: Spinoza believes that by nourishing our intelligence, we can will things accordingly. First of all, our will should be subordinate to our intelligence.
Srila Prabhupada: It is already subordinate to our intelligence.
Syamasundara dasa: But in a madman, is it not reversed?
Srila Prab hupada: A madman actually loses his intelligence. He thinks wildly. This is due to derangement, to a loss of intelligence.
Syamasundara dasa: Spinoza says that God's intelligence controls His will.
Srila Prabhupada: That is a different thing. In God, there is no such distinction. There is no distinction between God's body, soul, mind, and intelligence. In Him, everything is absolute. You cannot say that this is God's intelligence, or that this is God's mind. If you make these distinctions, how can you say that God is absolute? In the relative material world, there are such distinctions. We say that this is the intelligence, this is the mind, this is the soul, and so on, but in the spiritual world, there are no such distinctions. Everything is spirit.
Syamasundara dasa: For Spinoza, nature and God are one, and the moral and the natural are the same.
Srila Prabhupada: Sexual desire is a part of nature. Why is it sometimes called immoral?
Syamasundara dasa: It is immoral when it is unnatural.
Srila Prabhupada: Then we must distinguish between what is natural and unnatural. Whatever is done in God's service is natural and moral, and whatever is not done in His service is unnatural and immoral. Everything in nature is for the satisfaction of God. God has created this flower, and this flower should therefore be employed in God's service. That is moral. As soon as you take this flower for your own sense enjoyment, that is immoral.
Syamasundara dasa: Spinoza states that man should act for his own self-preservation because this is a natural law.
Srila Prabhupada: All preservation depends on God; therefore self-preservation means surrendering to God. A child can preserve himself by surrendering to his parents' will, but if he acts independently, he may be in trouble. If we do not surrender to God, there is no question of preservation. In Bhagavad-gita, Krsna says:
sarva-karmany api sada
sasvatam padam avyayam
"Though engaged in all kinds of activities, My devotee, under My protection, reaches the eternal and imperishable abode by My grace." ( Bg. 18.56) Krsna tells Arjuna to surrender unto Him. "I will give you all protection." Without Krsna, we can not protect ourselves. When Lord Ramacandra wanted to kill Ravana, no one could preserve him, not even Lord Siva or Goddess Durga. Although there was a huge arrangement for the slaughter of the Pandavas, no one could kill them because they were protected by Krsna. Self-preservation means taking shelter of Krsna and depending on Him. Rakhe krsna mareke mare krsna rakheke. "If Krsna protects one, who can kill him? And if Krsna wants to kill one, who can protect him?" Just surrender unto Krsna, and you will never be destroyed. That is self-preservation. Krsna tells Arjuna: kaunteya pratijanihi na me bhaktah pranasyati. "O son of Kunti, declare it boldly that My devotee never perishes." (Bg. 9.31).
Syamasundara dasa: Spinoza believes that the more we understand reality, the more we understand God.
Srila Prabhupada: This is because God is reality, and forgetfulness of God is illusion. Illusion is also God, but in illusion we forget God; therefore it is not real. Sunshine and darkness are both reality because they exist side by side. Wherever there is light, there is also shadow. How can we say that the shadow is not reality? It is maya, but because maya attacks the individual soul, Krsna is forgotten. In that sense, illusion or the unreal is also reality.
Syamasundara dasa: But in illusion we forget the reality, the light.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. But this is so-called illusion. It is darkness, the atmosphere in which Krsna is forgotten. Maya is the shadow of darkness, yet even if we come under the shadow of darkness, reality remains. That atmosphere of the unreal is existing side by side with the real. Krsna states, "Maya is Mine." (Bg. 9.10) It is created by God; therefore how can it be unreal? Krsna is reality, and everything dovetailed to Krsna is reality. Therefore maya, or the unreal, is also Krsna. However, when we are in Krsna consciousness, we are situated in reality. This material world is called the unreal, but if we are Krsna conscious, there is nothing unreal.
Syamasundara dasa: Because there is no forgetfulness?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. As long as you are engaged in the service of Krsna, there is nothing unreal for you.
Syamasundara dasa: Spinoza also believed that man, by subordinating his spirit to natural necessity, finds perfect peace.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that natural necessity means surrender unto Krsna. Krsna is the Supersoul, and naturally if I surrender unto Him, I will find perfect peace.
tam eva saranam gaccha
sthanam prapsyasi sasvatam
"O scion of Bharata, surrender unto Him utterly. By His grace you will attain transcendental peace and the supreme and eternal abode." (Bg. 18.62)