P lato was a philosopher in Classical Greece and the founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. He is widely considered the most pivotal figure in the development of philosophy, especially the Western tradition. Unlike nearly all of his philosophical contemporaries, Plato's entire work is believed to have survived intact for over 2,400 years.
Hayagriva dasa: For Plato, the spiritual world is not a mental conception; rather, truth is the same as ultimate reality, the ideal or the highest good, and it is from this that all manifestations and cognitions flow. Plato uses the word eidos (idea) in order to denote a subject's primordial existence, its archetypal shape. Doesn't Krsna use the word bijam [seed] in much the same way?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Bijam mam sarva-bhutanam. "I am the original seed of all existences." (Bg. 7.10) In the Tenth Chapter of Bhagavad- gita, Krsna also states: mattah sarvam pravartate. "I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me." (Bg. 10.8) Whether we speak of the spiritual or material world, everything emanates from Krsna, the origin of all manifestations. The origin is what is factual. God has two energies—material and spiritual. This is also described in Bhagavad-gita:
bhumir apo 'nalo vayuh
kham mano buddhir eva ca
ahankara itiyam me
bhinna prakrtir astadha
apareyam itas tv anyam
prakrtim viddhi me param
yayedam dharyate jagat
aham krtsnasya jagatah
prabhavah pralayas tatha
"Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence, and false ego—all together these eight constitute My separated material energies. Besides this inferior nature, O mighty-armed Arjuna, there is a superior energy of Mine, which is all living entities who are struggling with material nature and sustaining the universe. Of all that is material and all that is spiritual in this world, know for certain that I am both its origin and dissolution." (Bg. 7.4-6)
Gross matter, as well as the subtle mind, intelligence, and ego, are Krsna's separated material energies. The living entity, the individual soul (jiva) is also Krsna's energy, but he is superior to the material energy. When we make a comparative study of Krsna's energies, we find that one energy is superior and that another is inferior, but because both energies are coming from the Absolute Truth, there is no difference. In a higher sense, they are all one. In the material world, everything is created, maintained, and then annihilated, but in the spiritual world, this is not the case. Although the body is created, maintained, and annihilated, the soul is not.
na jayate mriyate va kadacin
nayam bhutva bhavita va na bhuyah
ajo nityahsasvato 'yam purano
na hanyate hanyamane sarire
"For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain." (Bg. 2.20) At death, the soul may take on another body, but one who is perfect goes directly to Krsna.
janma karma ca me divyam
evam yo vetti tattvatah
tyaktva deham punar janma
naiti mam eti so 'rjuna
"One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna." (Bg. 4.9)
Or, one may go to the higher planetary systems, or the lower, or one may remain in the middle systems. In any case, it is better to go back to Godhead. This is the course of one who is intelligent.
yanti deva-vrata devan
pitrn yanti pitr-vratah
bhutani yanti bhutejya
yanti mad-yajino 'pi mam
"Those who worship the demigods will take birth among the demigods; those who worship ghosts and spirits will take birth among such beings; those who worship ancestors go to the ancestors; and those who worship Me will live with Me." (Bg. 9.25)
Hayagriva dasa: What Plato is saying is that everything that exists has its seed or essence (eidos).
Srila Prabhupada: That seed is originally with Krsna. For instance, before its manifestation, a tree is but a seed. Yet within that seed the whole tree is present. If you sow the seed of a rose plant, roses will manifest. If you sow the seed of a mango tree, a mango tree will manifest. It is not an idea but a fact. The tree is there, but it is not developed. Although it is unmanifest, it is more than an idea.
Syamasundara dasa: The senses perceive the changing phenomenal world, but according to Plato, the noumenal world is perceived by the mind. It is this world that is absolute, ideal, permanent, and universal. Would you say that ultimate reality is ideal in this Platonic sense?
Srila Prabhupada: Not ideal—factual. Param satyam dhimahi. "We offer our obeisances unto the Absolute Truth." This relative world is a perverted reflection of the absolute world. It is just like a shadow. A tree reflected in the water may appear to be exactly like the tree itself, but it is a perverted reflection. The actual tree is there. Similarly, this relative world is a reflection of the absolute world. In the beginning of Srimad-Bhagavatam, it is clearly stated that this manifested creation, which is but a reflection, has its beginning in the Supreme Personality of Godhead:
janmady asya yato 'nvayad itaratas carthesv abhijnah svarat
tene brahma hrda ya adi-kavaye muhyanti yat surayah
tejo-vari-mrdam yatha vinimayo yatra tri-sargo 'mrsa
dhamna svena sada nirasta-kuhakam satyam param dhimahi
"I meditate upon Lord Sri Krsna because He is the Absolute Truth and the primeval cause of all causes of the creation, sustenance, and destruction of the manifested universes. He is directly and indirectly conscious of all manifestations, and He is independent because there is no other cause beyond Him. It is He only who first imparted the Vedic knowledge unto the heart of Brahmaji, the original living being. By Him, even the great sages and demigods are placed into illusion, as one is bewildered by the illusory representations of water seen in fire, or land seen on water. Only because of Him do the material universes, temporarily manifested by the reactions of the three modes of nature, appear factual, although they are unreal. I therefore meditate upon Him, Lord Sri Krsna, who is eternally existent in the transcendental abode, which is forever free from the illusory representations of the material world. I meditate upon Him, for He is the Absolute Truth." (Bhag. 1.1.1)
In Bhagavad-gita, the example of the banyan tree is given:
asvattham prahur avyayam
chandamsi yasya parnani
yas tam veda sa veda-vit
"There is a banyan tree which has its roots upward and its branches down, and whose leaves are the Vedic hymns. One who knows this tree is the knower of the Vedas." (Bg. 15.1) The tree of the phenomenal world has its roots upward, which indicates that it is but a reflection of the real tree. The real tree is there, but because the tree perceived in the phenomenal world is a reflection, it is perverted. So the absolute world is a fact, but we cannot arrive at it by speculation. Our process is to know about the absolute world from the absolute person. That is the difference between our process and Plato's. Plato wants to reach the absolute point through the dialectic process. We, however, receive information from Bhagavad- gita that there is a superior world or nature which exists even after this phenomenal cosmic manifestation is annihilated.
paras tasmat tu bhavo 'nyo
'vyakto 'vyaktat sanatanah
yah sa sarvesu bhutesu
nasyatsu na vinasyati
"Yet there is another nature, which is eternal and is transcendental to this manifested and unmanifested matter. It is supreme and is never annihilated. When all in this world is annihilated, that part remains as it is." (Bg. 8.20)
Hayagriva dasa: Plato considered the material world restricted to limitations of time and space, but the spiritual world transcends both.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Hayagriva dasa: He also believed that time began with the creation of the material world. How does this relate to the Vedic version?
Srila Prabhupada: Time is eternal. The past, present, and future are three features of time, but they are relative. Your past, present, and future are not the same as those of Brahma. Brahma lives for millions of years, and within this span we may have many pasts, presents, and futures. These are relative according to the person, but time itself is eternal. Is that clear? Past, present, and future are relative according to the body, but time has no past, present, or future.
Hayagriva dasa: Plato considered material nature, or prakrti, to have always been existing in a chaotic state. God takes matter and fashions it into form in order to create the universe.
Srila Prabhupada: More precisely, Krsna sets prakrti in motion, and the products are manifesting automatically. A printer may set up a press in such a way that many magazines can be printed completely. The seeds, or bijams, are created by God in such a way that creations are manifest automatically. These seeds are God's machines. He has created these seeds only. The seed of the entire universe is coming from Him. Yasyaika nisvasita kalam athavalambya (Brahma-samhita 5.48). When God breathes, millions of seeds of universes emanate from His body, and we call this creation. When He inhales, they return, and we call this annihilation. Things are manifest or unmanifest depending on His breathing. When He exhales, everything is manifest. When He inhales, everything is finished. Only a fool thinks that God's breathing and our breathing are the same. Bhagavad-gita says:
avajananti mam mudha
manusim tanum asritam
param bhavam ajananto
"Fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature and My supreme dominion over all that be." ( Bg. 9.11) Even Lord Brahma and Lord Indra were bewildered to see that this cowherd boy is God Himself.
Syamasundara dasa: Plato's word for God is demiurge, which in Greek means master builder, architect, or hand-worker.
Srila Prabhupada: In Sanskrit this is called srsti-karta, but this conception is secondary. Lord Brahma is srsti-karta, and Brahma is inspired by Krsna. The original master, Krsna, is not srsti-karta because He does not do anything directly. As stated in the Vedas: sva-bhaviki jnana-bala-kriya ca, "His potencies are multifarious, and thus His deeds are automatically performed as a natural sequence." ( Svetasvatara-upanisad 6.8). As soon as He wants something done, it is actualized. Sa aiksata—sa imal lokan asrjata ( Aitareya-upanisad 1.1.1-2). When He glances at matter, creation takes place immediately. His energy is so perfect that simply by willing and glancing, everything is immediately and perfectly created. For instance, this flower is Krsna's energy. It requires a highly talented brain to color it and adjust it in such a way, but it is growing automatically. This is the way of Krsna's energy. This flower is a very small thing, but the entire cosmic manifestation is created on the same basis. Parasya saktir vividhaiva sruyate. Krsna has multi-energies, fine and subtle. As soon as Krsna thinks, "This thing must come into being immediately," that thing is prepared by so many subtle energies. Krsna doesn't have to do anything with His hands. He simply desires something, and it is created. Lord Brahma is supposed to be the direct creator of the universe, but there are millions of universes and millions of Brahmas. There are also millions of suns and other luminaries. There is no limit, and all this material creation is but the energy of Krsna.
Syamasundara dasa: Plato conceives of God as the essence of perfection, the supreme ideal, and the supreme good.
Srila Prabhupada: According to Parasara Muni, perfection belongs to Him who has complete knowledge, wealth, beauty, power, fame, and renunciation. God has everything in full, and there is no vacancy in Him.
Syamasundara dasa: Plato's philosophy points to a personal conception, but there is no idea of what God looks like, or what He says.
Srila Prabhupada: The Vedic literatures not only present this person but describe Him.
venum kvanantam aravinda-dalayataksam
govindam adi-purusam tam aham bhajami
"I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, who is adept in playing on His flute, whose blossoming eyes are like lotus petals, whose head is bedecked with a peacock's feather, whose figure of beauty is tinged with the hue of blue clouds, and whose unique loveliness charms millions of Cupids." ( Brahma-samhita 5.30) In this way, Lord Krsna's form and activities are concretely described. In the Vedas, everything is factual. Plato thinks that the creator may be a person, but he does not know what kind of person He is, nor does he know of His engagements.
Hayagriva dasa: Later, in The Republic, in the allegory of the cave mentioned before, Socrates states that in the world of knowledge, the last thing to be perceived, and only with great difficulty, is the essential form of goodness. He considers this form to be the cause of whatever is right and good. He states that without having had a vision of this form, one cannot act with wisdom, neither in his own life, nor in matters of state. Here again, form is mentioned, but not personality.
Srila Prabhupada: That is contradictory. As soon as we understand that there are instructions from God, we must understand that there is form, and when we understand that there is form, we must understand that there is personality. In Bhagavad-gita, Krsna tells Arjuna:
na tv evaham jatu nasam
na tvam neme janadhipah
na caiva na bhavisyamah
sarve vayam atah param
"Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be." (Bg. 2.12) This means that in the past, present, and future, Krsna, Arjuna, and all other living entities exist as personalities and have form. There is no question of formlessness. Krsna never said that in the past we were formless and that only in the present we have form. Rather, He condemns the impersonal version that says when God takes on form, that form is illusion, maya.
avyaktam vyaktim apannam
manyante mam abuddhayah
param bhavam ajananto
"Unintelligent men, who know Me not, think that I have assumed this form and personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know My higher nature, which is changeless and supreme." (Bg. 7.24) In this way, the impersonalists who claim that God is ultimately formless are condemned as abuddhayah, unintelligent. When one maintains that God accepts a body composed of maya, he is called a Mayavadi.
Syamasundara dasa: For Plato, God is the ideal of every object, the ideal representation of everything. The individual soul is therefore a tiny portion of this ideal.
Srila Prabhupada: The material world is a perverted reflection of the spiritual world. For instance, in this material world there is love, the sex urge. This is also present in the spiritual world, but it is present in its perfection. There is beauty, and there is attraction between Krsna, a young boy, and Radharani, a young girl. But that attraction is perfection.
In this world, that attraction is reflected in a perverted way. A young boy and girl fall in love, become frustrated, and separate. Therefore this is called perverted. Nonetheless, reality is there, and in reality there is no separation. It is perfect. That love is so nice that it is increasing pleasure.
Syamasundara dasa: Plato called love in the material world lust, or sensual love. There was also ideal, Platonic love, or intellectual love. By this, one observes the soul in a person and loves that soul, not the body.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, spiritual love is factual. It is stated in Bhagavad- gita:
brahmane gavi hastini
suni caiva svapake ca
"The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste]." (Bg. 5.18) The learned person sees all these living entities with an equal vision because he does not see the outward covering. He sees the spirit soul within everyone. When we talk to a person, we do not talk to that person's dress but to the person himself. Similarly, those who are learned do not distinguish between outward bodies. The outward body has developed according to the karma of the living entity, but it is ephemeral. It is the soul that is real.
Hayagriva dasa: For Plato, perfection within the world of the senses can never be attained.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is correct. Everything material has some defect. In Bhagavad-gita, Krsna tells Arjuna:
saha-jam karma kaunteya
sa-dosam api na tyajet
"Every endeavor is covered by some sort of fault, just as fire is covered by smoke. Therefore one should not give up the work which is born of his nature, O son of Kunti, even if such work is full of fault." (Bg. 18.48) If we execute our prescribed duties according to the sastras, we can still attain perfection, even though there are some defects. Through Krsna consciousness, everyone can become perfect, regardless of his situation. A brahmana may give knowledge, a ksatriya may give protection, a vaisya may provide food, and a sudra may provide general help for everyone. Although there may be imperfections in the execution of our duty, perfection can be attained by following the injunctions.
Syamasundara dasa: Plato perceives man's soul in a marginal, intermediate position between two worlds. The soul belongs to the ideal world, but he has taken on a material body.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, we agree that the conditioned soul is marginal energy. He can have a spiritual body or a material body, but until he is trained in acquiring a spiritual body, he will have to have a material body. However, when he engages in devotional service, his so-called material body is transformed into a spiritual body. For instance, if you put an iron rod into fire, it becomes red hot, and when it is red hot, it is no longer iron but fire. Similarly, when you are fully Krsna conscious, your body is no longer material but spiritual.
Hayagriva dasa: Plato believed that God put intelligence in the soul, and the soul in the body, in order that He might be the creator of a work which is by nature best.
Srila Prabhupada: We say that the living entity is part and parcel of God.
"The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal fragmental parts." (Bg. 15.7) The living entity almost has all the qualities of God, but he has them in minute quantity. We may create large airplanes and take some credit, but we cannot create a fiery ball like the sun and have it float in space. That is the difference between God and us. By God's power, millions and millions of planets are floating in space. We may manufacture some things out of the materials given by God, but we cannot create these materials. For instance, it is not possible to manufacture gold, although God has created so many gold mines.
Syamasundara dasa: Plato reasoned that the soul, being eternal, must have existed previously in the ideal world, where it learned about eternal principles. Because we can recollect the eternal ideas quite easily, they are latent, or dormant within us.
Srila Prabhupada: The soul is eternally spiritual, and therefore all goodness resides in it. But due to contact with matter, the soul becomes conditioned. When the soul engages in his original work by rendering service to Krsna, he immediately attains all spiritual qualities.
Syamasundara dasa: For Plato, the longing for immortality is inborn. Man is yearning to realize this perfection.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, we desire to live eternally because we are in fact eternal. The living entity does not like changing material bodies. Birth and death are a botheration. He is afraid of taking birth, and he is afraid of dying, but he does not know how to get rid of these botherations. However, according to Bhagavad-gita (4.9), as soon as we understand Krsna, we immediately transcend this transmigration.
Hayagriva dasa: Plato perceives that every object in the universe is made with some purpose, and its ideal goal is to move toward the ideal in which its archetype or essence resides. According to the Vedic version, Krsna is the all-attractive object of the universe; therefore all things must be moving toward Him. How is it that the individual soul apparently turns from Krsna to participate in the world of birth and death?
Srila Prabhupada: That is due to maya, illusion. He should not have deviated, but due to the influence of maya, he is deviating and consequently suffering. Therefore Krsna says, sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam (Bg. 18.66). "Stop this material plan making, surrender unto Me, and do what I say. Then you will be happy." This is very practical. According to Bhagavad-gita, the living entities are now forgetful of their relationship with God. They have taken on these material bodies because they have a desire to imitate God. They cannot be God, but simply imitations. A woman may dress like a man, but she cannot become a man despite her dress. The living entity, being part and parcel of God, may believe that he is just like God, the supreme enjoyer, and he may think, "I shall enjoy myself." However, because he is not the actual enjoyer, he is given a false platform for enjoying. That platform is the material world. On this false platform, the individual soul experiences frustration. It cannot be said that this frustration is one step forward towards his real life. If one is actually intelligent, he thinks, "Why am I being frustrated? What is real perfection?" This is the beginning of the Vedanta-sutra: athato brahma-jijnasa. When he becomes frustrated with the material world, the living entity asks, "What is Brahman?" For instance, Sanatana Gosvami was a finance minister, but when he became frustrated, he approached Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Our real life begins when we become frustrated with material existence and approach a real spiritual master. If we do not do this, we will certainly be frustrated in whatever we attempt in this material world. Srimad-Bhagavatam says:
parabhavas tavad abodha-jato
yavan na jijnasata atma-tattvam
yavat kriyas tavad idam mano vai
karmatmakam yena sarira-bandhah
"As long as one does not inquire about the spiritual values of life, one is defeated and subjected to miseries arising from ignorance. Be it sinful or pious, karma has its resultant actions. If a person is engaged in any kind of karma, his mind is called karmatmaka, colored with fruitive activity. As long as the mind is impure, consciousness is unclear, and as long as one is absorbed in fruitive activity, he has to accept a material body." (Bhag. 5.5.5)
In ignorance, the living entity tries to approach the ideal life, but he is ultimately defeated. He must come to the point of understanding himself. When he understands what he is, he knows, "I am not matter; I am spirit." When he understands this, he begins to make spiritual inquiries, and by this, he can again return home, back to Godhead.
Syamasundara dasa: Plato believes that we must mold our lives in such a way as to attain perfection.
Srila Prabhupada: That is Krsna consciousness, devotional service. We are the eternal servants of God, of Krsna, and as long as we are in the material world, we should be trained to serve God. As soon as our apprenticeship is completed, we are promoted to the spiritual world to render the same service in fact. We are chanting here, and in the spiritual world we will also be chanting. We are serving here, and there we will also be serving. However, here we experience a probational apprenticeship. There, that service is factual. But even though this is an apprenticeship, because devotional service is absolute, it is not different from the real world. Therefore if one engages in devotional service, he is already liberated. His very activities are liberated; they are not at all material. One who does not know anything about devotional service thinks, "Oh, what are they doing? Why are they chanting? Anyone can chant. How is this spiritual?" People do not know that the names of Krsna are as good as Krsna. They are absolute.
Syamasundara dasa: Socrates maintained that one must become perfectly good, but he gives no clear idea of just how this is done.
Srila Prabhupada: Being perfectly good means acting for the perfectly good, Krsna. In Krsna consciousness, we are given an actual occupation by which we can become perfectly good. The activities of a person in Krsna consciousness appear to be perfectly good even to a materialistic person. Anyone can appreciate the good character and qualifications of devotees. Yasyasti bhaktir bhagavaty akincana (Bhag. 5.18.12). If one has developed Krsna consciousness, he will manifest all the good qualities of the demigods. This is a test to tell how we are advancing toward perfection. These qualities will be visible even in this material world. This is not simply a question of the ideal, the inaccessible. This can be factually experienced. And the devotee does not want anything other than engagement in Krsna consciousness. He doesn't want material sense gratification at all. That is perfection.
Hayagriva dasa: For Plato, perfect happiness lies in attempting to become godly. Insofar as man is godly, he is ethical. Evil forces within man combat his efforts to attain this ultimate goal. But Plato was not a determinist; he emphasized freedom of the will, and insisted that evil acts are due to man's failure to meet his responsibilities. Evil does not come from God, who is all good.
Srila Prabhupada: Everything comes from God, but we have to make our choice. Both the university and the prison are government institutions, but the prison is meant for criminals, and the university for scholars. The government spends money to maintain both institutions, but we make our choice either to go to prison or the university. That is the minute independence present in every human being. In Bhagavad-gita, Krsna says:
samo 'ham sarva-bhutesu
na me dvesyo 'sti na priyah
ye bhajanti tu mam bhaktya
mayi te tesu capy aham
"I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him." (Bg. 9.29) It is not that out of envy God makes someone unhappy and someone else happy. This is not God's business. Happiness and unhappiness are our creation. The government does not tell us to become criminals, but it is our fault if we become criminals and suffer. Of course, God is ultimately responsible. God gives us suffering or happiness, but we create the situation which is made into fact by the potency of God.
Hayagriva dasa: Plato conceives of death as being the end of the sensory life of the individual, his thoughts, perceptions, and experiences. The individual then returns to the ideal world from which he came.
Srila Prabhupada: This means that he believes in the eternity of the soul. There are three stages: awakening, dreaming, and deep sleep, or unconsciousness. When a man dies, he goes from the awakening state into the dreaming state, and then enters the state of deep sleep. Transmigration means that he gives up the gross body and carries the subtle body—the mind, intelligence, and false ego—into another body. Until the other body is properly prepared, he remains in a state of deep sleep. When the body is prepared after seven months [for the human being], he then regains consciousness. At this point, he thinks, "O my Lord, why am I put into this situation? Why am I packed tightly in this womb?"
In the womb, he feels very uncomfortable, and if he is pious, he prays to God for relief. At this time, he promises God that he will become a devotee. When he comes out of the womb, the different stages of life begin: childhood, youth, manhood, middle age, old age, and then again death. It is like a flower that goes through different stages. In the beginning, the flower is only a bud, and it eventually blossoms and looks very beautiful. By gradually developing our Krsna consciousness, the beauty of our life can eventually be manifest.
Hayagriva dasa: Plato also stressed the process of remembering. For instance, a boy may be ignorant of a certain subject, but a teacher can elicit answers from him that will suggest that he acquired this certain knowledge in a previous existence.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, and therefore we find that some students are more intelligent than others. Why is this? One student can grasp the subject very quickly, while another cannot.
hriyate hy avaso 'pi sah
"By virtue of the divine consciousness of his previous life, he automatically becomes attracted to the yogic principles, even without seeking them." (Bg. 6.44) Some men may be born in rich families and may acquire a good education, whereas others may be born in poor families and remain uneducated. If one is extraordinarily rich, educated, aristocratic, and beautiful, we should understand that he is reaping the results of his previous good activities. In any case, regardless of one's position in this world, everyone has to be educated to Krsna consciousness. In this sense, everyone has an equal opportunity. As stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam:
abhira-sumbha yavanah khasadayah
ye 'nye ca papa yad-apasrayasrayah
sudhyanti tasmai prabhavisnave namah
"Kiratas, Hunas, Andhras, Pulindas, Pulkasas, Abhiras, Sumbhas, Yavanas, and the Khasa races, and even others who are addicted to sinful acts, can be purified by taking shelter of the devotees of the Lord due to His being the supreme power. I beg to offer my respectful obeisances unto Him." ( Bhag. 2.4.18) So even if one has the body of an aborigine, he can be trained in Krsna consciousness because that consciousness is on the platform of the soul.
Hayagriva dasa: Concerning education, it is stated in The Republic: 'The soul of every man possesses the power of learning the truth and the organ to see it with. Just as one might have to turn the whole body around for the eye to see light instead of darkness, so the entire soul must be turned away from this changing world, until its eye can bear to contemplate reality and that supreme splendor which we have called the Good. Hence there may well be an art whose aim would be to affect this very thing: the conversion of the soul, in the readiest way. Not to put the power of sight into the soul's eye, which already has it, but to insure that, instead of looking in the wrong direction, it is turned the way it ought to be."
Srila Prabhupada: That is the purpose of this Krsna consciousness movement. It is certainly an art. It is a process of purifying the senses. When the senses are purified, our main objective is attained. We do not say that sensory activities are to be stopped. They are to be redirected. Presently, the eyes are seeing things material. The eyes want to see beautiful objects, and we say, "Yes, you can see the beautiful form of Krsna." The tongue wants to taste palatable food, and we say, "Yes, you can take this Krsna prasadam, but do not eat meat or other foods you cannot offer to Krsna." Everything is given; we simply have to purify the senses. According to Bhagavad-gita:
rasa-varjam raso 'py asya
param drstva nivartate
"The embodied soul may be restricted from sense enjoyment, though the taste for sense objects remains. But, ceasing such engagements by experiencing a higher taste, he is fixed in consciousness." (Bg. 2.59)
Hayagriva dasa: Neither Socrates nor Plato ever mentions service to God, though they speak of the contemplation of God's reality, or the supreme splendor, or good. It is always contemplation or meditation that is stressed, as in jnana-yoga.
Srila Prabhupada: This is but one process of knowing God, and it may be partially helpful to know God as He is. However, when we come to know God, we understand, "He is great, and I am small." It is the duty of the small to serve the great. That is nature's way. Everyone is serving in one way or another, but when we realize that we are servants and not the master, we realize our real position. It is our natural position to serve. If someone doesn't have a family to serve, he keeps a dozen dogs and serves them. Especially in Western countries, we see that in old age, when one has no children, he keeps two or three dogs and tries to serve them. Our position as servant is always there, but when we think that we are masters, we are illusioned. The word maya means that we are serving while thinking that we are masters. Maya means "that which is not," or, "that which is not factual." Through meditation, when we become realized, we can understand, "Oh, I am a servant. Presently I am serving maya, illusion. Now let me serve Krsna." This is perfection. The spiritual master engages us from the very beginning in the service of God. Then we can attain perfection quickly.
Hayagriva dasa: In The Republic, Plato constructs an ideal state in which the leaders possess nothing of their own, neither property nor family. He fell that people should live together in a community where wives and children are held in common to guard against corruption, bribery, and nepotism in government. Elite philosophers should mate with women of high qualities in order to produce the best children for positions of responsibility. How does this correspond to the Vedic version?
Srila Prabhupada: According to Vedic civilization, a man should accept a wife for putra, for sons. Putra-pinda-prayojanam. A putra , or son, should offer pinda so that after death the father will be elevated if he is in an undesirable position. Marriage is for begetting good sons who will deliver one from the fire of hell. Therefore the sraddha ceremony is there because even if the father is in hell, he will be delivered. It is the son who offers the sraddha oblation, and this is his duty. Therefore one accepts a wife for putra, a good son, not for sex enjoyment. One who utilizes his sex life in a religious way will get a good son who can deliver him. Therefore Krsna says in Bhagavad-gita: dharmaviruddho bhutesu kamo 'smi bharatarsabha. "I am sex life which is not contrary to religious principles." (Bg. 7.11) Sex contrary to religious principle is sense gratification that leads us into a hellish condition. Therefore, according to Vedic civilization, we should marry and beget good progeny. Although my Guru Maharaja was a sannyasi brahmacari, he used to say, "If I could produce really Krsna conscious children, I would have sex a hundred times. But why should I have sex just to produce cats and dogs?" The sastras also say:
gurur na sa syat sva-jano na sa syat
pita na sa syaj janani na sa syat
daivam na tat syan na patis ca sa syan
na mocayed yah samupeta-mrtyum
"One who cannot deliver his dependents from the path of repeated birth and death should never become a spiritual master, a father, a husband, a mother, or a worshipable demigod." (Bhag. 5.5.18) It is the duty of the father and mother to rescue their children from the cycle of birth and death. If one can do this, he can in turn be rescued by his putra if he happens to fall into a hellish condition.
Syamasundara dasa: Plato believed that the perfect state should be organized in such a way that men can strive for the ideal. He equates political activity with moral endeavor, and he says that the ruler of the state must be a wise man (philosopher king), or a group of wise men. In a perfect society, each individual functions to his best capacity according to his natural abilities. This leads to the most harmonious type of society.
Srila Prabhupada: This idea is also found in Bhagavad-gita, in which Krsna says that the ideal society is a society of four varnas: brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya, and sudra. In human society, as well as animal society, every living being is under the influence of the modes of material nature—sattva-guna , rajo-guna, and tamo-guna—that is, goodness, passion, and ignorance. By dividing men according to these qualities, society can be perfect. If a man in the mode of ignorance assumes a philosopher's post, havoc will result. Nor can we have a philosopher work as an ordinary laborer. There must be some scientific division in order to perfect society. According to the Vedas, the brahmanas, the most intelligent men interested in transcendental knowledge and philosophy, should be given a topmost post, and the ksatriyas, the administrators, should work under their instructions. The administrators should see that there is law and order and that everyone is doing his duty. The next section is the productive class, the vaisyas, who are engaged in agriculture and cow protection. There are also the sudras, the common laborers, who work for the benefit of the other sections. Of course, now there is industrialization, and large scale industry means exploitation. Such industry was unknown to Vedic civilization. Then, people lived by agriculture and cow protection. If there are healthy cows and enough milk, everyone can get grains, fruits, vegetables, and other foods. That is sufficient in itself. Unfortunately, modern civilization has taken to animal eating, and this is barbarous. This is not even human.
Ideal society is a society of brahmanas, ksatriyas, vaisyas, and sudras. In Srimad-Bhagavatam, these divisions are compared to the body: the head, the arms, the belly, and the legs. All parts of the body are meant to keep the body fit. Comparatively, the head is more important than the legs. However, without the help of the legs, the body cannot properly work. The head must give the directions to the body to go to this place or that, but if the legs are unfit to walk, the body cannot move. Therefore there must be cooperation, and this cooperation is found in the ideal state. Nowadays, rascals, fools, and asses are being voted in as administrators. If a person can secure a vote in some way or another, he is given the post of an administrator, even though he may be rascal number one. So what can be done? For this reason, people cannot be happy.
The ideal state functions under the directions of the brahmanas. The brahmanas themselves are not personally interested in political affairs or administration because they have a higher duty. Presently, because the head is missing, the social body is a dead body. The head is very important, and our Krsna consciousness movement is attempting to create some brahmanas who can properly direct society. The administrators will be able to rule very nicely under the instructions of the philosophers and theologians—that is, God conscious people. A person who is theistic will never condone the opening of slaughterhouses. Because there are many rascals heading the government, animal slaughter is allowed. When Maharaja Pariksit saw the personification of Kali trying to kill a cow, he immediately drew his sword and said, "Who are you? Why are you trying to kill this cow?" That was a real king.
Syamasundara dasa: A similar social structure was also observed by Plato. However, he advocated three divisions instead of four. The guardians were men of wisdom who ruled and governed. The warriors were courageous, and they protected the others. The artisans performed their services obediently and were motivated to work by their need to satisfy their appetites. In addition, he saw in man a threefold division of intelligence, courage, and appetite, which correspond to the modes of goodness, passion, and ignorance possessed by the soul.
Srila Prabhupada: The soul does not possess three qualities. That is a mistake. The soul is by nature pure, but due to his contact with the modes of material nature, he is dressed differently. This Krsna consciousness movement aims at removing this material dress. Therefore our first instruction is, "You are not this body."
Hayagriva dasa: In The Republic, Plato states that the best form of government is an enlightened monarchy.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, we agree. Evam parampara-praptam imam rajarsayo viduh. "This supreme science was received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way." (Bg. 4.2) A rajarsi is a saintly king who is an ideal ruler. We offer respect to Maharaja Yudhisthira, Maharaja Pariksit, and Lord Ramacandra because they set examples as ideal kings.
Hayagriva dasa: Plato maintained that when a monarchy degenerates, it becomes a tyranny. When an aristocratic rule deteriorates, it becomes an oligarchy, a government ruled by corrupt men. He considered democracy to be one of the worst forms of government because when it deteriorates, it degenerates to mob rule.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is now the case. Instead of one saintly king, there are many thousands of so-called kings who are looting the people's hard-earned money by income tax and other means. In the Vedic system, however, there was a way to keep the monarchy from degenerating into tyranny. The monarch was guided by a counsel of learned men, brahmanas, great saintly persons. Even Maharaja Yudhisthira and Lord Ramacandra were guided by brahmanas. It was the duty of the monarch to act according to the decisions of the learned scholars, brahmanas, and sadhus, saintly persons. When Vena Maharaja was not ruling properly, the brahmanas came and advised him to act otherwise. When he refused, they cursed him, and he died. The great Prthu Maharaja was his son. A great sage is required to occupy the role of a monarch. Then everything is perfect in government. The present democratic systems are ludicrous because they are composed of rascals who simply bribe one another. When they attain their post, they plunder and take bribes. If the head of the state can understand Bhagavad-gita, his government will be automatically perfect. Formerly, Bhagavad-gita was explained to the monarchs for that reason. Imam rajarsayo viduh ( Bg. 4.2).
Syamasundara dasa: Plato's system was somewhat democratic in that he felt that everyone should be given a chance to occupy the different posts.
Srila Prabhupada: You can also say that we are democratic because we are giving even the lowest candala a chance to become a brahmana by becoming Krsna conscious. As soon as one becomes Krsna conscious, he can be elevated to the highest position, even though he may be born in a family of candalas.
aho bata svapaco 'to gariyan
yaj-jihvagre vartate nama tubhyam
tepus tapas te juhuvuh sasnur arya
brahmanucur nama grnanti ye te
"O my Lord, a person who is chanting Your holy name, although born of a low family like that of a candala [dog eater], is situated on the highest platform of self-realization. Such a person must have performed all kinds of penances and sacrifices according to Vedic rituals and studied the Vedic literatures many, many times after taking his bath in all the holy places of pilgrimage. Such a person is considered to be the best of the Aryan family." (Bhag. 3.33.7)
Also, in Bhagavad-gita, it is stated:
mam hi partha vyapasritya
ye 'pi syuh papa-yonayah
striyo vaisyas tathasudras
te 'pi yanti param gatim
"O son of Prtha, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth—women, vaisyas [merchants] as well as sudras [workers]—can approach the supreme destination." (Bg. 9.32) Krsna says that everyone can go back home, back to Godhead. Samo 'ham sarva-bhutesu. "I am equal to everyone. Everyone can come to Me." (Bg. 9.29) There is no hindrance.
Syamasundara dasa: Plato believed that the state should train its citizens to become virtuous. According to his system of education, the first three years of life were spent playing and training the body. From age three to six, the children were taught religious stories. From seven to ten, they were taught gymnastics; from ten to thirteen, reading and writing; from fourteen to sixteen, poetry and music; from sixteen to eighteen, mathematics; and from eighteen to twenty, military drill. From that time on, those who were scientific and philosophical remained in school until they were thirty-five. If they were warriors, they engaged in military exercises.
Srila Prabhupada: Was this educational program for all men, or were there different types of education for different men?
Syamasundara dasa: No, this applied to all.
Srila Prabhupada: Oh, this is not desirable. If a boy is intelligent and inclined to philosophy and theology, why should he be made to take military training?
Syamasundara dasa: Well, according to Plato's system, everyone took two years of military drill.
Srila Prabhupada: But why waste two years? We cannot even waste two days.
Syamasundara dasa: This type of education was designed in order to determine a person's category. It is not that one belongs to a particular class according to qualifications.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, we also say that, but that tendency or disposition is to be ascertained by the spiritual master, by the teacher who trains the boy. The teacher should be able to see whether a boy is fit for military training, for administration, or for philosophy. It is not that everyone should take the same training. One should be trained fully according to his particular tendency. If a boy is by nature inclined to philosophical study, why should he waste his time in the military? And if he is by nature inclined to military training, why should he waste his time with other studies? Arjuna belonged to a ksatriya family, and this family was trained in the military. The Pandavas were never trained as philosophers. Dronacarya was their master and teacher, and although he was a brahmana, he taught them the military science, not brahma-vidya. Brahma-vidya is theology, philosophy. It is not that everyone should be trained in everything; that is a waste of time. If a student is inclined toward production, business, or agriculture, he should be trained in those fields. If he is philosophical, he should be trained as a philosopher. If he is militaristic, he should be trained as a warrior. And if he is simply dull, he should remain a sudra, a laborer. These four classes are selected by their symptoms and qualifications. Narada Muni also says that one should be selected according to qualifications. Even if one is born in a brahmana family, he should be considered asudra if his qualifications are such. And if one is born in a sudra family, he should be considered a brahmana if his symptoms are brahminical. It is not that everyone should be regarded in the same way. The spiritual master should be expert enough to recognize the tendencies of the student, and the student should immediately be trained in that line. This will bring about perfection.
Syamasundara dasa: According to Plato's system, this tendency won't emerge unless one practices everything.
Srila Prabhupada: No, that is wrong because the soul is continuous; therefore the soul retains some tendencies from his previous birth. According to Vedic culture, immediately after a boy's birth, astrological calculations were made. Astrology can help if there is a first-class astrologer who can tell what line a boy is coming from and how he should be trained. Of course, logical and physical symptoms are considered. If a boy does not fulfill the role assigned, he can be transferred to another class. Generally, it is ascertained from birth whether a child has a particular tendency, but this tendency may change according to circumstance. Someone may have brahminical training in a previous birth, and the symptoms may be exhibited, but he should not think that because he has taken birth in a brahmana family that he is automatically a brahmana. It is not a question of birth but of qualification.
Syamasundara dasa: Then what would you say is the purpose of the state, of all these social orders, and the state government?
Srila Prabhupada: The ultimate purpose is to make everyone Krsna conscious. That is the perfection of life. The entire social structure should be molded with this aim in view. Of course, this is not possible for everyone. All students in a university do not receive the Ph. D. degree, but the idea of perfection is to pass the Ph.D. examination. The professors of the university should be maintained, although there are not many high caliber students to pass their classes. It is not that the university should close its higher classes. Similarly, an institution like this Krsna consciousness Society should be maintained to make at least a small percentage of the population Krsna conscious.
Syamasundara dasa: So the goal of government should be to enable everyone to become Krsna conscious?Srila Prabhupada:
Yes, Krsna consciousness is the highest goal. Everyone should help and take advantage of this. Regardless of our social position, we can come to the temple and worship God. The instructions are for everyone, andprasadam
is distributed to everyone; therefore there is no difficulty. Everyone can contribute to this Krsna consciousness movement. Thebrahmanas
can contribute their intelligence, theksatriyas
their charity, thevaisyas
grains, milk, fruits, and flowers, and thesudras
bodily service. By such joint cooperation, everyone attains the same goal—the highest perfection.