March 16, 2017

The Early Theists


P lotinus was a major Greek-speaking philosopher of the ancient world. In his philosophy there are three principles: the One, the Intellect, and the Soul. His teacher was Ammonius Saccas and he is of the Platonic tradition. Historians of the 19th century invented the term Neoplatonism and applied it to him and his philosophy which was influential in Late Antiquity. Much of the biographical information about Plotinus comes from Porphyry's preface to his edition of Plotinus' Enneads. His metaphysical writings have inspired centuries of Pagan, Islamic, Jewish, Christian, and Gnostic metaphysicians and mystics.


204/5 Lycopolis, Egypt, Roman Empire


270 (aged 64–65) Campania, Roman Empire


Ancient philosophy


Western philosophy

Main interests

Platonism, Metaphysics, Mysticism

Chapter Ⅱ. The Early Theists



Hayagriva dasa: Plotinus, as well as Origen, studied philosophy in Alexandria under the supposed founder of Neo-Platonism, Ammonius Saccas. Plotinus ascribed to a theory of emanation, which holds that the soul emanates from the intelligence just as the intelligence emanates from the One. The intelligence (nous) is multiple and yet one at the same time. The One is omnipresent, devoid of multiplicity, impersonal, and transcendental. For Plotinus, there is a kind of hierarchy headed by the One, to which the intelligence and individual souls are subordinate.

Srila Prabhupada: According to the Vedic conception, the Supreme Absolute Truth is one. The individual souls are of the same quality as the Supreme One, but they are fragmental parts, and they emanate from Him. The individual souls have the same intelligence and mind, but their jurisdiction is limited. As individual souls, we are present, but we are not omnipresent. God is omnipresent. We have some knowledge, but we are not omniscient. We are not dull matter, but are sentient beings. The Supreme One has all spiritual qualities in full, whereas we have them in minute quantity. We are like sparks, and the Supreme One is like a great fire. That is our constitutional position in relation to the One. When sparks fly away from a great fire, they are extinguished. When we turn from the One, our illumination is obscured, and we are enveloped in maya, darkness. If we revive our relationship with the One, we can revive our illuminating power, which is our spiritual power, and live with the Supreme One in a peaceful, eternal life of bliss.

Hayagriva dasa: Plotinus was an impersonalist in that he believed that by attributing qualities to God, we necessarily limit Him. Although the One is transcendental, there is no multiplicity in Him. At the same time, God is the cause of all multiplicities.

Srila Prabhupada: According to the Vedic conception, the Supreme One is the cause of all living entities.

nityo nityanam cetanas cetananam
eko bahunam yo vidadhati kaman
tam atmastham ye 'nupasyanti dhiras
tesamsantihsasvati netaresam
(Katha 2.2.13)

In the Katha Upanisad, as well as the Svetasvatara Upanisad, it is said that the Supreme Personality of Godhead maintains innumerable living entities. He is the Supreme Eternal Being. Among eternal living beings, He is the chief. He has unlimited transcendental qualities and is therefore omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. If He did not have these qualities, He could not be perfect. He is the unlimited cause of everything, and, being unlimited, cannot be limited. I do not know what Plotinus means when he says that God's attributes are limiting. In no way can God be limited. Everything is Brahman unlimitedly. Mat-sthani sarva- bhutani (Bg. 9.4). Everything emanates from Him, and everything rests on Him. Considered impersonally, God is everywhere, and considered personally, He is localized. The impersonal effulgence, however, emanates from the person. This is verified by Bhagavad- gita:

brahmano hi pratisthaham
amrtasyavyayasya ca
sasvatasya ca dharmasya
sukhasyaikantikasya ca

"And I am the basis of the impersonal Brahman, which is the constitutional position of ultimate happiness, and which is immortal, imperishable, and eternal." (Bg. 14.27)

Although the sun is situated in one place, its rays are distributed throughout the universe; similarly, the Supreme Lord unlimitedly expands His transcendental impersonal feature, the brahmajyoti. If we consider the personality, it may appear that He is limited, but He is not.

Through His energies, He is unlimited.

vadanti tat tattva-vidas
tattvam yaj jnanam advayam
brahmeti paramatmeti
bhagavan iti sabdyate

"Learned transcendentalists who know the Absolute Truth call this nondual substance Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan." (Bhag. 1.2.11) The impersonal feature is all-pervading. The localized aspect, the Paramatma, is also omnipresent, living within the hearts of all living entities. The personal feature, the Paramatma, is even within every atom and is thus worshipped by the devotee. When the devotee is present, the Supreme Lord is also personally present, although He resides in Goloka Vrndavana. That is the nature of His omnipresence. No one can calculate the distance to Goloka Vrndavana, but when a devotee like Prahlada is in danger, the Supreme Lord is immediately present. He can protect His devotee even though He be trillions of miles away. This is the meaning of omnipresence.

Hayagriva dasa: Although Plotinus believed that God is present in all objects throughout the universe, God remains distinct from all created things and also transcendental to them. Thus God is more than all pervading.

Srila Prabhupada: That is clearly explained in Bhagavad-gita:

mayatatam idam sarvam
jagad avyakta-murtina
mat-sthani sarva-bhutani
na caham tesv avasthitah

na ca mat-sthani bhutani
pasya me yogam aisvaram
bhuta-bhrn na ca bhuta-stho
mamatma bhuta-bhavanah

yathakasa-sthito nityam
vayuh sarvatra-go mahan
tatha sarvani bhutani
mat-sthanity upadharaya

"By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them. And yet everything that is created does not rest in Me. Behold My mystic opulence! Although I am the maintainer of all living entities, and although I am everywhere, still My Self is the very source of creation. As the mighty wind, blowing everywhere, always rests in ethereal space, know that in the same manner all beings rest in Me." (Bg. 9.4-6)

Hayagriva dasa: Plotinus envisioned the individual souls existing in different states: some embodied, others unembodied. Some are celestial and do not suffer, whereas others are terrestrial. In any case, they are all individuals.

Srila Prabhupada: No one can count the number of souls. They have the same qualities possessed by the One, but they have them in minute quantity. Some of these souls have fallen into the material atmosphere, whereas others, callednitya-mukta, are everlastingly liberated. The nitya-muktas are never conditioned. These souls that have fallen into this material world in order to gratify their senses are called nitya-baddha, eternally conditioned. By "eternal," we mean that no one can estimate the amount of time the conditioned soul has to spend within the material world. The creation goes on perpetually; sometimes it is manifest and sometimes not. Without Krsna consciousness, the conditioned souls continue to exist within the material world. Before the creation, the conditioned soul is present in a dormant condition, and when the manifestation comes out from the Maha-visnu, the individual soul awakens. For the deliverance of such conditioned souls, the Supreme Personality of Godhead descends Himself, or sends His incarnation or devotee to call the nitya-baddhas back home, back to Godhead. Those who are fortunate take advantage of this. Those who are unfortunate are not interested and thus remain conditioned within this material world. The material world is created and annihilated, and the conditioned souls suffer in this cycle.

Hayagriva dasa: Plotinus believed that the soul is eternal and incorporeal in men, animals, and even plants. In this, he differed from many other philosophers at the time.

Srila Prabhupada: It is also the Vedic conclusion (sarva-yonisu) that the living soul, which is part and parcel of God, is present in all different life species. Those who are foolish think the animal has no soul, but there is no rational basis for this belief. An animal may be less intelligent than a man, just as a child may be less intelligent than his father, but this does not mean that no soul is present. This type of mentality is ruining civilization. People have become so degraded that they even think that an embryo has no soul. From Krsna we understand that everyone has a soul and that the soul is undoubtedly present in all different life forms. The individual soul evolves from a lower type of body to a higher one, and this is the meaning of spiritual evolution. Once in the human form, the individual soul can understand the teachings of Bhagavad- gita, and, if he likes, surrender to the Supreme Lord and return to the Godhead. If he does not care to do so, he remains in this material world to undergo the tribulations of repeated birth, old age, disease, and death. Thus he takes on another corporeal body.

Hayagriva dasa: Plotinus sees the soul as returning to God, the One, through three stages. In the first, the individual soul must learn detachment from the material world. In the second, he separates himself from the reasoning process itself. This is the highest point that philosophy or mental speculation can attain. In the third stage, the intellect transcends itself into the realm of the unknown, the One. Plotinus writes: "Because it is intellect, it contemplates what it contemplates [the One] by reasoning of that in it which is not intellect."

Srila Prabhupada: According to the Vedas, there are also three stages: karma, jnana, and yoga. The karmis try to improve their condition by material science and education. Some try to go to the heavenly planets by performing pious activities. Superior to the karmis are the jnanis, who speculate on the Absolute Truth and conclude that God is impersonal. The yogis attempt to acquire some mystic powers by practicing the mystic yoga system. By this system, they acquire asta-siddhi, eight different perfections. They can become lighter than the lightest, smaller than the smallest, bigger than the biggest, and so on. Real yoga, however, means seeing the Supreme within the core of the heart. All three processes require a strenuous endeavor. The supreme process is bhakti-yoga, whereby one simply surrenders to the Supreme. The Supreme One gives the bhakti-yogi the intelligence by which he can be freed from material entanglement.

tesam satata-yuktanam
bhajatam priti-purvakam
dadami buddhi-yogam tam
yena mam upayanti te

"To those who are constantly devoted and worship Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me." (Bg. 10.10)

Hayagriva dasa: For Plotinus, matter is evil in the sense that it imprisons the soul, yet the visible cosmos is beautiful. Evil does not arise from the creator.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, being attracted by this illusory energy, the individual soul comes here for sense gratification. The Supreme Lord does not desire him to come, but he comes propelled by his personal desires. God gives the living entity freedom, and in the beginning, the conditioned living entity begins life from a very exalted position in this material world. Sometimes he has the powers of a Brahma, but due to material activities, he becomes entangled and degraded. He can thus fall from the position of a Brahma to that of a worm in stool. Therefore we find so many different species. Degradation and elevation are thus taking place, and the living entity is sometimes elevated and sometimes degraded. In this way, he suffers. When he understands that degradation and elevation are perpetually taking place, and are the cause of his suffering, he begins to seek for the Supreme One, Krsna. By the grace of Krsna, he gets a bona fide spiritual master, and by the mercy of both, he gets a chance to engage in devotional service. With a little effort and sincerity, the conditioned living entity attains perfection in devotional service and returns back to Godhead.

Hayagriva dasa: Although most of Plotinus's philosophy deals with the impersonal aspect, he writes, "Let us flee to the beloved fatherland. The fatherland for us is there whence we have come. There is the Father."

Srila Prabhupada: As long as we speculate, we will be confused and will not know whether the Supreme Absolute Truth is personal or impersonal. However, when there is a question of love between the Absolute and the individual souls, there must be a personal conception. In truth, God is a person, Krsna. When the living entity, by the mercy of Krsna, contacts a devotee, his impersonal conceptions are subordinated to the personal aspect, and he worships Krsna and His devotee.

Hayagriva dasa: Concerning the soul's conditioning, or fall, Plotinus believes that the human soul never entirely leaves the intelligible or spiritual realm.

Srila Prabhupada: Because the living entity is an eternal spiritual being, he is not a product of this material world. He is part and parcel of the Supreme One, but he is embodied by the material elements. As the material elements change, he becomes old. When our clothes no longer fit, or if they wear out, we have to acquire new ones. Material life means change, but as spirit souls, we are eternal and changeless. Material life is not very happy because it is always changing. Whether we are in a comfortable or miserable condition, our condition will change for better or worse. In any case, we have to save ourselves from the repetition of changing bodies. If we want to remain in our original spiritual form, we have to take to Krsna consciousness.

Hayagriva dasa: Plotinus writes: "If the souls remain in the intelligible realm with the Soul, they are beyond harm, and share in the Soul's governance. They are like kings who live with the high King and govern with him and like him, and do not come down from the palace.... But there comes a point at which they come down from this state, cosmic in its dimensions, to one of individuality. They wish to become independent.... When a soul remains for long in this withdrawal in estrangement from the whole, with never a glance toward the intelligible, it becomes a thing fragmented, isolated, and weak...."

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is his falldown and the beginning of his material tribulations. As long as the living entity is maintained in the material world, he thinks of material happiness, and, according to nature's law, he accepts a variety of bodies. Although conditioned, the spirit soul remains part and parcel of the Supreme Lord. Yet according to the circumstance, he thinks in terms of a particular body. He thinks that he is a dog, a man, an aquatic, and so on. According to material considerations, one thinks himself an American, Indian, Hindu, Moslem, male, or female. All these designations are due to the body, and when one understands that he is different from the body, he begins his spiritual education. Understanding himself as the eternal part and parcel of God leads to liberation. When one advances, he understands that the Supreme Truth is the Supreme Person, Krsna. He then engages in Krsna's service, and that is his actual spiritual life. Krsna lives in the Vaikuntha planets in the spiritual world, and the devotee can be promoted to any of these planets, or to the supreme planet, Goloka Vrndavana. Once he is there, he is happy as an associate of Krsna, and he can enjoy life eternally.

Hayagriva dasa: Plotinus conceives of the soul as basically having two parts, a lower part directed toward the corporeal, and a higher part directed toward the spiritual.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, and that means that the soul is prone to fall. Because the individual soul is very minute, there is the tendency to fall, just as a small spark may fall from a fire. Because we are only minute particles of God, we can become entangled by His material external energy. An unintelligent man may commit some crime and go to jail, but we should not think that he has been created for the purpose of going to jail. It is said that those who descend into the material world are less intelligent because they think that they can enjoy life independent of Krsna. A rich man's son may think that he can live independent of his father, but that is his foolishness. The Supreme Father is full in all opulences, and if we live under His care, we naturally live very comfortably. When an intelligent man realizes that he is the son of Krsna, he thinks, "Let me go back to my Father." This is the proper use of intelligence. An intelligent person knows perfectly well that he will be happy with Krsna and unhappy without Him. Learning this is part of the Krsna consciousness process. Without Krsna consciousness, a man cannot be happy.

Hayagriva dasa: Plotinus also believes that the cosmic order awards and punishes everyone according to merit.

Srila Prabhupada: When a father sees that his son has gone astray, he tries to bring him back home, either through punishment or some other way. This is the duty of an affectionate father. Those who are foolishly suffering in the material world are being punished for the purposes of correction. This is to bring the living entity to his proper position. If one is sufficiently intelligent, he surrenders to Krsna, revives his old constitutional position, and attains the spiritual platform of bliss and knowledge.

Hayagriva dasa: Plotinus uses the following metaphor: "We are like a chorus that allows the audience to distract its attention from the conductor. If, however, we were to turn towards our conductor, we would sing as we should and would really be with him. We're always around the One. If we were not, we would dissolve and cease to exist. Yet our gaze does not remain fixed upon the One. When we look at it, we then attain the end of our desires and find rest. Then it is that, all discord past, we dance an inspired dance around it. In this dance, the soul looks upon the source of life, the source of the Intelligence, the root of Being, the cause of the Good, the root of the Soul. All these entities emanate from the One without any lessening, for it is not a material mask."

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is a good metaphor. God is an individual, and the countless souls are also individuals. Sometimes they sing in tune, and sometimes their attention is diverted by the audience. When this happens, they fall out of tune. Similarly, when we divert our attention to the illusory energy, we fall down. Of course, we remain part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, but the influence of material energy covers us, and we identify with the gross elements life after life. We identify with the body, which is but a changing dress. Therefore we must first of all understand that we are not the gross material covering. This is taught in the very beginning of Bhagavad-gita, wherein Krsna explains to Arjuna that since he is not the body, he should not consider the battle from a material, bodily platform. Our identity is that of spirit soul, part and parcel of the Supreme Spirit. We should therefore act according to His directions. By doing so, we become freed from material designations and gradually develop our Krsna consciousness.

Hayagriva dasa: Plotinus accounts for the soul's conditioning in this way: "How is it, then, that souls forget the divinity that begot them? This evil that has befallen them has its source in self-will, in being born, in becoming different, and desiring to be independent. Once having tasted the pleasures of independence, they use their freedom to go any direction that leads away from their origin. And when they have gone a great distance, they even forget that they came from it."

Srila Prabhupada: That is correct. The more one turns from Krsna, the more degraded one becomes. I have already explained that the living entity may begin his life as Lord Brahma and eventually become so degraded that he becomes a worm in stool. Again, by nature's way, one may evolve to the human form, which gives him a chance to understand how he has fallen from his original position. By taking to Krsna consciousness, he can put an end to this transmigration. Everyone has to give up the material body, but when a devotee gives up his body, he does not have to accept another. He is immediately transferred to the spiritual world. Mam eti ( Bg. 4.9). "He comes to Me." For a devotee, death means giving up the material body and remaining in the original, spiritual body. It is said that whether a devotee lives or dies, his business is the same: devotional service. Those who are degraded in material life—like butchers, who daily cut the throats of many animals—are advised, "Don't live, and don't die." This is because their present life is abominable, and their future life will be filled with suffering. The devotee is liberated because he is indifferent to living or dying. He is jivan-mukta, which indicates that although his body is rotting in the material world, he is liberated. In Bhagavad-gita, Krsna affirms that His devotee is not subject to the modes of material nature.

daivi hy esa gunamayi
mama maya duratyaya
mam eva ye prapadyante
mayam etam taranti te

"This divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome, but those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it." (Bg. 7.14) The devotee is therefore situated on the Brahman platform. It is our constitutional position to serve: either maya or Krsna. Jivera 'svarupa' haya—krsnera 'nitya-dasa'. Caitanya Mahaprabhu has given our real identity as being the eternal servant of Krsna. Presently everyone is rendering service to his family, community, nation, and so on. When this service is rendered cent per cent to Krsna, we are liberated. Due to a poor fund of knowledge, impersonalists think that mukti, liberation, means inactivity, but there is no basis for this belief. The soul is naturally active, and because the soul is within the body, the body is engaged in many activities. The body in itself is inactive, but it acts because the soul is present. When we give up the bodily conception, why should activities stop? Mayavadis cannot understand that the active principle is the soul. When the active principle leaves the body, the body is called dead. Even if one is liberated from the material body, he must act. That is also explained in the Bhakti- sastra:

tat-paratvena nirmalam
hrsikena hrsikesa-
sevanam bhaktir ucyate

"Bhakti, or devotional service, means engaging all our senses in the service of the Lord, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the master of all the senses. When the spirit soul renders service unto the Supreme, there are two side effects. He is freed from all material designations, and, simply by being employed in the service of the Lord, his senses are purified." (Narada-pancaratra)

Hayagriva dasa: Plotinus writes: "A soul in such a condition [of forgetfulness] can be turned about and led back to the world above and the supreme existent, the One. This can be done by a two-fold discipline: By showing it the low value of the things it esteems at present, and by informing—reminding!—it of its nature and worth."

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, this is the process. One may understand or not, but if one is engaged in Krsna's service under the direction of the spiritual master, he automatically gives up the service of maya and is liberated.

visaya vinivartante
niraharasya dehinah
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) However, if he again voluntarily accepts maya's service, he again becomes conditioned. By rendering service to Krsna under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master, we can come to understand all that need be known. The devotees do not speculate about their position; they know it by the grace of Krsna.

tesam satata-yuktanam
bhajatam priti-purvakam
dadami buddhi-yogam tam
yena mam upayanti te

tesam evanukampartham
aham ajnana-jam tamah
nasayamy atma-bhavastho
jnana-dipena bhasvata

"To those who are constantly devoted and worship Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me. Out of compassion for them, I, dwelling in their hearts, destroy with the shining lamp of knowledge, the darkness born of ignorance." (Bg. 10.10-11)

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