IBSA (ISKCON Bhaktivedanta Sadhana Asrama), Govardhana, India
26 December 2003
Chant, chant chant. . . Kant, Kant, Kant
HH Visnujana Maharaja's Radha-Damodara party (including this humble self) visited Los Angeles ISKCON temple in April 1973. In that month Om Visnupada Sri Srimad A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada graced the City of Lost Angels with his divine presence. One morning Srila Prabhupada set off a burst of delight among the assembled devotees when he told us:
There was a caricature-picture in some paper. Perhaps you remember. From Montreal or here. I don't remember. One old lady and her husband, sitting, face to face. The lady is requesting the husband: "Chant, chant, chant. " And the husband is answering: "Can't, can't, can't. " [Srimad-Bhagavatam lecture in Los Angeles on 22 April 1973]
Immanuel Kant was a philosopher of that "can't, can't, can't. " He taught that human sense perception and reason are unbridgably severed from the noumenal realm. In the context of his thought, all sound--including the maha-mantra Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare/Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare--is mundane.
To be fair to "old Kant," as Friedrich Nietzche sarcastically used to call him, he had an indirect feeling for God in nature and in morality. But Kantian reason dictated that as long as a man is in this world, he could not directly know the Person who is God. Kant's own argument for the existence of God was this:
Granted that the pure moral law inexorably binds every man as a command (not as a rule of prudence), the righteous man may say: I will that there is a God, that my existence in this world be also an existence in a pure world of the understanding, outside the world of natural connections, and finally that my duration be endless.
What I understand Kant to be saying here is that a man obedient to the moral law has a right granted by that law to will God into existence. God as an ideal--even if it can't (Kant) be proven--is needed to perfect, to "top off", the inner life of man. Reason aspires to know reality as it is, and getting at that sublime is-ness of reality is a reasonable man's bid for eternity. God is the guarantor of eternity. So God must be.
The American philosopher William Barrett, writing in Death of the Soul, comments:
"I will that there be a God!" These are fearful words of self-assertion. To be sure, Kant has surrounded them by all the conditions of piety; and the claim can be made only by the individual who has submitted himself or herself to the commands of morality. This morality would not make sense unless there was some divine order in this world, and beyond that, the possibility of immortality to round off the disorders of our mortal lives. Such might be called the argument from morality. . . I am not raising the question whether one accepts or rejects this reasoning. Instead, I am calling attention simply to the quality of his language and what it implies.
"I will that there be a God!" Self-assertion is one of the chief characteristics of the modern mind and indeed of the modern world. And here the language of assertation takes over the language of faith. I will that there be a God!--one can hardly imagine such language from a St. Augustine or a St. Thomas. There the lanugage in approaching God is one of humility and hunger. . .
Indeed, Kant's language here already portends the Nietzchean will to power. Everything turns on the resolute and solitary will of the individual. To be sure, we are still in the world of traditional theism and morality fostered in that world. But we have only to take a small step forward in time and those theistic underpinnings become weakened: God recedes. Then we can imagine the Nietzchean individual expressing himself in words that parallel those of Kantian man: "I will that God not exist, that my existence in this world be my own and not subject or subservient to any supposedly higher being. . . " And so on, in mocking parallel to the Kantian professio of faith. Kant, in his piety, would have been horrified. . .
There's no point in taking Kant to task for his myopic doctrine. His metaphysics are totally out of date. That argument of his that space and time are the purest intuitions of a human being is laughable, both from the Krsna conscious and the scientific points of view.
Now that we're again on the topic of intuition and a priori first principles, Sripad Madhvacarya, founder of the Brahma-sampradaya in Kali-yuga, gives light on this from his Dvaita Vedanta darsana. The living entity is blessed by the Lord with different kinds of cognition. One comes via the jnanindriyas, the ears, skin, eye, tongue and nose. These senses are the gates of external cognition; manas (mind) is a faculty of inner cognition. Cognition comes to us from a third source: the saksin (inner witness), which is the power of intuition. Srimad-Bhagavatam 6. 9. 42 declares the Paramatma to be sarva-pratyaya-saksina, the witness of all; thus our individual power to know the world around us through the jnanindriyas, manas and the saksin is the ray of His own.
The indriyas (senses) are subject to faults like disease; manas is subject to faults like passion and attachment. Madhva says the saksin is free of such faults and is thus the "transcendental" faculty of cognition. To arrive at nondeceptive knowledge, the senses and mind must be purified. But the saksin is always pure. Ramanujacarya, the founder of the Laksmi-sampradaya in Kali-yuga, calls intuition divya-pratyaksa (divine perception). He states that regulated devotional service and divine grace are the means by which intuition is cultivated to full realization of the Personality of Godhead.
The saksin, says Madhva, helps in sensory and mental operations, but there are some things that it perceives alone, with no participation of senses and mind. Remembering Kant's teaching of intuition and first principles, these objects of the saksin's sensibility are interesting to note. They are: atman (the "I"), manas (the mind), pleasure, pain, avidya (ignorance), kala (time) and avyakrta-akasa (unmanifest ether, the subtle conception of space).
The Tattvavadis (philosophical followers of Sripad Madhva) call his philosophy bhaktisiddhanta, "the essence of which is bhakti. " Madhva's way of explaining tattva is very categorical (i. e. there are many categories of philosophical entities); in Europe, Kant was one of the most prolific categorists. But the essential conclusion that sweeps like a divine searchlight across Madhva's categorical structures, illuminating every complex turn of thought, is that we Kan Kan Kan realize Krsna in this very lifetime by pure devotional service.