IBSA (ISKCON Bhaktivedanta Sadhana Asrama), Govardhana, India
25 January 2004
Email from a London Philosophy Student
Hare Krishna Maharaja,
PAMHO. All glories to Srila Prabhupada!
My name is Lucian. Recently I came across your archive site and I read a few articles concerning reductionism vs KC, how Kants philosophy became degraded etc
These were really of interest to me as at the moment I am at a London University studying philosophy. Although at first I was very enthusiastic about the opportunity to learn the philosophies of western thinkers (perhaps with a hint of a challenging mood), I am coming to realise that I am just a tiny, finite being who has perhaps bitten off more than he can chew. But just wanted to let you know that reading some of your essays has given me some guidance as to how I could approach the course in terms of being able to relate the Gaudiya Vaisnava philosophy to those who have not yet attempted to explore other means of understanding Truth other than induction. So thank you very much Maharaja.
Also I was wondering whether you could advise me as to where else it is possible to find more information regarding these and similar subjects. Sorry to take your time. I hope that this meets you in good health.
Lucian (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Hare Krsna, Lucian. Thank you very much for your email. It is nice to know that In2-MeC is a help in your field of study.
You ask for advice on where you might find more information on philosophical issues. I assume you mean the issues that on one hand divide, and on the other connect, Gaudiya Vaisnava philosophy and western philosophy. Comparative philosophy, in short.
For comparative philosophy materials that are available in and around ISKCON, you ought to contact BBL (Bhaktivedanta Book Limited) there in the United Kingdom. The snail mail address that I have for BBL--no guarantee that it is up to date--is PO Box 324, Borehamwood Herts WD6 INB, UK. I don't know the email address but this should be easy for you to find. Just do a Web search.
As to what the Internet might have on offer in the way of sites dedicated to comparing and contrasting Gaudiya Vaisnava and western philosophy, I haven't seen any that go the in-depth route. But I'm not "Web-versed" in all that's out there in cyberspace. Again, best you do a Web search on the specific topics that interest you.
Here's the advice that I can give you. Equip yourself in four ways:
1) have access to a good philosophical dictionary. Why? Because so much of understanding western philosophy and how it compares and contrasts to Gaudiya Vaisnava philosophy hangs on terminology. If you can cut through the fog of words and get your mind around basic ideas, you will be able to find your way through western philosophy using Srila Prabhupada's books as a compass. I can recommend from my own experience the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (this is for your bookshelf only, as it is too big to carry around) and the Harper-Collins Dictionary of Philosophy (portable). These or similar dictionaries may be available as software, but I'm not informed about that.
2) Get acquainted with the basic concepts and issues of western philosophy. There's a helpful book published in England, available in paperback, called What Philosophy Is by (this is from memory, I hope I get the name right) Anthony O'Hare. My own favorite book in this regard is The Philosopher's Way by Jean Wahl, but this book is likely to be hard to find as it was published in 1948. I like it because the concepts and issues are nicely categorized in a way that a devotee familiar with Srila Prabhupada's books can get a handle on:
Being, Existence, and Reality;
Essences and Forms--the Idea of Matter;
Theories of Knowledge;
3) Intellectually digest an overview of the historical development of western philosophy. That means, learn basically what ancient Greek and Roman philosophy was about; then Medieval philosophy; then modern philosophy. My own favorite book in this regard is another oldie, History of Philosophy by Alfred Weber (translated from the German by Frank Tilly) with the appended Philosophy Since 1860 by Ralph Barton Perry. It was published in 1925.
4) Develop a perspective--a line of approach or attack--on western philosophy. The basic perspective is given in Srila Prabhupada's books, of course. You can fill that out by studying western books that address philosophical controversies from the Platonic point of view. Platonism shares important concepts with Vedic philosophy: a non-material soul that undergoes reincarnation; a transcendental realm of pure forms that is pervertedly reflected as the material world; even a basic understanding of the three modes of material nature. Some titles I've read: The Death of the Soul by William Barret; Body and Soul--The Transcendence of Materialism by Kelly Nicholson; The Tragedy of Reason--Toward a Platonic Conception of Logos by David Roochnik. In these and similar books, materialism, sophistry, relativism and other questionable delights of modern thought are strongly attacked. Reading such books helps you to see the controversies of philosophy from within the western perspective; while at the same time it helps you to appreciate the perspective that Srila Prabhupada gives on the same controversies.
Hope this was of some help...
Sketches of a Devotee's Pre-Krsna Conscious Life in India
Back in the late 1980's I tape-recorded a series of interesting stories told me by an Indian devotee, whom I shall not name to protect his privacy. These stories relate his life as a young man from a South Indian smarta brahmin family, and trace how he gradually turned away from material life to Krsna consciousness. What you will read below begins at Kuruksetra, where Lord Krsna spoke the Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna 5000 years ago.
I met a professor in his thirties who taught at the University of Kurukshetra. He was from Kerala and warmed up to me immediately when I conversed in Malayalam. In an educated and philosophical manner, I spoke to him about my life and travels. He was impressed, not having met such an engaging sadhu before, and eagerly invited me to give a lecture the next day on yoga to a class of his at the university. I chuckled, "Yoga? Yoga means sleep--to realize God through sleep, and that God is also asleep." That only increased his eagerness: "Then teach us about it!"
"If that's what you want, Professorji, that's what you'll get."
There were about thirty students in the classroom. "I hear you're interested in yoga," I began. "I'm not going to explain theory. I shall simply request you all to participate in a demonstration and experience what yoga is yourself." I told everyone to lie down on the floor. The professor and his students moved their chairs to the rear of the classroom, clearing an open area where they obediently stretched out on their backs.
"Bring your minds to the tips of your fingernails and toenails," I said in a mellifluous voice. "Slowly move your minds from there up to your wrists and ankles...now to the knees and elbows, ever inward to the torso. As your mind moves inward, let it absorb the stress of each of your limbs, leaving them numb. Inward, bring your mind ever inward, until it converges in your stomach. You are now conscious only of your stomach. All your stress is there. The rest of you is floating in a state of total relaxation and peace. Now concentrate your mind on the navel. Now lift the mind up out of the navel. You are floating upwards away from your body. Rise up, rise up, now look down. See your body and the other bodies around it--know that you are different from the body."
I chanted verses from the Yoga Sutra over and over to a slow, dreamy melody. Everyone fell asleep, and a few began to snore. Quietly I walked out.
Later that day I visited the professor at his office and collected a donation for my 'lecture.' "It was wonderful," he gushed as he handed me the money. "Swamiji, you are so powerful. You can be whatever you want, another Vivekananda!" I tied the money in my cloth, blessed him with the abhaya-mudra, and left.
I went to the Jyoti Sar, the sacred pool marking the place where Shri Krishna spoke the Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna. I sat on the stone steps leading down to the dark waters and gazed at my gently rippling reflection.
"Krishna," I prayed aloud, "what do you want from me? Either make me a devotee or a demon. I never willfully meant to go wrong. In Salem I was a victim of uncontrolled senses. I was weak. But I am not a bad person. I just don't know what to do. Please give me a sign. What course of action should I take?"
I chanted the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, and the Thousand Names of Vishnu, and sang the songs I knew in praise of Krishna. Then I circumambulated the Jyoti Sar. Almost in a trance, I gazed upon the scattered beads of reflected sunlight that silently danced upon the pool's blue black surface. Each bead was a radiant world that twinkled in and out of existence upon the surface of eternity, and in each world I saw myself, searching. But searching for what? After Badrinath I was convinced that the search for 'myself as God' was a waste of time. So what meaning did my life as a sadhu have now? The professor said I could be whatever I wanted to be. In my heart I knew that I didn't want to be a cheater. Yet most people wanted sadhus to cheat them by posing as God. I knew all the cheating skills--but my heart wasn't in it. There was as little sense in this world of cheaters and cheated as in the shimmering water- blinks of Jyoti Sar.
With a sigh, I turned and moved on. A few steps from the Jyoti Sar was a newsstand tended by an unshaven, oafish-looking man dressed as a sannyasi. As I walked past, he offered me a magazine called Voice of the Land. I leafed through it and found an article that proclaimed, 'No one needs to make pilgrimages, no one needs to seek God.' With a forefinger laid next to these words, I asked the sannyasi, "Then what is a seeker of truth to do, if not this?"
His vapid grin revealed a mouthful of gapped, pan-stained rotten teeth. "What is meant by that is, you are God," he croaked. "Why should you seek Him anywhere? You already are what you seek."
I couldn't hide my irritation. "Almost nine months ago I left a good job in South India to find God because I was miserable. I took up the life of a wandering sadhu. I spoke to many gurus and godmen. Almost all of them told me the same thing you just said-- I am what I seek, I am God. But I am still miserable." As I spoke, the pent-up frustration spilled out of my mouth all over the orange-robed blockhead. "If I am God, then God is miserable. Is this all there is to know then? You're saying I should just be satisfied with that?" I slapped the magazine atop the pile from whence it came. "And this is your advice to everyone who comes here from far away to pay homage to Krishna? 'Oh, why have you come here? Go back--you are God.'"
Startled, he squinted at me with cheek muscles aquiver, then blurted, "But do you know who spoke these words you just read? That was Vivekananda!"
"Vivekananda or your grandfather, he's a humbug. And you peddle this trash even where the Bhagavad-gita was spoken. If you had more sense, you'd be a half-wit."
"Look, why are you criticizing me?" he whined. "If you don't like it, just walk away."
Silencing him with more insults, I continued to vent my rage at what he represented--my own failed attempt to become God. A small crowd gathered around, staring at the scene uncomprehendingly. Before stalking off, I turned to them and said, "He told me I am God, so I gave him my mercy."
From Kurukshetra I left in the direction of Kalka; my plan was to go on to Simla and return to the Himalayas. Although I saw little chance in my ever finding satisfaction in this life I was leading, I didn't know what else to do.