Dialectical Spiritualism: George Berkeley


Conversations wtih HDG A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, excerpted from  Dialectical Spiritualism: A Vedic View of Western Philosophy.

George Berkeley (1685 - 1753)

Hayagriva dasa: Berkeley seems to argue against objective reality. For instance, three men standing in a field looking at a tree could all have different impressions or ideas of the tree. The problem is that although there are three different impressions of the tree, there is no tree as such. Now, how does the tree as such exist? In the mind of God? Is it possible for a conditioned living entity to perceive the suchness or essence of anything?

Srila Prabhupada: Since everything is God, or an expansion of God's energy, how can a tree or anything else exist independent of God? A clay pot is not different from earth. Since there is nothing but God's energy, how can we avoid God?

Since nothing can exist independent of God, whatever we see must refer to God. As soon as we see a clay pot, we remember the potter. God is not only the original creator; He is the ingredient, the category, and the original substance as well. According to the Vedic conception, God is everything. That is a nondual conception. If you separate anything from God, you cannot say, sarvaih khalv idam brahma (Chandogya Upanisad 3. 14.1). "Everything is Brahman." Everything refers to God, and everything is God's property; therefore whatever exists should be utilized for God's service, and that is the object of our Krsna consciousness movement.

Syamasundara dasa: Berkeley maintained that nothing exists outside perception. Matter is simply perceived. For instance, this table is only an immaterial substance which enters my mind. It is not made of matter.

Srila Prabhupada: Then what is your mind? Is the mind also immaterial? This is the Sunyavadi position. They believe that everything is zero.

Syamasundara dasa: Berkeley says that everything is spiritual, not zero.

Srila Prabhupada: The spiritual is not an idea but a fact. The Sunyavadis cannot understand how spirit has form. They have no idea of sac-cid-ananda-vigraha, our spiritual form of bliss. They really have no idea of spiritual existence.

Syamasundara dasa: Berkeley says that everything has form, but that it is not made of matter.

Srila Prabhupada: That is nice. Everything has form. It is not necessary that the form be material. We say that God has a spiritual form.

Syamasundara dasa: But Berkeley goes so far as to say that everything is made of spirit.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, in the higher sense, everything is spirit. We always say that materialism means forgetfulness of Krsna. As soon as we dovetail everything to Krsna, nothing is material but spiritual.

Syamasundara dasa: Berkeley uses the example of a book on a table. The only way the book exists is through the idea or sense impression in the mind. It doesn't enter the mind as matter but as spirit, something immaterial.

Srila Prabhupada: If it is not matter, it is spirit. If everything is spirit, why distinguish between the idea of the book and the book?

Syamasundara dasa: Well, for him there is no difference.

Srila Prabhupada: But he explains that the book is not material. If everything is spiritual, the idea is spiritual as well as the book. Why make the distinction? Sarvarh khalv idam brahma (Chandogya Upanisad 3.14.1). If everything is Brahman, why make these distinctions between the idea of the book and the book? Why is he trying so hard to attempt to explain?

Syamasundara dasa: He also states that God creates all objects.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that's right, and because God creates all objects, there is no object that is not true. We cannot say that something false comes from something true. If God is truth, then whatever emanates from God is also truth. It is Mayavadi philosophy to say that everything that we are seeing is false. Brahma satyarh jagan mithya.

Syamasundara dasa: No, he says it is real because God perceives it.

Srila Prabhupada: If it is real, and my idea of it is real, then everything is real. Why make these distinctions? Our philosophy is that there cannot be these distinctions. If the world emanates from God, can it be false? If everything is spiritual, why does he make the distinction in saying that it is not matter, that it is something else? As soon as we bring up the subject of matter, we imply that matter is something separately existing. In other words, there is duality. As soon as you say that this is not matter, you are making matter into something that is not true. If everything emanates from God and is true, there is no question of there being anything that is not true. If everything is spiritual, we cannot make these distinctions. When he says, "This is not matter," he implies that there is matter somewhere. If everything is spirit, there is no question of material existence.

Syamasundara dasa: He says that there are two types of objects: those which we actively sense, perceive, and experience, and those which are passively sensed, perceived, and experienced. Both are basically the same because they are equally spiritual.

Srila Prabhupada: But two types means duality. How does he distinguish between this type and that type? He distinguishes between the senses and the objects of the senses. If everything is spiritual, we can say that there is spiritual variety. But the senses and the objects of the senses are all real.

Syamasundara dasa: No, he says that they are real and made of spirit. They are not real in the sense that they are made of matter.

Srila Prabhupada: I do not understand this logic. If everything is spirit, why is he making these distinctions? There is no need to make such distinctions if you are spiritually realized. Rather, you can say that these are spiritual varieties. For instance, you can say that stone is not water, that air is not stone, that water is not air, and so on. These are all spiritual varieties. The exact Sanskrit word is savisesa, which indicates that everything is spirit but that there is variety.