Dialectical Spiritualism: George Berkeley, Part 2

BY: SUN STAFF - 9.3 2017

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

George Berkeley (1685 - 1753)

Syamasundara dasa: Berkeley says that if no one experiences a thing, not even God, then it cannot exist. Things can exist only when they are perceived by God.

Srila Prabhupada: This means in one word that there is no existence except God, that nothing exists but God.

Syamasundara dasa: He uses the example of the far side of the North Star. We will never be able to perceive it from our viewpoint, but because God can perceive it, it must exist.

Srila Prabhupada: That's nice. The idea that something does not exist because I cannot perceive it is not very logical. I may not perceive many things, but that does not mean that they do not exist. In the beginning, this is what I understood you to say Berkeley was saying. That kind of logic is contradictory. God's perception is different. He is unlimited, and we are limited. Since He is unlimited, His perception is unlimited; therefore there are unlimited varieties of existence that we have not even perceived. We cannot say that objects do not exist just because we cannot perceive them.

Syamasundara dasa: He says that objects exist because of perception, whether it is God's perception or ours.

Srila Prabhupada: God's perception is another thing. Perception means cetana. Nityo nityanam cetanas cetananam (Katha Upanisad, 2.2.13) The word cetana means "living." We are living, and God is also living, but He is the supreme living entity. We are the subordinate entities. Our perception is limited, and God's perception is unlimited. It is admitted that everything exists due to God's perception. Many objects exist that are not within our experience or perception. However, God experiences everything. In Bhagavad-gita, Krsna says that He knows everything, past, present, and future (Bg. 7. 26). Nothing is beyond His experience.

Syamasundara dasa: He says that because God experiences all objects, objects are rendered potentially perceptible to human minds.

Srila Prabhupada: That's all right, because as we advance in Krsna consciousness, we experience objects through God, not directly. That is stated in the Vedas: yasmin vijnate sarvam eva vijnatam bhavanti. God experiences all things, and if we receive our experience from God, we are advanced. We are preaching that people should receive their experience, their perception, through Krsna. We shouldn't try to speculate because speculation is always imperfect. We are searching after the original source of everything, and Krsna says: aham sarvasya prabhavah (Bg. 10.8). Krsna is the root of all emanations, of all creation. The conclusion should be that we should receive our experience through God; therefore we accept the experience of the Vedas. The Vedas were spoken by God, and they contain knowledge given by God. The word veda means knowledge, and the knowledge of the Vedas is perfect. The Vedic system is sruti-pramanam. As soon as an experience is corroborated or verified by Vedic statement, it is perfect. There is no need to philosophize. If we can receive perfect knowledge directly from the Vedas, why should we speculate? Why should we take so much unnecessary trouble?

dharmah svanusthitah purhsarh 
visvaksena-kathasu yah 
notpadayed yadi ratim 
srama eva hi kevalam

"Duties [dharma] executed by men, regardless of occupation, are only so much labor if they do not provoke attraction for the message of the Supreme Lord." (Bhag. 1.2.8) My speculation is always imperfect because I am imperfect.

Syamasundara dasa: There is an inherent tendency in men to want to experience something first hand rather than through someone else.

Srila Prabhupada: From the beginning of our lives, we are experiencing things through authority. A child receives experience by asking his parents. A child knows nothing about fire, and he wants to touch it because it is red. However, he receives knowledge from his parents that he shouldn't touch fire. In this way, he comes to understand certain basic laws of nature. The Vedas tell us that in order to know the transcendental science of Krsna, we must approach a guru. We cannot speculate about God, the spiritual world, and spiritual life.

Syamasundara dasa: Berkeley says that the world is real because if it were not real, we could not experience it.

Srila Prabhupada: That is also our version. The world is real because it was created by God. But the Mayavadis say that the world is unreal. Brahma satyam jagan mithya.

Syamasundara dasa: He states that the only way we can know that this table exists is through our senses, but these sense impressions are subtle, not material.

Srila Prabhupada: Instead of saying that they are not material, he should say that they are abstract. Abstract is the original position. The Sunyavadis cannot understand the abstract; therefore they say that the abstract is zero, nothing. But the abstract is not nothing.

Syamasundara dasa: Berkeley says that if this table were composed of matter, we would not be able to experience it because the only objects capable of entering our experience must be sensitive substances.

Srila Prabhupada: Krsna is nondifferent from everything because everything is Krsna. Fools look at the Deity and say, "This is not Krsna, this is stone." Because a fool cannot see anything but stone, God appears to him as stone. Unfortunate atheists make these distinctions. They will say, "Everything is Brahman, but not this stone Deity." Or, they will say, "Why go to the temple to worship when God is everywhere?" What they are saying is that God is everywhere, but not in the temple. This means that they have no clear idea. We see that everything has form. Are we to assume that we have form and God hasn't? Impersonalists have no conception of Krsna's original form. Krsna very kindly and mercifully appears before us so that we can experience Him. Ultimately, there is no distinction between matter and spirit, but because at the present moment I cannot conceive of spiritual form, God appears in the form of the Deity. Krsna says:

kleso'dhikataras tesam 
avyakta hi gatir duhkham 
dehavadbhir avapyate

"For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifested, impersonal feature of the Supreme, advancement is very troublesome. To make progress in that discipline is always difficult for those who are embodied." (. Bg. 12.5) People are going through unnecessary labor in order to meditate on something impersonal. Because they have no idea of God, they superficially say, "Everything is God." Still, they cannot see God in the temple in His arca-vigraha form. They cannot understand why all the acaryas like Ramanujacarya and Madhvacarya have established these temples. Are these acaryas simply fools? There has been Deity worship since time immemorial. Are all the people who have participated in Deity worship fools?

Syamasundara dasa: Berkeley says that spirit is the only genuine substance, that there is no substance that exists without thinking. In other words, there is thinking involved even in objects like this table. This table is made of spirit, and spirit is thinking and thoughtful.

Srila Prabhupada: That's nice. His conclusion is that everything is Brahman because thinking is also Brahman. At the present moment, we cannot perceive the spiritual; therefore God, out of His unlimited kindness, comes to us in a small, tangible, concrete form that we can dress, feed, and handle. We cannot say that this form is different from God.

arcye visnau siladhir gurusu 
nara-matir vaisnave jati-buddhih

"One who considers the arca-murti or worshipable Deity of Lord Visnu to be stone, the spiritual master to be an ordinary human being, and a Vaisnava to belong to a particular caste or creed, is possessed of hellish intelligence and is doomed." (Padma Purana) It is horrible to think of these spiritual things in a material way. We should always offer respect and consider that Krsna is present. We should not think that the Deity is simply stone and cannot hear or see. There are sixty-four items mentioned in Nectar of Devotion (Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu) that guide us in Deity worship.