Dialectical Spiritualism: Immanuel Kant, Part 5


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

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

Syamasundara dasa: For Kant, cause and effect relationships are also a priori conceptions, mental creations, like time and space. Prior to sense experience, we have an idea of them.

Srila Prabhupada: I take my birth at a certain time, and I die at a certain time. Time is existing before my birth, and it will continue to exist after my death. Similarly with space. This body is temporarily manifest in time, for a certain period considered my lifespan. During that time, I occupy some space, and that is a temporary occupation. Time and space, however, are eternally there. At least, time is eternally there, because space is also born in time.

Syamasundara dasa: How is that?

Srila Prabhupada: We receive information from Srimad-Bhagavatam that because this material space is also akasa, it is born of the finer, subtle mind and intelligence. These descriptions are given in Srimad Bhagavatam. Space is also created.

Syamasundara dasa: Hume had said that cause and effect are habitual assumptions, that we naturally assume that a certain effect follows a certain cause but that the cause does not necessarily bring about the effect.

Srila Prabhupada: We don't agree with that. There cannot be an effect without a cause. Let him prove first that there is an existence without a cause.

Syamasundara dasa: Well, Hume gave the example of a footprint on the beach. Normally we can assume that a human being left the footprint.

Srila Prabhupada: Why normally assume? If it is actually there, it is a fact.

Syamasundara dasa: Possibly something else left the footprint. Someone could have made a cast of a foot, or some other possibility may exist.

Srila Prabhupada: That is nonsense. Why should someone make a footprint to mislead you? But even if he does, that is the cause. The cause is that someone came to mislead you.

Syamasundara dasa: Kant would say that when we see something, we intuitively understand the cause and effect relationship.

Srila Prabhupada: You may or may not understand what the cause is, but there must be a cause. Without a cause, nothing can happen. People foolishly inquire when or why the living entity fell into material nature, but what is the use of this question? There is certainly a cause, but instead of trying to find out the cause, we should try to treat the disease. Why waste time?

Syamasundara dasa: Kant concludes that because the mind imposes a priori laws upon nature as both necessary and universal, the mind is creative and does not come into the world a blank slate.

Srila Prabhupada: It is a fact that the mind is creative. It creates and then rejects. That is the mind's business — samkalpa-vikalpa.

Syamasundara dasa: Kant would say that apart from using the categories of thought — like quantity, quality, cause and effect, and modality — there is only mere guesswork and imperfect dogma. The mind is not satisfied with this partial explanation; it wants to grasp reality in a comprehensive way. The mind wants to know something beyond these categories, and this is the realm of the transcendental dialectic.

Srila Prabhupada: This inquisitiveness is actual philosophy. We are searching for the cause of all causes. A thoughtful man is naturally interested in the ultimate cause of everything. That is human nature. It is the mahatma who searches after the ultimate cause and finds it. The Vedanta-sutra therefore begins with the inquiry: athato brahma-jijhdsa. "What is the ultimate cause? What is Brahman?" It answers: janmadyasya yatah. "Brahman is the supreme source from whom everything emanates." Unless we go to the supreme source, we cannot be satisfied. Those who approach this source through mental speculation attain the impersonal feature. From this point, they can make further advancement. In Isopanisad, there is a prayer petitioning the Supreme:

hiranmayena patrena 
satyasyapihitam mukham 
tat tvam pusann apavrnu 
satya-dharmaya drstaye

"0 my Lord, sustainer of all that lives, Your real face is covered by Your dazzling effulgence. Please remove that covering and reveal Yourself to Your pure devotee." (Isopanisad 15) If we penetrate this impersonal Brahman, we will arrive at Krsna, and then be satisfied. Therefore it is stated in Bhagavad-gita:

bahunam janmanam ante 
jhanavan mam prapadyate 
vasudevah sarvam iti 
sa mahatma sudurlabhah

"After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare." (Bg. 7.19)

Syamasundara dasa: Kant says that after the futile attempt to apply categorical analysis to transcendental knowledge, a man attempts to create other ideas about the universe which transcend sense experience.

Srila Prabhupada: In other words, after failing to attain material knowledge, he attempts to attain transcendental knowledge. What is this?

Syamasundara dasa: Rather, he fails to understand transcendental knowledge when applying the techniques of material knowledge.

Srila Prabhupada: This means that he cannot approach transcendental knowledge with material senses. If this is not possible, how can he hope to form valid ideas about transcendence?

Syamasundara dasa: Through pure reason.

Srila Prabhupada: He admits that the material senses cannot reach transcendence, but he is not clear about the meaning of this pure reason. If the senses are imperfect, and if your reasoning is fed by the senses, your reasoning is also imperfect.

Syamasundara dasa: Kant maintains that reason can act a priori, separate or independent of the senses, to understand that there is God and a soul.

Srila Prabhupada: That is possible.

Syamasundara dasa: In fact, Kant recognizes three ideals of pure reason: the soul, the ultimate world, and God. These ideals transcend the bounds of sensory experience; they are innate and a priori.

Srila Prabhupada: That is also true.

nitya-siddha krsna-prema ' sadhya ' kabhu naya 
sravanadi-suddha-citte karaye udaya

"Pure love for Krsna is eternally established in the hearts of living entities. It is not something to be gained from another source. When the heart is purified by hearing and chanting, the living entity naturally awakens." (Caitanya-caritamrta, Madh. 22.107) It is our natural tendency to offer service to the Lord. Caitanya Mahaprabhu has also said that the living entity is God's eternal servant. The tendency to offer service is natural. Somehow or other, it has been covered by material ignorance.

Syamasundara dasa: Whereas sense perception cannot provide any information about the soul and God, pure reason can provide us with certain conceptions, but not much more.

Srila Prabhupada: We cannot know more by our personal attempt, but these subjects can be known by a process called guru-parampara. When God speaks, it is possible to know. We hear from God in order to understand what, who, and where He is. In this way, our knowledge is perfect. According to Kant, we cannot attain reality or God through reason and the senses. That is a fact admitted in the Vedas. The word vacanam means "words," and manah means "mind." We cannot reach the Supreme either by words or the mind.