Dialectical Spiritualism: Jean-Paul Sartre

Dialectical Spiritualism: Jean-Paul Sartre


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

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)

Hayagriva dasa: Descartes and Leibnitz believed that before the creation, the concept of man existed in essence in the mind of God, just as a machine exists in the mind of its manufacturer before it is constructed. Sartre takes exception to this. In The Humanism of Existentialism, he writes: "Atheistic existentialism, which I represent, is more coherent. It states that if God does not exist, there is at least one being in whom existence precedes essence, a being who exists before he can be defined by any concept, and that this being is man, or, as Heidegger says, human reality."

Srila Prabhupada: But where does human reality come from? There are also other realities. Why is he stressing human reality?

Hayagriva dasa: As for man's origin, Sartre would say that man is "thrown into the world."

Srila Prabhupada: Thrown by whom? The word "throw" implies a thrower.

Hayagriva dasa: Sartre isn't really interested in a thrower. "Existentialism isn't so atheistic that it wears itself out showing God doesn't exist," he writes. "Rather, it declares that even if God did exist, that would change nothing. There you've got our point of view. Not that we believe that God exists, but that we think that the problem of His existence is not the issue."

Srila Prabhupada: But if you and others exist, why doesn't God exist? Why deny God and His existence? Let them all exist.

Syamasundara dasa: Since Sartre sees man as having been thrown into the world and abandoned, for him, God is dead.

Srila Prabhupada: Abandoned by God does not mean that God is dead. You have to admit that you are condemned to the material world, but just because you are condemned, you should not think that God is also condemned. God is always in Vaikuntha. He is not dead.

Syamasundara dasa: Sartre believes that because we have been abandoned, we must rely on ourselves alone.

Srila Prabhupada: But God has not abandoned us. God is not partial. He does not accept one person and abandon another. If you feel abandoned, it is because you have done something that has brought this condition about. If you rectify your position, you will be accepted again.

Hayagriva dasa: But Sartre would deny God's existence, particularly that of a personal God.

Srila Prabhupada: But his denial should be based on some logic or reason. Why mention the word "God," if God does not exist? God is there, but Sartre denies God's existence. This is inconsistent. If God does not exist, why even mention the word? His proposal is that he does not want God to exist.

Hayagriva dasa: He wants to set the whole question aside in order to place emphasis on man, on human reality.

Srila Prabhupada: If you believe in your existence, why not believe in the existence of another? There are 8,400,000 different species existing in multifarious forms. Why shouldn't God exist? According to the Vedic understanding, God is also a living being, but He is different in that He is the chief, supreme living being. According to Bhagavad-gita, mattah parataram nanyat (Bg. 7. 7). There is no living being superior to God. W e all experience the fact that there are beings more intelligent than we. God is the ultimate intelligence. Why can't a person who exceeds all others in intelligence exist? There is no question of "if God exists." God must exist. In the sastras He is described as the superlative personality, as the super powerful, the super intelligent. We can see in this world that everyone is not on an equal level, that there are varying degrees of perfection. This indicates that there is a superlative, and if we go on searching — either for wealth, intelligence, power, beauty, or whatever — we will find that God possesses all qualities to the superlative degree, and that every other living entity possesses qualities in degrees relative to Him. How, then, can we rationally deny His existence?

Hayagriva dasa: According to Sartre, the first principle of existentialism is that "man is nothing else but what he makes of himself." This can be true only if there is no God to conceive of human nature.

Srila Prabhupada: If man is what he makes of himself, why doesn't man exist as a superman? If his capacities are completely independent of anyone else, why is he in his present situation?

Hayagriva dasa: That is also Sartre's question. He therefore emphasizes man's responsibility. "But if existence really does precede essence," he writes, "man is responsible for what he is. Thus existentialism's first move is to make every man aware of what he is and to make the full responsibility of his existence rest on him."

Srila Prabhupada: If man is responsible, who gave him this responsibility? What does he mean by responsibility? You feel responsible to someone when someone gives you duties to discharge. If there is no duty, or overseer, where is your responsibility?

Syamasundara dasa: Sartre sees man as being overwhelmed by his very responsibility. He is in anguish and anxiety because he has the freedom to change himself and the world.

Srila Prabhupada: This means that man is in an awkward position. He wants peace, but he does not know how to attain it. But this does not mean that peace is not possible. Peace is not possible for a man in ignorance.

Syamasundara dasa: Anxiety arises from responsibility. Man thinks that he has to choose properly in order to enjoy something. If he chooses wrongly, he must suffer.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, responsibility is there, but why not take it to transfer yourself to a safe place where there is no anxiety? It may be that you do not know of a safe place, but if there is such a place, why not ask someone who knows? Why constantly remain disappointed and anxious? The safe place where there is no anxiety is called Vaikuntha. The word Vaikuntha means "no anxiety."