Dialectical Spiritualism: Jean-Paul Sartre, Part 3

BY: SUN STAFF - 26.9 2017

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

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)

Syamasundara dasa: Sartre maintains that man is condemned to be free, that this is a fate from which man cannot escape.

Srila Prabhupada: If man is condemned, who has condemned him?

Syamasundara dasa: Man is condemned by accident, thrown into the world.

Srila Prabhupada: Is it simply by accident that one person is condemned and another blessed? Is it an accident that one man is in jail and another is not? What kind of philosophy is this? Such so-called philosophy simply misleads people. Nothing is accidental. We agree that the living entity is condemned to this material world, but when we speak of condemnation, we also speak of blessedness. So what is that blessedness?

Syamasundara dasa: Sartre argues that man is condemned in the sense that he cannot escape this freedom. Since man is free, he is responsible for his activities.

Srila Prabhupada: If you are responsible, then your freedom is not accidental. How is it you are accidentally responsible? If there is responsibility, there must be someone you are responsible to. There must be someone who is condemning you or blessing you. These things cannot happen accidentally. His philosophy is contradictory.

Syamasundara dasa: Man’s nature is an indefinite state of freedom. Man has no definite nature. He is continually creating it.

Srila Prabhupada: This means that he is eternal. But the living entity does not change accidentally. His changes take place under certain regulations, and he attains specific bodies according to his karma, not by accident.

Syamasundara dasa: But we have no fixed nature in the sense that today I may be happy and tomorrow unhappy.

Srila Prabhupada: That is true to some extent. When you are placed into the sea, you have no control. You move according to the waves. This means that there is a power that is controlling you. However, if you put yourself in better circumstances, you will be able to control. Because you have placed yourself under the control of material nature, you act according to the modes of material nature.

prakrteh kriyamanani 
gunaih karmani sarvasah 
kartaham iti manyate

“The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which in actuality are carried out by nature.” (Bg. 3.27) Because you are conditioned, your freedom is checked. When you are thrown into the ocean of material existence, you essentially lose your freedom. Therefore it is your duty to get yourself liberated.

Syamasundara dasa: Because we are one thing today and something else tomorrow, Sartre says that our essential nature is “no-thingness.”

Srila Prabhupada: You are nothing in the sense that you are under the full control of a superior power, being carried away by the waves of maya. In the ocean of maya, you may say, “I am nothing,” but actually you are something. Your something-ness will be very much exhibited to you when you are put on land. Out of despair, you conclude that your nature is that of nothingness. Sartre’s philosophy is a philosophy of despair, and we say that it is unintelligent because despair is not the result of intelligence.

Syamasundara dasa: Although the basis of our nature is nothingness, Sartre maintains that man chooses or creates his own nature.

Srila Prabhupada: That is a fact. Therefore you should create your nature as something, not nothing. In order to do that, however, you have to take lessons from a higher personality. Before philosophizing, Sartre should have taken lessons from a knowledgeable person. That is the Vedic injunction. tad-vijnanartham sa gurum evabhigacchet samit-panih srotriyarh brahma-nistham “In order to learn the transcendental science, one must approach the bona fide spiritual master in disciplic succession, who is fixed in the Absolute Truth.” (Mundaka-upanisad 1.2. 12)

Syamasundara dasa: Sartre sees our nature as always in the making, as continually becoming.

Srila Prabhupada: It is not in the making. It is changing. But man can make his nature in the sense that he can decide not to change. He can understand that changes are taking place despite the fact that he does not want them. Man can mold his nature by deciding to serve Krsna, not by dismissing the whole matter, and, out of confusion and disappointment, claiming it to be nothing. The attempt to make life zero is due to a poor fund of knowledge.

Syamasundara dasa: Sartre sees that we are constantly choosing or making our life, but that everything ends at death. That is, man is always in the process of becoming until death. At death, everything is finished.

Srila Prabhupada: Death means changing into another body. The active principle on which the body stands does not die. Death is like changing apartments. A sane man can understand this.