Dialectical Spiritualism: Jean-Paul Sartre, Part 4

BY: SUN STAFF - 26.9 2017

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

XII. EXISTENTIALISM 
Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)

Hayagriva dasa: Although man has no determined nature other than nothingness, Sartre sees man as a being striving to be God. He writes: "To be man means to reach toward being God. Or if you prefer, man fundamentally is the desire to be God."

Srila Prabhupada: On the one hand, he denies the existence of God, and on the other, he tries to be God. If there is no God, there is no question of desiring to be God. How can one desire to be something that does not exist?

Hayagriva dasa: He is simply stating that man wants to be God. As far as God's existence is concerned, he prefers to set this question aside.

Srila Prabhupada: But that is the main question of philosophy! God has created everything: your mind, intelligence, body, existence, and the circumstances surrounding you. How can you deny His existence? Or set it aside as not relevant? In the Vedas, it is stated that in the beginning, God existed, and the Bible also states that in the beginning there was God. In this material universe, existence and annihilation are both temporary. According to the laws of material nature, the body is created on a certain day, it exists for some time, and then is eventually finished. The entire cosmic manifestation has a beginning, middle, and end. But before this creation, who was there? If God were not there, how could the creation logically be possible?

Hayagriva dasa: As far as we've seen, most philosophers are concerned with resolving this question.

Srila Prabhupada: Not all philosophers are denying God's existence, but most are denying His personal existence. We can understand, however, that God is the origin of everything, and that this cosmic manifestation emanates from Him. God is there, nature is there, and we are also there, like one big family.

Hayagriva dasa: Sartre would not admit the existence of an originator in whom things exist in their essence prior to creation. He would say that man simply exists, that he just appears.

Srila Prabhupada: A person appears due to his father and mother. How can this be denied? Does he mean to say, "I suddenly just dropped from the sky."? Only a fool would say that he appeared without parents. From our experience we can understand that all species of life are manifest from some mother. Taken as a whole, we say that the mother is material nature. As soon as a mother is accepted, the father must also be accepted. It is most important to know where you came from. How can you put this question aside?

Syamasundara dasa: Sartre believes that man's fundamental desire is the "desire to be." That is, man seeks existence rather than mere nothingness.

Srila Prabhupada: That is so. Because man is eternal, he has the desire to exist eternally. Unfortunately, he puts himself under certain conditions that are not eternal. That is, he tries to maintain a position that will not endure eternally. Through Krsna consciousness, we attain and retain our eternal position.

Syamasundara dasa: Sartre feels that man wants solidity. He is not satisfied with being a mere being-for-itself. He also desires to be beingin-itself.

Srila Prabhupada: Nothing in the material world exists eternally. A tree may exist for ten thousand years, but eventually it will perish. In the material world, nothing stays forever. What he is seeking is actual spiritual life. In Bhagavad-gita, Krsna speaks of another nature, a nature that is permanent, sanatana.

paras tasmat tu bhavo'nyo 
'vyakto'vyaktat sanatanah 
yah sa sarvesu bhutesu 
nasyatsu na vinasyati

"Yet there is another nature, which is eternal and is transcendental to this manifested and unmanifested matter. It is supreme and is never annihilated. When all in this world is annihilated, that part remains as it is." (Bg. 8.20) After the annihilation of this material universe, that sanatana nature will abide.

Syamasundara dasa: This desire to be being-in-itself is the desire to be God, which Sartre maintains is man's fundamental desire.

Srila Prabhupada: This is more or less Mayavadi philosophy. The Mayavadis believe that when they attain complete knowledge, they become God. Because man is part and parcel of God, he wants to be united with God. It is like a man who has been away from home for a long time. Naturally he wants to go home again.

Syamasundara dasa: Sartre believes that this desire to be God is bound to fail.

Srila Prabhupada: Certainly, because man is not God. If he is God, how has he become something else? His very desire to be God means that he is not God at the present moment. A man cannot become God, but he can become godly. Existing in darkness, we desire light. We may come into the sunshine, but this does not mean that we become the sun. When we come to the platform of perfect knowledge, we become godly, but we do not become God. If we are God, there is no question of being something other than God. There is no question of being ignorant. Another name for Krsna is Acyuta, which means, "He who never falls down." This means that He never becomes not-God. He is God always. You cannot become God through some mystic practice. This passion to become God is useless because it is doomed to frustration.

Syamasundara dasa: Therefore Sartre calls man a "useless passion."

Srila Prabhupada: A man is not useless if he attempts to be Krsna conscious. The attempt to be Krsna conscious and the attempt to be Krsna are totally different. One is godly, the other asuric.

Syamasundara dasa: Sartre then reasons that because it is impossible to become God, everything else is useless.

Srila Prabhupada: That is foolishness. You are not God, but God's servant. You have chosen to attempt to become God, but you have found this to be impossible. Therefore you should give up this notion and decide to become a good servant of God, instead of a servant of maya. That is the proper decision.