Dialectical Spiritualism: Jean-Paul Sartre, Part 5

BY: SUN STAFF - 29.9 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 concludes that since things have no reason to exist, life has no essential purpose.

Srila Prabhupada: Nothing can exist without a purpose. There is also a supreme cause. The defect in such philosophers is that they do not have sufficient brain substance to go further than what they superficially see. They are not capable of understanding the cause of causes.

Many modern scientists also maintain that nature, prakrti, is the sole cause of existence, but we do not ascribe to such a theory. We understand that God is behind nature, and that nature is not acting independently. Nature is phenomena, but behind or beyond nature is noumena, God, Krsna. In Bhagavad-gita, philosophy like Sartre's is called asuric, or demoniac. Demons do not believe in a superior cause. They consider that everything is accidental. They say that a man and a woman unite accidentally, and that their child is the result of sex, and nothing more. Therefore they claim that there is no purpose to existence.

asatyam apratistham te 
jagad ahur anisvaram 
kim anyat kama-haitukam

"They say that this world is unreal, that there is no foundation, and that there is no God in control. It is produced of sex desire, and has no cause other than lust." (Bg. 16.8) This type of philosophy is called asuric, demoniac, because it is of the nature of darkness, ignorance.

Syamasundara dasa: For Sartre, being-for-itself refers to human consciousness, which is subjective, individual, incomplete, and indeterminate. It is nothingness in the sense that it has no density or mass.

Srila Prabhupada: Because he is so materialistic, his senses cannot perceive anything that is not concrete. According to Vedic philosophy, the senses and their objects are created simultaneously. Unless there is an aroma, the sense of smell has no value. Unless there is beauty, the eyes have no value. Unless there is music, the ears have no value. Unless there is something soft, the sense of touch has no value. There is no question of nothingness. There must be interaction.

Syamasundara dasa: Since man's essential nature is an undetermined nothingness, Sartre believes that man is free to choose to be either a coward or a hero. Our situation is in our own hands.

Srila Prabhupada: If you claim that you were tossed into the world by some superior power, or by accident, what can you do? How can you become a hero? If you try to become a hero, you will be kicked all the more because you are placed here by a superior power. If a culprit under police custody attempts to become a hero, he will be beaten and punished. Actually, you are neither a coward nor a hero. You are an instrument. You are completely under the control of a superior power.

Syamasundara dasa: Well, if someone is attacking you, you have the power to choose to be a hero and defend yourself, or to run.

Srila Prabhupada: It is not heroic to defend oneself. That is natural. If that is the case, even a dog can be a hero when he is attacked. Even an ant can be a hero. Heroism and cowardice are simply mental concoctions. After all, you are under the control of a power that can do what He likes with you. Therefore there is no question of your becoming a hero or a coward.

Syamasundara dasa: Suppose someone is in danger, and you rescue him. Isn't that being heroic?

Srila Prabhupada: All you can rescue is the exterior dress. Saving that dress is not heroism. It is not even protection. One can be a real hero only when he is fully empowered or fully protected. Such a person can only be a devotee, because only Krsna can fully protect or empower.

Syamasundara dasa: Being free, man is subject to what Sartre calls "bad faith," a kind of self-deception. Through bad faith, man loses his freedom and responsibility.

Srila Prabhupada: You certainly have limited freedom to choose, but if you choose improperly, you have to suffer. Responsibility and freedom go hand in hand. At the same time, there must be discrimination. Without it, our freedom is blind. We cannot understand right from wrong.

Syamasundara dasa: A man in bad faith drifts along from day to day without being involved, avoiding responsible decisions.

Srila Prabhupada: This means that he has decided to drift. His drifting is a decision.

Syamasundara dasa: Sartre believes that bad faith must be replaced by a solid choosing, and by faith in that choice.

Srila Prabhupada: But if he makes the wrong decision, what is the value of his action? Moths fly very valiantly and courageously into the fire. Is that a very good decision?

Syamasundara dasa: Due to bad faith, people treat others as objects instead of persons. Sartre advocates rectifying this situation.

Srila Prabhupada: He speaks of bad faith, but what about good faith?

Syamasundara dasa: If bad faith is the avoidance of decisions, good faith would mean making decisions courageously and following them out, regardless of what these decisions are.

Srila Prabhupada: But what if your decision is wrong?

Syamasundara dasa: For Sartre, it is not a question of right or wrong.

Srila Prabhupada: Then whatever decision I make is final and absolute? This means that the insect's decision to enter the fire is a proper decision. This is the philosophy of insects. If man can do as he pleases, where is his responsibility?