Dialectical Spiritualism: Johann Gottlieb Fichte


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

Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762 - 1814)

Hayagriva dasa: Fichte is not as important as Kant or Hegel, but he is in the same tradition. He followed pretty much in the footsteps of Kant. In his first work, entitled Our Belief in a Divine Government of the Universe, he writes: "Our belief in a moral world order must be based on the concept of a supersensible world." That is, without the conception of a transcendental reality, morality in the world has no basis.

Srila Prabhupada: First of all, he must define morality. He cannot do this simply by saying, "Our moral principles are" It is not sufficient to imagine moral principles. Everyone is always saying, "This is moral, and this is immoral." There must be some standard. Following the Vedic scriptures, we say: krsi-goraksya-vanijyam (Bg. 18.44). Cows should be protected. Others claim that cows should be killed in a religious place, in a mosque, synagogue, or whatever. So who is to say what is moral?

Hayagriva dasa: Following Kant, Fichte would emphasize inner reality, intuition, or conscience.

Srila Prabhupada: Fichte may follow Kant, and I may follow Krsna, but if there is a contradiction, who is to decide which is moral? Who is to be our leader? How can we decide? In any case, we cannot avoid following some leader, be this leader Lenin, Krsna, Kant, or whoever.

Hayagriva dasa: Fichte would emphasize the use of individual intuition, or conscience.

Srila Prabhupada: Our conscience is determined according to our association. There is no standard conscience. The conscience of a drunkard says that drinking is good, and the conscience of a devotee says that chanting is good. So which are we to follow? We may follow one definition of God, and others may follow another definition. There must be some standard.

dharmaih tu saksad bhagavad-pranitam 
na vai vidur rsayo napi devah 
na siddha-mukhya asura manusyah
kuto nu vidyadhara-caranadayah

"Real religious principles are enacted by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Although fully situated in the mode of goodness, even the great rsis who occupy the topmost planets cannot ascertain the real religious principles, nor can the demigods or the leaders of Siddhaloka, to say nothing of the asuras, ordinary human beings, Vidyadharas and Caranas." (Bhag. 6.3.19) The definition of God and the orders of God are standard. We cannot manufacture God or morality.

Hayagriva dasa: For Fichte, the world has no objective reality outside of its being an instrument for the enactment of duty. He sees the world of the senses as the "stuff of duty." He writes, "Our world is the centralized material of our duty It is our duty that is revealed in the world of the senses."

Srila Prabhupada: If there is no definition of duty, everyone can manufacture his own. Our standard is given by Lord Krsna:

sarva-dharman parityajya 
mam ekaih saranarh vraja 
aham tvarh sarva-papebhyo 
moksayisyami ma sucah

"Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear." (Bg. 18.66) So whatever duties have been manufactured should be given up. It is not necessary to go on speculating, because the instructions are very clear. For our standard, we refer to the Vedas. Sabda-pramanam. If our actions are approved by Vedic injunctions, they will meet the standard and be perfect.

Syamasundara dasa: Fichte believes that the world is a rational unified system directed toward a purpose. It is not a mere machine.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, we agree to that. The material world is created for the pastimes of the conditioned soul, just as the spiritual world is manifest for the pastimes of Krsna. Those who are eternally liberated and enjoy Krsna are called nitya-mukta. The nitya-baddha is a soul conditioned by material nature. These souls, or jivas, are given a chance to play as they like, and they have come here to satisfy their material senses. Ultimately, they should come to their real senses and understand that it is not their business to enjoy material sense objects here but to return home, back to Godhead. This is a good plan, and one who takes advantage of it does not deviate. If one follows the Vedic instructions concerning eating, sleeping, defending, and mating, he can become eligible to return to Godhead very quickly. However, those who manufacture their own way and go against the plan become implicated in karmabandhana. The word bandhana means "to be implicated."

Syamasundara dasa: Fichte claims that because the world is a rational system, reason has a very important place. Reason is a real entity or power which performs purposeful acts.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is so. Caitanya Mahaprabhu pointed out that the living entity is the eternal servant of Krsna. If he utilizes his reason, he can understand very well what he is doing here. He can understand that he is receiving everything through his senses, and by acting in this way and that, has become a servant of his senses. People cannot master their senses, yet they are prepared to try to master the world, or society. The living entity is not the master, yet he artificially attempts to be master. We attain knowledge when we realize that we are not masters but the eternal servants of Krsna. People are trying to serve their senses, their family, their country, society, dog, or whatever. This service is misplaced. By the use of reason, we can come to the understanding that we are eternal servants of Krsna. When we abandon the service of the senses, of maya, and take to Krsna's service, we attain liberation, mukti.

Hayagriva dasa: Fichte believes that true atheism consists in "...refusing to obey the voice of one's conscience until one thinks that one can foresee the success of one's actions and thus elevating one's own judgment above that of God and in making oneself into God. He who wills to do evil in order to produce good is a godless person."

Srila Prabhupada: If you do not know God or His orders, how can you verify your duty? Do you simply manufacture your duty? Anyone can do that. First of all, you must understand what is meant by duty. Duty means following the orders given by your superior, but if you have no superior, if you have no conception of the Supreme and His order, how can you know your duty? Of course, you may imagine your duty. Is this what he advises?

Hayagriva dasa: He is vague on this point.

Srila Prabhupada: Because he does not know. According to the Vedas, we have definite, prescribed duties. Society is divided into eight divisions comprising the varnasrama-dharma. There are four varnas (brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya, and sudra), and four asramas (brahmacan, grhastha, vanaprastha, and sannyasa). Whatever you do, you must function according to one of these varnas or asramas, and there are duties prescribed for each. If you follow the principles that are set forth specifically for each stage of life, you are doing your duty.