What is Life? What happens after death? Who is God? Western thinkers and philosopher over the ages, right from Pluto and Socrates to Schopenhauer, and Hume and Sartre, have pondered over these deep questions. These philosophers have presented their own theories as they have tried to grapple with these vexing questions. Brilliant as these efforts have been, none of these theories have been very conclusive in understanding these higher aspects of life, limited as they have been by the frailties and defects of their creators. In Beyond Illusion and Doubt Srila Prabhupada knowledge and clears away the web of illusion and doubt surrounding these profound questions.
Philosophy? What's that? The word comes from the two Greek words philo ("love") and sophia ("wisdom"). So philosophy is love of wisdom or knowledge.
Of course, there are many kinds of wisdom and knowledge. Philosophy, however, specifically concerns itself with questions related to the ultimate nature and meaning of experience and reality. As composer Burt Bacharach put it in a famous song, "What's it all about, Alfie?"
In that sense, we are all philosophers, because we all do, from time to time, wonder what it's all about. Perhaps this sense of wonder comes from going camping in the desert and looking up at night and seeing the vast array of stars. Or per- haps it comes from a sense of disappointment. We lose some- thing, or fail to achieve something, and we ask, "Why me?" We pray to God for something, and we don't get it. We see that others get what we want for ourselves. And therefore we ask, "God, are You listening to me, are You really there?" Or perhaps we're confronted with a difficult choice in life, and we wonder, "God, what should I do?" We search for some basis to make a decision. Or sometimes we find that what appeared to be solid and real-a relationship, a position, some- thing-suddenly disappears. And we wonder, "What's real? Is there anything in this world I can really count on?" Or we see things happening around us in ways we can't explain, and we wonder, "Is there any logic, any reason to all this?" Or we hear someone trying to justify himself to us, and we can tell he isn't making any sense. And we question him, "Do you know what you're saying?" Whether we know it or not, all these questions we keep asking are philosophical questions.
Philosophy has traditionally been divided into four branches. The first is logic, the study of the formal structure of argument, of how a conclusion properly flows from certain assumptions, premises, and statements. The second branch is metaphysics, the study of the ultimate nature of reality-of God and the universe and consciousness. The third branch is epistemology, the science of how we know things. And the fourth branch is axiology, the study of values, of ethics, of how we determine what is right and wrong. This branch also includes aesthetics, the study of what is truly beautiful.
In all these areas many questions come up, as we have seen. But how do we find the answers? Western philosophy has relied on individual speculation, which involves taking evidence from our senses and evaluating it with our minds. But this method leaves us with a great deal of uncertainty. After all, our senses are imperfect, and our minds are subject to illusion, mistakes, and the propensity to cheat, to pretend we know something when we really don't. With all these variables, each philosopher tends to come to a different set of answers to the fundamental questions. Indeed, it seems that one really can't be a leading philosopher without saying something substantially different from the philosophers who've come before. This constant overhauling of philosophies throughout Western history can make the study of philosophy very frustrating, especially for people who are consulting philosophers not just to play an intellectual game but to find practical answers to life's most perplexing questions.
There is another approach to philosophy, however. The philosophers of the Vedic civilization of ancient India distinguished two ways of getting at the truth. One is called the ascending path of knowledge, and the other is called the descending path. Western philosophers commonly use the ascending path, the path of speculation. Tile Vedic philosophers recognized that one who uses this method can never achieve certain knowledge, free from illusion and doubt, be- cause of those pesky imperfect mind and senses. They preferred the descending path of knowledge. Recognizing the existence of a supreme intelligence behind the universe we experience with our senses, the Vedic philosophers accepted that the only way of getting certain answers to ultimate questions is to receive knowledge coming down from the supreme intelligence, God, known by the name Krsna.
This knowledge, originating with Krsna, has been passed down through a chain of spiritual masters since the beginning of time. There is no need to change it, there is no need to speculate about it. It is perfect knowledge. The duty of a spiritual master is simply to pass this knowledge on to his or her disciples, who in turn become spiritual masters and pass it on to a new generation of disciples. Because this knowledge is not the product of imperfect human minds and senses, it is beyond illusion and doubt.
But we should not blindly accept knowledge from the descending path. It is not dogma. We can test it with logic and reason and discover for ourselves how it is superior to any contrary conclusions arrived at through the speculative method. And by practicing yoga we can experimentally verify the truths received through the descending path. In this particular age, the most highly recommended process of yoga is bhakti-yoga, the yoga of devotion to God.
In recent times, the most prominent spiritual master in the line of spiritual masters coming from Krsna is His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (known popularly as Srila Prabhupada). His own spiritual master, His Divine Grace Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, asked Srila Prabhupada to spread the methods and conclusions of Vedic philosophy throughout the world.
In the early 1970s, Srila Prabhupada, decided to analyze Western philosophy in light of Vedic philosophy. In a series of tape- recorded conversations, his scholarly disciples Hayagriva Dasa and Syamasundara Dasa presented to Srila Prabhupada selections from the teachings of prominent Western philosophers, from Socrates to Carl lung, and Srila Prabhupada commented upon them. Beyond Illusion and Doubt is based on those conversations. All but one of the chapters of Beyond Illusion-the one dealing with the philosophy of John Stuart Mill-originally appeared as articles in Back to Godhead, the magazine of the Hare Krsna movement. Srila Prabhupada founded this magazine in India in 1944, and since then it has become the world's foremost journal dedicated to the teachings of Lord Krsna.
We are under no illusion that Beyond lllusion presents an exhaustive treatment of Western philosophy. After all, for the most part the philosophers presented here, some of the must prominent in the West, wrote voluminously and created a complex system of thought outlining an original world view. Rather, what you'll find here is a fascinating series of insights into some of their most salient ideas and a concise yet thorough presentation of the basics of bhakti-yoga.
You'll read how Srila Prabhupada applauds Socrates' op- position to the Sophists' view that morality is relative-that there is no absolute standard of right and wrong. "The highest duty of man is to care for his soul," Socrates declared; Srila Prabhupada agrees, and explains how.
Excerpts from Plato's Republic provide Srila Prabhupada with a context for explaining the Vedic social system, while Aristotle's speculations on God and man come in for some sharp criticism.
Srila Prabhupada notes several similarities between the Vedic view and the ideas of Origen, the father of Christian mysticism-especially concerning reincarnation-but points out that Origen was wrong to believe the soul is created.
Srila Prabhupada shows how ridiculous is Augustine's statement that "Reincarnation is ridiculous," but he approves Aquinas's five proofs for the existence of God.
Kierkegaard was perfectly correct, says Srila Prabhupada, when he wrote that in the highest stage of life a person sub- mits himself to God and obeys Him totally, but he was wrong when he insisted that the truly religious life must entail great suffering.
Schopenhauer recommended that the way to real happi- ness is to destroy all desire and will and thus reach "nirvana." No, says Srila Prabhupada, desire and will are intrinsic to the soul and must simply be purified of their material focus.
Darwin draws some heavy fire for his evolutionary theory, which ignores God's role in the origin of the species.
"The greatest good for the greatest number" was the slogan of John Stuart Mill's utilitarian philosophy, but Srila Prabhupada asks, "Who will determine what the greatest good is?"
Almost two decades before the fall of the Soviet Union cast Marx's atheistic philosophy into the dustbin of history, Srila Prabhupada points out the fatal flaw in the communist doctrine: everything belongs not to the state but to God, and therefore everything must be used in His service.
Nietzsche extolled the "superman," one who has com- pletely conquered his passions and is dependent on no one; Srila Prabhupada shows how the real superman is the fully self-realized soul who recognizes his complete dependence on God.
Regarding Freud, Srila Prabhupada explains that whatever relief psychoanalysis can give is simply palliative unless the patient recognizes that the root of his problems is his misidentification of the self with the body and his alienation from God.
Quoting the Bhagavad-gita, Srila Prabhupada calls Sartre's existentialism demonic because it ignores the authority and very existence of God and declares man a "useless passion" striving vainly in a purposeless world. Finally, Srila Prabhupada heartily applauds this statement from Carl Jungs autobiography: "One must be utterly abandoned to God; nothing matters but fulfilling His will. Other- wise, all is folly and meaningless." Unfortunately, Jung never found a qualified guru from whom to learn the science of Krsna consciousness.
We are not so unfortunate as Dr. Jung. From Beyond Illusion and Doubt and the many other books Srila Prabhupada has left us, as well as from his followers who are faithfully carrying forward his teachings, we can learn the philosophy, practice, and goals of Krsna consciousness and make our lives successful.
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