Dialectical Spiritualism: Arthur Schopenhauer

BY: SUN STAFF - 4.5 2017

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

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 - 1860)

Hayagriva dasa: For Schopenhauer, happiness is inactive satisfaction, inactivity, nirvana. Since the will to live is the irrational urge that brings about all suffering, he advocates the extinction of this world. In The World /4s Idea, he writes: "The Vedas and Puranas have no better simile than a dream for the whole knowledge of the actual world, which they call the web of maya Indeed, life is a long dream What is this world of perception besides being my idea? Is that of which I am conscious only as idea, exactly like my own body, of which I am doubly conscious, in one aspect as idea, in another aspect as will?" He goes on to conclude that life is a projection of the will.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, life is a projection of the will, or material desire. The living entity cannot be desireless. Nirvana means that material desires are finished, but because the living entity is an eternal spiritual being, he has spiritual desires. Now these spiritual desires are covered by material desires, but in any case, desire is the constant companion of the living entity. Because he is materially covered, he considers the temporary world to be reality, but because it is constantly changing, it is not. According to the type of body we get, we have different desires. The soul transmigrates in this material world from one body to another, and he creates desires accordingly. The supreme will affords him different bodies in order to fulfill his will or material desires. The living entity is willing, and the supreme will, God, or Krsna, understanding the finite will, gives him facilities to fulfill his particular desire. Therefore will is the cause of this material existence. However, we say that since you are a living being, you must have desires. If your desires are stopped, you become like a stone. Instead of trying to put an end to all desire, you should try to cleanse this diseased form of desire. That is the process of bhakti.

tat-paratvena nirmalam 
hrsikena hrsikesasevanam bhaktir ucyate

"Bhakti , or devotional service, means engaging all our senses in the service of the Lord, the master of all the senses. When the spirit soul renders service unto the Supreme, there are two side effects. He is freed from all material designations, and, simply by being employed in the service of the Lord, his senses are purified." (Bhakti-rasamrta sindhu, 1.1.12) Presently, our desires are desires of the body (upadhi). When the living entity acquires the body of an American, a European, a Chinaman, or whatever, he thinks in a certain way. When he changes his body to that of a dog, he spends his time barking. According to his desires, he has received a particular type of body. These desires are temporary, and the living entity moves from one body to another. Therefore in one sense this is all a dream. It is a fact that we cannot fulfill our material desires, which come and go like dreams. Now all material activities, subtle or gross, are manifestations of different desires, and therefore the Mayavadi philosophers say brahma satyarh jagan mithya. The dreamer is a fact, but the dream is false. Our Vaisnava philosophy agrees that the dreamer is the factual living entity, and the dream is temporary; therefore the dreamer has to be brought to the real spiritual platform so that his material dreams can be extinguished. When we abandon the dream and awaken to reality, that is Krsna consciousness, or bhakti.

Syamasundara dasa: Then will or desire can never be annihilated?

Srila Prabhupada: No, not even for a second. Because we are living, we must will and desire. It is stated in Bhagavad-gita that we cannot live for a second without will, without desires.

na hi kascit ksanam api 
jatu tisthaty akarmakrt 
karyate hy avasah karma 
sarvah prakrti-jair gunaih

"All men are forced to act helplessly according to the impulses born of the modes of material nature; therefore no one can refrain from doing something, not even for a moment." (Bg. 3.5)

Syamasundara dasa: Don't the Buddhists advocate a state of desirelessness, or nonwillingness?

Srila Prabhupada: They believe that if you dismantle this material combination, this material body, there will no longer be will, desire, or suffering. But this is not a fact. You are the eternal servant of Krsna, and you do not die after the destruction of the body. Thinking, feeling, and willing are carried from this body to another body in the process of transmigration. When the body dies, the living entity is carried away by his will. According to our will, we receive another body at the time of death. That body may be the body of a demigod, dog, human, or whatever. In any case, will, or desire, is the carrier.

Hayagriva dasa: Schopenhauer was profoundly influenced by some of the Vedic literatures. For example, he writes: "Every keen pleasure is an error and an illusion, for no attained wish can give lasting satisfaction; and moreover, every possession and every happiness is but lent by chance for an uncertain time, and may therefore be demanded back the next hour. All pain rests on the passing away of such illusion; thus both arise from defective knowledge. The wise man therefore holds himself equally aloof from joy and sorrow, and no event disturbs his composure."

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, in this material world, people say, "This is good, and this is bad," but factually there is no question of good and bad. This is all on the temporary platform. The Mayavadis use the word "false," but we say "temporary." It is also stated in Bhagavad-gita that the pains and pleasures experienced in the material world do not touch the spirit soul. Under illusion, a spirit soul, concerned with a material body, thinks that the pains and pleasures are his, but this is not a fact. Therefore Krsna instructs that the pleasures and pains simply touch the body, not the soul. Krsna says:

matra-sparsas tu kaunteya 

"0 son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perceptions, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed." (Bg. 2.14) Since pleasures and pains come and go in due course, they are not the reality. So why bother about them? If I feel pain, let me tolerate it and go about my business.