Dialectical Spiritualism: Arthur Schopenhauer, Part 4


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

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 - 1860)

Hayagriva dasa: Schopenhauer also looked on Indian philosophy as a philosophy of the denial of the will, and he cited many examples of suicide as a religious act.

Srila Prabhupada: But he did not study Vedic philosophy and religion perfectly. He has some idea of some portions of the Mayavadi and Buddhist philosophies, but evidently he did not know about Vaisnavism. Although he has touched Bhagavad-gita, he did not study it thoroughly, because in Bhagavad-gita, Krsna tells Arjuna that if he only tried to attain knowledge of God, his life and will would be purified, and he would return back to Godhead upon giving up the body.

janma karma ca me divyam 
evam yo vetti tattvatah 
tyaktva deham punar janma 
naiti mam eti so'rjuna

"One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, 0 Arjuna." (Bg. 4.9) Either Schopenhauer did not study Bhagavad-gita thoroughly, or he could not understand for want of a real spiritual master. According to Bhagavad-gita itself, we should go to a bona fide guru who has seen the truth. Schopenhauer is speculating on the basis of his own experience; therefore, although everything is there in Bhagavad-gita, he could not see it.

Hayagriva dasa: As examples of the denial of the will to live, Schopenhauer cites the religious suicides under the wheels of the Jagannatha carts, and the ritual of sati.

Srila Prabhupada: These are not suicides. These are acts based on the understanding that because we are getting different types of bodies, we are suffering a variety of miseries. When one voluntarily accepts death in these ways, he thinks of his spiritual life while dying, and he attains it.

yarn yarn vapi smaran bhavarn 
tyajaty ante kalevaram 
tarn tarn evaiti kaunteya 
sada tad-bhava-bhavitah

"Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits the body, that state he will attain without fail." (Bg. 8.6) Therefore King Kulasekhara prayed that Krsna take him while he was in good health and remembering Krsna, because he feared forgetting Krsna when dying in a diseased condition. Often, when death comes, a person is in a coma, his bodily functions are impeded, he dreams in various ways, and so on. Therefore an intelligent man sometimes thinks that it would be more desirable to meet death in sound health so that he can think of his next life and go back to Godhead. If a person thinks of Lord Jagannatha while dying, he goes back to Lord Jagannatha. That is not suicide but the voluntary acceptance of death so that one can immediately transfer to the spiritual world.

Hayagriva dasa: And that is effective?

Srila Prabhupada: Yes.

Hayagriva dasa: What of Caitanya Mahaprabhu's throwing Himself in the ocean?

Srila Prabhupada: No, that was different. That was an act of ecstasy.

Syamasundara dasa: Schopenhauer noted that the will forces a person to live even when he has nothing to live for. It impels him to suffer day after day. He compares it to the alms which a beggar receives one day just so he can live in hunger the next day. All this misery and frustration are not partaken by a few men, but by all.

Srila Prabhupada: That is certainly a good point, but why does the individual hanker after something when he is being frustrated? The point is that there is a goal, and the individual is hankering after that goal. In order to understand what that goal actually is, we should approach a spiritual master.

Hayagriva dasa: According to Schopenhauer, the man of knowledge is not perturbed in any condition. "Such a man would regard death as a false illusion," he writes, "an impudent specter which frightens the weak but has no power over him who knows that he is himself the will of which the whole world is the objectification or copy, and that therefore he is always certain of life and also of the present "

Srila Prabhupada: This is contradictory. On the one side there is a desire for the certainty of life, and on the other he says that nirvana is the only answer. Which does he want? He is simply trying to adjust things. He cannot understand the philosophy behind purification of the will.

Hayagriva dasa: One of the first major Western philosophers to have read Bhagavad-gita, Schopenhauer feels that it was Krsna's assurance of immortality that brought Arjuna to fight.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, but what is Schopenhauer's philosophy of the immortal living being? He does not understand that just as the living entity is immortal, his will is also immortal. If the soul is immortal, how can his will be stopped? How is nirvana possible?

Hayagriva dasa: He offers no solution other than suppression of the will.

Srila Prabhupada: But that is not possible. He must change the quality of his willing in order to be happy. 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) Bhakti is the purification process: sravanam kirtanam visnoh. Chanting and hearing the pastimes of the Lord will purify us. Schopenhauer misses the point of Bhagavad-gita. Although he accepts the fact that life is eternal, he thinks that its purpose is nirvana. Unfortunately, he does not know what real nirvana is. Nirvana means putting an end to the whimsical will and coming to the platform of willing in Krsna consciousness.