Dialectical Spiritualism: John Dewey

BY: SUN STAFF - 28.8 2017

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

John Dewey (1859 - 1952)

Hayagriva dasa: Dewey believed that religions are basically myths and that experience is of the utmost necessity. He considered philosophy superior to religion. "The form [in philosophy] ceases to be that of the story told in imaginative and emotional style," he writes, "and becomes that of rational discourse observing the canons of logic." For him, the Vedic accounts of Krsna's pastimes would be purely mythical.

Srila Prabhupada: Krsna is a historical fact; He is not imaginary. The Mahabharata is accepted by all Indian authorities, especially by the acaryas who control the spiritual life of India. They do not, however, accept Mr. Dewey's imaginative thinking.

Hayagriva dasa: When science began to investigate the phenomenal universe without admitting the proprietorship of God, a breakdown in morality and value ensued. Dewey tried to reassemble these shattered values in a philosophical way, but he, like science, attempted to do so without acknowledging the proprietorship of a Supreme Being.

Srila Prabhupada: That is simply a form of lunacy because everything has a proprietor. Why should this great cosmic manifestation not have a proprietor? It is natural and logical to accept a proprietor. Who would think that an organized nation has no government? How can a logical man come to such conclusions?

Hayagriva dasa: He felt that science dealt a death blow to the orthodox, historical religions as we know them.

Srila Prabhupada: As I have repeatedly explained, religion means accepting the laws of God. The whole cosmic manifestation has a date of creation and is therefore historical. Anything material that has a beginning has a history, but long before this cosmic manifestation was created, religion existed. We are tiny people and know the small history of this world, which extends for some thousands of years, but the history of Brahma is far different. That history covers billions and billions of earth years. At the same time, our history is different from an ant's history. So, historically speaking, everything is relative according to the living entity computing or experiencing the history. Most people have no information of greater personalities, which we call the demigods, but Vedic literatures inform us that in the higher planetary systems, the standard of life is different and the duration longer. Unless one has thorough knowledge of the entire universe, religions may seem imaginary, but what is imaginary to one may be factual to another. For an ant, the history of man is imaginary. Unfortunately, scientists and philosophers on this planet are thinking in their own terms and taking everything they think to be factual. On the other hand, whatever they cannot conceive, they consider mythological.

Hayagriva dasa: Writing in the early part of this century, Dewey felt that it was high time to set aside all superstitious religions. According to him, logic "demands that in imagination we wipe the slate clean and start afresh by asking what would be the idea of the unseen " In other words, we must define God and religion anew.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is required. Srimad-Bhagavatam rejects all religions considered to be "cheating religions," because they do not contain perfect knowledge.

dharmah projjhita-kaitavo tra paramo nirmatsaranam satam 
vedyam vastavam atra vastu sivadam tapa-trayonmulanam 
srimad bhagavate mahamuni-krte kim vcl parair isvarah 
sadyo hrdy avarudhyate 'tra krtibhih susrusubhis tat-ksanat

"Completely rejecting all religious activities which are materially motivated, this Bhagavata Purana propounds the highest truth, which is understandable by those devotees who are pure in heart. The highest truth is reality distinguished from illusion for the welfare of all. Such truth uproots the threefold miseries. This beautiful Bhagavatam, compiled by the great sage Sri Vyasadeva, is sufficient in itself for God realization. As soon as one attentively and submissively hears the message of Bhagavatam, he becomes attached to the Supreme Lord." (Bhag. 1. 1. 2)

The sum and substance of the Bhagavata religion is the acceptance of God as supreme controller. Janmady asya yato 'nvayad itaratas carthesv abhijhah svarat (Bhag. 1.1.1). That is the principle: Brahman is He from whom everything emanates. Unless we know the ultimate source of emanation, our knowledge is imperfect. Our experience tells us that everything has a source of emanation. Similarly, this entire creation has a history and a source from which it has emanated. Just because we are unable to reach that source, we should not think that it is imaginary. There is no question of starting a new religion because religion is always there. Someone must be the supreme controller, and that someone is called God. Dewey may ask, "Well, what is your experience?" We experience inert matter without consciousness, and we experience consciousness. We cannot go beyond this. Above these, there is one controller, a third element, which is the Absolute Truth, the controller of all visible animate and inanimate objects. Why is it difficult to understand this?

Hayagriva dasa: In A Common Faith, Dewey writes: "What I have been criticizing is the identification of the ideal with a particular Being, especially when that identification makes necessary the conclusion that this Being is outside of nature, and what I have tried to show is that the ideal itself has its roots in natural conditions "

Srila Prabhupada: God does not arise out of nature. God is the supreme controller in charge of nature. How can anyone think that this great phenomenon which we call nature has no controller? How can anyone think that everything is happening automatically?

Hayagriva dasa: Dewey sees God emerging out of man's striving for perfection.

Srila Prabhupada: God is already there, and man's perfection depends on his ability to understand God. It is not that a perfect man can create God through his imagination. Anything created by man is controlled, but God is the supreme controller. If man dies under the control of the Supreme, how can he be said to create or control the Supreme? If he cannot control what is already imposed by God — birth, old age, disease, and death — how can he imagine or create God? First, one should become independent of the laws of God before thinking of creating God.