Dialectical Spiritualism: John Dewey, Part 2

BY: SUN STAFF - 31.8 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: It appears that Dewey wants to use the word "God" to serve his own ends: promoting his philosophic conception of "the working union of the ideal and actual." He writes: "Use of the words God or divine to convey the union of actual with ideal may protect man from a sense of isolation and from consequent despair or defiance."

Srila Prabhupada: Of course, one may define God, but one must be a muni, a very learned man, to define Him properly. For instance, one may say, "God is there," or, "God is great." We can go on from there to define His greatness. This greatness includes ultimate greatness in six opulences: power, wealth, knowledge, fame, beauty, and renunciation. Only God possesses these opulences in complete fullness. When Krsna was present on this planet, He proved that He was the strongest, the most influential, the most beautiful and pure, and the most supremely wise. Krsna's teachings, Bhagavad-glta, are still being studied all over the world. Great acaryas like Ramanujacarya, Madhvacarya, Nimbarka, Sankaracarya, and Caitanya Mahaprabhu have all accepted Krsna as the Supreme Lord. There is complete agreement among the authorities that Krsna is God. There is no question of mythology. Krsna's lifting of Govardhana Hill is described in Srimad- Bhagavatam, and when speculators read it, they consider it to be mythological. But, really, is it difficult for God to lift a hill? If He is all powerful, what is the difficulty? When God comes and shows His godly powers, we should not consider it mythical.

Hayagriva dasa: Unlike Marx and Comte, Dewey rejects humanity as an object of worship. He writes: "Nature produces whatever gives reinforcement and direction but also what occasions discord and confusion. The divine is thus a term of human choice and aspiration."

Srila Prabhupada: There is no question of human choice. Can you say that death is your choice? Obviously there is force, and where is that force coming from? No one wants to die, but everyone dies. No one wants to grow old, but everyone grows old. We must understand the origin of this enforcement. The supreme authority, the supreme force, is God. You may call this God "nature," or whatever, but you must admit that there is something supreme controlling you. How can we philosophize and imagine that man can become God?

Hayagriva dasa: Dewey writes that "a humanistic religion, if it excludes our relationship to nature, is pale and thin, as it is presumptuous, when it takes humanity as an object of worship."

Srila Prabhupada: For a God conscious person, everything is worshipable, even an ant. But the supremely worshipable is God: isvarah paramah krsnah. Some people think that nature is the supreme, but those who are aware of God know that God is the controller of nature also. Mayadhyaksena prakrtih suyate sa-caracaram. "This material nature is working under My direction, and it is producing all moving and unmoving beings." (Bg. 9.10) Nature is only matter, and matter cannot act independently. Matter is being handled and controlled by a living being, who is the superior nature. Bhumir aponalo vayuh khafn mono buddhir eva ca (Bg. 7.4). Earth, water, air, fire, and so forth constitute inferior nature. Above and beyond this is the superior nature. The living entities are finite controllers, but above them is another controller, the supreme controller who is God. It is very easy to understand. There are two natures: an active and an inactive nature. Above both of these natures is an active personality who is controlling both.

Syamasundara dasa: As far as his methodology is concerned, Dewey believed that practical consequences are the only valid test of truth. He claimed that the proof of an idea consists in its being subject to predictable results.

Srila Prabhupada: If an idea is concocted, its results cannot be ascertained. If it is factual, the results can be predicted.

Syamasundara dasa: For Dewey, the object of inquiry is belief itself. Because we want something to believe in, we ask questions. This is the nature of inquiry.

Srila Prabhupada: The Vedanta-sutra advises us to find out the ultimate cause of everything, to inquire into the Absolute Truth. But inquiries should be directed to a person who knows. Otherwise, what is the use in inquiring? The Vedas advise us to approach a bona fide spiritual master, a guru, if we want to find the truth. Unfortunately, at the present moment, there are many pseudo gurus; therefore we have to add this word "bona fide." Otherwise, the word guru means bona fide, because one who is not bona fide cannot be a guru. Now, when we speak of inquiry, we mean learning the truth. Therefore we should inquire from one who knows the truth, otherwise our inquiry has no validity. Tad viddhi pranipatena pariprasnena sevaya. "Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him." (Bg. 4.34) This is the Vedic injunction. The inquiry should be genuine, and the answer should come from a genuine person.

Syamasundara dasa: Dewey believes that the final outcome of inquiry is the fulfillment of human needs. By practical action, we can change the external environment.

Srila Prabhupada: Unless a human being inquires about the Absolute Truth, he is not considered sufficiently developed in his human form. For the consciousness to be developed, one must inquire about the self, asking, "What am I?" If this question is not asked, he is still in [text missing]

Syamasundara dasa: Dewey felt that by inquiry, we can determine what is wrong with our environment, act to change it, and fulfill human needs.

Srila Prabhupada: If a person is serious, inquiry will clear up everything. If he inquires about the aim of human life, he is intelligent. It is not possible for animals to ask these questions. Animals are only eating, sleeping, defending, and mating.

Syamasundara dasa: But should the aim of our inquiry be to change our external environment?

Srila Prabhupada: If you are seriously inquiring, and if you know things as they are, you will change your activities. We are preaching that it is our business to know Krsna. If people take this movement seriously, their entire mode of living will be changed. This is happening now. Previously, our students were leading a certain undesirable type of life, and since they have come to Krsna consciousness, their entire lives have been changed.

Syamasundara dasa: Then, setting aside trying to improve the environment, we should first try to change our consciousness?

Srila Prabhupada: It is the consciousness that needs to be changed, either by hearing from authority, or by circumstances. There are two processes by which knowledge can be attained — by hearing, and by direct experience. An intelligent person can understand by hearing. He knows that if he acts in a such a way, he will fall into danger. So he learns by listening to authorities. A less intelligent man has to experience an awkward or dangerous position in order to change his consciousness. For him, hearing is not sufficient. Of the two processes, learning by hearing is better. It is therefore our process to approach the bona fide teacher and learn from him. That is the process of brahmacarya. It is not that we have to learn by practical experience. The experience is already there. We only have to hear of it and accept it; then it becomes easier. We should not say, "Let me fall into the ditch, then I shall cry." Better we take good advice and avoid the ditch altogether.