Dialectical Spiritualism: John Locke

BY: SUN STAFF - 28.2 2017

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

John Locke (1632 - 1704)

Hayagriva dasa: In Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke writes: "This argument of universal consent, which is made use of to prove innate principles, seems to me a demonstration that there are none such because there are none to which all mankind give a universal consent." That is, it cannot be argued that all people have an innate or inborn idea of God. But do innate ideas have to be universal? Might they not differ from person to person?

Srila Prabhupada: Innate ideas depend on the development of our consciousness. Animals have no innate idea of God due to their undeveloped consciousness. In every human society, however, men have some innate idea of a superior power. For instance, even aborigines offer obeisances when they see lightning. The offering of obeisances to something wonderful or powerful is innate in man. The consciousness of offering respects is not developed in animals. When we have developed this innate idea to its fullest extent, we are Krsna conscious.

Hayagriva dasa: Wouldn't it be better to say that the living entity is born with certain tendencies, which carry over from the previous life, and that all he needs is to meet with some stimulus in order for them to be manifest?

Srila Prabhupada: Yes. For instance, when an animal is born, it naturally searches for the nipples of its mother. This means that the animal has had experience in a previous life, and therefore knows how to find food. Although the animal may not be able to see, it knows how to search for its food by virtue of past experience. This proves the eternal continuity of the soul. Presently, I am living in this room, and if I go away for ten years, then return, I can still remember where the bathroom and living room are. This remembrance is due to my having lived here before. In material life, the living entity passes through different species, or forms.

Hayagriva dasa: Locke would argue that the idea of Krsna is not innate because it is not universally assented to. Since not everyone acknowledges that Krsna is God, Locke would say that the idea is not inborn in the mind.

Srila Prabhupada: In the material world, different living entities have different ideas. The ideas of a person with developed consciousness are different from those of a person with undeveloped consciousness. If someone is Krsna conscious shortly after his birth, we are to understand that he has previously contemplated Krsna. In Bhagavad-gita, Sri Krsna says:

tatra tarn buddhi-sarhyogam 
labhate paurva-dehikam 
yatate ca tato bhuyah 
samsiddhau kuru-nandana

"On taking such a birth, he again revives the divine consciousness of his previous life, and he tries to make further progress in order to achieve complete success." (Bg. 6.43) Our culture of Krsna consciousness is never lost; it grows until it is perfected. Therefore Krsna says:

nehabhikrama-nas osti 
pratyavayo na vidyate 
svalpam apy asya dharmasya 
trayate mahato bhayat

"In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear."

(Bg. 2.40) We have the example of Ajamila, who cultivated Krsna consciousness in the beginning of his life, and then fell down and became the greatest debauchee. Yet at the end of his life, he again remembered Narayana and attained salvation.

Syamasundara dasa: Locke maintains that there are two basic ideas: those which come from sensations, external experience, and those provided by inner reflection.

Srila Prabhupada: That is known as pratyaksa pramana. However, we have to go higher. Pratyaksa, paro'ksa, anumana, adhoksaja, and aparajita. These are different stages of knowledge. Pratyaksa means direct knowledge, paro'ksa is knowledge received from others, and anumana, inference, is knowledge acquired after judging direct knowledge and knowledge received from authorities. Adhoksaja is knowledge beyond the limits of direct perception. Aparajita is spiritual knowledge. All the stages of knowledge advance toward spiritual knowledge. Direct perception is material.

Syamasundara dasa: Locke states that the mind can reflect only after it has acquired some sense experience. In other words, only after acquiring some knowledge of this world through the senses can we have thoughts and ideas.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, but my ideas may not always be true. I may have experience of gold and a mountain, and I may dream of a golden mountain, but a golden mountain does not exist in the external world.

Syamasundara dasa: Locke distinguished between simple ideas and complex ideas. There are four types of simple ideas: those we perceive from one sense, such as sound, touch, and so on; those we receive from two or more senses, such as motion or space; those we receive by reflection, such as remembering, reasoning, knowing, and believing; and those we receive from both sensation and reflection, ideas of existence, or unity.

Srila Prabhupada: These all arise out of different material conditions. For instance, how do we experience ether? By sound. We can neither see nor touch ether. As the material condition changes, the sense perception also changes. We can sense air and water by touch, fire by form, and fragrance by smell. In the beginning, the living entity has his mind, intelligence, and ego, but presently the mind, intelligence and ego are false, just as this present body is false. The spirit soul has a body, but this body is covered. Similarly, the mind, ego, and intelligence are covered by material conditioning. When they are uncovered, we acquire our pure mind, pure intelligence, and pure identity. Devotional service means bringing the soul to his original, pure condition. In Krsna consciousness, everything is pure: pure mind, pure intelligence, and pure ego. Tat-paratvena nirmalam (Narada-pahcaratra). Everything is purified when it is connected with the supreme spirit. When we are purified, we have nothing to do with the material mind, body, intelligence, or ego. We are purely spiritual.

Bhaktivedanta Book Trust