Dialectical Spiritualism: John Locke, Part 2


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

John Locke (1632 - 1704)

Syamasundara dasa: Locke is trying to find a basis for knowledge beginning with sense perception. He states that the mind receives knowledge from the senses and is able to reflect on this.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, we agree that the mind receives knowledge through the senses. Then there is thinking, feeling, and willing. There is also judgment and work. We receive many impressions and then plan something. We think and feel, and then we put the plan into action. That action is the process of work.

Syamasundara dasa: Locke states that these simple ideas combine to form complex or abstract ideas like the conception of God. This is an enlargement upon the simple ideas of existence, knowledge, time, power, and so on. We combine these to make a complex idea like the idea of God.

Srila Prabhupada: God is not a complex idea but a perfect idea. However, God is so great that He is naturally complex to the ordinary man.

Syamasundara dasa: Locke states that there are three types of complex ideas: that which depends upon substances like roundness, hardness, and so on; that which is a relation between one idea and another, agreeing or disagreeing with another; and that which is a substance or body subsisting by itself and providing the basis for experience. Because we can know only the quality of a substance, we cannot know what the substance itself is, nor where it comes from, nor how it is produced. The nature of ultimate reality cannot be known or proved.

Srila Prabhupada: It is a fact that it cannot be known by such mental speculation, but it can be known from a person who knows it. Locke may not know, but someone else may know. Everyone thinks that others are like himself. Because he does not know, he thinks that others do not know. But that is not a fact. There may be someone who knows.

tad-vijnanartham sa gurum evabhigacchet 
samit-panih srotriyam brahma-nistham

"In order to learn the transcendental science, one must approach the bona fide spiritual master in disciplic succession, who is fixed in the Absolute Truth." (Mundaka Upanisad 1.2. 12) The Vedas tell us to seek out the person who knows. That is the bona fide guru. Caitanya Mahaprabhu says that such a guru is one who knows that the ultimate reality is Krsna. That is the most important qualification.

kiba vipra, kiba nyasi, sudra kene naya 
yei krsna-tattva-vetta, sei 'guru haya

"Whether one is a brahmana, a sannyasi, or a sudra — regardless of what he is — he can become a spiritual master if he knows the science of Krsna." (Caitanya-caritamrta , Madh. 8.128)

Syamasundara dasa: Locke claims that objective reality has primary qualities that are inseparable from the object itself, just as the color red is inseparable from a red object.

Srila Prabhupada: We say that which cannot be separated is called dharma. Dharma is the particular characteristic of a particular thing. For every living entity, dharma means rendering service to Krsna, the supreme. That is liberation and the perfection of life.

Hayagriva dasa: Some people claim to remember events from their previous lives. How are these reminiscences different from innate ideas?

Srila Prabhupada: An innate idea is inevitable. The idea that God is great and that I am controlled is innate everywhere, but sometimes out of ignorance, one tries to become God. That is not possible. That is maya, and one simply suffers. It is an innate idea with the living entity that he is a servant and that God is great.

Hayagriva dasa: Locke further writes: "The knowledge of our own being we have by intuition. The existence of God, reason clearly makes known to us. We have a more certain knowledge of the existence of a God than of anything our senses can discover." How is this? If this is the case, how is it that some men have no conception of God?

Srila Prabhupada: Everyone has some conception of God, but under the spell of maya, the living entity tries to cover that conception. How can any sane man deny God's existence? Some superior power must be present to create the vast ocean, land, and sky. No one can avoid some conception of God, but one can artificially and foolishly attempt to avoid it. This is called atheism, and this will not endure. One's foolishness will ultimately be exposed.

Srila Prabhupada: Locke recommends four tests to know whether knowledge is true, by which we can perceive agreement or disagreement between ideas.

Srila Prabhupada: Whether we agree or not, truth is truth. There is no question of my agreement or disagreement.

Syamasundara dasa: We can objectively study something to see if there is agreement or disagreement. It is not that knowledge depends on our subjective opinion. There must be some scientific proof.

Srila Prabhupada: Our test of truth is Vedic evidence. For instance, it is stated in the Vedas that cow stool is pure. We accept this as true. We cannot reach this conclusion by argument.