Dialectical Spiritualism: Thomas Aquinas, Part 3

By editor - 24.12 2016

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

Thomas Aquinas (1257 - 1274)

Hayagriva dasa: Aquinas did not believe in a soul per se as being divorced from a particular form. God did not create a soul capable of inhabiting any body or form; rather, He created an angelic soul, a human soul, an animal soul, or a plant soul. Here again, we find the conception of the soul's creation.

Srila Prabhupada: The soul is not created but is eternally existing along with God. The soul has the independence to turn from God, in which case he becomes like a spark falling from a great fire. When the spark is separated, it loses its illumination. In any case, the individual soul is always there. The master and His servants are there eternally. We cannot say that the parts of a body are separately created. As soon as the body is present, all the parts are there with it. The soul is never created, and it never dies. This is confirmed in the very beginning of Bhagavad-gita:

na jayate mriyate va kadacin 
nayam bhutva bhavita va na bhuyah 
ajo nityah saSvatoyam purano 
na hanyate hanyamane iarire

"For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying, and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain." (Bg. 2.20) It may appear that the soul comes into existence and dies, but this is because he has accepted the material body. When the material body dies, the soul transfers to another body. When the soul is liberated, he doesn't have to accept another material body. He can return home, back to Godhead, in his original spiritual body. The soul was never created but is always existing with God. If we say that the soul was created, the question may be raised whether or not God, the Supreme Soul, was also created. Of course, this is not the case. God is eternal, and His parts and parcels are also eternal. The difference is that God never accepts a material body, whereas the individual soul, being but a small particle, sometimes succumbs to the material energy.

Hayagriva dasa: Is the soul eternally existing with God in a spiritual form?

Srila Prabhupada: Yes.

Hayagriva dasa: So the soul has a form that is incorruptible. Is this not also the form of the material body?

Srila Prabhupada: The material body is an imitation. It is false. Because the spiritual body has form, the material body, which is a coating, takes on form. As I have already explained, a cloth originally has no form, but a tailor can cut the cloth to fit a form. In actuality, this material form is illusory. It originally has no form. It takes on form for a while, and when it becomes old and useless, it returns to its original position. In Bhagavad-gita (18.61), the body is compared to a machine. The soul has his own form, but he is given a machine, the body, which he uses to wander throughout the universe, attempting to enjoy himself.

Hayagriva dasa: I think that part of the problem is that Augustine and Aquinas could not conceive of a spiritual form. When they speak of form, they think that matter must necessarily be involved. Aquinas followed the Augustinian and Platonic doctrines maintaining that if the soul is independent from matter, man loses his basic unity. He saw man as both body and soul. A man is a particular type of soul in a specific body.

Srila Prabhupada: When you are dressed, it appears that you are not different from your clothes. Your clothes move just as you do, but you are completely different.

Hayagriva dasa: Aquinas did not believe that the living entity has pure spiritual form as such. Matter is necessary to give the soul form.

Srila Prabhupada: No. He has his original form.

Hayagriva dasa: Is this the form of the body?

Srila Prabhupada: It is the form of the spirit. The body takes on form because the spirit has form. Matter has no form, but it coats the spiritual form of the soul and thus takes on form.

Hayagriva dasa: Aquinas considered sex to be meant exclusively for the begetting of children, and the parents are responsible for giving their children a spiritual education.

Srila Prabhupada: That is also the Vedic injunction. You should not beget children unless you can liberate them from the cycle of birth and death.

gurur na sa syat sva-jano na sa syat 
pita na sa syaj janani na sa syat 
daivaih na tat syan na pads ca sa syan 
na mocayed yah. samupeta-mrtyum

"One who cannot deliver his dependents from the path of repeated birth and death should never become a spiritual master, a father, a husband, a mother, or a worshipable demigod." (Bhag. 5.5.18)

Hayagriva dasa: Aquinas argued that sex for reasons other than propagation is "repugnant to the good of nature, which is the conservation of the species." Considering today's overpopulation, does this argument still hold?

Srila Prabhupada: The conservation of the species doesn't enter into it. Illicit sex is sinful because it is for sense gratification instead of the begetting of children. Sense gratification in any form is sinful.

Hayagriva dasa: Concerning the state, Aquinas believed like Plato in an enlightened monarchy, but in certain cases, he felt that it is not necessary for man to obey human laws if these laws are opposed to human welfare and are instruments of violence.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, but first of all we must know what our welfare is. Unfortunately, as materialistic education advances, we are missing the aim of life. Life's aim is declared openly in the Vedanta-sutra: athato brahma-jijhasa. Life is meant for understanding the Absolute Truth. Vedic civilization is based on this principle, but modem civilization has deviated and is devoting itself to that which cannot possibly relieve us from the tribulations of birth, old age, disease, and death. So-called scientific advancement has not solved life's real problems. Although we are eternal, we are presently subjected to birth and death. In this age of Kali-yuga, people are slow to learn about self-realization. People create their own way of life, and they are unfortunate and disturbed.

Hayagriva dasa: Aquinas concludes that if the laws of God and man conflict, we should obey the laws of God.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes. We can also obey the man who obeys the laws of God. It is useless to obey an imperfect person. That is the blind following the blind. If the leader does not follow the instructions of the supreme controller, he is necessarily blind, and he cannot lead. Why should we risk our lives by following blind men who believe that they are knowledgeable but are not? We should instead decide to take lessons from the Supreme Person, Krsna, who knows everything perfectly. Krsna knows past, present, and future, and what is for our benefit.