A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada
Editorial Note : The book Dialectic Spiritualism presents a purvapaksha of thirty six Western Thinkers in incisive Srila Prabhupada style. A few select ones will be republished as part of the IK Masters Series.
From 1973 to 1976 His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Svami Prabhupada recorded a hundred hours of discourses on thirty-six western philosophers from Socrates to Sartre. At the final session, he gave the book its title and said, “Print it at once!” But the next year, Srila Prabhupada left this mortal world, and the manuscript remained unpublished, as some of his disciples feared releasing such a controversial book. “It’s an unscholarly punch in the nose,” one philosophy professor objected. “It’s a treatise against philosophy,” said another. Now everyone can decide for himself. Despite attempts at suppression, here is Srila Prabhupada’s last great opus—Dialectic Spiritualism, the complete and unexposed philosophy book as Srila Prabhupada himself spoke.Dialectic Spiritualism
Hayagriva dasa: Darwin’s conception of evolution rests on the premise that there is a real genetic change from generation to generation. In other words, he rejects the Platonic eidos (idea, type, or essence) for a species. Whereas Krsna says that He is the generating seed of all existences, Darwin would reject the existence of a particular seed for a particular type. There are no fixed species, but shifting, evolving, physical forms, constantly changing.
Srila Prabhupada: No. The forms are already there from the beginning of creation. There is evolution, however, but Darwin thinks that this is an evolution of the body. That is incorrect. The body never evolves, but the soul within the body evolves and transmigrates from one body to another. The soul is within the body, and as he desires, he evolves. A man may desire to change apartments, and he may move from one apartment to another, but it is the man who is doing the changing, not the apartment. According to the Vedic conception, the soul evolves, not the body.
Syamasundara dasa: Darwin originated the doctrine of natural selection and survival of the fittest. An animal, he maintains, will develop in a way that is best suited for survival in his environment, and will pass on his superior qualities to his offspring. Some species survive, and others, not so suitable to the environment, die out.
Srila Prabhupada: A snake gives birth to many hundreds of snakes at a time, and if so many snakes are allowed to exist, there will be a disturbance. Therefore, according to nature’s law, the big snakes eat up the small snakes. Nature’s law is not blind, because behind it there is a brain, and that brain is God.
“This material nature is working under My direction, O son of Kunti, and it is producing all moving and unmoving beings. By its rule this manifestation is created and annihilated again and again. ” (Bg. 9. 10)
Whatever is taking place in material nature is being directed by the Supreme Lord, who maintains everything in order. When one species becomes overly dominant, nature arranges to curb it. According to the theory of Malthus, whenever there is overpopulation, there must be some war, epidemic, or earthquake. These natural activities do not take place by chance but are planned. If Darwin says it is a matter of chance, his knowledge is insufficient.
Syamasundara dasa: Darwin also sees a plan or design in nature.
Srila Prabhupada: If you see a plan or design, you must ask, “Whose design?” As soon as you admit that there is a design, you must admit a designer. It is nonsense to say that nature is simply working mechanically. If so, there must be some mechanic to set it in motion. The sun rises exactly to the minute, to the second, and the seasons also come according to plan. Behind the great machine of nature there is a brain that has set it in order. We explain the original source of everything as Brahman, the Absolute Truth, Krsna. Scientists admit that they do not know where things are coming from, but when they see them, they suddenly claim to have invented them. But that is not invention. These things are already there.
Syamasundara dasa: From scientific research, it is concluded that through the years, animals have evolved toward more and more complex forms, from very simple forms found in the sea to more complex forms, such as dinosaurs and so on. These forms eventually died out, and other forms evolved from them.
Srila Prabhupada: When you say they died out, you mean that those animals no longer exist on this earth. But how can you say that they are not existing somewhere else? Now, according to Darwin’s theory of evolution, the human body evolved from the simians.
Syamasundara dasa: He claims that they are related, that they come from the same ancestor.
Srila Prabhupada: That is another thing. Everything is related. But he claims that the ape’s body or monkey’s body developed into a human body. If that is the case, why haven’t the simians ceased to exist? We can see that apes, monkeys, and human beings are existing simultaneously. Scientists cannot prove that no human being existed aeons ago. If man evolved from the ape, the ape should no longer exist. Karyakarana. When the effect is there, the cause is finished.
Syamasundara dasa: It is not that the monkey caused the man to exist; rather, they came from a common ancestor.
Srila Prabhupada: We say that we all come from God, the same ancestor, the same father. The original father is Krsna.
mūrtayaḥ sambhavanti yāḥ
tāsāṁ brahma mahad yonir
ahaṁ bīja-pradaḥ pitā
“It should be understood that all species of life, O son of Kunti, are made possible by birth in this material nature, and that I am the seed-giving father. ” (Bg. 14.4)
Syamasundara dasa: Any any rate, according to Darwin’s theory, there is an evolution from simpler forms to more complex forms, from small one-celled animals to more complex animals like man.
Srila Prabhupada: But at the present moment, the simple forms are existing along with the complex. It is not that the simplest developed into the most complex. My present body has developed from my childhood body, but that childhood body is no longer existing. Presently, the species are simultaneously existing.
Syamasundara dasa: But they find no evidence that all these complex forms existed in earlier times.
Srila Prabhupada: Earlier times or modern times are not in question. When I see all the 8,400,000 species still existing, where is the question of development? You may not know or have evidence that these forms existed long ago, but that is due to your imperfect knowledge. These species are all existing now, and they were existing millions of years ago. You may not have evidence of this, but that is a different thing. We accept evolution, but we also accept the fact that the species are all existing simultaneously now. If they are not existing on this planet, they are existing on some other. Of course, Darwin had no chance to study that. We accept the proposition that there is an evolutionary process from aquatics to insects to birds to animals and to humans, but we do not accept Darwin’s theory that one species becomes extinct as another survives. All are existing simultaneously.
Syamasundara dasa: But there are many forms that are extinct on this planet.
Srila Prabhupada: But has Darwin seen all the planets and all the universes? Has he the power to see everything? Since our powers are limited, we cannot conclude that a particular species is extinct. Of course, the scientists do not accept the fact that our senses, by which we are gathering information, are limited. But they are. It is not possible to excavate the entire earth. We can only take samples. Our first charge against Darwin is that human life was always existing. He cannot prove that at a certain time there was no human life. It is not that the bodies of the species are changing. These bodies are already there. Rather, the soul is changing bodies, transmigrating from one body to another, and this is actual evolution. It is the evolution or progress of the soul from one body to another.
Hayagriva dasa: Concerning the soul, Darwin writes: “A few persons feel anxiety from the impossibility of determining at what precise period in the development of the individual, from the first trace of a minute germinal vesicle, man becomes an immortal being, and there is no greater cause for anxiety because the period cannot possibly be determined in the gradually ascending organic scale.” That is, it is impossible to know at what point the immortal soul inhabits these species.
Srila Prabhupada: The soul is the most important factor, and in order to understand the soul, education is required. It is the soul that moves the body, whether that body be that of an ant, bacteria, a human being, animal, or whatever. Nothing can move without the presence of the soul, and each and every individual soul is immortal.
Syamasundara dasa: As mentioned, Darwin doesn’t accept the fact that there are a fixed number of species. Rather, he maintains that the species may vary at different times according to natural selection. There are new species always evolving.
Srila Prabhupada: But what does he know of all the species? Does he have a complete list of all the species in the universe? From Padma Purana, we learn that there are 8,400,000 species. First of all, we must understand what all these species are. You may walk through a market and see many different types of people. As you walk, you continue to see different types of people, but you cannot say that a particular type no longer exists because you do not see it anymore. The point is that you can neither see nor comprehend the beginning or the end.
Syamasundara dasa: Well, they claim that everything started with a one-celled animal.
Srila Prabhupada: But where did that animal come from?
Syamasundara dasa: From chemical combinations.
Srila Prabhupada: Then who supplied the chemicals?
Syamasundara dasa: Scientists are not so concerned with who, but with the existing phenomena.
Srila Prabhupada: Mere study of phenomena is childish. Real science means finding the original cause. Darwin may have studied this island or that island, or he may have dug holes in this desert or that desert, but he has not seen the other millions of planets that are existing in the universe. He has not excavated and dug into the depths of all the other planets. How, then, can he conclude that this is all? He speaks of natural selection, but he has not perfectly studied nature. He has only studied nature functioning in a particular place, and a very small place at that, then we speak of nature, we refer to prakrti. We refer to the universe. There are millions of universes, and Darwin has not studied them, yet he is drawing all these conclusions. There is certainly natural selection, but Darwin does not know how it is working. Darwin’s defect is that he has no information of the soul.
Syamasundara dasa: The fact remains that excavations throughout the world prove the existence of species that no longer exist on this planet.
Srila Prabhupada: But nature is not confined to this one planet. When you speak of material nature, you must include all the planets in the universe.
Syamasundara dasa: But the scientists have no evidence that all the species have been existing from time immemorial.
Srila Prabhupada: You cannot give evidence that the sun existed millions of years ago; still, we conclude that it did. The sun was not just created this morning. Within the sun, everything is existing, and if the sun is existing, other things must be existing also. Darwin draws conclusions about nature from a limited study of this one planet. This is not full knowledge. If your knowledge is not perfect, why should we accept your theories ? Whether complex life-forms were existing on this planet millions of years ago is not really the point. All these forms are existing in nature. According to the Vedas, the species in nature are fixed at 8,400,000: These may or may not be existing in your neighborhood, but that is not important. The number is fixed, and they are simultaneously existing. There may be an evolution from simpler forms to more complex, but it is not that a species becomes extinct. Real evolution is the evolution of the soul through the existing species. Now, we admit that with the changes of seasons, or with extreme heat or cold, differences may arise, but it is not that the species are new. If there is a great flood, and all the men on earth are drowned, the human species is not extinct. Man may or may not survive certain catastrophes; this does not affect the species. We cannot say that the human species is extinct, but that under these circumstances man has survived or not survived. Whatever the case, human beings are existing somewhere else.
Syamasundara dasa: When the Padma Purana says that there are 400,000 species of human life, what does it mean?
Srila Prabhupada: There are differences in culture and in body types. Scientists will say that human beings are all of one species, but when they speak of species, they mean something different. The Vedas, for instance, would consider the Negroes and Aryans to belong to different species. As far as Krsna consciousness is concerned, bodies may differ; it doesn’t matter. Our classification is on the basis of the soul. The soul is equal despite different types of bodies. The soul is one and does not change.
brāhmaṇe gavi hastini
śuni caiva śva-pāke ca
“The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog, and a dogeater [ outcaste]. ” (Bg. 5. 18)
One who sees to the bottom, sees the soul. Because Darwin and other material scientists have no information of the soul, they have missed the whole point. On the material platform, one material form may be superior to another, just as one apartment may be better than another, but these are material considerations . Now, according to our position, we may evolve from lower apartments to higher, but it can also work the other way around. If we are not able to pay the rent or price for a higher apartment, we have to enter a lower one. It is not that the soul is necessarily progressing from lower to higher forms.
Syamasundara dasa: Darwin would claim that all living things on earth are evolving from lower to higher.
Srila Prabhupada: Generally, that may be accepted because at certain periods people may be constructing certain types of apartments, but the apartments themselves are not evolving. Evolution takes place within the apartment according to the desire of the jiva, the living entity. Darwin thinks that it is the apartment that is changing, but actually it is the desire of the jiva. According to our mentality at the time of death, we get a certain type of apartment. In any case, the apartment is already there. It is not that I have to create it. The types of apartments are fixed at 8,400,000, and we can enter into any of them. You cannot conceive of a type of apartment beyond this number. A hotel keeper knows that different customers want different types of facilities; therefore he makes arrangements to receive all kinds of customers. Similarly, this is God’s creation, and God knows how many different ways a living entity can think and desire; therefore God has created all these species. If the living entity thinks in a certain way, God says, “Come on. Here is the body that you want. “
guṇaiḥ karmāṇi sarvaśaḥ
kartāham iti manyate
“The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature. “ (Bg. 3. 27). Nature is giving us all facilities. God, as the Paramatma within the heart of everyone, knows what the living entity wants, and orders nature to give it to him.
Syamasundara dasa: But presently we see that on this planet there are no longer any dinosaurs. That type of apartment is no longer available.
Srila Prabhupada: As I said before, you may or may not have seen dinosaurs. In any case, you have certainly not seen all the 8,400,000 species of life. This does not mean that these species are no longer existing. They may be existing on some other planet. You have no information of this. Scientists are experimenting with their imperfect senses, but we are receiving knowledge from a different source. Regardless of the amount of scientific research, the conclusions will always be imperfect because the senses are imperfect.
Hayagriva dasa: At first, Darwin was a Christian, but his faith in the existence of a personal God eventually faded. He finally wrote: “The whole subject is beyond the scope of man’s intellect . . . . The mystery of the beginning of things is insoluble by us, and I for one must be content to remain an agnostic . . . . ” He based The Origin of Species on evidence he had amassed on a voyage around the world from 1830 to 1836.
Srila Prabhupada: In any case, his research was limited. He certainly could not have investigated all the species on the planet.
Hayagrlva dasa: He spent the rest of his life writing about the information he gathered during this voyage. According to his theory of natural selection, the best and fittest survive, and therefore the race necessarily
and steadily improves. But then, in Kali-yuga, isn’t there steady degeneration?
Srlia Prabhupada: Yes, we can actually see that the human race has become degraded.
Hayagrlva dasa: What is the cause of this?
Srila Prabhupada: Improper education. Every individual person is a soul, and each has a particular type of body. The human body in particular requires education. The soul evolves through various species according to his desires. Material nature supplies the bodies, acting under the orders of God. God exists within the core of everyone’s heart, and when the individual soul desires something, material nature, following the orders of God, gives him a machine in the form of a body. When we attain the human form, we can either regress to the animal form, or make spiritual progress. Animals also have desires, but they change bodies and species according to the laws of nature. The human body in particular is meant for understanding God, acting accordingly, and returning home, back to Godhead. If we do not utilize this opportunity, we regress to lower species.
Syamasundara dasa: According to the Vedic version, were there higher life forms on this planet millions of years ago?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. The Vedas inform us that the first created creature within this universe is also the most intelligent-Lord Brahma. How,then, can we accept the theory that the intellect develops over so many millions of years? We receive Vedic knowledge from Brahma, who was instructed by Krsna. Darwin’s theory that intellect developed is not scientific. It is merely a suggestion, a guess.
Syamasundara dasa: When Brahma was created, were there also other developed life-forms beside man?
Srila Prabhupada: All the forms have been existing since the creation.
Syarnasundara dasa: What evidence do we have that higher life-forms existed on this planet millions of years ago?
Srila Prabhupada: The authority of Vedic literature.
Syamasundara dasa: But what other authority is acceptable? If we dig up a bone and make a test with our senses, isn’t that authoritative?
Srila Prabhupada: That is bone authority. You may be satisfied with such authority, but we have our own. You will accept your authority, and I will accept mine. That is a different matter. Scientific authority is always relative, just like scientific knowledge. Theories are always being contradicted by other theories. Has Darwin gone down to the bottom of the sea and excavated there? Who has dug into the layers of the earth below the sea to find out what is there? All Mr. Frog knows is that his well is only three feet deep and three feet wide. If you tell him of the existence of the Atlantic Ocean, he will say, “How big is it? Twice as big as my well? Ten times as big?”. Since he can never conceive of the Atlantic Ocean, what good will his investigations do? What knowledge can he have of the vast ocean? Therefore we must take knowledge from one who has created the Atlantic Ocean. In this way, our knowledge will be perfect.
Syamasundara dasa: But certain of Darwin’s theories appear factual. For instance, no one can deny the fact that the fittest survive.
Srila Prabhupada: We may try to adjust things, but if our adjustments are not approved by the Supreme, they will not be successful. According to nature’s way, parents have affection for their children, but if parents do not take care of them, the children will not survive. Still, the parents’ care is not the last word. If the child is condemned by the Supreme Lord, he will not exist despite the parents’ care. In other words, we have to go to the Supreme Lord if we ultimately want to survive. If Krsna does not want us to survive, we will not be able to survive, despite all our attempts. All these natural laws are working under one controller, God. Electricity may serve many purposes, but the powerhouse is one. It is generating energy for all. We may utilize the same electrical current to serve different purposes, but the power is the same.
Syamasundara dasa: Well, the same current may be working in both the deer and the tiger, but the tiger is able to kill the deer. In this case, one survives, and the other does not.
Srlla Prabhupada: According to the law of karma, no one will survive. The body is the field of activity, and we are given license to act within this body for some time. That is all. There is no question of survival.
Syamasundara dasa: By survival, Darwin means that the species will survive.
Srlla Prabhupada: There is no question of survival. The species are always there.
Syamasundara dasa: But why is there no evidence that human civilizations existed on this earth millions of years ago?
Srlla Prabhupada: Our evidence for a previous Vedic civilization is sruti, spoken evidence. For instance, Vyasadeva received Vedic knowledge from Narada, and Narada received Vedic knowledge from Lord Brahma millions and millions of years ago. We can hardly calculate one of Brahma’s days in which fourteen Manus come and go. Each Manu lives for 306,720,000 years. According to the Vedic calculations, millions, billions, and trillions of years are not very astonishing. When Brahma was born, he was educated by God. This means that this Vedic philosophy was existing then.
Syamasundara dasa: But if the earth is so old, it must have undergone many transformations.
Srlla Prabhupada: Yes, but this doesn’t matter. After one day of Brahma, there is devastation. Brahma lives for a hundred years composed of his incredibly long days, and at the end of each day there is devastation. So there are many devastation, and we are not very amazed to hear about them. Nor are we amazed at hearing about the passage of millions and trillions of years. This is nothing. According to Vedic historical methods, trillions and trillions of years account for nothing. Even though we do not find evidence of civilization existing on this earth millions of years ago, we cannot conclude that there was no civilization. We can only conclude that our knowledge is imperfect.
Hayagriva dasa: Debating against Darwinism, William Jennings Bryan, a famous lawyer and politician, said, “They [the Darwinists] do not dare to tell you that it began with God and ended with God . . . . Darwin says the beginning of all things is a mystery unsolvable by us. He does not pretend to say how these things started. “
Srila Prabhupada: The material world is created, and the living entities are allowed to act within it. Since the living entities all come from God, God says bījaṁ māṁ sarva-bhūtānāṁ viddhi pārtha sanātanam. “O son of Partha, know that I am the original seed of all existences. “ (Bg. 7 . 10). Material nature is the mother, and God, the father, gives the bijam, the seed. The mother’s womb cannot produce in itself, but when the spiritual seed is given, the body can form and develop. The living entity, an eternal part and parcel of God, is put into material nature and develops a body according to his desire. This is the actual beginning of life.
Hayagriva dasa: According to the Biblical version, God created man in His image some six thousand years ago.
Srila Prabhupada: It was not so recent. According to the Vedas, this creation goes back millions and millions of years. Whatever the case, God created this cosmic manifestation and impregnated it with living entities to appear in different species according to their desires. The individual soul proposes, and God disposes. All the species have been existing from the very beginning. It is not that there was no human form in the beginning of the creation. This is very easy to understand. The body is created by material nature, and the soul, part and parcel of God, is placed into the body according to his desires. Material energy is called the inferior energy of God, and the living entity, the individual soul, is called the superior energy. Both come from God, and therefore it is said that God, the Absolute Truth, is He from whom everything flows.
Hayagriva dasa: In The Descent of Man, Darwin writes: “The idea of a universal and beneficent creator does not seem to arise in the mind of man until he has been elevated by a long continued culture.”
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, culture is very important, because we can be elevated by spiritual association. According to our cultural life, we can go to higher planetary systems, remain where we are, or go back home, back to Godhead. Therefore culture is most important.
Syamasundara dasa: Darwin felt that if we could sufficiently understand the evolutionary process, we could control it. Today, people speak of conquering nature, and claim that man is now living a longer, healthier life than ever before.
Srila Prabhupada: That is just more nonsense. My grandmother lived ninety-six years, but I don’t expect to live that long. The life span is decreasing. People are not sufficiently healthy because they are not getting proper food. Where is the medicine that puts an end to all disease? Every time you discover new medicines, new diseases come along. There is no question of stopping them. Even if you find a cure for cancer, you cannot put an end to death. However great our scientific advancements may be, we can never put an end to birth, old age, disease, and death. The attempt is a waste of time. Our business is to utilize our time in such a way that after giving up this material body, we can return home, back to Godhead.
Syamasundara dasa: Darwin made the evolution of species seem so mechanically arranged that God is removed from the picture. It appears as if combinations of ingredients created animals, and that they evolved from one another.
Srila Prabhupada: Combination means God, because it is God who is combining. It is not that the combination takes place automatically. A cook combines many ingredients when he is making a preparation. It is not that the ingredients can combine themselves. Darwin should have asked how the combination comes about, but it appears that he did not even raise this question. Material elements, ingredients, do not combine automatically. There must be a living entity who combines them.
Syamasundara dasa: One theory is that everything emanates from some energy.
Srila Prabhupada: That energy must belong to the energetic. When a computer works, there must be someone pushing the button. According to the Vedas, as soon as God’s wishes, material energy is immediately set into action. Then things emerge automatically. A man may say that there is no God behind the material energy, but if God withdrew such a man’s speaking power, he would not even have the ability to deny God’s existence. In order to support Darwin’s theories, Western philosophers and historians reject the fact that Vedic literature was composed thousands of years ago. But the discovery of the Ajanta Caves proves that there were very intelligent people living many thousands of years ago. But these scientists are simply searching after bones. What is more important? Valmiki’s Ramayana , or a pile of bones? In ages past, the memories of the students were very sharp because they were pure brahmacharis, strictly celibate. There was no need to write this literature down. According to the sruti system, the student heard the subject matter once from the spiritual master, and after that he could recall every word. Now, Darwin and other material scientists are trying to understand phenomena, Krsna’s energy, but they are not interested in knowing the source of this energy. Krsna says, aham sarvasya prabhavo,. “I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds.” (Bg. 10.8) If we are Krsna conscious, we know that Krsna is the original source of all energy. If a person becomes a chemist or physicist, his duty should be to prove that Krsna is the original source of all energy. Then his knowledge of chemistry and physics is perfect. People want knowledge through the modern scientific method; therefore if one is a real scientist, it is his duty to prove that this material energy is coming from Krsna. If one is a biologist, or naturalist, it is his duty to prove that all life-forms are coming from Krsna. Unfortunately, scientists are thinking,”Oh, we shall create something.” But they cannot create anything because God is doing all the creating. They are trying to imitate God just as a child seeing his mother cooking. “Oh, I shall cook too!” It is childish play, and for this play they are spending much labor and many billions of dollars. They try to create a human in a test tube, but every day many humans are being born. They are trying to create something artificial, that’s all. By God’s multi-energies, everything is being created automatically.