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Spiritualism vs Consumerism

Page history last edited by Arka das 14 years, 3 months ago

The following lecture was given by Srila Acharyadeva at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA on May 18, 2009.















The first point that I wanted to make is that, whether or not people study psychology, everybody has one. Similarly, whether or not someone studies philosophy, everybody has one. Just as in psychology, it helps to know what your psychology is; if someone doesn't even really have the notion in their head of psychology and just thinks that "Whatever I do is okay and I do what I want, etc., etc.," without having an extra dimension, an extra self-critical, self-analytic, self-conscious dimension to know that I am acting in the world and I have certain feelings and so on, to a large extent, because of my particular psychology. Everybody has got a psychology, whether they study psychology or not. Similarly, everybody has a philosophy. Whether or not someone is philosophical, they have a philosophy; they just may not know that they have one, and that's dangerous. We talk about consumerism. What we consume, products and services, we consume things here in this world, whether it's an apple or a computer. If we are talking about our relationship to the planet, which we are a part of, of course consumerism is just one aspect of that relationship, inevitably underlying our attitudes our decisions is a philosophy of nature. It is really our attitude, not only towards nature, but our attitude towards ourselves. Think about a relationship with a friend or a lover, a spouse. A person who is in a relationship has a certain attitude towards the other person and a certain attitude towards themselves; a certain attitude or a certain idea about themselves that underlies the way they behave in that relationship.


Who are we, and what is nature? What is an appropriate and healthy relationship, and can we talk about a healthy relationship with nature outside of a sort of self-created, pragmatic teleology? Teleology in philosophy (from the Greek word telos) is the logos, it's the logical account or the attempt to give a reasonable account of telos, which is a purpose, an end. We give purposes to ourselves. For example, you may decide that you want to get a college degree or that you want to work in a certain area or you want to download some music or you want to get married or whatever. We obviously are constantly creating purposes for ourselves because we are constantly engaged in intentional activity. Every time you choose to do something, every time you choose not to do something, you have just done something. After all, restraining yourself is also doing something; you've chosen. We choose according to values, according to purposes, like, "My purpose is to be healthy, therefore I'm not going to become a big binge Wonder Bread consumer", or something. We have purposes, we have values, and based on those, we choose to do things, or not to do things. A key question in teleology is, "Are there only purposes that we create for ourselves or for others?" For example, if you are in government and you pass a law, you are creating a value for other people such that if people follow a certain law, there are certain rewards, and if they don't, there are certain punishments. Do human beings, either collectively, individually, or whatever, create purposes and values, and are those the only purposes that really exist, or are there purposes actually in nature itself? In other words, even if no human being recognizes it, it still exists. For example, people who believe in human rights; people believe that human beings, and people even believe that some non-humans... Humanism in its own way is extremely parochial. Anyway, let's just talk about humanism now. People who believe in human rights would often be committed to the idea that if in a particular country, let's say like South Africa when they had a partied, that even though the government was not giving people those rights, they still had them; the rights were simply being violated. Or, for example, the declaration of independence, which is a very good example philosophy because of Jefferson's philosophical language where he says that, "we hold these truths to be self-evident that there are inalienable rights..." "Inalienable" means that no one can take them away, so if the government doesn't give them to you or acknowledge them, you still have them. Let's say someone owes you money but they're refusing to pay you; they still owe you the money, it's still a debt, but you're just not getting paid. So, you have certain rights. The question arises, for example, what if there was a time in history when, in a certain part of the world, no one had the rights that we now recognize as basic human rights but they still existed. If you believe in human rights, and if you believe that people don't just create them, it’s not just our imagination; if you believe there's a real objective thing in the universe called a “right”, then what are you talking about? What you are saying is, beyond the physical world that we can study with empirical science, there is another dimension to the universe, a realm in which real, non-physical, things exist, like “rights”. You are committed to an objective metaphysical universe if you believe that people actually have certain rights, or that animals have certain rights for that matter. Anyone who believes that there are real objective human rights, even if there is a regime that doesn't honor them, is committed to the belief and philosophy that there is an objective metaphysical dimension in the universe. If that's the case, that means there are certain purposes, namely the honoring of rights; there are duties, values, obligations and purposes which exist beyond ourselves so that, if in a country no one has the purpose, let's say, of establishing justice, it still is an objective principle that exists somehow in the universe. It's still an obligation, even if no one fulfills it. Anyone here who does believe that there are such things as rights: if you believe, for example, that if someone harms an innocent person, that it is wrong. It's not just that we are genetically programmed to feel that it’s wrong, because people who were genetically programmed to feel that harming innocent people was wrong tended to survive more than people genetically programmed to feel it wasn’t wrong. Which, by the way, I think wouldn't be the case; I think there are distinct advantages sometimes of tyranny and brutality in terms of survival of a group. I mean, I'm not saying that's a good thing; I'm just talking about real world stuff. If you believe this creation myth, that the only reason we believe it is wrong to harm innocent people is because we were genetically programmed, and the gene pool that felt that way survived over the gene pool that didn't feel that way, then what that means is that it is really not wrong to harm innocent people. If you believe that, if you buy into the creation myth that there's only genetics, there are no real objective values, then what you are committed to is a world in which it is not wrong to harm innocent people. It’s not a moral problem if someone is committing acts of brutality against innocent people, children; that is not wrong, it's not a moral issue, its just psychology. Just as at a certain point in your life your body produces all kinds of hormones and you become incredibly romantic, it's just physiological, it's just psychological, there's really nothing wrong with harming or killing an innocent person. It's really not wrong; it's just our imagination; we are genetically programmed to imagine that is the case. There is nothing wrong in destroying a planet and causing the death of all life as we know it, we’re just genetically programmed to think that it is bad. I'm not saying that is the case, I'm just giving another example to demonstrate that if you believe that some acts are really wrong, like, if someone goes and blows up a school bus filled with children, that is really wrong; we're not really genetically programmed to think that its wrong, it really is wrong. If you believe that then you are committed to a real metaphysical universe. The universe studied by material science is, in one sense, studying the less important dimension to the universe because even if people didn't have computers and rockets, if they were good people and treated each other in a loving way, you'd probably have a good world; even without the computers and rockets. In fact, you'd have a much better world than we do. With any amount of technology, if people do not really understand what it means to be good and what it means to care about other people then, of course, it's a very lousy world. If we are all committed in this way, as practically we all are, we just don't admit it all the time in that language because it might embarrass us in certain academic circles… Again, whether or not you study psychology, you have one, and everybody else knows you have one. In the same way, whether or not you study philosophy, you've got one. If we are committed to real things like justice and morality, etc., in whatever way, and it turns out that we are committed to an objective metaphysical universe, or an objective metaphysical dimension to the universe over and above the physical one, then it turns out that material science as we know it cannot really talk intelligently about that other dimension. It cannot really deal with it; it has to be dealt with on another level. Anyway, that's just the beginning.


Now take the whole thing of consumerism. What is the underlying philosophy? If someone is just a crass, unmindful consumer and they're really going for it, they don't really think about... just a crass, typical consumer. What is the underlying philosophy? What is the concept of the self? What is the concept of the universe? What is the concept of Earth? What is the notion of the relationship between the self and the planet and everything? It's obviously not a great philosophy I think.


I would like to cut here and take a little historical commercial break and go to India about 2300 years ago. We have descriptions of ancient India in texts which are considered to be sacred by many people: Vedic literature, and there are many divisions of Vedic literatures. “Vedic literature” is a very general term; there are Samhitas, Puranas, Itihasas… In other words, there are many different genres of literature. Ancient India was an extremely literate, an extremely intellectually sophisticated civilization and produced a very large body of literature in many different genres. In any case, much of the literature was sacred because it was a civilization that was almost uniquely concerned with consciousness and with enlightenment and so on. Let's say unique to a degree; it was not the only civilization that cared about that. Anyway, sometimes from the point of view of certain agnostic or academic types, this literature is somewhat suspect. If we have glowing reports about certain spiritual civilizations, that could just be propaganda or wishful thinking or a deluded nostalgia of a past that never really existed and all these things. In other words, there are all kinds of skeptical or cynical responses to the descriptions that we have in ancient literature of a very advanced civilization. Fortunately, we have the third party description coming from someone who was not really a true believer of that civilization. It was a Greek ambassador, a gentleman named Magasthenes who, in the aftermath of Alexander, who you could say encroached upon or invaded the northwestern part of India and really brought the two civilizations together; Europe and South Asia… In the aftermath of that there was a Greek ambassador named Megasthenes who went to the imperial court of Pataliputra, which was then the capital of a great empire called the Mauryan Empire, which ruled for several centuries before Jesus. The capital of Pataliputra is the modern day Patna, which is the capital Bihar if you know Indian geography. Megasthenes wrote a book on India called "Indica", which means "about India." As it’s typically the case with ancient literature, the original book doesn't survive but the book was so popular that it was very often quoted. So, we know a lot about it because there were many other ancient writers who quoted this book. That's actually how we know about pre-Socratic philosophers, they were quoted and ultimately Aristotle tells us about them. Anyway, I'll tell you something about India according to Megasthenes, who spent some times in India and wrote a book about it. One interesting thing Megasthenes points out is that, unlike other parts of the world, certainly unlike Greece, there is no slavery in India. He also points out that, unlike other parts of the world, when there is combat there is never any threat to non-combatants; there is no total war. You don't get the kind of thing which was typical for the Greeks, and typical for all of these ancient people really, where you invade another place and, just to make sure that they don't… because if you invade some place, even if you win, a lot of people have bad memories; they really don't like it that you came and killed people. There's all kinds of little children who survive, "You killed my Dad", or "You killed my husband", so, to avoid a future generation seeking revenge, the easiest, cleanest thing is just to kill everybody... this is kind of a awful pragmatism, and that's what was often done. In contrast, in India, as Megasthenes points out, there could be a pitched battle going on somewhere and a farmer just down the road just plows his fields. Why? Because no one would ever think of harming a non-combatant. It's like in a football game, you don't run up into the stands and tackle some lady... so that's another way in which India was impressive. In Greek, the same word means a foreigner and a barbarian… which shows their high opinion of foreigners. Megasthenes reports that in India, first of all, there is a special department of the government that makes sure that no foreigner is taken advantage of or is exploited in any way. Because, if you're from a foreign country and don't speak the language you have like a big kick me sign on your back. You know, 'steal from me', 'abuse me', 'take advantage of me.' So, in India, there was a special department of the government just to make sure that foreigners were protected and in no way taken advantage of. If a foreigner died for some reason in India, the government immediately stepped in, protected all of the property of that person, and guaranteed a proper burial according to the religious preferences of that person’s family. In India at that time the arts were highly supported. It was a liberal, free society. It was a monarchy but people had freedom of speech. In fact, regarding freedom of speech, the earliest literature we have, you could say, which is an exhaustive cultural-anthropological look at India, is the Mahabharata, many sections of which were written thousands of years ago. In the Mahabharata, what we find is that people had freedom of speech. You could go into the center of the town and just criticize the government, say the king was a fool, and this sometimes happened. There's not the slightest hint of reprisals. Think about European monarchy, "off with their heads," Callus and Munroe. In fact, there are instances of this (freedom of speech) in the Mahabharata; people in general simply criticize the government. You could do that. There was no question, not the slightest hint, that you couldn't do that and there was no punishment for that. People had freedom of religion. They could choose the religion they wanted. You have the example we know historically that Buddhism and Jainism both repudiated all of the sacred texts of the Vedic religion, the original religion of India, criticizing and ridiculing the sacred beliefs, and they didn't really fight a war over this, they just debated. Just compare this to the Protestant reformation and see how the established religion reacted to new ideas. Buddhism could grow and become a prominent religion in India with nothing like the violence on the scale that we find in other parts of the world. The arts were supported by the government. If someone actually was a serious artist or artisan the government would subsidize them. So the arts were flourishing in this civilization. Anyway, we get a very interesting picture and, as far as the ecology, or as far as the natural economic situation, Megasthenes says that India is the best fed country in the world. It's interesting because we've grown up in a world in which you think of India... of course, now India's economy is again growing. We used to often hear when I was younger that if India had such a great civilization then why is it such a poor country? What's interesting is that history shows us that India, before its indigenous civilization was brutalized by foreign invasions, was actually the most prosperous country in the world. There is a quote from Al-Biruni. Al-Biruni was a writer, a scholar, who was the official literary (…) to a gentleman named Mahmud Ghazni who was sort of your generic monster. He invaded India, ostensibly on behalf of Islam, but really just on behalf of greed, his own greed and lust for power, and committed innumerable atrocities. Al-Biruni, who was his guy, his employ, writes, with some pride I suppose, that Mahmud of Gahzni completely ruined the economy of the country, he ruined the culture and in successive waves of invasion burned down and destroyed the greatest universities in the world at the time. Interestingly, there were Buddhist universities, in places like Nilanga, centuries before you get universities in Europe. The first great European universities really started to get going around a thousand years ago in places like Paris and Oxford and so on. In India, centuries before that, they had great universities, beautiful campuses, they taught a liberal curriculum, and these universities were also destroyed. Before these invasions, India was cutting edge in science, in certain culture. The religious tolerance of this ancient civilization goes back to the earliest documents we have, the Rg Veda, the most ancient Sanskrit, the oldest form of Sanskrit, where you find statements that, for example, say there's one truth although different sages may describe it with different names, but actually there's only one truth. If you look at this ancient civilization, to some extent you could make comparisons with Pagan Europe, because there is originally a Indo-European civilization on linguistic evidence, but never mind that for now. But if you look at this ancient civilization, the attitude towards nature... The argument I want to give you is that there is actually an underlying philosophy behind the environmental disaster that we're trying to rectify at the present time, and that this philosophy actually is related to, it is intimately connected to, a certain hostility in middle Eastern religions towards the worship of visible deities. That may sound very bizarre, but the reason I want to mention this is because when you look at, let's say, what is now called Hinduism, a very modern name by the way (the use of Hinduism as a term to describe the religions of India is about two hundred years old)... The word is not two hundred years old, but the use of it in that way is about two hundred years old. I'll use the word just roughly so you know what I'm talking about; that cluster of spiritual traditions that are called Hinduism. Anyway, from the Western religious point of view, one of the most striking and shocking and dismaying and even disgusting aspect of it, certainly for the Christian missionaries that went to India, and before them for the Muslim invaders, is that in India they had this terrible habit of worshiping visible images in the temples. Interestingly this terrible habit was also extremely prominent in Pagan Europe. In fact, if you read the letters of Paul, he just really... it really bothered him, he really thought this is evil and he was very unhappy about this. In fact, he preached so much against it that it was like he was on a tirade to ridicule and turn everyone against the worship of visible images that, it's even stated in the new testament, that whatever town you went to the merchants that sold paraphernalia for this idle worship they would often conspire and throw him out of town because he was hurting their business. We have this Middle Eastern hostility towards the worship of visible images and what I want to say is that this is actually intimately connected to the environmental problem.


So what connects these two things? What connects these two things is a very negative attitude towards nature. First of all, you say that, if you look at this very heavy hostility in the Middle East towards visible images, idles… If you're a singer, it's good to be an idle, but not if you're a deity. Or if you're a rock star, but anyway... It's good for everything except deities to be an idle. So, what was the problem? Let's say you go somewhere, either in the ancient Roman empire, in Rome itself, or in India, and you see people all offering a certain type of homage to a visible image, what's the problem? The problem is, according to these people, that God is the holiest of the holy and matter stinks. Matter is disgusting, matter is evil, and therefore there is nothing more offensive than claiming that you can worship or connect to God through some physical object because you are bringing together intimately, in fact identifying something which is completely pure and holy and something which is completely dirty and bad. Otherwise, what's the problem?


Now, another point is philosophy. If you look at Indo-European philosophy... In other words, if you look at Western philosophy before it was completely taken over by a Middle Eastern tradition that came to Europe, namely Christianity, if you look at indigenous, original western philosophy, there were many thinkers, like Plato, and certainly even later, I mean, Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish philosopher around the time of Jesus, if you look at Plotinus, there was, among many philosophers in Europe, the idea that there is one ultimate source of everything. There is one ultimate source of everything and therefore everything that exists somehow exists in perfect harmony. For example, “cosmos”, the word “cosmos” is a Greek word that comes from the same root as the word “cosmetic”. Not in the sense that universe is just a huge beauty parlor, that would be interesting... But in the sense that the universe is ultimately a beautiful harmony. For example, if you look at Pythagoras. We're looking at different attitudes towards the material world, towards nature. Pythagoras, who, when he wasn't inventing theorems, also had a day job as a leader of a spiritual community. So if you look at this Pythagorean philosophy, it's the idea of this cosmos, this beautiful harmony; we live in a universe in which music, mathematics, and cosmology are actually different aspects of the same reality. Because, if you know music, if you know musicology I should say, you know that harmony and melody are simply different mathematical ratios between notes. You know, seconds, thirds, fourths, fifths, and so on. You have a scale, there are different scales in different parts of the world, but you have a scale and then you have notes on the scale are numbered and there are different ratios. So mathematics, harmony and melody in music, and the universe is this super mathematically beautiful thing that's going on out there and down here. There's the beauty of cosmology and it's all related. In fact, as late as, let's say, around the 1690's, at the time of Newton, you find European philosophy wherein they believe they there are celestial planets in the universe. That there are actually celestial worlds, and as the celestial spheres turn they make this most enchanting music. It's the idea that music, cosmology, mathematics… it's just all one harmonious world. So if you look at Vedanta in India... I don't know if you've ever heard of Vedanta, but it's sort of like the major league philosophy thing of India. The Vedanta begins with two very interesting statements. And, the Vedanta Sutras, the Sanskrit word “sutra”, by the way, is cognate with the English word “suture”, “to stitch,” because sutra means a thread. The ideas was they were super condensed little hyper-pithy statements that you really need interpretations to understand. In the Vedanta it begins with two statements, the Brahma sutras, the first is “athato brahma jijnasa” which means "now is the time that we should try to understand the absolute". In other words, we should try to understand ultimately what ties together everything that exists. Not just understand one thing, like this table or your body or the Texan Panhandle. Not just to understand one particular object, but what is it that ties together all things that exist? What is the foundation of everything? And then the next sutra says janmadyasya yatah. Brahman, or the Absolute, is the source of everything. Everything comes from Brahman, the Absolute, everything now exists within Brahman, lives within Brahman, and at the end everything has to go back to its source. And you find this of course in the Upanishands because the Vedanta is ultimately an interpretation of the Upanishads. In any case, if there is an ultimate source of everything, if there is an ultimate source of everything, and everything emanates from that source, then matter is simply another divine creation. It has certain limitations, material bodies aren't eternal, and you know, if you've got a beautiful body you probably have to keep it beautiful for a much longer time than you've actually got down here on Earth, and if you're in love with someone you probably would like to just stay with that person. Anyway, because matter, and I hope this doesn't offend anyone in our extremely sensitive modern culture, but dead matter... if you look at matter, it's actually dead and it's not conscious. For example, no one is going to become indignant here and say "you're just using that chair!" Now, if you came in here and I put some human slave down on the floor and I was sitting on them some people might be offended. Why? Because, we are living and we are conscious, we are alive and we are conscious, whereas no one is morally offended because I am using this chair because as far as we know, this chair is not alive and not conscious. As far as we know...


Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita says that matter and living conscious beings are different in that sense but both of us (we living conscious beings and matter) emanate from the same ultimate source. Therefore, there's an ultimate harmony of all that exists. In contrast to this idea, nature, you see, according to this account, is ultimately divine. It ultimately is part of God, it ultimately belongs to God, and therefore we are not the proprietors of this world. There's now a popular way of speaking about stewardship, that we're “stewards of the world”. Like, going back to old European culture where sometimes a great estate would have a steward that would manage their estate for them, but it didn't belong to the steward. Do you any of you know Pride and Prejudice? Wickham was “merely the son of the steward”. But anyway... On the other hand, you have dualistic philosophies in which God and nature are just irreconcilably separate. And not only nature, I mean unfortunately, as part of the philosophy, and again, going back to idle worship… You see, if you see nature as a divine emanation from the Absolute Truth then we are also a divine emanation we just lucked-out and we're alive and conscious. But if everything that exists emanates, streams from, a supreme, ultimate, absolute source then this so called matter is just a sister energy. It's like there's a kinship relationship not only between souls, but also between souls and matter so that whatever you see, whatever material object you see, is just a manifestation of the glory of God. As opposed to thinking that matter is somehow evil and therefore it's offensive and horrible to think that the divine can appear in matter, even there actually are epiphanies in the Old Testiment, for example God appears through a burning bush. Somehow that was not evil …or idle worship. Was Moses ever accused of idle worship? I mean, he actually talked to a bush... Anyway, it's not a consistent world we live in. Another point I want to make... now the hostility toward nature unfortunately extended itself toward animals. So you have the official, the person who when he was alive was kind of controversial but then as times changed he became conservative, which often happens you know; “today’s radicals are tomorrows conservatives”. But anyway, talking about none other than Thomas Aquinas and his basically baptizing Aristotle and writing in the Summa Theologica - this great work in which, unfortunately, he concludes that there are creatures who are alive, who are conscious, who have no souls. In other words, everything that's not human… so your pet dog… People put up these signs, "lost Frederico". It's a little poodle or something - Frederico. And that, you know, "he's my best friend, part of the family, we love him" and so on. So, according to Thomas Aquinas, people are bonding with just these sort of fuzzy machines. Because actually, dogs, cats, cows, horses, and oversized gorillas like King Kong... anyway, all these different creatures have no soul. And they are total losers who are going to die and be gone for ever, God doesn't care about them, there's nothing to care about, it's just sort a warm, fuzzy… bleeding, breathing… machine. And this was the philosophy; this was the official philosophy in Europe. So if you kill animals, if you brutalize animals, it's like, “they have no soul”. Now what's interesting is of course Aristotle, not being as spiritual as his teacher Plato, couldn't dabble in this type of thing… Now from the point... just like in physics, the simplest expression is the most elegant. You could say something, in English, if you could say something with five words, why use seventy words? Unless you’re trying to punish your listeners... The idea is that, if you look at much of Indo-European philosophy, the idea is that we can explain everything in the universe with simply two entities: souls and matter. So that you have one kind of soul, one brand, every soul is part of God and souls manifest differently, consciousness manifests differently, because the bodies change. For example, when we were infants, we acted like babies. Right? When you had a baby body... unless someone here was incredibly precocious and was mature and articulate at the age of seven months or something. But, most of us as babies acted like babies and then the body changed. By the way, this body didn't just stretch into an adult body; it actually changed. And so, when you became a child you acted childishly, and then you became an adolescent (I won't even go there...) and then you become a young adult, and then a middle aged adult and then you become extremely sexy as an older person... as some of them think... So, through all of these changes of body, it's still you. I mean, let's do a little linguistic anthropology here. We say that "I was three years old," "I was five years old," "I was ten," "I was twelve," "I was thirteen," so you say "I", it was still you. It was you that was born on that day, it was you that was a child, it was you that was an adolescent. Yet, the body is different. The skin replaces itself in two weeks. You are literally in a new skin every two weeks. So the bodies change and yet we're the same person. So who is that person? And yet the person is always conditioned by the body. I mean, think of electric light coming through, let's say, a red glass, a yellow glass and a green glass, as at a traffic light. It's all the same light. What we call a green, yellow and red light, behind the glass, it's all the same light but that light is being filtered differently through different… filters. So, in the same way, think of the analogy of light, which many philosophers, ancient and modern, compare the soul. Think of the soul as light and the body as the covering. So when your pure consciousness comes through a baby’s body, it's baby consciousness; when it comes through a child’s body; adolescent; adult. Or a dog or a cat or a frog. So, what we call, let's say, “horse consciousness”, it's really that same soul but the consciousness is coming through a horse body and therefore the horse experiences itself. By the way, they now have experiments to show that elephants have a certain level of self-awareness. But anyway, the consciousness comes through the body but no matter what body the person has, it's the same kind of soul. No one is really a horse, an elephant, a homo sapien, or a frog. Everyone, according to this view of the world, is really a spiritual being conditioned by their particular covering, which is the word Krishna uses in the Gita when he says 'avrita jnana,' the consciousness is covered.' So, if you know these two things: that the entire universe emanates from one source so therefore matter and living consciousness ultimately are just different aspects of the same manifestation. If you know that every living thing is ultimately equal to every living thing. For example, let's say someone kills another person and then says in court "What's the problem, it was just a baby. It wasn't doing anything useful." Or, this person was retarded, you know, "I went into the hospital and I just shot all of the people who were in comas because, you know… saving the county money, it's a county hospital." You can't kill someone, people don't lose their rights because they, for some reason, are asleep or they're deranged, or they have some cognitive problem. They don't lose their rights. You can't just go and kill them. So in the same way if you see that every living being is ultimately spiritually equal… I mean, that obviously changes the way you deal with nature. Interestingly, people in ancient times used to have this understanding. For example, if you study indigenous peoples of the Amazon region, you find, typically let's say, if they had to make a new canoe because in certain parts of the Caribbean or certain parts of the Amazon region that's the way people traveled - by water. So, you have to cut a tree down, scoop it out and make your new canoe; you couldn't just do that. You couldn’t just consume that tree. Now let's get into consumerism. You had to go to the forest... First of all there's a Goddess that rules the forest. Imagination? Mythology? Or, maybe there really is a Goddess that rules forests? In any case, those people thought there was, so you had to get permission from that Goddess to cut a tree down. You couldn't just clear-cut a forest. If you've got to get permission every times you cut a tree down you can't just, you know... So, environmentally, it’s much better, right? Or, to go even a step further, in South India… When I did my doctoral dissertation, I had to translate… I had to do this stuff involving some South Indian texts, and North Indian texts, and Central Indian texts. But, in this one book I was reading, it's interesting that in certain parts of South India, when people wanted to build a new temple, a deva grha, a house of God, like we still do nowadays, you have to level the ground. You don't just build; first you have to level the building site. In those days, they weren't fortunate enough to have fossil fuel burning tractors; they actually had to do primitive things like plow. So, in order to plow the land, to build the temple of God, you wouldn't just use your regular plow because this was for God and therefore you had to get a new plow. To get a new plow, you had to cut a tree down and carve a plow. Now, what's interesting is that when the people... firstly they had all kinds of ideas of what’s an auspicious tree and so on and so forth. But in any case, when they go to cut the tree down, first they had to acknowledge that in the act of cutting that tree down they were actually destroying a community. Not merely one living body, but a community. Because trees are communities, there are birds and insects and squirrels and all kinds of creatures in the heat of summer take shelter under the shade of a tree. A tree is a centre of a community. Every tree is a center of a community, and they were fully conscious of that and yet they had to cut a tree down because they had to build a temple and so they apologized to all the souls who were adversely affected, because a whole community was being disturbed. So you had to be conscious of that, apologize for that, sincerely apologize for that, and you had to sincerely pray to God to somehow compensate these souls for the disturbance that you'd caused them. It's a very interesting way of approaching the environment. There's a statement in one of the oldest Upanishads, the Isopanishad, which is called the “Isopanishad” because the first word is “Isa” which means 'Lord'. So the first verse of the Upanishad is “isavasyam idam sarvam” that “ in this whole world, everything is pervaded by, is dwelt in, by God, by the Lord”. So everything you touch, everything you see, is actually the home of God. So when there's an insect, or anything. So this notion that the entire universe is sacred, the entire universe belongs to someone, and it's not you. It's interesting because Western civilization is kind of coming in half way. I mean, take Al Gore for example. I'm sure in many ways he is a nice guy, but there were some truths that were too inconvenient even for Al. Such as the fact that, according to the United Nations, the cattle industry produces more greenhouse gases than all of the motorized vehicles on earth. More green house gases from the cattle industry …which Al couldn't fit in to his book, to his movie, or anywhere. But anyway, whatever, I mean, it's a work in progress. Or (the mentality) that animals have rights if they make cute urban pets but not otherwise. If animals make adorable urban pets then you can go to jail if you mistreat one. If animals don't make cute urban pets, you can slaughter them by the millions and, “what’s the problem?” Also, there's even a very curious notion that we should, for example, save endangered species. Why? Because we human beings will have a better life if we do. And ultimately it's just better for nature, and therefore better for us. We want our children to be able to have the same experience of zoos for example. So it's interesting, they can't quite make the curve and just become unselfish. It's like "We humans will have a better life if we protect the environment." Anyway, maybe I'll stop here in case you have any questions or comments. As Caitanya said in his introduction, there is a great deal of ancient wisdom. Even though we're making advancement in certain areas like computer technology and different forms of technology, there's certain basic wisdoms in the world which were always there. I mean, even in the ancient past there were some very bright very wise people who have left us this wealth of wisdom. And what's needed, to borrow a phrase from another author, is really that we need to ‘re-enchant the world.’ People used to live in an enchanted world, which as far as I can see, is the real world. In other words, people used to live in a world in which everything was alive and there was a presence of God in everything. Or however people understood the divine power, be it monotheistic or something else, still they lived in an enchanted world and there has been an explicit conscious, willful, intentional and, you know, add a few more synonyms, attack on metaphysics. There was a circle of Vienna - not to be confused with the congress of Vienna after Napoleon - there was a circle of Vienna in the 1920's where they had all these top philosophers of Europe get together, and they made an explicit plan that they needed to attack and destroy metaphysics. In other words, references to God, references to the soul, all these things were actually simply meaningless use of language. It's like talking about unicorns or even worse. Therefore no intelligent person should indulge in such meaningless, foolish, worthless language as to talk about God and Souls. And, of course, in this sort of 'high point' in European piety... I mean, if you look at the 19th centuries; Marx concludes that religion is simply a delusional state which is keeping society back. Freud concludes that religion is mental pathology, its simply psychopathology. Givens, in writing his work on the rise and fall of the Roman empire concludes that this great, classical civilization collapsed because it became too religious - it adopted Christianity. Anyway, so there was this concerted attack that just infested academia. I remember at Berkeley, I went to what was then and now a top public university in the country for my undergraduate work and I remember a genetics class I had with a professor who basically, for most of the class, was trying to convince us that God or the soul is all nonsense; and occasionally he spoke about genetics. Eventually, he squeezed in a little genetics. One other point, which I would go over with my students... Maybe I will end with this point, because I think it's all very much related to the environment. Again, hostility towards the idea that God can appear in nature because "God is holy and nature is evil". There's another point and that is, as a principle of logic, (too much for you? We have a cartoon just after the lecture...). I'll end with this, as a principle of logic... I'll first of all just sort of say it abstractly and then explain what I mean. As a principle of logic, if you affirm or deny a claim in a particular realm of discourse, either affirming or denying, you are equally in that realm of discourse. Okay, to give an example of what I mean, let's say someone attempts to solve an algebraic equation, and the teacher marks it wrong, "those are the wrong numbers", or the teacher marks it right. If the teacher marks the equation right or wrong, the teacher is still making a claim about algebra. To mark, let's say, a spelling bee. If the teacher marks the word right or wrong, the teacher is equally within the realm of spelling. So to affirm or deny something is equally to claim to have knowledge within that field. If someone comes up with a theory of history, like "why did the Korean war take place"… Now, if another scholar says that is a correct theory or that's a false theory, in either case, the critic claims to have knowledge of the truth within that field of the history of the Korean war. So it takes the same amount of knowledge to claim something is correct as to claim it's wrong. In other words, to mark an answer in any field right or wrong, takes the same knowledge. Doesn't it? So in the same way, if you deny a religious claim, you are making a religious claim, as much as to mark an algebraic equation wrong is to make a claim about algebra. For example, now in our civilization, especially in academia, because of the irrational materialistic bias, blind faith is very much looked down upon, but not blind doubt. Within so-called intellectual circles, if you 'believe' something spiritual, people wonder about you. If you 'doubt' something, if you doubt religion, even if people don't agree with you, it is intellectually respectable to doubt, even if you don't give good reasons. You can simply say "I don't believe that stuff" and that is intellectually, academically, respectable and you are not required to give good reasons for your doubt. But if you claim to believe something, you are required to give good reasons. And even then people probably think you are a little prematurely senile or something. But now, let's say for example you are taking a class in Greek history to give an example again for the Greeks, and the teacher says, as teachers often say in American universities, that the Greeks and other ancient people believed in nature gods. For the Greeks it was Zeus and Hera and all these gods. Now, why did they believe that? They'll say, "Well, there really isn't a god of thunder and rain names Zeus, that's really not why it rains, why there's lightning." And then they give this like incredibly naive explanation that people in ancient times, you know, they saw all these powerful forces of nature and they were freaked out and so therefore they projected sort of a celestial humanity on these forces of nature so that just as you can try to placate or deal with a human government, you can try to deal with this celestial government and purely on psychological grounds they imagined these things which don't really exist. In other words, there is no rain and thunder god named Zeus. We now have the science of meteorology which, everyone knows, is not a science at all because the weather man always get it wrong. So, in any case, consider that simple denial, "Zeus is not the god of rain and thunder, there isn't someone named Zeus who makes it rain and thunder." Now, again, go back to simple logic, go back to marking a spelled word correct or wrong, marking an equation right or wrong, claiming that a historical theory is right or wrong. So if you say Zeus is not the god of rain, you are making a religious claim. If you give an incredibly naive, psychological, reductive argument - why the Greeks and other people invented the idea of gods and goddesses - you are making a religious claim. There's nothing whatsoever in the realm of science which would lead one to believe that there is not a god of rain and thunder. In fact, there is nothing at all in science that can even talk about it. Scientists can't talk scientifically about gods and goddesses, they don't know, they just don't know. Yet, in public universities, even public universities, what to speak of private ones, you are free as a professor, all day long, to make religious claims, to preach religion, as long as you are making negative claims. So in fact, in America, in even public universities, you can as a professor preach, as long as you do so negatively. As long as you are denying things like souls, gods, goddesses and all that. You can't preach religion, but as I pointed out, logically, whether you affirm or deny a particular claim, you are in the same realm of discourse. If you affirm or deny a religious claim, you are speaking religion. So that's an example of a type of irrationality, lack of self awareness... By the way, to get a job, even as a professor of religion, not to speak of a professor of history, or a professor of science, you are not required to take a course in epistemology. Epistemology is the philosophy of knowledge; how do you know you know? What constitutes valid knowledge? You are not required to take a course. In fact, hardly anyone who goes on to teach science, or history, or religion, ever has taken a course in epistemology. Yes - we'll take some questions now.


(Inaudible question)


(HdG) Actually, there are academics who in their private lives dabble in things like religion, but I'm talking about the standards, what is allowed and not allowed.


(Question continued)


(HdG) Actually, before we came here I did another little talk and so I'm in over-time here, so just very quickly because you made a very good point. Yes, in the West I think it's… nothing could be more obvious than if you look at the religious history of the West; we have a very, very bad set of facts in terms of atrocities, murders, torturing… all kinds of pleasant things. I mean, it's not that religion was all bad, I'm not bashing religion, I'm just saying that particularly in the West, and the Middle-East for that matter, we have a very, very bad set of facts. And generally when Western people, even Western scholars, talk about 'religion', they're really talking about Western religion, they're very provincial about it. And, there's something in psychology that's called posttraumatic stress disorder, you know, PTSD. That when someone has gone through a traumatic experience, such as soldiers in combat, it's going on all the time now and… you know, the Bush administration after several years began to suspect that it may actually be happening; perhaps the government should provide funds to take care of it after many public scandals. Or for example children that witness something... traumatic events. So, 'post-traumatic', the trauma is over and yet there is still a stress disorder. And what's interesting here is that two of the main symptoms of PTSD are hypervigilance and withdrawal. In other words, because someone has suffered trauma, they become hyper-vigilant because their whole body, their whole nervous system, is afraid it will happen again. So you become hyper-vigilant and you withdraw from possible traumas. Now, what's interesting is that the history of religion in some parts of the world is obviously traumatic. I think that if you walk out your front door and see one of your neighbors being burnt alive, you know, it could ruin your whole day. If you go to Oxford, England, in the center of Old Oxford there is a monument to three Oxford professors, professors of Protestant theology, who were burnt alive because they didn't convert to Catholicism. It's not that... I mean, Protestants can also do things to Catholics. There was a really bad period in English history when any time they had a new monarch, the old monarch died or was killed or something. So, if the monarch was Catholic, suddenly the whole country had to be converted to Catholicism literally overnight. And then if a Protestant monarch took over literally three weeks later, all the monasteries were shut, no more services... so it kept going back and forwards, it must have been a horrible time to be alive. And this went on and on and even the music had to change. There were great musicians like William Burke, one of the great Renaissance composers of England, and he went through different monarchies and he had to keep changing his music style just to stay alive. So, anyway, these three Protestant professors wouldn't convert because they were so, frankly I have to say, I think so nutty that they really believed that if they convert they'd go to hell forever. In other words, if they just... it was a very strange period. If you look at the 1600's in North America, say especially New England, there were Protestants in New England and Catholics in Quebec and each group were absolutely convinced that all of the people on the other side were going to hell even though they're Christians, because of theological differences. So this was the kind of... I mean, the inquisition, you have periods in European history where some of the most clever minds in Europe, not the wisest, but some of the most clever minds in Europe, as full time jobs were just trying to think up the most painful, excruciating, horrible ways to torture and kill other human beings. And that was their job, just to, you know, "there must be something more cruel than this, is this all you can come up with?" After Newton, there were professors in leading European universities publishing essays on the best way to recognize the true witch, so you don't burn the wrong one. I mean, we don't... the crusades... these things are all clichés, everyone knows about these things. You know, the first crusade arriving in Jerusalem and just literally killing everyone, you know, "let God sort them out". That's actually an order that they got, from the Vatican. So there is... and that's just Europe, if you talk about other parts of the world, there's a lot of pretty bad stuff. So I think you could claim, I think irrefutably, that Western civilization, as a civilization, collectively, is suffering a type of posttraumatic stress disorder from religion. And again, the symptoms are... I mean, think of academia; hypervigilence, right, like anything, "Oh my God, that sounds like you could be religious..." You know, hypervigilence, and withdrawal. Now if you go back to the renaissance, science and religion were the same people, they were the same communities, they were just, you know, everyone was just trying to get knowledge and some knowledge you get spiritually, and some knowledge you get empirically, and it's just the same people just looking for knowledge. So there was a time in Western history when to be a spiritual seeker, or to be an empirical scientist, was like today being in the geology department or with the biology department, or the history department, they're just, you know, it's the university. Now what happened, just very briefly, is that, if you think of the renaissance, which interestingly was a rebirth of Pagan culture, which tells you something about what was going on... So if you think of the renaissance, in which Europe thought, "Wait a second, we had a great thing going, you know, before all this other stuff happened..." But, it was a rebirth, it was a renaissance specifically of Southern European culture and some people in Northern Europe, there was a backlash in Northern Europe against the Southern European revival. And there are many things to say, I mean, the Protestant reformation was much more complex, people think, "Yeah, the Catholic church was really corrupt and people just had enough..." There was a lot more going on than that. But in any case, Martin Luther, one of his slogans was "Solis Pitura", so if you know Spanish you can understand this "Solis Pitura" "Only Scripture". In other words, Luther wanted to role back the renaissance, "You don't need philosophy, you don't need science, it's all nonsense, all we need is one book. It's all there, in the one book; no philosophy, no science." "Solis Pitura", that was one of his slogans, "only scripture". Of course, there was philosophy, but it was only his, interpreting the bible. In other words, "We only need one book, as I interpret it." And Luther did have an anger management problem, which is very famous, and was a raving anti-Semite, and other things which make him a very attractive figure. But anyway, what I mean to say is there was a time... Actually, the same Catholic church that put Galileo on trial, a little while before that, was the world-leading patron of the renaissance and the new science. And, as this Protestant backlash started to grow, and the church started to lose whole countries, they had to compete, so they had to also get tougher on science. But before this, before the reformation actually, the church was the leading patron of the new science. And the trial of Galileo reflects the new church posture, responding to and trying to compete with this sort of Palestine purest Protestant reformation. But the point there is that there was a time when there was a very happy marriage between science and religion in the west and it was actually religion that filed for divorce. Because, there was a time when religion ruled that civilization, so they said, "Okay, we don't want you, we're going to separate." And once they separated, a terrible thing happened: science won. It's like a typical thing, two people, you know, it's like in a marriage, when one of the spouses is really over confident and takes the other person for granted, "I don't need you. You need me but I don't need you." So, you know, they file for divorce, "I'm going out with someone else." And then the person who filed for divorce ends up having a miserable life, everything goes wrong, and the person they rejected ends up having a great life. And that happens sometimes so... be careful who you divorce. So, in any case, that's what happened. Religion filed for divorce because they ruled the world, they were in charge of the universities, they were in charge of the governments, they ruled everything, so they just kind of like 'spit out' science, but then time changed, everything changed, and it turns out that science became extremely powerful and now science, in an equally fanatical way, has excommunicated religion from universities... In other words, you can talk about religion but you just can't talk religiously in a university. You can talk about it sort of as an interesting historical thing. So what I mean to say is, when you go back to Hegel, the historical dialectic: "thesis, antithesis, synthesis." So the thesis is religious fanaticism, the antithesis is sort of "scientistic", not scientific, scientistic fanaticism, the synthesis is to restore the original harmony where there is one knowledge, there is one reality, and that knowledge is explored through different appropriate means - spiritual, and material. And that's the synthesis. When we re-establish the harmony of this broken world... because there really is one world, and so to say there's like this dichotomy between science and religion is simply to say that the human world has been broken. And it's because of this broken world that we have all of these disasters in the world. And so, making the world whole again, is to again recognize there is one world, one reality, and therefore there is one 'knowing the world', it's just like there is geology, there's history, there's biology, and there's spirituality; it's simply another way of knowing about reality. Because, as I said in the very beginning, practically all of us accept, even if we don't admit it, that there is a real, objective, metaphysical, dimension of the universe, as I pointed out. And how do you explain it? It's not a material thing, it's not a physical thing. It's a metaphysical thing, and therefore metaphysics is a necessary science to understand reality. So that's basically what you could say what Krishna consciousness or this movement is trying to do, is to really heal the world and reestablish a holistic world in which there's simply knowledge, pursued appropriately in different ways.


(Question) So, what would you say the role is of technology, in the sense that the human species are altering the world around us, cutting down trees... even just building simple chairs we use materials. We're altering the world around us, so what does that say about the life of humans...


(HdG) Right, actually that's a really good question, I'm really glad you brought that up; that was a Godsend because there is a point I wanted to make and you just reminded me of it. That is that, again, if you think dialectically, we have to avoid just going to extremes so that is, one extreme is that human beings, specifically humans that belong to the right religion, are everything and nature is nothing and you can just basically trash the planet because it's profane anyway. So that's one extreme. Then there's been the equal and opposite reaction, which is equally extreme, and that is that human beings are kind of evil and nature is great and we should just tread as lightly as possible like just try to pretend that you're not here. Like, you build a house, just try to merge it into the woods so that people don't even really see it, like camouflage every human act. Because, "human beings are profane and nature is sacred". And, that is the equal and opposite reaction, I think it's still missing the point. Synthesis is that human beings, when they are behaving properly, are as natural as any other creature. So, for example, let's say I'm walking in the forest and I see just a simple little cottage, I find it charming. You know, a nice little cottage, with a maybe a little flower box in the window... think German Bavaria. So, just a charming little cottage with flowers, with a garden, with a little pasture or something. I mean, that is as natural for human beings to develop appropriate things like that as it is for a beaver to make a dam or a bird to make a nest. So I find it, personally, and this is myself, I find it somewhat unnatural to take walks in the wilderness. When I come to the west (USA) and you know they have lots of wilderness... And, why unnatural? Because I find it is more natural to take a walk in a beautiful area where there are appropriate, let's say, small human dwellings, which I find very charming. I find a little cottage with a beautiful little pasture, maybe a little stone walkway, some flower gardens; I find that, that is completely natural. I'm not saying that the only thing natural that humans can do is a little cottage with a little flowerbed but when human beings are honoring nature and simply living appropriately there life is completely natural and it can be very attractive. So rather than go to the other extreme, like first, "nature is evil and we're everything", now "nature is great and we're evil." I think the balance is just live naturally in nature and human beings can make many beautiful things.


(Question) So, what about the things that we already altered so much that we destroyed... like, extinct species or something.


(HdG) Right. The good news is, that they'll come back... I came from Southern California... I remember one year... I was there at Harvard and it was like a new record for snowfall. There's all of this ice, snow and all this, and then as soon as there was a little fog immediately something starts growing. I thought that was amazing that these seeds are just... and, where did all of the flies come from? It's like, where do flies go in the winter? I can never figure that out. But anyway, they're back. Krishna makes a very interesting statement in the Gita where he says that "I am bijam sanatanam" "the eternal seed". There's a sense in which there are, almost in a Platonic sense, there are eternal patterns, there's like eternal information which again will manifest and so, as far as what we do now, I would say that once we have the right values and the right idea then it's just a question of being practical and people who know about these things and have the technical knowledge to just find the most practical way to work our way back to a sustainable planet.


(Audience member) Agreed!


(Question) Once we find that won't that be a new religion?


(HdG) Well, in terms of appropriate values, I think that... the old ones are okay, if we just kind of get them in shape. There's a type of exclusivism which I think is simply no longer sustainable in this modern world. And that is, excluding everyone that belongs to another religion, and excluding every other species except humans.


(Question) That's one of the biggest things with 9/11, it's changed us all because now we look at the... Muslims, you know, believe in heaven, Christians believe in another heaven, and they can't both go to there own heavens if they're doing acts that send everyone to hell. So...


(HdG) Well, it's interesting because if you look at these religions, say like Christianity and Islam, you'll find there were saints, there were truly spiritual figures who got it. So for example even though some very violent people, Muslims, invaded India, eventually some Sufis came. I mean, Sufis, some of them, I can't say they're all perfect, but some of them were I think really impressive spiritual figures and they learned a lot from India and they themselves were pressing their own spiritual lives. And in Christianity there have been real saints and mystics and people who I think any reasonable person would have to admire.


(Question) Christians always prepared a cross, is that an idle?


(HdG) Interesting question. I guess I'll leave it at this, saying that if you look at the best people in any religion, I think they would have no trouble with each other. So it's really a question of the best and the most spiritual representatives of all of these traditions somehow or other becoming influential in their traditions.


(Question) You've mentioned how the direct philosophy behind there being one absolute... How does that reconcile with worshipping a God or Goddess?


Ok, very good. That's an excellent question. There tends to be an idea that if you want to find the universal truth, the more specific you are the more you're getting away from the universal. In fact, there are movements like this in India after the Muslim invasion. There were people like Guru Nanak (??) from the Sikh tradition and that famous poet Kavira, who Hindus claim was a Hindu and Muslims claim was a Muslim. Anyway, he was a great Indian poet who, I think he had ultimately some ideas that I don't think are so bright, but a typical poem he wrote is something like, "God is not in the mandir (a Hindu temple), God is not in the Mosque, God is not in the pilgrimage, God is simply within us." In other words, trying to clear away all of the specificity. Like, "Don't give God a name, don't talk about specific religions because that just leads to fighting, let's just get rid of all of the details and make it universal, and being universal, you can't really be particular." And Guru Nanak, another person who really was inspired by this, and founded a religion called Sikh dharma in which... although he kept tilting towards the Hindu side and he kept tilting toward Krishna but still at least they tried to hold the line and not be specific. Now, if you think about this philosophically, is it necessarily the case that something specific is not universal? I mean, consider for example that we are people, so if you take seriously the Vedanta idea that there's one source of everything, then somehow there's a source of our personal existence. And, if you have to ultimately go back to your source, if in a sense our estrangement in this world… the whole problem is that we've somehow become disconnected from the source of our existence. Just like a leaf pulled off a tree dies and a leaf connected to a tree lives, and yoga, the word yoga means connection or link so the whole idea of yoga basically is that we have to reconnect ourselves to the source of our existence. But if the source of our existence is somehow impersonal, then that would mean that we are ultimately impersonal, which is a real bummer because, I mean, now as an individual you are free, you are a free conscious individual you have this incredible dignity and power to act in free will, to choose to love, to choose to act and to perform acts of justice. You can appreciate beauty; you're a free conscious individual and so to give all that up in return for what? As I put it, just to merge into some corporate radiance. And yet, if your free conscious individual existence… you are a feeling creature, you are capable of loving and being loved. You are capable of creating and of perceiving beauty, you are capable of, you know, of greatness; if that's really you, if all that is really you, then the source of your existence must somehow be like that in some way. Not a limited person, we're not talking about comic book anthropomorphism. There's a philosophical principal which many Indian philosophers, Buddhists and Vedantic... many schools accepted, called Satkaryavada... Satkaryavada means that a cause is present within the effect. I mean, think of it. Let's say you are doing research in any academic field - let's say medical research. You start with a disease and you work back to the cause. You don't start with a cause and say, "Hey this would make a good disease." You start with a disease and then work your way back to the cause. Let's say you're studying history, you start with something that already happened; why did it happen? How did it happen? So you work your way back. Every field is like that. So when we analyze, we reverse the time arrow. Things happen in a certain sequence and then when you try to understand how or why it happened, you go back in the opposite direction. Let's say there's like a fender bender between cars and so then the insurance adjusters come and they study the skid marks, the dents; they do the numbers, "How fast was this car going, what was the angle of impact, who's fault was it probably," and so you start with the effect and go back to the cause. So we also accept Satkaryavada. We also accept that causes are present in effects. And, you are an effect of the source of everything. And therefore, if you examine yourself and see that at your best, you are personal... In other words, if someone approaches you and is very impersonal, doesn't treat you like a person, you don't consider that person to be highly evolved. It's the opposite. And the more someone is personal in a good way, the more you think that person really is in higher consciousness. So if the cause of our existence is still present in us, then ultimately we're looking for a personal cause. And, it's not anthropomorphism. We make the mistake of assuming that we are the paradigmatic persons. So to say that, "God is a person is to say that God is like us, and we shouldn't do that, that's projection". But that argument is based on vanity. We are not the paradigmatic persons - God is. We're not saying that God is like us, we're saying that we are like God. That's actually what the Bible says also. So, in that case, there can be an infinite person. For example, to give Aristotle's argument, let's say inevitably we judge degrees of beauty in other persons. We may not talk about it, it's not polite to say, "You're not bad looking, you're definitely not gorgeous, but..." In fact, you know, in America everything is like, "You look gorgeous!" I mean, everyone looks gorgeous in America. But we do perceive degrees of beauty and often there is general agreement on it. What Aristotle says is whenever we can distinguish degrees of something. Qualitative degrees, like degrees of beauty, then there must be some absolute reference point. Like for example, on this Earth we are able to say that some place is north of another place because there is a North Pole. To say Pittsburgh is north of Atlanta is only meaningful because we have a North Pole. What we mean is that Pittsburgh is closer to the North Pole than Atlanta. So Aristotle argues to say that this is more beautiful than that means it is closer to some point of absolute beauty. In our mechanical, sort of clueless age, we tend to think of infinity as quantitative, but what about a qualitative infinity, what about infinite kindness, infinite beauty, infinite justice? The idea that infinity can only refer to something quantitative is a glitch in our thinking. If you think of infinite qualities, infinite beauty, infinite kindness, infinite intelligence... you come up with an infinite person. And what you find is that when you study the religions of the world, say you study the religions of India, no matter how hard people tried, in Buddhist circles, in Jain circles, not so much Jain, I'd say more Buddhist, certain schools of Buddhism, only certain schools of Buddhism, not others. Certainly in certain Vedanta schools like Shankara. You find probably the most diligent systematic attempt ever made in history to do away with person as an ultimate reality. In other words, to meditate it away, philosophize it away, and it kept bouncing back up. So Buddhism, let's say early, very early Buddhism in India, going way beyond the teachings of the founder, Siddhartha Gautama, it sort of declared war on the notion of atma, the self, the Vedantic self, and so they have this doctrine called anatma, 'no self'. And it's, again, historically going far beyond the historical Buddha. What's interesting, despite all these attempts... it's like, for centuries, these great minds, philosophers, meditation, what happens? When all the dust clears, 85% or more of all living Buddhists in the world are Mahayana Buddhists for whom the highest thing is to become a compassionate loving person who gives up one's own liberation and enlightenment to come back life after life to lovingly care for other people. And so what happens is when you study world religions, it's like that clown, you know, you punch it and it bounces back up. You can't keep it down. The fact that we are persons, the fact that we are somehow connected to, we are somehow emanating from some type of infinite, infinitely beautiful person, is something that just won't go away. No matter how much... let's say, well, I don't want to be offensive, but some ancient monks with maybe too much time on their hands, no matter what attempts were made, again, to meditate it away, philosophize it away, preach it away... there was (…) to just somehow get rid of your own personal existence and any notion of a personal God, it just kept bouncing back. Because if something's natural and real it won't go away. And so you have for example Buddhist monks in ancient monasteries who's main concern, or one of their main concerns was not nirvana but the souls of their ancestors. And so you find all the extraordinary efforts made in ancient Buddhist monasteries to somehow or other pray for the souls of ancestors. You have the Jataka stories which were the most popular literature in Buddhism, the stories of the previous births of the Buddha; how did Buddha get to be the Buddha, how did he win the grand prize? Well, there was a long series of pious lives in which he did this good act and that good deed... but it was him. In other words, if there is no soul, how is the same guy reincarnating over and over again until he wins the grand prize? And there were even ancient Buddhist philosophers that asked them their selves. There was a school, which no longer exists, and no one knows about, but was very prominent in ancient India, called the Pudgala-vada (?) school. It's quite an unusual name... Anyway, this Pudgala-vada school taught there is a... they said, "Look, we're Buddhists, our main concerns are ethical, dharma, but if no one really exists as a person, why bother being ethical? If I'm not a person, and you're not a person, where's the question of moral responsibility? Who is responsible, and to whom are they responsible if there are no persons? And, how is it we're so concerned about our reincarnation, how is it that we're obsessed with getting a good rebirth, and a good rebirth for our family, and ancestors, if we're not persons anyway, and there is no person that continues?" "So the very fact that at the center of our tradition," these people argued, "we have ethical concerns, and very serious concerns about our reincarnation, it's obvious that there's a person."


One last point, if you look at the Buddha's first sermons, Siddhartha Gautama. You know the story, he was a prince or at least the son of a civic leader, there's some argument about that. Anyway, at a certain point he leaves home and he goes wandering. He sort of tries out all the processes, the spiritual paths and meditations that were around his part of India at the time. He finds that they don’t really work in the way that he wants so he sits down under a bodhi tree and he finally gets it. And then he comes back, he goes back to the Deer Park near Benares, some of his old meditating buddies meet him there, or find him there, and they say, "Hey, dude, you know, what's up!?" And he says, "Don't call me dude anymore, I'm now the perfect one." I don't think he really said that personally because I think he probably was sort of a nice guy, but anyway, the point is that... I think later people tend to magnify certain things, not to the credit of the person they're trying to glorify. But anyway, Buddha at that point started giving some sermons. And so the second sermon, like Sermon No. 2, of the enlightened Buddha, is officially called in Buddhism "The Sermon of the Non-Existence of the Self". And the most remarkable thing about this sermon is Buddha never said there's no self. He actually adopts a type of via negativa 'negative way', found already in the Upanishads, he sort of paraphrases some of the Upanishads in saying that, "If you look at your body, that's not the eternal self. If you look at your conditioned mind, that's not the eternal self." This goes through the whole laundry list, you know, "This is not the eternal self, that is not the eternal self... Okay, see you tomorrow." And that's it. He never says there is no eternal self, in fact it was a problem for Buddhists, like, "Why didn't he just say it." And then we have later schools of Buddhism saying, "Well actually the reason he didn't say it is because..." They have all kinds of explanations, which are not persuasive. However, it was kind of a problem and embarrassment that he didn't just say it. Especially when Buddhism... some schools of Buddhism, there are always many schools, became really like aggressively, "There's no self", but Buddha didn't say it. So, the idea is we are persons and then there's some form of personal God. And when you fall in love, you can really modify your behavior dramatically. And so when we really fall in love with God, everything is possible, we can really redo the planet. And understand ourselves and understand that all creatures are divine, every living thing is divine, you can't just... they're not just consumer products. Like fish, trees, animals, are not consumer products, they're souls.