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Existentialism — The Hidden God

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by Hayagriva dasa Adhikari
(ISKCON New Vrndavana)

“For one who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, I am never lost, nor is he ever lost to Me.” (Gita 6.30)

1970-01-35-22

Even the philosophers of the modern churches are declaring that God is dead. In one sense this is true, for in the societies of the modern world God remains an obscure mystery which most people prefer to forget. He is considered dead because He has been buried beneath tomes of speculative philosophy.

In recent years there have been many philosophies based around the premise of the nonexistence of God. One such philosophy, existentialism, which emerged in a shattered France during World War II, maintains that the universe is purposeless and that there is no supreme controller. The existentialists assert that man has free will to struggle against purposelessness, but they give no information as to how the exercise of this will can give life real purpose. Out of a rather bleak and antiquated philosophy synthesized by Jean-Paul Sartre emerged the philosophy of l’absurde popularized by Albert Camus This philosophy appealed to the post-War mentality by dint of its rather simple but unabashed assertion that all life is absurd. As is often the case, Camus was half right, for mundane materialistic life is absurd. It is absurd that man bears his burden of sense gratification like an ass bearing a burden of stones. Camus’ most famous essay, “The Myth of Sisyphus,” which summarizes the philosophy of l’absurde, utilizes the ancient Greek myth about the shrewd and greedy King of Corinth, Sisyphus, who was forever doomed in Hades to roll uphill a heavy stone which always rolled down again. Camus equates the absurdity of Sisyphus’ position with that of all men. He sees man as condemned to roll the heavy ball of material conditioned life to the top of some unknown hill where it simply rolls down again and forces him to repeat the drudgery. This is a sort of eternal position. Camus concludes from this that, “The only philosophical problem is the problem of suicide.” It is to his credit that he has the insight to perceive the futility of mundane existence, yet he poses no positive solutions outside of encouraging men to recognize the absurdity of their position and seek refuge in a humanistic “solidarity.”

The popularity of this philosophy in America was almost inevitable, and it was picked up about five years later by the Beat movement. And its transformation was also inevitable: if life is absurd, then let us enjoy our gross senses as much as possible. This is also the hedonistic philosophy of Hippyism. Initially, at any rate, this hedonism, which is grounded in aspiritualism and pessimism, grew out of the refuse of the Christian church just as mushrooms grow out of dung.

Kierkegaard and Nietzsche were the forerunners of this movement, Sartre and Camus were the popularizers, and the masses were the dupes. Suddenly every major writer from Homer to Chaucer to Shakespeare to Melville to T.S. Eliot was analyzed as an “existentialist.” Books entitled Existential Thought in Wordsworth and Coleridge were placed on front counters in book stores while the Bhagavad-gita was placed in the occult section.

The Guise Of Maya

The Gita still remains in the occult section and will evidentally for years to come. The word “occult” comes from the Latin word occulere meaning to cover over, conceal, and no doubt it is only right for a society that so methodically conceals the Divine to place the words of the Divine on an occult shelf. God in this age remains hidden, obscure, mystical (from Greek mystikos, referring to secret rites). In this age of technological chaos, the guise of maya is very heavy, and when the Divine appears, He seems only to be a vaporous apparition subject to vanish quickly

Then with inviolate curve forsake our eyes,
As apparitional as sails that cross
Some page of figures to be filed away—
Till elevators drop us from our day.

(Hart Crane, “Proem” to The Bridge)

In this age, the vision of God is as elusive as the seagulls that glide and dip in New York Harbor. One may then appropriately question how it is that Krsna, who is the totality of everything, remains unseen. Because no one knows Him, mankind concludes that He is either nonexistent or dead.

In the Gita, Lord Krsna concludes the situation. “I am never manifest to the foolish and unintelligent For them 1 am covered by My eternal creative potency [maya]; and so the deluded world knows Me not who am unborn and infallible.” (Gita 7.25) In this Age of Iron, practically the totality of mankind is deluded. “All riving entitles are born into delusion, overcome by the dualities of desire and hate.” (Gita 7.27) Man is born into this material world because he desired material enjoyment, and when his material desires are frustrated he becomes angry and so directs his hatred to animals, to other men, and to God. Being in such passion, his senses are bewildered, and thus he cannot perceive the resplendent Godhead who is everywhere about him. For him Krsna is never manifest, for He is covered by maya, which, for the living entity, is forgetfulness. Consequently Krsna, who is the infallible Lord, remains unknown. “I know all living entities, but Me no one knows.” (Gita 7.26) Because no one knows Krsna, no one knows His song, Bhagavad-gita, and therefore it is placed aside on bookshelves marked occult.

The sun, moon and stars may be obscured by clouds, but this does not mean that they are actually covered. It is the vision of the earth that is covered. If we but travel a mile or two high we would rise above the clouds and see the stars and the moon and sun in all their glory. It is not that we have to travel very far. But we at least have to make the effort. Similarly, there is a speck covering our eyes which makes us see this universe as purposeless. But once that speck is removed, everything will appear as it is—the boundless glory of Krsna.

God’s appearance and disappearance in this world are continuous and eternal, but common men cannot understand this. The owl says that there is no sun because he doesn’t see or wish to see it. No amount of speculation or discussion can bring about realization of the Absolute Truth, but one to whom Krsna reveals Himself can understand immediately. The best process is to execute devotional service and wait for His mercy. Just as the sun sterilizes a contaminated place, He purifies the soul before He enters. The appearances of Krsna are unlimited and eternal, and in the Gita He says that one who knows the nature of His appearance and disappearance is a wise, liberated soul and is not born again in this material world. Actual knowledge of the appearance of Krsna in the world is neither occult nor difficult. All the informations are given in Vedic literatures, and they are available to everyone. Unfortunately, being under delusion, man considers such literatures to be occult and so does not take them very seriously.

The philosophy of atheistic existentialism and its grandchild, that of Hippyism, would balk at the philosophy underlying Bhagavad-gita. Existentialism would never admit of an Absolute which makes existence meaningful. The existential conception of man’s freedom as the only philosophical possibility in a senseless universe would be threatened by the absolutism of Krsna. In the Gita Lord Krsna says that nature is working under His direction, which means that the universe is not purposeless but has a meaning known to its controller. Again, Krsna says that millennium after millennium He sends forth all of these various created beings who are helpless under the sway of His maya. This precludes any absolute freedom from the point of view of man, for this makes man dependent on an exterior creative, maintaining and annihilating force.

Bleak Philosophies

In Sartre’s best known novel, Nausea, the main character suffers from fear, queasiness and nausea due to a heightened sense of the mutability of phenomena. He sees objects and people changing before his very eyes and experiences existence itself as sticky, syrupy, fluid. Psychedelic drugs can give similar hallucinatory experiences through which the flux of the creation, or the unreality or instability of maya, can be intensely perceived. Sartre’s character takes refuge in the stability of an old American jazz record which he listens to over and over. The improvisations of the saxophone give him a feeling of freedom, yet the repetitiveness of the recording makes him feel that there is some stability and security in the universe. Unfortunately, he does not take refuge in the chanting of Hare Krsna, which would give him freedom by liberating him from the bonds of material consciousness and would stabilize him in the divine service of Krsna. Sartre, however, would consider that listening to the phonograph record and chanting Hare Krsna are both in “bad faith” because he would never acknowledge the absolutism of Krsna. There is a similar passage in Camus in which the main character, while observing a common citizen talking in a telephone booth, suddenly realizes that he is watching an absurd pantomime. This is not faulty perception because Lord Krsna says that men function as though “mounted on a machine made of the material energy.” The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone’s heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wandering of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy.” (Gita 18.61) But l’absurde philosophers could never accept Krsna because once Krsna is accepted, life ceases to be absurd.

Whereas the existentialist refuses to accept the philosophy of the Gita on philosophical grounds, Hippyism would reject it because it is anti-sensual and advocates a life dedicated to tapasya (penance) in order to attain the Supreme. In either case, the absolutism of Krsna is rejected due to conceit. On the one hand the existentialists would not compromise the idol of man’s personal freedom, and on the other hand the hippies would not compromise the idol of the almighty psychedelic priapus. Today the philosophy of Hippyism has superseded existentialism because no one wants to take time away from sex and drugs to read long philosophical treatises by sullen Frenchmen. Nonetheless, atheistic existentialism is the precursor of contemporary hedonism, and the Sartrean derelicts who float from cafe table to cafe table in a drunken haze are the ancestor of today’s hippies.

One is bound to be thus entangled by materialistic life as long as Krsna is veiled to one’s sight. Man cannot continue to live by thinking that life has no meaning. He will give it the meaning of sense enjoyment if no other is available. “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” This means that death is inevitable and life has no meaning, so let’s squeeze out as much sense gratification as possible in our brief sixty of seventy years. But according to Bhagavad-gita, the man who lives only for the senses lives in vain. “An intelligent person does not take part in the sources of misery, which are due to contact with the material senses. O son of Kunti, such pleasures have a beginning and an end, and so the wise man does not delight in them.” (Gita 5.22) It is said that the wise dwell in the world like the lotus leaf on water. The leaf of the lotus, although on the water, remains dry, and in the same way the wise man, though in the world of the senses, is unattached to them. He witnesses the flux of existence but is not carried away by it, for he is established in the divine consciousness. Consequently he does not experience nausea or fear even in the midst of the most terrifying calamities, for his consciousness is nonmaterial. Those who delight only in the senses are constantly in a state of anxiety. “Their belief is that to gratify the senses unto the end of life is the prime necessity of human civilization. Thus there is no measurement of their anxiety.” (Gita 16.11) And those who say that life is absurd and meaningless, that there is no Absolute in control, and that the universe results simply from a chance combination of material elements are declared in the Gita to be demonic in nature. “Those who are of demoniac quality … say that this world is unreal, that there is neither any foundation, nor any God in control. They say that it is produced of sex desire and has no other cause than lust.” (Gita 16.8) Thus being under delusion, men are unaware of the purpose of life, which is to extricate oneself from the material desires causing conditioned existence and to enter into a relationship with the Divine who bestows total spiritual freedom upon the individual.

Although atheistic existential philosophers maintain that man has personal freedom, they cannot account for the fact that man is bound by the rigid laws of nature, that he is forced to take birth, forced to eat, forced to work in order to acquire food, forced to breathe, forced to sleep, forced into the bondage of sex, forced to defend himself, forced to grow old, catch some disease and die. Yet, they claim that he is free. This is the grossest type of delusion. Man is a prisoner in this world and is constantly being kicked by the modes of material nature. His only freedom lies in his willingness to surrender unto Krsna, who reveals Himself to such a surrendered soul. In this way he can enter into the unlimited freedom of spiritual life which is beyond all material qualification and which is deathless and ever blissful.

The obscuration of God by maya is a problem for contemporary civilization. One may question why God reveals Himself to some and yet remains an explicable myth to others. It is the Divine’s prerogative to reveal Himself and to hide Himself. Therefore it is stated in scriptures that God neither hates anyone nor likes anyone but that He seems to. In the Gita Arjuna says, “I see all people entering with full speed into Your mouths, as the moth hurries into the blazing fire.” (Gita 11.29) From the point of view of the father, all of his sons are the same because they are his sons, yet the ungrateful son who leaves home expressing no concern for his father is not as beloved as a son who carefully obeys his father’s wishes. The goodness of the father may be revealed to one son and not to another. For the son who has left home his father might as well be dead for all he knows or cares, but although the son may forget the father, the father never forgets the son. He will always welcome the son home. Similarly, all the conditioned souls on earth have left their home, which is Krsna’s spiritual abode, and have wandered into a dream world where they become entangled in enjoying things of the dream. Some may even recognize it as a dream. Yet instead of acquiring knowledge to awake, they become more implicated. But Krsna always gives the living entity the opportunity to awake and return to Him. It is said that at least in every millennium every conditioned being gets an opportunity to revive his latent Krsna consciousness. It is important to understand that Krsna does not want the individual soul deluded, yet He gives him the minute independence to choose between a life of awareness and a life of forgetfulness.

God is always veiled to eyes that are smeared with desire and hate and is always revealed to eyes smeared with surrender and love. The quickest and most sublime process whereby civilization can awake to the fact of God’s existence is the process of invoking His names. When one has lost a friend he immediately tries to find him by calling his name and asking where he is. This is also the quickest way to find Krsna. Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the great propagator of this process, always had the names of Krsna on his lips, and He would journey from town to town crying, “O Krsna, why have You hid Yourself from me? Have mercy on me, O Lord, for in Your absence, a moment seems to last for years. When shall my eyes be decorated with tears of love flowing constantly while chanting Your holy name? I do not know anyone but Krsna as my Lord. He shall always remain as such, even if he makes me brokenhearted by not being present before me.”

The quickest way, then, to find a hidden God is to desire sincerely to find Him.

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