Thomas Aquinas saw through the eyes of logic and gave us a logical but incomplete picture of God and His kingdom. The Krishna-conscious spiritual master sees through the eyes of his own spiritual master and the Vedic literatures-and gives us the complete picture.
Hayagriva dasa: Thomas Aquinas compiled the entire Church doctrine in Summa Theologica, which constitutes the official philosophy of the Roman Catholic Church. He also systematized a good deal of Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy. Aquinas believed that religious truths are attained through both reason and revelation. He also agreed with Augustine, who said: “I believe in order that I may understand” and “I understand in order that I may believe.” Thus reason and revelation complement one another as means to truth.
Srila Prabhupada: Since human reason is not perfect, revelation is also needed. As Srila Rupa Goswami has stated, sevonmukhe hi jihvadau svayam eva sphuraty adah: “When we engage our senses in the Lord’s service, the Lord reveals Himself to us.” The truth is attained through logic, philosophy, and revelation. According to the Vaisnava tradition, we arrive at the truth through the guru, the spiritual master, who is accepted as the representative of the Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead. The guru can transmit the message of the truth because he has seen the Absolute Truth through the disciplic succession [the chain of authorized spiritual masters]. If we accept the bona fide spiritual master and please him by submissive service, by virtue of his mercy and pleasure we can understand God and the spiritual world by revelation. We therefore offer our respects to the spiritual master in the prayer yasya prasadad bhagavat-prasadah: “By the mercy of the spiritual master one receives the benediction of Krishna.”
Hayagriva dasa: In the thirteenth century, Church scholars considered logical proof for God’s existence important, and Aquinas set forth five basic arguments. The first maintains that God necessarily exists as the first cause. The second states that the material world cannot create itself but needs something external, or spiritual, to bring it into existence. The third argument claims that because the world exists, there must necessarily be a creator capable of creating it. Fourth, since there is relative perfection in the world, there must be an absolute perfection underlying it. Fifth, since the creation has design and purpose, there must be a designer who has planned it.
Srila Prabhupada: We also honor these arguments. Without a father and mother, children cannot be brought into existence. Modern philosophers do not consider this strongest argument for the existence of God. According to the Brahma-samhita Krishna is sarva-karana-karanam, the cause of all causes. Everything has a cause, and God is the ultimate cause.
Hayagriva dasa: Aquinas also states that the relative perfection we find in this material world necessitates an absolute perfection.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, the spiritual world is absolute perfection, and this temporary material world is but a reflection of that spiritual world. Whatever perfection we find in this material world is derived from the spiritual world. According to the Vedanta-sutra, janmady asya yatah: “Whatever is generated comes from the Absolute Truth.”
Hayagriva dasa: There are some scientists today who acknowledge Aquinas’s argument that since we can see nothing that can create itself in the material world, something external, or spiritual, is required to bring the material world into existence.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, a mountain cannot create anything, but a human being can give form to a stone. A mountain may be very large, but it remains a stone incapable of giving shape to anything.
Hayagriva dasa: Unlike Plato and Aristotle, Aquinas maintained that God created the universe out of nothing.
Srila Prabhupada: No. God created the universe by His various energies, but God and his energies are always there. You cannot logically say that the universe was created out of nothing.
Hayagriva dasa: Aquinas would say that since the material universe could not have arisen out of God’s spiritual nature, it had to be created out of nothing.
“God attracts everything. The word Krishna means ‘all-attractive.’ What, then, is wrong with addressing God as Krishna?”
Srila Prabhupada: Material nature is also an energy of God’s. As Krishna states in the Bhagavad-gita (7.4):
bhumir apo ‘nalo vayuh
kham mano buddhir eva ca
ahankara itiyam me
bhinna prakrtir astadha
“Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence, and false ego-all together these eight comprise My separated material energies.” All of these emanate from God, and consequently they are not unreal. They are considered inferior because they are God’s separated material energies. They are like the sound that comes from a tape recorder, which may sound exactly like a person’s original voice. The recorded sound is not the person’s voice itself, but it has come from the person and is now separated from him. If one cannot see where the sound is coming from, one may suppose that the person is actually speaking, although the person may be far away. Similarly, the material world is an expansion of the Supreme Lord’s energy, and we should not think that it has been brought into existence out of nothing. It has emanated from the Supreme Truth, but it is His inferior, separated energy. The superior energy is found in the spiritual world, which is the world of reality. Parasya saktir vividhaiva sruyate: God has multienergies, and the material energy is but one. Since God is everything, you cannot say that the material universe comes from nothing.
Hayagriva dasa: Like Augustine, Aquinas believed that sin and man are concomitant. Due to Adam’s original sin, all men require salvation, and salvation can only be obtained through God’s grace. The individual living entity has to assent by his free will in order for God’s grace to function.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, we call that assent bhakti, devotional service to the Lord. Bhakti is our eternal engagement, and when we engage in our eternal activities, we attain salvation, or liberation. When we engage in false activities, we are in illusion (maya). Mukti (liberation) means remaining in our constitutional position as an eternal servant of God. In the material world we engage in many different activities, but they all refer to the material body, In the spiritual world we engage in the Lord’s service, and that is liberation, or salvation.
Hayagriva dasa: Aquinas considered sins to be of two kinds: venial and mortal. A mortal sin is one that will send a person to eternal damnation unless it is forgiven. But a venial sin will not. In other words, according to Aquinas a mortal sin stains the soul.
Srila Prabhupada: When a living entity disobeys the orders of God, he is put into this material world, and that is his punishment. If he does not rectify himself by good association and once again surrender to the Lord, he must undergo repeated transmigration. By taking on one body after another, he is subjected to the tribulations of material existence.
Hayagriva dasa: In any case, how can any sin be said to “stain” the soul?
Srila Prabhupada: The soul is not stained, but he can participate in sinful activity. Although you cannot mix oil and water, oil floating on water is carried away by the water. Similarly, as soon as we are in contact with material nature, we come under the clutches of the material world (prakrteh kriyamanani gunaih karmani sarvasah). As soon as the living entity enters the material world, he loses his own power. He is then completely under the clutches of material nature. Oil never mixes with water, but it may be carried away by the waves.
Hayagriva dasa: Aquinas did not believe in a soul divorced from a particular form. According to Aquinas, God did not simply create a soul capable of inhabiting any body or form; rather, He created an angelic soul, a human soul, an animal soul, or a plant soul. Aquinas felt that the creation of a pure soul would be tantamount to God’s creating Himself.
Srila Prabhupada: The soul is not created, but is eternally existing along with God. The soul has the independence to turn from God, in which case he becomes like a spark falling from a great fire. When the spark is separated, it loses its illumination. In any case, the individual soul always exists. The master and His servants exist eternally. We cannot say that the parts of a body are separately created. As soon as the body is present, all the parts are there with it. The soul is never created, and it never dies. This is confirmed by the Bhagavad-gita (2.20):
na jayate mriyate va kadacin
nayam bhutva bhavita va na bhuyah
ajo nityah sasvato ‘yam purano
na hanyate hanyamane sarire
“For the soul there is never birth or death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying, and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” It may appear that the soul comes into existence and dies, but this is because he has accepted the material body. When the material body dies, the soul simply transfers to another body. When the soul is liberated, he doesn’t have to accept another material body. He can return home, back to Godhead, in his original spiritual body. The soul was never created but is always existing with God. If we say that the soul was created, the question may be raised whether or not God, the Supreme Soul, was also created. Of course, this is not the case. God is eternal, and His parts and parcels are also eternal. The difference is that God never accepts a material body, whereas the individual soul, being but a small particle of spirit, sometimes succumbs to the material energy.
God creates the material universes out of His external energy–not out of nothing, as Thomas Aquinas thought. Here we see the process of creation: God in His form as Maha-Visnu exhales billions of universes from His transcendental body.
Hayagriva dasa: What is the relationship between the soul’s original, spiritual form and the form of the material body?
Srila Prabhupada: The material body is an imitation. It is false. Because the spiritual body has form, the material body takes on form. The material body is like a coat. The cloth originally has no form, but a tailor can cut the cloth and make a coat to fit you. Similarly, in actuality this bodily form made of material elements is illusory. The material elements originally had no form, but they take on form for a while, and when the body becomes old and dies, they return to their original position. In the Bhagavad-gita (18.61),the physical body is compared to a machine. The soul has its own form, but he is given a machine, the body, which he uses to wander throughout the universe, attempting to enjoy himself.
Hayagriva dasa: Aquinas thought that one should not try to restrict scriptures to one meaning, that it belongs to the dignity of divine scripture to contain many meanings in one text so that, in this way, the scripture may be appropriate to the various understandings of men.
Srila Prabhupada: The meaning of scripture is one. It is the interpretations that are different. In the Bible it is stated that God created the universe, and that is a fact. One may conjecture that the universe was created out of some chunk or whatever, but we should not interpret scripture in this way. We present Bhagavad-gita As It Is, without interpretation or motive. We cannot change the words of God. Unfortunately, many interpreters have spoiled the God consciousness of society.
Hayagriva dasa: Aquinas says that the scriptures may contain many meanings according to one’s degree of realization.
Srila Prabhupada: No. No one should interpret the words of scripture. “Interpretation” means “change.” Man is imperfect, so how can he change the words of God? If the words are changed, there will be doubt whether they are spoken by God or by an imperfect person. As soon as you interpret or change the scripture, the scripture loses its authority. Then another man will come and interpret things in his own way. Another will come and then another, and in this way the original purport of the scripture is lost.
Hayagriva dasa: Aquinas believed that it is not possible to see God in this life. He writes, “God cannot be seen in His essence by one who is merely man, except he be separated from this mortal life… The divine essence cannot be known through the nature of material things.”
Srila Prabhupada: What does he mean by “divine essence”? For us, God’s divine essence is personal. When one cannot conceive of the Personality of Godhead, he sees the impersonal feature everywhere. When one advances further, he sees God as the Paramatma [Supersoul] within his heart. That is the result of yogic meditation. Finally, if one is truly advanced, he can see God face to face. When Krishna came, people saw Him face to face. Christians accept Christ as the son of God, and when he came, people saw him face to face. Does Aquinas think that Christ is not the divine essence of God?
Hayagriva dasa: For a Christian, Christ must be the divine essence incarnate.
Srila Prabhupada: And didn’t many people see him? Then how can Aquinas say that God cannot be seen?
Hayagriva dasa: This seems to be contradictory. It’s difficult to tell whether or not Aquinas is basically an impersonalist or a personalist.
Srila Prabhupada: That means he is speculating.
Hayagriva dasa: Aquinas writes about the personal feature of God in this way: “Because God’s nature has all perfection, every kind of perfection should be attributed to Him. Every individual with rational nature is spoken of as a person, and since the dignity of divine nature certainly surpasses every other nature, it is entirely suitable to speak of God as a person.” Aquinas is no more specific than this. Concerning the nature of the personality of God, the Church fathers have never been more specific.
Srila Prabhupada: Christ is accepted as the son of God, and if the son can be seen, why can’t God the father be seen? If Christ is the son of God, who is God? In the Bhagavad-gita (10.8)Krishna says, aham sarvasya prabhavah: “Everything is emanating from Me.” Christ says that he is the son of God, and this means that he emanates from God. Just as he has his personality, God also has His personality. Thus we refer to Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Hayagriva dasa: Concerning God’s names, Aquinas felt that the less determinate God’s name, the more universal and absolute it is. He therefore believed that the most proper name for God is “He who is.”
Srila Prabhupada: Why? If God is active and has created the entire universe, what is wrong with addressing Him according to His activities and attributes?
Hayagriva dasa: Aquinas claims that the very essence of God is the sheer fact of His being, the fact that He is.
Srila Prabhupada: He is, certainly, but “He is” means that He is existing in His abode with His servants, playmates, hobbies, and paraphernalia. Everything is there. We must ask what is the meaning or nature of His being. One of God’s attributes is being. Similarly, one of His attributes is attraction. God attracts everything. The word Krishna means “all-attractive.” What, then, is wrong with addressing God as Krishna? Because Krishna is the enjoyer of Radharani, His name is Radhika-ramana. Because He exists, He is called the Supreme Being. In one sense God has no name, but in another sense He has millions of names according to His activities.
Hayagriva dasa: It seems that Thomas Aquinas basically took an impersonalistic stand.
Srila Prabhupada: No. He could not determine whether God is personal or impersonal. His inclination was to serve God as a person, but he had no clear conception of His personality. Therefore he speculated.
Hayagriva dasa: In the Vedas, isthere an equivalent to “He who is”?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Omtat sat, which is impersonal. This mantra, however, can also be extended to om namo bhagavate vasudevaya. The word vasudeva means “one who lives everywhere” and refers to Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. God is both personal and impersonal, but the impersonal feature is secondary. According to Bhagavan Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita (14.27):
brahmano hi pratisthaham
sasvatasya ca dharmasya
“And I am the basis of the impersonal Brahman, which is the constitutional position of ultimate happiness, and which is immortal, imperishable, and eternal.” What purport did I write to that verse?
Hayagriva dasa: “The constitution of Brahman is immortality, imperishability, eternity, and happiness. Brahman is the beginning of transcendental realization. Paramatma, the Supersoul, is the second stage in transcendental realization, and the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the ultimate realization of the Absolute Truth” [Bhagavad-gita As It Is, 14.27purport].
Srila Prabhupada: That is the divine essence in full.