Most religious scholars regard Augustine (A.D. 354-430) as the main father of the Roman Catholic church and one of the leading formulators of Christian philosophy. He wrote, “Reincarnation is ridiculous.
There is no such thing as a return to this life for the punishment of souls.
” Read Śrīla Prabhupāda’s response below.
Disciple: Augustine considered the soul to be spiritual and different from the material body—but he also believed that the soul did not exist before the body’s birth. He simply supposed that the soul is the superior part of the person and the body the inferior part. He also thought that the soul attains immortality only after God creates it—only after God brings it into being. At death, Augustine said, the soul goes on to live eternally.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: But if the soul is created, how is it immortal? How is it eternal? How can the soul sometimes not be eternal?
Disciple: Well, first of all, Augustine considered that because of Adam’s fall, all men are subject to the death of the body. In addition, Augustine believed that while God destines some men to enjoy everlasting happiness after death, He destines others to undergo everlasting suffering. In other words, Augustine said that some people endure both physical death—when the soul abandons the body—and “soul-death”—when God abandons the soul. Thus, when one is damned he faces not only physical death but also “soul-death.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Figuratively speaking, when one forgets his identity as a servant of God, he undergoes a kind of death—but actually the soul is eternal. So, what Augustine calls “soul-death” is actually forgetfulness of God. Of course, until one acquires freedom from material existence, one is “spiritually dead,” even though still existing in the material form. Forgetfulness of one’s real identity is a kind of death, because only when one is alive to God consciousness is he actually alive. In any case, the soul is eternal and survives the annihilation of the body.
Disciple: Augustine would consider that in some cases the forgetful stage is everlasting, that God eternally abandons the damned soul to eternal perdition.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: This is not so. Our consciousness can always be revived, and that is the conviction of this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. A man is unconscious when he is sleeping, but if you call him again and again, the sound of his name enters his ear, and he awakens. Similarly, this process of chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra awakens one to spiritual consciousness. Then one can return to his normal, spiritual life.
Of course, one may be “eternally abandoned” in the sense that one may remain forgetful for millions of years. It may seem eternal, but actually one’s spiritual consciousness can be revived at any moment by good association, by the method of hearing and chanting about Kṛṣṇa. Devotional service therefore begins with śravaṇam—hearing. In the beginning especially, hearing is very important. If one hears the truth from a self-realized soul, one can awaken to spiritual life and remain spiritually alive in devotional service.
Disciple: Augustine rejected the idea that the various material bodies in this world are like prisons for the punishment of sin.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: The soul is essentially part and parcel of God, but in this material world the soul is factually imprisoned in different types of bodies. In the Bhagavad-gītā [14.4] Śrī Kṛṣṇa says:
sarva-yoniṣu kaunteya mūrtayaḥ sambhavanti yāḥ
tāsāṁ brahma mahad yonir ahaṁ bīja-pradaḥ pitā
“It should be understood that all species of life, O son of Kuntī, are made possible by birth in this material nature, and that I am the seed-giving father.” From material nature—the mother—different species are coming. The living entities are found in earth, water, air, and even fire. The individual souls, however, are part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, who impregnates them within this material world. The living entity then comes out into the material world through the womb of some mother. It appears that the soul is coming out of matter, but the soul is not composed of matter. The soul, always part and parcel of God, simply assumes different types of bodies according to his pious or impious activities and desires. The desires of the soul actually determine higher or lower bodies. But in any case the soul is the same. It is therefore said that those who are advanced in spiritual consciousness see the same quality of soul in each and every body, whether it is the body of a dog or a brāhmaṇa.
Disciple: Also, Śrīla Prabhupāda, Augustine considered the soul to be created to inhabit only one particular body, which he felt was a gift from God. Augustine thus rejected reincarnation or transmigration. He wrote, “Let these Platonists stop threatening us with reincarnation as a punishment for our souls....Reincarnation is ridiculous.
There is no such thing as a return to this life for the punishment of souls.
If our creation, even as mortals, is due to God, how can the return to bodies, which are gifts of God, be punishment?” In other words, if the body is a gift of God, how can it also be a punishment?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Does he think that when someone takes the body of a hog or a similar lower creature, that is not punishment? Why does one person get the body of King Indra or Lord Brahmā and another the body of a pig or insect? How does he explain the body of a pig? If the body is a gift from God, it can also be a punishment from God. When one is rewarded, he gets the body of a Brahmā or an Indra, and if he is punished he gets the body of a pig.
Disciple: So the degree of punishment or suffering depends on the kind of body one has?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes. There are many people who are well situated, and there are others who are suffering. Suffering and enjoyment take place according to one’s body. That is explained in the Bhagavad-gītā [2.14]:
mātrā-sparśās tu kaunteya śītoṣṇa-sukha-duḥkha-dāḥ
āgamāpāyino ’nityās tāṁs titikṣasva bhārata
“O son of Kuntī, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.” A man may perceive cold very acutely, while a fish may not perceive it. So the perception is relative to the body. Thus the body is a source of suffering and enjoyment—or we may consider it as punishment and reward.
Disciple: What about the human body? Is that a gift or a punishment?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: It is both. In the human form of life, as in other forms, material nature punishes the living entity with so much suffering. But at the same time you can consider human life a gift—because in the human form we can approach God. We should think that if God has given us this body for our punishment, it is His mercy, because by undergoing His punishment willingly and practicing Kṛṣṇa consciousness, we may become purified and progress toward God. Devotees think in this way. Although the body is a form of punishment, they consider it a reward—because by undergoing the punishment, they are progressing toward God realization. Even when the body is given by God for our correction, it can thus be considered a gift.
Disciple: According to Augustine, the physical body precedes the spiritual. He writes, “If there is a natural [physical] body, there is also a spiritual body...but it is not the spiritual that comes first, but the physical, and then the spiritual.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: No. Every living entity has an eternal spiritual body, which exists before he takes on a material body. As we said, entering the material body is a kind of punishment. Every soul is eternally part and parcel of God, but because of some sinful activity, the living entity comes into this material world. In the Bible it is said that due to disobedience to God, Adam and Eve lost paradise and had to come into the material world. The soul belongs to the paradise in heaven—the planets of Kṛṣṇa—but somehow or other he falls within this material world and takes on a material body. According to one’s activities one is elevated or degraded—as a demigod, human being, animal, or plant. In any case, the soul is always aloof from the material body. This is confirmed by the Vedic literatures. Our actual, spiritual life is revived when we are freed from material contamination, or, in other words, from reincarnation.
Disciple: Augustine conceived of a spiritual world in which all the souls would be in bliss and would be eternally loving and glorifying God. They would still possess freedom of will, but sin would have no power to tempt them.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes, sin cannot touch one who remains in contact with God. According to our desires, we associate with the modes of material nature and acquire different types of bodies. Nature, the agent of Kṛṣṇa, affords us facilities by giving us a body which is like a machine. When a son insists, “Father, give me a bicycle,” the affectionate father complies. This is similar to our relationship with Kṛṣṇa, as He explains in the Bhagavad-gītā [18.61]:
īśvaraḥ sarva-bhūtānāṁ hṛd-deśe ’rjuna tiṣṭhati
bhrāmayan sarva-bhūtāni yantrārūḍhāni māyayā
“The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone’s heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine made of the material energy.” The supreme father, Kṛṣṇa, is within the core of everyone’s heart. As the living entity desires, the father supplies a body manufactured by material nature. This body is destined to suffer, but the spiritual bodies in the Vaikuṇṭhas are not subject to birth, old age, disease, or death or the threefold miseries. The spiritual bodies are eternal and full of knowledge and bliss.
Disciple: Augustine seems to admit the transcendence and omnipresence of God, but he seems at the same time to reject His existence as the localized Paramātmā [Supersoul] accompanying each individual soul. He writes, “God is not the soul of all things but the maker of all souls.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Then how is God omnipresent? The Paramātmā is indicated as the all-pervading Supersoul both in the Brahma-saṁhitā and the Bhagavad-gītā. Besides the verse I have just mentioned, elsewhere in the Bhagavad-gītā [13.23] Kṛṣṇa says:
upadraṣṭānumantā ca bhartā bhoktā maheśvaraḥ
paramātmeti cāpy ukto dehe ’smin puruṣaḥ paraḥ
“Yet in this body there is another, a transcendental enjoyer, who is the Lord, the supreme proprietor, who exists as the overseer and permitter, and who is known as the Supersoul.” The Supersoul is also present within every atom: viṣṭabhyāham idaṁ kṛtsnam ekāṁśena sthito jagat. “With a single fragment of Myself I pervade and support this entire universe.” [Bhagavad-gītā 10.42] So God’s all-pervading Paramātmā feature cannot be denied.
Disciple: For Augustine, the human mind and soul—he called it the “reasonable soul”—were one and the same.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: No, they are different. The soul is placed in various bodies that have different ways of thinking, feeling, and willing—different minds. For instance, a dog’s mind is not equal to that of a human being, but this is not to say that a dog does not have a soul. So the mind differs according to the body, but the soul always remains the same.
Disciple: Well, because he lumped together the soul and the mind, Augustine held that the souls of animals are not the same as the eternal, “reasonable” souls of human beings. In this way he could justify animal-killing. He wrote, “Indeed, some people try to stretch the prohibition ‘Thou shalt not kill’ to cover beasts and cattle, and make it unlawful to kill any such animal. But then, why not include plants and anything rooted in and feeding on the soil?...Putting this nonsense aside, we do not apply ‘Thou shalt not kill’ to plants, because they have no sensation; or to irrational animals that fly, swim, walk, or creep, because they are linked to us by no association or common bond By the creator’s wise ordinance they are meant for our use, dead or alive. It only remains for us to apply the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ to man alone—oneself and others.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: The Bible says, “Thou shalt not kill”—without qualification. Of course, our Vedic philosophy does admit that one living entity serves as food for another living entity. That is a natural law. As stated in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, those animals who have hands eat animals without hands. And the four-legged animals eat animals that cannot move, as well as vegetables. So the weak are food for the strong. One must eat an animal or a vegetable—whatever the case, one must inevitably eat some living entity. It thus becomes a question of selection. However, our Kṛṣṇa consciousness philosophy does not teach us to select our food on the basis that plant life is less sensitive than animal life, or that animal life is less sensitive than human life. We consider all human beings, animals, and plants to be living entities, spirit souls.
So, apart from vegetarian or nonvegetarian diets, we are basically concerned with kṛṣṇa-prasādam, food offered to Kṛṣṇa with love and devotion. We simply take the remnants of whatever Kṛṣṇa eats. In the Bhagavad-gītā [9.26] Śrī Kṛṣṇa says:
patraṁ puṣpaṁ phalaṁ toyaṁ yo me bhaktyā prayacchati
tad ahaṁ bhakty-upahṛtam aśnāmi prayatātmanaḥ
“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water, I will accept it.” This is our philosophy. We are concerned with taking the remnants of Kṛṣṇa’s food, which we call prasādam, mercy.
Since we want to act on the level of loving devotion to Kṛṣṇa, we have to find out what He wants and offer Him only that. We cannot offer Him anything undesirable or unasked for. So meat, fish, and eggs cannot be offered to Kṛṣṇa. If He desired such things He would have said so. Instead, He clearly requests that leaves, fruit, flowers, and water be given to Him. Therefore we should understand that He will not accept meat, fish, or eggs. Vegetables, grains, fruits, milk, and water are the proper foods for human beings and are prescribed in this verse by Lord Kṛṣṇa Himself. Whatever else we might wish to eat cannot be offered to Him, since He will not accept it, and thus we cannot be acting on the level of loving devotion to Kṛṣṇa if we eat such foods.
Disciple: Concerning peace, Augustine writes: “Peace between a mortal man and his Maker consists in ordered obedience, guided by faith, under God’s eternal law....”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes. Peace means coming in contact with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. A man in ignorance thinks that he is the enjoyer of this world, but when he contacts the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the supreme controller, he understands that God is the enjoyer. A servant supplies the needs of his master, and we are servants meant to supply enjoyment to God. Actually God has no needs to fulfill, yet He enjoys the company of His servants, who in turn enjoy His company. A servant is very happy when he receives a good master, and a master is happy to acquire a very faithful servant. This is the relationship between the individual soul and God, and when this relationship is destroyed, it is said that the individual soul exists in māyā, or illusion. When the relationship is restored, the individual is situated in his spiritual consciousness—Kṛṣṇa consciousness—by which he understands that the Supreme God is the actual enjoyer and that we are His servants. God is the actual enjoyer and proprietor as well as the Supreme Being. When we understand God’s transcendental qualities, we become happy and attain peace.