Thomas Aquinas (1225?-1274) was the leading Christian philosopher of the middle ages. He led an austere life as a celibate monk, writing prolifically and teaching widely. Here Śrīla Prabhupāda explains that while many of his ideas agree with the teachings of the Bhagavad-gītā and other Vedic literatures, his claim that God created the universe out of nothing is untenable.
Disciple: Thomas Aquinas compiled the entire Church doctrine in Summa Theologiae, which constitutes the official philosophy of the Roman Catholic Church. Aquinas did not make Augustine’s sharp distinction between the material and spiritual worlds, or between secular society and the city of God. For him, both material and spiritual creations have their origin in God. At the same time, he admits that the spiritual world is superior to the material.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: When we speak of “material world,” we refer to that which is temporary. Some philosophers, like the Māyāvādīs, claim that the material world is false, but we Vaiṣṇavas prefer to say that it is temporary or illusory. It is a reflection of the spiritual world, but in itself it has no reality. We therefore sometimes compare the material world to a mirage in the desert. In the material world there is no happiness, but the transcendental bliss and happiness existing in the spiritual world are reflected here. Unintelligent people chase after this illusory happiness, forgetting the real happiness that is in spiritual life.
Disciple: Aquinas agreed with both the statements of Anselm and Abelard: “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 a means to truth.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Since human reason is not perfect, revelation is also needed. The truth is attained through logic, philosophy, and revelation. According to the Vaiṣṇava 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. He transmits the message of the truth because he has seen the Absolute Truth through the disciplic succession. 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. Therefore every day we offer our respects to the spiritual master with this prayer:
yasya prasādād bhagavat-prasādo
yasyāprasādān na gatiḥ kuto ’pi
dhyāyan stuvaṁs tasya yaśas tri-sandhyaṁ
vande guroḥ śrī-caraṇāravindam
“By the mercy of the spiritual master one receives the benediction of Kṛṣṇa. Without the grace of the spiritual master, one cannot make any advancement. Therefore, I should always remember and praise the spiritual master, offering respectful obeisances unto his lotus feet at least three times a day.” [Śrī Gurv-aṣṭaka 8]
We can understand God if we please the spiritual master, who carries the Lord’s message without speculation. It is stated: sevonmukhe hi jihvādau svayam eva sphuraty adaḥ. [Padma Purāṇa] When we engage our senses in the Lord’s service, the Lord reveals Himself.
Disciple: For Aquinas, God is the only single essence that consists of pure form. He felt that matter is only a potential and, in order to be real, must assume a certain shape or form. In other words, the living entity has to acquire an individual form in order to actualize himself. When matter unites with form, the form gives individuality and personality.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Matter in itself has no form; it is the spirit soul that has form. Matter is a covering for the actual form of the spirit soul. Because the soul has form, matter appears to have form. Matter is like cloth that is cut to fit the body. In the spiritual world, however, everything has form: God and the spirit souls.
Disciple: Aquinas believed that only God and the angels have nonmaterial form. There is no difference between God’s form and God’s spiritual Self.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Both the individual souls and God have form. That is real form. Material form is but a covering for the spiritual body.
Disciple: Aquinas set forth five basic arguments for God’s existence: first, God necessarily exists as the first cause; second, the material world cannot create itself but needs something external, or spiritual, to create it; third, because the world exists, there must be a creator; fourth, since there is relative perfection in the world, there must be absolute perfection underlying it; and fifth, since the creation has design and purpose, there must be a designer who planned it.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: We also honor these arguments. Also, without a father and mother, children cannot be brought into existence. Modern philosophers do not consider this strongest argument. According to the Brahma-saṁhitā, everything has a cause, and God is the ultimate cause.
īśvaraḥ paramaḥ kṛṣṇaḥ sac-cid-ānanda-vigrahaḥ
anādir ādir govindaḥ sarva-kāraṇa-kāraṇam
“Kṛṣṇa, who is known as Govinda, is the supreme controller. He has an eternal, blissful, spiritual body. He is the origin of all. He has no other origin because He is the prime cause of all causes.” [Brahma-saṁhitā 5.1]
Disciple: Augustine also states that the relative perfection we find here necessitates an absolute perfection.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: 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 (janmādy asya yataḥ). According to the Vedānta-sūtra, whatever is generated comes from the Absolute Truth.
Disciple: Today, some scientists even admit Aquinas’s argument that since nothing can create itself in this material world, something external, or spiritual, is required for initial creation.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: 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.
Disciple: Unlike Plato and Aristotle, Aquinas maintained that God created the universe out of nothing.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: No. The universe is created by God, certainly, but God and His energies are always there. You cannot logically say that the universe was created out of nothing.
Disciple: Aquinas would contend that since the material universe could not have arisen out of God’s spiritual nature, it had to be created out of nothing.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Material nature is also an energy of God’s. As Kṛṣṇa states in the Bhagavad-gītā:
bhūmir āpo ’nalo vāyuḥ khaṁ mano buddhir eva ca
ahaṅkāra itīyaṁ me bhinnā prakṛtir aṣṭadhā
“Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence, and false ego—all together these eight constitute My separated material energies.” [Bhagavad-gītā 7.4] All of these energies emanate from God, and therefore they are not unreal. They are considered inferior because they are God’s separated material energies. The sound that comes from a tape recorder may sound exactly like the original person’s voice. The sound is not the person’s voice itself, but it has come from the person. 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 the inferior, separated energy. The superior energy is found in the spiritual world, which is the world of reality. In any case we cannot agree that the material world has come from nothing.
Disciple: Well, Aquinas would say that it was created by God out of nothing.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: You cannot say that God’s energy is nothing. His energy is exhibited and is eternally existing with Him. God’s energy must be there. If God doesn’t have energy, how can He be God?
na tasya kāryaṁ karaṇaṁ ca vidyate
na tat-samaś cābhyadhikaś ca dṛśyate
parāsya śaktir vividhaiva śrūyate
svābhāvikī jñāna-bala-kriyā ca
“The Supreme Lord has no duty to perform, and no one is found to be equal to or greater than Him, since everything is done naturally and systematically by His multifarious energies.” [Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 6.8] God has multi-energies, and the material energy is but one. Since God is everything, you cannot say that the material universe comes from nothing.
Disciple: Like Augustine, Aquinas believed that sin and man are concomitant. Due to Adam’s original sin, all men require salvation, which can be obtained only through God’s grace. But the individual has to assent by his free will for God’s grace to function.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes, we call that assent bhakti, devotional service.
ataḥ śrī-kṛṣṇa-nāmādi na bhaved grāhyam indriyaiḥ
sevonmukhe hi jihvādau svayam eva sphuraty adaḥ
“The material senses cannot appreciate Kṛṣṇa’s holy name, form, qualities, and pastimes. When a conditioned soul is awakened to Kṛṣṇa consciousness and renders service by using his tongue to chant the Lord’s holy name and to taste the remnants of His food, the soul’s consciousness becomes purified, and gradually Kṛṣṇa reveals who He really is.” [Padma Purāṇa]
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, māyā. Mukti, liberation, means remaining in our constitutional position. In the material world, we engage in many different activities, but they all refer to the material body. In the spiritual world, the spirit engages in the Lord’s service, and this is liberation, or salvation.
Disciple: Aquinas considered sins to be both venial and mortal. A venial sin is one that can be pardoned, but a mortal sin cannot. A mortal sin stains the soul.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: When a living entity disobeys the orders of God, he becomes sinful. He is then put into this material world, and that is his punishment. He either rectifies himself by good association or undergoes transmigration. By taking on one body after another, he is subject to the tribulations of material existence. The soul is not stained, but he can participate in sinful activity. As soon as we are in contact with the material nature, we come under the clutches of the material world:
prakṛteḥ kriyamāṇāni guṇaiḥ karmāṇi sarvaśaḥ
ahaṅkāra-vimūḍhātmā kartāham iti manyate
“The spirit soul bewildered by the influence of false ego thinks himself the doer of activities that are in actuality carried out by the three modes of material nature.” [Bhagavad-gītā 3.27] As soon as the living entity enters the material world, he loses his own power. He is completely under the clutches of material nature. Oil never mixes with water, but it may be carried away by the waves.
Disciple: Aquinas felt that the monastic vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience give a direct path to God, but he did not think that these austerities were meant for the masses of men. He looked on life as a pilgrimage through the world of the senses to the spiritual world of God, from imperfection to perfection, and the monastic vows are meant to help us on this path.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes, according to the Vedic instructions, we must take to the path of tapasya, voluntary self-denial. Tapasā brahmacaryeṇa. Tapasya, or austerity, begins with brahmacarya, celibacy. We must first learn to control the sex urge. That is the beginning of tapasya. We must control the senses and the mind, and then we should give everything that we have to the Lord’s service. By following the path of truth and remaining clean, we can practice yoga. In this way, it is possible to advance toward the spiritual kingdom.
All of this can be realized, however, by engaging in devotional service. If we become devotees of Kṛṣṇa, we automatically attain the benefits of austerities without having to make a separate effort. By one stroke, devotional service, we can acquire the benefits of all the other processes.
Disciple: Aquinas did not believe in a soul per se as being divorced from a particular form. God did not create a soul capable of inhabiting any body or form; rather, He created an angelic soul, a human soul, and an animal soul, or a plant soul. Here again, we find the conception of the soul’s creation.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: 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 is always there. The master and His servants are there 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 in the very beginning of the Bhagavad-gītā:
na jāyate mriyate vā kadācin
nāyaṁ bhūtvā bhavitā vā na bhūyaḥ
ajo nityaḥ śāśvato ’yaṁ purāṇo
na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre
“For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. He has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” [Bhagavad-gītā 2.20] It may appear that the soul comes into existence and dies, but this is because he has accepted the material 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, sometimes succumbs to the material energy.
Disciple: Is the soul eternally existing with God in a spiritual form?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes.
Disciple: So the soul has a form that is incorruptible. Then what kind of form is the material body?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: The material body is an imitation. It is false. Because the spiritual body has form, the material body, which is a coating, takes on form. As I have already explained, a cloth originally has no form, but a tailor can cut the cloth to fit a form. In actuality, this material form is illusory. Matter originally has no form. It takes on form for a while as a body, and when the body becomes old and useless, the matter returns to its original position. In the Bhagavad-gītā [18.61] the body is compared to a machine. The soul has his own form of spirit, but he is given a machine made of matter, the body, which he uses to wander throughout the universe, attempting to enjoy himself.
Disciple: Aquinas considered that sex is meant exclusively for the begetting of children, and that the parents are responsible for giving their children a spiritual education.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: That is also the Vedic injunction. You should not beget children unless you can liberate them from the cycle of birth and death:
gurur na sa syāt sva-jano na sa syāt
pitā na sa syāj jananī na sā syāt
daivaṁ na tat syān na patiś ca sa syān
na mocayed yaḥ samupeta-mṛtyum
“One who cannot deliver his dependents from the path of repeated birth and death should never become a spiritual master, a father, a husband, a mother, or a worshipable demigod.” [Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 5.5.18]
Disciple: Aquinas argued that sex for reasons other than propagation is “repugnant of the good of nature, which is the conservation of the species.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: The conservation of the species doesn’t enter into it. Illicit sex is sinful because it is for sense gratification instead of for begetting children. Sense gratification in any form is sinful.
Disciple: Concerning the state, Aquinas, like Plato, believed in an enlightened monarchy, but in certain cases he felt it is not necessary for man to obey human laws if they are opposed to human welfare and are instruments of violence.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes, but first of all we must know what our welfare is. Unfortunately, as materialistic education advances, we are missing the aim of life. Life’s aim is declared openly in the Vedānta-sūtra: athāto brahma-jijñāsā. Life is meant for understanding the Absolute Truth. Vedic civilization is based on this principle, but modern civilization has deviated and is devoting itself to that which cannot possibly relieve us from the tribulations of birth, old age, disease, and death. So-called scientific advancement has not solved life’s real problems. Although we are eternal, we are presently subjected to birth and death. In this age of quarrel (Kali-yuga), people are slow to learn about self-realization. People create their own way of life, and they are unfortunate and disturbed.
Disciple: Aquinas concludes that if the laws of God and man conflict, we should obey the laws of God.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes. We can also obey the man who obeys the laws of God. It is useless to obey an imperfect person. That is the blind following the blind. If the leader does not follow the instructions of the supreme controller, he is necessarily blind, and he cannot lead. Why should we risk our lives by following blind men who believe that they are knowledgeable but are not? We should instead decide to take lessons from the Supreme Person, Kṛṣṇa, who knows everything perfectly. Kṛṣṇa knows past, present, and future, and what is for our benefit.
Disciple: For Aquinas, all earthly powers exist only by God’s permission. Since the Church is God’s emissary on earth, the Church should control secular power as well. He felt that secular rulers should remain subservient to the Church, which should be able to excommunicate a monarch and dethrone him.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: World activities should be regulated so that God is the ultimate goal of understanding. Although the Church, or the brāhmaṇas, may not directly carry out administrative activities, the government should function under their supervision and instructions. That is the Vedic system. The administrators, the kṣatriyas, used to take instructions from the brāhmaṇas, who could deliver a spiritual message. It is mentioned in the Bhagavad-gītā [4.1] that millions of years ago Kṛṣṇa instructed the sun-god in the yoga of the Bhagavad-gītā. The sun-god is the origin of the kṣatriyas. If the king follows the instructions of the Vedas or other scriptures through the brāhmaṇas, or through a bona fide church, he is not only a king but a saintly person as well, a rājarṣi. The kṣatriyas should follow the orders of the brāhmaṇas, and the vaiśyas should follow the orders of the kṣatriyas. The śūdras should follow the instructions of the three superior orders.
Disciple: Concerning the beauty of God, Aquinas writes: “God is beautiful in Himself and not in relation to some limited terminus....It is clear that the beauty of all things is derived from the divine beauty....God wishes to multiply His own beauty as far as possible, that is to say, by the communication of His likeness. Indeed, all things are made in order to imitate divine beauty in some fashion.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes, God is the reservoir of all knowledge, beauty, strength, fame, renunciation, and wealth. God is the reservoir of everything, and therefore whatever we see that is beautiful emanates from a very minute part of God’s beauty. This Kṛṣṇa declares in the Bhagavad-gītā [10.41]:
yad yad vibhūtimat sattvaṁ śrīmad ūrjitam eva vā
tat tad evāvagaccha tvaṁ mama tejo-’ṁśa-sambhavam
“Know that all opulent, beautiful, and glorious creations spring from but a spark of My splendor.”
Disciple: Concerning the relationship between theology and philosophy, Aquinas writes: “As sacred doctrine is based on the light of faith, so is philosophy founded on the natural light of reason....If any point among the statements of the philosophers is found contrary to faith, this is not philosophy but rather an abuse of philosophy, resulting from a defect in reasoning.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes, that is correct. Due to material, conditioned life, every man is defective. The philosophy of defective people cannot help society. Perfect philosophy comes from one who is in contact with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and such philosophy is beneficial. Speculative philosophers base their beliefs on imagination.
Disciple: Aquinas concluded that divine revelation is absolutely necessary because very few men can arrive at the truth through the philosophical method. It is a path full of errors, and the journey takes a long time.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes, that is a fact. We should directly contact the Supreme Person, Kṛṣṇa, who has complete knowledge. We should understand His instructions and try to follow them.
Disciple: Aquinas believed that the author of sacred scripture can be only God Himself, who can not only “adjust words to their meaning, which even man can do, but also adjust things in themselves.” Also, scriptures are not restricted to one meaning. In this, Aquinas seems to differ from the official Catholic doctrine, which admits only the Pope’s interpretation. For him, the scriptures may contain many meanings according to our degree of realization.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: The meaning is one, but if we are not realized, we may interpret many meanings. We present the Bhagavad-gītā as it is, without interpretation or motive. We cannot change the words of God. Unfortunately, many interpreters of scripture have spoiled the God consciousness of society. For example, it is stated in both the Bible and the Bhagavad-gītā that God created the universe, and that is a fact. One may conjecture that God created the universe out of some chunk, or whatever, but we should not interpret scripture in this way. In the Gītā we find that Lord Kṛṣṇa states, ahaṁ sarvasya prabhavo mattaḥ sarvaṁ pravartate: “I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me.” [Bhagavad-gītā 10.8] If it is a fact that everything is an emanation of God’s energy, why should we accept a second meaning or interpretation? What is the possible second meaning?
Disciple: Well, in the Bible it is stated that after creating the universe, God walked through paradise in the afternoon. Aquinas would consider this to have an interior, or metaphorical, meaning.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: If God can create, He can also walk, speak, touch, and see. If God is a person, why is a second meaning necessary? What could it possibly be?
Disciple: Impersonal speculation.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: If God is the creator of all things, He must be a person. Things appear to come from secondary causes, but actually everything is created by the supreme creator.
Disciple: Aquinas seems to have encouraged individual interpretation. He writes: “It belongs to the dignity of divine scripture to contain many meanings in one text, so that it may be appropriate to the various understandings of men for each man to marvel at the fact that he can find the truth that he has conceived in his own mind expressed in divine scripture.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: No. If one’s mind is perfect, he may give a meaning, but, according to our conviction, if one is perfect, why should he try to change the words of God? And if one is imperfect, what is the value of his change?
Disciple: Aquinas doesn’t say “change.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Interpretation means change. If man is imperfect, how can he change the words of God? If the words can be changed, they are not perfect. So there will be doubt whether the words are spoken by God or by an imperfect person.
Disciple: The many different Protestant faiths resulted from such individual interpretation. It’s surprising to find this viewpoint in Aquinas.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: 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.
Disciple: 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.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: 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 Paramātmā within his heart. That is the result of yoga meditation. Finally, if one is truly advanced, he can see God face to face. When Kṛṣṇa 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?
Disciple: For a Christian, Christ must be the divine essence.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: And didn’t many people see him? Then how can Aquinas say that God cannot be seen?
Disciple: It’s difficult to tell whether Aquinas is basically impersonalist or personalist.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: That means he is speculating.
Disciple: He writes about the personal feature in this way: “Because God’s nature has all perfection and thus every kind of perfection should be attributed to Him, it is fitting to use the word ‘person’ to speak of God; yet when used of God it is not used exactly as it is of creatures but in a higher sense....Certainly the dignity of divine nature surpasses every nature, and thus it is entirely suitable to speak of God as a ‘person.’” Aquinas is no more specific than this.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Christ is accepted as the son of God, and if the son can be seen, why can’t the Father be seen? If Christ is the son of God, who is God? In the Bhagavad-gītā, Kṛṣṇa says, ahaṁ sarvasya prabhavaḥ: “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. Therefore we refer to Kṛṣṇa as the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Disciple: Concerning God’s names, Aquinas writes: “Yet since God is simple and subsisting, we attribute to Him simple and abstract names to signify His simplicity, and concrete names to signify His subsistence and perfection, although both these kinds of names fail to express His mode of being, because our intellect does not know Him in this life as He is.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: One of God’s attributes is being. Similarly, one of His attributes is attraction. God attracts everything. The word kṛṣṇa means “all-attractive.” What, then, is wrong with addressing God as Kṛṣṇa? Because Kṛṣṇa is the enjoyer of Rādhārāṇī, His name is Rādhikā-ramaṇa. 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 and attributes.
Disciple: Aquinas maintains that although the names apply to God to signify one reality, they are not synonymous because they signify that reality under diverse aspects.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: God’s names are there because He has different features and activities.
Disciple: But Aquinas asserts that no name belongs to God in the same sense that it belongs to creatures.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: The names of creatures are also derived from God. For instance, God appeared as the boar incarnation, and therefore a devotee may be named Varāha dāsa, which means “servant of God in His boar incarnation.” This name is not created; it refers to the activities of God.
Disciple: Aquinas believed that names of God that imply relation to creatures are predicated of God temporarily. He writes: “Though God is prior to the creature, still, because the signification of ‘Lord’ includes the idea of a servant and vice versa, these two relative terms, Lord and servant, are simultaneous by nature. Hence God was not ‘Lord’ until He had a creature subject to Himself....Thus names which import relation to creatures are applied to God temporarily, and not from eternity, since God is outside the whole order of creation.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: God is always existing as the Lord, and His servants are existing everlastingly with Him. How can He be the Lord without a servant? How can it be that God has no servants?
Disciple: Well, the contention is that creatures were created at one point in time, and before that, God must have been by Himself.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: That is a material idea. It is the material world that is created, not the spiritual world. The spiritual world and God are existing everlastingly. The bodies of creatures in this material world are created, but God is always in the spiritual world with countless servants. According to our philosophy, there is no limit to the number of living entities. Those who do not like to serve are put into this material world. As far as our identity as servants is concerned, that is eternal, whether we are in the material world or the spiritual world. If we do not serve God in the spiritual world, we come down into the material world to serve the illusory energy of God. In any case, God is always the master, and the living entity is always the servant.
Disciple: 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.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Why? If God is active and has created the entire universe, what is wrong in addressing Him according to His activities and attributes?
Disciple: Aquinas claims that the very essence of God is the sheer fact of His being, the fact that He is.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: 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.
Disciple: It seems that Aquinas was basically impersonalist.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: 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.
Disciple: In the Vedas, is there an equivalent to “He who is”?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Oṁ tat sat is impersonal. This mantra, however, can also be extended as oṁ namo bhagavate vāsudevāya. The word vāsudeva means “one who lives everywhere,” and refers to Bhagavān, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. God is both personal and impersonal, but the impersonal feature is secondary. According to Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa in the Bhagavad-gītā [14.27]:
brahmaṇo hi pratiṣṭhāham amṛtasyāvyayasya ca
śāśvatasya ca dharmasya sukhasyaikāntikasya ca
“And I am the basis of the impersonal Brahman, which is immortal, imperishable, and eternal and is the constitutional position of ultimate happiness.” What is the purport to that?
Devotee [reading]: “The constitution of Brahman is immortality, imperishability, eternity, and happiness. Brahman is the beginning of transcendental realization. Paramātmā, the Supersoul, is the middle, the second stage in transcendental realization, and the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the ultimate realization of the Absolute Truth.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: That is divine essence.