The Danish philosopher Sṭren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) is generally regarded as the father of existentialism. His concern with individual existence, choice, and commitment profoundly influenced modern Western theology and philosophy. Here Śrīla Prabhupāda challenges his idea that the deeply religious life must involve intense suffering.
Disciple: Sṭren Kierkegaard, a devout Christian, believed that religious truth is not innate within man and that man must therefore receive this truth from God. But he thought that God would overawe us if He Himself came to teach. Therefore Kierkegaard said that God comes instead as His own servant in human form. For a Christian, this teacher is Jesus Christ.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Generally men are on the animal platform. But when a man’s consciousness becomes a little advanced, he can be educated in the understanding of God through the teachings of spiritual authorities. That is the Vedic system. In the human form the living entity is sometimes very inquisitive and wants to understand God. That inquisitiveness is technically called brahma-jijñāsā, interest in the Absolute, which is possible only in the human form of life.
Now, if one is actually anxious to know about God, he has to approach a guru, who is God’s servant and His representative. Unless one approaches a bona fide guru, he cannot understand the nature of God, or man’s relationship with Him. So accepting a guru is not a fashion but a necessity. However, a guru is not a person who simply manufactures gold or juggles words just to attract foolish people and make money. An actual guru is one who is fully trained in the ocean of spiritual knowledge, or Vedic knowledge. Vedic words are not ordinary material sound vibrations. They are completely spiritual. The Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra, for instance, is a purely spiritual sound. Once a person is fully trained in the ocean of spiritual sound, he becomes a guru and is no longer interested in material life. In fact the definition of the word guru is “one who is no longer interested in material things.” He has taken shelter of the Supreme Lord, and his material desires have completely ceased. One should approach such a bona fide guru, surrender unto him, serve him, and then question him about God and our relationship with God.
Disciple: Is Kierkegaard correct in maintaining that man would be overawed if God, as He is, came to teach? Didn’t Kṛṣṇa, as He is, come to teach the Bhagavad-gītā?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Kṛṣṇa came as He is, but people misunderstood Him because He appeared as a human being. Consequently, they could not surrender to Him. Therefore Kṛṣṇa came later as a devotee, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, to teach men how to approach God. Caitanya Mahāprabhu taught the very same philosophy that Kṛṣṇa taught in the Bhagavad—gītā. But instead of coming as Kṛṣṇa, Lord Caitanya came as Kṛṣṇa’s devotee. Rūpa Gosvāmī appreciated Caitanya Mahāprabhu as the most munificent incarnation, because He gives not only Kṛṣṇa but also pure love of Kṛṣṇa (namo mahā—vadānyāya kṛṣṇa—prema—pradāya te). In exchange for Himself, Kṛṣṇa demands full surrender from the devotee. But Caitanya Mahāprabhu, without making any demands, gave pure love of Kṛṣṇa. Because we are all His sons, Kṛṇa—the Supreme Lord—is affectionate toward us. He sees us rotting in this material world, and He comes Himself—or He comes as His devotee—and leaves His instructions. Kṛṣṇa is always anxious to enlighten the human beings and show them how to return home, back to Godhead.
Disciple: Kierkegaard thought that the ordinary man does not wish to have a personal relationship with God. Kierkegaard wrote, “The truth is that there are no longer men living who could bear the pressure and weight of having a personal God.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes, a personal God makes demands, just as Kṛṣṇa demands in the Bhagavad—gītā [9.34],
man—manā bhava mad—bhakto mad—yājī māṁ namaskuru
mām evaiṣyasi yuktvaivam ātmānaṁ mat—parāyaṇaḥ
“Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, become My devotee, offer obeisances to Me, and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me.” This is God’s demand. And if we carry it out we attain perfection. Tyaktvā dehaṁ punar janma naiti mām eti: Kṛṣṇa clearly states here that when a devotee gives up his material body he does not accept another—he returns back to Godhead in his original, spiritual body.
Disciple: Kierkegaard observed three basic stages in life: the aesthetic stage, the ethical stage, and the religious stage. In the first stage—the aesthetic stage—a person may be either a hedonist in search of sensual pleasure or an intellectual interested in philosophical speculation. Kierkegaard says that both are uncommitted. Neither has any ultimate goal in life.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: How can a philosopher have no ultimate goal?
Disciple: Kierkegaard says that people on this platform are not really philosophers but simply mental speculators. They become bored with themselves, and their lives become empty of meaning and full of despair.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Despair is a result of impersonalism and voidism. Impersonalists and voidists must necessarily be overcome by despair, because they are always disgusted with their lives and because they do not know the goal of life. When one has no goal he becomes disappointed, and that disappointment is the cause of despair.
Disciple: Kierkegaard sees this despair as the first stepping—stone toward self—realization. Understanding that the aesthetic life ends in despair, in hopelessness, a person abandons this type of life for the next stage.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: We agree with this. According to the Vedānta—sūtra, people begin to inquire about self—realization after they have worked very hard and still have not attained life’s goal. At this point people begin to ask, “What is the purpose of life?” As we have mentioned before, that inquisitiveness is called brahma—jijñāsā, inquiry into the ultimate truth of life. Such an inquiry is natural, and it is necessary for further development.
Disciple: According to Kierkegaard, to attain self—realization we must confront certain choices—we must become aware that life is an “either/or” proposition. Realizing this, we advance to the second stage—the ethical stage. At this point we take an active part in dealing with life rather than aimlessly taking pleasure from life. We may act piously or attempt humanitarian deeds.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: But what is the ultimate goal of these decisions? Why should people become moral? Simply to feed the poor and open hospitals?
Disciple: For Kierkegaard, the important thing is not so much what one chooses but that one makes the choice. Through choosing one discovers his own integrity.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: But it is not clear how a person can make the right decision. One man may choose to slaughter, and another man may choose to help others. Or a man may give charity to others and yet at the same time encourage killing animals. For instance, on the one hand Vivekananda advocated feeding the poor, but on the other hand he suggested feeding them with Mother Kālī’s prasādam—the flesh of bulls. So what kind of ethics is that? What is the value of ethics if it is based on imperfect knowledge?
Disciple: Kierkegaard did not give so much importance to the basis of the decision.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: But if one’s decision is not based on truth, what is its value? You must go further than the mere making of decisions. You must know which is the proper decision to make.
Disciple: Kierkegaard would say that by turning inward you would naturally make the proper decision. This “turning inward” entails self—knowledge
Śrīla Prabhupāda: But of what value is that inwardness? You may simply think, “I will protect my brother by killing someone.” What is the ethics involved? You must have some standard by which to make the right decision.
Disciple: Kierkegaard’s standard would be “choose yourself.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: But without knowing yourself, how can you choose yourself? And how can you know yourself unless you inquire from someone who knows the self and the Supreme Self perfectly? That means you must inquire from a bona fide spiritual master. Most people think they are their body. What kind of self—knowledge is this? Yasyātma—buddhiḥ kuṇape tri—dhātuke: “If one thinks he is his body, he is no better than an ass.” What is the value of an ass’s philosophy?
Disciple: Kierkegaard’s philosophy emphasizes the act of deciding. The decision itself is not so important.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: But unless we know the aim of life, how can we make the right decision? It is simply childish to say that by choosing either this or that we become enlightened. A child chooses this or that—sometimes he plays with one toy and sometimes with another—but where is his enlightenment? Animals also make decisions. The ass decides to eat a morsel of grass and work all day carrying a load of laundry. If the basis of our decision is not important, why not decide for unrestricted sense gratification?
Disciple: Kierkegaard would say that unrestricted sense gratification leads to boredom, and ultimately to despair.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: But if you think that sense gratification is the aim of life, then it is not boring to you. If you choose according to your whims, you can make any decision.
Disciple: Kierkegaard would say that we should choose not by whim but by an inward, objective, passionate search. Then the truth will naturally emerge.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: But a Bowery bum may make a passionate decision to purchase a bottle of whiskey as soon as he gets some money.
Disciple: Kierkegaard would say that in his decision there is no commitment to a higher ethic. There is simply the desire for sense gratification. If his decision were made on the ethical level, he would take up a good cause and act on that basis.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: But such “good causes” are relative. You may consider one thing to be a good cause, and I may consider another. Who will ultimately decide?
Disciple: Kierkegaard believed that if we begin to anticipate death, we will make the right decisions. In other words, we should act in such a way that we consider each act to be our last. In this way, he believed, the truth will emerge.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Every man should think, “I do not wish to die, but death is overcoming me. What is the cause of this? What should I do?” No one wants to die, but death overcomes everyone. No one wants to be diseased, but diseases are inevitable. These are real human problems that cannot be solved simply by making some whimsical decision. We should decide, “I do not wish to suffer, but suffering is coming upon me. Now I must find a solution to this problem.” This is the real decision we have to make. We must decide to put a permanent end to suffering—to birth, old age, disease, and death. We should understand that the body exists for a few years and then is doomed to perish. We should also understand that the body is external and that we should not make our decisions on the basis of the body. Rather, we should make our decisions on the basis of the soul.
Disciple: For Kierkegaard, the third and highest stage of life is the religious stage. On this platform a man submits himself to God and obeys God totally.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: In other words, this is the stage of Kṛṣṇa a consciousness. We agree that Kṛṣṇa consciousness is the topmost stage of life.
Disciple: Kierkegaard thought that in the religious stage, there is intense suffering—suffering comparable to that of Job.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Why is this? If one is Kṛṣṇa conscious, why should he suffer?
Disciple: Kierkegaard was a Christian, and he emphasized the importance of suffering. The Bible says that Christ suffered for our sins, and Kierkegaard believed that the process of overcoming sin involves suffering.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: But that is a wrong theory. If Christ is God or the son of God, why should he suffer? What kind of God is subjected to suffering? Why should either God or man suffer? The whole point is that if there is suffering, you must put an end to it.
Disciple: For Kierkegaard, religious commitment is epitomized by inward suffering.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: No. Suffering arises because we identify with the body. When a person’s car is damaged in an automobile accident, he may not actually be injured, but because he identifies himself with matter—with his car—he suffers. Similarly, the spirit soul is riding within the car of the material body, and because the spirit soul identifies himself with the body, he suffers when the body is injured or becomes sick or dies. But because the Kṛṣṇa conscious man is always in full knowledge and is always transcendental to the material world, he never suffers. Whether we suffer or not depends on our knowledge.
Disciple: But don’t penance and austerity involve suffering?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: No. For those who are advanced in knowledge, there is no suffering. Of course, there may be some bodily pain, but a person in knowledge understands that he is not the body. Therefore, why should he suffer? He thinks, “Let me do my duty. Hare Kṛṣṇa.” That is the advanced stage of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Suffering is due to ignorance.
Disciple: But don’t we have to give up bodily comforts to serve God?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Rūpa and Sanātana Gosvāmīs were high government ministers, but they abandoned their material opulence to bestow mercy upon the common people. So they wore only loincloths and slept under a different tree every night. Of course, foolish people might say that they were suffering, but actually they were merged in the ocean of transcendental bliss. They simply engaged their minds in thought of Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes with the gopīs. And from day to day they wrote books about these pastimes. There was no question of their suffering, although a fool may think, “Oh, these men were ministers, high government officials, and they were so comfortable with their families and homes. Now they have no home, and they are going about in loincloths, eating very little.” A materialist would think the Gosvāmīs were suffering. But they were not suffering—they were enjoying.
Disciple: Many of the Christian monks and ascetics emphasized suffering. They thought to abandon worldly life means to abandon pleasure and take on suffering.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: This shows that they have a poor fund of knowledge. They have developed this philosophy after the demise of Jesus Christ. It is more or less concocted.
Disciple: Aside from suffering, Kierkegaard emphasized the importance of love in the religious life. In his book Works of Love, Kierkegaard considered God to be the hidden source of all love. He wrote: “A man must love God in unconditional obedience and in adoration. It would be ungodliness if any man dared to love himself in this way, or dared to permit another man to love him in this way....You must love God in unconditional obedience even if that which He demands of you may seem injurious to you,...for God’s wisdom is incomparable with respect to our own.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: That is also the instruction of the Bhagavad-gītā. God demands that we give up all our plans, as well as the plans of others, and accept His plan:
sarva—dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja
ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva—pāpebhyo mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.” [Bhagavad-gītā 18.66] If we fully depend on Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, He will guide us back to Him.
Disciple: In defining love, Kierkegaard said, “Love is a matter of conscience, and hence it is not a matter of impulse and inclination; nor is it a matter of emotion, nor a matter for intellectual calculation....Christianity really knows only one kind of love: spiritual love.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes, love in the material world is impossible, because in the material world everyone is interested only in his own sense gratification. The love experienced between a man and a woman is not actually love but lust, because both parties are interested only in their own sense gratification. Love means that one does not think of his own sense gratification but of the sense gratification of his beloved. That is pure love. But that pure love is not possible in the material world. When we speak of love in the material world, we are actually misusing the word. Lustful desires take the place of real love.
However, we do see examples of pure love in the Vedic descriptions of Vṛndāvana village. There the men, women, animals, fruits, flowers, water, and everything else exist only for the sake of loving Kṛṣṇa. They are not interested in any return from Kṛṣṇa. Now, that is real love (anyābhilāṣitā-śūnyam). On the other hand, if we love God with some motive, that is material love. Pure love means that we are simply interested in satisfying the desires of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Thus real love—individual, collective, or any other kind—applies only to God. Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the supreme object of love, and this love can be expressed through admiration, service, or friendship. Or we can love Him as our child or conjugal lover. There are five basic relationships expressing true love of Godhead.
Disciple: For Kierkegaard, love of God is the decisive factor, and from it stems love of our neighbor. He wrote, “If you love God above all else, then you also love your neighbor, and in your neighbor every man....To help another man to love God is truly to love the other man; to be helped by another man to love God is truly to be loved.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: This is the basis of our Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. We are learning how to love God, and we are teaching the same principle to the whole world. If love of God is taught by a religion, that religion should be considered first class—be it Christian, Hindu, Muslim, or whatever. The test of a religion is this: “Have the followers learned how to love God?” God is the center of love, and since everything is God’s expansion, the lover of God is a lover of everyone. A lover of God does not discriminate by thinking only man should be loved and given service. No. He is interested in all living entities, regardless of the forms in which they happen to be existing. A lover of God loves everyone, and his love reaches everyone. When you water the root of a tree, you are nourishing all the parts of the tree—the trunk, branches, twigs, and leaves. When you give food to the stomach, you are satisfying the entire body. And when you love God, you love everyone and everything.
Disciple: Sṭren Kierkegaard lamented the disintegration of Christianity as an effective form of worship and considered modern Christendom to be a kind of sickness—a corruption of Christ’s original message.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Christianity is Christianity. You cannot call it modern or ancient, nor can you say God is modern or ancient. Either a person is a Christian, or he is not. In other words, either he follows the orders of Christ, or he doesn’t. If he does not follow the tenets of his religion, how can he claim to belong to that religion? This is applicable to all religions. For instance, there are many so-called Hindus who do not believe in anything, yet they consider themselves Hindus and brāhmaṇas. This is insulting.
Disciple: Concerning the purpose of prayer, Kierkegaard wrote in his Journals, “The true success in prayer is not when God hears what is prayed for, but when the person praying continues to pray until he hears what God wills.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes, that is very nice. Through prayer one becomes qualified to understand God, to talk with God, and to receive His directions. As stated in the Bhagavad-gītā [10.10]:
teṣāṁ satata-yuktānāṁ bhajatāṁ prīti-pūrvakam
dadāmi buddhi-yogaṁ taṁ yena mām upayānti te
“To those who are constantly devoted to serving Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me.” Our ultimate goal is to give up this material world and go back home, back to Godhead. Prayer is just one form of service. There are nine kinds of devotional service that we can perform, as explained by Prahlāda Mahārāja in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam [7.5.23]:
śravaṇaṁ kīrtanaṁ viṣṇoḥ smaraṇaṁ pāda-sevanam
arcanaṁ vandanaṁ dāsyaṁ sakhyam ātma-nivedanam
“Hearing about the transcendental name, form, qualities, paraphernalia, and pastimes of the Lord; chanting about these things; remembering them; serving the lotus feet of the Lord; offering the Lord respectful worship with incense, flowers, water, and so on; offering prayers to the Lord; becoming His servant; considering the Lord one’s best friend; and surrendering everything unto Him—these nine activities constitute pure devotional service.”
Whether you perform all nine processes or some of them or only one of them, you can progress in spiritual life. For example, when a Christian or a Muslim offers prayers, his service is as good as the Hindu’s service to the Deity in the temple. God is within, and when He sees that we are sincerely serving Him, He takes charge and gives us directions by which we can swiftly approach Him. God is complete in Himself; He is not hankering after our service. But if we offer Him service, we can become purified. When we are completely purified, we can see God and talk with Him. We can receive His instructions personally, just as Arjuna did in the Bhagavad-gītā.
Disciple: For Kierkegaard, faith in God develops when the soul is “willing to stand transparent before God in his full integrity.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Standing transparent before God means engaging in God’s service. But to engage in God’s service we must understand that we are His parts and parcels. Just as each part of the body engages in the service of the entire body, so every living entity is meant to engage in the service of God, Kṛṣṇa. As soon as you engage in Kṛṣṇa’s service, you are self-realized. That is mukti, liberation from the miseries of material life. The fruitive workers, mental speculators, and yogis are trying to realize the self, but because they are not engaged in rendering service to the Supreme Self, Kṛṣṇa, they are not liberated. We are therefore teaching Kṛṣṇa consciousness for the ultimate self-realization of everyone.
Disciple: But Kierkegaard sees self-realization arising out of the expression of the will. He thought that the more self-realized a person is, the more powerful is his will and the better he is able to make proper decisions.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: But if you are part and parcel of the whole, you have to take decisions from the whole. You cannot make your own decisions. The finger does not make decisions for the entire body. The only decision you have to make is the decision to serve Kṛṣṇa—the orders come from Him. Kṛṣṇa ordered Arjuna to fight, and at the end of the Bhagavad-gītā Arjuna decided to abide by Kṛṣṇa’s will. This is the only choice we have: either to abide by Kṛṣṇa’s will or to defy His will. After we decide to obey Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa or His representative makes all the other decisions.
Disciple: Then what is the meaning of full will?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Full will means to surrender to Kṛṣṇa fully—to obey the orders of the Supreme absolutely.
Disciple: Concerning despair, Kierkegaard thought that despair can actually bear fruit in that it can lead one to desire a genuine life of self-realization. In other words, despair can be a springboard to higher consciousness.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: In Sanskrit this is called nirāśaṁ paramaṁ sukham: “When one despairs, that is a great happiness.” When a person despairs, it means that everything is finished, all responsibility is gone, and he is relieved. Out of despair Arjuna was thinking of becoming a mendicant. When we despair of all happiness in material life, we may then turn to spiritual life. Sometimes Kṛṣṇa smashes all of our material resources—so that, out of despair, we may fully engage in His devotional service. In other words, when we want to become God conscious but at the same time, out of strong attachment, we want material enjoyment, Kṛṣṇa will sometimes wreck us materially. At such times we often think that He is being unkind to us, and we despair. We don’t realize that this is Kṛṣṇa’s mercy—that He is removing all impediments so that we can fully and absolutely surrender.
Once Indra, the Lord of heaven, was forced to take on the body of a hog, and he had to come down to earth as that lowly animal. As a hog, Indra had a hog wife, hog children, and so on. After some time Lord Brahmā came down and told him, “ My dear Indra, you were once the Lord of heaven. You once possessed great opulence. Now that you are a hog, you have forgotten your previous exalted position. Please leave this filthy life and come with me.” Yet despite Brahmā’s pleadings Indra was not convinced. He said, “Why should I go with you? I am very happy. I have my wife, children, and home.” Seeing that Indra had become very much attached to his hog existence, Brahmā began to kill all his hog children. Finally, Brahmā killed Indra’s hog wife. When Indra saw that his wife was killed, he despaired: “Oh, you have killed my whole family!” It was only then that Indra agreed to go back to the heavenly kingdom with Lord Brahmā. Similarly, Kṛṣṇa sometimes creates a situation in which the living entity will despair and, out of despair, turn to Him and fully surrender unto Him.
Disciple: So faith grows out of despair ?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes, to strengthen our faith in God, we have to give up all hope of happiness in this material life. We have to despair of material happiness.
Disciple: Concerning individuality, Kierkegaard wrote, “God is the origin and wellspring of all individuality....[This individuality] is the gift of God through which He permits me to be, and through which He permits everyone to be.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: This idea is explained in the Kaṭha Upaniṣad [2.2.13]: nityo nityānāṁ cetanaś cetanānām. God is a living being, and we are also living beings. Just as He is eternal, we are also eternal. But the difference is that whereas qualitatively we are the same, quantitatively we are different. God is infinite, and the living entities are infinitesimal. Therefore, all the living entities are being maintained by God. We are all individual and eternal parts of God, so our natural position is to serve Him and to love Him.
Disciple: Kierkegaard thought that each of us is in a constant state of becoming.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Becoming what? What is the goal? The goal is Kṛṣṇa. Thus in the Bhagavad-gītā [7.7] Kṛṣṇa says,
mattaḥ parataraṁ nānyat kiñcid asti dhanañjaya
mayi sarvam idaṁ protaṁ sūtre maṇi-gaṇā iva
“O conqueror of wealth, there is no truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung on a thread.” Kṛṣṇa is the ultimate truth—the supreme goal—and completeness means coming to Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Disciple: But even when one is fully Kṛṣṇa conscious and in association with Kṛṣṇa, isn’t there still a process of becoming?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: No. The becoming process ends. There are, however, spiritual varieties. Everything is complete in the spiritual world, but the living entity enjoys varieties of service to Kṛṣṇa. Sometimes he sees Kṛṣṇa as a cowherd boy, sometimes as Yaśodā’s child, sometimes as Rādhārāṇī’s consort. Sometimes Kṛṣṇa is in Mathurā; sometimes He is in Vṛndāvana. There are many spiritual varieties, but everything is complete in itself—there is no question of becoming. One reaches the point where he is simply enjoying variety—that’s all.
Disciple: What is the difference between enjoying spiritual variety and enjoying material variety?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: It is artificial to try to enjoy material variety. Material variety is like a plastic flower. A plastic flower has no aroma, so the enjoyment of a plastic flower cannot be the same as the enjoyment of a real flower. It is not satisfying. It is simply artificial, a bluff.
Disciple: Whereas Hegel emphasized speculative thought, Kierkegaard emphasized action. Kierkegaard saw freedom in proper action.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes, spiritual life means proper action. It is improper to think that when we attain the perfectional stage we become inactive. That is the impersonalistic, Māyāvāda theory. Māyāvādīs contend that the living entity is like a jug. A jug makes some sound only as long as it is not full of water. Similarly, the Māyāvādīs say, when we become spiritually “full” we are “silent,” or inactive. But from the Bhagavad-gītā we understand that the soul is never inactive. When inactivity is recommended, this simply means that we should not speak or act foolishly. If we cannot talk intelligently, we had better stop talking. But you cannot equate that inactivity with perfection.
Disciple: Kierkegaard felt that truth is relative and subjective. He thought we could discover truth through personal, individual reflection, which he called “inward passion.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Truth is truth, and it is absolute. You may manufacture many relative truths, but the Absolute Truth is one. If you have no knowledge of the Absolute Truth, you emphasize relative truths. You may have “inward passion” or whatever, but if you do not know the ultimate goal, you may be misled. It is all right to say that passion leads to truth. But passion means activity. Where will your activity end? What is the purpose of your activity? You may drive your car, but if you do not know where to go, what is the point? You are simply wasting your energy. Of course, you may say, “I do not know where to go, but that doesn’t matter. Simply let me start my car and go.” But is this a very good proposal?
Disciple: For Kierkegaard it is not what is done that counts, but how it is done.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: This is a dog’s obstinacy.
Disciple: This is the kind of subjectivity that is always uncertain. And uncertainty creates anxiety.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes. One who does not know life’s aim will always be in anxiety.
Disciple: For Kierkegaard, this anxiety and uncertainty are dispelled by what he called the “leap of faith.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes, but you must make your leap toward a goal. Unless you know the goal, the fixed point, your action and energy may be misdirected.
Disciple: Kierkegaard saw the goal as God. He felt that after passing through the aesthetic and ethical stages of life we should then use all our energy to reach God through Jesus Christ.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: That is a good position. That is our process—to approach God through the bona fide spiritual master. But it is not necessary to pass through any lower stages. If you can reach God through Jesus Christ, why not take to God immediately? Our process is that you must surrender yourself to the spiritual master in order to understand the highest truth. In the Bhagavad-gītā [4.34] Kṛṣṇa says,
tad viddhi praṇipātena paripraśnena sevayā
upadekṣyanti te jñānaṁ jñāninas tattva-darśinaḥ
“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto Him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.” This is the process. It is not that we continue on our own way, hoping to take the right path through experience. If you do not know the right direction, your endeavors will be frustrated. This material world is like a vast ocean, and in the middle of the vast ocean you do not know where to direct your ship. If you simply have a ship without a captain, you will go one way and then another and simply waste your energy. A captain is needed to give direction. That captain is the guru. If Kierkegaard accepts Christ, then he is accepting some guidance.
Disciple: Kierkegaard felt that the directions of God are expressed through scripture and the individual conscience. In his Journals he wrote, “There is a God—His will is made known to me in holy scripture and in my conscience.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: That’s all right, but to know God’s will you need more than that. Besides following the holy scriptures and your conscience, you have to associate with saintly persons and follow the instructions of the bona fide spiritual master. Sādhu, śāstra, guru vākya, cittete kariyā aikya: “We can approach God by understanding a saintly person [sādhu], studying the Vedic scriptures [śāstra], and following the instructions of the bona fide spiritual master [guru].” Sādhu, śāstra, and guru corroborate one another. A sādhu is he who talks and acts in terms of the scriptures. And the guru is a sādhu who personally teaches his disciples according to the scriptures. A guru cannot manufacture words that are not in the scriptures. When we receive instructions from all three, we can progress perfectly in our understanding of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Disciple: Kierkegaard thought that because God sees “everything as equally important and equally insignificant, [He] can only be interested in one thing: obedience.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes, and God demands that full obedience (sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja). Our primary obedience should be to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and we should obey the spiritual master because he is the representative of God. If a person carries out the orders of God, he can become a bona fide spiritual master, or guru. A guru does not manufacture anything. He simply presents what God speaks in the scriptures. It is not that we accept just anyone’s proclamations about God. Statements must be corroborated by the standard scriptures.
Disciple: Kierkegaard said, “As an act of worship offered to God, we should renounce everything.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Worship begins with the renunciation of ulterior motives. Our only business is to love God, and a first-class religious system teaches its followers to love God without ulterior motive. Such worship cannot be checked by material considerations. In any condition we can love God, and God will help us to love Him.