Philosophy? What’s that? The word comes from the two Greek words
Of course, there are many kinds of wisdom and knowledge. Philosophy, however, specifically concerns itself with questions related to the ultimate nature and meaning of experience and reality. As composer Burt Bacharach put it in a famous sung, “What’s it all about, Alfie?”
In that sense, we are all philosophers, because we all do, from time to time, wonder what it’s all about. Perhaps this sense of wonder comes from going camping in the desert and looking up at night and seeing the vast array of stars. Or perhaps it comes from a sense of disappointment. We lose something, or fail to achieve something, and we ask, “Why me?” We pray to God for something, and we don’t get it. We see that others get what we want for ourselves. And therefore we ask, “God, are You listening to me, are You really there?” Or perhaps we’re confronted with a difficult choice in life, and we wonder, “God, what should I do?” We search for some basis to make a decision. Or sometimes we find that what appeared to be solid and real—a relationship, a position, something—suddenly disappears. And we wonder, “What’s real? Is there anything in this world I can really count on?” Or we see things happening around us in ways we can’t explain, and we wonder, “Is there any logic, any reason to all this?” Or we hear someone trying to justify himself to us, and we can tell he isn’t making any sense. And we question him, “Do you know what you’re
Philosophy has traditionally been divided into four branches. The first is logic, the study of the formal structure of argument, of how a conclusion properly flows from certain assumptions, premises, and statements. The second branch is metaphysics, the study of the ultimate nature of reality—of God and the universe and consciousness. The third branch is epistemology, the science of how we know things. And the fourth branch is axiology, the study of values, of ethics, of how we determine what is right and wrong. This branch also includes aesthetics, the study of what is truly beautiful.
In all these areas many questions come up, as we have seen. But how do we find the answers? Western philosophy has relied on individual speculation, which involves taking evidence from our senses and evaluating it with our minds. But this method leaves us with a great deal of uncertainty. After all, our senses are imperfect, and our minds are subject to illusion, mistakes, and the propensity to cheat, to pretend we know something when we really don’t. With all these variables, each philosopher tends to come to a different set of answers to the fundamental questions. Indeed, it seems that one really can’t be a leading philosopher without saying something substantially different from the philosophers who’ve come before. This constant overhauling of philosophies throughout Western history can make the study of philosophy very frustrating, especially for people who are consulting philosophers not just to play an intellectual game but to find practical answers to life’s most perplexing questions.
There is another approach to philosophy, however. The philosophers of the Vedic civilization of ancient India distinguished two ways of getting at the truth. One is called the ascending path of knowledge, and the other is called the descending path. Western philosophers commonly use the ascending path, the path of speculation. The Vedic philosophers recognized that one who uses this method can never achieve certain knowledge, free from illusion and doubt, because of those pesky imperfect mind and senses. They preferred the descending path of knowledge. Recognizing the existence of a supreme intelligence behind the universe we experience with our senses, the Vedic philosophers accepted that the only way of getting certain answers to ultimate questions is to receive knowledge coming down from the supreme intelligence, God, known by the name Kṛṣṇa.
This knowledge, originating with Kṛṣṇa, has been passed down through a chain of spiritual masters since the beginning of time. There is no need to change it, there is no need to speculate about it. It is perfect knowledge. The duty of a spiritual master is simply to pass this knowledge on to his or her disciples, who in turn become spiritual masters and pass it on to a new generation of disciples. Because this knowledge is not the product of imperfect human minds and senses, it is beyond illusion and doubt.
But we should not blindly accept knowledge from the descending path. It is not dogma. We can test it with logic and reason and discover for ourselves how it is superior to any contrary conclusions arrived at through the speculative method. And by practicing yoga we can experimentally verify the truths received through the descending path. In this particular age, the most highly recommended process of yoga is
In recent times, the most prominent spiritual master in the line of spiritual masters coming from Kṛṣṇa was His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda. His own spiritual master, His Divine Grace Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, asked Śrīla Prabhupāda to spread the methods and conclusions of Vedic philosophy throughout the world.
In the early 1970s, Śrīla Prabhupāda, decided to analyze Western philosophy in light of Vedic philosophy. In a series of tape recorded conversations, his scholarly disciples Hayagrīva dāsa and Śyāmasundara dāsa presented to Śrīla Prabhupāda selections from the teachings of prominent Western philosophers, from Socrates to Carl Jung, and Śrīla Prabhupāda commented upon them.
We are under no illusion that
We’re not so unfortunate as Dr. Jung. From