Jaya Prabhupada! I am writing to inform you that due to physical limitations, I will have to adjust my email protocol. On a normal day, I send out between 40 and 60 emails. Out of sincere respect for the devotees, I have always endeavored to respond promptly.
Unfortunately, I am beginning to suffer a recurrence of very severe eye strain. I first had this problem over 35 years ago when I was working hard to finish Prabhupada’s Bhāgavatam. I never recovered fully from this problem, and when it reoccurs, I am unable to read at all for some time, and this prevents me from doing most of my devotional service. This condition is also painful. In fact this inability to read as quickly as normal scholars, or to read many books, forced me to give up my hopes for an academic service career after I finished at Harvard. In various ways, I have compenated for this permanent disability, without bringing it to the attention of other devotees. But now, I am forced to explain it.
At present, it is simply not physically possible for me to continue to personally read the volume of email that arrives every day. Therefore, I must take the following step: I will adopt Prabhupada’s own system and have a secretary read most letters to me. I will then dictate a response, which will be sent out.
In cases that reasonably require absolute privacy, you can write CONFIDENTIAL in the subject line. I must emphasize that such confidential letters cannot be very long. Given my physical condition, and the real danger of it becoming worse and crippling my service, I must take these measures. I fully trust that you will understand my situation and help me to deal with it.
With best wishes,
Hridayananda dasa Goswami
Serious studies now show that many western universities, especially in the humanities, have become virtual indoctrination centers for leftist ideology. Even learned, reasonable conservative speech is often harassed on campus. Just as the extreme right rejects legitimate science on issues like climate change so the hard left rejects science on various issues, such as gender and race relations.
The problem is very much like the boy who cried ‘wolf!’ Leftists have so regularly misused terms like ‘racist’ and ’sexist’ to attack anyone who disagrees with them, even slightly or reasonably, that the terms have lost much of their power and people stopped paying attention.
Under many years of leftist government, Brasil has one of the highest murder rates in the world, one of the lowest educational standards, and one of the most corrupt governments. These conclusions come from scholars outside Brasil. I am not justifying an extreme right reaction to the extreme left performance, but that is typical human nature.
The real problem is extremism, left or right. History shows that in the 20th century, Marxists/Communists killed 10 to 20 times more innocent people than Hitler. Yet it is still “fashionable” among some “intellectuals” to identify with Marxism. This is abominable. One could say that Stalin, Mao, the Khmer Rouge etc were not “good communists.” One could equally say that Hitler and Mussolini were not good Fascists. But who would say that?
My personal experience is that it is very difficult to have a fair, rational discussion with someone on the extreme left, or the far right.
I’m afraid that unless the left can self-criticize, and recognize their mistakes, they will not be able to attract a majority of voters.
Prabhupada stated that atheists, agnostics and so-called philosophers don’t understand real philosophy. And Prabhupada wanted as many disciples as possible to understand real philosophy, as I pointed out in my last letter. So what is real philosophy, apart from just listing quotes or true conclusions? What does it mean to reason in Krishna consciousness, as Prabhupada said we should?
Lord Caitanya Himself gives us an excellent example of this in His debates with two learned impersonalists, Prakasananda Sarasvati and Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, in His logical reliance on the notion of a self-evident foundational truth. Not only Lord Caitanya, but also Aristotle, Thomas Jefferson, and many modern philosophers agree that a system of thought must begin with the earnest, plausible claim of a foundational self-evident truth. I will explain.
Whatever one claims to be true, another person may demand proof. When proof is offered, one may demand proof of the proof, thus initiating an infinite regress of proofs, endlessly going backwards with no proof. I will give a mundane and a spiritual example:
1. Mundane: one claims that water boils at 100 C. Someone demands proof, so the claimer puts a thermometer in a pot of water and places it on the stove, showing that it boils at 100 C. However the sceptic demands proof that the water in the pot and the mercury in the thermometer are genuine. When that is proved, the water- and mercury-testing chemicals must be tested, and so on, ad infinitum.
2. Spiritual: one claims that Krishna is God. A sceptic demands proof. One cites the Gita, which of course incites another demand for proof. One cites one’s personal experience with the same reaction. One cites the Acaryas, and proof of their authority is demanded, ad infinitum.
For thousands of years, many philosophers have accepted that a self-evident truth can break the infinite, since that which proves itself requires no extrinsic proof. Aristotle discusses this in his Posterior Analytics 1.3, and Thomas Jefferson states justifies American independence from Britain by saying, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”
Let us see how Lord Caitanya engages this same principle of self-evident truth in his learned debates with two great contemporary scholars.
At CC 1.7.132 Lord Caitanya tells Prakasananada and the Mayavadi sannyasis: “Veda is self-evident [literally, ‘evidence from itself’]. It is the crown jewel of evidence. By making an indirect/figurative meaning [of Veda], the quality of self-evidence is lost.” [svatah-pramana veda—pramana-siromani/ laksana karile svatah-pramanata-hani.]
At CC 2.6.137 Lord Caitanya made virtually the same statement to Sarvabhauma: “Veda is self-evident. What it says is true. By making an indirect/figurative meaning [of Veda], the quality of self-evidence is lost.” [svatah-pramana veda satya yei kaya/ laksana karile svatah-pramanya-hani haya.]
Later in the same chapter (CC 2.6.178-179), Lord Caitanya explains to Sarvabhauma the specific content of Veda’s self-evident truth: “Relationship [is with] Bhagavan; activity [therein] is bhakti; love [is] the ultimate goal. In Veda, [these] three realities are taught.” [178 bhagavan—sambandha, bhakti—abhidheya haya prema—prayojana, vede tina-vastu kaya]
“Whatever else at all one states [as Veda’s meaning] is all imagination. In the self-evident Veda statements, [indirect] interpretation is imagination.” [179 ara ye ye kichu kahe, sakala-i kalpana/ svatah-pramana veda-vakye kalpena laksana]
Thus devotees stop an infinite regress of proofs by correctly stating that the process of Krishna consciousness reveals the self-evident truth of Krishna. Just as on waking from a dream, one knows at once that the waking state is more real than the dream state, though one cannot empirically “prove” it, so one knows that Krishna consciousness is more real than material consciousness. One also thus knows that Krishna’s words in the Gita are true.
We should draw two important lessons from Lord Caitanya’s discussion of self-evident Vedic truth:
1. There is a crucial difference between philosophy based on the self-evidence of relevant Shastra, and philosophy that does not. Clearly Prabhupada criticized atheist, agnostic, and other “so-called” philosophers precisely because they did not see the need to begin real philosophy from the self-evident foundation of “Veda,” whose essence is Bhagavad-gita, as stated in Bg 15.15.
2. Therefore in a debate among faithful Vaishnavas, one cannot cite Prabhupada’s criticism of mundane philosophy as a way to impose one’s personal interpretations of Krishna consciousness. Religion requires philosophy, competent reasoning and logic based on the self-evident foundation of authoritative Shastra.