I dedicate this book to my two Prabhupadas,
Srila Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa Prabhupada and to
Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Without their mercy and
guidance this book would not have been possible.
It is my hope that this thesis will serve some additional purpose over and above helping me secure my Master of Arts degree.
With the thought in mind that the contents may be of interest to individuals other than myself and the members of my thesis committee, I have presented the subject matter in the form of a dialogue to facilitate easy reading. I have also tried to keep the language and terminology as simple and colloquial as possible without sacrificing the quality of the ideas and thoughts which are expressed throughout the text. My reason for this is simple enough: I prefer that others not be subjected to the sheer torture and boredom I have often gone through while trying to extract a concept or treatise from the work of an author who seemed more intent on impressing a small circle of friends or peers with big words and technical phraseology than in actually communicating his ideas to as many people as possible.
By choosing to present my thesis in dialogue format, I unknowingly increased the work load of my thesis committee members. Many problems regarding style, use of quotations, referencing, placement of subtitles, etc., arose, and the task of solving them fell not only on my own shoulders, but also on those of Professors Stan Mc Daniel, Ed Mooney, and Roshni Rustomji, the members of my thesis committee. I therefore wish to offer them my special thanks, not only for their assistance in these matters, but also for the challenges and criticisms they raised which contributed greatly toward improving the quality of this thesis.
I consider the comparative analysis of the philosophies of Sri Krishna Chaitanya and Sri Shankaracharya to be the highlight of this paper, and wish to acknowledge my extreme gratitude to my siksha guru (instructing spiritual master), Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda Goswami Prabhupad, for first awakening my interest in this subject matter. I would also like to refer readers to his soon-to-be-published book, Dear Friend, You Are Not God, which analyzes personalism and impersonalism from a more contemporary angle. Points which I have mentioned in passing are expounded at great length in this work, as well as arguments I have not mentioned.
Finally, I would like to say that TEACHER and Michael, the principal characters in the dialogue, are entirely fictitious.
Neither of them is a reflection of my personal opinion of myself, nor is either of them based on any real individual whom I know. To the contrary, they are simply literary devices which I have employed to communicate the findings of my study.
If anyone expresses disappointment upon learning this, I can only reply that the value of this paper lies in the factual reality of the ideas it contains and not in the factual or nonfactual existence of the characters who express them.
The crimson hue slowly faded as the sun began its ascent into the early morning sky. As it began to rise above the ridge, dawn's first rays streaked across the valley, illuminating the eastern face of all that lay in their path. As patches of light appeared among the trees and pathways, a lone figure could be seen sitting on a pine log recently fallen from the surrounding forest.
Michael chewed on a long stem of grass and, from the corner of his eye, caught the brilliance of the sunlight as it danced through the trees and came to rest in the clearing. Michael often came to this very spot in the early morning hours, and the appearance of the sun was to him like the arrival of an old friend. He edged his body a few feet down the log and out of the shadows so he could catch the full warmth of the sun's first rays. As he watched the shadows disappear from the edge of the valley, he considered the harmonious ways of nature.
"Every morning the sun rises precisely on time; never too early and never too late. And at the end of the day it also sets on schedule; it never sets at two o'clock in the afternoon or eleven o'clock at night. Day always follows night, and night always follows day. Also, the tides rise and fall, not in a haphazard or chaotic manner, but influenced by the moon, which also seems to follow its set pattern month after month and year after year, they rise and fall in a highly regular fashion. Each year the seasons likewise make their appearance in the same pattern. Summer regularly follows spring, spring follows winter, and winter follows autumn in a cycle unchanged, as far as we know, since the beginning of time. And, on a larger scale, the planets and other luminaries in the sky always complete their orbits at a precisely regulated speed, and over an accurately predictable span of time. Wherever I look I seem to see harmony in nature."
Within himself, Michael thought that it was going too far to attribute the intricate order and apparent interconnectedness of every part of the universe to the chance factor. The existence of a Supreme Intelligence seemed obvious to him, and yet there was a doubt in Michael's mind. He had recently read arguments, and heard them verbally reinforced by some of his professors, claiming that the universe and everything within it, including man with his modern computers, elaborate communication systems, space age technology, etc., could be explained with no reference to a Supreme Being. Michael considered the possibility that these arguments were correct to be infinitely small, but despite this fact, he no longer felt comfortable within himself about the idea of God.
Although it was not a matter he had previously considered at length, he had always taken it for granted that God existed. The arguments he had recently read did not really take this conviction away; rather, they made it so that he could no longer be comfortable with it. He now considered it to be too superficial. "Since I've never really had any direct experience of God, how do I actually know He exists?"
Michael felt at that moment that he would not be able to rest comfortably until his doubt was resolved-one way or the other. His inner controversy was deep enough that he knew that whenever he sat alone, as he did at that instant, or whenever he withdrew himself, even momentarily, from the normal course of his daily activities, that his mind would again raise this question. With this thought in mind, he committed himself to seeking the answer.
A few moments later, Michael decided to pay a visit to TEACHER. Michael had heard from others that TEACHER was a man of great wisdom. Some said he was "a fully enlightened being." Michael didn't know-in fact, he wasn't even sure he knew what "a fully enlightened being" was. Nevertheless, he felt that TEACHER might be able to answer some of his questions, or at least steer him in the right direction.
Michael stood up, slowly looked around the clearing, and then began the short walk home. In less than ten minutes he was at the top of the gentle ridge which overlooked the valley. To Michael, the ridge was a demarcation line between the world of man and untapped nature. When he looked in one direction, he could see dozens of houses dotting the hillside, and the small town below-in the other direction was the valley, and beyond the hill on the far side, more hilltops, mostly covered with trees.
TEACHER's place was about a half mile away from the other side of town, on the edge of the rich farmland that supported the small rural community Michael lived in. Twelve or thirteen miles beyond TEACHER's house was "the city" where Michael attended college. Later in the day it would be visible, but at present the plain was covered with an almost fog-like haze.
After breakfast, Michael set out for TEACHER's place on foot. Half an hour later he was at the top of the drive which gently dropped away from the road and led down to the old farmhouse and small cluster of out-buildings where TEACHER and a handful of his students stayed. By now it was mid-morning and Michael could see a couple of people working in the garden to the side of the main house. He hesitated for a moment at the top of the drive. He had come here before at the invitation of some of his friends, but never on his own volition. Would TEACHER and the others remember him?
One of the figures in the garden saw Michael standing at the top of the drive. He took off his hat and waved a warm welcome. Michael, his uneasiness vanquished, waved back and walked down the drive. Heading for the garden, he rounded the corner of the main house, and to his surprise saw TEACHER and several others sitting on the veranda.
TEACHER greeted him warmly, and one of the others offered him a "seat" on the floor of the veranda.
"Your face is familiar, but I don't remember your name," TEACHER said.
"My name is Michael. I came to see you several months ago with a couple of friends. You had a public program here at that time."
"Oh yes, I remember the occasion. Your friends have been back here since then, and now you've also come!"
TEACHER was not in the habit of wasting time with small talk, and as soon as he saw that Michael was feeling both comfortable and welcome, he immediately changed the course of the conversation.
"So what brings you here today, Michael?"
"Actually, I have some questions which I'd like to ask you if it's all right. There is a philosophical problem which I've been struggling with for some time now and I don't seem to be able to resolve it. So if you have time, I would like to hear your opinion on the matter. "
"However I can help you, I'll help you. So you can put your question to me and I will try to answer it as best I can."
"I guess it's not only a question, but also a doubt. From my childhood I have always been led to believe that God existed, and I accepted this as truth without any real consideration. But I am aware that I have no direct proof that there is actually a Supreme Being. Is it possible to prove that there is a God? What arguments can be used, or what evidence is there to prove this? And if God does exist, what is His nature? Finally, how can God be known? Can He be understood other than by direct perception?"
TEACHER was silent for a few moments before replying. "Actually, Michael, your questions are quite deep. Now I have to ask you if you have time for the answers, because if we are actually going to pursue these questions in a meaningful manner, a considerable amount of time and thoughtfulness will be required. If you are serious about your inquiries, then I certainly have time to discuss these points with you. But if you expect to sit here for an hour or so and go away with the answers, then there is really no point in talking. You'll simply end up replacing one blind and complacent belief with another one."
"I came here because I want to hear your viewpoint " Michael said, "and I'll continue to come and talk to you as long as I feel it is helping resolve my doubts. But I'll want to discontinue our discussions if they are not leading me towards a better understanding."
TEACHER laughed and replied, "Let us begin."