“Inspiration” (SB 3.29.34)
Deterministic qualities identified with modern science tend to undermine the virtuous aspects of human experience, such as responsibility, accountability, morality, and ethics. How, then, can personal freedom of choice be compatible with a mature understanding of the laws of physics? Thompson offers an introspective analysis proposing connections between individual consciousness and a “higher nature” that serves as a wellspring of inspiration.
TRANSCRIPT: Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto 3, Chapter 29, Text 34. “Inspiration.” San Diego – 1993 / (025)
Such a perfect devotee offers respects to every living entity because he is under the firm conviction that the Supreme Personality of Godhead has entered the body of every living entity as the Supersoul or controller.
Purport by Srila Prabhupada:
A perfect devotee, as described above, does not make the mistake of thinking that because the Supreme Personality of Godhead as Paramatma has entered into the body of every living entity, every living entity has become the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is foolishness. Suppose a person enters into a room; that does not mean that the room has become that person. Similarly, that the Supreme Lord has entered into each of the 8,400,000 particular types of material bodies does not mean that each of these bodies has become the Supreme Lord. Because the Supreme Lord is present, however, a pure devotee accepts each body as the Temple of the Lord, and since the devotee offers respect to such temples in full knowledge, he gives respect to every living entity in relationship with the Lord. Mayavadi philosophers wrongly think that because the Supreme Person has entered into the body of a poor man, the Supreme Lord has become daridra-narayaṇa, or poor Narayaṇa. These are all blasphemous statements of atheists and non-devotees.
So, actually, if we really do believe that the Supreme Personality of Godhead is personally present within the body of every living being then we should certainly have respect for every living being. After all, if God is there within that body then that body must be something important. How can you fail to show proper respect? Yet even though one may theoretically believe this there is a tendency to forget it under appropriate circumstances.
In any case, it is stated here that the Supersoul is present within the body of every living entity. In particular, the word isvaraḥ is used to refer to the Supersoul. The actual fact is that the activities of the body of the living entity are actually directed by the Supersoul. It is stated in Bhagavad-gita that the individual living entity is riding on the body which is compared to a machine made of material energy, yantrarudhani mayaya, and the Supersoul is like the driver of that machine, if you think of the machine as an automobile or something like that. The individual living entity is like the passenger. So actually, the activities of the body are under the control of the Supersoul. This has quite a number of implications.
One important implication is, in regard to modern scientific thinking, is that the body is not strictly following the laws of physics. This is of some importance because there will be people who will try to say that everything in nature follows the laws of physics and these are the laws of God. So in that sense, everything in nature is following the directions of God. So they will say that this is a theistic view. But in actual fact, the body is not following... certainly the laws of physics because the laws of physics make no provision for the Supersoul to control the activities of the body, unless you want to say that whatever happens according to the laws of physics is what the Supersoul directed the body to do. But that's certainly jugglery of words.
In actual fact, however, the Supersoul directs the activities of the body in a very personal way. First of all, free will is also a reality; we do have free will. At the same time we are conditioned by the modes of material nature, so therefore, this question of free will becomes a very delicate one if one wants to understand properly what's going on. Basically, the way things work is that we do have freedom of choice but at the same time we are constrained by our choices. You can see that in the example of somebody who, let us say, decides to take a certain flight on an airplane. So, up to the point that he gets on board the plane, he has the opportunity to make a decision as to whether to do that or not; but once he's on the plane, he can't change his decision unless, of course, he wants to open the door of the plane and jump out or something like that. Of course, that also would have some drastic consequences. Or another example, a person decides to jump off the top of a 20-story building; once he's made the jump then he actually is acting according to the laws of physics at that point, accelerating at approximately 32 feet per second squared – but he did have the choice.
So, we have choices and because of that we are responsible for our actions. It's also stated in Bhagavad-gita that Krsna does not take responsibility for anyone's actions even though he's guiding the body as the Supersoul. So you might say, “Well, if he's controlling what the body is doing, then why should we accept responsibility for what happens? It's being done by God.”
Likewise, if what we're doing simply happens according to the laws of physics and that's determined by those laws, then again, why should we take responsibility? Because after all, one could say that this bundle of atoms is merely doing a certain thing because of the physical forces and so forth that are acting. So, what question is there of responsibility for actions? What's going to happen is what inevitably must happen according to the particular forces and subatomic particles and so forth that are all interacting together – the whole thing is just running on automatically. So, the very idea of responsibility doesn't even enter into the picture.
So the actual situation, though, is that the Supersoul is monitoring the desires of the soul and controlling the body accordingly. So, therefore, the soul is repeatedly being given choices of how to act, to go in this way or to go in that way, and therefore the soul is held responsible for its choices. So there is freedom, and with freedom there is also responsibility. So, this philosophy of Krsna consciousness actually provides a reasonable solution to the question of free will and responsibility. The modern scientific point of view doesn't enable one to resolve that question in any sort of satisfactory way because there you're just a bunch of atoms and you're doing what the atoms do according to the atomic forces and that's it. So you're just a big chemical reaction, that's all.
So, that means modern science actually totally undermines such ideas as morality, responsibility, ethics, and so forth and of course many people don't like to admit that, but nonetheless, that is the case. So the Supersoul is directing the body in a personal way because it is directing it according to the particular desires of the spirit soul. So, that means the living being is a combination of the transcendental elements, namely the soul and the Supersoul; and then subtle material elements: subtle body, mind, intelligence and false ego; and then finally the gross body of earth, air, fire, water and ether.
So, the common material conception is that there's nothing there but the gross body; but actually, many things are going on apart from just the gross body. So, this action of the Supersoul in directing the activities of the body shows up in many different things that happen in the course of ordinary life. One interesting phenomenon is something called inspiration. It seems that occasionally people will be inspired to do a thing in a certain way and they'll understand, well, here's how to do it. And if they think carefully about what they're doing they'll realize that they don't really know, actually, where this idea is coming from. So, the old word in English for this is inspiration, which literally means to breathe in.
So, the idea is that the concepts or thoughts are coming from another source. In fact, the Supersoul is providing these thoughts and ideas, and the Supersoul will do that in accordance with the desires of the individual and also the karma of the individual. That is, there’s desire and there's also the question of what one deserves. So you may, for example, desire to have a million dollars, but if you don't deserve that then you won't get it. On the other hand, if you do deserve it and you desire it then the Supersoul may orchestrate a series of choices and events in which you become a millionaire very quickly – this kind of thing happens.
So, this phenomenon of inspiration is interesting because there you have ideas occurring which seem to come out of nowhere and these are in some cases, quite remarkable. For example, there was a mathematician named Poincaré, a very famous mathematician in France at about the turn of the century. So, he was working on various difficult problems in mathematics and he said that very frequently when he worked on a given problem he would find that he couldn't get the solution by his conscious efforts. He'd spend a long time working on the problem and he just couldn't make any headway with it; but then, at some moment when he was thinking about something else, suddenly the entire solution to the problem would come into his mind. So, since this happened quite frequently with him, he wondered what was happening and was thinking about it in various ways.
And he postulated finally, at least tentatively, that there must be something that he called the subliminal self and that this subliminal self has powers that the conscious self doesn't have. And furthermore, the subliminal self has artistic sensibilities because he said the solutions to these mathematical problems were frequently very aesthetic and beautiful according to certain standards of beauty and so on. Therefore, the subliminal self must be capable of a very high degree of artistry. So he made these observations. He finally came to the point of saying that indeed it would appear that the subliminal self is superior to the conscious self; but then he backed away from it, he said, "Should I accept this conclusion? I for one would hate to accept it."
And at this point, he then introduced a mechanical model of the subliminal self. And according to this model, ideas can be thought of as hanging on a sort of pegboard and you shake the pegboard and the ideas keep jostling around and if you shake it long enough they'll come into certain combinations, which then pass inspection by the conscious self. And these are these ideas. So, this was the final model he came up with.
But actually, that was interesting because he could easily calculate himself the number of combinations you'd have to go through in combining ideas. And you can easily see that, say, if you combined ideas at the rate of doing this billions of times per second for billions of years you wouldn't be able to go through enough combinations to account for the actual things that happen. So there is evidence of the presence of Supersoul within the body.
Srila Prabhupada said that actually the common man can perceive the Supersoul within the body. And you wonder what kind of common man he was thinking of. It is somewhat of an unusual common man. But he outlined a series of steps that you can go through. So, in the first step, one observes that he is different from matter. Srila Prabhupada said that you can observe this if you think carefully. You observe the activities of the body and the mind, and basically you have to discriminate between that and yourself. You yourself are the observer. Well, it's fairly easy to do this with the body because you can say, “Well, I'm not the hand.” This is a familiar example. Seems pretty obvious: you're not your hand, you're not your foot. Some people may have trouble when it comes to saying you're not your head because obviously if the hand or the foot is cut off you can continue to exist, but that's not true if your head is cut off. So, there may be difficulties there. But still, you can say that just as you're not this hunk of flesh in this part though, presumably you're not this hunk of flesh up here either.
When it comes to the mind, it's a little bit more subtle; but you can analyze and distinguish between yourself and the thoughts that go through the mind because you can say, “Well, okay, this is a thought. So it's a particular entity. So that's not me because I'm observing this thought.” And also, one can see that one's thoughts, in some cases, tend to get out of control. So, if the thoughts were really part of me then in what sense would they be out of control? The fact that one sometimes even feels distress about one's thoughts being out of control suggests that the thoughts are something different from the observer who is perceiving those thoughts.
So, one can engage in a process of introspection and differentiate between the self and the mind and body. But, this isn't a matter of logical proof, that is, that I stand before you and prove that you can do this, but actually each person has to do it within himself. It's a matter of introspection, but Srila Prabhupada said you can do this if you think very carefully.
So, then he said the next point is that when you have discriminated between yourself and the material body then you must recognize that the material body is conditioned and controlled by the laws of nature. Then the next step is to see that there must be a controller of nature and in fact, this controller is looking after the individual just as a father might look after a child. Because, in fact, material nature, acting according to its laws, is in fact doing things in such a way as to satisfy the desires of the individual and convey to the individual proper ideas about how to act and how not to act and so forth. So, Srila Prabhupada said that, then, on this basis you can recognize that the Supersoul must exist and must be directing the body. And he said that if a person becomes disconnected from the direction being given by the Supersoul, then he's a deranged man. He's crazy.
So, what it amounts to then... Well, of course, one common statement for this direction of the Supersoul is that that is the voice of conscience. In other words, that which gives you good advice as to what to do from moment to moment. This is actually a very real thing. So, if one thinks very carefully, one can perceive the presence of the Supersoul within the body and one can see that the Supersoul is active even in the matter of ordinary decision-making. The example I gave of the mathematician is one in which unusual things happen, and there are lots of other examples like that.
Another interesting example is Mozart, who testified that complete symphonies would spring into his head instantaneously. He made this claim. That is, the whole thing would be there all at once. He wouldn't have to wait 45 minutes for it to play from beginning to end, but he would perceive the entire thing at once and he would then be able to start writing it down. And in fact, apparently, he would do this. He would sit and write like anything, and the result would be a complete finished piece of music that then became famous. So, he was at one point commenting on how this happened and he said that he had nothing to do with it. These things just came to him and he thought they were coming from God. In fact, he was right, they are.
So these are extreme examples, but even in the ordinary day to day process of decision-making, Srila Prabhupada said that if you think carefully you can see how the Supersoul is directing the activities of the body. He then went on to say that this level of understanding is just the beginning, because this would correspond ultimately to Paramatma realization if you carried this to the point of really understanding it, as opposed to just theoretically thinking about it as an argument. But beyond that, there's the recognition of Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead in his form as Krsna, and one can relate with Bhagavan in terms of bhakti.
So by consulting the sastras, which explains this process of bhakti and following the guru, who is the external representative of the Supersoul, then one can understand this process and come to the realization of Bhagavan. Srila Prabhupada comments in the purport, of course, about the misconception of the Mayavadis. When you realize the Supersoul, naturally you become aware of the divine attributes of God; and it is possible, in illusion, to think that these are my attributes when you attain that awareness. So, this is sort of the phenomenological basis for Mayavadi philosophy. There's the theoretical basis, namely the different arguments that are made and so on and so forth, but the phenomenological basis would mean the basis in terms of what you actually perceive and experience. So it is possible for a yogi, or not necessarily even a yogi but even an ordinary person, to come to a state of actually realizing some of the divine attributes of the Supersoul who is present within the heart. And then if you make the mistake of thinking that that's me, then that leads to the Mayavadi philosophy. So Srila Prabhupada points out the error in that.
Then, of course, one way of committing this error... See one way to do it is to say that, “It must mean that I'm God; therefore, I'm very great,” and the other way of doing it is to say, “It means that God must be very poor,” and that's the daridra-narayaṇa concept. So, are there any questions?
Answer: Well, the only thing that I understand there is, pardon me? His question is that desire seems to have a very powerful role in all activities; certainly in material activities desire plays a role and he mentioned the New Age philosophy that if you want something, if you visualize that and really desire it like anything, then you'll get it because the idea is, you create your own reality. That's the way they usually put it. And then Dravida Prabhu pointed out that it seems that in bhakti-yoga it's a similar thing. In fact, you can carry that even further and bring up this business of raganuga and visualizing the pastimes of the gopis and so on. It seems you create a mental world that you enter into and then that somehow becomes real.
Actually, in general, meditation... just like even meditation on Supersoul, the yogi visualizes the form of the Supersoul and then finally the Supersoul actually becomes manifest. So what's going on there? Well evidently, what happens to the living entity indeed depends crucially on the desires of the living entity. Basically, desire determines actions by divine arrangement. So, man proposes and God disposes. So, that's the way it works. So, if you don't desire something then Krsna isn't going to give that to you; after all, why should He if you don't even desire it? So, this also applies to bhakti-yoga. If you don't desire to have some loving relationship with Krsna then why should that happen? So we are advised to desire that instead of desiring other material things.
So, the whole idea is that it's a question of how you direct your desires. And there is still however, a world of difference between the mental imagery that one uses in the course of formulating one's desire. Because you could say a desire must have content and the content is expressed, let's say, in terms of mental images; because if you don't have mental images associated with your desire, then what is that desire? For example, if someone is desiring to see Krsna then they're visualizing Krsna. So the point then is that there is a large categorical difference between the mental images involved in formulating the desire and what you actually get as a result of the desire.
There is a big difference between visualizing, for example, the form of Krsna in meditation and then actually perceiving the form of Krsna when he actually appears before one's vision. That seems to be clearly demonstrated by the behavior of, for example, Narada Muni, when he had been meditating on the form of the Lord for a very long period of time when he was the son of the maidservant, for his whole life practically. And then toward the end of his life, Krsna actually appeared once, and he could certainly tell the difference because he became totally ecstatic at that point. So, when Krsna actually appears, that's different from the imagery