Objectivism and Vaishnavism: A Comparative Study

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By Jambavan Dasa
Jambavan Dasa has been an active member of ISKCON for nearly 20 years and is currently working on an English translation of the Ramayana. Although a father of seven and a husband of 15 years, he travels regularly and speaks extensively on the Gaudiya Vaishnava theology throughout North America and India.

Objectivism and Vaishnavism: A Comparative Study
Jason Durina
Davenport University
INTRODUCTION
The first organized attempt to propagate the doctrines of Vaishnavism in the western hemisphere was spearheaded by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (Srila Prabhupada), the founder acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. After arriving in the United States in 1965, Srila Prabhupada would watch his efforts grow into a burgeoning institution comprising over one hundred temples as well as thousands of dedicated followers in a relatively short span of only twelve years. However, it may be argued that his greatest achievement was the voluminous number of publications—both translations of classic Sanskrit texts as well as philosophical essays—that he authored as well as distributed en masse to the general public. Srila Prabhupada considered his writings of great importance, for through their dissemination they would not only spread the Vaishnava faith far beyond his lifetime but they would also attack the philosophical basis of materialism on which the modern world rests (Prabhupada, 1970b).

Although Srila Prabhupada often spoke of the preeminent position that his translations of Bhagavad Gita As It Is and Srimad-Bhagavatam held amongst his writings, he also stressed the importance of one other book in particular—Dialectical Spiritualism—which he wrote with the express purpose of defeating Western philosophy at its very core by challenging the tenets of its greatest thinkers in light of Vaishnava theology (Prabhupada, 1973b). Thus, Srila Prabhupada understood that if his fledgling movement was ever going to take hold amongst the majority of the Western populace, it would have to either adapt or challenge the predominant philosophical and moral conclusions that guide their lives. From even a brief perusal an impartial reader can quickly observe that Srila Prabhupada in no way wrote this book as an apology for the Vaishnava faith in the midst of an ever increasingly hedonistic culture, but rather, as a full-on assault upon those who have provided the rationale for its existence.

Despite the seemingly timeless nature of this book, it has to be understood that Dialectical Spiritualism was compiled nearly forty years ago. Much has changed throughout the world since the early 1970s and this includes the world of philosophy as well. Within that span of time, one of Srila Prabhupada’s contemporaries—the Russian-American playwright and author, Ayn Rand—has emerged as one of the most influential philosophers of the modern age. Even thirty years after her death, her books continue to sell in large volumes while remaining in the highest tiers of readers’ polls; and adherents of the philosophy she espoused—Objectivism—now hold prominent positions in the American government with one even vying to become the next vice-president of the United States. Ayn Rand’s philosophy is not just something taught in Introductory Philosophy or trapped in the dusty book shelves in the back of a library; it is a systematic treatise on epistemology, ethics, and even aesthetics that continues to have a growing influence on the world at large. Thus, Objectivism—a purely materialistic and atheistic doctrine—is the very type of philosophy that Srila Prabhupada aimed to critique in Dialectical Spiritualism, but unfortunately missed the opportunity to do so.

Srila Prabhupada’s presentation of the Vaishnava philosophy, however, is so systematic and well-organized that even thirty-some years after his passing, and despite the ever-changing nature of the present world, his writings are more than capable of challenging the intellectual framework and rationale of Objectivism. There is truly nothing new under the sun and the ancient Vaishnava faith, as presented by the great sages of antiquity, such as Vyasadeva and Madhvacarya, has continued to remain relevant due to its inherent ability to answer the fundamental questions that humans seek answers for. Thus within the canon of Srila Prabhupada’s literary contributions one will not find an archaic system of metaphysics unable to withstand the challenge of modernity; rather, one will find a vibrant and living system of deep philosophical insight—one that will now offer a new insight into the philosophy of Ms. Rand, although steeped in the knowledge and culture of ancient India.

THE RISE OF OBJECTIVISM

Ideological movements often arise in direct response to the status quo of the era. One needs look no further to the hippy movement of the 1960s or the Protestant reformation in Europe during the 16th century for evidence of this. The same can also be said of the recent reemergence of the Libertarian movement in the United States and its adherence to the creed of Objectivism.

Barack Obama assumed the role of president at a very tumultuous time in American history. Not only was the nation in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, but it was also deeply entrenched in two different unpopular wars on the opposite side of the globe. Public sentiment toward the incumbent party was one of anger and frustration, and as a result, the Democratic Party not only captured the White House but also maintained a substantial majority in both the House of Representatives as well as the Senate. In effect, the Republicans were powerless after the 2008 elections to stop any legislation that their opponents would pass through Congress (York, 2011). In a short amount of time—and amidst much opposition from the general public—the Democratic majority pushed through a host of reforms meant to stimulate the economy and protect consumer rights including sweeping financial regulations, universal health care legislation, a massive economic stimulus package, as well a near nationalization of the banking and automotive industries. This of course did not go unnoticed, and in no time at all political pundits on the right such as Glenn Beck started drawing comparisons to the events of the day to the storyline of Ayn Rand’s most popular novel Atlas Shrugged (Burns, 2009). The public took note and soon her books started to once again ascend the best-sellers lists with all-time high sales of the aforementioned novel reaching the 185,000 mark in 2007 (Ayn Rand Institute, 2008). This new-found popularity was not present merely among arm-chair philosopher, for on the streets protesters could be seen throughout the country at political rallies carrying signs marked “Who is John Galt?”—a reference to the opening line to her famous book. Thus nearly thirty years after her death, Ayn Rand and her brand of philosophy was now more popular than she had ever been in during her lifetime.

Yes, Ayn Rand had achieved some fame while she was living—becoming a rather polarizing figure with both dedicated followers as well as harsh critics. Nevertheless, in the mood of her hero John Galt, she refused to compromise on her vision and thus she continued to remain a self-described “radical” throughout her life (Rand, 1962-1966). But the political climate of the Great Recession resurrected her ideals and elevated her to a hero of epic proportions. Suddenly, she became the voice of a new generation—the self-made individualists and opponents of Mr. Obama’s large brand of government. Her philosophy of Objectivism, replete with laissez-faire economics and the unabashed pursuit of selfish interest, soon became the philosophical basis of the revolution against the most recent revolution. Astoundingly, in a few short years when the Republicans would overtake the House of Representatives in one of the greatest Congressional defeat of American history, it would be her followers leading the charge and invoking her name on the floor of Congress (Poe, 2011).

Critics soon began to take note that religious conservatives throughout the country were basing their opinions and actions on a purely atheistic and hedonistic philosophy—a school of thought which many Christians admit stands in stark contrast to the precepts of their teacher: Jesus Christ (Prothero, 2011). While much has been written on this comparison recently in editorials, newspaper articles, and even academic journals, what comparative study has been prepared in regards to Objectivism and Vaishnavism? Are the ideas of Objectivism in line or do they differ greatly from the tenets of Vaishnavism? In order to understand this, one has to compare the metaphysical, epistemological, ethical, and political structures of the two schools of thought. Armed with an in depth understanding of the common bonds shared and stark contrasts present between the two philosophies, adherents of the Vaishnava faith will be able to answer the emerging challenge of Ayn Rand’s followers and convince others of the validity and relevancy of their faith in the modern world. Such a study will be like an appendix to Dialectical Spiritualism and will further the critique of western philosophy from a Vaishnava perspective.

THE METAPHYSICAL PERSPECTIVE

In order to understand Objectivism, one first has to study to understand the Objectivist view of metaphysics. Although scholars disagree on the exact definition of the word “metaphysics”, when used in the context of the Objectivist philosophy, it denotes the nature of reality, which Ayn Rand defines as “objective reality” (Van Inwagen, 2007). In her own words, Ayn Rand (1957) further expounds upon her definition of objective reality as being:

Reality, the external world, exists independent of man’s consciousness, independent of any observer’s knowledge, beliefs, feelings, desires or fears. This means that A is A, that facts are facts, that things are what they are—and that the task of man’s consciousness is to perceive reality, not to create or invent it. (p. 1074)

Thus to the Objectivist, the very nature of reality cannot be altered on account of the subjective views or feelings of the individual. To give an example, a person cannot call an apple a tropical fruit just because it may seem like one to them. It is a pomaceous fruit and no amount of feelings towards it can change the nature of its reality. It is what it is and this is a fact regardless of the consciousness of those who perceive it, or in other words, an apple not belonging to the tropical fruit category is an objective fact.

If you carry this understanding to its logical conclusion, the Objectivist will argue that objective reality precludes any possibility of a God or the supernatural. Their reasoning is that such phenomenon is completely contrary to the reality that is perceived by the senses; and for the Objectivist, reason which is acquired through the senses is for man “the only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival” (Rand, 1974, p. 1074). Thus, the Objectivist will argue that since God or the supernatural cannot be perceived by the senses, their factual existence to the perceiver is simply a subjective reality in their consciousness and is thus not an objective reality ascertainable to others and as a result is non-existent.

The Vaishnava response is that the Objectivist’s understanding of metaphysics is fundamentally flawed in that the senses—which Ayn Rand claims is man’s only means of perceiving reality—are by nature imperfect (1957). Because the senses are intrinsically defective, the Vaishnava argues, the information that is gathered through their use is either mistaken or incomplete due to the limitations of our instruments of perception. To illustrate this, Srila Prabhupada would give the analogy of a group of blind men who encountered an elephant and proceeded to describe the creature to one another. During their conversation, “one man felt the trunk and said, ‘this is a huge snake.’ Another man felt a leg and said, ‘No, this is a great pillar” (Prabhupada, 1990, p. 8). While these men did in fact gather information through their attempt, we can see that their understanding was limited due to the limitations of their senses. As a result, Vaishnavas argue that truth cannot be understood by the ascending or empirical method, but must be understood by the descending method which in Sanskrit is called sabda or “hearing from an authority” (Goswami, 1985, p. 6). Such knowledge is passed down in a disciplic chain from a perfect person devoid of imperfect senses—the Supreme Lord, Krishna—and as a result, whatever information is obtained from him is also perfect. For the Vaishnava, such truth can be found in the transcendental Vedic literature or the writings of the self-realized souls and this knowledge can subsequently be used by the individual so that they may extricate themselves from the world of limitation in order to experience a transcendental reality.

Furthermore, the Vaishnavas argue that reality is ultimately subjective in that it can be perceived different based on the level of our consciousness. Every individual has experienced this fact even in this life upon encountering a person with a mental illness. The reality of such a deranged individual is completely different than the reality perceived by a sane and healthy person—although it is very much a reality to the diseased person. For the Vaishnava, all the conditioned souls who are bound by maya, or the “illusory energy”, are deranged—being as they are fully engaged in the futile pursuit to satisfy their senses—and until their consciousness is purified through spiritual practice, they will never truly understand reality.

If we are to understand the ultimate reality, i.e. the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the ancient Brahma-samhita informs that we must first acquire the prerequisite qualification in order to perceive the transcendent, for he is visible only to those perfected souls who “see in their heart of hearts with the eye of devotion tinged with the salve of love” (Thakura, 1985, p. 194). Thus, all spiritual disciplines, as passed down from a source free of defects based upon empirical understanding, are meant to awaken this love so that we too can perceive reality as it is through spiritual senses, which alone have the ability to understand the spiritual absolute.

THE EPISTEMOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE

Whereas the study of metaphysics is concerned with the nature of reality, the focus of epistemology is the pursuit of knowledge by which reality can be understood. As has been discussed, the Objectivist sees reason as being man’s sole means of achieving this end. In her writings, Ayn Rand (1957) has gone to great lengths to argue the importance of employing logic and reason in order to fully and accurately comprehend the world around oneself, stating:

The fundamental concept of method, the one on which all the others depend, is logic. The distinguishing characteristic of logic (the art of non-contradictory identification) indicates the nature of the actions (actions of consciousness required to achieve a correct identification) and their goal (knowledge)—while omitting the length, complexity or specific steps of the process of logical inference, as well as the nature of the particular cognitive problem involved in any given instance of using logic. (p. 1074)

Thus adherents to the Objectivist school of thought do not believe that knowledge can be acquired through revelation or through mysticism of any kind. Consequently, faith in anything of a supernatural nature is futile for it cannot bring about knowledge. For them, logic is the only way by which the material world may be objectively understood.

While Vaishnavism does argue against the infallible position of the senses and reason subsequently derived from them as being the only means of acquiring knowledge, it nevertheless does place importance on man being able to use his intelligence, being that it is a natural gift from his creator which should be employed in order to approach the absolute realm of spiritual reality. Even in the Vaishnava’s beloved Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna himself states that one “who studies this sacred conversation of ours worships Me by his intelligence” (Prabhupada, 1972, p. 709). It is quite fitting that this statement lies at the end of the text, for it summarizes a great deal of Krishna’s teachings to Arjuna wherein he stresses that rational analysis and application should be applied to spiritual deliberation. For example, in the fourth chapter Krishna admonishes Arjuna to approach a spiritual master so that he may receive transcendental knowledge; for when such wisdom is gained, an individual then possesses the proper resource by which logic and reasoning may properly be employed for the purpose of understanding the divine (Prabhupada, 1972). It is not that knowledge is of no importance where faith is present in the life of the spiritual aspirant. On the contrary, for Krishna says in the second chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita: buddhau saranam anviccha, or that “One should surrender to the Lord in knowledge” and thus not simply in blind faith (Prabhupada, 1972, p.116).

Yet at the same time Vaishnavas argue that the importance of faith in the process of enlightenment cannot and should not be minimized. Why faith is of importance when it comes to spiritual understanding has been dealt with extensively by the great medieval saint and mystic Srila Rupa Goswami in his Gaudiya treatise Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu. Following up on Krishna’s statement in the Bhagavad-Gita where he mentions bhaktya mam abhijanati (i.e. “I can only be understood by devotion”), Srila Rupa Goswami mentions in his theological opus that the basis of devotion is faith, for unless one has faith in the path of bhakti-yoga one will never be able take up the process of loving service by which the Lord can be understood (Prabhupada, 1970a). After all, the Lord is adhokshaja or “beyond the perception of the senses” and thus knowledge gained solely by the empirical method is insufficient to understand transcendence.

Although the Objectivist will argue that this is not a quantitative approach, they will have to admit that employing supposed objective means in order to acquire knowledge (i.e. the scientific method) cannot always be utilized in all circumstances—especially when it comes to the analytical study of sentient beings with complex emotions. Even the staunchest atheist would not deny that unless someone approaches them with love and concern, they are not so willing to open up their heart or share their innermost feelings. Thus, the Vaishnava will argue that the Lord being the Supreme Person also operates and reciprocates with other in this same fashion. Like ourselves, he is not an inanimate and lifeless object that can be analyzed and comprehended by some mechanical process, but rather must be approached through love.

Unlike the Objectivist school of thought, faith and reason are seen by Vaishnavas as two complimentary ways of acquiring knowledge. However, it has to be understood that both of these means are limited—reason being limited by the imperfect senses and faith by the sentimental tendencies of man. Yet when a balanced approach is taken, faith and reason can aid one another to help the sincere seeker of the truth gain enlightenment. Thus the Vaishnava argues that it is not the spiritualist who employs these two devices that is deluded or fanatical, but the ardent and proud materialist who aspires for the truth with only the mind as his guide and with no concern for the wisdom of his heart.

THE ETHICAL PERSPECTIVE

Without a doubt Ayn Rand’s take on ethics is the most controversial aspect of the Objectivist philosophy. Devoid of any pretense, Ms. Rand was unapologetic when she advocated for every individual’s right to pursue his or her self-interest. Far from being a luxury, the Objectivist sees the pursuit of rational self-interest as integral to our human nature—not only a necessity for inner-fulfillment but for our very survival as well. In fact, the entire basis of Ayn Rand’s principals concerning ethics is unequivocal self-interest. In her own words, she describes this aspect of the Objectivist philosophy stating:

The proper standard of ethics is: man’s survival qua man—i.e., that which is required by man’s nature for his survival as a rational being (not his momentary physical survival as a mindless brute). Rationality is man’s basic virtue, and his three fundamental values are: reason, purpose, self-esteem. Man—every man—is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself; he must work for his rational self-interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life (Rand, 1957, p. 1075)

Far from the Christian doctrine that sees man as a fatally flawed character—struggling to live a life of virtue in spite of the desires of the flesh—the Objectivist sees the pursuit of happiness as the sole objective as his life and the rational for his existence.

As hedonistic as this philosophy sounds, the Vaishnava faith surprisingly also adheres to this same doctrine. In the fourteenth chapter of the tenth canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, the great ascetic and saint, Srila Sukadeva Goswami speaks at length about this ideology of self-interest when he says:

O King, for every created being the dearmost thing is certainly his own self. The dearness of everything else—children, wealth and so on—is due only to the dearness of the self. For this reason, O best of kings, the embodied soul is self-centered: he is more attached to his own body and self than to his so-called possessions like children, wealth and home. Indeed, for persons who think the body is the self, O best of kings, those things whose importance lies only in their relationship to the body are never as dear as the body itself. If a person comes to the stage of considering the body “mine” instead of “me,” he will certainly not consider the body as dear as his own self. After all, even as the body is growing old and useless, one’s desire to continue living remains strong. Therefore it is his own self that is most dear to every embodied living being, and it is simply for the satisfaction of this self that the whole material creation of moving and nonmoving entities exists. (Prabhupada, 1987c, pp. 62-66)

An important demarcation must be made here—one which Sukadeva Goswami mentions at the end of his aforementioned statement—and that is that the self is different from the body which it possesses. Thus, real self-interest is not simply the happiness derived as a result of meeting the demands and pleasures of the material body; rather, one who is concerned with his or her true “rational self-interest” seeks inner pleasure which comes when one satisfies the needs of the soul.

Now, at this point in the conversation a practical question arises: “How can one satisfy the soul—something which is intangible and beyond perception?” The answer to this question is provided by the learned scholar Suta Goswami who addresses the assembly of sages in the Naimisharanya forest when he states:

The supreme occupation [dharma] for all humanity is that by which men can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendent Lord. Such devotional service must be unmotivated and uninterrupted to completely satisfy the self. (Prabhupada, 1987a, p. 95)

In other words, the self will experience true pleasure, “which is transcendental to material happiness and which continues forever”, when one pleases the Supreme self—the Supreme Lord, Krishna—through bhakti-yoga or “devotional service” (Prabhupada, 1987b, p. 164). The reason this is, as mentioned by Suta Goswami, is that that service to God is actually the dharma or “the essential quality” of the living entity. Thus, by performing actions which are intrinsic to its nature, the self feels real happiness. Rather than using the body to satisfy the temporary and ever-present desires which it experiences in contact with the material world (which are impossible to satisfy), the possessor of the body—namely the soul—can use this vehicle to look after his or her true self-interest. An example of this can be seen when the hand provides food to the mouth which is in turn used for nourishment. By doing so the hand automatically derives pleasure when it is engaged in its true constitutional position. It would be absolutely impossible for the hand to enjoy the food without serving the mouth, and subsequently the stomach, for it is not being engaged in its dharma. Rather, the hand would suffer and perish if it failed to adhere to its duty of supplying food to the mouth. In the same way, the embodied soul suffers if it does not receive nourishment through the process of bhakti-yoga.

The Objectivist will of course disagree with such assertions made by the religious adherent due to the fact that they are derived from premises which cannot be verified empirically. Yet, before they discount selfless surrender as a means of fulfilling one’s self-interest, they would do well to first try employing devotional service to God as a means of achieving happiness and see for themselves what the results are. If there was no validity to the argument that bhakti-yoga, or “devotion to the Lord” can provide happiness far greater than what can be achieved by the pursuit of material happiness, why throughout history have affluent men and women such as Leo Tolstoy and Saint Clare of Montefalco completely abandoned all of their wealth, fame, etc. in order to dedicate their lives to the Supreme Truth? Yes, it requires faith to pursue a life dedicated to a God unseen, but isn’t faith required by the practitioner of any path—including Objectivism—before so much time and effort is sacrificed in order to achieve the stated aim? For the Vaishnava, great saints are living proof that the divine can be achieved even within this life and that the sacrifice is indeed worth it. All that is required is our sincere adherence to the strictures which these saints have provided as a means of practicing devotional service if we are to taste of the same fruit that they have enjoyed.

THE POLITICAL PERSPECTIVE

Since Ayn Rand advocated for individual rights as well as maximum freedom for men and women to pursue their self-interest, it only makes sense that the Objectivist philosophy favors laissez-faire capitalism as the ideal form of government. According to Ms. Rand, only when such a form of government is in place can an individual realize self-actualization without fear of any obstruction through force or intimidation. Summarizing her view on politics, Ayn Rand (1957) states:

The only social system that bars physical force from human relationships is laissez-faire capitalism. Capitalism is a system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which the only function of the government is to protect individual rights, i.e., to protect men from those who initiate the use of physical force. (p. 1075)

It should also be pointed out in this regard that Objectivists are opposed to a mixed economy for they firmly believe that the government is to function only as an enforcer of contracts and not as an economic director. Therefore, any form of capitalism in which the invisible hand is not at work is unacceptable in the eyes of the Objectivist; for in Ayn Rand’s opinion, a mixed economy is not based on any absolute principle and is thus unstable and therefore liable to eventually infringe upon individual rights and be motivated by special interests (Rand, 1961).

While it may be argued that of all the political systems known to man, capitalism is the one which favors individual rights the most, it must be understood that it is also intrinsically flawed for it can be manipulated to benefit some people over others and thus adversely affect the self-interest of the marginalized individuals. After all, resources are scare and if one person and/or group of people amass them in excess, it will be at the expense of another (Mankiw, 2011). For example, if a business secures a monopoly on an inelastic good (one which has a constant demand regardless of price such as water or certain types of medicine), this firm can then charge any price that it wants—even if this leads to some people being crowded out of the market and subsequently enduring hardship as a direct result. In his criticism of capitalism (which includes a criticism of communism as well), Srila Prabhupada (1975) expounds upon this while offering an alternative political ideology with the following words:

Modern capitalists accumulate more wealth than necessary, and the communists, envious of their prosperity, want to nationalize all wealth and property. Unfortunately the communists do not know how to solve the problem of wealth and its distribution. Consequently when the wealth of the capitalists falls into the hands of the communists, no solution results. Opposed to these two philosophies, the Krishna conscious ideology states that all wealth belongs to Krishna. Thus unless all wealth comes under the administration of Krishna, there can be no solution to the economic problem of mankind. Nothing can be solved by placing wealth in the hands of the communists or the capitalists (pp. 23-24).

After reading this paragraph we can clearly understand that Srila Prabhupada deemed it necessary for there to be an administration to see to it that resources are properly allocated so that the self-interest of every individual can be pursued. This “administration” is described in the Vedic literature as being comprised of kshatriyas or a “martial class” of men, i.e. king, princes, etc. who govern and rule over the society as well as brahmanas or an “intellectual class” of men, i.e. priests, scholars, etc. who advise them. Rather than the pursuit of sense-gratification, the Vedas tell us that previously society was based upon self-realization (Prabhupada, 1977a). Thus, it was the duty of the aforementioned administrators to see to it that life was arranged in such a way that this was possible. Primarily, the rulers facilitated this by arranging sacrifices for the pleasure of the Lord, for only by doing so, the Bhagavad-Gita tells us, can mankind not only achieve emancipation from material existence but can also receive ample resources in this world which make his life pleasurable (Prabhupada, 1972).

However, Srila Prabhupada was not entirely clear about which economic system could be set up in the present climate in order to reach this end. While Srila Prabhupada was critical of both capitalism as well as communism, he did concur that it was not possible to bring back monarchy in the modern age (Prabhupada, 1973a). Rather than giving importance to any one political system, Srila Prabhupada was more focused on the spiritual consciousness of the people as a whole, for if this would take place, than society would function in a peaceful manner—regardless of the political system employed (Prabhupada, 1977b). Otherwise, Srila Prabhupada tells us, chaos will most certainly ensue due to the rampant greed and licentious behavior of the populace for want of deep and lasting inner peace achieved through spiritual discipline.

Objectivists would of course be opposed to the type of theocratic administration as mentioned by Srila Prabhupada. They would contend—and they are correct—that such a form of government would invariably infringe upon the rights of the individual in order to protect the common good. Returning to the previous discussion of monopolies, we can see that Srila Prabhupada would advocate for government intervention even if a business legally acquired resources if the actions of the said business would manipulate supply and demand to such an extent that it would result in unnecessary economic hardship for the marginalized individuals. Yet even the staunchest Objectivist will have to agree that in a world of limited resources it is impossible that every individual will be able to achieve all that they desire. As much as they detest the idea of a mixed economy, unless Objectivists can find some way in which certain individuals within the market are not restrained from achieving their self-interest due to their disadvantaged position, it will have to remain as a necessary evil. But rather than being governed by those of immoral character who favor one group of people over another (as we see in the democratic world of political parties), it should be presided over by men of virtue—the brahmanas and the kshatriyas—who are the very same men that Ayn Rand extolled. When this is done, then true self-interest can be achieved by all and not by the special interest parties that Ms. Rand detested.

CONCLUSION

Ayn Rand is by far one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century and the fact that she has so many critics and detractors only helps to enhance her credibility rather than harm it. It is proof that she was not afraid to stand apart from the very mediocrity she despised in her outspoken avocation for integrity and freedom, and now in her death history has finally rewarded her for the risks she took in life. In a world where relativism and collectivism has gradually eroded the power of the individual, her message of an unequivocal absolute has found a ready voice amongst so many and has helped to once again restore virtue in its rightful place as the tool by which man can achieve the perfection of his self-interest. The resurgence in her popularity, which we are now seeing in the United States, is only a precursor of the greater fame she will one day enjoy—not only in her adopted home of the United States but throughout the world as well. She was a true visionary and those whom she have inspired are now employing—and will continue to employ—her ideals to bring about a more prosperous and enlightened world for their own benefit as well as the benefit of all.

If her philosophy of Objectivism can evolve over time to accept and embrace the importance that faith and emotion have in the pursuit of knowledge, the dire necessity for men of the highest character to help ameliorate the undesirable consequences of capitalism, and the vital need for men to connect to their creator in a relationship of love rather than fear, only then will her ideals reach their perfection and help all of mankind to realize the perfection of their true self-interest. Otherwise, if her philosophy is left in its present state—replete with an irrational denial of anything possessing a supernatural or transcendent nature, an abhorrence for compassion and altruism, and an obstinate dedication to pure capitalism at the expense of the marginalized—it will remain fundamentally flawed and will never fully be able to empower people so that they can achieve the state of greatness that Ayn Rand knew was possible.

Vaishnavism has helped many people over the centuries to find fulfillment and to achieve the perfection of their self-interest in both this life and the next. Like all religions, Vaishnavism is not a static ideology, but rather, is one that has grown over time by absorbing the ideals and the culture of the area it has expanded into whilst preserving the orthodoxy of its message. If the Vaishnava faith is to take root in the west and subsequently grow, it is imperative that its practitioners know how to confront and answer those schools of thought which stand in direct opposition to its expansion. As the Objectivist movement increases its numbers in time, it will only become that much more important for Vaishnavas to meet this objective. Despite differences in these two philosophies, Objectivists and Vaishnavas do share much in common. Engaging in dialogue and opening up a channel of communication will only help these two schools of thought to mutually benefit from each other and thus provide their respective practitioners with greater understanding so that they can pursue and realize the fulfillment of their self-interest.

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Prabhupada, A. C. B. S. (personal communication 1973, July 24). Room conversation with reporter from Researcher’s Magazine in London, U.K.

Prabhupada, A. C. B. S. (personal communication 1973, January 31). A letter to Ravindra-svarupa.

Prabhupada, A. C. B. S. (1975). The nectar of instruction. Los Angeles: The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.

Prabhupada, A. C. B. S. (1977). The light of the bhagavat. Los Angeles: The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.

Prabhupada, A. C. B. S. (1977, January 15). Room conversation in Allahabad, India.

Prabhupada, A. C. B. S. (1987). Srimad bhagavatam (Canto 1). Los Angeles: The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.

Prabhupada, A. C. B. S. (1987). Srimad bhagavatam (Canto 5). Los Angeles: The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.

Prabhupada, A. C. B. S. (1987). Srimad bhagavatam (Canto 10, Part 2). Los Angeles: The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.

Prabhupada, A. C. B. S. (1990). Message of Godhead. Los Angeles: The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.

Prothero, S. (2011, June 5). Column: You can’t reconcile Ayn Rand and Jesus. USA Today. Retrieved September 10, 2012 from http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/2011-06-05-Ayn-Rand-and-Jesus-dont-mix_n.htm

Rand, A. (1957). Atlas shrugged. New York: Penguin.

Rand, A. (1961). The virtue of selfishness. New York: Penguin.

Rand, A. (1962-1966). Objectivism versus Conservatism. In M. Podritske & P. Schwartz (Eds.), Objectively speaking (pp. 15-21). Lanham, MD: The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc.

Goswami, S. D. (1985). Readings in vedic literature. Los Angeles: The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.

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York, B. (2011, January 4). Obamacare mess is legacy of democrats’ brief moment of power. Retrieved September 10, 2012 from http://townhall.com/columnists/byronyork/2011/01/04/obamacare_mess_is_legacy_of_democrats_brief_moment_of_power/page/full/

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1 Akruranatha

“Within that span of time, one of Srila Prabhupada’s contemporaries—the Russian-American playwright and author, Ayn Rand—has emerged as one of the most influential philosophers of the modern age.”

Really? God, I hope not. Back when I was in college 30 years ago there were Objectivists around, but they were not very popular or influential, nor were they taken very seriously in our Philosophy department. They were kind of a minor cult among the Young Republican, right wing political kids. I read the novels, Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, but was not much impressed.

More recently I saw the movie of The Fountainhead starring Gary Cooper directed by King Vidor (1949) and was appalled. The hero and heroine actually engage in a dangerous act of terrorism, blowing up a public housing project, because the architect hero’s artistic vision was compromised by dishonest villains. Not only are the heroes destroying housing that many people would be happy to live in, but they could easily have killed or maimed people who happened to be nearby. I thought they were sick criminals.

“But rather than being governed by those of immoral character who favor one group of people over another (as we see in the democratic world of political parties), it should be presided over by men of virtue—the brahmanas and the kshatriyas—who are the very same men that Ayn Rand extolled.”

I do not see how Rand extolled brahmanas and ksatriyas, as she was completely materialist in her metaphysics. Brahmanas and rajarsis by nature have scientific knowledge of spirit as distinct from matter. Rand denied the existence of Spirit or Supreme Spirit (God).

I can see that her vision of a man of virtue was one of intellect and reason as opposed to a base, animalistic sensualist, but it seems that her ideal man of reason (like the architect Roark) was still a proud, selfish and Godless creature, like the demons portrayed by Lord Krishna in the 16th Chapter of Bhagavad-gita.

While her reaction to bureaucracy and socialist collectivism run by mediocre, unenlightened, low-class people is reminiscent of the varnasrama system’s recognition of the need for hierarchy and true meritocracy or aristocracy based on quality (not on birthright), her vision of a person of virtue does not include all the “daivi sampat” characteristics described in Bhagavad-gita. Conspicuously lacking is knowledge of the soul and devotion to God.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on September 24th, 2012
2 Unregistered

You are right Akruranatha in that Ayn Rand did not particularly like spiritualists or “mystics” as she called them. However, she did value men of character and if Objectivists and other atheists can appreciate brahmanas and ksatriyas from this perspective, then they can be more influential among those who are not particularly theistic. The problem of course is that there are few brahmanas and ksatriyas of integrity and thus this only causes people in general to be more doubtful of the existence of a supreme autocrat or of his love and mercy. When priests, politicians, etc. abuse and exploit others and yet claim to be “men of God” it causes people to only distrust the Lord they claim to represent.

Maybe Objectivists were derided for their viewpoints and not taken seriously 30 years ago when you were in college, but times have changed. Her books are now selling faster than ever and she is only acquiring more and more influential followers. Simply dismissing her philosophy will not cause it to go away, rather, we have to find a way to engage in dialogue with those whom she has influenced and this paper is an attempt at that. Thus, this paper was not written merely to give Vaishnavas an opportunity to “rip her to shreds”, but rather as an attempt to reach across the aisle to those who are influenced by her views and offer them a Vedic perspective on her views with the hopes of opening their minds to our ideas. This of course does not mean backing down from our views but it does require compassion if we are going to gain an audience from those who by nature distrust us. And I for one can’t blame them for distrusting theists when you see how many supposed religious people act. If we are true men of character in both our actions and our words, we will be far more effective at convincing others of the Vaishnava point of view. Otherwise, simply putting forward ad homineum attacks at others for their viewpoints is a sure way to only acquire more enemies than friends.

Comment posted by Jambavan Dasa on September 25th, 2012
3 Unregistered

Who exactly reads her books and how it affects them? Atheism is on the rise in the US but still only 5% declare themselves as such. Could it be possible that Rand’s main audience is among the 95% who believe in God of some kind and so do not take her ideas absolutely? They would be reading them “subjectively”, right?

The dialogue with “objectivists” coming from this camp would be different from the dialogue with staunch atheists.

Also, how do objectivists deal with the scientific fact that nothing in this world can be measured objectively, that the mere act of measurement changes the state of the object? It’s one of the main postulates of quantum mechanics, it might not matter much in our everyday life but only because of practical considerations where we have to settle on “objective enough” for the sake of convenience. That might have been enough for Rand but, strictly speaking, how can you build philosophy on the existence of an “objective” kilogram but every time you weigh it you get a different result? Does this “objective” kilogram even exists? What’s their answer?

How can we talk about objective state of politics or human society as a whole? Objectivism never works there, people exercise their individual rights to be subjective, they will never give them up.

Why not also try to describe objectivism from the point of view of the reality - there’s God and there are jiva souls covered by illusion? What does objectivism look like to the liberated souls? Should we engage objectivists on their own platform or stick to the teachings coming from transcendental sources? On the material platform it’s impossible to prove that God exists by design, faith requires existence of the soul, an act of the subjective heart, which objectivists apparently deny.

Comment posted by Sitalatma Das on October 2nd, 2012

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