BID 3: Aristotle
Aristotle thought of the cosmos as a hierarchy. At the bottom is prime or pure matter, which possesses no intelligible essence, or “form”; it is pure potency, without actuality. And at the top is God, the unmoved mover of the whole system, who is pure actuality (He is all that He could ever be), sheer form, pure intelligible, intellectual essence, with no tinge of matter or potentiality. In between are the changing substances compounded of matter and form—the elements, minerals, plants, animals, humans, and the ethereal intelligences that move the stars. The higher up the scale you go, the more form predominates over matter. In this way, Aristotle rejected the separation between the world of forms and the world of matter that characterized the philosophy of his teacher, Plato.
One modern philosopher has observed that Aristotle’s conception of God was motivated entirely by dispassionate rational concerns—no extraneous ethical or religious interests influenced his idea—and that this did not go far toward producing an idea of God available for religious purposes.
mayy āsakta-manāḥ pārtha
asaṁśayaṁ samagraṁ māṁ
“Now hear, O son of Pṛthā, how by practicing yoga in full consciousness of Me, with mind attached to Me, you can know Me in full, free from doubt.” This is the process of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Of course, we may speculate about God, and if we simply think of God that will help us to some extent. If we are in darkness, we may speculate and concoct ideas about the sun. This is one kind of knowledge. But if we actually come to the light, our knowledge is complete. We may contemplate the sun in darkness, but the best process is to come into the sunshine and see for ourselves.
There is a process of evolution. The living entity passes from one species to another, from fish to trees to vegetables to insects to birds, beasts, and humans. In the human form, the result of evolution is fully manifest. It is like a flower unfolding from a bud. When the living entity attains the human form, his proper duty is to understand his lost relationship with God. If he misses this opportunity, he may regress. Aristotle is correct, therefore, when he says that everything has a purpose. The whole creative process aims at bringing the living entity back home, back to Godhead.
In any case, a material form is never perfect, because it undergoes six changes. It is born, it grows, it stays for a while, it leaves some by-products, it dwindles, and then it vanishes. When your form vanishes, you have to take on another form, which also undergoes the same processes. When a form vanishes, it decomposes, and its various elements return to nature. Water returns to water, earth returns to earth, air returns to air, and so forth.
Aristotle recommends that a man should meditate to become perfect. This meditation presupposes imperfection. Contemplation is recommended for conditioned living entities, but we should understand that God is never conditioned or imperfect. He is so powerful that whatever He desires or wills immediately comes into being. This information is given in the
yoginām api sarveṣāṁ mad-gatenāntar-ātmanā
śraddhāvān bhajate yo māṁ sa me yuktatamo mataḥ
ye yathā māṁ prapadyante tāṁs tathaiva bhajāmy aham
mama vartmānuvartante manuṣyāḥ pārtha sarvaśaḥ
“As all surrender unto Me, I reward them accordingly. Everyone follows My path in all respects, O son of Pṛthā.” When we fully surrender to God in loving service, we can actually understand God’s nature.
God attracts everyone. In Vṛndāvana He attracts His parents, the cowherd boys and girls, the animals, the fruits and flowers, the trees—everything. Even the water was attracted to Kṛṣṇa. The Tenth Canto of
Now, Aristotle may have some vague conception of God, but he has no clear idea of Kṛṣṇa’s personality. We can think specifically and concretely of God because we receive information from Vedic literature that God is a person and appears and acts in a certain way. In the
nāhaṁ prakāśaḥ sarvasya yoga-māyā-samāvṛtaḥ
mūḍho ’yaṁ nābhijānāti loko mām ajam avyayam
“I am never manifest to the foolish and unintelligent. For them I am covered by My internal potency, and therefore they do not know that I am unborn and infallible.” It is a fact that unless God reveals Himself, He is not known. Therefore He appears, and great authorities like Vyāsadeva, Nārada, Śukadeva Gosvāmī, Rāmānujācārya, Madhvācārya, and Caitanya Mahāprabhu—great scholars and transcendentalists—accept Him as He reveals Himself. Arjuna saw God face to face, and he accepted Him. When we are freed of ignorance by our service to God, God reveals Himself.