Ontological arguments for God’s existence

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    Hi Ashish,

    I was wondering about the validity of the ontological arguments for God. There are at least 5 different versions starting with that of Anselm and finishing with Godel. They purely use modal logic and appear to be internally consistent provided one agrees with the axioms. I read a long time ago that even Shankaracharya used a version of the ontological argument in his critique of the Buddhist philosophy.

    However, I have not seen any vaishnava acharyas use this argument. Is it because Shankaracharya already did a good job on this subject? Or did it have some internal flaws?

    Thank you

    Ashish Dalela

    Prabhupada says in one place: “God is great but you don’t know how great He is”. This is the problem with the Ontological Argument. We have some personal conceptions of greatness. But what if our conception of greatness is limited? Will our conception of greatness necessarily mean that the person who has that greatness is God? Our conception of greatness is our idea residing in our chitta. That chitta is currently impure and contaminated. Hence, our idea of greatness is imperfect.

    For example, in Christianity, God is good. It leads to the problem of who created evil. Christianity says that evil was created by Satan. Then who created Satan? You cannot say that God created Satan because then God would have created evil. And you cannot say that Satan is separate from God because then at least in one sense, namely, Satan and evil, God would not be the cause of everything.

    For God to be the greatest, He must also be the evilest. Again, what is evil? That is also constrained by our current conceptions of evil, which may be limited and constrained. Evil is punishment. God can deliver the harshest punishment. It can be harsher than our wildest imagination. But He always does it to improve the soul. Therefore, God is both good and evil to the greatest extent. This leads to a contradiction: How can the same thing be best and worst? If we cannot resolve that contradiction, then we must remove either good or evil from the conception of God. By that removal, we will naturally constrain the definition of best by removing the worst. Only those who understand how God is both good and evil can transcend this limitation. Therefore, we are constrained in our conceptions in at least two ways: (a) Our conception of greatest may not be the greatest, and (b) Our conception of greatness can be constrained by the absence of its opposite, i.e., smallness.

    The Vaishnava conception of God includes both the greatest and the smallest. God is so small that He is present inside each atom. And God is so great, that all the atoms are inside Him. The addition of the quality called “smallest” increases God’s greatness, rather than reducing or contradicting it. Similarly, He is the best and the worst in everything. But all such opposites are not contradictions within God.

    There is another conversation with Prabhupada where some disciples talk about materialistic people as “great demons”. Prabhupada responds: “You are great nothing”. (I may be paraphrasing, but the essence is the same). The implication is to kill the ego of being great at something, even if it means a great demon. God is greater than all demons combined when it comes to their demoniac nature.

    If a ruler was so powerful that he could control the entire human population by force, then some people would call him the “greatest” ruler ever. But an even greater ruler is who rules over people’s hearts and minds, and they accept his rule not due to force, but out of love and respect for him. Hence, one who incites fear in people’s hearts is a great ruler, but one who incites respect in people’s hearts is a greater ruler, and one who incites love in people’s hearts is an even greater ruler. Then, someone who incites fear in the hearts of the miscreants, respect in the hearts of the dutiful, and love in the hearts of the truly selfless people, is the supreme ruler. If our conception of greatness is limited to simply inciting fear in people’s hearts, then our conception of God would be limited, and God would not be that person.

    Christianity is a good example of a non-existent God based on inferior conceptions of greatness. There is no God who waits until some judgment day to reward and punish people. Reward and punishment are continuous processes because God doesn’t need the benefit of hindsight to judge good and bad. Likewise, there is no God who enters into a contract with the human population because a contract is signed between two parties that need something from each other but God needs nothing from us. Similarly, there is no God who will cause the suffering of His most favorite devotee to liberate the sinful. Instead, God incarnates to protect His devotees and destroy the sinful. Hence, all those who claim that God is the greatest, without understanding what greatest is, have arrived at a non-existent God.

    Before we use the Ontological Argument, we have to define greatness. It requires the purification of our chitta. In principle, the Ontological Argument is correct, if we have the correct idea of the greatest. But by practical examples, we can see that contaminated ideas of greatness have led to a non-existent God. Therefore, we don’t use the argument. Instead, we try to define the meaning of greatness prior.

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