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Bhakti, the Perfect Science

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O.B.L. Kapoor, Ph.D.

1973-01-53-13

As commonly understood, bhakti and science are diametrically opposed. Bhakti (devotion) is supposed to rest on blind faith and absolute surrender of human reason and will, while science is supposed to rest on observation and experiment. The bhakta does not doubt, for he says, samsayatma—the man who doubts is doomed. Science feeds on doubt, for it says that doubt leads to true knowledge.

No wonder, therefore, that in this age of science bhakti is regarded as a sign of backwardness and an effort to escape from the realities of life. But what is strange is that the scientists who swear by truth and open-mindedness, and do not accept or reject anything unless it is scientifically proved or disproved, generally adopt the most unscientific attitude towards bhakti. They reject bhakti and all that it stands for without caring to test its propositions scientifically.

Bhakti As A Science

The scientists argue that the propositions of bhakti are not amenable to scientific treatment. But they are mistaken. Bhakti is as much a science as physics, chemistry or any other science. It is based on observation and experiment, and its results are capable of verification. But bhakti is a transcendental science, and its experiments are of a different nature. They are also more difficult than the experiments of ordinary science, for while in ordinary science experiments are made on outside objects, in bhakti the object of experiment is one’s own self. It is not easy to do with self what we ordinarily do with other objects in scientific experiments.

In a scientific experiment the object of study is taken in its pure and original form and in isolation from all other things. Since nature does not always present things in a pure and unmixed form, the object under study has first to be isolated from other things. After this is done, certain changes are made in it, and the results are carefully watched. Under different conditions the thing is found to behave in different ways. In this manner, the laws governing its behavior are discovered. The body of knowledge comprising those laws is called a science.

The science of bhakti deals with the self in relation to Bhagavan or Krsna. The self also does not exist in its pure form. It is qualified by its association with the body and the sense objects. Its vision is blurred by egoism, greed, lust, anger, jealousy and hatred. The first condition of a scientific experiment in bhakti, therefore, is the purification of the self. This is not easy to attain. One can easily manipulate the objects outside the self. One can explode a hydrogen bomb or send an object to the moon. But when it comes to doing something that may change the age-old association of the soul with the things that are extraneous to it, that is a different matter.

It is human nature to find reasons to ridicule that which is difficult to attain. This partly explains the attitude of the scientist toward bhakti. But there are many persons who have performed the experiments in bhakti in spite of this apparent difficulty. The science of bhakti is the result of generalizations made by them which are described in such works as Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, Ujjvala-nilamani, Bhakti-sandarblia, Priti-sandarblia and many others. The detailed, precise and systematic treatment in these works of the laws of bhakti, the stages of bhakti, the kinds of bhakti and the conditions of the various experiments in bhakti will easily convince anyone who goes through them that bhakti is, by all standards, a science.

Ordinary Science Fails As An Instrument Of Knowledge

There are two questions one must ask while trying to ascertain whether a certain body of knowledge should be called a science:

(1) How far has it succeeded in discovering the real nature of the object of its study?

(2) How far are the laws it has discovered necessary or absolute?

Judging in the light of these questions, we find not only that bhakti is a science, but that it is the only science which deserves to be so called. For it alone gives us real knowledge, and its laws alone are necessary. Developments in modern science have compelled the scientists to acknowledge that they are not able to discover the real nature of anything, nor are the laws they discover necessary.

We may illustrate this with reference to the science of physics, which is not only the most advanced science today, but which also basically runs into all other sciences.

First, let us take the question relating to the knowledge of the real nature of the object of study and compare, from this point of view, the results obtained by the science of physics with those of bhakti.

The physicist, trying to discover the real nature of matter, found that the smallest piece of matter, smaller than even the point of a pin, was composed of millions of electrons. He tried to study the nature of electrons and found that they were “disembodied charges of electricity,” that is, electricity existing apart from matter. But though they were disembodied charges of electricity, they seemed to behave sometimes like a particle and sometimes like a wave. Eddington, therefore, suggested that they should be called “wavicles” to indicate their dual character, but their real nature remained unknown. If they were not any thing charged with electricity, but electricity itself, the question remained, what ultimately is electricity? The reply was that it is energy or sakti. Energy, it was further explained, was a process. But energy or sakti always pertains to the saktiman or possesser of energy, and a process is always the process of some thing moving or acting or doing something. What is that which possesses the energy? What is that thing of which the energy is a process? The physicist has not been able to answer these questions. And he will never be able to answer them, for he has reduced everything to energy, and nothing else remains to which he may point in answer to these questions. The real nature of matter thus remains unknown to him. He cannot say anything about it except that it is “he knows not what.” Eddington says, “Something unknown is doing we do not know what—that is what our theory amounts to.”

Bhakti Holds The Key To Knowledge

All matter or unconscious things having been reduced by the scientist to some kind of energy or sakti, it is obvious that this energy can only be referred to some conscious principle. Scientists like Einstein, Eddington, James Jeans and J. B. S. Haldane have already recognized this. Eddington says, “Modern physics has eliminated the notion of substance. … I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness.” J.B.S. Haldane says, “The material world, which has been taken for a world of blind mechanism, is in reality a spiritual world seen very partially and imperfectly. … The truth is that not Matter, not Force, not any physical thing, but Mind, Personality, is the central fact of the universe.”

But the scientists can do no more than guess about the existence of the conscious principle underlying this universe, whereas bhakti provides direct, intimate and certain knowledge of it. The bhakta knows that the sakti which, according to the physicist, pervades the entire universe, is the sakti of para-brahman (the Supreme Absolute).

eka-desa-sthitasyagnerjyotsna vistarini yatha
parasya brahmanah saktistathedam akhilam jagat

1973-01-53-14

“Just as the rays of fire located at one place are spread all over, the sakti of para-brahman extends all over in the form of the world.” (Visnu Purana, 1.22.54)

The principle behind the sakti manifesting itself in the form of the World is so subtle that it must always remain beyond the reach of the physical sciences. It can be apprehended only by the soul purified by bhakti.

yatha yathatma parimrjyate ‘sau
mat-punya-gatha-sravanabhidhanaih
tatha tatha pasyati vastu suksmam
caksur yathaivanjana-samprayuktam

“Just as by the application of good ointment the eye is slowly cleansed and made capable of seeing finer objects, the soul of a devotee is gradually purified by listening to My divine narratives and is able to see the subtle spiritual principle of Mine.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam, 11.14.26)

This spiritual principle, which is fundamental to the science of bhakti, can be tested like any other principle of science. It has actually been tested a number of times by bhaktas like Prahlada and Mira Bai who have proved, by making such physical objects as a pillar and a cobra appear as Nrsimha Bhagavan and Salagrama (forms of Krsna), that the physical world is in essence the sakti of Bhagavan or Krsna and that Bhagavan, as the possessor of that sakti, is present in it everywhere.

The Laws Of Ordinary Science Are Illusory

Now let us take the second question relating to the laws. Since the time of Galileo and Newton, scientists have believed that the world is a big machine governed purely by mechanical laws. By the end of the Twentieth Century even the human brain came to be regarded as an intricate machine, governed by the purely mechanical laws of cause and effect. The concept of the free will of man was destroyed, and religion and morality ceased to have any meaning for science.

But the emergence of the electron on the stage of science brought about a complete revolution. The myth of the mechanistic structure of the universe was exploded. The electrons, which were recognized as the ultimate units of the physical world, were found not to be governed by mechanical laws. They seemed to be completely free in their behavior. The law of causation which is a presupposition of science was found to have no meaning for them. 1 (1. “The concept of strict causation finds no place in the picture of the universe which the new physics presents to us,with the result that this picture contains more room than did the old mechanical picture for life and consciousness to exist within the picture itself.” James Jeans, Mysterious Universe, page 43) If there was any law at all which governed their behavior, it was the Law of Indeterminacy, as Professor Heisenberg called it. The apparent determinism in events and the uniformity of nature were illusions, created by the functioning of electrons in crowds.

James Jeans explains this by means of the following illustration: “If we spin a half-penny, nothing within our knowledge will be able to decide whether it will come down heads or tails, yet if we throw up a million tons of halfpence, we know there will be 500,000 tons of heads and 500,000 tons of tails. The experiment may be repeated time after time and will always give the same result. We may be tempted to instance it as evidence of the uniformity of nature, and to infer the action of an underlying law of causation: in actual fact it is an instance only of the operation of the purely mathematical laws of chance.”

There is no determinism in events in which electrons are involved singly, but when a huge crowd of them is involved, as in the smallest piece of matter with which the earlier physicists could experiment, the illusion of determinacy creeps in. But this apparent determinism in large-scale events is of a statistical nature. Dirac describes it as follows: “When an observation is made on any atomic system … in a given state the result will not in general be determinate, i.e., if the experiment is repeated several times under identical conditions several different results may be obtained. If the experiment is repeated a large number of times, it will be found that each particular result will be obtained a definite fraction of the total number of times, so that one can say there is a definite probability of its being obtained any time the experiment is performed. This probability the theory enables one to calculate.” The laws of the physical sciences are, thus, not fully determinate or necessary. They are only laws of probability based on the mathematical law of averages.

The Laws Of Bhakti Are Real

The science of bhakti does not, at first sight, seem to be in a more advantageous position than any of the physical sciences in respect of its laws, for it deals with man in loving relationship with God. Both man and God are free in their behavior like the electrons, and thus there can hardly be any laws regarding their behavior, But bhakti has nothing to do with man and God who are free. In bhakti both man and God are bound in love. The God of bhakti is not simply the creator, destroyer and controller of the universe, but the cowherd boy who loves to dance to the tune of the milkmaids of Vraja. The God of bhakti is the God who says, aham bhakta-paradhino hy asvatantra iva dvija: “I am wholly governed by My bhaktas. I am not free in the least.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam, 9.4.63) In the realm of bhakti it is not God who reigns but prema, which is but an advanced stage of bhakti. Both bhakta and Bhagavan (God) seek fulfillment in prema. Prema is the summum bonum for the bhakta as well as for Bhagavan. The bhakta does not seek Bhagavan but pure, selfless, dispassionate love for Him. Similarly, Bhagavan does not seek anything but love. He need not seek anything else, for there is nothing which, as the most perfect being, He does not already possess. But as Love He is never perfect. Love is nothing but incessant yearning for more love. Perfection in love means negation of love. Every fulfillment in love creates a gap which calls for further fulfillment. Love is, therefore, essentially dynamic, a vital upward surge through a necessary downward movement. It is self-fulfillment in self-abandonment, self-realization in self-effacement.

Since both bhakta and Bhagavan are fully bound by bhakti, the laws of bhakti are fully determinate. They are neither the laws of probability nor the mathematical and illusory laws of averages like the laws of the physical sciences, but they are objective and necessary. To take an example, there is a law of attraction in bhakti which may be compared to the law of gravitation in the physical sciences. According to this law, bhakti attracts Bhagavan as a magnet attracts a piece of iron. 3 (3. Madhurya-kadambini, 8.) So Krsna says, naham tisthami vaikunthe yoginam hrdayesu va tattat tisthami narada yatra gayanti mad-bhaktah. “I live neither in My celestial abode nor in the heart of the yogis, but I go and sit wherever My bhaktas sing.” (Adi Purana) And again: anuvrajamy aham nityam puyeyetyanghri-renubhih. “I walk on the heels of My bhaktas so that I may be purified by the dust of their feet.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam, 11.14.16)

The law of gravitation may fail. There is nothing in modern science to guarantee that it will not. But the law of attraction in bhakti can never fail, for it is guaranteed by Bhagavan. It is possible that a fruit may leave the tree and not drop on the ground, but it is not possible that the flower of bhakti may blossom in the heart of a devotee and Krsna may not be attracted by it.

As some other examples of laws of bhakti, we may cite the following:

(1) The law of reciprocity, according to which Bhagavan fully reciprocates the devotional attitude of the bhakta. 4 (4. ye yatha mam prapadyante tams tathaiva bhajamy aham “All of them—as they surrender unto Me—I reward accordingly. Everyone follows My path in all respects, O son of Prtha.” (Bg. 4.11))

(2) The law of total self-surrender, according to which Bhagavan fully absolves a bhakta of all his sins the moment he completely surrenders himself to Him. 5 (5. sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja aham tvam sarva-papebhyo moksayisyami ma sucah “Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.” (Bg. 18.66))

(3) The law of exclusive meditation, according to which Bhagavan Himself provides the means and end of bhakti to a bhakta who exclusively and incessantly meditates on Him. 6 (6. ananyas cintayanto mam ye janah paryupasate tesam nityabhiyuktanam yoga-ksemam vahamy aham “But those who worship Me with devotion, meditating on My transcendental form—to them I carry what they lack, and I preserve what they have.” (Bg. 9.22))

Absolute Nature Of Bhakti

1973-01-53-15Each of these laws is absolute. Anyone who tries them will find that the results are always the same. Thus the laws of bhakti as well as the knowledge obtained through it are absolute. The absoluteness of the laws of bhakti is due to the fact that bhakti itself is an absolute science. It is not conditioned by anything, not even by Bhagavan, who is the Condition of all conditions and Cause of all causes. On the contrary, Bhagavan Himself is conditioned by bhakti. 7 (7. bhakti-vasah purusah (Sruti)) The laws of the other sciences cannot be absolute for the simple reason that those sciences are relative and conditioned, at least by the will of Bhagavan. But the knowledge the science of bhakti provides is ultimate and absolute because it is the knowledge of the real nature of Bhagavan, the center and source of all knowledge.

bhaktya mam abhijanati yavan yas casmi tattvatah 8 (8. “One can understand the Supreme Personality as He is only by devotional service.” (Bg. 18.55))

Truly the bhakta holds within his grasp the very heart and soul of Bhagavan. 9 (9. sadhubhir grasta-hrdayo (Srimad-Bhagavatam, 9.4.63))

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