Making A “Case” for the Reconstitution of Srila Prabhupada’s “Mission”
Is Bhakti A Science?
By Kundali Dasa in 2004.
Segment 4: The True Basis of Reality.
We have argued that bhakti is really a science, a “sacred science” that begins or is inspired by revelation, then proceeds to experimentation and provable results; and so, it is not blind faith. Now we take up the issue from another angle. Science, derived from the word scientia, or knowledge, means true and evident cognition, as distinct from opinion and probable belief. It is a body of certain knowledge, about the nature of the things to which it relates, and the laws governing their behavior. Does bhakti meet these criteria?
To answer this, we need to consider two questions:
- Is the knowledge acquired by bhakti true?
- Are the laws of the science of bhakti certain?
To answer the first question, we must summarize what conventional science has taught us so far about reality. In the nineteenth century, science dogmatically asserted that anything we cannot measure empirically; does not exist. Thus, God and the sou,l are illusions, and are irrelevant concerns for educated people. No one can present God or the spiritual self for our scrutiny; therefore, these do not exist.
In the twentieth century, scientists, at least those whom we may refer to as first-order scientists, were more conscious of the limitations of science than their nineteenth century forebears were. Hence, they readily conceded that in fact science itself has showed us that reality in itself is beyond the reach of science, that the reality we examine by conventional science, is in fact a construct, (and as such largely subjective). Actual reality is beyond that construct.
Today, instead of saying, God is an illusion; men of science say that the material world itself is an illusion. What exists beyond that illusion is a realm we cannot know. Science itself has no access to that realm. Eddington, the noted astrophysicist, said that science started out trying to grasp the exact nature of reality, with full confidence that this can be done. Science ended up with mathematical equations, which are only partial accounts of something much wider. The equations have only a symbolic value, as a map is symbolic, but does not put one in direct contact with the reality it symbolizes. The equations may work for us in a sensible sense, but they do not put us in direct confrontation with the reality they depict. Science, contrary to the popular assumption, in fact does not know the reality that its equations seem to describe.
Scientists found that in the final analysis, matter is made of electrons (and other subatomic particles). Therefore, they studied the electron. However, the electron is and has remained a mystery. They could not ascertain if an electron is a solid or a liquid, if it is a particle or a wave. Sometimes it behaved as a wave and sometimes it behaved as a particle. This is inconceivable and inexplicable, though science tells us that, inexplicable or not, that is the way it is. Scientists could only label the phenomenon; they called it a wavicle, which does not say what the electron actually is. The electron can be represented and described in mathematical equations, and that is it. This means that matter is reduced to an abstraction. The phenomenon of “light” has the same dilemma. In their experiments, light acts as a particle, and in some as a wave; what to speak of “ether”. Their math tells them that light needs a medium to travel, because it has properties of a wave. When they try to prove that “ether” exists, they come up to a “stone wall”. Then when they try to prove that it does not exist, they come up to a “stone wall”. Hence, they regulate the phenomenon of light to the same file drawer as the “atom”. In regards to the “electron”, they cannot prove that it actually exists, because they cannot predict where it will be at any point in time. Like the earth rotating around the Sun. On February 14, 2088, at 8:08:53.00088 AM; they can pinpoint the exact location of the earth, in relations to any other object in the cosmos. The electron’s position at any time is reduced to a probability.
In short, science at this level wrestles with the question, “Does matter exists at all?” Moreover, this applies not just to matter, but to the entire realm of the senses—sound, smell, color, touch, and taste. Whatever falls within the range of sensory experience is declared by science to be an illusion, a construct reality. It exists within the mind, and not in the world “out there”.
This view is supported by research in physiology and biology. Take the perception of color, for example: Scientists inform us that it is not the object “out there” that is colored; it is our eyes and brain, that make us see an object as a particular color. Color is only a sensation in our minds. We superimpose color onto the object. When we see a brown car, what actually happens, according to science, is that light falling on the car reflects back, and meets the retina, and this causes some chemical changes. The changes are carried in the form of impulses along the optic nerve to the back of the brain, and there the sensation of color occurs. The color brown exists in the brain, not outside on the car. Only the light is out there. The fact that many people agree that the car is brown, only proves that many people share the same construct reality (at the same time we do know of people who cannot agree on what shade of brown the car is). The color “black” is even more interesting. When you think, you are seeing “black”, you are not seeing any color. Black is due to no light is reflected from the object; all the light is absorbed by the object. Therefore, the color black does not exist.
The same is true for sound. A vibration strikes the membrane of the eardrum. This travels to the inner ear to the auditory nerve, and then to the brain, and results in the sensation of sound. In this way, all sense objects, whether sound, color, smell, touch, or taste, are but bundles of sensations inside us, not out there in the world. Chemical reactions, and compound transformation, that cause electrical impulses, that travel to a particular part of the brain, through the nerves. The sensations the objects produce, exist in the mind, and not out there in reality; hence, the world as presented by our senses is mental, subjective, and relative, and not at all the reality of things as they are in themselves.
The other source of knowledge upon which science depends is reason. However, here again, this knowledge is relative, for it is ultimately based on the senses. Hence, our reason first casts reality into its own mold as extrapolated from prior sensory experience, and then presents it to us. Thus, we have found that where science has progressed the farthest, the mind has but regained from nature that which the mind has put into nature. We project something, in other words, and then proceed to study it.
Therefore, reality is a personal construct, our own creation. It is based on how our senses or reason interpret “something” from outside, that is received as sensations or stimuli of our senses, but what that something is, science cannot say. The physicists say it is “energy”, which undergoes transformations to become sound, heat, light etc., which the senses then perceive. Still, we can say nothing about the pure energy itself. This energy is a conceptual creation needed to explain the fact that we have sense experiences. In fact, no scientist has perceived it as it is, only its transformations; and those are relative to each person.
Because of the current state of scientific theory, scientists are compelled to put forward something beyond the world of our sense perceptions or reality is a construct. Considering that matter is illusory, many think this something must be a conscious or spiritual reality.
If matter, in the sense of material substance, is eliminated from the world, then spiritual existence is the only model of reality that is left. This we must liken to our conscious feeling, because now that we are convinced of the formal and symbolic character of the entities of physics, there is nothing left for us to liken it to. Having negated matter, having established that the physical world is an illusory reality, in keeping with the present state of scientific theory, the idea of a Universal Mind would be a plausible inference.