Is Bhakti a Science?
From the above considerations, we can stipulate that the laws of bhakti are certain in that they yield a predictable outcome. By contrast, as we shall soon see, the outcomes of conventional science, contrary to popular assumption, are tentative; they only give us the illusion of certainty. In this sense, the science of bhakti is superior to conventional science.
Bhakti is rooted in the transcendental, the divine. Fundamentally and primarily, it is not the result of experiments conducted by man; it is based on knowledge revealed to man by God Himself. Contrary to common assumption, upon careful scrutiny we find that this is even more sure and certain than the conclusions based on man’s observation and experimentation with his limited senses and limited understanding of his existence, (and even of the physical world).
ddThe late Richard Feynman, physicist and Nobel laureate, has argued that despite the fact that the popular mind believes that science is based on certainty, in the final analysis it is actually based on uncertainty. Science he says, progresses because “it is uncertainty, in the quest of certainty”. As such, the truths reached by science are always to be regarded as stepping stones toward some newer certainty, newer truth.
Though the truths of science are taken as certainties in the popular mind, these scientific answers are never absolute certainties. Rather in the course of time, the methods of testing and observation become more refine, and new “certainties” emerge. This is the ongoing process of science. Therefore, science does not mean “absolute”, says Feynman; but “tested” or “what has been observed so far”.
\In other words, the “facts” of science today are subject to revision tomorrow. This means that science deals with relative knowledge, or tentative truths. As such, it is sensible to have faith in science as a procedure, but to believe that the temporary certainties of science are unalterable truths is unreasonable. For example, at one time Newtonian mechanics was the apex of science. Today it is replaced by quantum mechanics. Moreover, we may safely assume that someday, another kind of mechanics may replace the quantum version. Indeed, it would be unscientific not to allow for this possibility. Yet science has the stature in the popular mind of dealing with absolute truths. This popular belief is, so to speak, another dogma of science.
Bhakti, on the other hand, despite its unique methods, is in no danger of such fluctuation or revision. Therefore, it is more certain than what we ordinarily think of as science. Therefore, bhakti is also called sanatana dharma, meaning the eternal function of the soul, for this dharma is not subject to any revision. Moreover, because bhakti puts us in direct contact with ultimate reality, as explained earlier, it is a higher science than conventional science, which is confined to the realm of mental constructs.
Previously scientists thought the atom was the smallest particle of physical nature. In this century, it was discovered that electrons are the subunits of the atom. This discovery threw scientific thinking into confusion. Whereas Newtonian mechanics saw reality at the atomic level, and saw the world as an entirely predictable machine, (even to the point where they were thinking that man too was a machine), the discovery of the subatomic particles put everything into uncertainty. Electrons were found to be independent acting and unpredictable. Thus, the law of causation, which is the cornerstone of the whole world of science, did not apply at the level of subatomic reality.
To add to the confusion, inexplicably, although subatomic particles such as electrons individually behave unpredictably, inspiring Heisenberg to formulate his uncertainty principle, the same particles, when massed into huge groups of atoms, behave according to the laws of Newtonian mechanics.
Actually, to touch again on the question of subjectivity/objectivity, the laws of science are not objective. Even in groups, electrons keep their unpredictable behavior, yet they appear to act uniformly. We perceive them as behaving uniformly, because when they are in groups, we do not attend to their individual function, we focus on the average behavior of the collective. This is based on a mathematical law of averages, because the uniformity is not in the nature of the electrons themselves. The law of averages gives us the illusion of uniformity. Modern science has not removed this illusion; it has only made us aware that we live with it.
If we toss a coin into the air, we cannot predict whether it will fall heads or tails up. If we do this with one or two hundred coins, we still cannot say how many will be heads or tails up. Yet according to the mathematical law of averages, if we go on increasing the number of coins, the percentage difference between how many will be heads up vs. tails up will diminish and go on diminishing. Hence a toss of one million tons of coins will likely yield half with heads up and half with tails up, to a very fine precision indeed. Repeated tossing of this huge number will give the impression of uniformity in the behavior of the coins and we will express this uniformity in a law. Since there are many more electrons in a visible piece of matter than there are coins in one million tons of coins, it appears that they behave uniformly. As said before, this uniformity, however, is not in the nature of things. It is an illusion of uniformity imposed on nature via our mathematical law of averages. Contemporary science only makes us aware of the arbitrary behavior of the electrons and gives us the illusion of certainty by the law of averages.
Since bhakti is concerned with God and bhakta (devotee), both being free and unpredictable in behavior, it seems that the same uncertainty found in conventional science should apply. After all, laws of mechanical predictability and causation cannot bind God or the individual living being. Naturally, this should lead to uncertainty; however, just as uniformity is introduced in nature by the law of averages, uniformity is introduced in the realm of bhakti, or transcendent reality, by the law of love. In love, neither God nor the devotee has freedom of his own. Each is bound to the other though mutual love. (Caitanya-caritamrta Antya Lila 18:18)
“Ecstatic love of God makes God and His devotees dance, and it also dances personally. In this way, all three dance together in one place.”
\Again, the devotee declares, “My Lord, I am Yours.” Or, “Not by my will, but by Your will.” Moreover, the Lord declares in Srimad-bhagavatam 9.4.68,
“The pure devotee is always within the core of My heart, and I am always in the heart of the pure devotee. My devotees do not know anything else but Me, and I do not know anyone else but them.”
Love curtails freedom. Therefore, we see in the Bhagavad-gita that God takes a menial position as the chariot driver of His bhakta, Arjuna. In prema-bhakti, the devotee becomes the servant of God and God becomes the servant of the devotee.
Therefore, in science, the uniformity introduced by the law of averages is an illusion, since it is a construct, an imposition, which we have created to explain phenomena presented to us via our senses. In bhakti, on the other hand, having attained a state beyond the construct reality through the practice of sadhana, the uniformity introduced by the law of love is real. Hence, the laws of bhakti are not probable; they are certain.