“We Have Heard Repeatedly That This Path is a Science, But How Scientific Are We in Our Approach?”
We have heard repeatedly that this path is a science, but how scientific are we in our approach? A lecturer teaching a course on Bhagavad-gita was heard shrilly stressing,
“It is not discrimination that gives us Krishna; it is bhakti that gives us Krishna.”
But how does one know what is bhakti except by keenly discriminating? This is not a scientific presentation. When Lord Caitanya told Rupa Gosvami that the varieties of unwanted creepers that grow along with the bhakti creeper are asankhya, unlimited, but “the pure devotee must distinguish between them and the real creeper and immediately cut them down”, how can we divorce discrimination from bhakti?
Therefore, in response to the question “How scientific are we in our practice of Krishna consciousness?” the answer has to be, “Not very”—not when superficial knowledge is pawned off as deep realization. Sometimes dogma comes to us in Krishna conscious packaging. Take, for example, the following 1995 Vyasa-puja excerpt:
“You built a house in which the whole world can live. We see that this house is not made to encompass everyone by embracing so many relative philosophies and placing your instructions among them. This can only foster false ego and conflict. The foundation of this house is your instructions, as demonstrated by your living example. We cannot jump over you to other Acaryas, seeking to judge your position and teachings and adjust them to fit some new siddhanta born of our materially motivated speculations. If your teachings are seen to be relative truth and movable, then the house, having no foundation, will fall apart. Our consciousness will immediately become muddy and confused due to shifting our reference point from your absolute instructions to our flickering mind.”
Here is a person making assumptions based, not on philosophy, but on dogma. Although empty, this argument is so emotionally stirring, it is apt to blind us or deflect us from the scientific understanding. Here guru is made the basis of siddhanta in place of sastra. By presenting it as glorification of Srila Prabhupada, it becomes nigh impossible to refute this fallacy, because in the eyes of the undiscerning devotee, any attempt at refutation is an attack on Srila Prabhupada. The author wraps himself in the flag of Prabhupada’s name. Naturally, whoever disagrees with him is perceived as disagreeing with Prabhupada; but Prabhupada himself disagrees with this view.
Prabhupada has instructed us many times in his purports, that we must study the teachings of the previous Acaryas, and resolve philosophical differences by discussion.
His instructions are that we base philosophical proof on guru, sastra, and sadhu, using sastra as “the center”. Before we imply or accuse anyone of relativizing Prabhupada, of adjusting his instructions to fit some new siddhanta, we must first of all see if they are deviating from sastra. Otherwise, we may be the ones guilty of establishing a house with no foundation. To protect ourselves we should examine everything carefully. That means we discuss issues in a collegial atmosphere without fear.
We may discuss without fear of repercussion, without fear of losing, and without fear that we will be misled, because we have sastra as the basis of understanding.
As Srila Prabhupada said, “Nothing should be accepted blindly.” That means we must subject everything to critical scrutiny in light of the philosophy and if we do not know the philosophy well enough, we should ask questions until we are satisfied. That is what Arjuna did with Krishna and we should follow his example. The Bhagavatam is full of examples of persons approaching authorities and asking questions and getting answers. A genuine Krishna conscious authority, in other words, is open to challenge. That does not mean arrogant challenge, but a genuine Krishna conscious authority appreciates being questioned about the philosophy. It gives him a chance to talk about Krishna, to explain his vision, his realization. He welcomes questions about his leadership as well, because it gives him a chance to explain how he arrived at certain decisions via Krishna conscious reasoning.
We must never practice dogma in the name of Krishna consciousness. That goes against Srila Prabhupada’s teachings. Sometimes, however, it seems that we have so much momentum due to strength in numbers that we feel justified in being dogmatic, but this is actually a disservice to the bhakti–marga. As Srila Prabhupada says “this is not a sentimental fanaticism, religious movement”. By fanaticism he means a dogmatic approach to Krishna consciousness.
Dogmatism is tricky because, as in the above passage from Prabhupada’s Vyasa-puja book, it can have the veneer of being sold-out to Krishna consciousness. Actually, it is not remotely true to the science of Krishna consciousness. Bhakti-marga and dogmatism go ill together. Recall the definition of science: “a body of knowledge that is systematically arranged that operates by specific laws or principles and yields specific results”. Such a body of knowledge can be critically examined and along with having specific laws and principles it will have a certain internal logical consistency, a certain coherence. Finally, it must be backed by sastric reference. This is our system.
Srila Prabhupada has nicely established the standard in the Nectar of Devotion while discussing the symptoms of a first-class devotee:
“He is very expert in the study of relevant scriptures, and he is also expert in putting forward arguments in terms of those scriptures. He can very nicely present conclusions with perfect discretion and can consider the ways of devotional service in a decisive way. . .. The first-class devotee never deviates from the principles of higher authority, and he attains firm faith in the scriptures by understanding with all reason and arguments. When we speak of arguments and reason, it means arguments and reason on the basis of revealed scriptures. The first-class devotee is not interested in dry speculative methods meant for wasting time. In other words, one who has attained a mature determination in the matter of devotional service can be accepted as the first-class devotee.”