Do we Have to Reject Modern Science?

Small moonQuestion: Does a prema-bhakta know everything in the empirical realm as well? For example, can a prema-bhakta prove Fermat’s theorem or reconcile quantum mechanics and relativity? Can statements from a prema bhakta on the empirical realm be wrong? If yes, then how is a sādhaka to know what to consider authoritative, and what is vyavahāra.

Answer: Before I answer you, I will pose a simple question: Did you accept your guru because you wanted to learn Fermat’s theorem and reconcile the quantum mechanics dilemma? I am sure that is not the case, and that you accepted him as your guru to understand God and his creation, the purpose of life, the process to realize God, etc., etc.

It is quite possible that when you accepted your guru, you might have thought that he has answers even to the questions that puzzle and bother modern scientists. This is a misconception that many disciples carry in the mind. They think that a pure devotee knows everything, because śāstra sometimes describes him as sarvajña, “omniscient.” However, the word sarvajña does not mean “one who knows everything.” This may be shocking to many, even God does not know everything.

If God is indeed unlimited, he cannot be sarvajña because anything unlimited cannot be known completely. No one fully knows Kṛṣṇa, not even Kṛṣṇa. He knows everything he wants to know. That is the true meaning of sarvajña.

When the term sarvajña is applied to a pure devotee, it means the same: He knows everything he wants and needs to know, which means that he knows everything he needs to know about bhakti.

At least in India, before modern science came into existence, the source of knowledge regarding engineering, arts, or any other empirical field was the Vedas. Thus a student would approach a guru to learn anything, spiritual or empirical. But even then, it was not that every guru knew every field of knowledge.

When Kṛṣṇa speaks about the qualification of a guru in the Gīta, or when we read about the qualification of guru in other scriptures, there is no mention of knowledge of empirical sciences. Nobody approaches a guru – nor should they – to learn, say, Fermat’s theorem. The function of guru is not to put the modern scientists out of business, his function is to teach what you cannot learn from any scientist, past, present or in future.

I hope this clears your main question.

Question: Isn’t there a danger when the sādhaka limits the prema bhakta’s authority?

Answer: These type of questions arises only when one does not have implicit faith in guru. When one has implicit faith in guru, such a question simply does not arise. In my experience, the biggest problem for people who come to spiritual life is lack of faith. Most spiritualists, on all paths including bhakti, have very flimsy faith. Because of this, disciples sometimes become inimical even towards their guru.

Question: These questions also seem to arise when gurus criticize and reject the sciences.

Answer: I see no reason why a guru should reject science, unless it irreconcilably goes against śāstra.

Question: When gurus reject science, disciples are forced to choose between accepting the guru or accepting the sciences.

Answer: This is a problematic situation. A disciple should carefully investigate the guru before accepting him, because giving him up after accepting him (unless in cases that śāstra recommends) is very detrimental.

Question: Kṛṣṇa should know more than the scientists, otherwise they would be superior to him. Anything knowable and currently known by any of the infinite jivas in infinite universes is due to Paramātmā who is the sensing power of the senses and the knowing power of the mind. Although Kṛṣṇa, being unlimited, cannot know himself fully, still he must know himself better than everyone else combined does. So, that means Kṛṣṇa must know anything science has discovered or will discover.

Answer: Yes, of course.

Question: I think there is a big problem when gurus demand unreasonable faith. For example, the young-earth creationists insisting that the earth is a few thousand years old, or the demand to reject modern cosmology from a certain Gauḍīya Vaishnava organization, or to reject that we went to the moon, or to reject that there is little or no archeological evidence for humans or advanced civilizations older than 100,000 years, to reject the mountain of evidence for evolution. When these demands are made, I think then reasonable people will reject bhakti or any spiritual path.

Answer: I don’t think reasonable people would reject bhakti. It is reasonable for them to reject the unreasonable guru, but not to reject bhakti, unless they themselves are unreasonable. If an unreasonable Ayurvedic doctor gives a medicine that does not work, it is reasonable to give up faith in that doctor, but not in Ayurveda in toto.

Question: If someone can continue on the path of bhakti but reject such unreasonable demands, I feel that indicates a much deeper faith in the philosophy of bhakti than those who blindly accept such dictums. My questions are not to cast aspersions on gurus, but to understand if I am missing something. Maybe Jīva Gosvāmī might be able to explain all the scientific evidence- who am I to know?

Answer: I don’t know if Jīva Gosvāmī could explain all scientific evidence but I do know that he would not reject it if it doesn’t contradict śāstra, because these are two different fields of knowledge. Shastra tells you that which cannot be known by any other evidence.

In cases where modern scientific evidence seems to go against the knowledge given in śāstra, there may be two possibilities:

  • The two do not really contradict each other. The knowledge in śāstra is deeper than how we are understanding it. For example, sometimes śāstra describes reality at the psychic level (adhidaivika), and we may mistake it to be a description of the physical level (adhibhautika).
  • The other possibility is that science may be seeing it from a different perspective than śāstra. The same truth can appear differently when seen from different perspectives, and thus there may not really be a contradiction.

There could be a third possibility: Science may be partially wrong and revise itself in the future, as has happened in many instances.

Heisenberg

Comments ( 4 )
  1. Vāyu.

    It seems that a correct appreciation of the relationship between modern science and bhakti-yoga requires a qualified guru. And such a spiritual master must be someone at least close to the platform of śāstra-yuktye sunipuṇa. But what exactly does this technical term mean? Perhaps it points to a vaiṣṇava versed in saṁskṛta, ṣaḍ-vedāṅga, ṣaḍ-darśana and bhakti-śāstras in addition to certain worldly disciplines? In this secular and non-Vedic age, is there a basic and systematic study program—especially for Western people—to reach that high platform?

    Kṛṣṇa is sarvajña but he does not know what the fullness of love is; that’s why he comes as Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. And even more: “every conditioned being is outdoing Bhagavān as far as the experience of material suffering is concerned!”. So in the psychology of emotions even Kṛṣṇa does not know everything.

    • babaji Post author

      That term means “one who is expert in śāstra and logic.”
      Bhakti-Tirtha is a humble effort to fulfil this goal.

  2. Bhakta Gene

    Hare Krishna!

    All glories to Sri Guru and Gauranga!

    I think Satyanarayana Maharaj must have received my inquiry transcendentally as I have been asking many of these questions above to numerous devotees within the Gaudiya sampradaya and receiving little or no response. My overarching concern as a Ph.D. Biochemist and a die-hard bhakta is that ultimately I would not be able to take shelter of a guru and find a home in a bond-fide sampradaya.

    Over the past year I have been regularly attending a local temple and I have heard a great deal of anti-science rhetoric and, as a scientist, it is very off-putting. So much so that I have started to bring it to the attention of the brahmacaris as I felt that persons holding positions of brahmanical authority actually only serves, by extension, to undermine their authority on spiritual matters among those who do understand the scientific basis of medicine, physics, chemistry, and biology (evolution). It is also a missed opportunity to bring scientists into the path of bhakti for a transcendental relationship with Lord Krishna.

    I have asked nearly all the questions above regarding this topic (as recently as this week) and I am so thankful to you for providing the answers–especially the advice to carefully choose a guru to whom we can surrender fully without reservation. I am in the process of seeking a spiritual teacher for harinama initiation and will be incorporating this into my criteria for selection.

    Hari Bol!

  3. Dear all

    I follow this conversation with great interest. That these questions are raised, shows the demand for understanding in this subject. So I have a propoasel here.

    We are human begins, science proves us that we are definitely not this body, guess every Ph.D. Biochemist can in some way or a other make sense of that fact. In order to understand why and what we are, we should be given tools within this body to resolve this question. Animals do not have that ability maybe because it is not ask of them. And yes every single human begin has the tools to understand things, outside of our conceptions.
    .
    It can be done, there are people out there they teach us how to do it, since many of us accepted it, but want to know, how to apply it. I know that some who teach, have a solid long term scientific background. I am not saying you have to be a scientist, they are others, teach wonderful things, coming from a very simple background. But modern mind wants to know why? why things are the way they are, and there I see the short coming of modern spiritualism. We do not get really answers to our many questions and you can not say, just not enough faith. That implies that this process can not place the necessary faith in the student to believe in it. Faith is sometimes something we can not explain, faith is sometimes not from this world. I know, hardly anyone of devotees follows the idea of what they decades before faithfully followed?

    One reason is, teaching at the time of the Goswami’s was something else then today. Even in these days you find people, accepting theories just based on believe and authority. But modern mind of people, always ask why? We have to respect it, we are living in a time of wast information. What Goswamis’s thought 500 years ago, was probably accepted by common people. But for the majority of us, it is too esoteric, which I guess you have to be also, in order to understand it the real way.

    If we argue on the base of shastra alone, we do not allow understanding of things, which can be explained in modern understanding, from a other perspectiv. No modern mind will go with shastra alone to long. And we see it, not to many faithfully Believers in it any longer. We have to face that fact, even if it hurts. But we should also look outside, outside of our believe concepts, allowing us to look at things, we were not really allowing passing trough to our understanding.

    If we serious seeker for a spiritual journey, there is nothing more Krsna likes to help us. You ask yourself only once, could it be? you will get your answers.
    Whatever it is, I swear, Krsna will respond, if you just allow it. You have to allow yourself seeing things outside your understanding, outside of what you believe is your reality. Give yourself that chance and do not stand any longer yourself in the way of understand things.

    Science and shastra tell’s us, this world is energy, in fact Krsna itself says we are energy. Energy is not at one place, it is everywhere and always moving, The understanding of it must be also everywhere. It can not be on one way in one place in one understanding. If we speak of energy we relate to things like electric, force, power but actually knowledge is also energy. That’s why energy in the form of knowledge is always available, we have to allow it to come to us.

    If we feel comfortable of what is written here, you can trust in it, but if we feel, what the hack this guy is saying here, we may want to go on with our concepts of reality. We are always free to make our choice, Krsna just responds to it, accordingly, because…… we are his energy, do you really believe it is in Krsna’s interest to work against his own energy?

    The ball lays by us alone.
    Hope this helps…

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