Bhakti and Neuroscience

Question: In a seminar about the nature of the mind, you had mentioned that the subtle body (manas, buddhi, ahaṅkāra, citta) expresses itself through the physical brain, chemicals, etc. Therefore bhakti, Kṛṣṇa’s spiritual energy, also expresses itself through the manas, buddhi, ahaṅkāra, citta, and the brain chemistry.

This may mean that theoretically, it should be possible to arrange the brain chemistry in such a way that bhakti or spiritual emotions are experienced (through there is no such technology at present). An example of this intervention would be taking a pill that replicates the brain chemistry of a great devotee who experiences love and attachment for Śrī Kṛṣṇa. If this is true in theory, then it seems that material actions can create love for Śrī Kṛṣṇa, who is beyond matter. How is this? Bhakti is only obtained by the blessings of a great devotee and by hearing from such a bhakta.

This is bewildering to me. There must be some mistake in my thinking or understanding. 

Answer: You have wrongly assumed that a pill can replicate the experience of great devotees. This is the cause of your confusion. Bhakti is spiritual and so are the bhakti or spiritual emotions. The emotions of bhakti are expressed through the mind but there is no chemical pill that can create those emotions. Chemicals are material energy and as such, they cannot produce spiritual effects.

Question: You said, “but there is no chemical pill that can create those emotions. Chemicals are material energy and they cannot produce spiritual effects.”

Thank you. This is where I went wrong. I was thinking that emotions experienced by a person could be completely characterized through brain physiology and electrochemistry, though the causes of this physiology and electrochemistry are subtle. Since bhakti is not material, imitating the exact physiological and electro-chemical state of a brain that is experiencing bhakti cannot replicate the same experience.

The bewilderment and doubt were there because there are many neuroscientists who attempt to explain meditative and spiritual experiences purely through neuroscience, especially the work of neuroscientist Andrew Newberg.

Answer: These neuroscientists are treading in forbidden waters. They do not have the faintest idea about spirituality. Their approach is reductionistic. They are making the same mistake that you made, i.e., making the wrong assumption that a spiritual experience is merely a change in the chemicals of the brain. They think that consciousness is material and that it arises from the brain. A spiritual experience may manifest in the physical body and it may bring a change in these chemicals, but it does not mean that it is material and limited only to a transformation at the material level.

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Comments ( 12 )
  1. This pill effect that is described here is a natural quest, I think. Let’s take a great devotee as an example. Now, what steps convert a regular person into a devotee? This is not only scientific quest but a quest of anyone interested in spirituality. Grace is out of our control so what can I do to at least feel it? Now, first thing, you can wear the same clothes and eat like a devotee. Make prayers, imitate the lifestyle. This is possible. And probably on the mind level it is also possible. I heard of people taking LSD or something and having visions of Radha and Krishna (or whatever they have seen). Their mind surely experienced some transmetaflow which got expressed through brain physiology and electrochemistry. And if they were wearing a dhoti, having painted their chest, and holding bhagavatam while being in Mr Newberg office, they could be labeled lab-devotees. After all their behaviour is similar. Especially to someone who wants to prove some concept and has a deadline. But the thing is that having taken away the drugs, books and dhoti, the people under experiment would go back to normal (or a little altered), while a devotee will continue to be crazy. This is because the cause of their behaviour and electrochemistry is different. But then to resolve the issue ultimately one either listens to sastra or science.

  2. Tulasi

    “They think that consciousness is material and that it arises from the brain”
    nope…. they do not think like that, they know that consciousness is outside of the body and it is broadcasted through the body. There is nothing like material and spiritual energy, it is just a difference in frequency, it is all energy. Wifi signal and the radio signal from a satellite are both sources of energy but different in their frequency. One frequency can travel over 60’000 km the other just enough for a couple of meters but both them are forms of energy. This is what Krsna says…… it is all energy, including consciousness

    • Babaji Post author

      Tulasi Ji, maybe you can enlighten us about the scientific view of consciousness – where does it come from outside the body, where does it originate, and does it disappear along with the body at the time of death?

  3. Tualsi

    of course I can do that, just look at the biology of a human body, from what it is made, how it is maintaining itself and finally disappears. It need no big brain work to understand that consciousness and the body are two different things. But consciousness needs the body to; taste, for example chocolate. We are embodiment consciousness in order to experience things. That’s basically all about it.
    In order to understand things a bit clearer, Babaji you have to look into science and not try to deny it. Try to understand some basic of human body you will see some correlation with your understanding.
    Anyhow, since the body is by nature a receiver of information, science of epigenetics shade lights on that, consciousness could be consequently also outside of the body, “no scientific proof for that theory yet.” Energy, like consciousness never is lost, it transforms, consequently it does not have a beginning.

    • Dear Tulasi, do you know a scientific paper that would speak about the source of consciousness without pointing to the mind or brain itself? An intuitive point of view, or “just look at the biology of the human body” argument, is not enough in science. There is a scientific method by following which the conclusions are made. I am not aware of a widely approved dissertation that points to soul or Atma or God as a source of consciousness. The truth is, I also don’t follow scientific news but. But if somebody does, maybe you, I would appreciate receiving a link to read it.

    • Also, if there is a paper that speaks of other sources of consciousness or “energy” which is beyond the body, I wish to read it.

    • Babaji Post author

      I am sorry to say, but Tulasi Ji, you did not answer my questions. You did not enlighten me on the scientific view of consciousness. You are just giving me instructions such as in the last sentence above. If I could see the connection why would I ask you? You say:

      “It need no big brain work to understand that consciousness and the body are two different things.”

      There was no doubt on that. The point raised by you was that according to science, consciousness comes from outside the body. You did not throw any light on that. Please give some citations/references to support your point, if you want to educate me. Otherwise, your comments don’t help me or anyone else.

  4. Tulasi

    An average person is estimated to contain roughly 30 trillion human cells, cells reproduce every day and every second of your life. We have billions and trillions of cells in our body, and they reproduce to make healthier cells. it like a snake crawling out of its old skin.

    Babaji: “no scientific proof for that theory yet.” I wrote, you got that wrong. “your comments don’t help anyone else” pretty impudent statement of yours, knowing what help the rest of the world is in need.
    I know I answered your question, but Google is your friend

    • I see this is getting personal. Tulasi, why not take one step back? After all, we possibly have 30 trillion human cells helping us to educate each other.

      The thing is that even if we look at our body as if it was a crawling snake, we can still say that consciousness resides in the cellular memory. Or in the DNA code. That the information written there is not only a set of instruction for our replication and cellular exchange but also the very source of our self-awareness. And this is a big statement, yet it still indicates the bodily source of consciousness.

      After a short Googling, I found a paper that “takes the question of the nature of consciousness to the neuronal circuit level”: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/05/190501153354.htm

      Another popular resource is this one: https://www.sciencealert.com/harvard-scientists-think-they-ve-pinpointed-the-neural-source-of-consciousness

      Please take into account that in the scientific world “consciousness is generally thought of as being comprised of two critical components – arousal and awareness”. Both components being corporal.

      I haven’t found any academic papers that would indicate a source of consciousness external to the body. Dear Tulasi, if you find one, please share.

  5. Tulasi

    “These neuroscientists are treading in forbidden waters” is like agnosticism: I do not understand, therefore it does not exist. It does not suit a person having a house full of books. Practically all so called Guru’s have a attitude of underestimate science, many of them pick pocking science and implement nicely it in their mission. Others just use it like flying all over the world, based on a scientific work of physics, but then deny it anyhow. So far about getting personal.

    Science is there, because esoteric could not get the job done, explaining things. Esoteric lacks in their practice, that’s why people turn away. I know people practice for decades Bhakti but do not get rid of a regular migraine. Today people cure them self of cancer in the 4th stage, they never prayed, but they wanted to get rid of it. Humanity is at the point where they understand that the power lays within them self, and not necessarily in scriptures or politics. A clear intention is far more powerful then a whole house with theoretical understanding. Karma, fate, kismet these principal can not hold up any longer in 2020, they getting replaced by neuroscience, epigeneticist and quantum mechanics.

    Nothing wrong with Krsna and its existance, but the principle of attaining salvation by the mercy of others is never proven. This principle must be made by people who want to rule over others, it can be indoctrinated in extreme, as we see it in other place of the world.

    • Babaji Post author

      Tulasi Ji, instead of replying to my or Kubara’s question, you are digressing from the subject. It only shows that you have no reply. You are venting your frustration with spirituality. You have your experience and your opinion based on that. That is understandable. But it would be better that you write a separate blog or paper or book on that. That will serve your purpose better. This is the wrong platform to vent your frustration.

  6. Louis

    Hello together
    Hmmm interesting discussion.

    Perhaps new paradigms can help to understand things… or ontologies about will… bodily-will and so on, about ignorance, about how to do things together… but, it seems that teached spiritually practices doesnt help? (chanting et cetera) no progress, otherwise why looking for pills, why investigate things that are not relevant? However sometimes we don’t know what to ask the Babaji.
    Yes we live in a hard time a pill would be nice!

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