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.
If you meet a celebrity whom you do not recognize but have heard of, you will not pay attention to him. But if someone tells you his name you will immediately be attentive towards him. This shows that name is more important than form.
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