Question: 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:
There could be a third possibility: Science may be partially wrong and revise itself in the future, as has happened in many instances.
Practice chanting with the aim of focusing your mind. The goal which you want to attain has to be practiced. If you want to attain bhava, then you have to practice it with interest, knowing that this is what you want, and nothing else.
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