Question: There is a traditional practice, presumably coming from śāstra, to refrain from consuming food during an eclipse, as it will lead to diseases due to bacterial enhancement in the environment. However, research papers have established with evidence that no such increase in bacteria occurs. So is the information given in our scriptures erroneous?
Answer: Śāstra forbids eating, but where does it say in śāstra that there is an increase in bacteria? I have not come across any such statement in śāstra. In fact, I do not remember any reference to bacteria in śāstra. It may be explained so by contemporary teachers. But I do not think their explanation has any śāstric backing. Maybe it is just a guess to satisfy the modern mind. Śāstra hardly gives any reason for its injunctions. The śāstric injunctions are more like the modern law. For example, you earn a certain income, and by law, you have to pay a certain percentage of income tax. There is no explanation given by the state as to why a particular percentage is charged. And amazingly no one really asks this question. You just pay silently, although you do not like it. Most state laws are like that.
We assume that the state is making laws for our benefit or at least we are made to believe so. The śāstric injunctions are similar. The difference is that the state laws are made by legislators who are far from having a perfect vision of life—they may hardly be concerned about your welfare and may have a vested interest in making the law. Therefore, the laws keep on changing. But such is not the case with śāstric injunctions. They are either coming from Bhagavān Himself or from realized sages. These sages have impeccable character, have no vested interest, and think of the welfare of humanity. Yet we question the śastric injunctions but not the state laws. The main reason is that śastric injunctions are primarily about invisible subjects while the state laws are about empirical matters.
Therefore, the modern mind tends to disbelieve śāstra and conclude that śāstra is erroneous. If you do not have śraddhā in śāstra, then go ahead and eat during an eclipse. Billions of people do that. If you have śraddhā, then avoid eating, and you will certainly not die or fall sick.
You may ask why śāstra forbids eating during an eclipse, and no one may have a scientific answer, but science is not the be-all and end-all of knowledge. Can science tell you anything about sattva, rajas, and tamas? Can science say anything about the ātmā? Can science tell you that by feeding a hungry person, you get puṇya, or by stealing, you get pāpam? Certainly not. So then, should we not accept these things because science cannot verify them? The answer depends on whether one has śraddhā in śāstra or not.
Science also trashes Ayurveda. But Āyurveda does work and worked for thousands of years in India. Just know that śāstra tells you something that science can never know. That is the very definition of śāstra—that which cannot be known by any other means is known by śāstra, ajñāta-jñapakam śāstram.
pratyakṣena anumityā vā yastūpāyo na budhyate
etaṁ vidanti vedena tasmad vedasya vedatā
“That which cannot be known by direct perception or inference is known from the Veda. This is the unique characteristic of Veda.” (Sāyaṇa-bhāṣya, Tattrīya, Saṁhitā, Śukla Yajurveda)
There are three primary sources of acquiring knowledge, namely, direct perception (pratyakṣa), inference (anumāna), and statements of an authoritative person (śabda). Having śraddhā in śāstra does not mean that we do not accept knowledge coming from modern science. We have to understand that these are two separate disciplines. Their fields of operation are different. Different does not mean opposite or antagonistic. They can be complementary. If we do not have śraddhā in śāstra and we are devoted children of modern science, even then we should use our rational faculty. Unless you scientifically disprove śāstra, you should not call it erroneous. Śastra at least deserves the benefit of the doubt. That is being scientific.