Sunday, April 07, 2013

A few comments on evolution, science and so on

I think this will be the last article I post from 1997. After reading one of the others, a friend on Facebook told me that this scientific mode of thinking has reached its limits and that mystical techniques including psychotropic substances open one's "doors of perception" in ways that scientists have yet little hope of understanding, precisely because they are subjective experiences.

I will have to return to this question later, but it does indeed form the crux of much of the thinking that I am just now in the process of crystallizing. It centers on the left-brain/right-brain type duality that it is imperative, our psychological and spiritual duty, that we learn to synthesize. Functional equilibrium is far from meaning genuine synthesis. 

Different personality types will always lean to one or the other styles of thinking and experiencing reality. But my friend Mathura Das [for it is he!] is fundamentally right on the principle of bhakti. Bhakti is ultimately not communicated intellectually as much as it is aesthetically, sensually, and emotionally. It is mediated through the brain by direct sensual means. This is the point of hṛṣīkeṇa hṛṣīkeśa-sevanam, hearing and chanting, etc.

On the whole, this was the argument I was making back in 1997, but I was still very much unbalanced towards the intellectual side, much to the detriment, I believe, of my bhakti. Nevertheless, I believe that I have assimilated both sides fairly well now -- just watch me get thrown into a total whirlpool of confusion and distress as punishment for such a brazen statement -- we are totally ready to get to the point of rasa.

One last thing I must say is that I do tend to "follow my nature." And even when I don't want to, I keep getting sucked back in. One day I will truly become a rasika, I swear it. Jai Sri Radhe!

Little known to those who think that science and religion are diametrically opposed, the Protestant reformation and the Puritan ethic played an important role in the development of the scientific outlook. Scientific research was seen to promote discipline, work and serious rather than idle thoughts. Puritans sanctioned science because they believed understanding how nature works gives humanity a better insight into the works of God.

I think that this idea is still applicable. yasmin vijñāte sarvam eva vijñātaṁ bhavati. What does this mean? Surely vijñāna cannot mean here detailed and scientific knowledge? And what does it mean to have "realized knowledge" of the Supreme? If one cannot know him completely, how can one expect to know the infinite manifestations of his energies? It seems that we are really talking about something else...

Acknowledging that sense perception is defective is the beginning point of scientific thinking. It asks the question, how can I overcome defective perception? Rather than just accepting a statement because some so-called authority claimed it (and who is likewise in conflict with x number of other authorities, Biblical, Quranic, Buddhist, Taoist, Amerindian, etc.) who all have different revelations, let me establish, to the best of my ability, the truth. In order to do this, I must be careful to protect myself from the bhrama, pramāda, vipralipsā and karaṇāpaṭava that dog my usual thinking. This will not be accomplished by simply accepting any authority.

Thus was born the scientific method, which calls for rigorous verification of every claim. A statement such as that there are 8,400,000 species is so empty of content that it is laughable to think that any scientist would "save time or trouble" by accepting it. This kind of statement also falls into the chutzpah category, by the way.

Who will accept such bold statements found in scripture? Rasaraja answers his own question, as does nearly every devotee, fundamentalist Christian, Muslim, etc. who faces similar questions: It is for the person to whom it is more important to know that "he is being cared for." Now why someone who believes that there are 7,136,287 species (whatever a species is) cannot believe yoga-kṣemaṁ vahāmy aham, I cannot say.

Certainly such acceptance simplifies our lives. I don't have to go out and count species ourselves (especially not on the basis of fluid definitions insuring the result will come out as EXACTLY 8,400,000, with EXACTLY 400,000 human species, etc.), I can just accept and go on with my life. If man has been to the moon or not has very little effect on whether I myself have food on my table tonight or whether my wife and I will still love each other after twenty years of marriage, so in a way, these arguments are purely academic. It is an amusement, a passe-temps like the X-Files for those to whom they are the new gospel.

Some people show a hesitant step towards a reconciliation of the faith-based and science-based point of view. This is a phenomenon that can also be seen in Islam as well as in Hinduism, which apologists will make, taking the form: "The [pseudo-scientific] statements of scripture are compatible with modern science."

Rasaraja cites Prabhupada and, of the moon landing issue, says that one of the following statements must of necessity be true: 1. claimants have not gone to the moon OR 2. claimants didn't see any living entities there because of their imperfect senses. The other possibility, that Prabhupada could have been wrong, that one of the four faults nyāya attributes to human thought might have affected him, was not raised. By prioritizing shastric truth, even when it is irrelevant to the claims of religion, we unfortunately become prone to accepting any nonsense as truth.

What ticks me off in all this is the fundamental hypocrisy that underlies it. Scientific procedure has resulted in real improvements in our lives. This very act of communication via the internet would be an impossibility without the combination of thousands of discoveries accumulated through hundreds of years of application of the scientific method and then the practical application of these discoveries. When I think of all those devotees who passed through India and literally went crazy because of the lack of amenities there, it stuns me to still hear their pompous denigration of Western culture and civilization.

Prabhupad thought of Westerners as the blind man and India as the cripple. There can be little doubt that he admired Westerners for their technical prowess, but this technical prowess did not fall from the sky, it was not created ready made at the beginning of the universe. It came about through the discovery of the principles of creation by the application of the scientific method.

Now I can use this computer with only the vaguest notion of how it functions. But I will at least honor the process that led to its being a possibility. Whether those people who made these discoveries were atheists or not has absolutely no bearing on the matter. I think it is a matter of respect for the truth. I repeat, respect for the truth. Yes, I am shouting. [But not as loudly as I was in 1997.]

It is likely that the way something is used (whether for good or evil) is more important than these other considerations. A person entirely ignorant of scientific method can be a good and holy man or woman, I will not deny it. But to willingly close one's eyes to the discoveries of the scientific method on the basis on one person's say so even while using its fruits is nothing less than hypocrisy.


I don't know what the Bhaktivedanta Institute is up to these days, but the last publication I saw was trying to "disprove" evolution on the basis of so-called evidence that had been "hidden." Once again we have another conspiracy theory to add to the conspiracy to make us believe that men had actually been to the moon and the conspiracy to make us believe that the earth is round and that it goes around the sun. What to speak of the conspiracy of historiography, which will tell us that the Bhagavatam was NOT written 5,000 years ago by Vyasadeva...

A scientist starts with an open mind and tries to find a theory that fits the evidence, and then as far as possible tries to find ways to verify his theory through experimentation. The point being that we subject the theory to a test that either confirms or disproves its validity. Here we start with a dogma and ask how can I find things that will defend it.

It is a bit like Satsvarupa's book on Indology. I am not denying that Satsvarupa made a few good points, as may well the Bhaktivedanta Institute scientists, but his overall argument is seriously flawed. The same kind of thing goes on in Indology also. Sudhir Kak was famous for his ability to make etymological arguments to prove that Hinduism and Sanskrit were once universal and that all civilization derives from them. Thus the Shankaracharya, on the basis of a fanciful etymology of the word California, "proves" that certain events of the Mahabharata took place there. I can see some of you nodding, "Yes, that sounds right."

Prabhupad once said that all theists should ally to combat atheism, but this kind of alliance with the anti-evolutionists and all the rest of the fundamentalist Christian anti-scientist fringe like the Jehovah's witnesses just alienates anyone with a developed brain.

Krishna is satyam, he is nihitaṁ ca satye, 'hidden in the truth':

satya-vrataṁ satya-paraṁ tri-satyaṁ
satyasya yoniṁ nihitaṁ ca satye |
satyasya satyam ṛta-satya-netraṁ
satyātmakaṁ tvāṁ śaraṇaṁ prapadye ||

[See here for commentary.]

But if you start by accepting on faith that something which is not proved is true, and then you close your eyes to all evidence to the contrary, you are unfortunately not truly devoting yourself to the truth. You may have heard what happened to Galileo because he said that the earth went around the sun and other such things. Just recently it appears that the Catholic Church has discovered that it doesn't really matter whether the earth is round or flat, God remains God. So, they have reinstated Galileo. It took them 500 years to come to their senses.
Devotees do not have any desire to control or worship or manipulate material energy, for sense gratification or any reason. Their goal is to worship Krishna and seek dependence on him.
On the contrary, a devotee is attached to neither action (which by definition means manipulating the material energy) nor inaction (which means avoiding all contact with the material energy, an impossibility recognized by Krishna in the Gita). For the service of Krishna, everything is usable. The distant first rumblings of devotional service are in karma-yoga and varnashram dharma (see Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu). This means action in this world. To do your duty according to the varnashram dharma means manipulating the material energies.

What was Arjuna doing on the battlefield? He used the weapons of the gods, which I assume were technologically superior to those of the humans. Without karma you can't keep your body alive. Read Gita, chapter 3 once more. Being dependent on Krishna is not to say Inshallah and sit on your fanny. You KNOW this, so I don't think I have to say any more.

[The following quotes are from Visoka Das.] When confronted with threats of mystic power or otherwise, the devotee does not surrender to the material energy for protection. Durvasa challenged the devotee Ambarisa with his mystic power, creating a formidable demon. Ambarisa did not counter him with another display of mystic power, but only relied on Krishna's protection, which proved to be much greater than Durvasa's demon.

When confronted with the unknown or powers beyond our control, yes, we have no recourse but to turn to Krishna. Floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters, political uncertainty, war and genocide, unemployment, economic uncertainty, what to speak of inevitable diseases and death, all these things are generally speaking beyond the control of the individual. At these times he must surrender to Krishna. If he has a little time at his disposal, however, Krishna might open up to him, through his intelligence, a plan of action how to deal with these elements. Say for instance, a dike to stop a flood, concrete buildings to protect him from the hurricane, political action to stop the war, unions to deal with employer exploitation, etc. This is all varnashram DUTY and comes from Krishna. sva-karmaṇā tam abhyarcya siddhiṁ vindati mānavaḥ.

Materialists spend their whole lives in pursuit of controlling of material nature, usually just to increase the comforts of the material body. Srila Prabhupada always explains how this is a waste of human life. Devotees from the western sphere may be habituated to certain amenities, that is true, but still we may understand that the goal of life is Krishna and self-realization, and that making a career of service to the material body will not give us real happiness. We are intelligent to understand that. We are habituated to toilets and defecating in water, etc., still we do not make a career of service to the body, and still try to minimize it as much as possible. The toilets and such are not making a slave out of us.

Materialists try to control material nature for their sense gratification. But devotees also need material stability to engage in devotional service. That is why Yudhisthira was highly praised in the First Canto, was it not?

Devotional service is basically a leisure activity. For most people, the basic needs of food, shelter, health, security, etc., have to be dealt with before devotional service becomes an option. All propagandists understand this. I would even say that Prabhupad understood it when he instituted the prasadam distribution program (though this is confused with the magical properties of prasad). [I would be happy to return to this point later.]

So yes, toilets and other amenities are not per se against devotional service. And yes they don't bring real happiness, but just take them away from some high thinking devotee who looks down his nose at the materialist karmis and see how long he lasts. I lived in India for 11 years and I saw so many Westerners go "stir crazy." One French devotee was accused, with about 14 of us, of attempted murder in the 1977 fiasco at Mayapur. None of us was permitted to leave India for several years after that. Stuck in Mayapur, the holy dhama, without permission to leave! Is this Krishna's mercy or what? You will have to ask him how he felt about it. He wanted his flush toilets and his sour cream.

The point is, what is our true business? Just like these discussions we have, what is our true business, of which points of philosophy should we write about? There are so many arguments, but we should narrow it down to essential points of philosophy that will benefit the whole of society.

I agree with you, this is exactly what I have been saying: render unto Caesar what is Caesar's. But I don't think that we can come to any essential points if we pick only convenient "truths." I have pointed out that devotion to some extent rests on the material well-being of society. This is a natural action of the mode of creation (called by some passion). The kind of attitude you are promoting is on display as transcendental, but has certain elements of tamas, which is closing your eyes to the light.

Also, as said before, nobody went to the moon or mars, or beyond 25,000 miles from earth, they are all liars. There is proof of this, and this is not really a controversy any more. Srila Prabhupada was right all the time.

And here, Visoka, with this brilliant non sequitur, you show that you cannot maintain your own principle. You say it's not important and yet here you are, like a dog with a bone, insisting that this dubious position has been proven. It is not a controversy for me, either, but not because I agree with you.

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