Friday, December 16, 2016

The Science of God and Literalist Belief in the Post-Truth World

I was just leafing again through a book, Dieu des Athees, by a French Catholic theologian from the 50s, and was reminded of his argument that faith and science/technology are distinct domains dealing with different aspects of human reality. Because they are distinct, nothing in science can really disprove God, who is mediated through faith, and indeed the critiques of science actually do believers a favor by leading them to recognizing that distinction. They will then understand that God acts in the natural world through the natural law, and reveals himself through the human will.

We agree with this, as all Indian sciences are sciences of the soul. Any knowledge of the world is validated only through its value in achieving the ultimate goal of the Self.

Even if scientists were to produce life in a test tube, or artificial intelligence, or (as I was saying in my class today) a way to duplicate mystical experience by prodding certain parts of the brain, it would not change anything to the life of faith. Because, after all, they still cannot explain why there is something instead of nothing. And because, after all, they are doing nothing more than rearranging other things, raw materials -- physical or mental -- whose origin or purpose they will never understand and in fact cannot.

In other words, knowing the distinction of the religious and scientific domains forces believers out of the realm of magical thinking or of bargaining with God, i.e, asking him to interfere in the natural order. It makes you deepen your inquiry into the nature of the life of faith. This author did not have much patience for those who try to interpret Biblical accounts of creation by equating the seven days with geological periods.

I thought about that point and wondered about the state of most Krishna devotees' literalist faith in the Puranas, etc., and how much more difficult it is for the average person in the 21st century to take them literally, more than even the Biblical accounts, which are paraded by the secular as a laughing stock. How can we claim for them more historical probity than we give to Egyptian mythologies? Even Bhaktivinoda -- from the same 19th century period in which science and religion were first in a really serious clash in the minds of people -- tried to explain the ten avatars as symbolic of evolution.

Well, it was a start, an attempt to free oneself from the dead end of literalism. I personally don't believe that the authors of most of the Puranas -- [even, dare I say, our own Gaudiya authors] -- had a primarily literalist belief, at least not in the way that we are literalist. They thought symbolically first and it was the aesthetic persuasiveness of the symbolic representation of Truth that made them believe in its Reality. That is the fundamental argument of Bhakti-rasamrita-Sindhu.

But Prabhupada apparently wanted and insisted on literalist interpretations of the shastra. I find this particularly bewildering and I personally feel this is one of those areas where devotee are really kidding themselves about the current stagnation of its preaching in the Western countries.

The fight against evolution is, for me, as much a waste of a devotee's time as proving that the world is flat or any number of other fantastic theories or tales about human history -- take those from Scientology for instance.

Gaudiya Vaishnavism itself is an evolution of Indian religious history, and if you don't try to understand it in that context, whatever you do have it will not be religious science. We have to accept our presence in the world of today as it is and not pretend that simply because we know it is the Lord's illusory potency that we can believe any damn thing. That is not science.

It is now being said that we live in a world that is "post-truth" and I see that devotees seem to be disproportionately inclined to going with the post-truth flow. Voltaire said, "If you can believe absurdities, then you can perform atrocities." In other words, that is the logical conclusion of literally believing absurdities.

Someone who is of a literalist bent will always at best be on the beginning platform of spiritual life. His bhakti means looking around for any signs of God's love. He tries to touch the realm of a sentiment that is supposed to be produced by myths that have long since been decontextualized in time and place. Understanding Rupa Goswami's sophisticated thought about sentiment is useless without recognizing its relation to lived human experience.

That is the point where -- in our sampradaya -- you have to start treating theology as the science of God.

There is a difference or hierarchy in the realm of illusion -- after all, Yogamaya and Mahamaya are both Maya. The life of faith that does not study the question of Prema will have no understanding of the distinct domains of religion and empiricism.

Leave archaeology to those who are actually interested in discovering the truth according to the most rigorous procedures of confirmation rather than to those who glibly pick and choose from ancient mythologies and try to prove something tangible from them. The tangible result of the bhakti path is prema.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

There is no great mystery to this, and it is very simple. One whom is continent in mind and body, earnestly practicing yoga - will transcend both; and by one will, will come to know the truth of himself and God.

Anonymous said...


My person re-read your post again this morning; in regard to your rhetorical question:

“How can we claim for them more historical probity than we give to Egyptian mythologies?”

The "Egyptian mythologies” or so-called "Egyptian-Mysteries" are no real mystery at all, and are just another cultural facet of the one single truth which the Nātha know well by direct practical yogic experience.

Let us examine one example of “Egyptian” yoga from the so-called Egyptian-‘Mystery’ school, that of the second shrine of Tutankhamen (images are arranged from left to right).

http://www.griffith.ox.ac.uk/gri/tut-scans/taa_i_3_25_35.jpg

http://www.griffith.ox.ac.uk/gri/tut-scans/taa_i_3_25_33.jpg

http://www.griffith.ox.ac.uk/gri/tut-scans/taa_i_3_25_38.jpg

The upper horizontal register = Cultivation and attainment of the state of pratimīlana-samādhi - aka 'Vipassana' in Tantric Buddhism (See KuPa verses 179b – 180a).

The middle register = (the “Lion’s roar”) verse 177b of the KuPa – “(by this method) one should create the moment (when the) voice (is raised in sacrifice) from her (as) she speaks (out) powerfully from him.”

See also:

https://www.academia.edu/14932488/The_Lions_Roar_in_Early_Buddhism_A_Study_Based_on_the_Ekottarika-%C4%81gama_Parallel_to_the_C%C5%AB%E1%B8%B7as%C4%ABhan%C4%81da-sutta

The lower register = Mahāmudrā – piercing above the skull (or as you have described Jagadananda Das in the headlines of one of your post as "The very one who took my maidenhead...") - symbolised in ancient Egypt by the phallus-like Hedjet [ḥḏt] crown – aka known as ‘Kramā Mudra’ in Kashmir Shivaism. Verse 174a of the KuPa – “Continually (without exhalation) holding the breath (release the knot) free the protuberance (above the skull)”, which is “un-natā” (one’s mind bent or turned upwards) channelling the procreative energy (kula) upwards forming the ‘Kaulikaṃ lingam’ (phallus) of energy raised above the skull in union.

The rest of Howard Carter’s original photographs of the second shrine may be found here (and are very much worth examining):

http://www.griffith.ox.ac.uk/gri/4tutshr25.html