Krishna Consciousness, see also Bhakti yoga, Devotional service
Krishna consciousness is the original, natural condition of all living beings and the complete fulfillment of self-realization. It means being fully conscious of both our eternal spiritual nature and of our natural relationship as loving servants to the Absolute Truth, or Krishna. For those of us who have forgotten that relationship—namely, everyone in the material world—there are practices to help return us to our original Krishna consciousness.
Practicing Krishna consciousness is scientific and experiential, not just theoretical. It involves focusing our mind and senses in active service to the Supreme Person. Great teachers, acharyas, have itemized some of the essential practices, all of which are beneficial, and any one of which, if practiced sincerely, can lead to spiritual perfection. The most recommended practices of Krishna consciousness are:
- Hearing about Krishna from authorized shastras (scriptures) like Srimad-Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita, with guidance from sincere practitioners
- Speaking about Krishna or chanting Krishna's names
- Associating with devotees of Krishna
- Living in a holy place (or making your own place holy)
- Worshiping God in His transcendental Deity form
All of the above are beneficial, but the top two - hearing and chanting - are most important.
(Picture shows a devotee offering flowers to Krishna's Deity form.)
Krishna consciousness means an awareness of and affection for the Supreme Person, Krishna. It is the culmination of all forms of yoga, knowledge, meditation, and religion.
Krishna consciousness is the natural, original, and blissful condition of every individual's consciousness. But in this material world we forget who we are and who God is. We think our body is the same as our self—sometimes we don't believe or even care if God exists at all. In such ignorance of spiritual reality, we live in a more or less constant state of bewilderment and anxiety, briefly interrupted by temporary bodily and mental pleasures.
Without Krishna consciousness, we don't know who we are or what we're supposed to do, so we regularly make mistakes that have far-reaching, upsetting consequences. Our ultimate anxiety is the nagging fear of death, which we try to avoid thinking about. We think death means we cease to exist—a thought nearly impossible to cope with, since it so completely goes against our eternal nature. We try to distract ourselves by intellectual, emotional, sensual, chemical, or electronic means—which often just cause us more anxiety. Among our other anxieties are the death of loved ones, and various other suffering conditions—such as old age and disease—that unfailingly precede death.
The practices of Krishna consciousness, or bhakti-yoga, are meant to free us from the root cause of all anxiety by reawakening our normal, spiritual awareness. The process is simple—meditation on the name, form, activities, and qualities of Krishna, whom the Vedas name as the ultimate, Absolute Truth, the Supreme Person. Of course, the Supreme Person may be known by different names in different religious cultures, but all genuine spiritual traditions agree that there's only one Supreme God. The goal of bhakti-yoga is to regain our natural sense of connectedness (yoga) with that one supreme God by practicing serving Him with love (bhakti).
(Painting at top depicts a fruit vendor in Vrindavan giving Krishna some fruit. In exchange, Krishna gave her countless precious gems.— from the Srimad-Bhagavatam, 10.11.11. Lower painting—visible in "Read More"—shows Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (center) along with His associates.)
by Sadaputa Dasa
The experimenter himself takes the place of test tubes and microscopes in the scientific search for the Absolute Truth.
Today the tendency is widespread among people all over the world to think that religion means nothing but sentiment and blind faith. In the past, people would turn to religion to find real knowledge and real guidance for their lives. But the development of modern science has led people to think that religion is outmoded and that religious writings are merely some old scriptures representing the views of people from the medieval period who might have had some interesting insights into life but who really didn’t have true knowledge. Nowadays, people think science is the source of true knowledge. So what I would like to do is show that bhakti- yoga, the systematic practice of devotional service to God, is a science and should be considered scientific.
Modern science has two primary features: theories and a systematic experimental approach for proving the theories. For example, if you look at the science of chemistry, you’ll find an extensive technical literature describing such things as atoms, electrons, electromagnetic fields, spin, valence, and so forth. These are all theoretical concepts. But these concepts don’t simply exist in a vacuum. You also have a set of experiments that will show you the relevance of the theoretical concepts. In other words, by using the concepts and the experiments you can obtainverifiable knowledge.
An important aspect of science, therefore, is that anyone should be able to obtain predictable results by correctly performing the experiments. And it is because science can consistently deliver such practical results that it has become so prominent in the world today.
The truly significant contributions of modern science have come in the realm of physics and chemistry; everything else more or less rests on that structure. And physics and chemistry are devoted entirely to the study of inanimate matter.Of course, these studies have been very successful. We have the theory of the atom, the theory of the electron, and so on. But unfortunately, our natural human tendency is to assume that if something is successful, it must be perfect and universal. Let’s look at some implications of this assumption.
Physics and chemistry describe the world in terms of electrons, protons, electrical fields, and various other such phenomena. If you think this system of ideas is universal, you’ll conclude that nothing but electrons, protons, electrical fields, and so on exist. Your next conclusion will be that life itself is but matter and that life has arisen by nothing more than the interactions of atoms, according to the laws and theories of physics.
These conclusions are unscientific extrapolations of modern scientific findings. The worst result of such conclusions is that they rule out any genuine religion. If we are nothing but electrons, atoms, and so forth, operating according to impersonal physical laws, what is the question of a spiritual dimension to life or of any sort of spiritual attainment? If I am simply a combination of electrons and protons, what is the question of God realization? What kind of God realization can electrons and protons have? Thus modern science’s unfortunate, unscientific conclusion that life comes from matter has led to widespread irreligion. It has actually led to the abandonment of the idea that religion has any real significance.
Here I would like to point out that the ancient system of bhakti-yoga is a spiritual system that is actually scientific. Of course, nowadays people generally think only new ideas are really of value and old ideas must be bad simply because they’re old. That is the spirit of the times—but it is incorrect. The scientific system of bhakti-yoga actually provides a much more complete picture of reality than does the system of modern physics.
As I said, a scientific system consists of theory along with experimental practice; so I will first outline the theoretical side of bhakti-yoga. Books such as the Bhagavad-gita and the Srimad-Bhagavatam, as well as other Vedic scriptures, outline the theoretical basis for the world view of bhakti-yoga. Two main theoretical principles of this world view are extremely significant. The first is that each person is an eternal spiritual entity, a conscious living being, or self, within the body. (In Sanskrit this spiritual entity is called the jivatma.)
In modern science, on the other hand, we have the idea that a person is the bodily machine, and that’s it. In other words, the body is a biochemical mechanism, and if one understands all the chemistry of that mechanism, one has understood everything about the person. That’s the guiding principle of modern science.
The Bhagavad-gita, of course, agrees that the body is a machine. The Gita describes the human body as a mechanism (yantra) constructed from matter (maya). But the Bhagavad-gita also states that there is a completely nonmechanistic entity—the jivatma, or spirit soul—who dwells within the bodily mechanism and who is the conscious perceiver. According to the Bhagavad-gita, the bodily machine is never actually alive; it is an insentient mechanism. The soul within the body is the conscious perceiver, the life principle, the one who animates the body.
Since no experiment in modern science is sufficiently sensitive to give any direct evidence of the soul, most scientists dismiss this concept. And people in general follow the scientists. Most people today accept that life is just chemistry because they have a general distrust of old systems of thought and because the scientists have never found any direct evidence of the soul. Certainly no chemical experiment is going to give you any evidence for the existence of the soul. Nor will an electron microscope ever show you the soul. The magnifying power is insufficient, assuming even that the soul interacts with electrons, which is highly doubtful.
We should, however, at least recognize that the techniques of physics and chemistry do not rule out the possibility of a spiritual entity within the body. This understanding is very important, because sometimes a negative scientific finding will block our intellectual or spiritual progress. People tend to think, “Well, the matter is settled. There’s no soul in the body; we might as well forget about that.” But the matter is far from settled. Again, we should fully realize that no experiment within the corpus of modern physical science rules out the existence of the soul within the body.
The second important principle of the theoretical system of bhakti-yoga is that behind the material universe is a supremely intelligent being. This is a traditional idea of many religions, but bhakti-yoga, as we shall see, provides a systematic method of knowing this Supreme Being.
This principle of a Supreme Being is, of course, antithetical to modern science. Science as it exists today—that is, modern physical science—has tended to progressively exclude the idea of God. At the Darwin Centennial in 1959, Julian Huxley said that Darwin’s theory of evolution has excluded the idea of God from all rational discussion.
Unfortunately, modern science, contrary to many statements you will hear, is not fully objective. Objectivity is spoken of as an important trait for a scientist to have, yet there’s a certain tendentious character to the pronouncements of some prominent scientists who seem quite eager to eliminate God from the picture. In fact, science has become a tool of the philosophy of materialism. Because modern science has enjoyed its greatest success in the sphere of applied technology and the advancement of materialistic culture, the materialists have said, “Look. Just see what success you can have by concentrating on matter and excluding these old religious ideas.” So materialists have used science to support their materialistic world view, although science per se doesn’t support such a world view.
Nevertheless, scientists all over the world are trying to stamp out religion on the basis of scientific findings, and the Darwinian theory of evolution is one of the main tools. The idea behind the theory of evolution is that we don’t need to invoke a supremely intelligent creator to explain the phenomenon of life. Darwin’s theory of evolution maintains that life has come about purely by physical processes; it’s simply a matter of electrons and protons interacting with one another and gradually coming together to form more and more complicated forms, until finally—here we are, thinking about the whole thing. I don’t have time to discuss this theory in detail, but I will say that it is a prime example of a nonscientific addition to the body of scientific knowledge. No one has ever explained how atoms can come together to form human beings—or even bacteria, for that matter. Darwinian evolution is completely empty speculation.
So, the element of a supremely intelligent creator is another fundamental principle of bhakti-yoga. But there is even more than this. The Bhagavad-gita teaches that this superintelligent being, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is all-pervading, situated in the heart of everyone as the Supersoul (Paramatma). What this means, then, is that we are not separated from God. Some traditional religious doctrines say that God exists, that He created everything, but that He is extremely far away. The bhakti-yoga system, however, teaches that God is immediately accessible to us and is, in fact, providing the intelligence by which we direct our day-to-day activities.
An interesting illustration of this fact is the phenomenon of inspiration. Many prominent artists and scientists have recognized that it wasn’t by their own power or intelligence that they were able to make their great discoveries. Karl Gauss, a prominent mathematician of the nineteenth century, in describing how he solved a certain extremely difficult mathematical problem, says: “I succeeded not on account of my painful efforts but by the grace of God. Like a sudden flash of lightning, the riddle happened to be solved. I myself cannot say what connected what I previously knew with what made my success possible.”
In other words, Gauss admits that the answer to his problem was just given to him; all of a sudden it just appeared in his consciousness, and he knew the answer. And he gave the credit to God. He realized that the information was imparted to him from a higher intelligence.
Many other people have recognized this phenomenon, and it’s an essential principle of bhakti- yoga—that God is directly relating with us, even at this very moment. In our day-to-day lives, we tend not to think about God, except perhaps theoretically. But bhakti- yoga teaches that God is very much present always.
So, the existence of the soul and a supremely intelligent, immanent being are two fundamental principles of the system of bhakti-yoga. And, as with the physical sciences, certain experimental procedures can confirm these theoretical principles.
In bhakti-yoga, the basic experimental procedures lead to realized knowledge of God. This is possible because we are all spiritual entities. If we were just material systems made of electrons, protons, and so on. God realization would be out of the question. After all, what can electrons and protons realize about a supreme spiritual being? But because our nature is inherently spiritual, in principle we can have knowledge of God, who is entirely spiritual. It’s a question of one spiritual entity obtaining knowledge of another.
Bhakti-yoga consists of procedures specifically designed to awaken our direct spiritual perception of God, and in many ways these procedures are analogous to those you would find in, say, the science of physics. For example, in the Millikin oil-drop experiment, which measures the charge on an electron, one first of all has to adjust the conditions of the experiment very carefully. There can’t be any vibration running through the room. Then one has to precisely follow each step to accurately measure the electron’s charge.
Likewise, in bhakti-yoga one must follow certain regulative principles—no eating of meat or taking of intoxicants, for example—and also perform certain procedures, such as chanting the name of God for a certain period each day. Then one can get realized knowledge of the object of study. In a physics experiment, the object of study is some inanimate object or entity, such as an electron. But in bhakti-yoga the object of study is the perceiver himself, the jivatma, and ultimately the Supreme Soul, the Paramatma dwelling in the heart. So by practicing bhakti-yoga one can come to perceive the soul and
Now superficially, devotional service may seem merely a material activity that one performs with his various bodily senses. But if we look at devotional service from a theoretical perspective, we can understand what happens when someone begins to serve God. The Supreme Lord, Krishna, wants very much to reestablish His relationship with the individual spiritual souls. They, however, know nothing of this relationship because they’re covered by the illusion generated from the material energy. Krishna has therefore arranged things so that if a spirit soul, working through proper channels, serves Him, then Krishna, acting through the devotee’s heart, will reveal spiritual knowledge to that person. There is a reciprocation.
By referring to the theoretical tenets of bhakti- yoga, we can understand how this reciprocation takes place, at least in principle; whereas by using mere material concepts, such as those in physics or chemistry, we couldn’t begin to understand.
So, there is a large and consistent theoretical basis to bhakti-yoga, and if one carefully follows the devotional process, these theoretical statements are confirmed. The process works. I’ll read a verse from the Srimad-Bhagavatam illustrating this point. This is the seventh verse of Chapter Two, First Canto: “By rendering devotional service to the Personality of Godhead, Krishna, one immediately acquires both causeless knowledge and detachment from the world.” Now, this is ample evidence that one who practices devotional service to Lord Krishna acquires causeless knowledge and detachment. If you follow the procedures of bhakti-yoga properly, you get results.
What this amountsto, then, is that when a person practices bhakti-yoga and gets results, he can understand them in terms of the theoretical concepts of the system, and if he continues practicing and gets more and more results, he gradually develops faith that bhakti-yoga is actually scientific.
This process is entirely analogousto what happens in a science such as chemistry. Suppose a person initially doesn’t know about chemistry. Maybe he doubts that chemistry really is a valid subject. If he takes a course in chemistry, he’ll hear all kinds of theory—electrons, orbitals, and so on—which sound to him like so much gobbledygook. But if he performs the experiments and thinks carefully in terms of the theory, he’ll eventually say, “Aha! This works! I know these ideas have some value, because if I apply them systematically, I get the predicted results.” And if over a period of years he performs more and more advanced experiments, he’ll gradually become completely convinced that chemistry is a real science.
The message I’m trying to convey here this evening is simply that bhakti-yoga is a science in precisely this sense—that there are theoretical principles as well as systematic procedures, and if a person does the procedures carefully, then, through experience, he will gradually come to realize that bhakti-yoga works.
Of course, bhakti-yoga is fundamentally different from physical science, because in bhakti-yoga one is not studying inanimate matter but attaining spiritual realization. But bhakti-yoga is not just a sentimental religious system people are supposed to accept merely on faith; it is a system that produces tangible results when one carries out the procedures in the prescribed way. And in this sense bhakti-yoga is completely scientific.
How can we study nonmaterial aspects of reality when we’re living in a world of matter? Modern mechanistic science rests on the premise that reality is ultimately reducible to a simple set of mathematical equations. Such a view fails to account for two important aspects of reality: consciousness, and complex biological form. Here, in the first of a series of articles excerpted from the conclusion of the book, Sadaputa describes how an alternative, nonmechanistic model can be verified through the science of bhakti-yoga. He begins with a summary of the essential features of this model.
The world view of Bhagavad-gita is based on the postulate that conscious personality is the ultimate basis of reality. In this view there are two fundamental categories of conscious beings. The first category has a single member: the unique Supreme Person, Krishna, who is the primordial cause of all causes and who is directly conscious of all phenomena. The second category consists of the innumerable localized conscious beings, or jivatmas. The jivatmas are irreducible conscious persons, qualitatively the same as the Supreme Person. Yet they differ from the Supreme in that they are minute and dependent whereas He is unlimited and fully independent.
We find a consistent picture of the phenomena of life in the philosophy of Bhagavad-gita. This philosophy accounts for the origin and maintenance of the complex forms of living organisms, it clarifies the nature of individual consciousness, and it explains the relationship between the conscious self and the body. The objection may be raised, however, that even though this philosophy may provide interesting speculative solutions to certain fundamental scientific problems, it cannot be proved by the standard empirical methods of investigation.
We agree with this statement. The two categories of conscious beings mentioned in Bhagavad-gita lie almost entirely outside the purview of empirical investigation, which is based on reason and ordinary sense perception. Our conscious awareness does include direct perception of itself, but apart from this our ordinary senses provide us information only about the configuration of material bodies. Through reason, introspection, and ordinary sense perception, we can infer that consciousness must arise from some entity distinct from matter as we know it, but these means cannot bring us to a truly satisfactory understanding of what this entity is.
One could make similar remarks about the problem of proving the existence of a supreme conscious being. Many philosophers and scientists have argued that the physical complexity of living organisms is evidence for the existence of an intelligent creator. This is indeed a reasonable explanation of biological form—far more reasonable than that put forth by scientists of the evolutionary persuasion, who are still groping for a workable mechanistic explanation. Yet observations of biological form convey by themselves no clear picture of the creator, and it is indeed hard to see how a finite number of observations made within a limited region of space and time could prove very much about the nature of an unlimited eternal being.
Arguments for the existence of God that rely on the evidence of nature usually rest indirectly on a preconceived idea of God derived from other sources. These arguments may show that such a conception of God is consistent with the facts of nature, but what these facts actually entail is at best an idea of God so vague and general as to be practically useless.
So, if we cannot establish our alternative model of reality by standard empirical methods, how can we establish it?
The key to verifying our model is provided by the unique nonmechanistic features of the model itself. According to Bhagavad-gita, the natural senses of the jivatma are not limited merely to picking up information from the sensory apparatus of a particular material body. Indeed, when a jivatma is so limited he is considered to be in an abnormal condition. He is like a person who has become so engrossed in watching a television program that he has forgotten about his own existence and has accepted the flickering, two-dimensional image on the screen as the all in all. Thus preoccupied with the fascinating show presented by the bodily senses, the embodied jivatma becomes oblivious of his higher cognitive faculties, which normally enable him to directly perceive both other jivatmas and the Supreme Person.
It follows that if we are to verify our alternative model of reality, we must find a way to reawaken the full cognitive capacity of the conscious self. Here we shall outline a practical method for doing this, known as the process of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. We shall present this process as a method of obtaining reliable knowledge about aspects of reality inaccessible by traditional methods of scientific research. We should note, however, that bhakti- yoga is not simply a method of obtaining knowledge. Rather, it is a means whereby each individual conscious self can attain the ultimate goal of his existence.
by Mathuresha Dasa
Ages ago, Saubhari Muni was so accomplished at yoga that he could meditate underwater. Everything was going fine, until …
To practice yoga, or silent meditation, you first of all need a secluded place. Traditionally, yogis have retired to Himalayan caves, to remote corners of dense, unexplored jungles, even to the depths of an ocean or river. The great yogi Saubhari Muni meditated for many years within the Yamuna River, with only the local fish for company. He was able to do so because he possessed many mystic powers—the sign of a true yogi—and could, like his aquatic companions, breathe underwater.
Why such extreme measures? Because the purpose of yoga is to withdraw the senses from all material engagements and fix the mind on the Supersoul (the form of the Supreme Personality of Godhead who dwells within the hearts of all living creatures). The aspiring yogi must completely abstain from even the thought of sex, reduce and regulate his eating and sleeping, and even restrict what he sees and hears. By extended, uninterrupted practice, the yogi transcends material nature and returns to the eternal spiritual world, the abode of Lord Krishna.
So don’t expect to properly practice the yoga of silent meditation in a city or a suburb or, for that matter, even in most rural areas; there are just too many distractions nowadays. You may practice sitting postures and breathing exercises, trying to improve your health, your aura, or your sexual prowess, and if you like you can call that yoga. But according to the ancient Vedic literature, the sourcebooks of yoga instruction, the purpose of yoga is to fully and continuously restrain the senses and fix the mind on the Supreme Person.
With this purpose fixed in his mind the yogi Saubhari Muni long ago entered the Yamuna River. Surely there he would be undisturbed. There were no attractive girls in designer jeans strutting along the river bottom, no ads for cigarettes, beer, or fashionable clothing to divert the attention, no business-wise yoga instructors crooning that their brand of spiritualism makes one a better executive or a better student or a better lover. No distractions whatsoever. Hardly a sound. Just Saubhari and the river. And the fish.
Poor Saubhari. He was a qualified, sincere, no-nonsense yogi, so well endowed with mystic powers that he could meditate underwater, yet his mind was diverted by a pair of fish. After many years of underwater meditation, Saubhari observed two fish copulating, and feeling the desire to enjoy sexual pleasure awaken within himself, he emerged from the river and went looking for a mate.
From this we can understand that meditational yoga, also known as ashtanga-yoga, although recommended in the Vedic literature as a means of ascending to the spiritual plane, is extremely difficult. We are all by nature active and pleasure-seeking. Most of us find it difficult to sit still even for a few minutes. We want to enjoy life by seeing, hearing, touching, walking, talking, and so on. To abruptly stop all these activities and meditate on God is almost unthinkable. Even such a highly qualified yogi as Saubhari Muni, who lived thousands of years before the rise of our noisy, polluted, fast-paced modern civilization, had a hard time of it.
So why would anyone attempt such a difficult form of yoga? Well, the aspiring transcendentalist, the yoga candidate, usually understands that bodily and mental activities alone cannot bring satisfaction. He has heard from Vedic authorities that we are not these material bodies but are eternal spirit souls dwelling within the body. The yogi wants to free himself from bodily encagement.
In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna teaches that the body is a temporary vehicle for the soul and that after the demise of the body the soul takes a new body. The unenlightened soul transmigrates from body to body in the painful cycle of birth, old age, disease, and death, trying to enjoy life but is ultimately frustrated in every attempt. To become free from this cycle of misery and to experience transcendental bliss, the yogi is advised to reduce bodily activity and to meditate on the Supersoul, Lord Krishna. According to the Bhagavad-gita,the state of mind at death determines our next life. Thus, the yogi who passes away fully absorbed in meditation on Krishna attains an eternal, blissful body in the spiritual realm and never returns to take birth and die in this material realm.
In previous ages many yogis were able to perfect the process of ashtanga-yoga. In fact, Saubhari Muni himself, after exhausting his desire for material enjoyment, completely renounced the life of sensual pleasure, returned to his meditation, and attained perfection. In the present age, however, ashtanga-yoga is more or less impossible, and the Vedic literature recommends instead the path of bhakti- yoga, devotional service.
The purpose of bhakti-yoga is the same as that of ashtanga-yoga: to withdraw the senses from all material activities and to concentrate the mind in unswerving meditation on the Supreme Person. In bhakti-yoga, however, we actively use our senses in Krishna’s service. In particular, bhakti-yoga involves hearing—hearing about Krishna’s qualities and pastimes, about the activities of His incarnations and great devotees, and about the transcendental philosophy spoken by the Lord Himself in the Bhagavad-gita. The bhakti- yogi learns to see everything in relation to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, to see that the material universe is His creation. The bhakti-yogi alsoregularly meditates on the beautiful Deity form of the Lord in the temple. The bhakti-yogi can even employ his tongue in Krishna’s service—by tasting food offered to Krishna and by chanting His holy names.
In this way the bhakti-yogi is always active within the realm of devotional service. He attains the same result as the inactive ashtanga-yogi; but easily and naturally. The bhakti-yogi can live with his friends and family in the midst of modern civilization. In fact, many of the practices of bhakti-yoga are best performed in the company of other devotees—the more the merrier. Far from distracting, the association of devotees is an inspiration for the performance of devotional service. The serious ashtanga-yogi; however, must remain alone. and even then, as in the case of Saubhari, there is a chance of falling away from the path of austerity and renunciation.
The purpose of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) is to make the spiritual association of devotees (Bhakti-yogis) available in every part of the world. ISKCON centers are open to anyone interested in hearing about the Supreme Personality of Godhead and rendering service to Him in the company of devotees. Aspiring yogis can thus attain perfection, unperturbed by the distractions of modern life.
from Back To Godhead Magazine, #35-03, 2001
by Nagaraja Dasa
A dozen or so students gathered in the assembly room of the college dormitory for an introductory talk on bhakti- yoga. I got their attention and said we’d now do some yoga. About half of them pulled their legs up into some semblance of the lotus position, waiting for tips on breathing and concentration.
But instead of the sound of silence, they heard the sizzle of a small pair of hand cymbals. Eyes opened, jaws dropped.
It didn’t take long, though, before the students got the idea. Soon many were singing along with the Hare Krishna mantra, their faces lit up with smiles.
After the demonstration, I asked the students to tell me what they thought yoga meant. I got the predictable responses, mostly having to do with sitting, stretching, twisting, and concentrating. Someone spoke of clearing the mind of all thoughts. Someone mentioned picturing yourself as “identical with the One.”
“Bhagavad-gita says that yoga means to connect with God,” I began my talk, “and that’s why we chant Hare Krishna.”
Their pleased expressions showed they were losing misconceptions. When people see Hare Krishna devotees singing in the street, they probably don’t think we’re doing yoga. But in the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna teaches us how to make our whole lives yoga. Srila Prabhupada often said that his students were practicing yoga twenty-four hours a day.
Today’s so-called yoga usually aims at a healthy body and a peaceful mind. That’s fine if that’s all you want. But the real purpose of yoga is to reestablish our relationship with Krishna—clearly a much loftier goal. The word yoga means “to connect,” and from it we get the word yoke. Krishna covers various kinds of yoga in the Gita, but they’re all meant for the same thing: to awaken our love for Him.
Bhakti-yoga is not only the easiest type of yoga; Krishna declares it the best: “And of all yogis, the one with great faith who always abides in Me, thinks of Me within himself, and renders transcendental loving service to Me—he is the most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all. That is My opinion.” (Bg. 6.47)
Since the goal of yoga is to concentrate on God, what better way to do that than by bhakti- yoga—serving Him in love? Prabhupada would scoff at the practice of doing fifteen minutes of meditation in the morning and then spending the rest of the day in material pursuits. Bhakti-yogis take their meditation to work. Krishna tells Arjuna to fight and remember Him. “In all activities be conscious of Me,” He says.
Prabhupada taught his disciples to mold their lives so they could never forget Krishna. He gave us a program of morning and evening practices focused on Krishna. He told us, as Krishna does, to offer the fruits of our work to Krishna. He told us to try to chant Hare Krishna always.
After my talk, one of the students, Mira, thanked me for clearing up some confusion.
“I was always attracted to stories of yogis,” she said, “and now I’m happy to hear I can be a student and a yogi at the same time.”
And I was happy to hear she understood.
a talk by Srila Prabhupada on Bhaktivinod Thakur's song
“Krishna is the lover of Radha. He displays many amorous pastimes in the groves of Vrindavana. He is the lover of the cowherd maidens of Vraja, the holder of the great hill named Govardhana, the beloved son of mother Yashoda, and the delighter of the inhabitants of Vraja. He wanders in the forests along the banks of the River Yamuna.”
("Jaya Radha Madhava" by Srila Bhaktivinod Thakur)
This is the original nature of Krishna. He is Radha-Madhava; He is the lover of Srimati Radharani. And—kunja- vihari—He always enjoys the company of the gopis [cowherd girls] within the bushes of Vrindavana forest. Radha-madhava kunja-vihari. Not only is He the lover of Radharani, but—vraja-jana- vallabha—all the residents of Vrindavana love Krishna. They do not know anything else. They do not know whether Krishna is God or not. Nor are they very much harassed by the thought “I shall love Krishna if He is God.” Instead they think, “He may be God or He may not be God. Whatever He is, it doesn’t matter, but we love Krishna.”
That’s all. That is called unalloyed love. “If Krishna is God, then I shall love Him”—this is conditional love, not pure love. Krishna may be God or whatever He may be, but by His wonderful acts the Vrajavasis [residents of Vrindavana] are thinking, “Oh, Krishna is a very wonderful child. He may be some demigod.”
People are generally under the impression that the demigods are all-powerful. The demigods are powerful within this material world, but people do not know that Krishna is above all of them. Ishvarah paramah krishnah sac-cid-ananda- vigrahah. The highest demigod, Brahma, is giving his opinion: “The supreme controller is Krishna.”
So, as the residents of Vrindavana love Krishna without any condition, Krishna loves them without any condition.
Giri-vara-dhari. When the inhabitants of Vrindavana stopped the sacrifice to Indra, they were in danger because Indra became very angry. For seven days he incessantly sent very great, powerful clouds and rain over Vrindavana. When the inhabitants became very much disturbed, Krishna, although He was only a seven-year-old boy, saved them by lifting Govardhana Hill. In this way He taught Indradeva, “To stop your disturbance is the business of My little finger. That’s all.” So Indra fell to his knees before Krishna. These things you’ll find in our book Krishna.
As Gopi-jana-vallabha,Krishna’s only business is how to protect the gopi-jana [gopis]. Our Krishna consciousness movement is teaching how to become one of the gopi-janas. Then Krishna will save us from any danger, even by lifting a hill or a mountain. Krishna is so kind and so powerful. When Krishna lifted the hill He had not practiced some yoga system. He was playing like a child. But when there was some need, He manifested Himself as God. That is Krishna. Not that He has to go and practice some yoga system to become God. No. He is not that type of “God,” not a manufactured “God.” He’s God.
Yashoda-nandana, vraja-jana-ranjana. Krishna likes to be the child of a devotee. As the beloved child of Yashoda, He is called Yashodanandana, He wants to be chastised by His devotee father and mother, because everyone worships Him and nobody chastises Him. So He takes pleasure when a devotee chastises Him. That chastisement is service to Krishna. If Krishna takes pleasure in being chastised, then the responsibility is taken up by a devotee: “All right, I shall become Your father and chastise You.” When Krishna wants to fight, one of His devotees becomes Hiranyakashipu and fights with Him. Therefore, become an associate of Krishna and develop Krishna consciousness.
Yashoda-nandana, vraja-jana-ranjana. As the vraja-jana’s [Vrindavana residents’] business is how to satisfy Krishna, Krishna’s business is how to satisfy the vraja-jana. This is reciprocation of love.
Yamuna-tira-vana-cari. Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is wandering on the banks of the Yamuna River to please the gopis, the cowherd boys, the birds, beasts, and calves. They are not ordinary birds, beasts, calves, or men. They are on the top level of self- realization. Krita-punya-punjah—after many, many lives they got the position to play with Krishna.
Our Krishna consciousness movement is so nice that everyone can go to Krishnaloka and associate with Krishna as a friend, as a servant, as a father or mother, as so many things. And Krishna is agreeable to any one of these propositions. These things are described very nicely in our book Teachings of Lord Caitanya.
Krishna does not go even one step out of Vrindavana. The original Krishna is in Vrindavana. Take advantage of these books, this knowledge, this prasadam, and this chanting. Be happy, and go to Krishna. It is such a nice thing.
by Satsvarupa Dasa Gosvami
Because Krishna wants us to enter His elite group of personal associates, He is ever eager to help us develop our love for Him.
Dhruva Maharaja performed austerities to gain a kingdom greater than that of his grandfather, Lord Brahma, the creator of the universe. By the grace of the saint Narada, however, Dhruva received the audience of Lord Vishnu.After being touched by the Lord’s conch shell, Dhruva offered prayers to the Lord. The last verse of his prayers sums up his previous materialistic attitude and his present devotional one:
My Lord, O Supreme Lord, You are the supreme personified form of all benedictions. Therefore, for one who abides in Your devotional service with no other desire, worshiping Your lotus feet is better than becoming king and lording it over a kingdom… . To ignorant devotees like me, You are the causelessly merciful maintainer, just like a cow who takes care of the newly born calf by supplying milk and giving it protection from attack.
Dhruva originally epitomized the type of devotee who approaches the Lord to have his material desires fulfilled. After meeting Lord Vishnu, however, Dhruva realized how cheap that material desire was.
I like to study Dhruva Maharaja’s prayers because although we have no such great material ambitions—our material ambitions extend only to a little insignificant sense gratification—we can relate to Dhruva’s transformation. We have spent lifetimes thinking ourselves the center of enjoyment. Now we have turned to Krishna consciousness with the hope of freeing ourselves from suffering (material desire) and of coming to pure love of God. Dhruva Maharaja has realized that serving Krishna’s lotus feet is much more relishable than the enjoyment of even a hugely opulent kingdom in the material world. So he prays to Vishnu as the protector of one on the devotional path, similar to a cow protecting her calf. And what is Vishnu protecting the devotee from? From him- self—from his own defective nature.
In the first sentence of the purport to this verse, Srila Prabhupada writes, “Dhruva Maharaja was cognizant of the defective nature of his own devotional service.” Even those fortunate enough to come in touch with the Krishna consciousness movement, to hear the message of bhakti, will not automatically be free of mistakes. We are faulty beings, and it takes time before we learn to offer our service in a pure way. Here, Dhruva describes Krishna as being active in our coming to the pure stage.
Unfortunately we don’t always value His participation. Often, devotees think that Krishna consciousness is so much a science that everything must happen by our own endeavor. They imagine Krishna at the top of a long line of pure devotees, sharing His pastimes with them and not thinking much of those further down the line. If we are not pure, we may think Krishna cares less for us than for those fully surrendered. We think that the path of bhakti has been scientifically organized and that Krishna remains neutral, waiting for our purity to develop, at which time He will love us more. In the meantime, we try to hoist ourselves up from one stage to another.
Of course, the truth is that we are not pure; we are defective. This fact was prominent in Dhruva Maharaja’s mind, and he felt a deep regret to see how materially motivated he had been. His regret lasted even beyond his audiencewith Krishna.
And the truth is that pure devotion is uncompromising: anyabhilashita-shunyam jnana-karmady- anavritam. We must offer our love without being motivated by karma (material endeavors) or jnana (mental speculation). We must learn to want only Krishna’s pleasure.
Neither of these truths—that aspiring devotees are not pure and that pure devotion is uncompromising—means that Krishna has no mercy toward a devotee before he or she comes to the unmotivated stage. Rather, like a cow, Krishna gives His calves milk and also protects them from danger. Although in the material sense, a cow is herself vulnerable to danger in this world, she is prepared to give her life to protect her calf.
Also, the calf remains completely dependent on the mother. A calf will follow its mother without regard for where she is going. The mother in turn shows even more tender concern for her calf. Krishna exemplifies this tender concern toward His faltering bhaktas.
What makes us so helpless, so dependent on Krishna, is not simply our smallness in the material energy, but the misleading desires within our hearts. Any mother knows that an infant is at risk not only from outside influences but from the child’s own nature.
Of course, despite Krishna’s tender concern, He will not interfere with the free will of the living entity. To receive His mercy, we must reveal some level of sincerity or inclination toward Him. In Sanatana Gosvami’s Brihad- Bhagavatamrita, after Gopa-kumara finally returns to the spiritual world, Krishna embraces him and says, “I’m happy that you have come back. For so long I was awaiting an opportunity to bring you to Me.”
Why did Krishna not simply rescue Gopa-kumara from the material world? Because we have free will. Krishna will never take that from us. His liberal attitude is like that of a kind parent: Krishna provides His children space to grow as they will, yet remains loving toward them and prepared to help if they turn to Him. In Bhagavad-gita He says that He provides the intelligence by which we can return to Him. He also says that He provides what we lack and carries what we have, and that He is the swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death.
Even if these points are still theoretical for us, we should acknowledge the truth of the Lord’s intention toward us. We should not refuse Krishna’s gestures of protection. If we accept that our service is defective, that our hearts are filled with gross and subtle material desire, and that we are lost without Krishna’s guidance, we will better be able to accept that guidance in the form that He gives it. He is always giving it. We can pray to Him to protect us, to help us give up the lower stages of bhakti in favor of the higher forms of surrender, and to clarify our intelligence so that it is filled only with Him.
If our main purpose in life is to attain bhakti, we should trust Krishna to maintain our attempt. Krishna is, after all, “the causelessly merciful maintainer, just like a cow who gives milk and protection from attack.”
One of the symptoms of surrender is to know Krishna as the maintainer. In our stage, we often look to the Lord to protect us materially. We shouldn’t just look to Krishna to protect our possessions, however. Although Srimad- Bhagavatam provides prayers such as the Narayana-kavaca shield, wherein mantras are chanted over different parts of the body to provide armor against gross and subtle weapons, we are not interested in seeking Krishna’s protection so we can survive more comfortably in our material bodies. We see Krishna as the protector of our bhakti. We pray that our bhakti—our service to the spiritual master, our attempts to progress in chanting and hearing—may not be deviated.
The knowledge we receive from Bhagavad-gita is the sword with which we can slay our doubts. Krishna has also given us His elder brother, Balarama, to help us. It is Balarama who provides us with the strength to wield the heavy sword of knowledge. We will never become materially exhausted, never left without Krishna’s mercy in the form of the knowledge He provides us. Any advancement in Krishna consciousness is Krishna’s gift to us.
We need to trust in that. The material world is full of jivas trying to enjoy. As Kshirodakshayi Vishnu, Krishna maintains all of them. How much more will He maintain His devotees! The materially engrossed jivas receive His maintenance through the neutral auspices of the Supersoul, who guides their wanderings according to their karmic activities and desires. Krishna Himself personally attends to the relatively small group of souls who are interested in His direct love and protection.
Krishna’s Elite Group
In this regard, Prabhupada once commented that devotees have monopolized devotional service. They have cornered the market with their love. Still, the bhakti market is open to any who wish to pursue it. As soon as a jiva understands that Krishna is the maintainer of the attempt to approach Him, He welcomes that jiva into His elite group.
When we relate to Krishna personally in this way, we receive His heart. This is Krishna’s real nature: His desire to reciprocate with His devotees (bhakta- vatsala). Because He is responsible, He maintains all living entities, although He does it through His expansions and energies. But because He is bhakta- vatsala, He offers Himself to His devotees. Therefore, devotional service is rarely achieved.
But anyone who wants to try for devotional service can gain entrance. Despite their faults, Krishna will help those who want to enter. He wants His elite group to expand. He wants us to take to devotional service for our own sake. Why shouldn’t He help us?
Of course, material attachment may mean we don’t value the form in which His protection comes, just as a calf may not always appreciate the mother’s insistence on a certain path. Still, Krishna protects us.
by Ravindra Swarupa Dasa
All human knowledge, be it “religious” or “scientific,” must ascend toward the Absolute Truth.
The following is Part II of a paper presented at the World Congress for the Synthesis of Science and Religion, held January 9-12, 1986, in Bombay. The paper was originally entitled ‘The Contribution of Bhagavata-dharma Toward a ‘Scientific Religion’ and a ‘Religious Science.’ ”
INTRODUCTORY NOTE: This has been the argument so far: According to the analysis of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His followers, the Vedic literature presents the development of human knowledge, in its gradual ascent toward the Absolute Truth, as a process made of three steps or phases. These three phases exemplify the classical dialectical pattern of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.
The first phase—called karma—embodies a culture of mastery of technique for the domination and control of nature. The second, antithetical phase—that of jnana—embodies the rejection of the world and a turn toward a negative or void absolute. Although jnana is a reaction against karma, it still shares common presuppositions with it; as a result, jnana fails to attain the full Absolute. This fullness is realized in bhakti, the final phase, in which the Absolute becomes revealed as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, possessing nonmundane name, form, qualities, and relations. The concept of the Absolute as having in a non- contradictory way simultaneous form and formlessness (i.e., spiritual form and no material form) synthesizes the affirmation of karma and the negation of jnana by raising—sublating—both to a higher platform. Similarly, the phenomenal world, misused and misperceived in karma, rejected and denied in jnana, returns in bhakti, radiantly revealed in its true feature as the divine energy of the Supreme.
This tripartite progression is not a feature of “religion” or “Hinduism” but of human knowledge as such; therefore it is exemplified in history, both Eastern and Western. In India the phase of karma found concrete historical embodiment in the culture of yajna, or sacrifice, whereby technical specialists sought through the mastery of their technique to gain control over material nature. The culture of Vedic yajna is thus recognizable to us as a form of science, even though the science is different from today’s. In time, excesses and disappointments in the culture of karma engendered the antithetical stage of jnana in the form of the Buddhist reaction.
Now we turn to the parallels in modern Western history.
I would now like to put forward the thesis that what we are presently witnessing in the spiritual development of Western civilization is the transition—or, rather, the attempt at a transition—from karma to jnana. On the one side, there is growing disappointment with the culture of technique. On the other side, science itself has encountered absolute limits to its knowledge and has been forced to admit the unknowable and incalculable—“absolute chance”—into its reckonings; has encountered at the origin of all things something beyond all thought and utterance, something of infinitesimal size and infinite mass; has penetrated to a region in which the phenomenal world dissolves into insubstantiality, flux, irreality.
The speculations of Eastern mysticism early intrigued physicists like Schroedinger, and now a whole library of popular literature, beginning with The Tao of Physics, surveys the void or negative absolute of jnana as a possible meeting ground of science and religion, East and West. This development according to my paradigm, is quite natural. In modern times a highly developed culture of technique encounters its own limits, turns against itself in disappointment and even disgust, and seeks to go to a higher phase. Such a culture will naturally find congenial the reflections of an older civilization where the same process had long ago taken place.
We must be aware, however, that our contemporary attempt at transition from karma to jnana is not a brand-new endeavor even for the West. Rather, it has determined the agenda for most Western intellectual, cultural, and even political life for the last three centuries, and we have to see the present as a continuation of the past. In the eighteenth century, the culture of karma—its goals, its vision of man and his prospects, its view of nature and man’s relation to nature, its program for the future—became established at the heart of European civilization. This, of course, is the Enlightenment. And the Enlightenment vision of man and nature as both fully intelligible and controllable by reason and rational activity has dominated Western culture to this day. But as Isaiah Berlin has shown, there was an almost immediate reaction to this Enlightenment vision, a counter-Enlightenment, which matured into the Romantic movement. The Romantic revolt embodied an effort to move to the platform of jnana, and a survey of the major components of the Romantic vision—idealism, mysticism, monism, relativism, organicism, anti-rationalism, etc.—will show the characteristics of the culture of jnana.
The attempted transition from karma to jnana of the last century failed disastrously, however, and we need now to examine the reasons for that failure and the compelling lesson it has for us today.
The frustration and despair produced by disillusionment with the culture of karma will, if circumstances do not promote further growth, engender nihilism: the perception of a void that annihilates—renders meaningless—all endeavor and value. Here the culture of karma reaches its terminus. The very beginning of the culture of jnana, on the other side. as presented in the most naturalistic of Buddhist traditions, is shunya, void. This void also annihilates all worldly endeavor and value, but the former, the “profane void,” as it were, is a threat, and the latter, the “sacred void,” is a succor. Thus, transcendence becomes first intelligible to materially exhausted karmis as shunya, void—or as the cognitively identical nirvishesha Brahman, i.e., the Absolute Truth void of all names, form, quality, activity, or relation.
Progress occurs when people can somehow ford the gap between the profane and the sacred void. But in the European attempt of the last century, nihilism was never overcome. It remained a persistent factor. For this reason, transcendence was never fully trusted; indeed, it was significantly depicted in the literature of the time as manifesting a furious, demonic energy, as possessing a kind of mindless malevolence—as in Schopenhauer’s Will and Melville’s white whale.
Transcendence remained a threat, and the attempt at jnana failed, simply because the European jnana was not joined with vairagya, renunciation. In this we see the most telling difference between the paradigms operating in the Vedic and Western environments. In the Vedic milieu the enjoyment of the goods of life was regulated within the culture of karma, so that the tendency to excess was held in restraint The temperature of material life was not allowed to become feverish. As a result when jnana developed, the necessary accompanying vairagya—the renunciation of material desires—was feasible.
In modern European civilization, on the other hand, the culture of karma embodied no internal mechanism to restrict and regulate desires. That task was assigned to “religion,” which the culture of karma itself rendered irrelevant When the culture of karma encountered its limits, the voracity and tenacity of Western material aspirations put renunciation out of reach. Consequently, transcendence appeared as hostile and life- threatening, and nihilism remained as an insurmountable obstacle.
In these circumstances, the worst features of karma and jnana combine to reinforce each other. Sometimes the “absolute” is manifest: terrible, malevolent all- devouring, compelling one’s abasement and debasement before it. Yet at the same time. emptiness looms everywhere, engendering ontological panic and terror. The insubstantial fabric of the unreal world floats without foundation or support a myth or dream, but one is still driven by an unrelenting urge to master it and enjoy it All truth is myth; reality itself is malleable to the imagination of the strong. The absolute erupts through everywhere, but only he who surrenders to its ferocious demands embodies in his own person its indomitable energies, and so becomes the master of the world.
In this way, the failed jnana of the West breeds demonic forms of faith—the most outstanding instance, of course, being the Nazi movement in Germany.
Once again, the West is essaying the same transition. The sixties’ counterculture in America was a dramatic irruption by the culture of jnana. Nearly all of its central ideals and doctrines were expressed centuries ago in the original counter-Enlightenment. The counterculture has grown up and settled down to steady work in the so-called “Aquarian conspiracy,” and the secular humanist tradition, bearing the torch of the Enlightenment has gone on the offensive. What is happening now is thus the continuation of an old cultural dynamic. Once again the void or undifferentiated absolute is being proffered as the solution to our difficulties.
I do not see much hope for progress, however. According to my analysis, if jnana is to be successful, it must be accompanied by vairagya, renunciation. Yet little, if any, renunciation seems to have been manifest in the counterculture and in those who continue its work. Indeed, the debased forms of jnana inaugurated by the counterculture have already produced several notable instances of demonic faith. All the proponents of the Eastern form of jnana who have come proselytizing in the West have removed or minimized the demands of vairagya to suit the palate of Western consumers. If my analysis is correct, this is practically a criminal act.
Therefore, there is not much prospect for real progress in the present culture of jnana in the West. On the contrary, we are in great danger—mortal danger—of repeating the horrific mistakes of the past. Hope for progress must lie elsewhere.
According to the paradigm I am presenting, jnana is not the ultimate but the penultimate stage of spiritual development. According to the Bhagavad-gita, if jnana is properly cultivated to maturity, it undergoes a further transformation into bhakti (Bg. 7.19). If we can understand this point, then perhaps we might see a way out of our impasse.
The stage of jnana is not complete knowledge. It is a reactionary stage, antithetical to karma, and therefore bound to it, as the negation of a proposition is bound to the proposition. It seeks the absolute through negation of relative names, forms, qualities, and so on, yet these negations, being opposites, are themselves therefore relative and, as such, fall short of disclosing the absolute. In both thought and action, jnana rejects the world of objects, names, senses, desires, and activities, but what is denied continues to haunt it like a familiar ghost—just as. in Sankaracarya’s metaphysics, the world, which strictly speaking does not exist, still haunts the ontology. Is discursive thought that denies the reality of discursive thought real or unreal?
For jnana to be successful and attain the unitary knowledge it seeks, it must also overcome the opposition between affirmation and negation, between name and form, quality and relation, and the denial of them: between action and the cessation of action; between, indeed, karma and jnana. There are statements to this effect in the literature of jnana itself, but the solution is not explicated; it is usually presented as a final, mystifying, mind-blowing paradox, its resolution beyond any expressible content
If, for example, the thesis (karma) is “form,” then the antithesis (jnana) is “formless.” How do we overcome this duality, this opposition? What do we seek that has form and is formless at the same time?
The resolution is disclosed on the platform of bhakti. At this stage knowledge of the absolute attains completion, and beyond the undifferentiated light, there is revealed within transcendence a supreme entity of spiritual variegatedness—the manifest Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead. This disclosure of transcendental or spiritual form unites the opposition of form and formlessness: there is form but no form, i.e., no material form.
Synthesis is achieved by dissolving the common assumption of the first two stages. For both the karmi and the jnani, “form” means “material form,” so that the locution “spiritual form” is perceived as self-contradictory. The assumption implicit in jnana that name, form, attribute, relation, and activity are by definition material illustrates how jnana is tied to the phenomenal world and united with karma.
Neither karma nor jnana has access to transcendental form, for neither the perceptions of material senses nor the negation of them can apprehend it But when, in relationship with the supreme person, spiritual senses are manifest by acting in devotion, transcendental form becomes cognizable.
Bhakti sublates both karma and jnana, fusing action and inaction, form and formlessness. The world, denied in jnana, returns in bhakti, but in a wholly transfigured manner; it is not the profane world enjoyed by the karmi or renounced by the jnani. In both cases, the world is unrelated to the Supreme, but the bhakta sees the world as intrinsically related, as energy to the energetic source, as one with God and yet different from Him at the same time. God and God’s energies constitute the whole Absolute Truth, a unity that includes, not excludes, diversity.
A person on the platform of jnana becomes eligible for bhakti if, by becoming sufficiently distanced from the world, he loses his material conceptions of form, activity, and individuality, and if, further, he gains humility, abandoning his own aspirations toward supremacy. Both karma and jnana are averse to acknowledging personal subordination to a supreme individual. The philosophies of both remove God from the ontology, or at least demote Him, for a categorically supreme individual interferes with the aspirations of the practitioner.
Here I will end my presentation of the paradigm of karma, jnana, and bhakti. I hope to have made as least a prima facie case for the plausibility of the paradigm. I am persuaded that this is what Krishna meant when He said: vedaish ca sarvair aham eva vedyah. I have tried to show how, among those who let themselves be guided by the Vedas, the human aspiration toward knowledge and well- being follows the path from karma to jnana to bhakti. Being fully cognizant of the entire process, the leaders of Vedic culture created an environment that fostered and encouraged such development
Yet we see the same paradigm manifesting itself in the modern West, within the enterprise we call not religion but science. Since the identical paradigm is at work, we can see that our categorical separation of religion and science, our secularized understanding, is inadequate to reality.
According to my analysis, to rectify the Western situation, one would somehow have to introduce a powerful impetus to restraint in the practices of karma, and to austerity and renunciation in the practices of jnana. That to us, these elements strike the note of “religion” should not now be seen as a valid theoretical objection, but it is a serious practical one. The fact is that such a wholesale reformation of society, working up from karma to jnana, is impossible.
It is possible, however, to reform from the top down. That is the specific point Krishna makes in the Bhagavad- gita.
The Bhagavad-gita recognizes that the natural spiritual development from karma to jnana to bhakti is very slow and very difficult There are many ways to become baffled and deviated from the course. Thus, Krishna states that only after undergoing the trouble of many births does one who is actually wise—i.e., developed in jnana—surrender unto Him, saying, “Vasudeva [Krishna] is everything.” Such a great soul, Krishna says, is very rare (Bg. 7.19). Indeed, we have noted how, even under the protective shelter of Vedic culture, karma and jnana sometimes became spiritual dead ends.
Precisely for this reason, Krishna offers in the Bhagavad- gita the opportunity to come directly to bhakti—even if one is a failure at the proper execution of karma and jnana. You may abandon all other dharmas, Krishna says to Arjuna, and directly come to Me. This offer comes at the end of the Bhagavad-gita, after Krishna has demonstrated to Arjuna’s satisfaction that all the Vedas, all knowledge, all science is just a seeking after Him. I have tried to give some reasons for recognizing the plausibility of Krishna’s analysis.
In short, if we cannot reform Western culture from the bottom up, the Bhagavad-gita offers us the opportunity to do it from the top down. My own hope, therefore, for the prospects of humanity, is that sincere and thoughtful people, after giving serious reflection to the analysis of dharma in the Bhagavad-gita, will accept simply in principle, that all human endeavor aspires after bhakti. Such people will then be able to take advantage of Krishna’s offer in the Bhagavad- gita, in spite of their bafflement in karma and jnana. If bhakti is thus established, then as a matter of course, karma and jnana, included as they are in bhakti, will be rectified and reformed.
In the concluding paragraph of Novum Organum, Francis Bacon, that great harbinger of the Enlightenment makes this pregnant comment: “Man, by the fall, lost at once his state of innocence, and his empire over creation, both of which can be partially recovered even in this life, the first by religion and faith, the second by the arts and sciences.”
Defenders of Bacon are right when they say that Bacon did not envision the elimination of religion. Rather, as this statement shows, he saw the need for science and religion. Both are needed so that humanity may possess both power and innocence.
Bacon’s hope was unfulfilled. Rather, we have seen that since Bacon’s time humanity has purchased power at the expense of innocence, has established science by driving out religion. Indeed, the seed of this disaster was present in Bacon himself, who, for all his genuine piety, espoused the late medieval doctrine of double truth, i.e., one truth of science or natural reason, another truth of religion or scripture, neither related to the other. The process of secularization was founded upon this doctrine.
Science and religion were already estranged in Bacon, even though formal divorce proceedings had not been instigated. Yet the ideal of the union of power and innocence is compelling. That precisely, is what is lacking in the modern world—full of power but devoid of all innocence, or, more insidiously, exercising power in one sphere and innocence in another. We see power and innocence as antithetical; how can we unite them?
In terms of my paradigm, karma epitomizes power, and jnana innocence, the one controlling the world, the other withdrawing from it. As long as they remain in opposition or tension, we fail to reach our desired aim. For this reason, the state of jnana, even if obtained, is no solution to the problem. In bhakti, however, karma and jnana are synthesized, and action in the world by people wholly empty of desire or ambition, wholly renounced and yet immersed in social and natural commerce, is possible.
“I am situated in everyone’s heart,” Krishna tells Arjuna. The soul of the universe is the Supersoul in the heart of every living being. “From Me comes knowledge,” He continues (Bg. 15.15). Thus the Bhagavad-gita explains how, through bhakti, the intelligence of the embodied individual can receive direct guidance and instruction in all activities from the supreme intelligence within. The possibilities for science are immense, for that instructor is the one who lures us on as the single, unified elegant principle that contains and explains everything. If we are innocent, then—and only then—can we become truly powerful.
Bhakti teaches that in order to receive such knowledge and power, we must become humble, for the Supreme bestows these gifts only upon those who have become His innocent servants. As practitioners of karma and jnana, we have pursued mastery, seeking great achievement by our own efforts, in which we take much pride. Hence, we have acquired an aversion to servitude; we hesitate to recognize another as our categorical superior, and, admitting our failures, accept help from His hands. Yet we should reflect on how all our own great achievements in power and knowledge have brought us to the brink of our own destruction. Our situation could hardly be more critical. At this point, we should be grateful to accept any help we can get.
Modern Influences of The Enlightenment
The “Enlightenment” denotes a broad European social and intellectual movement that coincided roughly with the eighteenth century, giving that period the name the “Age of Reason.” It was centered in England and France, where groups of likeminded thinkers worked together on the task of freeing human society from what they saw as the accumulated errors and superstitions of the past, in order to recreate it entirely on a rational and scientific basis. Francis Hutcheson and David Hume, and later Edward Gibbon and Jeremy Bentham, developed Enlightenment ideas in Scotland and England. In France a group of thinkers known as the philosophers, of whom Voltaire and Rousseau are the most well known, united under the editorship of Diderot and D’Alembert to produce the Encyclopedic of 1751, the summa of Enlightenment ideas.
Enlightenment thinkers placed their faith in autonomous human reason. They believed that the method of Newtonian physics, based on measurement and mathematical operations, could alone give reliable knowledge. Profoundly inspired by the apparent success of Newton in opening nature to our understanding, they sought to extend his methods to all human concerns—but most of all to the ordering of human life in society. They thought that Newton’s laws revealed a universe that was neat, orderly, regulated, and rational through and through—like a gigantic mechanical clock in which everything fit smoothly and intelligibly together with no loose ends. Human societies were embedded within nature and part of it, yet human society, as they experienced it, was not like the universe: it was unruly, disordered, conflicted, and irrational.
Run by priests and kings whose authority derived from revelation and tradition and not scientific observation. society was, in a word. unenlightened. To overhaul human society, they thought we must extend Newton’s method from inanimate nature to human beings and their moral, social, and political behavior. This program will uncover all the natural mechanisms that operate human beings and give us the same control over human nature that Newton’s physics promised to give over inanimate nature.
In this way the Enlightenment propounded and initiated the cultural movement that enshrines the method of quantitative, empirical science as the only valid means of knowledge, seeks to extend the hegemony of science over all phenomena, and dismisses anything not accessible to the method of mechanistic science as nonexistent or insignificant
The “Counter-Enlightenment” refers to the effort of a number of thinkers, contemporary with the Enlightenment to criticize and attack Enlightenment rationalism and scientism. The German theologian and philosopher J. G. Hamman. for example, began as a follower of the Enlightenment but turned into one of its most vigorous critics. Emphasizing feeling over abstract thinking, sympathetic participation over detached observation, inspiration over analytic reasoning, he was a forerunner of the attitudes that characterized the Romantic movement
The Romanticism of the nineteenth century ran directly counter to the doctrines of the Enlightenment The individual. the unique, and the exotic were valued over the universal, the uniform. and the familiar. The Middle Ages even returned to favor, and the Renaissance was viewed as a “second Fall.” An interest in mysticism and mystical experience revived. and Oriental religions attracted students and admirers. Monistic, idealistic. and pantheistic philosophies proliferated. Nature was viewed as alive, as a seamlessly flowing organic whole. Science. with its piles of discrete measurement could only destroy and misrepresent: “We murder to dissect” as Wordsworth wrote.
The forces of both the Enlightenment and Counter- Enlightenment are with us today. In the field of psychology, for example, the Enlightenment spirit is embodied in “behavioral psychology,” which is dedicated to achieving reproducible results from controlled laboratory experiments on human and animal “subjects.” It uses careful measurement to produce quantified data and subjects them to statistical analysis. But the spirit of the Counter-Enlightenment continues on in what is now called “humanistic psychology,” which focuses on the emotional and spiritual concerns of people and is even open to recognizing religious experience as a major value in human life. Although both groups inhabit the field of psychology, they have little, if anything, to say to each other.
The unresolved conflict between these two cultural movements has determined much of the agenda of European history for the last three centuries. Both the Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment are very much with us, but the shortcomings of both of them make progress unlikely. The stalemate will have to be broken by forces beyond the conflict.