Faith and Science

Faith-and-ScienceFor decades, the usual academic hero was depicted as the detached, unbiased, value-free, objective observer revealing the secrets of nature to us. This view is now largely regarded as a pious myth. We can’t get away from it even if we tried: knowledge is state-specific. Our state of consciousness determines what we can know. Devamrita Swami elaborates on the yoga of subjectivity in a lecture given at New York University:

I’d first like to present to you the possibility that in your studies you’re going through something called the yoga of objectivity. This is a term coined by a philosopher at the University of Michigan, Henryk Skolimowski. What is this yoga of objectivity? If you’re going to understand something, you have to just separate yourself out from it. You undergo rigorous academic training, beginning as a young child, how to analyze the world in a quantifiable way. Doesn’t matter what your consciousness is – because after all who knows really what consciousness is? – Just study the facts, study the world as if it exists separate from you. That is what we call the yoga of objectivity.

What we’re proposing is that science as commonly known is a legitimate way of getting knowledge, and the ancient yoga systems, especially bhakti-yoga, known contemporarily as Krishna Consciousness, is also a system for acquiring knowledge. So what we have to do is decide what is the best kind of knowledge for me to get? Technology has its purpose, it provides its conveniences, and, it causes a lot of havoc also. Knowledge of self, enlightenment, has its place in the scheme of things. So just because we talk about enlightenment, knowledge of consciousness, knowledge of the Supreme consciousness, does that automatically mean, “oh faith, religious superstition.” No, not at all if techniques are being presented for verifying the spiritual reality. This is why I like what Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita, because the techniques are given how to verify all the nonmaterial presentations of reality. This is what attracted me through my studies of Bhagavad-gita, upon finishing my university studies – in so many chapters in Bhagavad-gita, Krishna says, “alright here is a principal. This is how things are.” Then Krishna gives you the techniques to verify that. So I thought, “This is very fair and reasonable, because I don’t want to just be a true believer. I want to experience.” I think if we all look at ordinary science and spiritual science in that way, a lot of misperceptions and misunderstandings can be cleared. Those of you here who may be studying science, let me read you the words of one of the grand patriarchs of modern quantum mechanics, Niels Bohr, this was his conclusion: “We can admittedly find nothing in physics or chemistry that has even a remote bearing on consciousness. Yet all of us know that there is such a thing as consciousness, simply because we have it ourselves. Hence, consciousness must be a part of nature, or more generally, a reality. Which means that quite apart from the laws of physics and chemistry, as laid down in quantum theory, we must also consider laws of quite a different kind.” So he’s willing to be open! And that’s all we’re asking of you.

Let us be open and entertain that there could be laws of nature that govern consciousness, in a nonmaterial way. And let’s see if there are techniques for entering that reality, laboratory practices for verifying that reality. When you talk about the laws of nature, as scientists currently present it, you’re indeed dealing with faith. Where do the laws come from? Why are there laws? The common response to that question is: “This is not a scientific question, where the laws of nature come from, why are there laws. It’s just the way things are.” And you just accept that, because that’s the way things are. This is faith. Or you look at the big bang. There’s no point in asking where or when the big bang occurred, because there was no time for the big bang to occur in, and there was no space for it to occur in. So you can’t say where or when. And where did whatever exploded come from? You can’t talk about that either. So even in ordinary science, there are certain things you have to accept that are just beyond our current perception. You’ll find the same thing in spiritual science. I would say there’s a difference though. In the spiritual science, in the ancient yoga texts, we’re talking particularly about the bhakti texts, or Krishna texts, you’re given techniques which can enter into the most subtle realities if you’re willing to become transformed. In other words, there’s a price to pay. You have to refine your consciousness, distill your consciousness. Not everyone wants to pay that price.

I was talking to one professor of quantum mechanics at Harvard University, he told me, “You know, you Krishna people, you may think you’re quite rigorous and you have to go through a lot of training and distilling and refining to get to the point where you can enter into the realm of Krishna Consciousness. Well let me tell you what we put our physics students through, in order to enter the mystical world of quantum mechanics.” He said, “it takes on average 8 years to readjust their minds so that they can start thinking enough, thinking in a suitable way to grasp the strange world of quantum mechanics.” It takes 8 years because the quantum reality is so contrary to what your senses ordinarily perceive. He said it takes 8 years to get students to think the right way. Now, obviously if it takes 8 years just to understand a material reality, what’s wrong with putting in a little time and effort and transformation for understanding spiritual science?

So as long as methods of verification are presented, we shouldn’t be afraid of spiritual science, the yoga of participation, subjectivity. Let’s be honest and admit, since the first grade in school, we have been going through the yoga of objectivity, honing the mind in a certain way, adjusting the mind to view the world in a certain way, you get graded on that, you’re tested and there’s social conditioning, peer pressure and gradually by the time you’re at the university, your mind is focused a certain way. Alright, that has some limited success. We’re not criticizing that. What we’re trying to point out today is the yoga of objectivity, actually its not objective, because there are hidden assumptions, that everything is matter, that anything that’s real can be quantified, these are hidden assumptions.

Okay, take that system as far as it goes. But at the same time, recognize there’s value in the yoga of subjectivity, of participation. Subjectivity is not a bad word, it’s not a dirty word. As a conscious being you are subjective. So the question is rather than run from it, or artificially deny it, why not come out of the closet and start thinking about how to purify it? That is the thrust of the bhakti system. You’re a conscious entity, as Bhagavad-gita explains, “Just like the sun illuminates the whole universe, similarly the nonmaterial entity in the body illuminates the whole body with consciousness.” So, okay, how can I verify that? How can I indeed perceive that I have a nonmaterial identity and that there’s a Supreme nonmaterial identity and a relationship between the two. Should I just believe? Now of course just to enter the laboratory, it takes some good faith that this could be a worthwhile experiment. Even if you’re investigating material science, you have to have some hunch that this is going to be worthwhile for me to investigate this phenomenon. But then, you expect to find a laboratory experience. Similarly, in bhakti-yoga, in Krishna Consciousness, the same is there. It takes a little faith or curiosity just to get your foot in the door, “Yeah I think this could be worthwhile.” But then there are laboratory techniques for verifying the spiritual reality. There will be step-by-step confirmation.