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Bhakti Yoga—A Method of Nonmechanistic Science: Part I

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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.