What Is Knowledge?

by bhakta Eric Johanson

A spiritually centered discussion of a recent phenomenon like climate change draws on both the teachings of previous self-realized souls and the empirical observations and conclusions of modern scientists. Depending on the pre-conceptions of the reader, many may be inclined to emphasize one type of knowledge to the exclusion of the other and thus fall short of objectivity on this topic. People of faith often disregard or minimize anything outside the words of their particular scriptures or teachers, sometimes convinced that scientists’ observations and theories are a secular plot to undermine their legitimacy.

On the other hand what could be called materialistic science bases its conclusions solely on what can be measured or experienced with our five human senses – hearing, sight, smell, touch and taste. Even though it is known that things like light and sound exist on wavelengths beyond human perception, these are merely extensions of the phenomena we physically experience. Even the study of such a recent and invisible subject as dark matter is based on its ability to bend the light waves that are perceivable to our senses.

For something to become part of the scientific body of knowledge it must be what is called falsifiable, a concept popularized by philosopher Karl Popper. This doesn’t mean that what modern science accepts is necessarily wrong, but that further research could potentially disprove (falsify) or further elaborate on it.

Sense observation or direct perception is also a type of evidence accepted in Vedic culture, what to speak of most others.

srutih pratyaksam aitihyam
anumanam catustayam
pramanesv anavasthanad
vikalpat sa virajyate
Vedic literature, direct perception, history and hypothesis are the four kinds of evidential proofs. Everyone should stick to these principles for the realization of the Absolute Truth. Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.19.17

Those advocating the exclusivity of the modern scientific method as the means to acquire knowledge like to present their method as the only truly rational and objective one, one whose laws and theories are supposedly free from the influence of belief or faith. In this regard good scientists do take great pains to see that their findings can be independently replicated before going so far as to say that they are scientifically accepted. There are, however, other academics who study the sociology of scientific knowledge and how biases sometimes distort the so-called objectivity. In this regard, one can consult Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar’s Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. Latour and Woolgar document how scientists tend to minimize or reject data that goes against a prevalent orthodox consensus.

Nevertheless, beneath this rational exterior the materialistic academic group very much has an overriding belief, and it is their idea that only data observable by the senses or derived from mathematical treatments can add to what is called knowledge. Although there are other philosophical headings this is often called positivism or logical positivism. Modern positivism was largely developed by early 19th century philosopher and sociologist Auguste Comte. More recent decades, however, have seen the acceptance of probabilistic theories of matter and existence such as quantum mechanics; theories that often run counter to these older conceptions that largely descend from a mechanistic Newtonian model of the cosmos. The Newtonian model said that everything was little more than billiard-ball-like particles, thus leading philosophers and scientists to conclude that eventually all phenomena would deterministically be described by a concise set of mathematical-scientific “laws.” However, after the acceptance of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and the wave-particle duality model of matter around 1930, the billiard balls became a lot more philosophically fuzzy.

Although positivism as a philosophy is largely based on older Newtonian assumptions of physics, it is still the predominant philosophy of such super-scientists as Stephen Hawking:

“Any sound scientific theory, whether of time or of any other concept, should in my opinion be based on the most workable philosophy of science: the positivist approach put forward by Karl Popper and others. According to this way of thinking, a scientific theory is a mathematical model that describes and codifies the observations we make. A good theory will describe a large range of phenomena on the basis of a few simple postulates and will make definite predictions that can be tested. … If one takes the positivist position, as I do, one cannot say what time actually is. All one can do is describe what has been found to be a very good mathematical model for time and say what predictions it makes.” Stephen Hawking, The Universe in a Nutshell (p. 31)

Although the remark about Karl Popper’s advocacy of positivism is somewhat inaccurate, this quote by someone largely accepted as the world’s greatest living scientist-visionary reveals some of the limitations of the philosophy. Most people who have studied introductory mathematics, such as geometry, know that it is based on a few basic axioms or postulates. Then using logic one proves theorems, thus deducing what is called mathematical truth. The limitation is that the basic postulates of any system of math or logic are simply assumptions of what “seems” to be the way nature behaves. In Euclidean geometry one of the postulates is that parallel lines never meet, however, alternative non-Euclidean postulates say that they do or even curve away from each other. Although these alternatives may not appear to make sense to many people, non-Euclidean geometry is integral to Einstein’s theory of relativity and some other models of physical phenomena.

In this way there is a very subjective element in the “logical” or “objective” mathematical ways of seeing the world around us – one is very much limited to what they can conceive of, and there is always the possibility of disagreement on what appears to be axiomatic truth. When two apparently contradictory postulates both yield mathematical models that, in the words of Hawking, “make definite predictions,” which postulate is the correct one? This and other observations bring up questions as to whether everything in nature is truly bound by scientific laws that conceivable to human beings. Certainly many things, such as gravity, can be observed to act in predictable ways, but why should one be forced to assume that positivist thinking will be able to encompass every unknown cause or even that predictability extends to everything? It would be unwise to speak in terms of a scientific law when the probability of some physical phenomena is calculated to be near 50%.

More or less the scientific method is man’s attempt to eliminate the fallibility of sense perception. The idea is that experimental results can be replicated by other scientists working under similar conditions. The conditions, such as temperature and barometric pressure, are noted, and exhaustive attempts are made to see what, if any, conditions change the results and how. Nevertheless, attempts to be exhaustive are limited to what can be conceived by the scientists, and it is always possible that some un-conceived factor will turn up later. Another limitation is that precise scientific measurements have only been made for the last several hundred years, thus making doubtful any attempts to use current trends to say what happened billions of years ago, when the universe is said to have originated. What we have observed over the last two hundred years may only be small parts of cycles that take thousands or millions of years to repeat. What have humans really been able to observe about creation? An apt comparison might be how some insects are born, breed and die all in one night. What would the scientist members of such a species think if they saw the sunrise and daytime?

In this way if we look at the history of modern scientific thought since Newton or Galileo, it is not difficult to compare it to the old parable of a group of blind people trying to make sense of an elephant. The Newtonian assumptions may have been a good first attempt, but later someone else needed to make sense of the elephant’s trunk. Our purpose in making such comparisons is not to downplay the efforts of dedicated scientists, so much as to point out the absurdity of saying absolutely that only empirical sense observations or mathematical theory can add to what we call knowledge.

Actually anyone who truly understands the scientific method knows that making any kind of absolute statement about it or its findings is completely contradictory. This is because all the conclusions of modern science are based only on the data that has thus been collected. New data collected under other conditions can either affirm these or cause adjustments. In this way for several hundred years Newton’s laws were thought to be true in all conditions, but then Einstein’s theory of relativity said that those laws change exponentially as one approaches the speed of light.

As Hawking’s above statement about time makes clear, scientific-mathematical theories are little more than models of reality. They are thus much like a computer gaming depiction of say, Times Square in New York City – they are approximate simulations of reality only. Such things may provide predictable results in the context of what we have so far observed and studied, but not necessarily more. Nevertheless, there is no shortage of positivist zealots who don’t hesitate to deprecate any philosophy or belief that is not based on “science.” Such people clearly have a shortage of both honesty and humility.

All Is Fair

Of course, as implied by Latour and Woolgar’s work, all of this is taking place in a social context. Western culture often still finds itself debating whether religion and science are compatible. For hundreds of years the Christian church dominated every aspect of Western life, including what was called science, and virtually every religion makes its assertions absolutely, often claiming they are based on the “word” of an absolute God. However, since what is called the European Enlightenment 400 years ago, its intellectuals have made ever-increasing headway in overturning the cultural dominance of the Church. To a large extent this is now rippling across the globe as Western science comes in contact with other religions and cultures, and it is possible to view the fanaticism of such recent players as the Islamic State as partially results of Western science’s erosion of traditional religious-based culture. It is because of the “all is fair” aspect of these cultural conflicts that the advocates of Western science often contradict their empirical foundation to make absolute statements about their findings and method. This is commonly observed when they appear on popular television programs where they almost invariably say, “things are this way.”

However, when we look at the history of that science we will find that there were a number of phenomena that, for thousands of years, were undetectable to human senses, but that have now greatly changed our lives and how we interact with the world. The fact that radio waves and electromagnetic fields are completely invisible required a whole group of preliminary discoveries to understand what science now knows of them. The more objective person will think that there almost certainly are many other phenomena beyond what we now perceive. Although dark matter may be deduced from the sense observation of bending light waves, are all of these other unknown aspects of reality measurable or discernable with only the five senses? If we are willing to open our minds to the possibility that we will ultimately also need knowledge that is beyond sense observation to completely understand the full nature of reality, then our current sense dependent science becomes just a subset of a greater whole. How objectivity will be applied and understood in this arena will be one of the great challenges that scientists and philosophers will have to face in order to go past the limits of our senses. Science fiction books like Dune have skirted this fuzzy territory.

To bring this a bit closer to home we can ask, “What does science really know about life?” For decades they have been vainly trying to create life from what they say are its component molecules. Despite having succeeded at synthesizing DNA decades ago, scientists have not been able to create a living thing from what we might call dead matter. They have been able to clone or alter the genome of something already living, but creating something “from scratch,” that which would really prove their theory, has thus far been a failure.

Much like the above, however, life also behaves much like an invisible field, something capable of attracting and shaping molecules, similar to how the electromagnetic field of a magnet can create a pattern with iron filings or how radio waves affect electrons. The interaction of the inert molecules of a body with this far more complex “life field” pretty much begin at the moment of conception or germination. This means that, like dark matter, we can also partially deduce it from sense observations.

We can also observe that this life field is capable of reversing the disordering tendency of the second law of thermodynamics, which says that the entropy (disorder) of thermodynamic systems tends to increase. Put another way, other “non-living” arrangements of merely dead chemicals, such as buildings or rock strata, deteriorate and eventually fall apart. This is also what happens after the body of a previously living thing “dies,” or when the life field ceases to interact with or control the dead matter. This tendency of life to reverse the second law of thermodynamics was also noted in Dr. Michael Marchetti (Madhava dasa), Dr. Richard Thompson (Sadaputa dasa) and Dr. Thoudam Damodar Singh’s (Svarupa Damodara dasa) article Can Creation Come From Chaos?

Other related phenomena have also escaped quantification. How thoroughly does materialistic science understand what thoughts, dreams, intelligence or consciousness are? These are also invisible to others and hardly falsifiable, yet we all know they exist. Do the worlds we inhabit in our dreams or imaginations actually exist somewhere, and, if so, what are they composed of? If these things exist in the kind of parallel universe allowed by quantum theory, even if it may be transitory and ephemeral, is there an equivalent periodic table of the elements it is composed of? We can usually expect fanatical adherents of positivism or the related philosophy of materialism to absolutely assert, with only superficial evidence, that these are merely the result of chemical reactions in the brain.

This “merely chemicals” explanation is a very good example of what is called reductionism, or explaining complex phenomena in terms of simpler ones that are better understood. While there is certain logic to such an oversimplification, it also opens the door for a great deal of misuse, especially in the “all is fair” culture war we are describing. Millions of simple-minded students blindly accept such unproven explanations for life and thoughts daily in our modern educational institutions.

In the name of separation of church and state the courts of most Western countries have ruled that schools can no longer teach the conclusions of any particular religion, thus leaving these unproven theories as the default “objective” choice. What is more than overlooked, however, is the very real ideological motivation of most of the theory’s advocates and the subsequent effects of all this on culture everywhere. We find this “objective” and “free from faith” ideology constantly echoed on television programs and in movies, further exaggerating the subjective assertion that the findings of scientists are the only “real knowledge.” Just as old movies used to make sure that their Biblical stories were accurate, modern ones like Interstellar go to great pains to present cutting edge, often unproven, scientific theory correctly, often associating such “mysteries” with what is presented as spiritual meaning. Similarly, books like Ronald Wright’s A Short History of Progress present evolution as scientifically answering the age-old human questions, “Where do we come from?” and “Who are we?”

Another recent movie glorifies Stephen Hawking and his endeavor to derive one theory that will explain both the smallest sub-atomic parts of nature as well as the larger universe-size ones – the “unified field theory,” or the movie’s name, The Theory of Everything. A more accurate name might be, “the theory of everything Stephen Hawking and other materialistic academics have yet been able to conceive of.” For most people such movies elevate these scientists to the larger-than-life proportions of positivist “guru/spiritual visionaries.”

Now that religion of any kind has been replaced by the conclusions of positivism in virtually all public forums, people’s ancient tendency to piece together spiritual answers is being largely channeled by the schools, mainstream media and other secular culture warriors into something that might best be described as “the church of positivism.” With no shortage of irony we find that comedians like Jon Stewart or Bill Maher often act as some of the church’s most effective priests. Because it deceptively presents itself as not being based on belief, this church is incorrectly authorized by the courts as not subject to the separation of church and state. Nevertheless, behind the curtain of “objectivity” there very much hides the faith that only knowledge obtained with the five senses or mathematical derivation is genuine or trustworthy. Even further below the surface is the conviction that religion of any kind is a primitive superstition now followed only by less intelligent people.

In any case, the molecular ordering tendency of life to form a plant or animal body is a phenomenon that, despite extensive chemical analysis, has hardly been understood. In this way, what to speak of activities like building a nest, life is observed to be able to control dead matter, thus enabling us to postulate that it is “superior” to matter. We also observe that there is order in the universe. If everything is merely atoms and molecules that somehow chaotically erupted in what is called the big bang, how did the order creating tendency of life arise within the overall disordering context of the second law of thermodynamics? This should give rise to thinking that life may be something different from dead matter. Even if “life’s accidental creation” could have occurred once in the infinite possibilities of random atomic combinations that happen in billions of years, what is it that kept it together very long, and then further, what would have enabled it to develop the ability to reproduce? The second law of thermodynamics says that these things are, for all practical purposes, impossible. This was shown scientifically using statistical theory in the Bhaktivedanta Institute’s publication, Origins—Higher dimensions in science (Los Angeles: The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1984), which is summarized by the authors in the above article Can Creation Come From Chaos? This molecular ordering, second-law-reversing ability is largely what makes us declare life a “miracle.” The materialistic academics can only pretend they can explain it.

These extraordinary qualities of life are largely ignored in the aforementioned culture wars. The “absolute” positivistic zealots are more concerned with maintaining their hold on the world’s educational curriculum, and the Christians are limited by dogma that says that only humans are truly alive. However, it is not unreasonable to hypothesize that the reason life cannot be created in the laboratory is that it is not matter and hence undetectable with our five material senses. We can then ask if this life field has the transcendent qualities ascribed to it by most of the prominent religions. We know that consciousness largely feels or remains the same throughout all the body’s transformations from infancy to old age, even though the molecules of the body completely replace themselves every so many years. This indicates that consciousness is independent of any particular configuration of atoms or molecules, and that it might exist in a dimension undetectable to sense observation where it possibly transcends the demise of the physical body. In such a hypothesis the DNA of the body takes on the roll of a kind of software program that regulates the appearance and attributes of what could be called the hard copy that we see and experience. Another indication that consciousness is independent of the body is that it nightly remains active in dreams even when the body is asleep or relatively dead. Such everyday knowledge is the common cultural experience of virtually everyone.

The Absolute Truth?

As long as there have been human beings they have wondered about the ultimate source of everything they experience, the “absolute truth.” What would be the nature of such a thing? The materialistic academics attempt to measure the time and place of something they call the big bang, which they claim caused the universe. One of the latest theories, called the singularity, is that an infinitesimally small “object” of infinite mass exploded into creation. Although this says “scientifically” that everything came from nothing, it is taken quite seriously by many of them, what to speak of the millions who faithfully follow their high priests like Stephen Hawking or “televangelist” Neil deGrasse Tyson. However, logic would dictate that if there was one such infinitesimally small infinite mass, there might be others. Then one might ask how such things came to exist? Again, in the more familiar realm of common sense, when there is an explosion the police never accept the explanation that it happened by itself. They immediately start looking for a person.

This police analogy is connected with what was discussed previously – how living things have control over dead matter. The superiority of conscious living beings over non-conscious matter clearly indicates that the absolute truth must also be conscious. This is because it is the origin of and therefore superior to both the conscious living beings and non-conscious matter. It must originally contain, at least, all the attributes contained in its by-products that we have knowledge of. We all have practical experience of how a more complex living being is capable of producing something less complex like a house or den. The opposite pretty much only occurs in the materialistic scientific theory of the origin of life, something which has never been observed. If this accident supposedly happened once millions of years ago, why hasn’t it been observed since? Why hasn’t this been duplicated in the laboratory? Real science means that something can be experimentally demonstrated. Complex arrangements of matter like an automobile or computer are the result of conscious manipulation, not accidents. One does not get a PhD by some unconscious random arrangement. Are we to believe that, contrary to the present day, the second law of thermodynamics did not function in some scientifically mythical past? This isn’t science! It’s a fairy tale.

Regarding the superiority of life over dead matter and the overall presence of order in the universe, it is not unreasonable to posit that this overall order is caused by some other kind of superior consciousness or life. In virtually all instances where the second law of thermodynamics is found to be reversed, we will find the influence of some form of consciousness. Why can’t this observation be extrapolated out to include the source of everything, both the ordered and disordered? This is all logical and rational.

Regarding the compatibility of science and religion, both are ways that humans have made sense of what they find around them; they are both shaped by what occurs and its causes. Incompatibility arises when one side or the other creates entrenched dogma. In science this is academically referred to as orthodoxy, and the refusal of our educational system to teach even non-sectarian theories of intelligent design, such as outlined herein, is a good example.

Of course the academic rebellion against religion largely started in the West, and the political, scriptural and philosophical abuses of the Catholic Church are somewhat well known. Far too often, behind the facades of both divine authority and science, one finds men or women with feet of clay and personal and institutional agendas.

Another somewhat recent academic line of thought is that religion is merely a product of man’s evolution, something that has been invented and forced on other humans by these kinds of motivated people. Supposedly as early men went from smaller clan like hunter-gathering groups to larger town-sized societies supported by agriculture, some kind of social structure or belief system, an “opiate,” was needed to subdue people’s baser selfish survival tendencies.

Of course this supposed detail of evolution fits nicely within the overall theory and can make it all appear that much more consistent. However, until they are able to demonstrate what life actually is, and how it appeared on earth, a primary link in their explanation remains missing. Without credible demonstrations, the overall theory starts to sound a bit too much like positivist-atheist ideology, and that is often how it is presented. Life coming here from another planet is actually far more credible than their accidental, perpetuating, reproducing and evolving collections of chemicals. Intelligent life would also likely be accompanied by its religion and culture. Anyway, we are not going to be so foolish as to say that we can prove such things. The prominent materialistic academics don’t have a video of all occurrences on earth for the last billion years either.

However, even if we accept their explanation for how and why religion became a part of human society, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it is all a pure invention or that God doesn’t exist. Apart from the materialistic sense-based system of accumulating knowledge, many far more ancient shamanic and disciplic systems of knowledge are still continuing. These systems often concern themselves with realized understandings of phenomena beyond the perception of our five material senses, knowledge that has been passed on from someone adept at the tradition to their student. Who is to say that all such knowledge is incorrect or that some of it shouldn’t be a part of what society calls science? This is supported to some extent by another philosopher/sociologist of scientific knowledge, Paul Feyerabend. When we read Sataputa dasa’s (Dr. Richard L. Thompson) article On Inspiration that discusses how some famous scientists got inspiration for their discoveries, many of them are hardly rational or “of this world.”

Actually the real power or authorization behind any spiritual practice comes from the self-realized souls or acaryas. Such a realized person actually has experience of the subtle causes of everything we find around us, including the things observable with the senses. The real acarya also has personal knowledge of the absolute truth. Such people say that there is a transcendent self and reality beyond what is perceivable to the senses:

na jayate mriyate va kadacin
nayam bhutva bhavita va na bhuyah
ajo nityah sasvato ‘yam purano
na hanyate hanyamane sarire
For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain. Bhagavad-gita As It Is 2.20
The facts are that spiritual practices often have as much empirical basis as what we call science. Most people pray because they see that it produces positive results in their lives. Belief in a transcendent reality or Supreme Being provides a certain detachment and inner peace that can enable some people to persevere through extremely difficult circumstances. In other words, even if everyone became so-called rational and enlightened by the materialistic academics, these things would eventually start all over again, simply because they work for a lot of people.

The atheistic or materialistic academic explanation of the origins of religion may sound fine in the classroom, but its consequences are not necessarily so. The direct implication is that all the great spiritual teachers for all of human history were either fantastic liars, severely deluded or both, and that the assertions and most of the history in the world’s scriptures are a kind of make-believe. Of course, zealots like Richard Dawkins or Bill Maher don’t have a problem saying such things, but less motivated people will hesitate. These zealots read some books on evolution and then declare audaciously that almost the entirety of human history has been a waste of time. They thus end up in the same embarrassing contradiction as most of the religions they deride – pretending to be absolute.

Another academic explanation of the great spiritual teachers or incarnations is that they were ordinary people whose reputations gradually grew to divine proportions as they were progressively embellished from one generation to the next. To a certain extent this has even been documented in the case of Jesus Christ going from the simpler “son of God” of early Christianity to the “God in flesh” now accepted by the Catholics and many other sects. One would certainly be foolish to say that such things don’t occur, but there are limits to roping in every great spiritual teacher or accepted realized soul. One simply can’t know what happened, and we do have documentation of accepted realized souls in very recent generations whose reputations have not developed over time, such as Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Swami Prabhupada and Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

Materialistic science can now hardly attempt to honestly explain everything. Prominent atheists and certain academics may be able to effectively bluff millions that this is possible, but that doesn’t make it a fact. One can spend decades refining their ability to appear rational and objective, but in the end everything, for everyone, rests on something completely subjective – one has to believe someone about what happens at the time of death. Based on the foregoing discussion of materialistic science’s proven inability to explain what life is, there is little probability that they are going to conclusively answer this question anytime soon, and almost certainly not in our lifetimes. Expecting an answer from them in the near future is like agreeing to accept a post-dated check for billions of dollars from a man living in a modest home.

As described previously there is enough evidence to believe that life or consciousness is independent of the particular molecules that make up the body at any given moment. What then happens when it no longer resides in, or has ordering power over, those molecules that compose the body? The self-realized person has already understood the relationship between consciousness and the body before death. Coming to this point should be the goal of all thoughtful human beings.

More perceptive people are going to wonder about what happens at the time of death. They are going to wonder about how they got here and the nature of life, who they are and whether there is a controller, someone who created the order we find around us. When there is some danger such people are going to get desperate to know the answers. This means that the answers to these few questions have far more subjective importance than ordinary scientific research.

Television programs and movies may be able to distract most people to believe that understanding black holes, dark matter, wormholes or string theory is the only knowledge worth thinking about. Actually some of these things, like wormholes (spacetime shortcuts), have not even been observed in nature but are only theoretical mathematical-physics constructs. This doesn’t stop so-called rational people from devoting all kinds of time to following the latest information from their chosen guides. Similarly many of them “rationally” accept that a person’s life amounts to little more than a download of all one’s thoughts, words, actions, etc. onto a computer drive, something that can later be projected as a hologram. Most of them say this is “living forever.” In a similar vein many believe that a computer simulation of a person could someday “come alive” and be just as spontaneous, creative, emotional, etc. as a genuine human – Western culture’s very own cyber-Pinocchio. The fact that so-called serious people consider such fantasies more valid than obtaining real answers to the above basic questions is clear demonstration of the power of the church of positivism.

When the importance of these very ancient, more-than-common human questions is acknowledged, the materialistic academic idea of what is called knowledge falls woefully short and inadequate. This is the main reason why the positivist cause in the culture war will never triumph. People will always long for lasting happiness, perhaps the most fundamental element of which is transcending the miseries of a temporary existence.

With this in mind, confining one’s idea of knowledge to what can only be observed with the five human senses or mathematical derivation is a type of self-imposed ignorance. Eliminating the possibility or obfuscating the importance of conclusive answers to these questions is hardly a service to humanity. In the name of rationality, positivism is an a-priori rejection of any knowledge that the materialistic academics can’t use to propagate their ideology. It is becoming a form of intellectual tyranny that spiritually inclined people are forced to endure.

If we reject true inquiry into these questions, there can be no benefit achieved in one’s lifetime beyond the satisfaction of the bodily senses. Life becomes limited to the four base animal activities of eating, sleeping, mating and defending. If this is the only purpose in one’s life, what can one say they have achieved after seventy or eighty years? This atheist or materialistic academic approach is pretty much one of resigning oneself to the finality of death, an intellectual resignation of defeat. Who is to say that everyone everywhere is incapable of knowing what happens at death? Who is to say that no one can realize the absolute truth? Similarly if all we do in life is connected with sense gratification and sense knowledge, there can be no real lasting gain from one’s sometimes great human intelligence. As the old saying goes, “you can’t take it with you.”

kamasya nendriya pritir
labho jiveta yavata
jivasya tattva-jijnasa
nartho yas ceha karmabhih
Life’s desires should never be aimed at gratifying the senses. One should desire to live only because human life enables one to inquire about the Absolute Truth. This should be the goal of all works. Srimad Bhagavatam 1.2.10

parabhavas tavad abodha-jato
yavan na jijnasata atma-tattvam
As long as one does not inquire about the spiritual values of life, one is defeated and subjected to miseries arising from ignorance. Srimad Bhagavatam 5.5.5

Jijnasata atma-tattvam means inquiring into the truth (tattvam) of the atma, or self. If we foolishly believe, according to the materialistic academic orthodoxy, that we are only this bag of obnoxious chemicals, how can it be said that such a philosophy has elevated us either individually or collectively? Animals also identify the self with the body. By attempting to eliminate or minimize knowledge beyond the five senses, the materialistic academics are only succeeding at making humanity more like dull animals. Many of them may take a certain pleasure in “freeing” people from the authority of religion, but what is the result of such guidance? Their less intelligent followers generally feel little hesitation to plunge headlong into material enjoyment and sense pleasure, usually with much less thought of how it will affect others and the world around them. This is very applicable to being able to limit the effects of climate change. More principled people like the academics may limit themselves with some mundane code of morality, but these things hold little attraction for ordinary people. The result is the wanton spectacle of 21st century Western life.

In this regard although the modern “chemicals only” explanation of life may originally have been put forward by the materialistic academics, its expanding influence in Western culture is more connected with political and social factors. As described previously this unproven detail of the theory of evolution is ordered by the courts of most countries to be the exclusive teaching in schools, often on the basis of separation of church and state. Courts have similarly given license for people to abort the pregnancies of unborn children, largely because the theory, more or less, equates an unborn human being with a bodily organ or tumor. The rabid variety of feminist actually considers this one of their essential “rights,” advocacy of which is condition for someone to become their sexual partner. Although they never tire of repeating the horror stories of illegal abortions or rape induced pregnancy, by now these operations or pill induced events have become, for many, little more than a last resort form of contraception, now numbering yearly in the tens of millions worldwide. In this way, we can very much congratulate materialistic academia and the courts for their success in establishing unproven “science” that gives the self-interested a good excuse to act more like rats and guppies, species that kill their young instead of nourishing them. How evolved!
“Bhaktivinoda Thakura therefore says, ‘jada-vidya yata mayara vaibhava tomara bhajane badha: Materialistic studies are the glare of maya only, for they are an obstacle to spiritual progress.’” – Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Purport, Srimad Bhagavatam 4.29.47

Here “jada-vidya” can be understood as knowledge which sees everything as “dead” (jada) matter. Such knowledge is said by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura to be a form of illusion. The greatest success of materialistic academia over the last century has been using such knowledge to get millions around the world to doubt religion. The fact that they are completely incapable of disproving many of the assertions of religion is proof that what they are really pushing is an ideology. This ideology is basically one of faithlessness, or faith only in what can be known with the senses. It is like a poison that kills all higher knowledge, both real and so-called. If anything, the popularity of abortion is clear proof that the “evolutionary necessity” of religion is still very important.

The materialistic academic assertion that everything is dead matter, and that life is merely a combination of it, has no real scientific basis. Because they have been unable to create life from inert matter, it is little more than reductionist theory. The quantification of the more subtle aspects of existence, such as consciousness and thoughts, is also one of materialistic science’s weakest arenas. However, regardless of their ability to articulate it, the world’s religions see two things – life and dead matter. If we understand that consciousness is different from matter and superior to it by virtue of its ability to reverse the second law of thermodynamics, and that the existence of order in the universe is indication of an overall creator consciousness, then it is reasonable to conclude that this creator consciousness is imbued in everything at the most subtle level of existence – what religions call God’s omniscience and omnipresence or the conscience in one’s heart. This would mean that the basis of everything is something alive, not dead.

In this regard, atheist actor Stephen Fry recently said on television that God was capricious and mean-minded because He has created “a world which is so full of injustice and pain.” He gave the example of innocent children dying of bone cancer. Although the religions coming from Abraham that do not accept reincarnation, such as the Catholicism of the show host, have particularly weak answers to these apparent contradictions, this clearly illuminates the the materialistic academics’ and atheists’ bleak and fatalistic idea of the cosmos. More or less, they see themselves as the inevitable victims of the disintegration of the second law of thermodynamics – everything originates from something dead and sooner or later ends up there.

Real Knowledge

The question then comes up as to how to “know” the absolute truth? Since we are all encompassed by this absolute truth and its by-products or energies, and our time in these bodies is limited, empirical observations with the five senses or any kind of mental speculation, even that of an Einstein, could hardly be expected to quickly produce any kind of definite conclusion. For all practical purposes the absolute truth and its known by-product, this universe, are infinitely greater than even the greatest of us. However, since the absolute truth must have the attributes of consciousness and personality, the practical method of knowing it becomes developing a personal relationship with that supreme personality. In other words the short-cut method of knowing the absolute truth is having it or Him reveal itself to us.

We can then ask if that supreme personality can be limited in any way, and even if that is possible, it is logically unlikely that our relatively small intelligence is going to be able to conceive of how. In this way we can understand that the absolute truth is fully capable of appearing here on earth to both reveal Himself to us and to teach how we can develop a personal relationship with Him. This is true even if every religion was simply invented to keep order among evolving hunter-gatherers. The absolute truth or supreme personality is free to do whatever He likes.

When we look at the major theistic religions of the world we can see that they all emphasize approaching this supreme consciousness through prayer and supplication, with the highest goal of developing love for Him. In other words our petty abilities have no capacity to impress this Supreme Being to force Him to reveal Himself to us, but our love does. This is just like a small child who can’t do anything in comparison to her parents, but easily makes them submissive with expressions of love.

If we similarly examine the world’s scriptures, we will see that only the Vedic ones, generally associated with India, actually claim to describe the descents of this Supreme Being to earth. As far as a description of the teachings of that absolute truth and how He is to be approached, everything is very nicely summarized in the Bhagavad-gita, or the “Song of God.” Because in that Bhagavad-gita As It Is Lord Krishna declares Himself to be that supreme personality, and because He appeared to us in a form we would identify as a man, we accept the use of that pronoun, ever conscious that the absolute truth includes everything, including all genders, and is not limited by our mundane conceptions and designations. The supreme absolute truth, Krishna, is free to appear in any culture to deliver the pious and sincere. This is true even if we accept the materialistic academic assertion that Vedic culture has no divine or extraterrestrial origin, but is merely an outgrowth of an earlier proto-Indo-European one.

aham sarvasya prabhavo
mattah sarvam pravartate
iti matva bhajante mam
budha bhava-samanvitah
I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who know this perfectly engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts. Bhagavad-gita As It Is 10.8

Academics may quibble about when and where Lord Krishna appeared on earth and the real events of His pastimes, often invoking the multi-generational embellishment described previously. However, Lord Krishna’s authenticity can immediately be ascertained by an open-minded reading of Bhagavad-gita As It Is, which introduces the reader to genuine, timeless, absolute knowledge and quickly delivers the reader from the illusion of the body and its sense knowledge.

The events of Lord Krishna’s appearance here on earth are also described in the Vedic literature, such as the Mahabharata, wherein astronomical occurrences, such as eclipses, are described. These have been analyzed by various scientists using planetarium software and other programs, and very consistent dates have been determined that closely coordinate with the dating in the books, rather than the orthodoxy of many materialistic academics. Dr. Narahari Achar’s work is very interesting in this regard. Horacio Francisco Arganis-Juárez, Ph.D. summarizes these and other archaeological, etc. evidence concerning Lord Krishna’s appearance in Lord Krishna Recognized by Scholars Long Time Ago. The river Saravati also plays a central role in Vedic literature. Although not without contention, recent geological and climatological evidence has supported the river’s disappearance or diversion after or during the events described in the Vedas.

The method of developing love that Lord Krishna describes in the Gita is nicely summed up by how service is perhaps the most essential interchange in dealings of love – if we want to personally know God, we have to learn what He likes and serve Him in that manner. For most of us this very much entails constantly acknowledging His supremacy by doing for Him what he likes:

bhaktya mam abhijanati
yavan yas casmi tattvatah
tato mam tattvato jnatva
visate tad-anantaram
One can understand the Supreme Personality as He is only by devotional service. And when one is in full consciousness of the Supreme Lord by such devotion, he can enter into the kingdom of God. Bhagavad-gita As It Is 18.55

Real knowledge is the eternal spiritual knowledge given by the acaryas. It is such a self-realized soul who already knows and represents Krishna, and who can engage us in doing this devotional service. Since he already knows Krishna personally he knows what will please Krishna. One can experience the personal absolute truth, Krishna, only by the mercy of such a spiritual master, who is already His unalloyed loving servant. Krishna sends such a self-realized soul to the sincere person who truly wants to get free from the temporary bodily illusion and know the absolute truth. Krishna then reveals Himself according to one’s desire to follow and serve this dear-most representative of God who, in this way, trains us in how to serve the supreme. The resulting relationship one develops with such a guru and Krishna, along with the accompanying realized knowledge, is eternal and is what one can take with them after the demise of the body. As taught by the aforementioned spiritual teachers, this is only achievable when we give up the vain pursuit of mammon, or material things and sense pleasure.

tad viddhi pranipatena
pariprasnena sevaya
upadeksyanti te jnanam
jnaninas tattva-darsinah
Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth. Bhagavad-gita As It Is 4.34

Real spiritual knowledge and attainment begins when glimpse the illusion of material life, thinking that we are this ever-changing collection of chemicals, when we start giving up the hope that satifying the body is going to make us happy. Attaining this state is the real purpose of human life. According to this standard, the positivist academics are little more than the blind leading the blind. Although they often don’t believe in, much less know, the subtle causes of material phenomena, they assert that they are the only ones who should teach. This is called bluffing. They may be able to make a better computer or explain climate change, but their philosophical guidance and its implications should be completely rejected. They are only useful in the context of the illusion of the material body.

yasya sarve samarambhah
tam ahuh panditam budhah
One is understood to be in full knowledge whose every act is devoid of desire for sense gratification. He is said by sages to be a worker whose fruitive action is burned up by the fire of perfect knowledge. Bhagavad-gita As It Is 4.19

Any real knowledge conveyed in the preceding is the result of the teachings of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. All glories to him. Thank you for reading this.

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