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BACK TO GODHEAD
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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19119
I have been privileged to read two issues of your Back to Godhead magazine. You publish wonderful stories of a very high standard. The gospel cuts across the borders of every religion. The ultimate goal of your magazine is perfect life for mankind, and I praise you for it. May God continue to help you in propagating these wonderful tidings of His.
I have read some works on life after death, yet no one has surpassed your teachings about reincarnation. Therefore I would love to have more of your publications in my library, including past copies of Back to Godhead magazine.
Johnson Ose Ajimatanrareje
Journalist and Publisher
Lagos State, Nigeria
I've read a few issues of Back to Godhead and I find myself agreeing with you on a lot of points. But there's one thing that always bothers me as far as religion is concerned. That is, is there any way to really know the truth beyond just believing that something is true? I came across the phrase "the science of bhakti-yoga" in your magazine, but if it's a science, how can you prove it?
SADAPUTA DASA* REPLIES: It is often said that religion is based either on subjective experiences that cannot be verified by others or on received doctrines that cannot be verified at all. Therefore, the charge goes, religion is a matter of blind faith. But this charge does not apply to the process of bhakti-yoga, for bhakti-yoga is based on verifiable observations. True, a person using ordinary sense perception cannot verify the realizations attained by someone practicing bhakti-yoga. But these realizationscan be verified by other persons who are also able to exercise their higher sensory capacities.
We can establish this point with the analogy of two seeing persons observing a sunset in the presence of a congenitally blind person. The seeing persons are able to discuss what they see, and each feels confident that both he and the other person really are witnessing a sunset. If necessary, they can confirm this conclusion by consulting other seeing persons. In contrast, the congenitally blind person cannot verify the existence of the sunset, and he is probably unable to form a realistic conception of what it would be like to see it. He can either accept the existence of sunsets on blind faith, reject their existence with equal blindness, or declare himself an agnostic.
One might say that it is unfair for a few people to lay claim to knowledge that can be obtained only by methods unavailable to people in general. But this charge is actually more applicable to certain fields of modern science than to bhakti-yoga. For example, physicists use multimillion-dollar particle accelerators and elaborate techniques of mathematical analysis to demonstrate the existence of certain "fundamental" particles. The common man has neither access to such expensive equipment nor the knowledge needed to use it properly. Since these assets are difficult to acquire, the common man has no choice but to accept the physicists' findings on faith. Nonetheless, the physicists are confident that they can verify one another's observations, and they would not accept the charge that their conclusions are invalid because they cannot be checked by laymen.
For a given class of observations to be considered objective, the general rule is that a group of responsible people must be able to verify them. These people must agree on a clear theoretical understanding of what observations are to be expected and how they are to be interpreted. Modern physics is based on such a group of experts, and the same can be said of the process of bhakti-yoga. The system of bhakti-yoga is maintained and propagated by a disciplic succession of teachers, or gurus, who have reached a higher platform of personal realization. These teachers adhere to a standard of knowledge contained in books such as Bhagavad-gita, and their conclusions and conduct can be checked by the larger community of realized persons, or sadhus.Qualified sadhus can discuss and evaluate the higher realizations of bhakti-yoga just as readily as expert physicists can discuss and evaluate the findings of experimental physics.
Since bhakti-yoga is based on verifiable observations, it is dependent neither on blind faith nor on speculative arguments. Yet any difficult undertaking requires faith, and the process of bhakti-yoga is no exception. For example, before studying modern chemistry the prospective student must have faith that the many experiments on which the subject is based actually work. He cannot know in advance that they will work, but without faith that they will he would not be motivated to carry out the arduous labor needed to master the subject. Normally, the student will begin with a certain amount of initial faith, and this faith will grow as he acquires more and more experience. The same gradual development of faith occurs in bhakti-yoga.
[*Sadaputa dasa received a Ph.D. in mathematics from Cornell in 1974, specializing in probability theory and statistical mechanics.]