We are not atheists, we are nominally devotees, why would we harbor atheism in our hearts? Well, it’s not done intentionally, of course, and it’s been sitting there since time immemorial, we just nor usually aware of its more subtle manifestations. Today I want to focus on one of those hidden atheistic attitudes.
Atheists want us to prove that God exists. This proof must be delivered on their own terms – God must be subjected to a series of tests and experiments and he (small “h” here) must return predictable and replicable results. If he consistently complies with scientific criteria for evidence then atheists would agree to accept his existence.
There are so many problems with this attitude that I don’t even know where to begin. God is not a object of anyone’s inquiry, He is not “seen”, He is the “seer”. We cannot subject God to our experiments or He wouldn’t be God by definition.
“Which definition?” – one might ask. The one where He has absolute power, for example. Absolute power means you can’t force Him to do anything. You can’t compel Him to do anything and so He is not obliged to respond to our tests.
Or we can take a definition where He is the source of laws of nature. This means He is not bound by them. We have quite a few fundamental laws, like conservation of mass and energy or laws of thermodynamics. These laws cannot be broken (except the law of biogenesis that states that life must come from life, ha ha). God is above and beyond these laws so even if we decide to test Him, He will behave totally unpredictably and irrationally.
When we shed a light on an object it usually reflects it, that’s how we see things, but God’s skin is not obliged to reflect light back. When we touch things they offer some resistance but God’s skin is not obliged to be felt in any way. Scientists fire particles at each other and watch them collide but they won’t collide with God. They will go straight through, or He can change their direction in physically impossible ways – it’s entirely up to Him.
The point is – God will never behave like an ordinary physical object. He cannot be detected, by definition. There’s a definition of God that states just that – He is beyond the reach of the senses and He cannot be “known”.
Of course the fact that God is not obliged to do anything doesn’t exclude the possibility that from time to time He might decide and respond to our material senses. Would it be enough for scientists? No, because it won’t be replicable. Unless experiments can be reliably reproduced they will not be counted towards supporting any theory (like a theory that God exists).
Atheists can’t quite wrap their heads about such basic things about nature of God but we are not immune to replicating their mistakes either. We want proof of Kṛṣṇa’s existence that is not very different from the proof expected by atheists. We call it “spiritual experience” and “realization” but we expect it to work in the same way.
We expect Kṛṣṇa to be visible to us, for example. We might concede that our eyes are not suitable for seeing Him but then we simply ask for eyes that would work. Principle is the same, just sensory organs are different – we want to see God, meaning He must respond to our actions. We look, and He appears before our eyes.
See how this attitude is essentially the same as that of the atheists?
We want to experience spiritual joy, we expect it to be infinitely better than anything else we experience in the material world, but we expect it to work under the same principle – we are the enjoyers and the spiritual energy, ie God, is meant to be enjoyed, just in a different way. See how this is essentially atheistic?
Bt let me return to atheists’ demands of proof of God. They want it to be empirical, and we say that God is transcendental, so empirical proof is not possible by definition. There’s a Vedic method of employing this basic principle in our search of God, the (in)famous neti neti.
It’s the method of jñāna yoga – trying to separate Brahman from matter. If it can be perceived, it’s not Brahman, therefore “not this, not that” (there are other translations as well). It’s very simple, really – whatever behaves like matter is not God. Whatever can be perceived empirically is not God.
Śrīla Prabhupāda was not very keen on this method, of course, due to its close association with impersonalism of Śaṅkarācārya and due to it’s being far from the path of devotion and our philosophy of acintya bheda abheda tattva where, in a certain sense, everything is Brahman and so there’s no place for neti.
And yet this method is recommended in Bṛhad Araṇyaka Upaniṣad, it’s legit. We don’t give much credit to jñāna yoga but it’s mentioned in Bhagavad Gīta as a possible way of realizing the Absolute Truth, even though it leads to incomplete understanding. Therefore I suggest we try to apply it in our spiritual lives and cleanse our hearts of atheistic expectations of God.
Everything we do in connection to Kṛṣṇa is spiritual but acintya bheda abheda can be applied to us, too. Some things are separate and so are detrimental to our devotional progress. Those things must be rejected and neti neti method can help.
We all serve Kṛṣṇa to the best of our abilities but our service is not pure, we can isolate those impurities by analyzing and rejecting them.
Marrying a girl so that we can sex with her is not a spiritual aspiration – neti. Eating a ton of prasāda to fill our belly is not a spiritual aspiration – neti. Going to the temple to enjoy the sound of beautiful kīrtana is not a spiritual aspiration – neti.
I once subscribed to a newsletter from one famous kīrtanīyā and now every couple of months I get invitations to enjoy my senses in the company of cool people. I’m not going to attend that, ever.
Criticizing devotees is an aparādha, it’s connected to Kṛṣṇa but it’s not a spiritual aspiration, so neti.
You see where this is going?
I can take it further – appreciating deity’s beautiful dress is appreciating a material form as it conforms to our material standards of beauty, so neti. Of course we don’t always transfer our material concepts of beauty to decorating our deities but we should always watch our hearts for what is it exactly that we like about Them.
Deities in Vṛndāvana are often very simple but they are loved absolutely selflessly by their worshipers. Kṛṣṇa does not need opulence, we offer it because we appreciate it ourselves, we think it’s “better”, so neti.
“Vṛndāvana charm” itself reflects material position of devotees there. Their hearts might be pure but when we look at their lives and their worship we see it as “Indian”, so it’s neti, too.
This neti neti path has no end, not for impersonalists, not for us – as long as we live here our hearts will always have something to purge.
One more thing – we might think that not separating non-spiritual aspects of our service is not a big deal, and, in a way, it isn’t, it’s still purifying, but this also means accepting non-spiritual aspects of our service, and it means that our determination to seek Kṛṣṇa is not resolute, that we are not complying with vyavasāyātmikā buddhir ekeha kuru-nandana bahu-śākhā hy anantāś ca buddhayo ‘vyavasāyinām verse (BG 2.41).
By accepting non-spiritual things our intelligence becomes “many-branched” and it affects our resolution, so the warning is there, we can’t go on like this forever.