I haven’t yet covered the rest of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s article in The Harmonist and today I hope to finish studying it. His writings are not to everyone’s taste and I myself can’t just sit and read it as I would with Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books, but if studied and analyzed carefully they reveal an amazingly sharp and penetrating mind that speaks to us from beyond this world.
The last page (link to source at the bottom) basically reiterates everything that has been said before but does so in application to the subject at hand, that is the planned Navadvīpa parikramā. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta starts with admitting that to the ordinary eye the descriptions of Navadvīpa would appear unbelievable, which means opposed to the evidence of one’s senses. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta also admits that this a persistent complaint, it’s not going away, we are now almost a century past that article and it still is the first thing atheists asks – how can you believe these things?
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta says that devotees should first of all clarify that whatever descriptions presented by the sādhus during the parikramā, or any Śrīmad Bhāgavatam class, for that matter, are not bound by limits of space and time. I think it’s a good starting point – things appear unbelievable only within the range of our experiences. Atheists use this argument themselves – what was once unbelievable becomes reality as soon as science conquers it. We should turn this argument around and tell them that whatever we “believe” in is beyond what we can experience in this world, it’s not only beyond our abilities for empirical observations but also beyond our imagination.
We can’t imagine spiritual realm because our imagination still falls within reality defined by space and time. Scientists themselves would argue that imagination happens between our two sound receiving holes in our head, and it’s limited by the speed of neurons passing electrical signals. Or we could argue that imagination only mixes and matches already known forms. At the very least known colors and shapes, with add-ons taken from somewhere else.
So, when we talk about the nature and the pastimes of the Absolute we must exclude our empirical abilities right from the start, we can’t rely on them. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta makes the point that this should be obvious with a bit of common sense that is available even in this world. The tools given to us to experience material reality are not suitable for experiencing the spirit. I mean even here we define the spirit, and especially the Absolute, as being beyond our sensory perception.
Simple point, hard to grasp for the atheists.
Then Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta makes a surprising concession – empiricists should not be prohibited from trying to understand the Absolute with their senses and minds. In fact, he states that is it the duty of ALL persons, including the atheists, to seek the Absolute Truth, and we have no other duties whatsoever. He warns, however, that their empiric method will not reveal the spiritual reality, nor the subject matter of the revealed scriptures. I think “revealed” is a very important word here. Atheists glance over it as our religious peculiarity but we mean it in all seriousness – our scriptures are revealed and they can only be revealed, they will remain locked as mystery or dismissed as mythology if tried to be accessed by any other method.
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta makes the point of it – it has been tried before “by more than one famous writer”. His conclusion is as damning as it is revealing:
..such attempt constitutes only one of the numerous departments of changeable human knowledge which have nothing to do with the spiritual.
Whatever the empiricists discover in the course of their studies of our scriptures will always be just another little thing that temporary appears in their journals and then gets forgotten. There was a news the other day that fire in Moscow destroyed maybe 15% of their main scientific library. All those books and articles that Soviet scientists had been depositing there for half a century are gone, they have not been converted into digital format and so they are literally gone, like the ancient library of Alexandria. Sure, there must be multiple copies scattered around other libraries or private collections but finding these books or even learning about their existence is now practically impossible.
So, this kind of knowledge cannot be spiritual by definition. By looking at our revealed scriptures with their mundane eyes empiricists produce only mundane reactions even if they come in the form of grand sounding encyclopedias of religions, and that is even before we consider the spiritual value of their discoveries, which will be zero anyway.
One who undertakes the pilgrimage of Sri Navadvipa-dhama with the conviction of, and, in pursuance of the method of the empiric historian and antiquarian, will certainly enrich the range of his worldly experience which he values. But he will miss the spiritual end which is declared by the scriptures to be attainable by the performance of the journey under the guidance of the sadhus.
Incidentally, that’s how I went on those parikramās, too. I sure had great, enriching experience, but I’m afraid I also missed the spiritual end of it. Hopefully, not altogether and the Lord will keep my spiritual score even if I don’t realize it myself.
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta extends an invitation to pursue the spiritual goals of the pilgrimage, which alone matter.
In the last paragraph he clarifies one other misunderstanding, actually an objection raised by “certain persons”. He doesn’t name them but it would appear we all could be them if we allow certain thoughts into our minds. The thought is that all those places indicated at yoga-pīṭha in Māyāpura, like Rādhā-kuṇḍa, are only recent excavations that carry only symbolic value. The same thoughts could be applied to many places and artifacts from Lord Caitanya’s time, too, like “footprints” and so on.
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta is resolute on this matter and takes it even further:
..those who make the pilgrimage to Sridhama Mayapura never suppose that either Gaura-kunda or Radha-kunda can be any pool of water of this or any other period, or that bathing in Sri Radha-kunda is identical with a bath in some ancient tank of the British District of Mathura.
The objection should be raised not only Rādhā-kuṇḍa in Māyāpura but the “original” Rādhā-kuṇḍa in Vṛndāvana, too, which he called “some ancient tank of the British District of Mathura”. Now it’s not British anymore, of course, but current Indian government claims ownership over it just the same.
Sri Radha-kunda is always invisible to mortal eyes; and no mortal can ever bathe in it.
What could be clearer?
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta then says that his Śrī Caitanya Maṭha occupies the site where Śrī Gaurasundara appeared in the house of Jagannātha Miśra and so Rādhā-kuṇḍa could certainly be found there – “by one who seeks bath”. Not by one who seeks empirical confirmations to his beliefs.
The article ends by reiterating once again that without faith in Śrī Gaurasundara none of these subjects can be properly understood. Faith in the Lord, in turn, can only be attained by the grace of the devotees. Faith cannot rise as a result of accumulating empirical knowledge. Such faith is blind and it is not found among the devotees. It’s not precisely clear what is meant here by “blind faith of empiricists” but I guess it’s the kind of faith they ascribe to us. The kind of faith they would have created in themselves if one day they decided to become religious. It could also be the kind of faith they live by everyday without acknowledging it – like that the world won’t end the next second, the Earth won’t open up and swallow them at the next step and so on. Or, perhaps it refers to earlier mentioned “hypocritical conviction that what he is pleased to think as true for the time being, is, therefore, necessarily true.”
This argument against atheist rationality somehow escapes me. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta insists that the only rational choice is to surrender oneself to the guidance of sādhu, and therefore whatever empiricists think as logical is actually not. The only reference I see, however, is that futility of trying to understand the spiritual realm with mundane senses should be apparent to anyone with a bit of common sense. As I said, it’s a great argument against their so-called “rationality” but I still have a sense that there’s more to it. Perhaps this article should be seen in the context of the previous ones or maybe even other articles in the same issue. Unfortunately, they are not easily available, if at all. Ray of Harmosnist publishes only one Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s article per issue and they are probably taken at random.
I need to click around their site to know more, maybe some other time.
Source, from graph on page 34