“Hey Mike! Mike!” I yelled. Walking for twenty minutes to the free gig in the park, my feet were sore. I had left my sneakers out in the rain the night before and had to borrow my flatmate’s plastic shoes, which were two sizes too small. The blister on my right foot was starting to make my eyes water, so I was really glad to hear the music and see brother Mike in the crowd. But he didn’t seem to recognise me, or maybe he just didn’t hear me over the band.
“Mike! Mikey!” I called again. I was closer now and caught his attention this time. Surprised, he turned, looking directly at me to see who was calling. His face looked outright confused. Oops.
It wasn’t Mike but a guy who looked just like him. The same long wavy brown hair, same denim jacket, same height, the same everything, at least from a distance. “Oh, ah, sorry, ha ha. I . . . thought you were . . . someone else.” My embarrassed tone and sheepish look filled him in, and with a shrug the stranger turned back towards his friends and the stage.
To err is human, as the saying goes, but it can be quite embarrassing sometimes, can’t it?
It’s amazing how much faith we invest in our eyes, when so often they let us down. But somehow, with all our optical limitations and list of personal embarrassments, we are still convinced that “seeing is believing.”
“I don’t see a higher reality, so it’s obvious there isn’t one,” we may confidently proclaim. Yet if we can muster up the courage to take an honest look at ourselves, behind our culturally created masks, we’ll see what we’re unconsciously saying doesn’t really make sense: “The only true things are the things that I can see.” But that’s not true, is it? Can we see the wind? Can we see the mind? Can we see time? No. But we all know that they exist, right?
TWO TYPES OF SEEING
That’s right. Our everyday experience reveals two types of “seeing:” direct and indirect. Interestingly, in the modern scientific method, which prides itself on conclusions drawn from “observable evidence,” most of what we call “scientific evidence” is indirect. No one has directly seen an atom, for example, yet all reputable scientists accept it exists without hesitation. Why? Because although no scientist has directly seen an atom, we can still understand it exists, by observing its effect on things we can see directly. We may observe its “tracks” in a cloud chamber, or as blips on the screen of an oscilloscope.
If we were to remove all conclusions drawn from indirect evidence from what we call “science” today, we wouldn’t be left with much evidence at all.
Just as indirect perception is accepted as evidence in contemporary scientific method, the yoga texts of ancient India explain that although we can’t directly see the nonmaterial reality with our limited senses, if we hear from the right source we can still be trained to perceive it. Where is the indirect evidence of a nonmaterial conscious self and the supreme conscious self? The Bhagavad Gita, for example, explains, “As the sun alone illuminates all this universe, so does the nonmaterial self within the body illuminate the whole body by consciousness.”
We can perceive the sun’s presence through its energy, the sunshine, even though the sun itself may be invisible, being below the horizon. Similarly, we can verify the existence of the nonmaterial self through the presence of its energy, conscious awareness. What is the difference between a live body and a dead one? Conscious awareness. The fact that such awareness cannot be revived in a dead body by any material method, or even directly detected by any instrument of modern science, indicates that there is indeed something nonmaterial about us, the yoga wisdom suggests.
And what about the Supreme Consciousness? Bhagavad Gita also gives indirect evidence of the supreme conscious awareness: “This material nature, which is one of my energies, is working under my direction, producing all moving and non-moving beings.”
Why is there such precise structure and order in the cosmos? This question has mystified great thinkers from remote time. Can the precision with which the sun rises and sets, the rhythmic nature of the seasons and tides, or even the regulation of species for mating, have originated from, or be continuing in such an organised fashion simply by chance? Bhagavad Gita indicates that this regulation of the cosmos is indirect evidence of an intelligence far more powerful than human beings can wield or even imagine—the intelligence of the Supreme Consciousness.
THE BHAKTI QUALIFICATION
And how can we directly perceive the nonmaterial reality? Refreshingly, unlike many contemporary scientific hypotheses, which have no method of direct verification, texts such as Bhagavad Gita do offer a process to directly verify their tenets. For example, in the Gita’s seventh chapter, Krishna says, “By the practice of bhakti-yoga you can know me as the origin of all energies both material and spiritual, completely, and free from all doubt.” And this process of bhakti-yoga, unlike so many modern scientific experiments, is open to anyone, anytime, any place, with no other qualification than the sincere desire to understand reality as it is. In other words, anyone can experience the nonmaterial reality directly, if they want to become qualified to do so.
In another Gita text, Krishna again stresses the bhakti qualification: “Only by pure bhakti-yoga can I be understood as I am, standing before you, and can thus be seen directly. Only in this way can you enter into the mysteries of my understanding.” Meaning, bhakti-yoga is the experiment to directly verify Krishna’s hypothesis of a nonmaterial reality, and the “bhakti laboratory” is open for all, regardless of age, ethnicity, nationality, and social and economic situation.
You might feel uncomfortable hearing, “Only by bhakti-yoga” can we verify this truth. Is this a dogmatic statement? No, not at all. Like any true science, the bhakti proposition is reasonable and verifiable.
The Sanskrit word bhakti means “love” and yoga means “connection,” and just as we, as conscious beings, allow others to know and understand us to the degree that they are connected to us by genuine love, Krishna, as the Supreme Being, also follows this same natural inclination. If such a stipulation is required in our tiny relationships, then why should there be a double standard for the Supreme Being?
Just as understanding mathematics is the qualification to begin physics, or holding a degree in IT is the qualification for employment in that field, bhakti, or pure love, is the qualification to directly perceive the nonmaterial reality. The foremost contemporary teacher of bhakti- yoga, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, explains, “We can see the Supreme always within and outside ourselves if we have developed the transcendental loving attitude towards him. Thus for people in general he is not visible.”