Devotion and Science

The 13th chapter of Bhagavad Gita is about science. It divides science into 3 divisions:

  1. The thing that is to be known (called prakriti or kshetra or jneyam)
  2. The entity who will know it (called purusha or kshetra-jna)
  3. The methodology by which that entity gains knowledge of that thing (jnanam)

In the chapter, Krsna discusses each of these three topics in summary detail – the more elaborate detail is elsewhere in the Vedas, especially in the Vedanta-Sutra. Towards the end of the chapter, in the 19th text, Krsna makes a perhaps unexpected statement:

mad-bhakta etad vijnaana, mad-bhaavaay opapadyate

This statement can be misunderstood to mean, “only my devotee can understand science.” The real meaning is “only my devotee can really understand science.” Then comes the “,” in the quote, at which pause the question arises in the mind: “well, what do you mean ‘really understand’?” Then following the comma, Krsna answers, “To fully and really understand science causes one to attain my-bhava. Only the devotees can understand science to this full extent causing them to actuate a tangible intimate relationship with the divine form of the ultimate subject of all science.”

Through emperical science we can understand these topics to a small extent. Through shastra-svadhyaya (study of the veda) we can understand the topics to a deeper (or at least different) extent. Through renunciation and yoga we can understand still further. Through vedanta and moksha we can understand to a great extent. So, no one is saying that ONLY the bhakta can know about these topics. Really what we are saying is that only the bhakta can FULLY know about them.

Here is Krsna’s direct quote: “mad-bhakta etad vijnaana, mad-bhaavaayopapadyate.” Which fairly literally means “my devotee can realize this in such a way that causes him or her to attain bhaava bhakti and thus my personal abode.”

(mad-bhaava means “my nature” – “Krsna’s-bhava” – which means both “bhava for Krsna” and the “bhava (nature/existence) of Krsna”)

Prabhupada’s translation uses the words “thoroughly” and “thus” to indicate this point. He says, “Only my devotees can understand this thoroughly and thus attain to my nature.” The direct meaning is that Krsna’s devotees understand the subjects and processes of science more thoroughly than anyone else does.

What is the evidence of this, what is the proof or symptom of an understanding of knowledge that is superior to all others? The evidence is what follows “thus” – which in Sanskrit is: mad-bhaavaayopapadyate, “only they understand it so well that they attain to Krsna-bhava as a result of their understanding.” No other actually becomes one with the subject, the liberated mokshi comes close but it is a false oneness. The bhakta, however actually and truly becomes one with the subject of knowledge – that is how deep they understand it. This is what Krsna-bhava-upapadyate means. It means that the devotee becomes one with the nature (bhava) of Krsna. This, is the definition of Bhava Bhakti. It is when the nature of Krsna (which is Krsna’s shakti, his nature is his prakriti, his energy his shakti – specifically his INTERNAL shakti) enters into the soul like sunlight, water and nurtition entering a seed, causing it to sprout. In bhava bhakti the bhakta BECOMES ONE with the internal shakti as an eternal individualized expression of the samvit, sandini, and hladini shakti of Sri Krsna – and thereby becomes qualified to directly please the senses of Sri Krsna.

So we should not think, as I usually do, “Oh the 13th chapter and onward is dry stuff. Just give me the ninth chapter and the tenth canto please.” On the contrary if because of devotion we carefully study jnana – that study of jnana becomes a route to Sri Krishna Bhavanamrita – it becomes a route to Krsna-bhava, which is the budding state of Krsna prema, which – like it or not, know it or not, is what every single molecular organism in our body is aching for at every moment.

Thus this second half of the shloka is an important “hook” fastening the jnana section of the Gita to the previous bhakti section and ensuring that we do not lose perspective and focus that bhakti, not jnana, is Krsna’s main concern and theme of the Bhagavad Gita.

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