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commented on April 14, 2013
It is often said that religion/spirituality 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 observation. True, a person using ordinary sense perception cannot verify the realizations attained by someone practicing bhakti-yoga. But these realizations can 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 high platform of personal realization. These teachers adhere to a standard body of knowledge contained in books such as Bhagavad-gita, and their conclusions and conduct can be checked by the larger community of realized persons, orsadhus. 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 observation, 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 practical experience. The same gradual development of faith occurs in bhakti-yoga.
Perhaps the main reason for the widespread dismissal of religion as "blind faith" is that many systems of theistic thought are not backed up by any verifiable direct interaction with the Supreme Person. Why is this so, we may ask, if the Supreme Person is as readily accessible as the proponents of bhakti-yoga claim? The following statement from Srimad-Bhagavatam [2.6.41] suggests an interesting answer to this question:
The great thinkers can know Him [Krsna] when completely freed from all material hankerings and when sheltered under undisturbed conditions of the senses. Otherwise, by untenable arguments, all is distorted, and the Lord disappears from our sight.
As indicated here, one of the most important principles of bhakti-yoga is that higher realization is impossible until the material senses are brought under control, In the materially conditioned state of consciousness, the jivatma (living entity) desires to enjoy his material situation and is completely preoccupied with the barrage of stimuli presented by his material senses. 'With his sensory channels overloaded, the jivatma is unable to perceive the presence of the Supersoul (the form of the Supreme Person in one's heart), although constitutionally able to do so. Since direct access to the Supreme Person is denied the jivatma with uncontrolled senses, he is prone to indulge in fanciful speculations that simply lead him further and further from the truth.