Digging for Truth

archaeologist-at-workBy Nitaisundara dasa

Does science provide verification of scripture?

Today the Deccan Herald reports the latest in what has apparently been an ongoing search for the sanjivani, the magical plant of the Ramayana that revived Laksmana after being hit by the arrow of Ravana’s son, Indrajit:

Exploiting the Indian Bio-resources Information Network, the scientists began the search first by looking for plants known as sanjivani in the epic. This led to six plants.

Further examination eliminated three, as common names of the three plants were only indirectly indicative. In other words, use of the term sanjivani is not very obvious for those plants.

The plants’ habitats were checked next. This removed one more plant, which is not grown in hilly regions, leaving S.bryopteris (a fern) and F.fimbriata (an orchid) as the two candidates.

“S.bryopteris is known to offer protection against heat shock and ultra-violet ray shock. Its medicinal properties are under investigation by other researchers. The orchid also satisfies most of the criterion,” team leader K. N. Ganeshaiah of Bangalore’s University of Agricultural Sciences told Deccan Herald.

But what does this mean? Is it simply another effort to establish the historical and scientific accuracy of a religious text, thereby negating the discomfort of being a “believer” in the modern world?

Such attempts are nothing new, yet their popularity never seems to wane. Also in the news is the upcoming documentary film, Krishna: History or Myth, which has already been dubbed in eight Indian languages, along with Spanish and German. The film’s director, U. K. based Dr. Manish Pandit, hopes to establish that Krishna “existed in reality and [is] not merely in the imagination of devotees and scripture writers.” To do so, Pandit will employ “archaeological evidence, astronomical evidence, and living and oral traditions.” But again, even if he were successful—which I am inclined to think is not possible, at least by the standards of Western academia—what would that mean? Would those who have no faith in scripture suddenly became faithful?

Probably not.

Or perhaps, as Dr. Manish’s tone above seems to indicate, those who do have faith in scripture will be vindicated in the eyes of the rest of the world.

But probably not.

Of course, as opposed to the uncovering of Kuruksetra or the resurrection of Dvarka, the discovery of the alluring sanjivani plant could hypothetically have significant medical ramifications, but it certainly won’t give bhakti.

Ultimately, one of the most fundamental motivations in efforts such as these is to reinforce tender faith. For one with tender faith, confirmation from the material world holds more weight. But just as the matter that brings the confirmation is itself only temporary, faith built on material verification will not last. Can any archeological find establish that Krishna’s form is sat-cit-ananda? Can it detect the svarupa-shakti? Because this is what makes the Kuruksetra war important: the eternal, omniscient, and blissful Godhead becomes the chauffeur of his friend and devotee.

The things that make Krishna, Krishna, or Rama, Rama—that is to say, spiritual—simply can never be subject to the perception of imperfect senses, for if they were, Krishna would no longer be the same Krishna that Pandit and others are trying to prove in the first place.

It is not that we should not expect some experiential verification in the course of spiritual practice, but the nature of that experience is not something that we can bury for others to unearth in the future. Nor should we put our intellect entirely aside, for the process of understanding spiritual life and changing as needed will require more intelligence than many of us have. Rather, the task is to put our intellect and senses in their proper place so that they may assist us on the path to enlightenment, rather than become our sole tools in the quest. After all, it is an inner journey that we have come for; that is where we must dig for the truth.

Read the sanjivani article here.
Read about Krishna: History or Myth here.


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8 Responses to Digging for Truth

  1. Syama Gopala dasa

    Nice points, Nitai. I understand from your piece that you feel there is no worth in scientific research on the grounds of bhakti. But do you feel there are some other benefits to research on Vedic culture, or should devotees forego the research all together?

    • I don’t know. The research is interesting, as much research is. I would of course be interested to hear conclusive details of any discovery in this realm, but I think that devotees’ time and energy could probably be better spent, if for nothing else than at least for direct spiritual practice.

      But considering there are trained specialists to study everything, why skip over India’s rich culture and history?

  2. When it comes to archaeological evidence that proves the historicity of Krishna, that might be an impossible task. However, the Gaudiya Vaishnavas can be quite content that there is historicity that can be attributed to Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. So, for the Gaudiya Vaishnavas, their Lord God was on Earth around 500 years ago. If Mahaprabhu can be proven historically, then the Gaudiyas should be satisfied that they in fact have the greatest historicity of any modern religion.
    The Gaudiyas don’t need to prove the historicity of Krishna. If they can prove the historicity of Mahaprabhu, then proof of Krishna is already there.
    500 years ago is not very long ago compared to 5000 years ago. Most religions originate so many thousands of years back in antiquity that adulteration and tampering with the origins is assured.
    In Gaudiya Vaishnavism, there appears to be enough significant historical evidence to support the historicity of Mahaprabhu that any need to prove the historicity of Krishna becomes irrelevant.

  3. “Ultimately, one of the most fundamental motivations in efforts such as these is to reinforce tender faith.”

    Definitely this is the case. Many of these efforts are also closely aligned with agendas such as Hindutva (Hindu nationalism), and have therefore little legitimacy either scientifically or spiritually. The controversy surrounding Rama Setu is a prime example of this, as NASA images “proving” the existence of the bridge are all over the Internet. Not only do pseudo-scientific assertions seem patently unnecessary (and also false) but — as you point out — they distract those whose faith hinges on such “discoveries” from much more profound undertakings.

  4. Gaura-Vijaya dasa

    That is true, but there is no need to stop these excavation attempts. It may sometimes surprise some closed minded people to open up their minds. BVT actually encourages such efforts in Krsna Samhita.
    To some extent such efforts, whether they prove or disprove scriptural data, can make people less fanatic and make people aware of the need to delve into deeper meaning of the scripture to strengthen their faith.

  5. Worm,

    Historicity is one thing, divinity another. It may be possible to prove that Mahaprabhu existed as a historical figure, but to prove that he was svayam bhagavan? Dubious at best. What proof will suffice for those who don’t wish to acknowledge it? There were plenty of people who saw him directly who didn’t accept it. In present times those who hear hagiographical accounts and accept him as divine already have some samskara for bhakti. I don’t see how historical proof would do much of anything other than to perhaps bolster the faith of those who already follow him.

  6. Gaura-Vijaya dasa

    Yes proving something like Krsna showed the universal form to Arjuna or Mahaprabhu showed the sad-bhuja form to Sarvabhauma or Krsna lifted the Govardhan may help, but as we know all these things are beyond empirical verification.

    • but as we know all these things are beyond empirical verification.

      Exactly. It’s not like scientifically-minded people are just going to accept the accounts of the sastras, whether the Gita or Caitanya-caritamrta. It’s not an epistemology they accept.

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