My discussion with an ISKCON devotee

Swami Gulagulaananda said:
"They argued over Schrodinger's cat and on opening the box saw a rock in it..."

Dasa looked at me in disbelief. "Are you saying there is no God?" he asked. "I didn't say there is no God. I said that I don't think that God looks like a person" I replied. "Why not? What according to you is God?" he asked. "I am not sure. But I don't like the idea of a personal god. To me, the idea of God has to be intellectually stimulating. For instance, the idea of Brahman as God is something I'd like to pursue. Like energy, perhaps. That which is subtle, with no characteristics, present in everything... Maybe energy. Or many something like string theory with all the subtle vibrations. But the idea of someone who can give curses is something I'd not subscribe to" I replied.

"That's Mayavada philosophy", spluttered Dasa, "Are you saying Krishna is not God?" I smiled at him and quoted the first 3 stanzas of the Bhagavad Gita's 12th chapter where Krisha Himself said that you can follow either path and it will eventually lead to the same truth. "How does it matter which path we follow? Does it not lead to truth in the end?" I asked. "Well, I guess you will eventually realise that Mayavada philosophy leads to my philosophy" replied Dasa. I got a little irritated at this point. Dasa is an ardent follower of ISKCON. I don't think much of ISKCON because I believe they are very much along the lines of christian missionaries in that they believe only one path exists and everything else is wrong. A topic like religion and God are more abstract with no single correct answer... as yet... let me elaborate on this later.

"Or maybe you will come to my path. Why do you think your path is the right path? Don't you think it is like a Software API with the actual implementation being hidden, abstracted from us? You can call the same services from whatever language you are using..." I tried to give an analogy. "To hell with software. You are saying that you don't know the absolute truth and this path leads to understanding. I am saying I already *know* the absolute truth" he argued ferociously. "How can you possibly know the absolute truth? The entire pursuit is to understand the truth, is it not?" He enacted eating and said "Srila Vyasdev has already told you that this is how you eat" and then moved his arm around the back of his neck and brought it to his mouth and said "and this is how you are trying to eat. When he has clearly told that Krishna is God, how can you argue otherwise?" he asked. "And what makes you think Vyasa is correct?" I asked. "Well, Srila Vyasdev formally wrote what has been coming through generations before him. He says so himself" he replied.

I rolled my eyes at this "And you don't think he could have lied? He wrote something himself and said something himself. Ok, tell me this, do you think Harry Potter exists? Do you think there is Hogwarts and platform 9 3/4 in London?" I asked. "Absolutely not!" he retorted. "Why not?" I asked. "Well, because it is fiction, it was written by someone with imagination" he replied. "But how do you know it does exist? It has been written down by someone too. You are saying it is not real because J K Rowling is a contemporary. But if someone a thousand years later reads it, how is it any different from Vyasa's scriptures?" I asked, trying to needle him. "Are you comparing our holy scriptures to Harry Potter?" he asked irritated. "Well, why not? Both are written, both are talking about things you have not seen nor experienced yourself personally. Vyasa's statements are a lot better than your planet of cows, Golokavrindavana", I said.

"Oh? So are you saying that there is no heaven and hell?" Dasa asked incredulously. "Don't you think that the idea of heaven and hell is created to keep people in check?" I asked. "What do you mean?" he asked. I explained thus - "It is well known, the carrot and stick theory. If you tell a person that if he does a series of actions he gets a reward but doing another series of actions results in punishment, people are more inclined to do things that result in rewards. It is common sense, that incentives work. If there are two men who like the same girl and assuming now 'law of land' does not exist, one of the men will probably kill the other man in a fight. The man who died is probably weaker physically but extremely talented and can do things that can benefit mankind in general. His death on the other hand results in nothing worthwhile in the grand scheme of things. However, if I create an elaborate story of heaven and hell and create a set of rules that doing these things will take you to heaven and doing these other things will take you to hell, the incentives will definitely drive you to do things that give you heaven...

"The only requirement here is that the set of people who formulate these elaborate 'rules' are wise in that they know what results in overall good for mankind and what results in downward spiral for mankind (unlike 72 virgin thing). That will drive people who are otherwise without foresight to follow rules." Dasa was not convinced "So you are saying that there are no rewards for good behaviour and no punishments for bad behaviour? How do you explain that some people are born in well to do families and others are born in poor families? Why are some afflicted by disease while others are disease-free?" I knew Dasa was throwing the Karmic philosophy at me. "It's all chance" I replied. "Chance? What do you mean chance?" he asked. "Chance, as in probability. Where a man is born is just a random chance. It's like rolling dice. Whether you get one or six cannot be determined. It's just fate or luck that you are born here or there, and is not driven by your actions. Immunity through heredity is also chance..." I explained.

Dasa began to froth - "So you are saying that there is no driver to do good things. We should just do whatever it is that comes to mind, because if rewards or punishments are chance like dice, why should I even do good things?" I raised my eyes "I already explained that earlier. If you can see the bigger picture, doing good things results in overall development of the world. Doing bad things results in overall destruction of the world. If you help people out, they will help you out too. Good brings good. Bad brings bad... Isn't that Karma? Why does it have to go across life spans?" "But if it is all chance, why is anything good or bad? Who decides what's good or what's bad?" he asked. "That's an excellent question. The answer is society. What's good and what's bad is nothing but a collective decision by everyone. Murder is considered bad because over 90% people believe that it is bad. If over 90% people don't see anything wrong with murder, it will no longer remain a sin or a crime. After all, laws work only because we, a majority of people, believe that this is how things should work. Wise people in the past decided that a certain set of things would lead to development and progress of society and a certain other things would lead to destruction. They formulated them and bound them to heaven and hell"

"Tell me this, do you believe in soul?" I asked him. "Yes, of course I do" he replied. "How many souls are there in this body?" I asked, pointing to myself. "There is only one soul" he replied. "How many souls are in your body?" "Only one..." "So are you saying there is only one soul in a body?" I asked. He thought for a moment and replied "Yes, the soul is required for animation, and only one soul is present per body" he replied. "Alright, how many souls are in a dog?" I asked "Only one!" he said, growing impatient. "How many in a fish?" "One". "Great! Now tell me this, how many souls are present in a starfish?" I asked. "One!" he said. "Ok, but if I cut a starfish's arm, the starfish grows another arm but the arm that was cut develops into a new starfish. If that's the case, what happened in terms of souls? Explain that to me..." I asked. Dasa hesitated for a moment and replied "A soul entered into the arm after it got cut" he replied, though not convinced himself "Are you sure? Do you find that intellectually satisfying?" I asked. Dasa said "Yes, why not?"

"Fair enough... Now tell me, a lizard has a soul too, right?" I asked. "Yes" "But when I step on a lizard's tail, it splits its tail from its body and scurries away. Now the tail itself continues to wiggle for some time and eventually stops... dies... Now explain it to me soul-wise. Do you think the lizard's tail has a soul?" I asked him. "Well, no, of course not" he answered. "According to you, soul is needed for animation. So it *has* to have soul, right?" I asked. "Yes, then maybe a soul entered into the tail, stayed for some time and then left..." he answered, but he was not sure of his answers now.

Facts are facts and we have to acknowledge them, whether you like it or not, because truth is absolute and immutable. You cannot have multiple versions of a fact. For instance, if I say that water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen, then it is an absolute statement... Truth. Fact. Now, the reason for that statement is that there have been numerous experiments with water, splitting into individual components and then proving that the individual components are hydrogen and oxygen. There is a process involved. If you don't believe that Hydrogen and Oxygen make up water, then you are free to prove otherwise...

Religion and spirituality should have a goal. There is no point in following something if there is no goal. The pursuit of religion is for those who seek to know what the ultimate truth is... However, following something shouldn't occlude your mind to facts and truth. If your religion preaches that the earth is in the centre and that the sun goes around, then it is wrong. We know it for a fact. You cannot quote scriptures for that anymore...

There are many complex aspects in the universe, such as life and origins of universe that have still not been explained by pure science. Many people are interested in its pursuit. But what I find amusing is people scoffing at religion simply because they think it is wrong. You cannot say something is wrong if you don't know the right answer. That's like trying to guess if Schrodinger's cat is alive or dead without opening it. People who are pro-religion or pro-science are always telling cat is dead or cat is alive and shouting that the other is wrong while the fact remains that neither knows whether Schrodinger actually put a cat inside the box or not. The correct answer is still out there. If you are right, prove it. People of religion cannot speak in abstract terms and say you are right because what cannot be proved or verified holds no value. I can say I am Batman who fights crime too... But nobody will believe me for they seem like empty words. People of science cannot scoff at the religious for you don't know the truth either. And for all the rationality you claim to have, you should be able to keeo your mind open to that as a possible path to pursue till you find what the right answer is and cannot reject it outright

To summarise, nobody knows squat, everyone argues and people are waging wars in the name of religion. Now that is profound foolishness

Comments from Facebook

Phalgun Guduthur:
Surprising that I finally agree with you on something.

Swathi Sharma:
^ me too.... "To summarise, nobody knows squat, everyone argues and people are waging wars in the name of religion. Now that is profound foolishness" ... but yet Hare Krishna 

Prajwal Sudarshan:
Not Bad Nik..Proud of you. This was not the same person whom i had the conversation with a couple of months ago  good going!

Deepthi Shetty:
Very well written article, Nikhil! 
But one question if I may ask - were you serious on your opinion about karma here or was it just for argument's sake?

Nikhil Baliga:
Prajwal Sudarshan Le nanna magane. It's always been the same. I just like to play a lot of devils advocate :P

Chiranth Ashok:
Something has changed in you. I loved your arguments. I have had similar beliefs for a long time now.

Nikhil Baliga:
Chiranth Ashok Nothing has changed :P wth...

Deepthi Shetty What's your opinion?

Prajwal Sudarshan:
If you say so maga..why were you talking to the dude then?post break up spirituality eh? 

Deepthi Shetty:
Just read your next comment. You were playing the devil's advocate I guess 

Nikhil Baliga: 

Narayan Jalan:
Got to discover 72 and starfish things in it. ty 

Tejas Dinkar:
Spot on. I've read quite a few of Prabhupadha's shorter books, and basically ISKCON is Christianity with Christ replaced with Krishna.

For example, the play they put on in ISKCON features a man who is a sinner. As he is dying, he calls out to his son, who he named Krishna. After he dies, someone comes to take him to hell. But then Krishna (the god) comes down, and says that as his last words were "Krishna", he will be taken to heaven instead. (this was in 2001, things may have changed since then)

Ganesh Shivaram:
Nikhil Baliga I seriously miss a "super like" button on Facebook. Very well written blog. God and religion are two very complex concepts to explain. Religion for me is a set of ideologies which some feel is right and some feel is wrong. To prove their righteousness people wage war against each other and tag its outcome in the name of religion. I really liked ur concept of karma and its outcome and also your 90% :10% explanation on good vs bad. Even though I liked your analogy on harry potter vs mahabharata, I somehow feel very hard to accept that human ideas/creativity can comeup with kind of teachings inscribed in baghavadgita. It is lot more than a story ( which I am sure u know better than me ). This thought makes me believe that god (krishna) can also exist in the form of a human as described in mahabharata.

Suneel Thummala:
Haha you still remember that play Tejas Dinkar? Nothin like a good old fashioned animatronic indoctrination field trip.

Tejas Dinkar:
Suneel Thummala yeah, that was a crazy play! But I thought it was with puppets :P

Sriranga Chidambara:
Attempts to fit all that's happening around you into one grand theory has so far failed miserably. The only thing I am interested to know from ISKCON fellows is answer to this one question - how do you make such delicious khara pongal? :)

Shantanu Tushar:
Damn, I had a similar discussion with a ISKCON guy, should've turned that into a blog as well :P

Krishna to Nikhil : hush hush, don't tell 'em I'm a lie yet


GooseMonking said…
Sad to read this article. I really hope the blogger understands the basics of having multiple paths rather than commenting on others beliefs. It shows debates by two so called intellectuals. I wish you both find your spiritual paths at the end of the day.
Indeed, oh wise sir. Such condescension can come only from a person of great knowledge and wisdom. I pray to thee to impart some knowledge to us lesser mortals and free us of the burden of ignorance
dreamweaver said…
I am not sure how I landed on this blog post. This is an interesting read.
Looking at the style of writing I assumed that the moral/gist of the story is in the opening sentence. However, I found it a bit hard to understand it. (I am probably limited in my capacity to understand this kind of literature)

I couldn't help post a comment because it got me thinking. while I agree with almost every argument/statement in the post, I dont seem to understand this: "pursuit of religion is for those who seek to know what the ultimate truth" -- what are you trying to seek? to understand life and origins of universe that science hasn't yet been explained by science(you have mentioned this later in the post but i am not sure if it relates to the "ultimate truth" ? This is a sincere question.

Also, you say that neither science nor religion currently explains the complex aspects of the universe, which is true, science for all its money relies on testable explanations and religion mostly relies on scripture which mainly asserts but provides no evidence that can be verifiable.
But generally speaking, in critical thinking, the burden of proof is on the party making the claim. (refer this)

So I suppose, if a claim can be made without evidence, it can also be dismissed without one.

I sincerely dont mean to offend anyone reading this, and it is strictly in the spirit of the topic being discussed :) but the post sounds to me a lot like: god of the gaps

I hope this doesn't show up with horrible formatting! :P Apologies in advance if it does!

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