“O son of Kunti, I am the taste of water, the light of the sun and the moon, the syllable om in the Vedic mantras; I am the sound in ether and ability in man.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.8)
Question: “Do you have any concrete evidence that God exists?”
Answer: Proof of the existence of God, or a supreme divine authority figure, has been an issue since the beginning of time. There are those who simply don’t believe in a higher power, regardless of how hard they may try or want to have faith in Him. Rather, they require concrete evidence, proof of the claim that this entire creation was intelligently designed by a higher authority, someone who is immune to the effects of birth and death, heat and cold, happiness and distress. For the believers, those who have firm confidence in the existence of a singular Divine Entity, the questions pertaining to evidence supporting God’s existence certainly seem silly. The devotee sees evidence of God’s existence everywhere, at every corner of the globe and in every inch of ethereal space. Life itself is proof of spirit, for without the spiritual spark inside the body, an individual is deemed dead and useless. Just as there is life inside of a small body composed of matter, there is a more powerful life inside of the entire material cosmos. This Superior Spirit is responsible for all the workings of nature, thus any action, inward or outward, is evidence of the Supreme’s potencies. Nevertheless, there will always be skeptics, and their main bone of contention will relate to evidence. In actuality, evidence is merely a product of the material senses, and thus it can never be concrete. Rather, everyone abides by some type of faith, regardless of their spiritual persuasion. The key is to take shelter of the right kind of evidence, i.e. have faith in the right people. Following this tangible belief system ultimately leads to the greatest benefit, which is proof enough of the claims made by the faithful.
“O son of Bharata, as the sun alone illuminates all this universe, so does the living entity, one within the body, illuminate the entire body by consciousness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 13.34)
To understand the nature of evidence, let’s work through a simple example of a situation that occurs quite frequently in real life. In America and other industrialized nations, automobile accidents are quite common. For those incidents involving two motorists who are behind the wheel, the causes and effects of the crash are quite obvious. Both parties perceived with their senses the events that led to the collision. In these instances, the evidence is the eyewitness account. Other times, however, there may not be any other parties around. The hit-and-run is a not so nice part of the life of a car owner. A person parks their car in a parking lot, goes into a store or shopping mall, and then returns to see that someone has hit their car. The other driver has left the scene, so there is no evidence showing who actually committed the crime.
Yet sometimes there are supposed eyewitnesses who write down their observations. They will leave a note on the victim’s car which lists the culprit’s license plate number and a brief description of what occurred. What’s interesting, though, is that this note is not evidence enough to convict the accused of a crime; a fact which speaks to the nature of evidence and authority. A person could have witnessed the entire event firsthand and written about it on paper, but this description alone isn’t enough to convict, with the reason being that anyone can write anything. Any person, regardless of what they saw or didn’t see, could claim that another car hit a parked car. Sometimes the alleged criminal may even have dents and scratches on their car already. But regardless, there is always the possibility that the alleged criminal is innocent, that the person writing the note is either lying or has made a mistake. In these instances, it takes more “evidence”, or proof, to convict the criminal. Camera records are pulled and paint samples are matched. Even after finding all sorts of perceived evidence secured through an exhaustive investigation, the accusers still need to have definitive proof that the accused was driving the vehicle when the hit-and-run happened.
All of this points to the subjective nature of evidence, how it can be perceived differently by different people. Evidence is merely a recorded version of sense perceptions. A person sees, hears, tastes, smells, or touches something and then writes down their experience in a book, newspaper, website, or journal. Descriptions of the experiences can also be orally transmitted to friends, family members, and coworkers. This is how we take in all vital pieces of information. In school we read about famous figures of the past. For example, we only know that George Washington, the first President of the United States, existed because of the written evidence found in books. There are also paintings that were created, but again, the identification and authenticity of the paintings is determined by written evidence in addition to oral tradition passed down from generation to generation.
For the skeptic, successfully nullifying evidence is very easy. Everyone is prone to making mistakes, cheating, having imperfect senses, and being easily illusioned. To ere is human after all, so every one of us can make mistakes. Sometimes you can even have photographic evidence that is disputed. For example, in the National Football League, there are instant replay reviews of many controversial calls on the field. Invariably, there will be calls in a game where the announcers, referees, and players see the same video replay and reach different conclusions as to what occurred. Again, this speaks to the fact that every person has different sense perceptions, worldviews, ulterior motives, and levels of honesty.
So how do we determine what is evidence? A doubting soul may ask what evidence is there of God’s existence, but the same question can be posed to the original questioner. “What proof is there that you exist?” The person may retort with, “Well, I’m talking to you, aren’t I? You’re seeing me, aren’t you? Isn’t that proof enough?” This is a very obvious answer that actually gives us insight into solving the question about God. Surely we know someone exists when we see them and interact with them. Now let’s fast forward one hundred years. Both questioners are now dead, yet what proof is there that either person existed? If someone had written down their observations in a book and that book happened to be preserved for over one hundred years, then we could surely use that as evidence. Similarly, if the third party’s observations were verbally transmitted to a dependent, who then subsequently passed the same information down to other dependents, we could take that verbal affirmation as evidence of existence.
This situation validates the claim that one’s perceptions don’t diminish or increase over time. If I say that someone else exists today, my statement doesn’t lose value over time, nor does it become truer. The truth is the truth; the perception is the perception. Whether we fast forward one hundred years or ten thousand years, the sense perceptions are still the same; hence the evidence is always valid. At this point, a skeptic could question the validity of the initial perception, claiming it to be flawed. After all, everyone has made mistakes, even the greatest of scientists. There was a time when a consensus of scientists believed that the earth was flat. They were all eventually proved wrong, so in the end, their supposed evidence wasn’t proof of anything.
So how do we determine the validity and authenticity of evidence? There is no surefire way. Rather, each of us takes evidence based on authority. This authority is determined by the person accepting the evidence. Again, this speaks to the fact that evidence is subjective and something that requires faith. Therefore, for followers of the Vedic tradition, empirical evidence is not as important as the faith that is ascribed to the statements of those deemed as authority figures. What this means is that it is more important to see the results of having faith in evidence than actually arguing over the authenticity of the evidence itself.
So far this discussion is completely theoretical, so to understand the issue more clearly, let’s use the example of a set of scriptures that is currently perceivable, the Vedas. In India, the spiritual traditions date back so far that no one can actually come up with a concrete date for their inception. These traditions descend from the Vedas, scriptural works which purportedly come from God. The Vedas have no date of inception because God Himself is eternal. The concepts of time and space are merely products of the material world representing the limits to the thinking abilities of the human brain. In the spiritual world, there is no such thing as time and space, or at least their influences are completely irrelevant. Therefore God, and anything He creates, including knowledge, has no beginning and no end.
“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion-at that time I descend Myself.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.7)
The Vedas not only inform us of God’s existence but also of His various descents to the world that we currently inhabit. These appearances are for the purposes of annihilating miscreants and pleasing devotees, those conditioned souls who sincerely desire the association of the Supreme Spirit. Each time the Lord comes to earth, He assumes a different visible transcendental form and takes to different activities. In days past, the sense perceptions of those who were around during the Lord’s descents to earth were passed down through an oral tradition. Later on, these same accounts were written down into wonderful epics such as the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Puranas. These books themselves are evidence of God’s existence. Mostly authored by Vyasadeva, the classic Vedic texts describe in great detail God’s names, forms, pastimes, appearances, associates, family members, and the geographical locations of His noteworthy activities.
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.66)
Simply based off Vyasadeva’s writings, we have loads of evidence of God’s existence and His teachings. Though Vedic wisdom is quite comprehensive, the ultimate instruction is that one should simply surrender unto the Lord in His personal form as Krishna and be freed from all sins. In addition, Krishna has multitudes of non-different forms such as Vishnu, Rama, Narasimha, and Chaitanya, which can also be surrendered to. Though the events documented in Vyasadeva’s works occurred many thousands of years ago, there is no reason to doubt their ever having taken place. The exploits of Shri Krishna and Lord Rama are so widely known that they are documented in many books, not just one or two.
At this point, the skeptic will argue that since the evidence provided by Vyasadeva describes events of the paranormal, such as talking monkeys and children lifting gigantic hills, it must be mythology or something untrue. In addition, the fact that no one can accurately date these events should only further discredit their authenticity. Some can’t even fathom that a single entity, one man, Vyasadeva, could have written so much in one lifetime. Therefore they even doubt the authenticity and existence of such a person. This behavior is quite humorous, as Vyasadeva’s greatness and authenticity of authorship is mentioned within the works themselves by exalted sages and respectable personalities.
As mentioned before, a sense observation doesn’t lose its validity over time. Just because Vyasadeva wrote the Mahabharata thousands of years ago doesn’t mean that the events described within didn’t happen. Indeed, he even carefully noted down the distinct constellation of stars prior to the famous Bharata War. Analyzing the movements of stars, some scientists have deduced that such a constellation could only have occurred a long time in the past. If we think about it, it’s ironic that the people doubting the authenticity of Rama and Krishna can only raise such doubts because they know of both personalities. For instance, how can we doubt that someone exists when we know who they are, where they were born, what they look like, and when they appeared on earth? High court judges and scholars have concluded that there is no tangible evidence to prove Lord Rama existed, but is not the Ramayana evidence enough? Maharishi Valmiki met Lord Rama and wrote down his observations in a very lengthy Sanskrit poem. Moreover, Rama’s existence is validated in countless other classic Vedic texts. What need is there to prove anything? Rather, how do we even know that these scholars and high court judges exist? In a few hundred years, through the use of skepticism, others can similarly doubt that these past silly judgments were ever made.
“Rama is like a mad elephant in battle. He has a purified and unblemished family lineage for His trunk, brilliance and splendor for His excitement, and two powerful arms for tusks. O Ravana, you are not even qualified to look at Him.” (Maricha speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 31.46)
Many people saw Krishna and Rama directly and still didn’t believe that they were God. Such individuals didn’t even have to rely on the written word of Vyasadeva or the claims of evidence provided by others; they got to experience God’s splendor directly. During Lord Rama’s time, the Rakshasa demon Ravana failed to acknowledge Rama’s divine nature. The Rakshasa Maricha on one occasion had attacked the venerable Vishvamitra Muni during the time of a sacrifice. Rama, at the time a young child, was there with Vishvamitra to protect him. Shooting an arrow at Maricha, Rama launched the demon hundreds of miles away into an ocean. Thus Maricha had firsthand knowledge of Rama’s supreme powers. He subsequently warned Ravana not to anger the Lord or fight against Him. Maricha’s words were evidence of Rama’s divine nature, yet Ravana refused to accept them. In the end, this denial would cost him his royal opulence, worldwide fame, position as an object of fear, and ultimately, his life.
“Anyone could understand that he was just like someone onstage playing the part of Vasudeva in false dress. When Lord Shri Krishna saw Paundraka imitating His posture and dress, He could not check His laughter, and thus He laughed with great satisfaction.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 11)
Similarly, there was an imposter king named Paundraka during Lord Krishna’s time who was claiming to be the real Vasudeva, which is another name for Krishna. He claimed that the real Krishna was simply a fake and that He needed to stop pretending to be God. So this fool saw Lord Krishna in person and still refused to accept Him as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The Lord would go on to teach this imposter a lesson, but this incident further illustrates the fact that for those who want to remain in the material world and pretend to be God themselves, no amount of evidence, visual or otherwise, is sufficient enough to prove the authenticity of God’s existence.
For every individual, the authenticity of evidence is always determined by faith and authority. We view a person or entity as authoritative and thus believe whatever evidence they present to us. This is indeed the same tact followed by the devotees of Krishna. A follower of the Vedic tradition takes Vyasadeva, Valmiki, and other great saints as authority figures. Whatever evidence they provide is willingly accepted. But more important than evidence and faith is the action that is taken as a result. The unmatched, fixed transcendental position achieved by those who follow the prescriptions of the authorized acharyas is evidence enough of the authenticity of the Vedas and their founder.
To illustrate this point more clearly, let’s review some common behavioral traits exhibited by the average person. Surely “average” can mean anything, but with this example, the behavior can apply to any person, regardless of their belief in God or lack thereof. When the average person leaves the home in the morning, they are placing faith in their fellow man to not harm them. Based on their experiences of days past – sense perceptions which have since been stored in memory – the individual leaving the home has faith that no one will kill them, run into them with their car, or attack them when they step out the door. When such a person is driving to work in their car, they have faith that other drivers will adhere to the traffic laws, especially when travelling through a green light. When we drive through an intersection with a green light, it means that the crossing traffic has a red light, which is an indication to stop. If a driver who is on the crossing side does not adhere to this red light, they will enter the intersection at the same time that the other cars are passing. Hence a fatal accident could easily occur. But the first driver has faith, based on past empirical evidence, that the drivers on the other side will adhere to their red light. As mentioned before, every person is bound to make mistakes and perceive things incorrectly. Therefore there is no one hundred percent guarantee that every other driver will adhere to red lights and stop signs.
We willingly drive through intersections with green lights because we have faith in the previous evidence that was accumulated. This practice, when attached to the right type of evidence, can actually unlock the secret to the spiritual kingdom. Every one of us takes to activity with a desired positive outcome in mind. The nature of the positive condition can vary, but the end-goal is that of a favorable situation. When activities eventually lead to their intended goal, we develop faith in the evidence that served as the impetus for taking up that activity. In this way, we see that the only way to prove God’s existence is to take to the activities that He prescribes. For the people of this age, the great Vaishnava authorities, the devotees who have a firm belief in the existence of Lord Vishnu [Krishna] and His avataras, recommend that we all take to bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, as a way of life. The quintessential act of bhakti is the chanting of the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Along with abstaining from meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex, the assertive processes of devotional service will lead to the most favorable of conditions. Since these activities bring about a change of consciousness, they lead to the emancipation of the soul, the release from the cycle of birth and death.
“My dear Arjuna, only by undivided devotional service 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.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 11.54)
Everyone is looking for some pleasure, but the practices commonly adopted to secure such enjoyment fail in every regard. Even the engagements that do bring about some temporary happiness are riddled with negative side effects. The evidence provided by Vyasadeva and the Vedas in general are not meant to be accepted blindly. As mentioned before, any evidence, regardless of how obvious it may seem, can be invalidated through the use of skepticism. Therefore we should have some faith in the beginning and take to the recommended processes that constitute bhakti-yoga. Arjuna, Lord Krishna’s dear friend, was always in the mindset of bhakti, so he was able to see Krishna for who He was, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The proof is in the pudding, so if we follow the instructions of the spiritual masters and the Supreme Lord Himself, we will soon be able to tell for ourselves if the Vedas are authentic and if Krishna really is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure.