“Of all that is material and all that is spiritual in this world, know for certain that I am both its origin and dissolution.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.6)
Question: “Where is the empirical evidence to back up the claims of the Vedas? How can we test that reincarnation exists and that Krishna is a real person and not a mythological character?”
The difficulty with accepting truths presented in texts from an ancient time is that the perception is limited to only the documented words. We can’t see the people in question, and we can’t even approach one of their direct family members. Similar limitations in perception exist in our own lives, but we don’t apply as much skepticism to the words of authority figures due to the short time difference. As an example, we only know about our birth from the eyewitness accounts of our parents. They could be lying for all we know, but we trust them based on their track record of honesty. In a similar manner, the ancient truths of reincarnation, karma, and the properties of the spirit soul can be accepted on faith in the beginning and then confirmed through personal practice. In addition, the authority figures themselves back up the worthiness of the original claims.
Like oil and water, science and religion don’t mix; at least that is the common viewpoint. If someone tells me that the sun comes up at a certain time, I can run an experiment the next day to see if they are right. If they tell me that eating a specific food will have a specific effect on my body, I can run the test for myself. Easier than this is to hear the observations of others who have run the experiments. Easier than this is to hear the words of those who have heard the words of those who have conducted the experiments. Though there is a generational gap, a distance created between the original scientist and the eager listener, the information itself is not changed. If I notice today that the sun is out and I note my observation in a book, that observation’s validity does not change with time. Whether someone reads my observation tomorrow, in one week, or in one hundred years, the observation is still accurate. The people in the future will have to trust that my eyesight was clear and that I had no motives for lying.
The sum and substance of the Vedic science is presented in the Bhagavad-gita. Lord Krishna explains the concepts of reincarnation, karma, the individual soul, the Supreme Soul, and how they are all related. The practical application isn’t discussed as much, as Krishna lays the foundational principles and then says that one must approach a qualified spiritual master and then learn the art of transcendentalism from them. The qualification in this sense relates to the true understanding of the principles presented by Krishna. The first qualification is that one accept Krishna as God. God is defined in many ways to make the living entity properly understand. There is the individual soul, and God is the Supreme Soul. There is reincarnation for the individual living entity, while Krishna is always God and never has to take birth or die.
“Unintelligent men, who know Me not, think that I have assumed this form and personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know My higher nature, which is changeless and supreme.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.24)
Then there are the Vedic principles of detachment, duty, aversion to like and dislike, and steadiness in the path of yoga, which is the linking of the individual soul to the Supreme Soul. Most importantly there is full devotion to God. The ideal implementation of that devotion can vary based on time and circumstance, but if the devotion is present then all good things will come to the individual. Sin is the wrong way to do something, bringing negative consequences, and since devotion to Krishna is the ultimate right way, there is no need to worry over sin.
“But how does this square with other religions. Why only Krishna? Why not devotion to someone else? Why not continue in scientific research and enjoy the life that we have?”
The issue of material enjoyment is also discussed in the Gita. The flaw with the “lord over material nature” mentality is that there is competition. Others also will try to be lord, and in that competition no one will win. Rather, there will only be temporary positions of prominence and destitution. The losers will try to unseat the winners, and the winners will try to hold on to their position no matter what. The winners thus have no peace of mind, and neither do the losers. You can look to so many aspects of life to see evidence of this. In professional sports, a team or a player may hold on to a record for a long time, but when someone is about to break it, they start to worry. Once their record is broken, they no longer hold the position of prominence for that specific statistical category. Hence even with victory one must live in fear.
Service to God is the ultimate occupation because it is the only one that correctly matches the constitutional position of the living entity. Lord Chaitanya, a famous saint and spiritual master who is non-different from Krishna, noted that jivera svarupa haya nitya krishna dasa, which means that the living entity is eternally a servant of Krishna, or God. Eternally means that at any point in time devotional service is the highest engagement. This also means that at any time if there is deviation from the original form, svarupa, only misery will result. Think of it like trying to eat soup with a fork. The living entity has abilities to do work, but if the work is improper, the result will not be ideal.
In the modern age the human species is more sophisticated in their education of material matters. Therefore blind faith alone will not cut it. People require more justification to turn their life over to a spiritual figure, and in this regard the Vedas are quite comprehensive. The theoretical is accounted for in the vast Vedic literature, and the practical is available through the tools offered by the spiritual master. In any age, and in any time period, the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is supremely effective. Try it for yourself to see how it makes a difference.
To justify the path of devotion, we don’t even require theoretical or practical understanding. On the example of notable personalities alone we can understand that devotion to God is the ultimate occupation. Has there ever existed a more noble character than Shri Hanuman? Every virtuous quality exists in him, and such an exemplary personality only devotes himself to Sita and Rama, God and His eternal consort. There is only one God, though He has different spiritual forms that appeal to different devotees. Lord Chaitanya is also a spotless authority figure, having no flaws in His character. He only devotes Himself to Radha and Krishna, the same Sita and Rama. Similarly, many famous personalities both past and present follow the devotional line, and they are free of sin. They are kind, gentle, peaceful, knowledgeable, intelligent, fearless and charitable. By the material estimation they are without any flaws, which automatically earns them the highest standing. And from that perch they humbly ask everyone to be devoted to God to find the highest pleasure in life. If they say so, why not believe them?
Information of Vedas theoretical,
But how to find evidence empirical?
Events happened so long ago,
That they’re true how can we know?
In your own life principles implement,
Chant holy names as an experiment.
Easier way is to trust superior authority,
From their example take validity.
That Krishna is Supreme Lord know,
To hear Him to Bhagavad-gita go.