“The material scientist explains that all these different planets are floating because of the law of gravity or some other law; but the actual lawmaker is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. When we speak of law, we must understand that there must be a lawmaker. The material scientists can discover laws of nature, but they are unable to recognize the lawmaker.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.29.42 Purport)
It’s the age-old debate. Religion or science? Faith or practical experience? Which is more important? Are the two mutually exclusive? Can you believe in God and still be amazed by the scientific discoveries of the past several centuries? Previously, it was believed that lightning was the will of the Divine, a way to punish the sinners. Then through science it was discovered that lightning is just electricity. Do not such discoveries disprove the existence of God? Self-realization, which is the more accurate description for what we commonly call religion, actually accounts for everything, including the discoveries of science.
What is the self and why must it be realized?
The self is the individual. It seems silly to say that I need to realize who I am. I should already know that. If I’m playing football and take part in a massive collision, I might temporarily forget my surroundings. The training staff will ask me my name, what year it is and who the president is. The effects of a concussion are such that I may not give the correct answers immediately. Not to fear, though, as I can simply look at my driver’s license. It has my name and address. I can also consult my passport.
Self-realization is not related to this temporary identification. My name is temporary, as is my situation in this lifetime. I have lived before. I will live again. This is not some mystical theory, but a truth that can be understood practically. There are many events from my past that I don’t remember. The present will one day become the distant past. In the future, I will be the same person. This means that my existence persists in spite of my situations. Though I don’t remember everything from the past, I was still living. Though I don’t know where I will be in the future, I will still remain who I am.
This is the basic understanding of reincarnation. The identifying force within persists through the time continuum. Self-realization is the study of this identifying force. Its properties are described in Vedanta philosophy, which is the science of self-realization. This is better than the term “religion” because there is no need of blind faith. Study who you are, understand the properties of the identifying force, and then take steps to maintain that realization.
Self-realization automatically incorporates study of the not-self. The self is spirit soul, while everything else is matter. Put more simply, there is a difference between that which is living and that which is not. The many life forms we see around us are spirit soul at the core. Everything else is matter. The individual seems to be under the grip of the gross collection of matter, which can also be described as the material nature. This nature has strict laws which cannot be violated. For example, the law of gravity. If I release an object from my hand, it will fall to the ground. I must act in accordance with this law; I have no other choice.
Science as we know it is the study of the laws of this material nature. It is nothing else. Those laws already exist. When we say that someone discovered gravity, what we’re really saying is that they came to know of the particular law of science that has existed since before we can remember. When someone learns that lightning is electricity, it is not that they are creating the law. They are merely observing something that was already there.
Self-realization puts more emphasis on the lawgiver than the actual law. We know from experience that laws don’t come about on their own. There is intelligence to them. We may not agree with every law on the book, but we know that they are created by beings with some intelligence. Animals cannot pass resolutions. They cannot vote on ballot initiatives or veto legislation they don’t like. Only beings with a higher intelligence can do such things.
The laws of material nature are superior to the laws of government. We can’t elect a candidate who will reverse the law of gravity. As the laws of material nature are superior, so must be the person who created them. Self-realization is described most accurately and thoroughly in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, an ancient text of the Vedic tradition. The Bhagavatam says that there is only one lawmaker for material nature. He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is known as Bhagavan in Sanskrit, and since He is all-attractive, one of His many names is Krishna.
Self-realization incorporates study of both the individual self and the Supreme Self. Krishna is the Supreme Self, the lawmaker of the inferior material nature. The sparks of spirit are actually superior to the formidable nature with which they interact, but in ignorance they don’t realize this. Indeed, spirit must be superior since it is derived from the Supreme Lord, who makes the laws of material nature.
Self-realization that doesn’t study Bhagavan is incomplete. Knowledge of Krishna is so potent that one doesn’t even need to study the self separately. One who knows Krishna in truth knows everything that’s needed to be known. Instead of a lifetime spent studying the laws of the material nature, the valuable time is put to better use in remaining conscious of the supreme lawmaker. In that consciousness, the individual gains the favor of that highest being, making the most of their birth in the intelligent human species.
Study of nature’s laws volumes in size,
But the lawmaker failing to recognize.
Intelligence in output shown,
So why attributed to randomness alone?
For knowledge of God he tries,
Path taken by the person wise.
As all-attractive one Krishna He’s known,
All knowledge coming from Him alone.