Easing Into the 5th Canto

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By Kesava Krsna Dasa

The ever pestering power of empirical estimations of this colossal unknown called space still challenges many of us who read the 5th canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam. In many cases our “frog in the well” boundaries reluctantly, or sceptically acknowledges the enormous proportions of universal structures described with exacting precision, seeming too certain for comfort.
With this in mind perhaps some considerations can help ease us into the 5th canto descriptions of our cosmos, which is undetectable to primitive radio telescopes and satellites with “high tech” optical capabilities. We need to see invisibility in a different way and not merely as another “cop out” faith based solution. If invisibility actually has substance and reality as opposed to nothingness, then we can better be able to accept the enhanced cognitive revelations of our acaryas in parampara.
Botanical Links to Other Worlds

All over the world there are varying versions of “cave art” revealing inner visions of shamans and allied spirit guides. It is known that these visions are induced by botanical ingestion and other traditional tribal rites. Yet a consistent likeness of these paintings indicates a common shared vision accessible to those who know how.
Some western scholars and intellectual seekers have experimented with these hallucinatory trips carefully guided by experienced shamans. They usually access a fantastic vivid world of nondescript creatures and beings both frightening and strange. The guidance helps to manoeuvre through to more stable observations and avoiding certain dangers.
We usually find that those who did experiment successfully come away convinced that a whole “real” world exists out there, dwarfing our puny sensory perceptions of rocks, skyscrapers and petty human problems. That this world is invisible will inevitably lead most of us to be pessimistic about such claims. But the cave paintings are there for all to see.
The roles of “invisible” ancestors also feature significantly in these visible and invisible exchanges. Many of us, who have ever witnessed our newborn babies staring at one place in a room as though transfixed, smiling and laughing as if communicating with someone, will understand that indeed our substantial ancestors come to visit new additions to the family.
Invisibility Cloaks

The example of the “invisibility cloak” can help penetrate whatever shades of doubt persist as we study the visions of purified minds and intelligence. The invisibility cloak is no longer a subject of fantasy as portrayed in movies and novels. Prototypes have already been developed by military personnel adept at collateral damage.
These cloaks are able to cover armoured personnel carriers and tanks rendering them “invisible” to enemy vision. An enemy will see only whatever landscape and shrubbery lies ahead with all of its contours and depths. Perhaps if the enemy is equipped with heat seeking devices the cloaks will only have half succeeded. But the cloaks form a purely optical illusion and nothing more, for to remove the cloaks will make visible the reality underneath.
If we bear this in mind as we ourselves progressively de-materialise our mortal frames through the process of Krishna consciousness as we advance, then peering out into the vast expanse of space to see nothing but sparkling luminaries, should tell us there are numerous invisibility cloaks, or varying types of deluding potencies at work, that enable us to see only what astronomical textbooks show. Just as the enemy will apparently “see through” a tank due to optical dynamics, our eyes will also “see through” realms and entities – even right under our noses – while looking out at the night sky. If somehow a telescope or probing satellite were to have lenses and sensors made of mind or intelligence, then the captured visuals should match those of the 5th canto.
The Invisible Ganges

Since Sri Ganga Mata hails from the spiritually invisible causal ocean, she is aprakata, or out of our general sight. She gushes out onto Sri Dhruva Maharaja’s transcendental abode, then on to Lord Brahma’s place and elsewhere. As she comes down her waters adapt to different degrees of perception commensurate with living beings bodily and mental constitutions.
Eventually she descends on to the moon – full of dust and craters as we see it. Just as Sri Vrndavana and Sri Navadvipa dhamas appear dilapidated to our vision thanks to the Mayic veil protection afforded by Lord Siva and his consort, disguising the cintamani reality, the moon planet is similarly covered by the invisibility cloak of earthly sight. Ganga Devi disperses from there and one of her streams reaches our section of Bhu-mandala meant for fruitive actions, where she becomes visible and tangible to us.
Mirrors and Reflective objects

Mirrors and glassy objects have long been a medium for accessing unseen forces living parallel with us. Occultists, Feng Shui practitioners and others, acknowledge the “other dimensional” power of mirrors and sometimes use them for certain purposes.
For example, on the occult side, one can sit in front of a mirror on a full moon night. Having the moon within vision on the mirror one should stare at oneself after having done some basic ritual, and wait for an apparition of ones future marriage partner to appear in the mirror. One can also simply sit and stare at ones reflection in the mirror staring intensely between the eyebrows. After some time ones lower or negative features will appear on the face.
The Ouija board often requires a glass to invite subtle beings for consultation. When invited the beings will not leave that place hence the unpleasant dangers associated with it. The famous, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” has similar occult connotations, and the “Wonders” that Alice saw through the “Looking glass,” are said by some, to have been induced by botanical ingestion.
In Feng Shui mirrors in general are considered portals to subtle realms inhabited by negative elemental beings. For this reason mirrors in bedrooms and similar sensitive places are covered by cloth. If however an appealing or positive visual exists then the mirror should reflect that to increase the effects.
The Portals of the Heart

These infatuations with mirrors and reflective objects have their rightful place in the words and visions of de-materialised pure hearts. Lord Chaitanya immediately launches into His rare written legacy with – ceto darpa marjanam…cetah - of the heart; darpana – the mirror. The mirror is used to describe the reflective power of the heart able to access higher realms.
This ability can make an expanse of an entire universe appear like – vatsa-padam – like a drop of water contained in a calf’s hoof print. Demigods like Sri Yamaraja and his scribes have partial expansive cognitive powers enabling them to perceive the countless sins committed by hell bound individuals within an instant, as if packaged or condensed. It is known that when a person is about to die all of his or her life’s activities in every minute detail are relayed in an instant, so higher beings easily flout our mortal comprehension of Roman time keeping.
For a contented pure vaisnava these issues of doubt and apprehension concerning universal structures have little effect on the inner conviction built by faith. The clean mind and heart takes pleasure within; “I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, whose glory ever triumphantly dominates the mundane world by the activities of His own pastimes, being reflected in the mind of recollecting souls as the transcendental entity of ever-blissful cognitive rasa.” (Brahma-Samhita 42)
However, being possessed of elevated cognitive powers still has limitations as far as our cosmos goes; “Srila Sukadeva Goswami admitted that to give full details of this expansive material universe would be impossible, but nevertheless he wanted to give the King (Pariksit) as much knowledge as he had received through the parampara system.’ (SB 5.16.4 purport)
If our doubts still rage at the incongruent disparities of empirical and saintly observations, then our hearts remain closed and dissatisfied. Our true satisfaction lies in accepting the words of our spiritual masters which help to greatly expand our vision; “Having obtained real knowledge from a self-realized soul, you will never fall again into such illusion, for by this knowledge you will see that all living beings are but part of the Supreme, or, in other words, that they are mine.” (BG 4.35)
Empirical observations cannot prove the Vedic version of cosmology to be wrong so long as the invisibility cloak of stifling human sensory channels remain blocked. It is better to perhaps give even some grudging admiration for the Srimad Bhagavatam at least for enlightening us to reality; “Our experimental knowledge can neither verify nor disprove the statements of Srimad Bhagavatam…If we can appreciate the extensive energy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, that will benefit us.” (SB 5.16.10 purport)
Our aim in Krishna consciousness is to have an open reflective heart able to witness de-materialised reality of a loving relationship with the Lord of cognitive rasa and His dear devotees who relish them. A simple and humble plea to desire this can make all the difference and ease our passage into full understanding; “The gopis spoke thus: Dear Lord, whose navel is just like a lotus flower, Your lotus feet are the only shelter for those who have fallen into the deep well of material existence. Your feet are worshipped and meditated upon by great mystic yogis and highly learned philosophers. We wish that these lotus feet may also be awakened within our hearts, although we are only ordinary persons engaged in household affairs.” (SB 10.82.48)
Your servant, Kesava Krsna Dasa – GRS.

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1 Unregistered

The way to “Ease into the 5th Canto” is to understand beforehand that it is not necessary to take everything described therein literally.

The Bhagavatam is concerned with unalloyed bhakti. In the course of stressing bhakti, many subjects are discussed in the Bhagavatam that shed light on its principal topic either directly or indirectly (anvayad itaratah). Cosmology is not the primary focus of the text. It is discussed for the purpose of stressing that the material manifestation is a fathomless, endless transformation of the gunas (maya-guna-vibhuteh) and thus glorious as the sakti of God. Sukadeva does not claim that his subjective description of the universe is definitive. Indeed, he says the opposite: kastham manasa vacasa vadhigantum alam vibudhayusapi purusa, “No one can possibly explain or perfectly conceive of the nature of the material universe even in a lifetime of Lord Brahma.” (SB. 5.16.4)

So again—accepting a literal understanding of what cannot be understood (the 5th Canto)—is absolutely non-essential to the culture of bhakti.

Brahma das

Comment posted by brahma dasa on July 24th, 2009
2 Suresh das

Srila Prabhupada always stressed to us - who do you accept as your highest authority on the truth?

Do we accept the authority of one of the twelve greatest Mahajans - Srila Sukadeva Goswami, as a speaker of the truth, or do we try to shirk responsibility, as representatives of Srila Sukadeva Goswami, by claiming that what he is describing in Srimad Bhagavatam is not actually factual, but just poetic license? Srila Prabhupada always stressed the importance of “As It Is” – no interpretations, or speculations. Krishna states this, or Srila Sukadeva Goswami states that, but what they meant is actually this - that type of philosophical interpretation on our part is not acceptable.

If Srila Sukadeva Goswami can not accurately describe the position of our own tiny solar system, in the tiniest of universes, in the entire material world, then how can he be qualified or relied upon to describe to us the nature of the spiritual realm, or how to reach it?

Lord Krishna states in the “Bhagavad-gita” to Arjuna that He is only describing a tiny spark of His opulence. Does that mean Lord Krishna should not be taken literally, and that His description of His own creation is just poetry?

If the descriptions of the universe in the 5th Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam is nothing more than mythology, then how can we have faith that the spiritual world, being described in the same book as well, isn’t mythology too? This is why we can’t, as Vaishnava spiritual scientists, just hide our heads in the sand, and chant Hare Krishna. We must discover the truth.

Comment posted by Suresh das on July 26th, 2009
3 Unregistered

How is bhakti advanced by pushing arguments that we can neither understand nor defend outside the realm of Srimad Bhagavatam?

In April 27, 1976, Srila Prabhupada wrote Bhakti Svarupa Damodara Maharaja, “So now all you Ph.D.’s must carefully study the details of the Fifth Canto and make a working model of the universe. If we can explain the passing seasons, eclipses, phases of the moon, passing of day and night, etc., then it will be very powerful propaganda.”

However, have we succeeded? Do we have a “working model of the universe” based on the 5th Canto that we can present to the intellectual class and they can readily accept? We cannot even explain eclipses without invoking an invisible planet (Rahu) that swallows the moon. I don’t think this is what Prabhupada referred to as “powerful propaganda”.

If we cannot do it, we should humbly accept it. If you want to believe that in the future some empowered personality will be able to provide this “working model of the universe”, fine. But for now, we should accept our shortcomings and instead vigorously preach about the chanting of the holy names. That will be of benefit for humanity at large.

Hare Krsna!

Comment posted by anantaramdas on July 26th, 2009
4 KKDasa

Brahma Prabhu,

You speak of this unlimited cosmos as being of the shakti of the Lord, or another way of saying an opulence thereof. If this is so then surely it requires a measure of faith or conviction to accept as truth all that the 5th canto and the rest of the Srimad Bhagavatam tells us.

“One who is factually convinced of this opulence and mystic power of Mine engages in unalloyed devotional service; of this there is no doubt.” (BG 10.7)

Notice how Krishna says this after previously briefly describing the cosmos and the progenitors thereof.

While the 5th canto is certainly not the prime form of knowledge for us because it is part of a gradual run up to the tenth canto, we nonetheless must have a conviction that this section of the Srimad Bhagavatam is true.

Because some doubt or bare indifference exists due to incomprehensible subject matter presented in the Bhagavata Purana, some of us attribute compromise and appeasement with the “None Literal” approach, and it signals a shortfall of conviction of Krishna’s opulences needed for unalloyed Bhakti.

I am well aware of the need for realism and appearing not to be unreasonably biased in loyalty to every word and dictate of self-realized revelation, then neither can we expose our doubts by using frail tools of reasoning while simultaneously questioning the deep faith of those who accept the conclusive truth.

Of these two methods of acquiring knowledge I think I’d rather choose the former because there is safety in surrendering our all – including our analytical propensities – at the lotus feet of those whom the heart is unalloyed conviction. If this appears somewhat naïve and demeaning for the rest of us, then perhaps we should notice the downside of scientific research and the sometimes dubious motives for seeking funds, and the competing with fellow colleagues and the rest.

“I am the servant of that person who is a servant of the six Goswamis. The dust of their holy feet is my five kinds of foodstuffs.” (Nama-sankirtana 6)

It also appears that to be convinced of the opulences of the Lord one has to take; “One gigantic step for the sceptic, and one calf’s hoofprint for the bhakta.” So be it.

Ys, Kesava Krsna Dasa.

Comment posted by KKDasa on July 26th, 2009
5 muniraja dasa

it is interesting to see HOW deep is the faith to modern science, even amongst devotees. Devotees who accept sastra literally, like my humble self, are sometimes said to be fanatics and fundamentalists. But people giving these arguments often have the very same symptoms of fanatism and blind following, but their faith is into modern science, if someone even starts a conversation, that science is imperfect, Vedas have higher wisdom etc, they are already disturbed and agitated.

It is also funny to see, that in devotee camp there are those who have more faith into western science on certain areas and on the camp of scientist there are those who don´t have faith into their own teachings, but to Vedas. Last christmas marathon we met one long time friend of devotees, teaching in university, his comment to us: ” You are very lucky to follow the teachings of your line…everything what we teach in our university…it is a joke…a bad joke.” Once one of our devotees met an astronomist in the street, that devotee was preaching with very straightforward and innocent way, they ended up discussing about cosmology, and astronomer admitted, all their teachings are theories, and other theories could be presented.

General opinion and vox populi seems to influence devotees also, it means our conviction is not that strong. For example moon landing, some devotees have left, or didn´t join the movement because Srila Prabhupada said that we didn´t go to the Moon. But now, when there are various documents strongly claiming that it was a hoax, many many people, like my “die hard-believe into the science” father is now convinced that it is not possible to go there. Perhaps we should read more about the 5th canto commentaries what our acaryas have written, Danavir Maharaja has published some very large books concerning cosmology, I didn´t study them yet, but just the fact that acaryas have written a lot about the subject can give us more faith to the viewpoint of the Bhagavatam.

HOW we preach is another story and discussion, if the mood of the presentation gives fanatical impression, it is generally not good.

Your servant Muniraja dasa

Comment posted by muniraja dasa on July 27th, 2009
6 Akruranatha

If we accept that the cosmic manifestation is indeed a “fathomless, endless transformation of the gunas (maya-guna-vibhuteh) and thus glorious as the shakti of God”, then we will not be very determined to defend the account of empirical scientists, who seem to have a lot invested in the “reality” of their particular descriptions.

Once we see material nature as a transformation of the gunas, discussing the details and particulars of that transformation and how it presents itself objectively to our conditioned, imperfect senses, will be considered trivial, not very important knowledge.

In that case, we ought to find it easy to accept and advocate the descriptions given by our self-realized acaryas, who can see the Absolute Personality of Godhead and His external energy, which is under His full control.

Those are the important descriptions: What is God like? What are His names, qualities, pastimes and forms? How does He create the energies of cause and effect (as Maha Vishnu)? How does He enter into the material universes (as Garbhodaksayi Vishnu) and set them in motion? How does He pervade everything and everyone as the Supersoul and cause all beings to enjoy the effects of the modes of nature? How does He display His various lila, manu, yuga and shaktyavesha avataras and reestablish the principles of dharma age after age? How does the process of secondary creation occur under the direction of Lord Brahma? What are the gunas and guna-avatars and how are they working on us and those around us (including the scientists and philosophers of this world)?

Of course, we should use tact in broadcasting these descriptions. We should do so in a thoughtful way, and not appear as ignorant or fanatical religionists. We need to get a clear understanding by relevant inquiry and perseverance in sadhana bhakti and pleasing the spiritual master, and we also need to know how to present what we have understood in a way that will be effective to our audience.

But we cannot differ from the party line laid down by our Founder-Acarya. If anyone knows how to spread Krishna consciousness, it is His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. And he is our eternal master.

As far as I know he was very keen on us building a planetarium temple in Mayapur. As for the details, he gave explicit instructions to certain devotees, but mainly he wanted us to glorify and promote awareness of and faith in Srimad Bhagavatam.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on July 29th, 2009
7 Akruranatha

The Bhagavatam is a great cultural expression (much greater than Shakespeare, Mozart, Picasso, Newton’s “Principia” or Sartre’s “Being and Nothingness”). There is nothing in it we should be ashamed of presenting.

Even if Sukadeva presented a “fable” instead of actual distances and locations of planets, we should embrace that fable as the best, choicest description for understanding Krishna. Otherwise, why did he present it that way instead of presenting the modern, scientific view?

[Can anyone seriously believe it was because he was less advanced in knowledge of Astronomy than a modern college graduate? Rather, we should think that modern Astronomy is relatively trivial and unimportant.]

Not that that we have to discount the achievements of science. We can (and should) use advances in modern medicine, transportation, communication and other technology in Krishna’s service (while also recognizing that there are some irreligious and detrimental aspects to modern industrial modes of living generally and to certain technologies specifically).

But we can be convinced that the Srimad Bhagavatam and other great Puranas and Epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata are the greatest cultural achievements that have so much to offer the unhappy people of today’s world, and that their authors and the teachings presented by many great authorities therein, including the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself, are extremely important and worthy of learning and following and reciting and broadcasting.

So…how to do it well so as to attract the minds of the intelligent and pious people of the world? That is the purpose of this interesting discussion among the devotees.

Not every devotee will go about it in the same way. Not every devotee will even understand it in the same way. But hopefully our discussion of it amongst ourselves as a kind of Ishtagoshti will help solidify our understanding and will please Srila Prabhupada.

Hopefully the discussion will help us learn better how to present Srila Prabhupada’s books and the practices of benefits of Lord Caitanya’s sankirtan movement and spread them throughout the world for the pleasure of all the acaryas and devotees of Lord Caitanya everywhere.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on July 29th, 2009
8 Unregistered

Kesava Krsna dasa,

The Gita verse cited (10.7) is preceded by the statement that everything is born from the mind of God. Born from the mind of God, like the statement that Krsna is the “seed-giving father” (Bg 14.4) is of course figurative language meant to give the tiny conditioned intellect a theological frame of reference in relation to matters that are inconceivable. Neither the verse, nor the preceding verse is about 5th canto cosmology or the hells described therein.

Furthermore, the chapter beforehand entitled ‘Most Confidential Knowledge’ culminates in the verse man-mana bhava mad-bhakto, which here again has nothing to do with descriptions of hell or 5th canto cosmology. The secret knowledge revealed in that chapter is Krsna-bhakti, the practice of which is not at all dependent on understanding 5th canto cosmology or accepting verbatim the picture of hell found in that canto. Indeed, Thakura Bhaktivinoda wrote that the descriptions of hell in the Bhagavatam “need not be accepted as real facts.”

The verse cited is followed by what Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura refers to as the catuh-sloki, or the four nutshell verses of the Gita. These verses exult devotion to Me (Krsna) and contain no mention of hells or 5th canto cosmology, as detailed information on these subjects is absolutely non-essential to a comprehensive understanding of the Gita.

The fact remains that Sukadeva’s vision of the cosmos as related in the 5th canto is not an objectively verifiable phenomenon, thus our feeble attempts to explain it as such will remain within the realm of the imagination. This being so the individual is free to follow Bhaktivinoda’s general advise on such matters which is to consider the information in a way that serves to facilitate ones devotion. If a person has faith in bhakti it matters not how he understands (or does not concern himself with) 5th canto cosmology and its hells, because for a devotee, bhakti–not jnana–is the all-important principle.

Dandavats,

Brahma dasa

Comment posted by brahma dasa on August 5th, 2009
9 Akruranatha

Brahma Prabhu,

True enough. If one is constantly devoted and worships Krishna with love, Krishna will give the understanding by which to come to Him. No knowledge of sankhya, of the demigods or their abodes, or the eightfold yoga system, the modes of nature, reincarnation, varnasrama dharma, the process of creation, or anything else is required. Krishna is known only through unalloyed bhakti, and great sages and even the personified Vedas aspire to take birth as simple village children to associate with Krishna in pure love.

However, for reasons of His own, Krishna decided to place the essential teaching that He is known by pure bhakti within the context of a thorough synopsis of all Vedic wisdom. Or rather, one might say that in Bhagavad-Gita Lord Krishna explained all Vedic wisdom in terms of, and in relation to, the supremacy of His pure devotional service.

Knowledge and detachment are concomitant factors when one engages in devotional service. While bhakti is not dependent on jnana, Krishna destroys the darkness born of ajnana in the heart of a devotee, and this helps the devotee make progress in gaining firm conviction and direct realization of the factual nature of Krishna and His devotional service, and give up his conviction that his self interest lies elsewhere (in fruitive material activities).

Srila Prabhupada encouraged us to accept Bhagavad-Gita the way Arjuna did: “Sarvam etad rtam manye” (”I totally accept everything you say as the truth.”)

If Krishna is really “param brahma param dhama pavitram paramam”, as Arjuna says (and Narada and all the sages, Asita, Devala, Vyasa, etc. are all saying), why should we neglect a single one of His statements?

More to the point, if we think He is mistaken or less advanced than modern scientists, we cannot really know Him and love Him without reservation as the pure bhaktas do.

I continue therefore to see this disagreement as one over preaching strategy. For those too attached to contemporary modes of explaining the world, it might be best not to confront them with the Bhagavata view of cosmography, history, demigods, elements, modes of nature, creation, etc. At least not at first. (But other preachers may succeed by doing so.)

For advanced students, however, a persistent doubt about whether Krishna (or Sukadeva) knew less than a modern fifth-grader about the solar system or dinosaurs would be a serious stumbling block to overcome. Prabhupada’s books smash such doubts born of ajnana.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on August 5th, 2009
10 Kulapavana

A blind faith fanatic is utterly convinced that what he believes in is perfect and complete - even as he has no practical way to verify that belief. Such a person will not adjust his position no matter what facts and arguments are placed before him. I know quite a few devotees like that. Anybody who thinks that the world of modern science is also based on blind faith has absolutely no clue about this subject matter.

Yes, a scientist will admit that his teachings are theories, and that other theories could be presented if they explain better what happens in this world. A fanatical devotee however will claim that his teaching are ‘an absolute truth’ and that no other theories can ever be presented, even if he currently can’t produce convincing arguments to support his conclusions.

The Puranic cosmology is fascinating. Several Puranas contain descriptions of the Universe, sometimes quite a bit more detailed than those presented by Srimad Bhagavatam. It is not an easy subject matter, just like modern astronomy is not an easy subject matter. You have to study it diligently before you can start claiming you know Vedic cosmology, and you definitely have to shelve your ‘know-it-all’ attitude untill you are done with your studies.

Comment posted by Kulapavana on August 5th, 2009
11 Unregistered

Comment on #6:

Very insightful, Anantaramdasji. Thank you.

The 5th canto cosmology isn’t just a quick narration to let us people of the 21st century know what the universe looks like. It is complicated and technical, not just from the perspective of its content, but already from its foundation of Sanskrit prose and cultural context.

The first issue here is source material. As discussed in another thread, there are many different manuscripts of the Bhagavatam dat have been distilled over time into the sources used by Srila Prabhupada for his translations. For the 5th canto this was mainly the Sri Caitanya Math edition from the 60s. The verse translations follow Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s Bengali verse translations, and the word-by-word his Sanskrit syntax.

So this is very specific and does not take into account that different source material may state different things. Example: Chapter 22, verse 11 mentions the distance of many stars above the moon as 200,000 yojanas. There are several Bhagavatam editions that state this, but there are also several that state that this number is 300,000 yojanas, including one used by Visvanath Cakravarti as source material.

These differences are obviously significant if it comes to a technical analysis of the 5th canto’s cosmology.

The next point that needs to be addresses is a comparison with the same cosmology as presented in the other Maha Puranas for consistency; and, of course, for these other Puranas the same problem with source materials applies as for the Bhagavatam.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see an accurate and tangible representation of the puranic cosmological viewpoint, but it makes little sense to build an “authoritative” planetarium based on the English translation of a Bengali translation of source material that may have been copied correctly or incorrectly over centuries. It will require a tremendous amount of dedicated research to figure out. Even Sadaputaji, to my knowledge, did not venture out in comparitive research of manuscripts of the Bhagavatam and other Puranas.

Comment posted by WillemV on August 5th, 2009
12 Unregistered

Comment on #5:

Munirajji,

Referring to the moon landings you said that “…there are various documents strongly claiming that it was a hoax…”

Does for you “strongly claiming” mean the same thing as “verifiably proving”?

Just curious what your statement is meant to convey, other than that these “documents” changed your father’s mind…

Are these documents the usual conspiracy stuff from Kaysing, Renee, et al? If not, I would appreciate it very much if you can share these documents with me. Thank you.

Comment posted by WillemV on August 5th, 2009
13 Unregistered

Comment on #7:

Akruranathji,

You said: “Even if Sukadeva presented a ‘fable’ instead of actual distances and locations of planets, we should embrace that fable as the best, choicest description for understanding Krishna. Otherwise, why did he present it that way instead of presenting the modern, scientific view?”

Just guessing, but perhaps because the modern scientific way is inherently modern and would have had no point of reference for the audience of the Puranas of yore? =)

The 5th canto cosmology is not unique to the Bhagavatam. It pertains to all Maha Puranas, in many of which it is not even relayed by Sukadeva.

The Puranas and Itihasas contain history. History didn’t stop with the last time these scriptures were augmented or updated. It didn’t stop with the last casual mentioning of future Maghada dynasties and remnants of others, barely making it to the reign of the Moghuls. History is ongoing.

As far as modern astronomy is concerned, rather than looking at it as an enemy, why not look at it as a wonderful opportunity to learn more and more about Krishna’s creation and the ongoing creation of history? Why does everything in this regard have to be mutually exclusive?

Building on older knowledge with newer knowledge doesn’t necessarily make the older knowledge less relevant. Sometimes it only offers a different perspective. The ancient Indians studied the skies and used various methods, including instruments, large and small. They came to conclusions that obviously changed over time, and were not afraid to write those down. The Surya-siddhanta is proof of that.

Time, place, and circumstances.

Comment posted by WillemV on August 5th, 2009
14 Suresh das

Why would Srila Prabhupada introduce the Srimad Bhagavatam, what to speak of print the 5th Canto in the first place if it had no importance. He made tremendous effort to not only translate and print the 5th Canto, but also include numerous paintings showing the different types of hells one goes to as a result of misdeads. Are you stating that people can just read Bhagavad-gita, chant Hare Krishna, practice bhakti-yoga, as you are suggesting, continue boiling and cooking their animals (such as lobster) alive, and that nothing will happen. They will only advance in Krishna Consciousness, because the hells mentioned in the Srimad Bhagavatam, as well as the Manu-Samhita, don’t actually exist - they are just metaphorical.

Comment posted by Suresh das on August 6th, 2009
15 KKDasa

Brahma Prabhu,

It is exceedingly obvious that the cosmic opulences delineated previous to the cited Gita verse are micro descriptions, indeed even the 5th canto information is a micros of imperceptible reality.

Nowhere do I say that that the 5th canto cosmic description is the prime substance of knowledge, because it precedes the 10th canto, and is therefore a description of some of the unlimited opulences of the Lord.

Again your reference to figurative language needs to be questioned. Are these figurative descriptions by the Lord in the Gita, and by Srila Sukadeva Goswami in the Bhagavatam factual, or non-factual?

It is true we cannot even remotely begin to fathom the depths of cosmic reality, but it is reality nonetheless, though subject to scheduled devastation. When Sri Sada Siva glances at inert primordial elements to inject life, is this figurative or factual? I am not sure how far your figurative assurance goes.

If it is used merely to cover for our inability to comprehend matters, then there might be a convergence of opinion, though differently put. If however it is used to relegate Krishna’s words, and those of Sukadeva Goswami, to substitute lingual inadequacies about things that just happen way beyond our heads, and that things do not really happen the way they say, then the doubt colours our predilection cloaked in empiric methods of inquiry.

Srila Bhaktivinoda is appealing to a certain audience hot on the heels of Darwinism and allied scientific deductions, whereas Srila Prabhupada appeals to his followers of bhakta tendency and is generally more literal, in face of the same but more refined and technologically astute Darwism and allied disciplines. If Srila Prabhupada’s literal approach appears at loggerheads and we exaggerate this to form doubts, then acceptance of truth from his being is troublesome.

Whether he appeared to have scientific comprehension or not is immaterial, for his enlightened internal vision, given in tune with our sampradaya, is quite enough to help us ease into 5th canto but also the 10th canto smiling face of the Lord. Any doubt other than this will present an unsmiling face symptomatic of rigid resistance to subjective truth.

Ys,Kesava Krsna Dasa.

Comment posted by KKDasa on August 6th, 2009
16 muniraja dasa

to 10# & 12

I didn´t say western science is based on blind faith, but many people have similar blind faith to science what devotees may have to Vedic philosophy. If someone presents argument against, they don´t want to listen, but judge you as fundamentalist, since you are doubting the absolute truth.

Concerning these moonlanding hoax documents, just seen the typical stuff what goes around. Cannot say how “verifiably proving” they are, but have seen their effects. One them was shown in local tv here last year, and quite a number of people at least started to have doubts.
I believe in these various texts are various nice viewpoints useful in preaching, we should not be shy about the presentation of Bhagavatam, but according to audience we should discuss with intelligent and non-fanatical way, ready to hear the arguments of another party. Although it is maybe not that often when we have to discuss about cosmology, in general it is maybe better to avoid the subject if you are not expert on the field.

Comment posted by muniraja dasa on August 6th, 2009
17 Unregistered

Sureshji,

You said: “Are you stating that people can just read Bhagavad-gita, chant Hare Krishna, practice bhakti-yoga, as you are suggesting, continue boiling and cooking their animals (such as lobster) alive, and that nothing will happen. They will only advance in Krishna Consciousness, because the hells … are just metaphorical.”

With all due respect, but this way of reasoning is hard to follow. Why would people who boil living beings alive advance in spirituality just because the hellish conditions spoken of in the Bhagavatam and Manu Samhita could be metaphorical? Isn’t there an endless array of other possibilities for such people other than going to hell or advancing spiritually?

Also, I would like to offer a word of caution to those referring to the Manu Samhita, as it doesn’t seem to lend itself well to half-hen logic, yet is used in this way rather indiscriminately by many devotees.

Its laws are greatly divided over the caste system, with rules, regulations and punishments highly adapted to the particulars of someone’s social status. There are very few blanket statements that apply to humanity at large in this regard. Higher casts usually have stricter rules, but milder punishments for transgressions. For the lower casts and outcasts it is usually the other way around. My point is that you do well to first study the Manu Samhita and be careful to understand its context.

If you don’t, as per Manu Samhita itself, hell awaits you even for simple things like marrying before your elder brother or after your younger brother (oh, and the wife goes to hell, too, of course).

.. .and I am going to hell by explaining this in a public forum, where sudras may read it.

…and those who get money and benefits of modern governments (avaricious kings who act contrary to these laws) will go to 21 hells in succession.

…and if you don’t show respect when receiving or bestowing gifts you go to hell.

…and the poor guests who partake in a local fire sacrifice go to hell as they throw in the grains (as will everyone else involved in the sacrifice).

…and …and …and

Oh, but I will *not* go to hell for eating meat or drinking liquer, which, according to Manu, is the way of the world and does not incur sin. Of course, he has more to say about that, but you can read that all for yourself. ;-)

Comment posted by WillemV on August 6th, 2009
18 Unregistered

Kesava Krsna dasa,

Whether Visnu or Siva the “glance” of God impregnating the “womb” of material nature” is a common Puranic analogy. The word glance indicates effortlessness and distance. In other words, for God creation is easy and he remains unaffected, or at a distance from material energy. The Gita (14.3) says Krsna impregnates the “womb” of the material energy with all beings. Here Krsna says “my womb” (mama yonir) indicating that material nature is he or his, depending on how one might want to consider it. This idea is also represented by the Siva lingam, with Siva (lingam) impregnating Parvati (yoni), or the “womb” of material nature with consciousness. Here Siva is depicted as intermingling with matter, whereas Visnu is depicted as remaining distant from matter.

While we as Vaisnavas don’t always emphasize the symbolism found throughout the shastra, if we want our preaching to be taken seriously it is folly to claim that it does not exist or has no importance.

As per the historicity of shastra, many modern editions of Vaisnava scripture are proven to differ significantly from those of ancient times. For example, the Goswamis often quote Brahmavaivarta Purana but not versions that can be found today, as the verses referenced are not in any present edition of this text. In relation to the Bhagavatam, in his translation of Brihad Bhagavatamrita, Gopiparanadhana dasa lists variations found in different manuscripts of both the Bhagavatam and the Bhagavatamrta. Therein he lists 32 verses that appear differently and writes, “For some verses of Srimad-Bhagavatam, Srila Sanatana Goswami’s commentary gives a text that varies from the one given in the Bhagavatam edition published by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.”

So again, if we want to be taken seriously by intelligent people it is folly to claim that that every detail found today in our scriptures is exactly as was spoken by Brahma to Narada. Yes, we believe that the essential theology of the Bhagavatam remains the same. Not because we can prove it academically, but because throughout time those who have embraced the essential teachings of the Bhagavatam have attained Krsna prema—the prayojana of the text.

The essential teachings of the Bhagavatam are what we are concerned with and what we should be preaching. Not non-essential 5th canto cosmology.

Brahma

Comment posted by brahma dasa on August 6th, 2009
19 Suresh das

The only conceivable reason for rejecting the 5th Canto of “Srimad Bhagavatam”, with its descriptions of hells that one achieves for living a sinful life, is the desire to reject the regulative principles. If there is no hell, if there are no consequences for our actions, then what need is there for following the Four Regulative Principles anymore? Following strict religious principles might be troublesome for many people, and worse than that is the accompanying quilt that comes when you know something is right, and should be followed, but you don’t follow it. There is also the danger for an authorized religion turning into more of a business than an actual religion. If the rules are too strict, people may not join the society. This has the potential to decrease cash flow. New disciples and members contribute to the support of the society. By loosening up on the restrictions, more people may be potentially be willing to join and contribute. This could be accomplished by rejecting the authorized scriptures.

“Where ignorance is bliss, it is folly to be wise”, Srila Prabhupada once quoted.

Comment posted by Suresh das on August 7th, 2009
20 Akruranatha

Comment on #13

Varnadiji, in answering the question as to why Sukadeva presented things as he did rather than according to the modern scientific view, you say:

“Just guessing, but perhaps because the modern scientific way is inherently modern and would have had no point of reference for the audience of the Puranas of yore? =)”

Perhaps, but the audience of Sukadeva consisted of members of a very advanced civilization, including the great, saintly King Parikshit (the questioner) as well as sages and liberated, eternal personalities like Narada Muni and the literary incarnation of God Vyasadeva.

Also, Suta Goswami revealed that people in this age of Kali will get light from this Purana, so it is definitely meant for the likes of us. I think it behooves us to understand that even our most sophisticated scientific theories are products of a dull, iron age civilization, and that many things are known to the sages and denizens of higher planets that are inconceivable to us.

You say,

“The Puranas and Itihasas contain history. History didn’t stop with the last time these scriptures were augmented or updated. It didn’t stop with the last casual mentioning of future Maghada dynasties and remnants of others, barely making it to the reign of the Moghuls. History is ongoing.”

History is notoriously written from the limited and interested perspective of the authors, often to justify chauvinistic cultural domination. To quote Ambarish Prabhu’s grandfather, “History is mostly the bunk.” “Bunk” is what politicians speak to appeal to the pride of local constituents.

I hope we all want to be acculturated to or dominated by the culture of Krishnaloka, and we want to get our history from those who are completely free from the dust of fruitive activities.

Yes, history is ongoing, and now we are in the Golden Age of Lord Caitanya. It will go down in history. [I love Kirtananananda’s quip, “I decided I’d rather make religious history than study it.”]

“As far as modern astronomy is concerned, rather than looking at it as an enemy, why not look at it as a wonderful opportunity to learn more and more about Krishna’s creation and the ongoing creation of history? ”

Agreed. I never said modern astronomy is an enemy. I always say, a pure devotee can be an astronomer, but it will be “external” in a sense. To “internalize” it, the devotee will try to use astronomy to prove the conclusions of devotees. Prabhupada wanted that. All human endeavor culminates in Hari kirtan

Comment posted by Akruranatha on August 7th, 2009
21 Akruranatha

Kesava Krishna Prabhu is exactly right when he focuses attention on the need to clean the mirror of the heart. As long as we have a dusty mirror, how can we expect to see anything clearly?

Anantarama Prabhu is awe-inspiring when he recommends that serious students will chant 64 rounds a day and also be able to have productive professional and family lives. He must have a very clean mirror to do that and be a Mathematics professor.

It may be that many of us in ISKCON as well as in other world religions have a tendency to be neophytes and “blind faith fanatics” as Kulapavana says. If we were all highly advanced and free from the influence of nature’s lower modes, we would probably see much less tendency to quarrel or splinter, and much more unity and cooperation.

Our Founder-Acarya and other leading devotees have very clear vision due to their purity of heart. Still, they encourage us to broadcast the glories of the entire Bhagavatam while, at the same time, we clean our own mirrors.

It seems to me that one thing that distinguishes Vaisnavism from more “faith based” religious fanaticism is the well-developed explanation of how a soul, being conditioned, carries different conceptions of life from one body to the next under the association of different modes of nature. In the 17th Chapter of the Gita, Krishna describes faith according to the three modes of nature.

This gives us a great vantage point from which to attack the “faith versus reason” dichotomy championed by the materialists.

It is not that scientists have “blind faith” according to their sense of the meaning of that term. They take phenomenal perceptions as “fact,” and belief in stories told by religious authorities as “faith,” and they construct a new story of “science” as a collective endeavor based on examining such “facts.”

“Sraddha” means something other than uncritical belief in the literal truth of religious stories. I have heard that the Sanskrt etymology of “sraddha” implies “where we place our hearts”.

Modern “scientism” in this sense is a kind of sraddha. It involves a whole complex of assumptions about the nature of phenomenal perception which are actually ignorant, not least of which is “I am this body and my happiness is found in sense gratification.”

As soon as we can start to see that all our thoughts, feelings and theories are in fact part of our material gross and subtle bodies awarded due to our karma, we can begin to be real spiritual scientists.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on August 7th, 2009
22 Unregistered

Akruranath,

Yes, Like Arjuna we accept everything that Krsna says as being true, but that does not mean that everything in Bhagavad Gita or the Bhagavatam has the same import. Are the verses of the first chapter of the Gita as important as those of the 2nd chapter, or those that that comprise the chatur-sloki? Similarly, we may accept that on some level or another the cosmology of the 5th canto of the Bhagavatam is true, but is it important to comprehensively understand it? Is it possible to definitively explain it? Sri Sukadev Goswami says no–that an imperfect person cannot describe the universe accurately, and that no one can perfectly explain it even if one studies it for a lifetime of Lord Brahma (SB 5.16.4).

In his purport Srila Prabhupada says the same, “Our experimental knowledge can neither verify or disprove the statements of Srimad Bhagavatam. We should simply hear these statements from the authorities and appreciate the extensive energy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” Which brings us back to my original statement saying that the comos is discussed not for the purpose of being definitive, but for the purpose of stressing that the material manifestation is a fathomless, endless transformation of the gunas (maya-guna-vibhuteh) and thus glorious as the sakti of God.

While Srila Prabhupada did instruct the Bhaktivedanta Institute to research the issue with the aim of constructing some type of representation of Bhagavatam cosmology, he did not instruct every devotee to become involved in the attempt or absorbed in 5th canto cosmology. Actually, for the vast majority of devotees becoming absorbed in the subject is unfavorable to the culture of bhakti. Neither should the vast majority of devotees preach 5th canto cosmology to the public as when they do so they simply make fools of themselves and the Krsna consciousness movement in general.

dandavats,

Brahma dasa

Comment posted by brahma dasa on August 8th, 2009
23 pustakrishna

While we walked on the roof of the Chandrodaya Mandir in Mayapur, Srila Prabhupad looked at me and said: “Vyasadeva is not telling some children’s fable. When he says that there is a great demon, Bakasura, it is not a child’s fable. He is the greatest philosopher. He will not waste our time with children’s stories. No. If there is one weak link, then the whole chain is weak. We must accept Vyasadeva’s writings literally.”

Take it how you will. These are the words of His Divine Grace. It is a matter of faith. Just like, once Srila Prabhupad said to me: “I do not think that there were dinosaurs. We do not get any information of this from the Vedas”. This was Srila Prabhupad’s vision. You may agree or disagree on any thing, but understand where Srila Prabhupad was coming from. He was not a country bumpkin either. He grew up in Calcutta, and attended the University for four years. He was an accomplished chemist and businessman for a number of years.

It is a matter of faith, pure and simple. Does one believe their senses, what we hear, see, etc. or do we accept the authority and wisdom of Vyasadeva? For Srila Prabhupad, the Acharya, transparent via medium through the Gaudiya Sampradaya to Mahaprabhu, Krishna…This Srila Prabhupad lives and taught faith. Digest it as you will. As one who had so much personal association and friendship with Srila Prabhupad, I always feel compelled to teach what he taught me without deviation…regardless of my own capacity or incapacity to fully accept it. Yours in service, Pusta Krishna das

Comment posted by pustakrishna on August 8th, 2009
24 Unregistered

Comment on #22:

Pustakrishnaji,

You stated: “While we walked on the roof of the Chandrodaya Mandir in Mayapur, Srila Prabhupad looked at me and said: ‘Vyasadeva is not telling some children’s fable. When he says that there is a great demon, Bakasura, it is not a child’s fable. He is the greatest philosopher. He will not waste our time with children’s stories. No. If there is one weak link, then the whole chain is weak. We must accept Vyasadeva’s writings literally.’ Take it how you will. These are the words of His Divine Grace. It is a matter of faith.”

I cannot help but get the impression from this statement that it’s not really about faith — at least not my understanding of it. More a subtle pointer that if I don’t take it the way you do (your thoughts = Prabhupada’s thoughts) then there may be something eerie looming ahead in my spiritual future.

Dinosaurs? Yes, not mentioned in the scriptures. But, you know, neither are the pyramids of Gizah, nor the Sumerians, nor dodos, warthogs, koalas, kangaroos, panda bears, and literally hundreds of thousands of other animals, extinct and current.

Are you saying that for the sake of accepting every opinion of Srila Prabhupada completely literally we should consider that these also did not and do not exist? I mean, would you really tell the very people that have dug from the earth complete skeletons of dinosaurs that they dug up something that doesn’t exist???

Comment posted by WillemV on August 10th, 2009
25 KKDasa

There seems to be a real problem, not only in the literal versus empirical equation, but of acceptance of authority, depending on which line we take.

If I, for instance, were to quote verbatim all that Srila Prabhupada said against dinosaurs and the moon phenomenon, this would probably meet with less resistance from the sceptics. If however, I repeat the same sentiments as a faithful follower, then the swords of fanaticism, blind faith, and the rest, get thrust.

So far in these discussions I have avoided citing scientific authority to back up any claims against controversies, which may be a prudent thing to do. Then, heeding the good advice of self-realized souls not to be infatuated by scientific claims, there could well be other explanations besides the scientific standard.

For instance, it is known that micro organisms mutate according to differing circumstances. As of yet it appears that we see some instances of mutation in birth defects in relation to the Chernobyl nuclear incident. The leaning here is that in previous kali-yugas some disastrous human experimentation and technological advancement could have produced extreme mutations in different species resulting in the dinosaurs not necessarily listed as some of the 8,400,000 species of life. Even today hybrids are created through genetic engineering, so it is feasible that “new” or unlisted species could be produced. If a buffalo was a mystic attempt to upstage the existence of cows, then it is certainly within range to mutate other creatures.

If this is so, then genetic mutation would not violate the established number of species created naturally – the Vedic view is retained. Would this scenario oppose the evolution of species as proposed by the Darwinists? Not totally, because otherwise a really strong case has to be built as to how environmental factors can cause mutation of the scale shown in textbooks. Considering the extraordinary complexities of basic living cells and the protein constituents required it is highly unlikely. However, some mystic or uncontrolled human intervention could inadvertently set off something quite different from established Vedic norms. So dinosaurs would be a non-descript set of species.

Even with this theory in place, it does not contravene our faith in the words of Srila Prabhupada and the parampara. In any case, just as medical doctors can also fall ill, intellectuals can suffer severe doubt attacks.

Ys, Kesava Krsna Dasa.

Comment posted by KKDasa on August 11th, 2009
26 Suresh das

Pustakrishna Prabhu,

Did you ever clarify, when you were speaking with Srila Prabhupada, and he told you there were no dinosaurs, what he meant by that? If anyone goes to any Natural History museum on earth, there are complete skeletons of dinosaurs on display. At the La Brea Tar pits they have been cleaning off the bones of all kinds of prehistoric creatures, tons of them, for decades.

That was my problem, when Srila Prabhupada was present, I didn’t have the intelligence or forethought at that time to ever ask any questions about either his writings or opinion. It wasn’t so easy for me to get close to him. I saw him a few times in classes, on one morning walk, and once for a few minutes in his room - otherwise limited association. For most of the devotees, they didn’t have the luxury of tapes or recordings of his lectures, walks, or room conversations until decades later.

At Ahovalam, 300 km south of Hyderabad, in India, there is a huge and massive 13-story ancient man-made column partially exposed and buried into a mountain side. Popular belief amongst the people is that it is the same broken column from Hiranyakasipu’s palace that Lord Nrsimhadeva appeared from. According to Srila Prabhupada however, Hiranyakasipu’s palace was not on this planet. Srila Prabhupada indicated that the column was from something ancient, but there is no conclusive proof as to what.

Could Srila Prabhupada have meant, regarding dinosaurs, that certainly they existed; at least they are very large skeletons of huge creatures that existed before. At the same time, it doesn’t prove that there was an entire world of them, or that they ever reigned supreme for millions of years, just because some quantity of bones have been discovered. I wonder if that was Srila Prabhupada’s point.

Comment posted by Suresh das on August 12th, 2009
27 Suresh das

Maybe Srila Prabhupada wanted us to use our intelligence and ask questions or debate with him regarding his opinions. Maybe we will never know because nobody asked.

Comment posted by Suresh das on August 12th, 2009
28 Akruranatha

Brahma Prabhu,

You say:

“Similarly, we may accept that on some level or another the cosmology of the 5th canto of the Bhagavatam is true, but is it important to comprehensively understand it? Is it possible to definitively explain it? Sri Sukadev Goswami says no–that an imperfect person cannot describe the universe accurately, and that no one can perfectly explain it even if one studies it for a lifetime of Lord Brahma (SB 5.16.4).”

I personally have not made an attempt to comprehensively understand the cosmography of the 5th Canto. I have not found that task important to me, but given the fact that Prabhupada wanted some devotees to understand it well enough to build a Vedic Planetarium, I think it must be a task that is the life and soul of those disciples.

But the more important point you are making, I think, is that an imperfect person cannot describe even the material universe accurately (let alone the vast, mysterious spiritual sky). Srila Prabhupada wanted us to become convinced that the imperfect material scientists, with the limited senses and intellects, could not begin to really understand the material universe. Prabhupada was always driving that point home to us.

The modern “faith versus reason”, “religion versus science” dichotomy assumes that the methodology of empirical science brings us better evidence of the way things truly are, whereas the idea of receiving knowledge through a descending process is pretty much a matter of blind following and cheating.

Religion without philosophy is mere sentiment, or fanaticism. We do not advocate that.

Philosophy teaches us that knowledge acquired from the conditioned senses, under the spell of our acquired modes of nature as limited human beings, though useful for some purposes, is far inferior to knowledge derived from reason and appeal to Vedic authority.

We need to carefully understand and be capable of explaining that point. This conviction, based on an accurate assessment of the human condition, is a prerequisite for making progress as spiritual scientists.

Otherwise, if people simply believe in empirical science, they will never understand the soul, karma, the modes of nature, time, God, spiritual and material energy, how the soul is conditioned by fruitive activities and liberated by devotional service. All these branches of real, factual knowledge will be closed to those who think we should only believe in what we see, hear and measure with our human senses.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on August 12th, 2009
29 Akruranatha

Brahma Prabhu:

The Purport to S.B. 5.16.4 does not seem to include the passage you quoted. [That must be from some other purport, and it is close to a passage in the purport to 5.16.10] The Purport to 5.16.4 says, among other things:

“Modern scientists and astronomers try to explain the cosmic situation and the vastness of space, and some of them believe that all the glittering stars are different suns. From Bhagavad-Gita, however, we understand that all these stars (naksatras) are like the moon, in that they reflect sunshine. They are not independent luminaries. …

“Srila Sukadeva Goswami admitted that to give full details of this expansive material universe would be impossible, but nevertheless he wanted to give the King as much knowledge as he had received through the parampara system. …

“The limits of the expansions of Govinda, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, cannot be estimated by anyone, even a person as perfect as Brahma, not to speak of tiny scientists whose senses and instruments are all imperfect and who cannot give us information of even this one universe. We should therefore be satisfied with the information obtainable from Vedic sources as spoken by authorities like Sukadeva Goswami.”

This is the important point that Srila Prabhupada keeps driving home. We should aspire to become as unimpressed with modern empirical science as Prabhupada himself was. He urged us to do so. He wrote a letter to my wife, saying:

“We have to establish this movement as the real alternative to the suffering and anxiety that pervades the whole human population. The scientists and politicians and other leaders are dragging everyone down to hell. Please study my books very carefully.”

The question of who should preach the 5th Canto and how is a separate question.

The important question raised in this discussion seems to be, “What should we really think about the 5th Canto?”

You seem to be advocating the position that in the face of challenges by modern scientists we should think it is simply an “analogy” or fictional literary device. That is quite a different position from the one taken by our spiritual master and Founder-Acarya.

I agree we should explore this more thoroughly. We should train devotees so they can understand and explain these things correctly, at least to each other. We should harbor no doubts that perhaps Srila Prabhupada was mistaken about his approach to this issue. We have to root out all such foolish doubts.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on August 12th, 2009
30 Akruranatha

Empirical knowledge has its place, but the ascending process is ineffective when trying to apprehend important spiritual truths.

Moreover, the radical “positivist” approach of modern science — of only believing in things we can perceive with the gross senses — is a very poor species of ascending process, compared to the Vedic jnanis who analyse various aspects of their own psyches which they apprehend through the power of introspection and sense control.

Although the philosopher Plato is not our authority, I thought this portion of his dialogue “Phaedo” was pertinent to our discussion.

[Socrates says to Simmias]: “What again shall we say of the actual acquisition of knowledge? Is the body, if invited to share in the enquiry, a hinderer or a helper? I mean to say, have sight and hearng any truth in them? Are they not, as the poets are always telling us, inaccurate witnesses? And yet, if even they are inaccurate and indistinct, what is to be said of the other senses? — For you will allow that they are the best of them?

“‘Certainly’, Simmias replied.

“Then when does the soul attain truth? — for in attempting to consider anything in company with the body, it is obviously deceived.

“True.

“Then must not clarity about things be revealed to it in thought, if at all?

“Yes.

“And thought is best when the mind is left alone and none of these things trouble it — neither sounds nor sights nor pain nor any pleasure — when it takes leave of the body, and has as little as possible to do with it, when it has no bodily sense or desire?

“Certainly.

“And in this the philosopher’s soul dishonors the body; his soul runs away from his body and desires to be alone and by herself?

“That is true.”

The pursuit of knowledge being described by Plato reminds me of the yogis — more particularly the sankhyis or jnana yogis — who strive to analyse and understand the workings of their own minds and senses and find out what is immutable and infallible and pure and beyond the influence of the constantly competing gunas.

We should not be afraid to be ridiculed by the dull lovers of the body and senses, who are incapable of acquiring real knowledge of spirit, brahma jnana, atma tattva.

We should be confident and convinced that the greatest yogis, like Vyasadeva and Sukadeva and Narada Muni and Srila Prabhupada, have access to sublime esoteric truths by dint of their control of the mind and senses and absorption in unalloyed devotional service.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on August 12th, 2009
31 Akruranatha

Brahma Prabhu:

You say that not all of Srila Prabhupada’s teachings have the same import, that some instructions are more important for us to learn and remember than others.

Okay, here’s one I find very important, from the Purport to B.G. 9.25:

“…It is very easy to understand through this important verse that if by simply worshiping the demigods one can achieve the heavenly planets, or by worshiping the Pitas achieve the Pita planets, or by practicing the black arts achieve the ghostly planets, why can the pure devotee not achieve the planet of Krsna or Vishnu? Unfortunately, many people have no information of these sublime planets where Krsna and Vishnu live, and because they do not know of them they fall down. Even the impersonalists fall down from the brahmajyoti. The Krsna consciousness movement is therefore distributing sublime information to the entire human society to the effect that simply by chanting the Hare Krishna mantra one can become perfect in this life and go back home, back to Godhead.”

Although the essence is that by chanting Hare Krishna one can achieve the perfection of going back to Godhead, it seems that we lose something from the strength and beauty of this passage if we take away from the equation the fact that there are really demigod planets and Pita planets and ghostly planets, that can really be achieved by those who know the material sciences of karma kanda or “black magic.”

Really, we have a revolutionarily different view of the world, both phenomenal and numinous, from the views of the general mass of people today, and from the views of the educated elites as well.

I agree with you that we should examine Prabhupada’s teachings from all angles, considering them in broad-minded and many-faceted ways. I just do not think that we can in good faith try to portray him as having taken the position that the descriptions of the various planetary systems and Demigods, Pitas, Pisacas etc. are not factual.

It is true that they are beyond our ordinary experience and they challenge our everyday assumptions. It is true that it may require broader, non-linear, even super-human intelligence to comprehend these Vedic teachings. It is true that they resonate with symbolic meanings and the kind of deep psychological and cultural significance that we think of as “mythic”.

But to suggest that Prabhupada accepted them as fictional “mythology” is silly. You and I both know Srila Prabhupada much better than that.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on August 14th, 2009
32 Unregistered

Akruranatha,

In this thread I never said anything for or against modern science. Neither did I “suggest” that the descriptions of various planetary systems and demigods etc. found in the Bhagavatam are “fictional mythology”. Neither did I say that the 5th canto’s description of the cosmos is false or fictional. This being the case your rebuttals to all that I did not say is nothing more than straw man argumentation (a sham argument set up to be defeated.)

What I did say was that: “Understanding (and preaching) 5th canto cosmology is non-essential to the culture of bhakti.” Why?

Because: “ Sukadeva’s vision of the cosmos as related in the 5th canto is not an objectively verifiable phenomenon thus our feeble attempts to explain it as such will remain within the realm of the imagination. This being so the individual is free to follow Bhaktivinoda’s general advise on such matters which is to consider the information in a way that serves to facilitate ones devotion. If a person has faith in bhakti it matters not how he understands (or does not concern himself with) 5th canto cosmology and its hells, because for a devotee bhakti–not jnana–is the all-important principle.”

This is my position and I take my stand on this paragraph. Now you go ahead tell me how these words are incorrect.

dandavats,

Brahma

Comment posted by brahma dasa on August 16th, 2009
33 Unregistered

Why are we supporting the scientists at all? The big bang and evolution are all atheistic theories. Their understanding is limited because they are conditioned, we are also conditioned but we are following absolute knowledge, given by an ancient line of liberated souls. The scientists are conditioned. In the Mahabarata it is written; mahjana yena kata sapantah; follow in the footsteps of the mahajanas, just becaue there are devotees out there that study science etc. they should not be bewildered by thier studies and lose faith in the sastra.

What did Prabhupada say to Sadaputa Prabhu, “…grab them by the throat…, make them understand…” Because modern science is cheating and atheistic.

Your Servant,

Krsna dasa dasa.

Comment posted by Krsna dasa dasa on August 16th, 2009
34 Akruranatha

Brahma Prabhu,

I felt bad about how I ended my comment #31. I am glad to know you do not maintain the 5th Canto cosmology is fictional “mythology”. I should have known *you* much better than to think that is what you are suggesting when you say it is not necessary to take everything described therein literally.

So, please forgive me for misunderstanding you, and worse, for accusing you of suggesting that the Bhagavatam’s descriptions of the demigods, Pitas, Pisacas, and their various planetary systems are not “factual.” At least I find that it is very easy to misunderstand or to be misunderstood on these internet pages.

Really, my interest is not to debate you or prove your words are incorrect. Rather I would like to coax out of you some enlightening and correct description that helps us all advance in Krishna consciousness and satisfying Srila Prabhupada.

But I am sure I am still misunderstanding you, and Varnadi, and Anantaram. I know you can only speak for yourself, but I want to more fully understand your position.

It seems to me you are saying it is up to each individual to consider the information in the Bhagavatam in a way that facilitates his or her own devotion, and therefore one individual may be advised to consider these descriptions as factual, and another may do better to consider them as some sort of allegory. Have I got that right?

You are saying some chapters of Bhagavatam are more important and some less so. Again, are you saying that this differs from individual to individual? Someone may find the story of Prahlad Maharaja important, others not? Or some may consider it important what yuga Lord Nrsimahdeva appeared in, or whether He had a tail, or some trivial, nonessential part of the story.

I am interested in how you are thinking about these things, and I really do not want to assume anything.

I know devotees would ask Prabhupada questions all the time that he considered irrelevant or absurd, whereas he wanted to hear questions that showed we were sincerely interested in advancing in devotional service.

It just seems to me that at least the fact that there are different gradations of planetary systems in the material world (earthly, heavenly, hellish), and also a spiritual world, that there are suras and asuras and such like information are among the important facts that will help most of us advance in bhakti.

Parikshit Maharaja only had 7 days and Sukadeva was giving the essential Vedic wisdom. Right?

Comment posted by Akruranatha on August 17th, 2009
35 Akruranatha

I like that Brahma, Varnadi et al. are saying things a little different from the way I always heard them and are challenging us to think about the scriptures in new ways.

For one thing, the information Varnadi gives about interpolations in the text are things preachers will encounter if they enter into discourse with scholars. [In the Ninth Canto Prabhupada said something about the “modern day rakshasas who try to prove that Rama was not the Supreme Personality of Godhead”, or something like that.] As preachers we should be prepared to deal with the objections of these “rakshasas”.

And I appreciate that Brahma is offering one way of dealing with them: Even if some of the “nonessential” details have been corrupted over time or at least are beyond our ability in the modern world to accurately verify through textual comparisons, we know the essence of the text is perfect because those who have embraced it have attained the goal of prema bhakti.

I still want more information on what is to be considered “nonessential” though. For example, it is safe to say (isn’t it Brahma?) that the moon is a heavenly planet, that there are three worlds comprising 14 planetary systems, that the various stars are reflecting the light of the sun, that there are living entities in every square inch of the universe? All the above statements are among the essential and non-controversial information that can be taken as literally true, right? Or not? I really want to understand.

Is 5th Canto cosmography unique? What else is “inessential”? Dynastic histories? More?

One thing I would just like to say to clear the air a bit. If we accept the (suspect and dangerous-sounding) thesis that Srila Prabhupada preached a certain way because it was important for neophytes, shouldn’t we follow suit, at least in general discussions, so as not to upset Prabhupada’s own strategy, and save the madhyama-adhikari discussions at least for specialized books or discussion groups? [For example, Sivarama Swami has produced some wonderful books which he introduces as directed to madhyama-adhikaris].

I accept that I am a neophyte and not qualified to discuss some of these things, but I am also a little intolerant and suspicious of the idea I often hear bandied about that such-and-such position differs from Prabhupada’s because he was speaking to neophytes. There is great room for mischief in that approach, and Prabhupada was undoubtedly writing his books for all levels of devotees.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on August 17th, 2009
36 Akruranatha

If we consider the position (advanced, I think, by Varnadi) that Sukadeva Goswami told the dynastic history part of the Bhagavatam in order to include what a Maha-Purana has to have, or the position (I think articulated by no less than Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur) that the Srimad Bhagavatam is also concerned with preserving the entire essential Vedic culture intact, so that even if all other books were lost all the import of the Vedas would be preserved, or the position of Varnadi that even if Sukadeva was conversant with what 21st century astronomers would say, he spoke about cosmography in a way suited to his contemporary audience, certain observations and questions should be raised:

(1) Given that Vedic culture is so excellent, isn’t it right and fitting to preserve it in the “mature fruit of the desire tree of Vedic wisdom”? Shouldn’t we value that, and not discard any of it as less relevant?

(2) If Sukadeva thought it was important to cover all the topics that must be included in a work that qualifies as a Maha-Purana, shouldn’t we think it is important to be conversant with those topics?

(3) Surely, the description of dynasties of different kings was important because it described the family trees of Lord Rama and Krishna, and also because King Parikshit was inspired by hearing of his own family’s connection with Krishna?

(4) What do we say about Srila Prabhupada’s repeated warning against those who jump ahead to the Tenth Canto without having first mastered the understanding of Krishna presented in the first nine cantos? [I imagine Brahma will say, and I will grant it sounds reasonable, that mastering the first nine cantos does not involve inappropriately focusing on irrelevant details, but mainly understanding how Krishna, though appearing and acting like a human boy, is really the “avatari” or original form of the Personality of Godhead, the Summum Bonum or highest good and Absolute Truth, who is understood only by unalloyed devotional service of topmost yogis (i.e., bhakti yogis).

(5) Don’t we say that the descriptions of various races of men, demigods, yakshas, siddhas, caranas, rakshasas, maharshis, manvantaras and other prajapatis, etc. correspond throughout Puranic literature supports the accuracy of such information? It is not (is it Varnadi?) that Sukadeva (and Krishna, etc.) just said things this way to correspond to the expectations of their audience’s culture, but also that they affirmed and propagated that culture?

Comment posted by Akruranatha on August 17th, 2009
37 Akruranatha

One passage which I think supports what Brahma Prabhu is saying is the Bhaktivedanta Purport to S.B. 1.9.28 (but look at the ingenious way Prabhupada says it):

“Incidents mentioned in the Vedic literatures such as the Puranas, Mahabharata and Ramayana are *factual historical narrations* that took place sometime in the past, although not in any chronological order. Such historical facts, being instructive for ordinary men, were assorted without chronological reference. Besides that, *they happen on different planets, nay, in different universes,* and thus the description of the narrations is sometimes measured by three dimensions. We are simply concerned with the instructive lessons of such incidents, even though they are *not in order by our limited range of understanding.* …” [Emphasis supplied]

That is, Prabhupada does support Brahma’s view, I think, that it is more important to learn the essential lessons of the historical narrations (and specifically those lessons that help us advance in bhakti and in understanding Krishna) rather than try to analyze them in the fashion of humanist historians.

And yet at the same time Prabhupada confirms that the incidents are factual historical narrations, though they are not subject to our limited human ability to understand them in terms of our reason and mundane experience, because they took place on different planets and even different universes, where nature truly behaves differently.

Mundane scholars may be contaminated with the arrogant assumption that they are fictional or mythological, that actual factual historical narrations would conform to their own notions of reality and the laws of nature.

They are small-minded. Every night in dreams they experience incidents that defy their notions of reality and the three-dimensional world, but upon waking they think they can distinguish how things “really” work from how they work in the unconscious mind.

When they take hallucinogenic drugs or study the perceptions of schizophrenics, they get a glimpse that our ordinary waking notions of “reality” are products of certain carefully balanced filters or methods of processing and interpreting sense perceptions available to healthy adults.

That ought to impress on them that their “reality” is dependent on their limited and narrow ways of seeing and knowing (a categorical imperative), and suggest to them that there are vaster, greater realities knowable by less limited beings (like demigods and sages).

Comment posted by Akruranatha on August 17th, 2009
38 Unregistered

Akruranatha,

You asked—[It seems to me you are saying it is up to each individual to consider the information in the Bhagavatam in a way that facilitates his or her own devotion, and therefore one individual may be advised to consider these descriptions as factual, and another may do better to consider them as some sort of allegory. Have I got that right?]

Yes that’s correct. While Srila Prabhupada promoted a literal interpretation of shastra, in order to nurture faith he did at times make exceptions (as does Bhaktivinoda). He says that the important point is that one should take the essence of Srimad-Bhagavatam and utilize it for our higher benefit.

This letter from Srila Prabhupada to Krsnadasa illustrates this point well, and also confirms that a comprehensive understanding of 5th canto cosmology is nonessential to the culture of bhakti.

“My Dear Krsnadasa, “These things are not very important, we may not waste our time with these insignificant questions. In Vedas such things like the asura’s decapitated head chasing after Candraloka, sometimes it is explained allegorically…. We are concerned with Krishna Consciousness, and even though there is some difference of opinion between modern science and allegorical explanation in the Bhagavat, we have to take the essence of Srimad-Bhagavatam and utilize it for our higher benefit, without bothering about the correctness of the modern science or the allegorical explanation sometimes made in Srimad-Bhagavatam.”

You also asked: [You are saying some chapters of Bhagavatam are more important and some less so. Again, are you saying that this differs from individual to individual? Someone may find the story of Prahlad Maharaja important, others not? Or some may consider it important what yuga Lord Nrsimahdeva appeared in, or whether He had a tail, or some trivial, nonessential part of the story.]

Its obvious that certain verses and sections of Gita and Bhagavatam are more important than others, especially in terms of ones eligibility for bhakti. The story of Prahlad with its delineation of the nine processes of devotional service and its emphasis on surrender is infinitely more important than the description of the cosmos found in the 5th canto. Indeed, Brihad-Bhagavatamrita which is the essence of Srimad Bhagavatam, is all about various levels of surrender and Divine love, and contains no detailed descriptions of 5th canto cosmology.

Brahma

Comment posted by brahma dasa on August 19th, 2009
39 Unregistered

“Present in a Different Way”

Akruranatha you asked: [If we accept the (suspect and dangerous-sounding) thesis that Srila Prabhupada preached a certain way because it was important for neophytes, shouldn’t we follow suit, at least in general discussions, so as not to upset Prabhupada’s own strategy?]

I don’t feel that it’s dangerous to be innovative in presenting Krsna consciousness, indeed keeping the essence Prabhupada admits to making many innovations.

Prabhupada: “Directions should be taken from scriptures. But there are many scriptures. So acarya means, just like Gosvamis, they would read all the scriptures and take the essence of it and give it to his disciples. He knows what to give and how to manipulate, so that his ekantatah sreyas (ultimate goal) will be achieved. The acarya knows how to adjust things, at the same time keep pace with the spiritual interest. It is not that the same thing is to be applied everywhere. He is eager to engage actually the people in the real benefit of life, but the means may be different. The real purpose is how one will take to spiritual consciousness, or Krsna consciousness.” (Lecture 73-2-20)

A relevant presentation of the philosophy requires more than repeating Srila Prabhupada’s words or trying to imitate his style. More so it requires practical insight into his essential teachings as well the ability to disseminate them according to time, place, and circumstance, and in consideration of the eligibility of the candidate. In order to do this Prabhupada said a number of times that his disciples should learn how to explain Krishna consciousness in their own words.

Prabhupada: “You must all study all of the books so that when the need arises you can repeat in your own words their purport.” (Letter 72-01-06)

Srila Prabhupada also expressed that an acharya need not conform to a stereotypical presentation of Krishna consciousness (Adi 7.33) because the real principal behind any presentation of the philosophy is to spread the Krishna consciousness movement (Madhya 14.6). In that mood, he encouraged his disciples to assimilate the philosophy and “present it in a different way”. In a way that would entice people to take up chanting and practice regardless of their social consciousness or conditioning.

Prabhupada: “We have got so many subjects, positive. Read our books and present in a different way. You can write intelligently. Thats not bad. Just to induce them.”

Brahma

Comment posted by brahma dasa on August 21st, 2009
40 Unregistered

Based on a True Story

Prabhupada writes: “Incidents mentioned in the Vedic literatures such as the Puranas, Mahabharata and Ramayana are factual historical narrations that took place sometime in the past…they happen on different planets, nay, in different universes,* and thus the description of the narrations is sometimes measured by three dimensions. We are simply concerned with the instructive lessons of such incidents, even though they are not in order by our limited range of understanding.”

According to Sri Madhvacarya, the Mahabharata current during his presence (12th century) had been interpolated, so it is unlikely that in their entirety the original texts of any of these literatures are available today. Therefore, in considering this quotation it is important to note that it can be proven that these literatures have changed or ‘evolved’ over time. They have evolved in the sense that they have been rewritten, retranslated, and verses have been lost or added, and various commentaries have been absorbed into the texts.

The evidence shows that the Bhagavatam has ‘evolved’ as well. (See post# 18) This is the nature of the smrti, which is dynamic in that it acknowledges what might be called evolution through human agency, as opposed to the sruti, which is said to be static or unchanging.

Bhaktisiddhanta writes, “What are the Scriptures? They are nothing but the record by the pure devotees of the Divine Message appearing on the lips of the pure devotees. The Message conveyed by the devotees is the same in all ages. The words of the devotees are ever identical with the Scriptures. Any meaning of the Scriptures that belittles the function of the devotee who is the original communicant of the Divine Message contradicts its own claim to be heard.” (The Harmonist 1931)

So here again we are advised to assimilate the essential teachings of sadhu and shastra, and if we come across something in scripture that runs contrary to those teachings we are to reject it. As for ‘historical narration’–knowing that these literatures have ‘evolved’ we must acknowledge that folklore, parables, etc. and what Bhaktivinoda calls “cultural bias” over time may have found its way into these texts. Even so, we believe, and we can reasonably preach that the Ramayana, Mahabharata, etc. (like it sometimes says in the movies) are based on on a true story that happened on different planets or dimensions and to this day plays continually in the hearts of pure devotees.

Brahma

Comment posted by brahma dasa on August 22nd, 2009
41 Akruranatha

Brahma

I agree that an expert acarya knows how to adjust and present things in terms of the particular audience, that we should be innovative rather than stereotyped in preaching, and that the goal is to really induce people to take to Krishna consciousness.

According to those criteria, Srila Prabhupada was undoubtedly an acarya of the highest order, and in many ways he really revolutionized the face of Lord Caitanya’s sankirtan movement, creating a large-scale worldwide organization inducing people from outside the Gaudiya and Hindu communities to take up Krishna consciousness on an unprecedented scale.

What remains suspect for me is the argument that Prabhupada gave us certain teachings in ISKCON because we were mostly neophytes, and now we should change his approach because we are more advanced. For example, certain devotees made such arguments in connection with their position that no jiva ever falls from Vaikuntha, and certain other devotees have tried to present ISKCON as an organization concerned with ABCs of spiritual life. I think those arguments were wrong, for two reasons.

First, it is wrong that Prabhupada was preaching mostly for neophytes. His books are relishable by all levels of devotees.

Granted, Prabhupada expertly kept his instructions to disciples suited to their real needs, and he also followed SBSST Prabhupada’s programs of giving tridandi sannyasa, giving gayatri initiation without consideration of birth (and even to women), not giving siddha pranali, etc. But Prabhupada also presented full instructions suitable to paramahamsas.

Second, if Prabhupada presented certain things in certain ways for neophytes, why shouldn’t we, in our general preaching to the public, follow his lead? Who better knows how to present Krishna consciousness in the modern world than Prabhupada? What has changed in the 32 years since his departure that warrants any given change in our preaching style?

I am not against innovations, and I accept the proposition that the hallmark of realization is to be able to explain Krishna consciousness in a way that suits the audience. But anyone who proposes we ought to be doing things differently from the way Prabhupada did them (and requested us to do them) should be prepared to explain the whys and wherefores of the specific proposal to a group of senior devotees and should be open-minded to consider their reaction. [The example in CC is how Krishnadas took permission before writing that masterpiece].

Comment posted by Akruranatha on August 23rd, 2009
42 Akruranatha

Brahma Prabhu, I am still not sure of what proposal you are making about how we should do things differently.

I will grant you that, for some devotees who were too enamored of modern scientific explanations of astronomy, physics or chemistry, Prabhupada approved (and practiced) the strategy of suggesting they might take the Bhagavatam’s description allegorically. We have already discussed the letter to Krishna das and my view remains that Srila Prabhupada was dealing with a specific disciple who was suffering from doubts and confusion in a specific way.

Prabhupada also founded Bhaktivedanta Institute for his professional scientist disciples, and considered it a very important branch of the Krishna consciousness movement.

But for general preaching, Srila Prabhupada made a point (went out of his way, even) to challenge the modern, accepted notions of astronomy. The very cover of the First Canto he brought with him in 1965 depicted the Bhagavatam version of the cosmic situation. Earlier, in his “Easy Journey to Other Planets,” he cleverly poked at modern scientific notions while boldly presenting the radically different view of the Vaisnava acaryas.

And then he ordered his disciples to build a Vedic planetarium in Mayapur, which to our shame we still haven’t done. It sounds to me (please correct me if I am wrong) like you are suggesting we shouldn’t build it. If you are, that is a very radical and (to me at least) suspect proposal that should be carefully scrutinized.

Brhad-Bhagavatamrta deals with different levels of surrender and rasas of pure devotional service, but both books of Bhagavatamrta explain these different levels in terms of various realms or abodes inhabited by suitable beings, some within the material sky and some in the spiritual sky. (yam yam vapi smaran bhavam)

It is not just an allegory. Looking around us, the phenomenal world is full of different humans, animals and plants everywhere. There are living beings in different kinds of bodies suitable to their level of material conditioning.

Similarly, the moon which we see in the night sky is a heavenly planet inhabited by those who are suitable to enjoy the results of pious karma. Right? Don’t we all agree?

Maybe the precise measurements of the various locations of these worlds or the precise number of miles in a yojana is less important, but to take the “essence,” as you say, from these descriptions by Sukadeva and others will be very helpful for the world.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on August 23rd, 2009
43 Akruranatha

That essence is that the universe as perceived and conjectured about by modern astronomers and cosmologists is inaccurate, inasmuch as it does not take into account that the various celestial bodies like the sun, moon, stars and planets of this phenomenal world are different abodes suitable for habitation by differently qualified conditioned souls, according to their karma.

There is a great body of literature accepted by highly-advanced sadhus which describes various planetary systems, some of which are subtle and not perceivable by our present conditioned senses. While the specific location of these planetary systems and the ability to use the descriptions from these literatures to “preserve appearances” and predict eclipses and astronomical phenomena in the fashion of modern scientists is less important, it is very important that the people of the modern world take advantage of these literatures, especially Srimad Bhagavatam, to become purified of the gross materialistic way of understanding the universe and our place in it.

To broadcast the glories of such literature, Prabhupada had the bold and brilliant vision to build a planetarium in Mayapur. I guess I should flat out ask you, Brahma, because I do not want to assume anything, are you actually saying we should not build the planetarium?

Sometimes Prabhupada asked devotees to do something, like getting the ratha yatra permits in NY, or getting Brahmananda to go to MacMillan for publishing the Gita, and it turned out successful beyond the expectations of the devotees. We understand that Srila Prabhupada was especially empowered and that his orders were often effective in startling ways.

Your thesis is that devotees of different mentalities might need different explanations to nurture their faith, and I accept that. But to push on a worldwide movement we have to take certain stands suited for the task at hand.

I for one was always awe-inspired and thrilled by Prabhupada’s public statement that he was doubtful about the NASA moon landing. It was a bold, radical challenge to the ways modern people perceive the world. It was a wake-up call for many devotees how far we really had to go if we were to accept Krishna’s version of reality, Guru’s version. Sometimes what looks like a snake is really a rope. Deep conviction and surrender to Krishna’s message involves thoroughly challenging many unspoken assumptions.

And yet devotee-scientists can go on practicing their professions while …

Comment posted by Akruranatha on August 23rd, 2009
44 Akruranatha

Devotee scientists can go on practicing their professions and contributing to the modern discourses about Physics or Astronomy or Chemistry or Biology according to the methods accepted in those professions, while privately cultivating their own realizations about the graded realms of devi-mahesa-hari-dhama asu tesu tesu, and the beings who inhabit them.

So yes, we can explain it as allegory so as to facilitate the cultivation of certain specific persons’ progressive faith and practice of devotional service in certain circumstances.

In preaching, we do such things all the time. When we talk to Muslims and Christians, we do not usually lead with lines like “Sanatan Goswami was a greater prophet than Jesus or Mohammed, because he explained God and the means of attaining Him in much greater detail.” Even though we may privately accept the truth of this statement, it might not be productive or even desirable to pursue that approach as a strategy for accomplishing whatever we hope to in our discourse with a specific individual.

And yet as a preaching organization we take specific strategic positions in order to accomplish certain ends and shape our general message to the public. Someone suggested to Prabhupada that he should say “Int. Soc. for God Consciousness”, but Prabhupada chose to say “Krishna” Consciousness. This was an important decision made by the Founder-Acarya.

And similarly, it seems to me that Srila Prabhupada made such an important general strategy decision when he announced his skepticism about the NASA moon landing and when he ordered us to build a Vedic planetarium. I remain open to consider arguments to the contrary, but I think it will be difficult to persuade me otherwise.

Its true that the Bhagavatam’s description of the universal cosmography is not “Astronomy” in the modern sense of the empirical science of that name, and we might also add that Lord Kapiladeva’s exposition of Sankhya in Bhagavatam is not “Physics” or “Chemistry” (nor, for that matter, was the atomism of Presocratic Ionians like Democritus), but there are ways in which the pure Bhagavatam Krishna-katha overlaps with the subjects of empirical science and rational philosophy and cosmology.

The sankirtan movement does ultimately affirm that aspiring bhaktas, by purifying their hearts, can have direct perception of the various material and spiritual realms, and their inhabitants, though these things may not be perceived objectively with gross senses.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on August 23rd, 2009
45 Akruranatha

Great devotees can distinguish between bona fide Vaisnava scripture and literature which contains flaws. Remember how Svarup Damodar Goswami would protect Lord Caitanya from hearing “devotional” compositions that had incompatible mellows and other flaws?

There was one story in Caitanya Caritamrta about a poem one devotee wrote, saying that there were now two Jagannathas in Puri, and the “moving” Jagannatha (i.e., Lord Caitanya) had become the soul of the other Jagannatha (i.e., the Dieity in the temple). The general devotees thought this was an excellent poem, but Svarupa Damodar pointed out its flaws and decided it was not suitable to be presented to the Lord.

So, the idea of smrti sastra as a dynamic, evolving tradition is something we have to be aware of but also a wary of. Yes, there is a dynamic process of transmission through the chain of perfectly realized devotees, but there is danger of the chain being broken or corrupted by those who have not completely assimilated the tradition perfectly. It is better to accept strictly according to parampara, and to be suspicious of any composition whose bona fides cannot be verified by the great acaryas in our disciplic succession.

As far as Bhagavad-Gita goes, Srila Prabhupada clearly indicated we may accept every word as perfect and as actually composed by Vyasa who had power to see the conversation on the battlefield (just as he had given his disciple Sanjaya the same power).

Similarly, in Srimad Bhagavatam, except for some passages that Srila Prabhupada specifically warned us about (including the destruction of the Yadu dynasty, the disappearance of Lord Krishna, the “white hair, black hair” incarnation, etc.), we can be confident in the text.

Prabhupada did not teach us that the Bhagavatam may be full of interpolations and that is okay because we can still get the essence. He taught us that the Bhagavatam in the form he gave us was trustworthy and was relished by Lord Caitanya and the Six Goswamis, and that we should be careful not to hear about Krishna from unknown or unauthorized sources.

Otherwise, Brahma, with that caveat I thank you and Varnadi for pointing out about the issue of possible corruption of various scriptures over time. We just have to be careful to learn about this issue from pure devotees and not from the mundane scholars, who really have little if any faith in Krishna and His various avataras, and cannot distinguish between bona fide and specious descriptions.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on August 24th, 2009
46 Suresh das

I was reading “Krishna Book” today and wondering what people in general who read your books think when they hear the stories of huge demons and supernatural creatures, super human actions and adventures on the part of Lord Krishna and Balarama, millions of men fighting and dying on battlefields, 16108 wives of Lord Krishna, etc. If they believe that it is just wonderful fiction, do they still get any benefit from reading and listening to these books?

What if someone doesn’t believe in the 5th Canto of “Srimad Bhagavatam”, and instead thinks it is just a story of science fiction, do they still get some benefit from reading Srimad Bhagavatam? What happens to the person who reads Srimad Bhagavatam, and who becomes angry or antagonistic towards the book and its philosophy?

If people who buy and read these books have no faith in them and even become offensive and antagonistic towards the Krishna Consciousness Movement as the result of being introduced to them, is it still a good idea to sell and distribute your books anyway? What was Srila Prabhupada’s opinion about this?

Comment posted by Suresh das on August 27th, 2009
47 Akruranatha

Suresh’s question in #46 is a variation on an objection we hear frequently raised. Might not our book distribution or vigorous preaching actually cause people to be offensive? Doesn’t Krishna enjoin us not to discuss Bhagavad-Gita with those who are not austere, devoted, and engaged in devotional service, or to those who envy Him?

One sannyasi from Siddha Yoga (Muktananda’s group) one challenged me in LAX airport amid a group of his followers, that by distributing these sacred scriptures to the public, people were tearing them up and desecrating them (he said people were passing stool on them).

Similarly, in our Motel Gita program (which by the way needs volunteers from temples all over the U.S and all over the world), many motel owners object that their guests will not know how to properly treat the books and will thus commit sins, resting hamburgers on them, tearing out pages to write phone numbers, etc.

We should rest assured that Srila Prabhupada encouraged vigorous book distribution in the face of all such objections. If a person even touches the book or even reads one verse or *one word*, his or her life may be changed! The benefit is enormous.

We are reminded of the story of Ramanujacarya, whose guru told him that by chanting this mantra (om namo narayanaya) one will obtain liberation, but that by revealing this sacred, secret mantra to the unqualified, he would go to hell. Sripad Ramanuja immediately began broadcasting the mantra to everyone, and when his guru confronted him he said, “If they may obtain liberation, I am prepared to go to hell.” His guru then embraced him and approved of his compassionate action.

Most people who read Krishna book these days at first think of it as some mythological story. For that matter, most people who chant Hare Krishna think of it as a material sound, at least at first. But for those with a little sincerity or innocence, that reading and chanting quickly clears away their sins and then they are able to appreciate the transcendental nature.

Of course, we should be mindful of Prabhupada’s instructions to avoid envious persons and not try to feed milk to a serpent. That is one of the cardinal rules for preachers. But when we first approach someone we cannot tell whether they are envious, and we try to think the best of them until we learn otherwise.

People sometimes think of Hare Krishnas as “pushy”, but this is Prabhupada’s urgent mood. When there is a fire we can’t relax. Distribute books!

Comment posted by Akruranatha on August 27th, 2009
48 Akruranatha

I found the following discussion between Sivarama Swami, Devamrta Swami, Kesava Bharati Swami and Niranjana Swami quite relevant to some of the discussion in this thread. Hear the audio recording here:

http://www.sivaramaswami.com/2.....es-part-1/

It begins with a reading of a conversation in which two devotees were raising challenging questions concerning inconceivable statements from Krishna book (such as a statement that King Ugrasena had 4 billion bodyguards). The devotee seemed to be urging Srila Prabhupada to allow them to explain such statements as “allegory”, but Prabhupada was not going along. In fact, he was clearly disturbed by the devotees and told them at the end that they should give up Krishna consciousness!

However, during the course of the discussion, Srila Prabhupada advised them not to mention those parts of the book when they were speaking to people that would raise those kinds of objections.

The actual conversation with Prabhupada was much longer, but Sivarama Swami skipped over a lot of the earlier, lengthy haranguing of Prabhupada by these devotees.

[One anecdote I heard from a devotee who said he was in L.A. when it happened and spoke to these two men right after they left the room, shaken from having been told by Prabhupada to give up Krishna consciousness, was that one of the men had been drinking alcohol before going in to challenge Prabhupada.]

I thought the analysis by the Swamis posted on Sivaram Swami’s website was very interesting.

None of the Swamis discusses Krishna-samhita by Bhaktivinoda Thakur, but it seems that they are not even slightly interested in making arguments such as “these things may be interpolations by later authors” or “these things are ‘artha prada’ and thus we may feel free to doubt them pursuant to ‘Adhunika Vada.’ ” It seems clear that Srila Prabhupada was in no mood to respond to such challenges in that way.

In the reading, Prabhupada clearly did not approve of the way these two devotees were challenging and trying to bring under their limited notions of reality these inconceivable descriptions of events in connection with Krishna’s pastimes (which abound throughout the Puranas).

In commenting, the Swamis explain aspects of Prabhupada’s literal approach to such descriptions (i.e., Prabhupada’s refusal to doubt that they really happened, although they may be beyond our ability to conceive or understand, due to our own defects or limits).

Comment posted by Akruranatha on September 7th, 2009
49 Akruranatha

One thing I really appreciated in the discussion of the swamis was Kesava Bharati Swami’s observation that among intellectuals, as among others, some will be innocent enough to accept Krishna’s inconceivable potency, and some won’t be.

When preaching we are looking for those who are actually candidates for understanding Krishna. Those who scoff at the inconceivable descriptions in the pure bhakti sastras are never going to get it. Others will be entranced and charmed by the transcendental words of the great Bhagavatas.

It is not that only intellectuals scoff, nor is it that no intellectuals appreciate. What is really going on is that four kinds of pious people surrender to Krishna and four kinds of miscreants do not. Among intellectuals there are pious jnanis and impious mayayapahrta jnana.

Similarly there are impious mudhas and pious distressed, impious naradhamas and pious people who approach Krishna for wealth, impious “asuram bhavas” and pious people who are curious about the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

The job of the preacher is to find a spark of devotional service in someone and fan it. Lord Caitanya makes it easy. Who does not like to sing and dance and taste palatable vegetarian sacred food?

Still there will be people, whether or not they are scientists and philosophers, who do not have sufficient sukrti to accept that Krishna can do anything, or to appreciate the superior transcendental intelligence that is behind all the descriptions of the Bhagavatam. We should not waste our time with them or butt heads and egos with them. We are looking for those pious people who will be sufficiently attracted to begin their service somehow, by taking a book or at least saying Krishna’s name. To leave everyone with a good impression sometimes we just avoid the tough customers.

Some people somehow, whether due to their practice of bhakti in previous lives (”purvabyasa”) or by the inconceivable mercy of Lord Caitanya, will have strong faith in these descriptions. Some of them will be accomplished scientists and philosophers, some will be humble florists and seamstresses. We want to gather them all up and exchange six kinds of loving exchanges with them.

It will help to have learned philosophers, powerful politicians, wealthy entreprenuers and attractive celebrities in our ranks, though. These talents and gifts of some of our members will help further the “Hare Krishna explosion” and usher in the golden age of Lord Caitanya.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on September 7th, 2009
50 Gauragopala dasa

The comments by WillemV and the comment by Pustakrishna dasa is something that should be researched and understood ‘now’ in these early pioneering years so that the preaching mission of Lord Caitanya is not questioned. The fact is, we do not see the full material universe with our biological eyes. Maybe parallel universes exist? Who knows? Frankly, the loving words of Pustakrishna is spot on and is the safest path>

Pustakrishna dasa says >-”The words of His Divine Grace. It is a matter of faith. Just like, once Srila Prabhupad said to me: “I do not think that there were dinosaurs. We do not get any information of this from the Vedas”. This was Srila Prabhupad’s vision. You may agree or disagree on any thing, but understand where Srila Prabhupad was coming from. He was not a country bumpkin either. He grew up in Calcutta, and attended the University for four years. He was an accomplished chemist and businessman for a number of years”.

It is a matter of faith, pure and simple.

From your fallen servant Gauragopala dasa

Comment posted by Gauragopala dasa on September 8th, 2009
51 Gauragopala dasa

Morning Walk, Los Angeles, June 8, 1976
760608MW.LA

Ramesvara: Srila Prabhupada, I was once told by some devotees that you had said in some previous age of Kali, the dinosaurs, gigantic animals, were on the earth.
Prabhupada: I said?
Ramesvara: They say that you said. (laughs)
Prabhupada: (laughs) I never said. I never bother with these nonsense things.
Ramesvara: They have got so many bones in the museums showing these gigantic animals.
Prabhupada: Not gigantic. There are bones. But that animal is still there, whalefish.
Ramesvara: Whalefish.
Prabhupada: Oh, yes. Very big body.
Ramesvara: Some have become extinct.
Prabhupada: Why they should be extinct?
Hrdayananda: No longer on the earth.
Ramesvara: No longer on this planet.
Prabhupada: (too much noise) Not necessarily. They are within the ocean.
Hari-sauri: No, other animals.
Prabhupada: What other animals?
Ramesvara: Those gigantic, they called them…
Hrdayananda: Brontosaurus.
Ramesvara: Tyrannosaurus.
Gigantic animals, they say are meat-eaters.
Hrdayananda: Dinosaurus.
Hari-sauri: Tetrasaurus.
Prabhupada: Another imagination. These are actual facts.(?)
Hari-sauri: They just made up different compositions of bones and then drew some outlines on them.
Prabhupada: Yes. They are imagination.
Hari-sauri: But you said in Hawaii though that there are some animals that are as big as skyscrapers?
Prabhupada: Yes, these are birds. It is far from this earth though. They travel from one planet to another.
Ramesvara: So these bones that they have found of these gigantic animals, they were all living underneath the water.
Prabhupada: Yes.
Ramesvara: Not on the land.
Prabhupada: Maybe. But the list is there: jalaja nava-laksani. There are 900,000 different forms, and how many we have seen? There is information in the sastra. Pasavas trimsal-laksani. Three million different types of animals.
Hari-sauri: We’ve seen a few hundred at most.
Prabhupada: That’s all. (laughs) That is also doubtful.

Comment posted by Gauragopala dasa on September 9th, 2009
52 Gauragopala dasa

Slideshow Discussion, Washington D.C., July 3, 1976
760703SS.WDC

Rupanuga: Did these dinosaurs exist, or is it just their imagination?
Prabhupada: The big animal exists. I call it dinosaur or finosaur, that is your choice. Big animals existing. Timingila, I said the name, Timingila, still exist.
Rupanuga: Still exist.
Prabhupada: Oh, yes. They are always existing. Water elephants. There are elephants in water. Everything.
Rupanuga: So there is no such thing as extinction.
Prabhupada: No extinction, there is no question of extinction.
Rupanuga: If these animals were on this planet some millions of years ago, they are still here, is that correct?
Prabhupada: Yes. What do you know what are there within the water? You can take information from the sastras. It is not possible for you to see and go into the water, how big, big animals are there.
Hari-sauri: But it’s possible that an animal may disappear from one planet, but still be on another planet, though, like that.
Prabhupada: No.
Hari-sauri: Because they claim that even within recorded history…
Prabhupada: They claim everything. That is… There is no question.
Svarupa Damodara: (indistinct) fossil, they are called fossil record.
Prabhupada: That is another thing. You can get a dead animal’s body, but what is that?
Svarupa Damodara: They claim that many species are extinct.
Prabhupada: How they are extinct?
Hari-sauri: Well, like, they say that within modern history,
Prabhupada: First thing is they are all imperfect speculators. So what is the value of their sport? We don’t take any value of it.
Rupanuga: They don’t know where these animals are, that’s all.
Prabhupada: They, simply like child, they are speculating. If he’s
imperfect, then what is the value of his speculation? There is no value.
Svarupa Damodara: But then what happens at the time of partial devastation? At the end of Manu, the partial devastation, what happens to the species?
Prabhupada: Happens means these different ways become destroyed, but again, during creation, they come in.

Comment posted by Gauragopala dasa on September 9th, 2009
53 Unregistered

Smashing the Scientists.

We believe that Krsna lila (which can only be accessed by grace derived from suddha bhakti), is governed in totality by achintya shakti. Therefore Krsna lila is open to endless trans-rational possibilities. We don’t teach that the eternal pastimes of Krsna are objectively verifiable phenomena.

On the other hand the idea being bandied about is that 5th canto cosmology, being a description of the material universe, is in fact some type of objectively verifiable phenomena—thus the concept of a Vedic planetarium.

While I’m not against the idea of a planetarium per se (which undoubtedly would attract a lot of tourists) I’m against the idea of the need to teach that 5th canto cosmology is in fact an objectively verifiable phenomena, and of course the idea that the need to accept a literal interpretation of 5th canto cosmology is somehow necessary to advance in bhakti.

Yes, truly the world has changed since the time that Srila Prabhupada was with us in the 60s and 70s. As another devotee in this forum so aptly put it, we are now in the information age, not the industrial age. With the click of a mouse doctrine and information can be scrutinized like never before, and quite frankly I’m embarrassed but much of what is preached in the name of “Smashing the Scientists”.

So far to my knowledge no scientists have been smashed by our presentation of 5th canto cosmology and if we continue in this vein we are likely to remain irrelevant to the intellectual community at large.

Actually the teachings Bhaktivinoda Thakura (artha prada etc.) are the real way to–Smash the Scientists.

Brahma

Comment posted by brahma dasa on September 9th, 2009
54 Akruranatha

Brahma said:

>>Therefore Krsna lila is open to endless trans-rational possibilities. We don’t teach that the eternal pastimes of Krsna are objectively verifiable phenomena.>On the other hand the idea being bandied about is that 5th canto cosmology, being a description of the material universe, is in fact some type of objectively verifiable phenomena—thus the concept of a Vedic planetarium.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on September 10th, 2009
55 Akruranatha

Okay, let me try again:

I accept that we do not teach that the pastimes of Krishna are “objectively verifiable” phenomena, in the sense that they can be perceived by everyones mundane senses. And the same may be true for the description of the cosmic layout of planets and their inhabitants as described throughout the Bhagavatam (why single out just the Fifth Canto?)

We do not teach that people can presently see Patalaloka or Maharloka with their human eyes or even with the aid of powerful telescopes, and the same is true of the residents of the sun, moon, or even the kingdom of Varuna within the sea. We cannot see them or prove their existence by “objective” sense data.

The Puranas and Epics are full of descriptions of other worlds and the beings who inhabit them, and we do accept these bona fide descriptions as factual (setting aside the separate issue of bogus descriptions that have been inserted into various texts by unauthorized authors). Factual simply does not equal “objectively (or empirically) verifiable.”

Part of the problem with modernity is that we are brainwashed to accept that only that which is objectively verifiable with our external senses is factual, but actually there is more in heaven and earth that is dreamt of in our (empirical science) philosophy, and the greater knowledge is knowledge of the Absolute Truth which can be perceived by those who control the senses and become purified of passion and ignorance.

And yet it is important to understand the Puranic description of the cosmos. Maybe not the details of exactly where things are located, but the fact that the universe is created with a purpose, that it is full of living entities, including the various demigods, sages and demons who inhabit other realms. The description of an arid, empty universe that is currently in vogue among empirical scientists does not correspond to the world we factually inhabit as conditioned living entities, nor is that view conducive to the practice of bhakti yoga.

The description of the Universe in Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-Gita is “subjectively” verifiable through the process of bhakti yoga and guru parampara. Advanced yogis can even travel to the various planets at will and directly perceive and interact withthe inhabitants there.

The concept of a Vedic planetarium was, as far as I know, Prabhupada’s idea. It is not a faulty concept. It is a powerful way to present the Srimad Bhagavatam to the public and propagate Krishna consciousness.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on September 15th, 2009
56 Akruranatha

Brahma, when you say you are not against the idea of a planetarium per se, which would attract a lot of tourists, the impression I get is that you are not very enthusiastic about it. You make it sound as if attracting many spiritual tourists to Mayapur is just “okay”, but not particularly interesting to you. Maybe I am reading you wrong (which is easy to do in these blogs). I hope I am.

My attitude is just the opposite. I get very excited about the prospect of a great planetarium temple which has the potential for bringing many people to Lord Caitanya’s doorstep, so to speak, and to generate interest in Srimad Bhagavatam and Krishna consciousness. I see it as Prabhupada’s order, and I see Prabhupada as one who is especially empowered by Lord Caitanya to spread Krishna consciousness all over the world.

What really “smashes” so many scientists (by convincing them to join the Hare Krishna movement) is the wonderful kirtans, prasadam, Prabhupada’s books, association with blissful devotees, beautiful Deity worship, and other things they will get in abundance when they come visit ISKCON Mayapur.

Now, you are right, we should be careful to preach about the Srimad Bhagavatam’s descriptions of the universe in a nice way, but we have to do it in accordance with Prabhupada’s instructions. He never says it is not “literally” true, or that some of what Sukadeva Goswami teaches Pariksit Maharaja is “artha prada” and thus worthy of being rejected when “better” empirical evidence is available.

I do not know enough about the teachings of Bhaktivinod Thakur with respect to “artha prada” in the Bhagavatam, but it seems to me that unless it jibes with Srila Prabhupada’s teachings we are surely misunderstanding something about either what Prabhupada is saying or what Bhaktivvinod is saying.

If Srimad Bhagavatam is free from fruitive and speculative ideas and is fit for liberated paramahamsas (as Bhagavatam itself declares), then why does it concern itself with “artha prada”? Maybe it is just that for those who take it as “artha prada” it is “artha prada”?

And then maybe as long as we don’t try to present the Vedic planetarium as an “objectively verifiable” map for mechanical space travel we can present it as “paramartha prada”?

After all, the creation of the material universe is also Krishna’s pastime. And though seeing the Universal Form is less important, He does display His Universal Form to substantiate His supremacy for nondevotees…

Comment posted by Akruranatha on September 15th, 2009
57 Akruranatha

Anyway many scientists are being “smashed” in the sense of becoming devotees of Lord Caitanya and Srimad Bhagavatam. Here at ISV our Venkatesh Prabhu completed his Physics Ph.D. from Stanford University last year, and our Bhakta Dr. Raxit Jarivalla is a distinguished medical researcher with a Ph.D. One of our two Bhakta Prasants is a Mathura-vasi by birth who is doing postgraduate science work at Stanford.

And there are many scientists in ISKCON all over the world.

You might object, these scientist devotees were already devotees before they became scientists or even before they read Prabhupada’s books, but I am sure they will all tell you they appreciate reading Prabhupada’s wonderful books (like “Easy Journey to Other Planets”) and how Srila Prabhupada discusses the difference between material and spiritual science.

And if some of us preach about Krishna consciousness and science in an “embarrassing” way, we should learn to do better. I guess that is why we are having this discussion. I hope to learn to do better.

I really think Prabhupada created Bhaktivedanta Institute so that scientist devotees could talk to other scientists about Krishna consciousness and Vedic philosophy in a way that can be respected by them, and I think that our BI scientists should of course be involved in how we present the Vedic Planetarium so that it is not “embarrassing” in any way.

But I guess where I am disagreeing with some devotees is the idea that certain descriptions of the universe in the Bhagavatam can just be written off as not accurate and not relevant. Maybe the number of years in a particular dynasty has been mis-transcribed (as Bhaktivinod Thakur and Varanadi pointed out). Okay. Big deal. Bhaktivinoda has given us the correct number.

But the idea that Sukadeva Goswami was mistaken about the location of Maharloka or Tapaloka or Atala, Vitala and Sutala lokas because the astronomy of his day was not as sophisticated as ours is today just seems laughable to me. Even with the new and improved Hubbel telescope, I do not think they can see the sages of Maharloka or the Nagas down in lower planetary systems. And yet we know Narada Muni can visit them at will.

I agree with you that our presentation should not be that we are better at empirical science. We have to present that perfect knowledge of Absolute Truth can be obtained through parampara. That includes true understanding of both phenomenal and noumenal, as Krishna says…

Comment posted by Akruranatha on September 17th, 2009
58 Akruranatha

How do we get that knowledge, without doubt, about the phenomenal (objectively perceived) and noumenal (factual spiritually existing) world? By practicing yoga in Krishna cosbciousness as explained in the Seventh Chapter of Bhagavad-Gita.

And what is that knowledge? It is not the details of how to manipulate matter in its endless mutations, but it is the real knowledge of what is matter, what is spirit, how both emanate from Krishna and are inconceivably simultaneously nondeifferent from Him and have their separate existence as His energy. That He is the adhibhuta, adhidaiva and adhiyajna, as is known by those who are free from all sin and fixed in Krishna consciousness, even at the time of death. “Vasudevah sarvam iti.”

That knowledge presented in Bhagavad Gita is the real science, the superior science that we have to teach the world. It is not “objectively verifiable” only in the sense that it requires control of the senses and mind and purification of the heart to perceive it. But it is “subjectively verifiable” for those nonenvious ones who are fortunate enough to have sraddha and to practice devotional service in a humble, tolerant, compassionate state of mind. “Pratyakshavagamam dharmyam.”

In 1991 in Vrindavana I asked H.H. Bhakti Caru Swami why we didn’t use archeology to prove the historicity of events mentioned in Mahabharata (like the battle of Kurukshetra). He very nicely explained to me that these empirical methods of proof are not our methods. We follow the path of parampara and devotional practices. Otherwise, what we see with our impurified senses may or may not correspond to the spiritual reality.

Atah sri krsna namadi na bhaved grahyam indriyaih sevonmukhe hi jihvadau…

We have to purify our senses and then everything becomes clear. Otherwise, even the transcendental land of Vrndavana may look to our material vision as a dirty, poverty-stricken place with a scorching arid climate where many sins are committed, and advanced devotees may seem to us to be old, diseased, weak, poor, socially inferior, or lacking in education or other material opulences. But we have to learn to see the internal character and not the outward appearance.

And the same is true, I believe, of the cosmic situation. It is not the combination of dust and impersonal forces seen by empirical science. It is full of demigods, demons and rare, pure devotees, if we could just see them. So, we listen to those, like Sukadeva, who can.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on September 17th, 2009
59 Unregistered

Akruranatha,

You say—“I accept that we do not teach that the pastimes of Krishna are “objectively verifiable” phenomena..and the same may be true for the description of the cosmic layout of planets and their inhabitants as described throughout the Bhagavatam.”

And: “It is important to understand the Puranic description of the cosmos. **Maybe not the details of exactly where things are located,** but the fact that the universe is created with a purpose that it is full of living entities….etc.”

So after all that’s been posted in this discussion it appears that you are in some kind of qualified agreement with my basic position, which I stated is as follows:

“Sukadeva’s vision of the cosmos as related in the 5th canto is not an objectively verifiable phenomenon thus our feeble attempts to explain it as such will remain within the realm of the imagination. And: Understanding and preaching (the details of) 5th canto cosmology is non-essential to the culture of bhakti.”

Since we are in agreement I will sign off of this discussion simply by repeating my opening statement.

The Bhagavatam is concerned with unalloyed bhakti. In the course of stressing bhakti, many subjects are discussed in the Bhagavatam that shed light on its principal topic either directly or indirectly (anvayad itaratah). Cosmology is not the primary focus of the text. It is discussed for the purpose of stressing that the material manifestation is a fathomless, endless transformation of the gunas (maya-guna-vibhuteh) and thus glorious as the sakti of God. Sukadeva does not claim that his subjective description of the universe is definitive. Indeed, he says the opposite: kastham manasa vacasa vadhigantum alam vibudhayusapi purusa, “No one can possibly explain or perfectly conceive of the nature of the material universe even in a lifetime of Lord Brahma.” (SB. 5.16.4)

Best wishes,

Brahma dasa
(ACBSP)

Comment posted by brahma dasa on September 18th, 2009
60 Akruranatha

Brahma,

Yes I am in some kind of qualified agreement with your basic position, and I feel that discussing it has enlightened me further.

I sometimes get a little nervous because I fear you may be saying something which is not the way I understand Prabhupada to be saying it, but I may be misunderstanding you, misunderstanding Prabhupada, or misunderstanding something else.

I am intrigued about the discussion of “artha prada” versus “paramartha prada” and what these terms really mean and how they are to be applied. I have not studied enough of the specific writings of Srila Bhaktivinod Thakur that explain his use of these concepts, but I expect that when I do I will find a way to harmonize them with Prabhupada’s teachings without even slightly undercutting the faith and reverence I have for the way Prabhupada has explained things.

I will say that (changing the subject a bit) one thing I have noticed is that it *does* make sense to distinguish between the kind of practical questions that we have to apply our intelligence to in performing our service, and sometimes learn by trial and error, and the eternal, clear truths of of general spiritual principles.

I think sometimes as devotees we have trouble distinguishing between these two kinds of knowledge, and that failure to recognize which is which causes much confusion and mischief, and maybe the ability to do so has a lot to do with how to become “madhyamadhikaris” or “saragraha” devotees.

I mean, the question “Is that a good place to distribute books?” is a different kind of question from “What is the constitutional position of the Jiva?” The former is one in which ascending knowledge may be worthwhile, or even mandatory.

Prabhupada did not just spoon feed us everything we need to know about how to spread Krishna consciousness all over the world. He left a lot for us to discover for ourselves, and he himself showed how to apply practical intelligence to sometimes try things and see whether they worked or not.

He also set an example of discussing and consulting with his disciples about how to do practical things, and thus showed us how to consult with each other and learn together how to please him correctly.

It is useful and important for us to carefully distinguish which instructions are the immutable, transcendental “orders of the spiritual master” that we have to make our life and soul, and which are practical ways of carrying out those orders, which we can learn to improve on.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on September 19th, 2009
61 Akruranatha

To give some concrete examples of what I am talking about:

I read an article where a godbrother was criticizing Jayadvaita Swami in very angry terms for suggesting that “down style” capitalization as suggested by Chicago Manual of Style (i.e., not capitalizing pronouns like You or He or She when referring to Radha and Krishna or Lakshmi and Vishnu) be used in certain BBT publications.

One of the things that got this devotee so angry was that Prabhupada had himself discussed the issue with Hayagriva and Satsvarupa Maharaja (in the old days there had been no clear standard as to what would be capitalized and what wouldn’t, and one thing we expect from any professionally published work is that there is at least some rules that are followed with internal consistency). To this devotee, it seemed that Jayadvaita Swami was blatantly ignoring an order of Prabhupada about how to show respect to Krishna in the written English language. I am sure from Jayadvaita Swami’s point of view, this is just a practical question about professional publishing and not some eternal immutable general principle that Prabhupada had any strong feelings about.

More significant perhaps, are questions about things like how (or whether) the GBC should decide who can serve as an initiating spiritual master within ISKCON. I suggest this is a practical question that ISKCON’s leaders had to carefully deliberate on and improve on over time.

While it is true that Srila Prabhupada wrote extensively about the qualifications of a bona fide guru, Prabhupada did not write extensively about ISKCON’s system for deciding who should actually serve in that capacity. He selected eleven devotees who would initiate as Prabhupada’s representatives while he was physically present, and who would then initiate their own disciples (Prabhupada’s grand-disciples) after he passed away. More could be added later as necessary and proper.

After some of the 11 zonal gurus fell down and were obviously unqualified, certain devotees began to suspect that Prabhupada must have given some different instruction that were suppressed or misinterpreted. Otherwise, how could the perfect acarya give us a faulty system?

My take on it is, Prabhupada had faith that his loyal followers would rise to the occasion and keep learning how to make the practical decisions necessary for successfully carrying on. He did not give a detailed “system” as such. Nor was his selection of the first 11 a guarantee they would not fail.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on September 19th, 2009
62 Akruranatha

I have no problem understanding how Prabhupada could instruct a disciple to be an initiating guru even though that disciple might later fail, just as Prabhupada initiated many young sannyasis who failed to keep their vows. He gave an opportunity to do a certain service, not a guarantee they would succeed.

But my larger concept is, there are eternal and universal principles, and then there are details. Some of the details are important effective methods that have been revealed to empowered acaryas for specific times and circumstances. Others may just be decided practically in terms of what works best (such as what “lines” are effective when selling books, or even which milk powder makes better “simply wonderfuls”).

It is not always easy to distinguish which instructions of Prabhupada were meant as transcendental, unchangeable orders, and which were meant as practical or even experimental decisions that could and even should be tinkered with.

I would say a fair assessment of Prabhupada’s mood was that we were too often apt to tinker with things that should not be tinkered with, and that in making such distinctions we should err on the side of making sure we were not disobeying Prabhupada’s actual desires. It is best not to be “over-intelligent” and bring the guru milk when he asks for water. This is an important principle that he drove home to us over and over.

But we also cannot be “under-intelligent” like the devotee (mentioned in Lilamrta) who did not inform Prabhupada and Kirtanananda that their guest from the U.N. had arrived. They were in the kitchen cooking a feast to serve sumptuous prasadam to the guest, and Prabhupada had said, “Don’t let anyone disturb us while we are cooking.” So when the guest came at the appointed hour, this devotee unfortunately said, “No one is to disturb the Swami”, and after waiting a while and feeling insulted, the guest finally left.

ISKCON is a society that needs practical, intelligent management and the ability to be flexible and resilient enough to adapt to changing conditions as the world changes and as ISKCON changes.

And yet, we have to be intelligent enough to know which instructions are not subject to analysis, doubt and revisions. Otherwise, we may make the grave error of not properly honoring the Acarya’s orders and instructions.

This understanding might be one application of the distinction between “artha prada” and “paramartha prada.” I don’t know. Comments, anyone?

Comment posted by Akruranatha on September 19th, 2009
63 Praghosa

From the Lilamrta:

In Vrndavana, Giriraja had seen Prabhupada a number of times, mostly on business. He also regularly took his turn in the kirtana vigils in Prabhupada’s room. But one day, wanting to take full advantage of Vrndavana, he went to visit some of the temples. At the end of the day he took rest for the night on the roof of the gurukula building. But in the middle of the night he was awakened by a devotee saying that Prabhupada wanted to see him. He ran down immediately, aware that Prabhupada might pass away at any moment. Anything Prabhupada might say could be his last words. He came into Prabhupada’s room, offered obeisances, and got up very close beside the bed.
“Do you think this movement can go on without me?” Prabhupada asked. Giriraja was astounded that Prabhupada had called him in the middle of the night to ask him this.
“I think,” said Giriraja, “that as long as we are sincere and go on chanting Hare Krsna and follow the principles, the movement will be successful.”
Srila Prabhupada was silent. When he spoke, each word seemed to come with great effort. He uttered the word organization. Then he said, “Organization and intelligence. Is there anything else?”
Giriraja felt within his heart that he wanted to cry out, “Srila Prabhupada, stay with us.” But instead he said, “No.”
“All right,” Prabhupada said. And Giriraja offered obeisances and left.

Comment posted by Praghosa on September 19th, 2009

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