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Happy birthday, Darwin?

But it is plain to see that the revolution caused by Darwinism gave rise to other materialistic intellectual currents, including so-called “social-Darwinism” associated with Herbert Spencer, and even the materialistic, racial antisemitism (as opposed to the religious kind) that became popular after the Franco-Prussian war and inspired Nazis.

As a point of historical reference, Herbert Spencer’s theories later known as Social Darwinism predated Darwin’s publications. Janet Browne’s recent two volume biography of Darwin offers a sophisticated portrayal.

It is a fact that the scientific and cultural influence of evolutionary theory is a complex topic offering many angles of analysis. Here’s a couple of interesting references from the Prabhupada database that are somewhat less non-accommodating:

Srimad Bhagavatam Purport 4.11.17 [excerpt]:
In Darwin’s theory there is no acceptance of the living entity as spirit soul, and therefore his explanation of evolution is incomplete. Varieties of phenomena occur within this universe on account of the actions and reactions of the three material modes, but the original creator, or the cause, is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is mentioned here as nimitta-matram, the remote cause…. There are many causes and effects, but the original cause is Sri Krsna.

Morning Walk and Room Conversation — December 26, 1976, Bombay
“That is the main point with the modern science and our Vedic knowledge. That is the main difference. They have no idea of the existence of the soul”.

» Posted By sdmuni On Mar 3, 2009 @ 5:43 pm

Haribol Prabhus!

Sorry for the two posts above. I didn’t realize the first post posted when I sent in the second.

Ajita Krishna dasa brings up many points popular among Darwin’s and evolution’s most severe critics. I might add that most of these understandable concerns were already dominant as ideas in English Victorian society by the time of Darwin’s publication of Origins. Still, as Akruranatha also points out, Darwin’s theory was already in the air throughout Europe as early as the early 1800s. Lamark published comparible ideas on progressive organic evolution nearly 50 years prior. Chambers also published a wildly popular work in England.

Meanwhile, Wallace was getting ready to publish an essay nearly mirroring Darwin’s treatise, unknown to anyone until Wallace sent a draft to Darwin for a prepublication opinion. At that point, Darwin presented both an abstract of his own then unfinished manuscript along with Wallace’s paper to the Linnean Society. Thus technically, the theory is called the Darwin-Wallace theory of evolution, as it was simultaneously proposed by both scientists.

Besides that, Spencer had been publishing ideas later called Social Darwinism decades before Darwin printed anything on biological evolution. Social Darwinism is more reflective of Ajita Krishna’s concerns.

But it is true, Darwin was hardly an innocent. But neither did Darwin take an active lead in promoting these agendas. Rather, Darwin focused on his naturalistic theories in Origins. But the point is well taken that Darwin was not entirely aloof from the influence of the dominant intellectual paradigm of Victorian society, one now considered racist and sexist.

Meanwhile, Wallace was far the more active social progressive. In fact, Wallace published a number essays explaining how natural selection could not account for the higher faculties of human consciousness. Rather, Wallace argued for a theory of intelligent design to account for them.

Nonetheless, I sympathize with Ajita Krishna Prabhu’s concern about Darwin as a symbol for larger issues, as its something evangelical atheists frequently do when they utilize Darwin as a symbol for their own metaphysical agendas for modern biology, and beyond. Dawkins one such leading example of someone promoting personal opinions while using science as a crutch. Strictly speaking, this sort of activity is something other than science, and it was something Prabhupada could vehemently criticize.

» Posted By sdmuni On Mar 3, 2009 @ 4:52 pm

quick note on Ajit Krishna Prabhus sellection of quotations – most of them came from impromptu conversations with disciples and other followers and guests who posed challenges that they viewed Darwinian evolution posed to the Vaisnava siddhanta. So it might be considered Prabhupada was also addressing the understandable concerns and doubts of the devotees reflected in such conversations.

For example, the oft repeated exchange concerning the idea that the more we kick on the theory, the more we advance came in reply to a devotee’s blunt statement that Prabhupada’s point that life comes from life and the evolution of the soul is contracted by Darwinism. And that of course was a popular understanding dominant during modernity, and still influential. So if the choice is either Darwinism or Vaisnavism, then that would not be much of a choice.

So while it is true such ideas are consider a part of popular conceptions of Darwinism promoted by a number of celebrity scientists, the actual historical reality of Darwin, Darwinism, and the state of the current theory as a science is significantly more complex.

Thus included among the quotations that Ajit Krishna Prabhu has posted should be Prabhupudas presentation at the University of Nairobi and before the Indo-American Society in Calcutta, both relatively sophisticated and educated audiences. In these settings, Prabhupada specific claim was that Darwin had it wrong on the issue of not acknowledging the soul and its spiritual evolution, and left it at that. I would argue Prabhupada left much of the rest for his impromptu exchanges with his followers.

The point here being that discretion is often the better part of valor, something Prabhupada also taught his followers to engage. It appears Prabhupada’s consistent theme regarding evolution was that (1) life comes from life, (2) the importance of the evolution of the soul as compared to the idea of biological evolution, (3) that the “apartments” (apparently the Padma Purana uses the term jata) always exist – and from our paradigm such forms would not be limited to earth, or even our universe, and that (4) the human form has capacities beyond the animalistic – in fact, it is designed for self-realization.

I would add that the social and scientific phenomena of evolutionary theory is many layered, and quoting Prabhupada’s statements, especially from conversations and letters, without context, is not always entirely revealing.

» Posted By sdmuni On Feb 28, 2009 @ 11:38 pm

I think we can also add Prabhupada’s talks at the University of Nairobi and before the Indo-American Society in Calcutta, where Prabhupada comparatively mildly expressed that Darwin was wrong for not recognizing the soul, and that real evolution involved consciousness.

Many of these more severe quotes were made during impromptu conversations with disciples and guests, many who felt that it could either be Darwin, or KC, but not both. For example, Prabhupda’s famous kicking quotation came after it had been stated how it appeared that Darwin contradicted everything Prabhupada was saying about the soul and its spiritual evolution. In such a case, Prabhupada would wholeheartedly defend a popular conception of the Vedic paradigm rooted in the philosophy of the Bhagavatam.

It could be useful to recall that when discussing these topics with his disciples and guests, Prabhupada was often arguing against popularized conceptions of Darwin and his theory, conceptions that was not always historically, or scientifically (for what that is worth) accurate.

It can also be remembered that the Vaisnava tradition has a well articulated conception of the self as being essentially independent of its current gross and subtle designation, while in contrast from our perspective, western theology confuses the soul with the human body and mind. Not only do we, as jiva-atmas, not come from the primates, but neither do we come from other human beings – we are part and parcel of Krsna, and eternally so. Vaisnavas do not have the same philosophical challenges when confronting evolutionary theory as other traditions, with their traditionally limited concepts of time and space and self.

Yes, Prabhupada could critique modern evolution, and why not? But then at other times he could appear almost accommodating, particularly before a sophisticated audience. And then what to speak of Bhaktinoda Thakur’s argumentative strategies….

Suffice to say, this is a deep and multilayered topic. Whatever the case may be with current dominant scientific paradigms, human life does appear to facilitate self realization beyond anything apparently afforded within other biological forms as exhibited on earth. Putting that to good use is undoubtedly our first order of business, especially as afforded within our current human form, however it may or may not have manifest over time.

» Posted By sdmuni On Feb 28, 2009 @ 1:53 am

According to a well-known approach the evolution theory should be integrated into religious teachings. Proponents of this idea say that, although the creation of the world was initiated by God, the species are not the products of His actions but of natural processes.

Whatever Darwinian evolutionary theory may or may not be – and after all, all scientific theories are incomplete due to never having all the evidence, or never being certain if the current explanatory model is indeed the best of all possible explanations (if only based on never being certain if all the relevant evidence is currently available) – even Darwin could speculate that evolutionary theory may well be seen as manifestation of secondary causation of an all powerful Being.

In other words, natural causation is not something beyond the influence of an omnipotent omniscient Deity. Even the Vaisnava tradition sees Krsna as managing the material energy through secondary principles such as the demigods, the three modes of material nature, or possibly the Goddess Durga – who’s potency is beyond that of an ordinary celestial being, and so on. Rather, Krsna’s primary interests involve his unalloyed loving exchanges with his pure devotees. At the same time, He is completely in control, according to His desire, of all His potencies.

Nonetheless, Isvara Krsna’s Prabhus point, and sentiments, are well taken that modern evolutionary theory is often considered as a form of religious ideology by atheistic evangelicals, and that is just plain not good science, or even just plain science.

As for Charles Darwin’s happy birthday-not, one transcendental angle could be: just chant Hare Krsna, and it will all go away!

In conclusion, it is good to always remember that all scientific theories are by nature tentative, and it is impossible to predict with certainty what future scientists will deem to be the most credible explanatory model, assuming they may well have at their disposal natural scientific evidence about which we in the present currently know nothing about.

» Posted By sdmuni On Feb 13, 2009 @ 9:53 pm

DemonCrazy (“Democracy”)

Sorry to sound especially critical of the essay, but …. many of these issues about democracy are nothing new, or even particularly spiritual. They were current thousands of years ago in Ancient Greece as well as were issues debated when the US founded it democratic republic. Much of the attractiveness to holding the government accountable to its citizenry stems from centuries of grossly inept performance by what passed for the brahmnical and ksyatriya classes. In large part the move towards modern republicanism became an issue of picking the best card still available in the deck, so to speak. I would also add that the above critique of the history of the electorial college is a bit simplistic.

Anything can be engaged, even if its not to the highest standard. That is something most of the architects of modern democracy (what to speak of modern academics & intellectuals critiquing it) would readily admit to as being an issue part and parcel of the system – that it is hardly anything close to being flawless.

But as a part of a formal response, there could be added consideration to the idea that there is more to establishing the culture of varnasrama then griping about the alleged ineptitudes of democracy, or even the GBC for not authoritarian-ly establishing varnsasrama via administrative power. Without a mature bramanical culture, there will be no mature varnasrama society. And our shared reality involves, after all, a very young social institution, albeit one dedicated to very high ideals, while one not having all that much to work with in very difficult times. Obviously, the vision needs to be retained as we take our progressive steps forward.

But without a mature society of realized brahmanas (something that cannot be “manufactured” with good intentions alone) what could unfortunately get established might be a quasi theocratic political autocracy, and there is no guarentee how favorable such a system of government would be to the principles of pure devotional service.

Hmm, for example, how many Vaisnava temples might we expect to count in large swaths of the middle east?

Yes, the virtues of Anglo-American-South Asian style democracy has often been oversold by those with a political agenda. That point is also well taken. But then neither is pure devotional service established through political prowess.

» Posted By sdmuni On Nov 12, 2008 @ 3:12 pm

Nine Reasons to Change the Design of the TVP

Unfortunately the wording of these questions are slanted towards a disproving response. That undermines the credibility of whatever the tally turns out to be.

On the other hand if the pollsters want to solicit opinions critiquing the status quo, then the information could prove useful in that context.

As Carana Renu Prabhu points out, “Now if you approve the design, you will see no need for further action,” which is likely true. I doubt approvers will feel encouraged to write in, especially with only one positive option available versus five leading off with a negative declaration.

What to speak that the critical opinions of the pollsters are made so clear in advance. While that can be lauded as being honest, unfortunately it doesn’t inspire confidence that this is a poll designed to deliver an objective result.

» Posted By sdmuni On Aug 22, 2008 @ 6:59 pm

COMPROMISE – Modern Secularism Vs Vaisnava Dharma

However, I am presently more interested in how we are changing the way in which ISKCON itself operates. For example over the last ten years we have seen an increasing amount of senior devotees going to university to obtain secular qualifications and/or training. When Srila Prabhupada wanted that we make professionals into devotees. Not the other way around.

Sure an individual must do the needful but it is vitally important that the senior devotees such as Sanyasis, Gurus, Senior Administrators and Advisors maintain strictly the principals that Srila Prabhupada clearly outlined.

Yeah, this is a very big topic (aren’t they all) that raises numerous fundamental points, so a few more sound bites (on my part, mostly) aren’t going to conclusively settle much, most certainly.

But having clarified my qualifications, didn’t those statements attributed to Srila Prabhupada come up in the context of the earlier days of the movement when our devotees had yet to gain practical experience as Vaisnavas, even with regards to engaging their own good selves? I do recall the conversation between Srila Prabhupada and some new devotee’s Mother and her Jesuit priest where the argument presented was, wouldn’t it be better to encourage the kid go get his medical degree before joining the cult, so to speak?

So arguably it would have be much smarter back in the 60s/70s to go get a doctor to chant a few rounds than the other way around – after, back in the day, after a week the good doc likely would know what’s up about Krsna as much as a good portion of those glorious early Western prabhus upholding the principles of pure devotional service for all to see. From this angle, Prabhupada was the most pragmatic.

But now its the other way around – kind of. We now find ourselves with devotees with decades of experience coupled with a (somewhat) far more mature and sophisticated Iskcon devotional culture, no matter what the current complaints may or may not be.

Anyway, I do agree with your main point (as far as I can figure it all out right now) that whatever we are doing, best we engage it for Krsna’s pleasure, and not for getting ourselves lost exploring some artificial pretext. Do both, I’d say, though not the “lost” part.

» Posted By sdmuni On Mar 22, 2008 @ 10:06 pm

I can understand what the author, Krishnacandra prabhu, in the Compromise article
is saying very well but I cannot understand what you are saying with terms
such as ‘Normative. Pragmatic Compromise.’

I think in the context here, in everyday devotional language, “pragmatic compromise” would refer to applying the philosophy according to time, place and circumstances. Or applying the siddhantic principles of Vaisnavism according tho the current needs, or requirements, of the patient.

I believe, actually, it was Krishancandra Prabhu who introduced the concept of “normative,” which often refers to the norm, or standard – but I may not have that entirely correct.

But I would also agree, “corporate new age” stuff isn’t what we need. But sometimes high level, professionally skilled propensities for dealing with practical challenges can be useful. But if the talent is going to be engaged in Krsna consciousness, well, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. So we generally say that requires careful consideration in light of guru, sadhu and sastra.

Even Maharaja Yudhistira, who was Dharmaraja himself, constantly sought out the counsel, or advice, of the serious, steady Vaisnavas, or sadhus. Best thing, though, is to find a devotional environment where we can draw strength and enthusiasm from. Its not like we are going to think our way Back to Godhead, even though sometimes the new age types do claim, “thinking is the best way to travel”!

» Posted By sdmuni On Mar 14, 2008 @ 3:46 pm

Devotees who tend to be liberal, or progressive, in their social views tend to think of all but the highest rules and regulations of shastra as utilitarian, or a means to some desired end. Devotees who tend to be more conservative and traditionalist in their views tend to think of the rules and regulations of shastra as normative, or the means to some desired end.

It is the normative view, not the utilitarian view, that best explains Srila Prabhupada’s time, place, and circumstance adjustments together with his persistent advocacy of the proper standards of behavior found in a civilized society.

An important point, no doubt. But one can also argue that the actual desired end IS unalloyed devotional service, and not simply a “proper standard of behavior found in civilized society.” Reawakening that original relationship is the purposeful point of the human form, civilized or not.

But most certainly, having these cultural standards of civilization is something Prabhupada emphasized, and for good reason.

» Posted By sdmuni On Mar 11, 2008 @ 1:32 pm

“Krishnaizing” the mainstream consumer-based culture and creating a separate, spiritual, agrarian culture can go on side by side, can’t they? Won’t they?

Oh, I’d definitely agree on that point. It does go on.

Obviously there are a vast array of limitations regarding modern consumer/industrial capitalism to which not just the 60s hippies and esoteric Vaisnavas are aware. For example the Catholic Church regularly complains about the commodification of human life under modern capitalistic social/economic systems, which I’m also under the impression is one of their angles in arguing against freely legally available abortion as something that cheapens human existence into a disposable product.

But even within the “grand american experiment,” which also predates the rise of market capitalism, there has always been an undercurrent of disenchantment with mindless mudha-holic consumerism as per NE Transcendentalisn, elements of the Second Great Awakening, much of the 20th Century intellectual left, and of course the Beats and Hippies who came forward to help Srila Prabhupada establish Gaudiya Vaisnavism beyond the limitations of South Asia.

So in a sense, nothing new under the sun on some of these points.

But beyond all that, I’d add that much of the Varnasrama model is also a means to an end. That end being, of course, unalloyed devotional service, hardly a bitter experience! Cultural paradigms rooted in the knowledge producing mode of goodness are very facilitating.

» Posted By sdmuni On Mar 11, 2008 @ 1:19 pm

at the risk of sounding like a hopeless contrarian, it could appear that according to Srila Prabhupada’s statement below, pragmatic “compromise” is an integral part of instilling Krsna consciousness in society at large. Possibly, then, the key issue is being self aware of your purpose, your ultimate goal.

It would be difficult to argue that Srila Prabhupada was something other than exceedingly pragmatic in establishing a world wide movement, a vision he expressed from the very start.

ys Sthita-dhi


These are the examples. Nothing is bad… Nothing is good if it is not purposeful. That is the whole purpose of teaching Bhagavd-gita. Nothing is good; nothing is bad. Everything is good, everything is bad, in this material world, but we have to see. Just as the common phrase goes, “The end justifies the means. The end justifies the means.”

Bg Lecture: 3.21-25
NYC 30May1966

» Posted By sdmuni On Mar 7, 2008 @ 10:04 pm

Vaishnava Ontological Argument

>its funny how some devotees doesn’t like logic. Prabhupada used the design argument over and over and said that it was evidence of a God. So I can’t understand why some devotees do not accept this argument and argue against it – as for example when they reject Intelligent Design.

the issue there is that you can’t conclusively test the proposition – at least not with any known science, which is an empirical discipline employing naturalistic methods.

thus scientifically proving (and there is no scientific proof of anything – every conclusion is tentative based on available evidence and a hypothesis that offers an apparently ‘most’ reasonable fit) God is impossible. What are you going to do – put an alleged God in a test tube with a dye, and if it turns blue, viola, Krsna!!

But more seriously, I think part of this issue with “proving” God with Science it the idea somehow Science can actually prove something. It can’t, via its own philosophical parameters. There is always more evidence, and always more hypotheses. And Prabhupada even said so!!

Nonetheless. the design argument is a powerful philosophical argument. But as with every logical argument, it can always be counter argued. Such is the bliss of punditry.

But I wish I could follow the technical philosophy involved better – its a whole language! But it is most important as it helps set a tone for the conversation among high end philosophers, and then subsequently the culture at large.

» Posted By sdmuni On Oct 25, 2007 @ 12:05 am


I still need to read the paper through, but also working on a dissertation in the history of science so this topic comes up all the time from that perspective.

One general thought I’ve been having concerning “proof” of God’s existence – isn’t the material nature designed such that one can see anything, everything, or nothing concerning the existence of a Supreme Deity? That’s the whole point of it – to allow the jiva to indulge in a wide variety of misconstrued fantasies that appear to limit or remove Krsna’s presence.

When the heart is a little pious then one might begin to look for evidence of God’s existence, but even then, its not that we will be able to capture Krsna with our intelligence. Human intelligence can only guide us in a certain direction, and then at some point one has to begin to approach Krsna with a sense of friendship and devotion, or bhakti, like that. Ultimately Krsna (and the self) is only fully revealed through devotional service, as we say.

So that’s just some general idea, but nonetheless, these things have been discussed by philosophers since time beyond memory, so best to turn the tempo of the debate towards something of lasting value, no doubt about it.

Sthita-dhi-muni dasa

» Posted By sdmuni On Oct 10, 2007 @ 1:16 am


Dawkins and Dennet are considered idealogues even within the sciences and much of academia. One angle on why these atheistic philosophers (and their audiences) appear to be getting so over enthused is that they are feeling the pressure of a theistic siddhanta about which they really have no clue. Many of their attacks on the cultural ramifications of materialist religion are not all that off base, but their ‘solution’ is worse than the disease.

I was just listening to Dawkins ‘preach,” and as with many of these types, they almost worship the material creation in a sort of universal form awe and reverence mode.

Darwin himself was for the most part a Deist – he entertained the possibility of a God who created the cosmos. He admitted to having no intelligent idea as to how life started, (“its like a dog trying to understand the mind of Newton,” is his famous quote on the subject.) Coincidently, current empirical understandings remain murky as best. Darwin also speculated on how that which may appear to be as if by chance from the human perspective would hardly be so for an all powerful omniscient being.

» Posted By sdmuni On Jun 4, 2007 @ 12:21 am


In regards to comment #10

“Thus a Vaisnava is duty bound to accept only Lord Krsna as supreme, otherwise one cannot be accepted as a follower of Vaisnava Philosophy.”

Hmm, what about Hanuman who preferred to worship Rama, no matter? Doesn’t Vaisnava mean worshiper of Visnu? I suppose a GoVaisnava would be an exclusive worshiper of Govinda.

Go Vaisnavas!

» Posted By sdmuni On May 25, 2007 @ 1:50 am

Yes, there is one God since by definition there cannot be two “Supremes.” Well, maybe three Supremes, but that is a different historical discussion pertaining to pop culture in the 1960s.

The more important concern than why there are so many ‘religions,’ – something that could possibly be considered in terms of professing a connection with God – is the quality of the relationship that the individual or cultural tradition claims to possess. The external trappings of that relationship may well change according to time and place (and sincerity and realization,) but the essential quality of pure devotional service itself remains transcendent.

In other words, it is something that can manifest in any culture, even in any species, being that it is an inherent quality of the jiva who’s conditional journey is accompanied by the Supersoul, so we have been told.

“Even a dog can chant . . .”

» Posted By sdmuni On May 10, 2007 @ 6:59 pm

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