“Varaha” (SB 3.13.26)
The Vedic tradition describes a multifaceted reality that accounts for a diversity of features as part of a comprehensive grand scheme. Thompson elaborates on this theme in within the context of the pastimes of Lord Varaha as described in this verse. He then appropriates the mathematical expression “higher dimensional” to illustrate the inability of ordinary sense perception to fully appreciate the natural world.
TRANSCRIPT: Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto 3, Chapter 13, Text 26. “Varāha.” Alachua - 1996 / (030)
Playing like an elephant, He entered into the water after roaring again in reply to the Vedic prayers by the great devotees. The Lord is the object of the Vedic prayers, and thus He understood that the devotees’ prayers were meant for Him.
Purport by Śrīla Prabhupāda:
The form of the Lord in any shape is always transcendental and full of knowledge and mercy. The Lord is the destroyer of all material contamination because His form is personified Vedic knowledge. All the Vedas worship the transcendental form of the Lord. In the Vedic mantras the devotees request the Lord to remove the glaring effulgence because it covers His real face. That is the version of the Īśopaniṣad. The Lord has no material form, but His form is always understood in terms of the Vedas. The Vedas are said to be the breath of the Lord, and that breath was inhaled by Brahmā, the original student of the Vedas. The breathing from the nostril of Brahmā caused the appearance of Lord Boar, and therefore the boar incarnation of the Lord is the personified Vedas. The glorification of the incarnation by the sages on the higher planets consisted of factual Vedic hymns. Whenever there is glorification of the Lord, it is to be understood that Vedic mantras are being rightly vibrated. The Lord was therefore pleased when such Vedic mantras were chanted, and to encourage His pure devotees, He roared once more and entered the water to rescue the submerged earth.
I was once told I had given a lot of classes on Lord Varāha – here we go again. The situation here is somewhat hard to understand from the modern viewpoint. Lord Varāha has appeared from the nostril of Brahmā and He is about to enter into the ocean to lift up the earth, which had become submerged. So, to understand this in terms of the geometry of space in the situation of the planets, as understood in modern terms, is rather difficult. For example, where is the ocean into which the earth could become submerged? So, the... actually, if you examine the Purāṇas you’ll find that the earth which is being lifted up from the ocean is Bhu-mandala, which is essentially described as a disk about two billion miles in radius.
So, that makes it even more difficult to comprehend, actually, in the 5th canto in one purport, Śrīla Prabhupāda has an untranslated block of Sanskrit texts from Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura, in which various measurements pertaining to Bhū-maṇḍala are described. And in that text, actually, the radius of Bhū-maṇḍala is given as being slightly less than the radius of the shell of the universe. And Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura comments that this enables the Bhū-maṇḍala to move up and down, because if its diameter was exactly the same as that of the shell of the universe, there would be no leeway for movement. So, he said that this allowed the earth to be lifted up by Lord Varāha, and he said it also gave Ananta Śeṣa something to do to support the earth, because if in fact the diameter of the disk was equal to that of the shell, then it would be rigidly in place and Ananta Śeṣa wouldn’t have anything to do in that case to support the earth. So, this was the statement made in that purport, so, this is somewhat difficult to understand from the modern point of view. Actually, the situation that is described here could be understood as higher-dimensional – it is not limited to the three dimensions of space as we know them.
This is the case that I have presented on various occasions, but there’s a great deal of evidence in the Vedic literature that even the material world is not limited to the three dimensions of space as we know them. Actually, the term higher-dimensional is derived from modern mathematics and it focuses on the idea of space. Śrīla Prabhupāda has stressed that the senses of the conditioned living beings are limited in their power, and this is actually another way to understand the idea of something being higher-dimensional. Namely, that our senses are not able to perceive the full extent of what is actually present around us, even within the material world.
So, the scene that is described here would be higher-dimensional in that sense. Of course, the incarnation of the Lord can only be seen by those whom the Lord chooses to have that hallowed vision. And of course, we know in the Bhagavad-gītā that when Kṛṣṇa manifested His universal form, He gave Arjuna the eyes with which to see that form. Essentially, it wasn't a question of exhibiting a form that could be seen with ordinary vision, but actually Kṛṣṇa had to alter the vision or the perceptive power of Arjuna so that he could perceive the universal form. In fact, what Arjuna saw would be rather difficult for anyone to even imagine seeing standing in one place on the earth because he saw many different places within the universe simultaneously, and he saw the universal form which had unlimited hands, unlimited arms and legs and so on and so forth. The effulgence of this form was like that of thousands of suns rising simultaneously. Of course, if we look at the one sun we immediately become blinded, so, how could Arjuna perceive all of this? Well, this was done by actually altering his power of vision in a suitable way. So in general, that would be required in order to fully see what is going on within the universe. Some of our descriptions of the universe are... let’s say, somewhat simplified in that various things are represented in one model, which actually cannot be directly seen from a given perspective.
One example would be the standard picture of Garbhodakaśāyī Viṣṇu laying on Ananta Śeṣa with the stem of the lotus flower coming out of his navel. Then there's the lotus flower, and you see Brahmā sitting on the lotus flower. So, this is all presented in one picture, but we know that when Brahmā awoke to consciousness at the beginning of the creation of the universe, he wanted to find out his origin, and he reasoned that since he had emerged from the lotus flower that the origin must lie at the root of the stem of that flower. So he tried to follow the stem downward using the power of his senses, but he was unable to find where the stem originated.
Now when we look at the paintings it’s very easy to see where the stem originates, but Brahmā couldn't see it. So that shows that the painting is presenting a simplified version for the sake of our understanding. Actually, Brahmā, it is said, explored the stem and he reached the limit of his time – he wasn't able to trace out where the stem originated. So then he heard these two syllables, ta-pa, being vibrated, and because of intelligence, probably inherited from his previous existence, he understood what that meant, and he began to meditate on the lotus flower. And ultimately, when the Lord was pleased with him, he had the vision of Lord Viṣṇu, but by the power of his senses up to that time, it wasn't possible for him to see a Garbhodakaśāyī Viṣṇu.
So in this case, Lord Varāha has appeared from the nostril of Brahmā and he directly witnessed this. Initially, Lord Varāha appeared in a very small form suitable for the size of Brahmā’s nostril. Of course, that may not be exactly small. So... and then Lord Varāha expanded to immense size. So this process of expansion, by the way, is interesting: this is one of the siddhis known as mahimā-siddhi. There are two related siddhis: mahimā and aṇimā-siddhi, which are the power of expansion and contraction, so these have played a very frequent role in the Vedic literature. And it's interesting to note that the scale on which the demigods are carrying out their activities is much larger than the scale of the world here on the earth. So that when beings from the higher planets come to the earth, they change their size in order to come here. So there's a natural process of expansion and contraction that takes place. So, that's another aspect of the universe as described in the Vedic literature.
Perhaps, the ultimate example of this process would be the occasion in which Krsna and Arjuna travelled through the shells of the universe to meet Mahā-Viṣṇu. So, Mahā-Viṣṇu is on a much greater scale of size even than this entire universe, but Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna were able to speak with Him, so, they must have been on a comparable scale when they were doing that. So that means that when they traveled to see Mahā-Viṣṇu, they had to expand to a very large degree and then again contract when they came back, but this is a standard feature in the Vedic literature.
So, in the purport Śrīla Prabhupāda refers to the fact that in the Vedic mantras the devotees request the Lord to remove the glaring effulgence because it covers his real face. This is actually text 15 in the Īśopaniṣad. So, this is an interesting statement; even there’s a school of thought which holds that actually this glaring effulgence of the brahmājyoti is in fact the ultimate supreme entity, or God. And according to this concept, if you can remove the covering provided by the material energy and see this brahmājyoti, then you've actually seen God. But in the Īśopaniṣad, it is saying that... well, the prayer is given to the Lord to please remove the glaring effulgence so that I can see your face.
So, the understanding of the impersonal school of thought is actually limited. It is the fact that the manifestation of the material energy is in effect blocking our vision of the brahmājyoti, but then the brahmājyoti itself, if we could see it, would be blocking our vision of Kṛṣṇa. So there are many different levels of perception. So it’s also stated here that Lord Varāha is the personified Vedas, and there's a whole series of verses elsewhere describing how different parts of the body of Lord Varāha correspond to different Vedic sacrifices and so forth. So, the... this is interesting, let's see... yes, Śrīla Prabhupāda says here, “The boar incarnation of the Lord is the personified Vedas.”
So, this is reminiscent of the Christian concept that in the beginning there was the word, and that relates to the other class that I gave on the form of the body of Lord Brahmā, namely that Brahmā’s body was a manifestation of transcendental sound. There's the verse describing the different parts of Lord Brahmā’s body in terms of different aspects of sound vibrations, such as the different letters of the Sanskrit alphabet and the notes of music and so forth. So this verse is continuing to refer to that theme. This is interesting in the sense that the creation of the material world can be thought of in terms of information. The whole concept of the creation is one in which you have form initially existing on the spiritual platform and then transforming to the subtle platform of material existence and then finally the gross platform. And the common feature tying together all these different aspects of forms would be information.
For example, these material bodies are basically simulations, you might say, of ultimately the spiritual body. They're made by putting together different material atoms into different combinations, but the pattern of combination is the essential thing. The atoms themselves are not actually the determining factor in the definition of the material body, but it is rather the pattern in which the atoms are put together. In modern biology, scientists have seized upon this concept to give a definition of life. They say that life can be defined in terms of patterns, and they have the idea that if you could reproduce the pattern of the human form in using some other substance, you would have created or recreated human life.
This has led to the concept, for example, of artificial intelligence. The scientific idea is that if you could take the pattern of the human brain and embody that in terms of information in a computer, then you could create human intelligence in a computerized form. This is also... there's a related concept of artificial life: there's a whole group of scientists who are saying that if we can understand properly the patterns defining life, then by duplicating that within a computer we can create life. So, this idea is going on, but actually the original life is on the spiritual platform, but by taking the pattern or the information corresponding to this original life, not the original life in its full extent but only in partial form, you can mold/map material elements to produce various simulated forms of that original life and these are the material bodies. So, this is in effect a transformation of information from the original spiritual form to a simulated, external form; and so in that sense, this idea of information is a useful theme for understanding the idea of creation in the Vedic literature. So, those are a few observations. Are there any comments or questions? Murli?
Answer: Well, one can speculate that maybe they slipped even deeper – that's a possibility I suppose. I haven't seen a definite reference to that, there's a curious discussion of Rasātala in a later verse here, let's see, where was that? Oh, yes, rasāyām, this is text 30. It is stated that...well, Śrīla Prabhupāda says in the purport, the word rasāyām, which is used in this verse, is sometimes interpreted to mean Rasātala, the lowest planetary system, but that is not applicable in this connection, according to Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura. The earth is seven times superior to the other planetary systems, namely; Tala, Atala, Talātala, Vitala, Rasātala, Pātāla etc. Therefore, the earth cannot be situated in the Rasātala planetary system. He then says, therefore, the earth... therefore the Lord found the earth on the bottom of the Garbhodaka Ocean, for the planets rest during the devastation at the end of Brahmā’s day. So that's curious, because that would seem to say the earth was below Rasatala, but then again, it is said that the earth cannot be situated in the Rasātala planetary system. Hmm… well, anyway, that sheds some more murk on his question. But we're talking about sinking into the bottom of the ocean in any case.
Q: I have some more questions, could you say the universe is like a man, so, when Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura says that Bhu-mandala doesn’t exactly reach to the limit of the egg, so that can move up and down, and of course, it depends on how much… [unclear]
A: No, as a matter of fact, in connection with what I just read about the earth being on the bottom of the Garbhodaka Ocean, according to that model, it can only slip down to a certain distance. We could calculate how much, but I don’t have the figure right offhand. But actually, it's not a very large gap; I forget the figure, but a fairly small gap. But of course, the distance by which the earth could slip down would be much larger, if you consider describing the edge of the sphere and moving in slightly and then moving down, but that would seem to be a limitation.
Q: The final question, the same regardless, you know now Ananta Śeṣa holds up Bhu-mandala? Where was he when there was a slip?
A: Well, maybe he decided, “Well, okay, now I’m going to relax my hold and let it slip.” I suppose that’s possible. Yes.
A: Well, they’re trying to duplicate the patterns of information, basically because they would like to take the position of being in control of life. This is the basic ambition, to take the position of God, actually. And in principle, you could manipulate those patterns of information by material means; however, it's certainly beyond the technology we have at the present time. One would think that the scientists might be impressed, actually, by the complexity of the informational patterns that they find, for example, in living cells. Unfortunately they're immune to being impressed by this. They manage to somehow think that: Well, it just came about by a process of evolution and now it’s here for us to manipulate.
But actually, within one living cell, the machinery that is present there is beyond anything that has ever been built by humans in any form and the chances that we’ll be able to duplicate that very soon are quite slim. And yet a living cell is also smaller than any mechanism that human beings have built. Of course, the whole trend with computers is to make microprocessors smaller and smaller, but no one can yet equal a single bacterium in terms of organization of matter. So, they're trying to imitate what Kṛṣṇa did, but they have a long way to go.
A: How do they perceive it? Well, primarily, in modern science they're using chemistry in different forms and you can learn something about the structure of molecules through chemistry. It's a deductive process based on observing different things you can directly see with your senses. This is the hard way to do things, but of course, this point about subjective consciousness is relevant because Kṛṣṇa's way of doing things would be to directly create a mental image which would embody in detail all the information in its patterned form, and it would then become manifest and begin to operate. Whereas the human method is: we have to try and manipulate things with our hands. Of course, the word manipulate is based on manus in Latin, which is hand. So, it's a very clumsy thing to do, because we're trying to manipulate atoms but we can only move very large objects, so, we're really doing things the hard way. So anything else? Yeah?
Q: How can you... how is it... I think you have the techniques to thinking about these higher-dimensional happenings, that sort of allow us to... [unclear]... a little better, but I have heard you give those before. Can you just give a brief synopsis of that?
A: Now? [laughter] Well, basically, a lot can be said about this whole idea of higher dimensions. I have occasionally given some illustrations from Vedic literature to shed some light on this. I'll just mention briefly one example, which is kind of interesting: namely, the general phenomenon of beings with many heads or arms. Now, you can have materially embodied beings that are like this, for example, Bāṇāsura. It's described that he had a thousand arms, so I assume that means there were 500 for each shoulder – unless there was some imbalance there. Or Ravana – he had 10 heads. Artists have trouble with Ravana’s heads; they usually string the necks out over empty space. But you can explain how these arrangements could be structured using higher-dimensional space.
For example, if you go to four-dimensional space, you could describe the torso with two arms coming out of one shoulder. And they would be able to move in a perfectly free way without getting in the way of each other and so forth. And if you go through, for example, the logic of Bāṇāsura operating 500 bows with his 1000 arms and aiming them all in one direction, you can see in terms of the idea of higher-dimensional space you can make sense of this. In three dimensions it's difficult to make sense of it. For example, if you have 500 bows aimed in one direction, wouldn't they get in the way of each other? And if you assume that somehow they can pass through each other, then the 500 arrows being shot at one time would also have to pass through each other. So, why don’t they pass through the bow strings?
There's a lot that you don't see, even within the material world; and actually, there are many levels of perception. Just like you can see the Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta comment on the... when Gopa Kumara goes to different higher planetary systems, you can see that at each planetary system you can't see the planetary system that is higher, at least in the normal state of perception. So this is a very common theme in the Vedic literature: there are many different levels of reality surrounding us, and our senses are limited so that we can only see one domain of experience. But it would also be possible to alter our senses so that we could see other domains of experience. All glories to Śrīla Prabhupāda.