"Amazing Stories: Past and Present" (SB 3.20.51)
The Srimad-Bhagavatam is filled with fantastic stories, including a description of a human dynasty descending from the Sun. Thompson counters that issues identified with contemporary science can frequently sound nearly as fantastic – especially if taken out of context. He offers examples along the lines of: 1) the universe initially began at a point smaller than an atom, and then in a fraction of a second expanded exponentially to many light years in size; 2) millions of years ago a part of Australia split off and travelled the breadth of the Pacific Ocean, subsequently colliding with Alaska; 3) billions of atoms amalgamating over time formed Tyrannosaurus rex, a 30 feet tall monster with 6-inch teeth; and that 4) there is little more to human experience than could be accounted for in the life of a complex simian. Perhaps there is no one tradition that can make an absolute claim on the fantastic?
TRANSCRIPT: Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto 3, Chapter 20, Text 51. “Amazing Stories: Past and Present.” San Diego – May 20, 1992 / (942)
They prayed: Oh creator of the universe, we are glad; what you have produced is well done. Since ritualistic acts have now been established soundly in his human form, we shall all share the sacrificial oblations.
Purport by Srila Prabhupada:
The importance of sacrifice is also mentioned in the Bhagavad-gita, Third Chapter, verse 10. The Lord confirms there that in the beginning of creation Brahma created the Manus, along with the ritualistic sacrificial method, and blessed them: "Continue these sacrificial rites, and you will be gradually elevated to your proper position of self-realization and will also enjoy material happiness." All the living entities created by Brahma are conditioned souls and are inclined to lord it over the material nature. The purpose of sacrificial rituals is to revive, gradually, the spiritual realization of the living entities. That is the beginning of life within this universe. These sacrificial rituals, however, are intended to please the Supreme Lord. Unless one pleases the Supreme Lord, or unless one is Krsna conscious, one cannot be happy either in material enjoyment or in spiritual realization.
cakṣur unmīlitaṁ yena
tasmai śrī-gurave namaḥ
śrī-caitanya-mano-'bhīṣṭaṁ sthāpitaṁ yena bhū-tale
svayaṁ rūpaḥ kadā mahyaṁ dadāti sva-padāntikam.
So the translation:
They prayed: Oh creator of the universe, we are glad; what you have produced is well done. Since ritualistic acts have now been established soundly in his human form, we shall all share the sacrificial oblations.
Let's see, various comments. This first verse says that...well, the first two that I read speak of Brahma creating Nagas and serpents and so forth from his body. These Nagas by the way... there are different kinds of Nagas it would appear. There's also a whole class of Nagas, which are descendants of Kasyapa and Kadru. Kadru is one of the daughters of Daksa. So, these seem to be different Nagas, since they're directly produced from Brahma.
So then, next we come to Manus produced by Brahma. And it's interesting, the demigods seem to like the appearance of the Manus because the indication was that they would get sacrificial oblations as a result of that. That's curious. The Manus are the forefathers of human beings. It has been said that the word ‘man’ is related to the word ‘Manu’ although I don't know if that's true or not. They sound the same, but anyway. Maybe I'll take a survey. How many people here, in this room believe that it is quite possible that one of your great, great, many times, great grandfathers was the sun-god? Please raise your hands.
Answer: Literally your great, great, great, some number of greats grandfather was the sun-god. How many people here think that is quite likely to be the case? Well, we get some hands here. My goodness! Strange mythology these people believe in.
Well, there is a basis for thinking that, as far as the sastras are concerned. Let's see, Vivasvan was the father of one of the Manus, he's called Vaivasvata Manu. That means Vaivasvata means the son of Vivasvan. So, one of these Manus was the son of the sun-god, or rather is because he's still living according to the Bhagavatam. When it says here that Brahma created the Manus, it sort of looks as though he created a category of beings and then as time goes on different beings appear that are in that category. Because in this case of Vaivasvata Manu, Brahma didn't directly produce him, but it says here that he produced the Manus. So, in any case, it's just like making the design for a certain kind of car. Then another company can manufacture it or something.
But this Vaivasvata Manu had various sons, one of them was named Iksvaku. He was a king, but he lived on the earth. Now, this is curious, because the sun-god lives in the sun customarily, and it's rather warm there. It’s said that he has a fiery body. There are various descriptions in the Vedic literature about how the sun-god is rather intensely effulgent and this has created social difficulties for him. He had some problems with his wife once because of this. She couldn't take his effulgence. She had to go back to her father. But anyway, apart from that… also, by the way, Yamaraja is the son of the sun-god. Another interesting relationship there. But there's a story behind that also.
It's not completely clear where Vaivasvata Manu lives. Although in the Fifth Canto you can read about a place where he lives, but Iksvaku lived on the earth, he was a king. So you go from the sun-god to somebody who can live on the earth in two generations. So, that means something must have been done to the bodily type, because Iksvaku had a body suitable for living on the earth and the sun-god is living on the sun. So, in any case, Iksvaku however, was not exactly the kind of human being we're acquainted with because he lived for many, many thousands of years. According to a purport in the Bhagavad-gita, Iksvaku was living at the beginning of Treta-yuga. That's this last Treta-yuga, so that would be about 2 million years ago and the Treta-yuga lifespan would be about 10,000 years. So that's how long he would have lived.
So, there's a whole line of kings descending from Iksvaku and one of those is Yayati. So he's a particular king. Now, it is said that from one of the sons of Yayati, the Yavanas are descended. You see, in the period of a thousand years, you can produce a lot of offspring from one original person. Let's just for the sake of argument, let's say, that one person has two descendants and then they, in turn, have four descendants and they, in turn, have eight – it builds up very fast. So, it's perfectly possible that from one ancestor, a few thousand years back, you can populate a whole country.
In any case, it said that the Yavanas have descended from Maharaja Yayati. Now, the Yavanas are traditionally the people in the area of Greece and Turkey, that general region. Actually it's funny, but in the Bible the Greeks are called the people of Jaban. So, that's curious. In any case, the present-day Turks wouldn't be the Yavanas exactly, because they invaded from Central Asia in recent historical times; but the original inhabitants would have been the Yavanas. Turkey used to be mainly a Greek-speaking area.
Now, you can imagine how many people have descended over the years from the people living in that general region. Probably most of the people in Europe are related to them at least. So if that's true... plus people all over the world, because people do get around quite a lot. So, if that's true, it's quite likely according to this, that many of you are descended from the sun-god in the literal sense that he's your great, great, great, so on, so many great grandfather. Anyway, this is what the Vedic literature is saying about the origin of human beings. It's a little bit different from the idea that your great, great, many times great grandfather was an ape. That's the other theory that is very popular. So I wanted to say something about amazing stories here for this class.
I was thinking of starting out with something along these lines. There's a story that in Alaska some people made a sighting of Australia. An Australia sighting... This is respectable by the way, this is highly reputable, because these people were scientists. They made a sighting of Australia up there. It seems that some scientists concluded that part of Alaska used to be part of Australia. Does that make it sound better or worse?
Well, what happened is very simple. Part of Australia, many millions of years ago, sort of split off from the rest of Australia and it went east across the Pacific Ocean and smashed into the side of South America. Then it went north and sort of ground its way along, bumping against the coast until it bashed into the sort of under curve there of Alaska and then it got stuck. This is science, very serious. You might think well, this is a fantastic story, which of course is why I'm bringing it up – because it is.
Today though, it's very believable that in fact, the continents have shifted all over the map. For example, it used to be that North America and South America were joined up with Africa and Europe and it was all one landmass. But then one day a crack appeared. Initially, it was a very tiny crack. There's just a little water in it. It filled up with rainwater, but it got bigger and bigger over the years and that became the Atlantic Ocean. India, by the way, used to be part of Antarctica, and it split away from Antarctica and went north right across the Indian Ocean and smashed into the southern flank of Asia. And the result was that the land crumpled up and that produced the Himalayan Mountains. This is a very respectable scientific theory, which is generally accepted. Basically if you believe this, you're perfectly all right and if you don't believe this, that's when you become nutty. So, I'm just pointing out, this is an example. This is very true. You might say that this is a fantastic idea, but this is today, a very acceptable idea. The continents have gone all over the map.
Just to give another example of something. It is said that atoms got it together and over millions of years they formed Tyrannosaurus rex, which is a monster 30 feet high with 6-inch teeth. This is also very respectable scientific information. The atoms also got it together to make a Plesiosaurus, which are very long, maybe hundred-foot long, lizard-like creatures with paddles for feet and gigantic smiles with teeth, that swam through the ocean.
Let's see another thing, there's a story that the universe came about by the Big Bang. We've all heard that one – from a point mind you, the universe expanded out. There was an expansionary scenario there in which in a fraction of a second, it went from the size of an atom to something many, many millions of miles across in a tiny fraction of a second. So that's the origin of the universe. This is also very respectable.
Now the reason I'm bringing this up, is that one could say that these are fantastic stories, but people believe these stories. In fact, they're very acceptable stories in modern society. So, the point has been made that the Bhagavatam is full of fantastic stories. How can anyone believe that? Well, people do believe fantastic stories. So, what is the difference? What really goes on in people's beliefs?
Well, you'll find, of course, one thing is their arguments, which lead a person to believe a story. Scientists engage in these arguments. Up in Alaska the geologists there were looking very carefully at the rocks and they were saying, “Well, gee, if we look at the strata on the side of this mountain, we see certain colors of rock and certain bands and certain shells in the rock and so on. And in Australia, we see mountains with exactly the same thing. So this must've been part of Australia.” So they have reasons which they give for all this kind of thing. But, most people don't really look into the reasons, mainly they don't have time, and even people who do look into the reasons in some areas don't do that in other areas. For example, the geologist who's studied the mountains up there in Alaska isn't so concerned probably with Tyrannosaurus rex, nor the Big Bang. He doesn't study those things because after all, he's busy studying the mountains in Alaska.
So, people accept on authority. So what you have is that in human society there are established authorities and whatever the authorities say, people accept that that's true. They believe it basically to a large extent. So, this is the situation. That's why most people would believe the Big Bang theory. By the way in academic circles where the scientific authority is especially strong, you find that people really believe in the Big Bang theory implicitly. Like I was talking with one philosophy professor once in Boston and since he was a philosophy professor, he doesn't study all the evidence for the Big Bang theory, but he just takes it for granted that, that's part of the truth. That's one of the foundation stones on which we build our picture of reality. And he didn't even question that in the least. And a lot of people think that way. It's quite natural.
So, getting back to the Bhagavatam, if you look at, say, traditional society in India, you see there are these fantastic stories in the Bhagavatam: snakes boiling out of the body of Brahma that we just read about and so forth. So, there are these fantastic stories, so how could anyone ever believe that? I mean, what's the use of even telling people about this? They won't believe it, will they? Better let them somehow become devotees first and then after they're conditioned to being devotees after many years, then maybe they'll be able to believe these things.
Well, if you look at traditional societies say in India, Srila Prabhupada would always use, at least he has used the term 50 years ago. I think maybe it was 25 years ago that he was speaking perhaps. So that would mean about 75 years ago in India people to a large extent accepted Vedic culture. So, in that situation, the accepted worldview is basically Vedic. Of course, there were some disagreements concerning doctrinal interpretations. Some people would have accepted the Mayavadi viewpoint, others would be Vaisnavas, then there would be Saivites, and so on. But they all accepted the same sastras and when they argued about the proper understanding they would do this by referring to the sastras, which they all accepted. So there was a uniform worldview with a few disagreements as to how to interpret this particular passage and so forth.
So, they accepted all these things, in particular, books like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana were very well known and popular. These have very incredible stories. There's the story of the gigantic tortoise and... what was it? An elephant that were fighting one another? Have I got that one right? Hridayananda, in one of his readings, was telling us the story. It was due to a curse. Anyway, Garuda came and picked them up in his talons and flew off. I won't go into the story. He landed on a tree branch that was several miles long and broke it loose. And unfortunately, some sages the size of a thumb, named the Valakhilyas were meditating on the tree branch and Garuda had to be very careful not to dislodge them. Anyway, the main point is that all these things were accepted on the basis of authority.
Now, what happened was that people would grow up accepting these things. Just as today, a lot of people accept the Big Bang theory and evolution. They accepted our great, great, great, great, so many greats grandfather was an ape. This is widely believed to be true on the basis of authority. So likewise, people accepted the whole Vedic picture on authority. Given that situation, they had an opportunity then to take advantage of the spiritual teachings that were there in Vedic literature. Basically, everything was believable and it was a question whether or not you really wanted to dedicate yourself to spiritual practices, sadhana, and so forth. Some people prefer just to make a lot of money and enjoy life and so on and so forth. But the option was there for taking to spiritual life.
Well, at present we have a situation in which that option is closed for a lot of people. People have a highly materialistic worldview, which actually has been designed right from the beginning, if you trace out the history, to exclude any possibility of spiritual life. The people behind the modern scientific view really work hard to eliminate the older spiritual views that were there in Western society. And it's also going on in India. People are also working hard to establish the materialistic viewpoint.
For example, I was just reading this book Consciousness Explained by this fellow Daniel Dennett, who's a professor at Tufts University. He's written about a 495-page book to explain consciousness in mechanistic terms, in terms of brain mechanisms. And you might ask why? Haven't they already explained it? But apparently they don't feel they've really explained it well enough yet, so they're still explaining it. They're working hard to make sure that every piece in the total picture is in place so that the materialistic view is there. But they've already made quite a bit of headway.
We are in a situation in which there's a conflict in worldviews. We have the spiritual worldview, in which there are various things that look fantastic. Meanwhile, people are accepting a materialistic worldview, which is full of things that are also totally fantastic. But, they believe these things and so they don't think that they're fantastic. Whereas the things in the Bhagavatam they don't believe. So they think those are fantastic. But if you look at it from an objective viewpoint, one is no more fantastic than the other. Actually, we live in a very fantastic world and the fact that we're here is fantastic. At least it should be. I mean, from the point of view of chemistry, how is it that chemicals are assembled together to form these bodies that talk and hold these discussions? That's one of the most fantastic things. So the question then is, what to do about this? It's definitely a problem.
We see for example in the Krsna consciousness movement that young people sometimes have trouble taking to Krsna consciousness. We have the phenomenon that children grow up in Vaisnava society and at a certain age they seem to enter into some kind of street culture and disappear from sight. This has been observed to happen. But why? What would happen in more traditional culture? Well, like in India. They would either be brought up in a uniform cultural milieu in which everybody believed basically the same thing, although there'd be disagreements on some points. And so it wouldn't even occur to them to believe something different. They'd grow up in that cultural milieu and be part of it – only a few very innovative souls would go off and do something completely different.
So, that is actually the best situation for human society. It's the way human society is set up. People are created to follow authorities in a uniform cultural milieu. The original basis of that creation was that the uniform cultural milieu would contain within it spiritual teachings plus material teachings combined together in such a way that people would have a natural opportunity to develop spiritually. As mentioned here in the purport, people in the material universe created by Brahma are conditioned souls who have a propensity towards material enjoyment. That's why they're here.
So, in the original Vedic cultural milieu, the arrangement was that people would have facilities for pursuing material enjoyment because this is their tendency, but they would also have spiritual opportunities so they could make some advancement spiritually. And people come in at different levels of advancement. Some are highly materially inclined, but they get some spiritual teaching. They at least develop some respect, let's say for Lord Visnu or something like that, while engaging in money making activities. So, they make some steps forward. Others come in at a higher level and they renounce and take sannyasa and engage in a strict sadhana and so forth. Others come in as pure devotees and they teach the others by their example in their teachings and so forth. So it's very nice system in which people in various levels of consciousness have an opportunity to make spiritual advancement. So what is really needed is to establish that system.
Right now, we're in a more difficult situation, because what we have is a total conflict in worldviews. We ourselves have only partially assimilated the Krsna conscious worldview. I think it's safe to say that in many cases. I think many devotees see the world to a large extent in terms of the modern scientific worldview, because after all they were raised that way. It's very hard to break out of that. Actually, it's interesting, at a conference on evolution that I attended, a fellow named Sidney Fox, who's famous for his ‘origin of life from chemicals’ theories was chastising everybody. This was a very closed conference, only evolutionists were there, I snuck in and I even gave papers there. I gave two papers, mind you. And a lot of them accepted that I was one of them. Sidney Fox however, was not fooled.
Answer: Well, at least he was outspoken; others perhaps were more polite. But he accused me of anti-evolutionary thinking. Anyway, he was saying, “How many of us realize how contaminated our consciousness still is with Christian creationist thinking? Here we are, we think we're very advanced scientists and evolutionists, but we don't realize that actually much of our thinking is still following the Christian creationist mode." And then he gave different examples and he advocated a whole process of purification of thought... thought reform for the evolutionists. And actually, this book by Daniel Dennett says the same thing in the area of our consciousness and the brain. He said, “Well, materialism has scored a hands down victory – Cartesian dualism [you know the idea that there is a mind separate from the body], this has been thrown out. It's dead, it's finished. But even though scientists have established themselves as materialists, still there are these lingering traces of dualism that we haven't yet weeded out, which keeps creating problems. So this is still there. And so we have to work on our consciousness very carefully.”
So, we also very much have the modern scientific viewpoint, at least many of us do, and this creates difficulties. So, what is the solution for that? Well, the ultimate solution is we have to create a revolution in modern society. We're not supposed to just remain as a tiny fringe group, sort of a tiny spec floating in a sea of materialistic thinking. In that situation… of course, it's possible we might remain like that for many years or centuries even, it's possible: a minor sect of people very much isolated socially, not having much impact. But Srila Prabhupada wanted to take over the whole society. What is needed is to reform the entire system of education. People learn from authorities and the educational system is the basis for that learning.
The educational system is ultimately controlled by the intellectual authorities within human society. For example, grade schools... the syllabus in grade schools and high schools and so forth is determined by people in universities; and they are part of the scientific and academic community. It's a whole system. In order to become part of that community, you have to pass appropriate review. If you want to become a professor at a university, you're very carefully scrutinized. They invite you there and they look you over, they examine your publications. They make sure that you're the right kind of person, before they give you a post like that. And then once you're there, you have to be careful what you say. You have to publish the right kinds of things and so on.
So this authority system, however, is... hasn't been there since time immemorial. It's also a new thing. It doesn't date back more than about, well, let's say 300 years at most. If you go back to say to the time of Isaac Newton, who was really active in say 1650 or 40 or so – it's a new thing. It has succeeded in replacing the previous authority structure in Western culture, which was mainly based on the Catholic Church at one time. So, it is possible to have a total revolution in thought within a society. It can even be a peaceful revolution, because the scientists never fought any wars in order to take over. There were no battles, you know, bloodthirsty, you know, slaughtering-type scenes and so forth. They peacefully took over the entire intellectual system and the entire educational system. And so now they control it. So, such a thing is possible. And that is basically what we have to do.
If Krsna consciousness is in fact correct, then people should believe in it. The thing that has to be done then is to take over the educational system, convince people intellectually that the whole thing is valid.
It's already getting late. Are there any questions or comments? This is just a little rousing speech here. Yes?
A: Well, basically it was just like Chinese Communist thought reform, you know, where they put you in a room and grill you with Mao’s doctrines or something like this. It seemed to be like that. Of course, a lot of the other scientists didn’t seem to take that too seriously. There were also some doubters by the way in that group. One scientist there, a very outspoken fellow, was asking another scientist. “How do we know how the dinosaurs evolved? I mean, what's the real evidence?” And he was bringing up all these questions pointing out, we really don't have evidence here and we don't have evidence there and we haven't explained this and we don't understand that. And the other scientists were saying, “Well, you just have to have faith in the basic theory of evolution, this all works.” That's what he said. I was just sitting there listening to the conversation and the man said, “Well, if that's the best thing that you can say, then I predict that a day will come when the Supreme Court will allow creationism to be taught in the schools.” And the man said, “No.”
So anyway, the method he proposed though really was to explain things better. And actually, the scientists are always trying to explain their viewpoint better. They're not confident that they've done it yet, like in the book by this fellow Dennett. He's not confident that they really explained consciousness yet. They have to work on it more so that people will really be convinced. So we also have to do some work to convince people. Yeah?
A: Yeah, he's come... that means he has to change his body when he comes here otherwise he'd burn the place up. So yeah, Vivasvan, when he comes to the earth – he has done it, he came when Kunti called him, for example – he has to restrain his effulgence so that he doesn't burn up the earth. As for Iksvaku, I didn't mean to say that Iksvaku had to change his body, he may have been born with a body that was already changed, but the change occurred in there somewhere between Vivasvan and Iksvaku, the change took place. Now, as a matter of fact, you find that some of these beings have the power to change their form or their condition – Manu probably does. I imagine that Manu could be equally at home on the sun or on the earth. So he has a body that can change. It's something he can do. Yeah?
A: Manu sneezed. Okay, yeah? Okay, well...
Q: On that note.
A: On that note.