Astronomy Seminar 4
Thompson demonstrates that the term translated from the Srimad-Bhagavatam as “planetary height,” corresponds well with “orbital inclination,” a term used in Western astronomy. He then considers how the image of a subway map could prove useful for appreciating various descriptions of Bhu-mandala: the marked stops of a subway map could correspond to geographic features, and likewise, the pathways in between do not always represent a straight line. After further discussion of the similarities found in various ancient accounts, including the Vedic tradition, Thompson concludes, “The naive dismissal of the Puranic cosmology given by modern scholars is not really valid.”
TRANSCRIPT: Astronomy Seminar 4. VIHE Seminar: Gita Nagari, PA - 1990 / (208)
So yesterday we were talking about the situation of the planets above the surface of Jambudvipa, and we were referring to tables 8 and 9 in the book. So the basic point is that there is a correspondence between the order of the planets above Jambudvipa as described in the Fifth Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam and the order of the planets away from the ecliptic as given in modern astronomy. I was going to explain how that was calculated. That’s when we came to the end of the class. So I will just give you an idea.
If this is the earth and this is the sun, we are looking at the ecliptic edge on here. So you can think of the ecliptic as either the plane of earth’s orbit around the sun or the sun’s orbit around the earth, depending on whether you take it from the heliocentric or geocentric viewpoint. So a given planet orbiting around the sun will be in a plane that has its tilt with respect to this. And that’s given, the angle of the tilt, which will be this angle right here, it’s called the orbital inclination in this column in the table, table number 9. And then there’s a maximum distance that planet will go from the sun, let’s say p is the planet.
Q: That angle is relative to what, the celestial equator?
A: That angle is relative to the ecliptic. In other words, this plane here is the plane of the ecliptic. And this plane is the plane the planet is orbiting in. So those two planes intersect and there is an angle between them. So that’s called ‘orbital inclination’ here. And then when the planet goes in its orbit, if we look down at the planet’s orbit, there will actually be a point when it’s furthest away from the sun. So that’s actually called the aphelion of the planet. That’s the technical name. So let’s say this distance is the furthest it goes from the sun, so the distance from the ecliptic that I am talking about in this table, then it is this distance right here: from the planet at its furthest point to the ecliptic.
A: Same time as what?
A: The aphelion is the point where it’s furthest away from the sun.
A: If follows it must be.
Q: [unclear]... what if it’s not an elliptical orbit... [unclear]
A: You are right about that. That’s correct. Well in any case, you are correct, that’s quite right. In any case, this represents the maximum height that it goes to on this plane as it goes around its orbit. That’s the actual point. Yeah, so that’s the distance we were talking about. So the basic point then that I made yesterday was that these distances are in the same order as the distances, the same basic size as the distances of the sun, of the moon and different planets above the Bhu-mandala plane.
So this brings us to this point that the Srimad-Bhagavatam is saying that the moon is higher than the sun, which is a well known point. So this table shows the moon in this sense being higher than the sun and then Venus, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn in that order. So that’s the height above Bhu-mandala. So if one asks how does this relate to the picture of the solar system we have in modern astronomy, in modern understanding, then the basic point I am making then is that if the Bhu-mandala plane corresponds to the ecliptic, then the maximum distances that the planets reach in going away from the ecliptic correspond basically to the distances of these planets above Bhu-mandala. As closely as I can see, that’s the kind of correspondence that you have.
Now I should point out that in the Surya-siddhanta, now, this distance from the Bhu-mandala is a different thing from the distance between ourselves on the earth and the planet. The basic point is, in one case you are talking about distance from the plane and in the other case you are talking about distance along a line. So there are two different kinds of distances which you are talking about there. And the Surya-siddhanta presents the moon as being closer than the sun in terms of radial distance. In fact it gives the figure for that distance, which is very close to the modern figure. Now that’s in the first chapter. I’ll just look that up briefly here.
Q: The moon is closer or the sun.
A: Yes, closer to us in radial distance.
Q: But it’s higher.
A: But it’s higher in terms of distance from Bhu-mandala as described in Srimad-Bhagavatam. So that is the situation. Here are the, I’ll just write the figures that are given. In the Surya-siddhanta it gives the circumference of the moon’s orbit as 324,000 yojanas. So that’s the circumference of the orbit in yojanas. Now if you want to find the radius of that orbit, then what you have to do is to turn this into miles, which you multiply by 5 because it’s 5 yojanas per mile in this case. And then you have to divide by 2π, and that will give you the radius, then according to Surya-siddhanta…
A: Let me just do that. It’s not written in the book right there. Just to give you the figure.
A: Yeah, so let’s see, what do we want to do. We take 324,000 times 5, divided by π, divided by 2, ok what we get, at least what I just got, 257,831 point something. So that’s the figure and for comparison to that, the modern figure is 238. This now is in miles. So it’s not exactly the same, but basically it’s the same distance. So the Surya-siddhanta is presenting the moon as being about the same distance from the earth as modern astronomy. So that is the situation there. So, yeah!
Q: Is that 238,000 figure the median, or the max?
A: Yeah, average distance, it varies of course. But that’s the modern figure for the average distance between the earth and the moon. So that is the basic situation there.
Now in this comparison that I made between the planets moving in their orbits away from the ecliptic and the description in the Bhagavatam of distances above Bhu-mandala, there is the obvious problem, of course, that the planet moves in this plane, so naturally it’s not always at its furthest distance away from the ecliptic, it will be here at some point and then down to this side and back if it’s going in a circular orbit. So what I would propose is that once again we have the higher-dimensional situation which we are looking at from one perspective, and in the Bhagavatam it's being described from the perspective of the demigods. Now there are some points which Srila Prabhupada makes, interestingly enough, that may possibly shed some light on this. At least I will quote a little bit here from a letter that Srila Prabhupada wrote to Rupanuga in 1968.
Q: Reading from page what?
A: This is from page 84 at the bottom of the page and it may shed some light on this. At least he is saying the planets can be mixed in terms of position within the universe. He says,
Regarding your question of the planetary systems, planets are arranged in each universe in layers like petals of a lotus but each layer there is mix of heavenly, middle, and hellish planets. On the outside layer there are the three kinds of planets, in the middle layer there are the three kinds of planets, and in the innermost layer there are found these three kinds of planets. Above these layers in the center is Brahmaloka where Lord Brahma, the Creator, is residing. So the earth planet and moon planet are both in the same layer, but the earth is a middle planet and the moon is a heavenly planet.
That’s what Srila Prabhupada stated there. Now you can interpret it as well as I can. But in any event, he is speaking of a mixing up of the planets; and we can at least observe that in the Bhagavatam you have this arrangement of planets being described as having height above Bhu-mandala. And the basic picture seems to somewhat correspond to the planets moving somewhat away from the plane of ecliptic in the course of their orbit. At least that’s the thing that corresponds to that in the modern astronomical picture. So that is the, yeah?
Q: …We know what its projection is.
A: Yeah, that’s what we are talking about when we speak of its plane.
Q: So in its orbit it’s going below and above the projection.
A: Yes, that’s relative to the projection into three dimensional space. So the basic idea is that you have a higher-dimensional situation. How much can we say in terms of trying to relate these different things?
Q: Have you tried to make a fourth-dimensional model placing Bhu-mandala in some orientation where it's projection is the ecliptic and the planets... [unclear]?
A: I haven’t tried anything that complex. Basically, possibly you could do something like that. The problem would be, would there be a unique way to do it?
A: Yeah. It’s something to think about. This represents pretty much as far as I’ve gotten. I have seen a kind of basic comparative relationship here. But undoubtedly there is a lot more to know about it. So at least, though, we do see a correspondence here.
There was one other illustration I wanted to make concerning the interpretation of this. In the Bhagavatam we are given a very simple and brief description of the universe. One can think of a subway map. This was a thought that occurred to me travelling on different subways in New York City. If you have ever seen a subway map, it’s a very simple grid which contains just the information you need to know, which stop to get off. If you, say, transfer to a line it will take you to another place where you need to go. If you look at a real map, like an actual map of Manhattan, Brooklyn and so on, you see that these lines snake all over, in a somewhat curved and complicated path, whereas on the subway map it’s a very simple grid. So you know, it can be like that also. At least that is just an image that occurred to me in reading this description in the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
At this point I should also quote this statement by Sukadeva Goswami in the very beginning of the description, which is always good to keep in mind. That is, this is before he begins the description of Jambudvipa. It’s text 4, chapter 16 in the Fifth Canto. And he says,
The great ṛṣi Śukadeva Gosvāmī said: My dear King, there is no limit to the expansion of the Supreme Personality of Godhead’s material energy. This material world is a transformation of the material qualities, yet no one could possibly explain it perfectly, even in a lifetime as long as that of Brahmā. No one in the material world is perfect, and an imperfect person could not describe this material universe accurately, even after continued speculation. O King, I shall nevertheless try to explain to you the principal regions, such as Bhū-golaka, with their names, forms, measurements and various symptoms.
So we are definitely getting a simple description of something endlessly complex. You can also think of what happened when the, Krishna revealed the universal form to Arjuna and He said there are all these things that no one has seen before, which you will now have the vision to see.
So proceeding onward, there are some other points to make here. In this particular verse, there is reference to Bhu-golaka. This is somewhat of a technical point that is sometimes brought up. Gola means a globe in Sanskrit, it’s a pretty definite meaning that it has. Mandala means more or less a disk or circular shape in most, if you look in the Sanskrit dictionary you will usually find a whole list of meanings for things. But a gola is a ball. This says Bhu-golaka. However generally, Bhu-gola refers to the globe of the universe, not to the earth globe. So it’s a globe four billion miles in diameter and that refers to the inner shell of the universe. That point can be supported by various references. However, there are some references in the Fifth Canto which would seem to indicate the earth globe. And I will give you some examples. The 5.21 here, I just thought I should say something about this topic. Let’s see 8-9. Yeah, here’s the statement, “The living entity is regarded...” Let’s see, this is fairly long. So its describing the motion of the sun around Sumeru mountain. It says,
Although the sun moves counterclockwise, facing the constellations, with Sumeru Mountain on its left, it also moves clockwise and appears to have the mountain on its right because it is influenced by the dakṣiṇāvarta wind. People living in countries at points diametrically opposite to where the sun is first seen rising will see the sun setting, and if a straight line were drawn from a point where the sun is at midday, the people in countries at the opposite end of the line would be experiencing midnight. [SB 5.21.9]
So the section toward the end here, about people living in countries diametrically opposite to where the sun is rising would see the sun setting, that seems most reasonably to refer to the earth globe. Certainly that is what will happen on a globe if you consider that the point that it’s sunset at one point, then you go diametrically opposite they should be seeing sunrise at that point on a globe. So whereas in the case of the idea of a flat disk, it’s hard to see how that would be. What do you mean by diametrically opposite, and what do you even mean by sunrise?
A: Yeah, what do you mean by diametrically, and what do you mean by sunrise and sunset? Hard to make any sense out of that in terms of the idea of a disk. But in terms of the idea of a globe you can see that, let’s say it's sunset; if you go diametrically opposite to the other point, it should be sunrise. Like that. So that’s one reference. There’s another one here, let’s see. Well here again, this reference is much better than the one before. It’s verse number 11. It’s coming up. So there are some references then which seem to be referring to the earth as a globe concept. But generally the references are to the earth as a the Bhu-mandala disk.
A: Well, for a range of sizes in which it’s not so big that the sun’s rays diverge coming to it. It should be the same because it’s like this: If here is the planet, say you are looking down at the north pole, so here comes sunlight like this, and if you look at it in terms of the idea that the sun is going around in this way, then sunset should be experienced here because it’s going around this way, so the rays are going to tilt like that, so then you won’t see the sun anymore here; but just at that point you are getting sun rise at this point. So diametrically opposite, you see sunrise and sunset.
Q: Assuming that sunlight’s parallel.
A: Right, which means that it’s small enough and the sun is far enough away so that the rays are parallel. Now if I had a small source of light like this and the rays diverged, it wouldn't be the same story. But assuming a rays are parallel, it will be like that. So that’s just one point.
Now another point to make here has to do with this statement about the motion of the sun, which is interesting because he is saying, “Although the sun moves counterclockwise facing the constellations with Sumeru Mountain on its left.” So let’s think about what that means. If you are looking down from the North, Mount Meru is there, and the sun is going around like this. If it’s going clockwise, counterclockwise, it’s going like that and then you can see Mount Meru would be on its left. So this corresponds to the yearly motion of the sun through the ecliptic because that is the motion which goes this way. Opposing that motion, there would be the clockwise motion which is daily, going this way. You can see if you go this way, you will have Mount Meru on your right. So it says that the dakṣiṇāvarta wind is blowing the sun around, that’s the statement made here. It says, “Although the sun moves counterclockwise with Meru on its left, it seems to move with Mount Meru on its right because it is blown by the dakṣiṇāvarta wind.”
So the idea in the Bhagavatam is that the kala-cakra in which the stars and planets are moving around once per day, that is powered by a wind, and dakṣiṇāvarta wind is the name for that, and I believe that refers to rightward circumambulation. It’s also called the pravaha wind in other places. So that is by this wind the sun is swept around in its daily motion clockwise but its yearly motion counterclockwise which is its motion along the path of the ecliptic, well that’s counterclockwise and that goes with Mount Meru on the left. So this also basically supports the idea of the position of Bhu-mandala as being the ecliptic because it is saying the basic movement of the sun is the counterclockwise movement and it is swept around by the wind, which is more powerful in the other direction, so that gives the clockwise movement, which is the daily rising and setting of the sun.
Q: That wind doesn’t just blow the sun, it blows the fixed stars...?
A: It blows everything, all the planets, the whole system is carried by that wind. So that means the whole system is rotating once per day…
Q: What we perceive as rotation of the earth?
A: Yeah, in modern terms that’s the rotation of the earth. The idea is that the heavens and so on are actually fixed and the earth is rotating. So in the Bhagavatam that is described as the rotation of the whole system – stars, planets, sun, moon, and everything – driven by this wind. You know there are some illustrations that Srila Prabhupada makes on the influence of maya in which he refers to the idea that when you are carried by maya you don’t notice it, just as a cloud carried by the wind doesn't notice anything. If you think about that, imagine a cloud in a stream of wind. To the cloud it’s stationary because it’s just fixed relative to the wind. Only when you’re on the ground, and you see it blowing by, do you recognise its motion and the motion of the wind. So if you apply that in this case you have the picture in which from our point of view in which this wind is sweeping around, you see everything moved around with it. But from the point of view of those planets and so forth in this atmosphere, because the idea is that outer space is not a vacuum, there is a kind of an air out there, they’re stationary within it, just like the cloud is stationary within that wind. So from a relative point of view you can see in those two different ways.
Q: That means the wind is going awful fast...
A: That means they are moving awful fast, but to one of those planets, relative to the wind it’s just standing still and the air is standing still, you see. So again you can think of it in relative terms. And there is then the example of the person who is in maya, shows the relative concept also because he doesn't see himself being carried by maya. So to him, he’s ok. Someone else who’s stationary, not being carried by, he can see that.
A: They’re moving very fast.
Q: So if someone was up there looking down, they would see the earth, Bhu-mandala spinning...?
A: Relative to them, they would seem to be spinning.
Q: So the yearly motion would be like someone on a merry-go-round, walking in the opposite direction?
A: Right, and not only that, that’s the next thing I was going to come to. The Bhagavatam has that very example except it doesn't use a merry-go-round, it uses the potter’s wheel. Yeah?
Q: Did you say the pravaha wind and the daksinavarta wind are the same?
A: I believe so.
Q: So what provides the counterclockwise motion?
A: The counterclockwise motion would be the sun travelling on his chariot, according to this understanding. I’ll give you another quotation that seems to me to agree with that picture. It’s on page 80 of this book. It’s from Sridhara Swami. This is from the commentary Sridhara Swami on the Srimad Bhagavatam translated by Sukavaka. He says here in the commentary on 5.21.8-9, which is what I just read from the Bhagavatam. He says,
Although leftward movement facing the constellations is their own motion, svagatya, the luminaries sun, moon, etc move around Meru to the right daily being blown by the pravaha wind due to the power of the kala-cakra.
So that basically sums the point that I was making. So they are saying, Sridhara Swami here is also saying the leftward motion, which is the counter clockwise motion, is their own motion, svagatya. So considering that merry-go-round example that is described in 5.22.1-2. This is interesting:
King Parīkṣit inquired from Śukadeva Gosvāmī: My dear lord, you have already affirmed the truth that the supremely powerful sun-god travels around Dhruvaloka (And mind you, Dhruvaloka and Mount Meru are on one axis, so it’s the same thing) ….travels around Dhruvaloka with both Dhruvaloka and Mount Sumeru on his right. Yet at the same time the sun-god faces the signs of the zodiac and keeps Sumeru and Dhruvaloka on his left. How can we reasonably accept that the sun-god proceeds with Sumeru and Dhruvaloka on both his left and right simultaneously?
So King Pariksit asked Sukadeva Goswami this, then Sukadeva Goswami,
Śrī Śukadeva Gosvāmī clearly answered: When a potter’s wheel is moving and small ants located on that big wheel are moving with it, one can see that their motion is different from that of the wheel because they appear sometimes on one part of the wheel and sometimes on another. Similarly, the signs and constellations, with Sumeru and Dhruvaloka on their right, move with the wheel of time, and the ant-like sun and other planets move with them. The sun and planets, however, are seen in different signs and constellations at different times. This indicates that their motion is different from that of the zodiac and the wheel of time itself.
So the picture then here is that the whole kala-cakra rotates. That’s like the potter's wheel or the merry-go-round, and the sun and different planets have their own motion going around the other way, but it's slow. So they are carried with the kala-cakra rotation. Meanwhile they are moving the other way relative to that rotating wheel.
Q: Do the other planets move at the same pace?
A: They move at different paces, and in fact the Bhagavatam says something about that also; and that is the next point I wanted to come to because here is a very interesting thing which strikes me as giving some hint that there’s really some deep astronomical knowledge behind the Bhagavatam. This is the point I wanted to make because the standard view of scholars and so on would be that this is very unscientific mythology. But you can see science of sophisticated knowledge here, and this has to do with the three speeds of the sun. So let’s see, 5, there are different verses here. 5.21.3 is one of these according to this. It says that the sun has three different speeds: fast, medium and slow. So it says, ok different things. Ok, it’s describing the sun,
While passing toward the north, toward the south or through the equator, in accordance with the order of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, it is said to move slowly, swiftly or moderately. According to its movements in rising above, going beneath or passing through the equator – and correspondingly coming in touch with various signs of the zodiac, headed by Makara [Capricorn] – days and nights are short, long or equal to one another.
So the basic thing that’s being described here is the motion of the sun along the ecliptic. The signs of the zodiac are distributed along the ecliptic and there are names for these in Sanskrit also. So Makara is the sign of Capricorn, for example, is indicated here. So equator here refers to the celestial equator. And what is being mentioned in terms of the seasons is when the sun is toward the north of the celestial equator on the ecliptic, on the celestial sphere, in the Northern Hemisphere, that’s the period of summer and the days are longer than the nights. Then when it’s on the equator – there are two times when it’s on the equator, they’re called the equinoxes – the days are equal to the nights. And then when it goes down to the southern part of the ecliptic beneath the equator then that’s winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Of course in the Southern Hemisphere this is reversed. But the Bhagavatam is speaking of winter in terms of the Northern Hemisphere, summer and winter and so forth.
But in addition to this fact, which is well known to everyone, namely days have different lengths during the different seasons, the point is made that the sun moves slowly, swiftly or moderately when it is in these different parts. Basically what it is saying is that the sun is moving faster during the winter period, slower during the summer period. Now modern Western commentators on Puranas have said, “Well this represents a very naive idea in the Bhagavatam or in the Puranas.” Actually, one commentary I read, I think it was H H Wilson’s Visnu Purana, which I was looking at to compare with the Fifth Canto of the Bhagavatam. Different Puranas have parallel passages to the Bhagavatam. So in any case, you can argue that, well what they say is the Bhagavatam is giving a very simplistic view because it is saying that, “Alright, when the day is longer that means the sun is travelling slower during the day, so it’s in the sky longer. And in the winter when the days are shorter it must be travelling faster, so it gets over faster, and the days are shorter. So how naive!”
But if you look at this carefully you can see that it’s not the daily motion of the sun which is being referred to but the motion of the sun through the ecliptic, that’s actually being referred to here. One reason for that, you know, not to, let me see, 5.22.8, here is one clear reason for that. In 5.22.7 it says, “The sun-god has three speeds – slow, fast and moderate.” So it refers to that again. And then next it talks about the moon and the motion of the moon through its orbit against the background of the fixed stars on the celestial sphere and it says,
…the moon, which travels at a speed faster than that of the sun. In two lunar fortnights the moon travels through the equivalent of a saṁvatsara of the sun, in two and a quarter days it passes through a month of the sun, and in one day it passes through a fortnight of the sun.
So it’s saying the moon is moving faster than the sun. So in what sense does the moon move faster than the sun? Well, in its motion against the stars the sun takes a year to go around and the moon takes one month. So the moon is going much faster. In fact these figures here back that up. If you have two lunar fortnights that will be a total month, and the moon travels through the equivalent of the samvatsara sun and so on and so forth. Basically it’s referring to the fact that the moon is going around about 12 times as fast as the sun. That’s the movement against the fixed stars, which is this leftward moment. In terms of the movement caused by the rotation of the kala-cakra, the moon actually goes a bit slower than the sun because the time from a moonrise to another moonrise is a bit longer than the time from one sunrise to another sunrise, due to the fact that the moon is going back faster than the sun is. You should think about that. You see, because the moon is going back faster than the sun is, the time from moonrise to another moonrise will be a bit longer than the time from sunrise to another sunrise, if the moon is going a bit further back and you have to rotate a bit more to bring it to the point of rising again.
Q: The moon is also higher.
A: Yeah, but right now we are only considering against the background of the stars. Against the background of the stars, you see like this globe, if you think about it as the celestial sphere, one great circle around that is the ecliptic. So the moon moves in its great circle, which is at a slight angle to the ecliptic. But the moon is moving faster along its path than the sun is. So the fact that it says the moon is moving faster than the sun right after this verse about the three speeds of the sun would certainly indicate that it’s the three speeds of the sun as it moves through the ecliptic that are being referred to.
So that brings us to an interesting point concerning modern astronomy. And that is, that in fact in the winter the sun is moving faster against the background of the stars than it is during the summer. And the explanation to that in modern astronomy, in heliocentric terms, is that the earth has an elliptical orbit and there is the thing of the aphelion and perihelion. Perihelion is the point in its orbit where it is closest to the sun; and the point of its orbit where it is the furthest from the sun is the aphelion. So the earth is moving more slowly around the sun when it’s further away and than when it’s closer. In modern terms that's explained in terms of gravitation. When it’s further away the pull of gravity is weaker, it doesn't have to go as fast to have centripetal force to balance its pull to the sun. It’s just like the idea, if two people are swinging one another around, like they do in kirtans sometimes, that if you pull in you swing faster. If you stretch your arms out you swing slower. So the idea is that the earth goes slower when it’s further, faster when it’s closer, but the time when it’s closer is in the winter as it turns out. It’s very close to what is called the winter solstice, which is the deepest point of winter in terms of the motion of the sun. It’s when the days are the shortest, which is around Christmas time. So according to modern astronomy, in fact, the sun does go around slowly at that time and more rapidly during the summer. Yeah?
A: No, the idea in modern science is that it’s actually going faster when it’s coming closer, I mean closer to the sun.
A: Yeah but keep in mind though, the potter’s wheel there corresponds to the kala-cakra, the daily rotation, and here we are talking about the yearly rotation. So I would argue then that the sort of naive dismissal of the Puranic cosmology that the scholars give is not really valid. And it’s, the Puranas, well the Fifth Canto at any rate, is referring to something that’s not so obvious to an unscientific person. In other words, you need a little bit of astronomical sophistication to know that the sun is going slower in the summer against the stars than in the winter. I should mention, by the way, that the Surya-siddhanta also has it going slower and faster in the same way. The formulas of the Surya-siddhanta give you that effect also.
Q: And what reason do they give for it?
A: They don’t give reasons, they just give a formula. It’s called the, a thing called the mandosaka. Anyway...
A: In the Surya-siddhanta there is no idea mentioned of elliptical orbits and gravity, or anything like that. That’s all the idea in modern science.
So at this point I thought I would have a historical interlude. This really relates to the question of the dissemination of the Vedic culture throughout the world. At least there is evidence that at some point in the past, Vedic culture had gotten around the world to quite an extent. And some hints of this arise in connection with astronomy. One interesting point has to do with the days of the week. So I just thought I would mention that. There are, on pages 88 and 89, there are two tables of the days of the week. The interesting thing is we have them in Sanskrit, English and Latin; and these are planet names in each case; and it turns out that they are the same, they correspond to one another. Just for example, Sunday obviously refers to the Sun. Tuesday isn't as obvious but that does refer to the planet Mars. It’s the Anglo-Saxon version of Mars. But Mars is martis in Latin. What is it in Spanish? Martes.
A: Mardi in French. Like Mercury, Mercredi is it, isn't it?
A: In Sanskrit it's budhavāra, budha is Mercury. So in general the days of the week are named after the planets in the order of Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn.
A: It is, really? Did they get that, someone have to dig out that recently from...
Q: I am not sure.
A: Yeah from the West. It would be interesting if it’s ancient in Japan. Because the question is, how did this come about historically? Now you can read that the English names came ultimately from the Latin names back in the days of the Roman empire. That’s what would be argued. And the Romans got these names from the Greek. Now the scholars will want to say the Greeks really originated this. And they’ll say the Indians also got this from the Greeks because this is in India also. But of course who can say definitely what happened thousands of years ago. But it turns out that in the Surya-siddhanta there’s a calculation for determining the order of the days of week. So in this table they are listed; it goes: Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. It’s a little bit hard to understand here why Mercury comes before Venus. But of course sometimes Mercury is closer to us than Venus. Depends on how they are in their orbits. But that’s the order that shows in the Surya-siddhanta in any case. So...
A: You can look at it, but then they are further than the sun, and the sun comes first. So that would be a bit inconsistent with that.
Q: Why Mars, Jupiter, Saturn are further from the earth than the sun is…
A: They are. At least most of the time. Now the question is, when Mars has a close approach, does it come closer than the earth-to-sun distance? I’ll have to check that, but most of the time surely Mars is further than the earth and the sun. Same with Jupiter and Saturn. So this, in any event is the order from the earth adopted in the Surya-siddhanta. Now in the Surya-siddhanta it’s described that the successive Suryadeva months are associated with the planets in this order. Seven successive months are given planet names in this order Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, etc. And you start over for the next seven months, and keep repeating them in that way. And it’s described that the days of the week also have planet names and you set it up so that the day that falls on the beginning of the month will have the same planet name as the planet name of that month. So that rule is given.
Now if you think about that, sort it out on a piece of paper, you will see that gives you the order of the day named in the week. There is a calculation, that is 30N divided by 7. Anyway, that will be incomprehensible unless you work it out on a piece of paper but if you are interested you can do that. But the main point is you get this strange order of Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn which is the order of the days in the week, so that’s contained in the Surya-siddhanta then. So that’s an interesting point concerning the historical connections.
I just thought I would mention a couple of other interesting cultural connections that show up. One of these is illustrated in the picture on page 64, which I have always been kind of intrigued by. This is a picture of the earth according to Norse mythology. And basically it’s a picture of Jambudvipa, because what they have is a circular island, this very tall mountain in the center of the island, and on top of the mountain there is this place called Asgard, which is the city of the gods. So after all, Jambudvipa is circular, and there’s Mount Meru, and on top of Mount Meru there is Brahmapuri. So there are interesting connections that you can see like that. Now as far as I am aware, we just don't know the history behind these things at all. That is, how did these Norse – these are the people who are the Vikings and so on and so forth – where did they get Jambudvipa essentially as their image of the earth?
I mentioned a number of other historical connections of this kind. All kinds of different nations had the idea about of Mount Meru. In fact, probably everyone’s heard that the Greeks had Mount Olympus, and gods lived on top of Mount Olympus, and there are many other examples like this. So the idea of, the Fifth Canto cosmology seems to have been widespread in a lot of different cultures.
Q: Can you give another example?
A: Well, for Mount Meru? Here’s whole bunch of them. I’ll just read this. This is from a book named Shamanism by Mircea Eliade. But he says, in Central Asia the names for the central mountains such as Sumber, Sumur, or Sumer, are related to the Sanskrit name Sumeru and the Greek's Mount Olympus; for Iranians they had Hara Berezaiti or something, Germans had a version of this called Himingbjorg – I can’t pronounce that. Oh! you an pronounce that!
A: Ok. Chinese, they had a Mount Khun-Lun. So there are a number of other examples here. This Needham wrote this book Science and Civilisation in China, and he noted that in China they had maps of the world which were circular with a central mountain. He calls them wheel maps. And he is thinking, but he is not sure if they came from India or Babylon, but he points that in any case, the Babylonians had such maps. So there are a lot of different appearances of this basic picture. But as far as I know, we really don't know much history behind this.
There’s one other example that I give here that always intrigued me. This has to do with the Sioux Indians, no less. It seems that the Sioux Indians tell that the world goes through a cycle of four ages. They say there is a buffalo, sacred buffalo in the West, who loses one leg during each successive age; and at present it has only one leg. It also loses hair during the successive ages but... So at present it has only one leg and this is an age of degradation.
A: Yeah, so that's from the Sioux Indians. Now, I don’t know how they got that. So...
Q: Maybe from Central America?
A: Yeah, that’s another whole topic. I gave one example here of what has been interpreted. This is on page 67. I put it in because it seems like a reasonable interpretation, although as I point out, you can’t be absolutely sure about these things. But here you have a number of beings holding a serpent and there is a tortoise there. Some have interpreted this as referring to the churning of the milk ocean. The tortoise could be the Kurma incarnation and so on. The point, of course, that I make in the book is this also shows the tantalising and frustrating nature of these things. You can never be sure, but there are lot of hints of Vedic themes represented all over the world in different cultures. But they seem to appear today in the form of fragments which are unrecognised. They are sort of cultural fossils, you might say.
There’s one more that I would like to mention, let’s see, this is on page 63. I ran across this, I thought it was pretty good. This is from Norse mythology again. Now they say that at the time of the destruction of the cosmos, which they call Ragnarök – this is on page 63, it’s in the middle of page 63 – "At the time of the destruction of the cosmos all-engulfing flames come out Surt the Black. This Surt is said to 'the king of eternal bliss at the southern end of the sky.' It is also stated in the Norse myths that there are many good abodes and many bad. Thus it is best to be in Gimle with Surt." So what does that remind one of?
Response: Ananta Sesa.
A: Yeah. At least it’s reminiscent of that. So I don’t know where they got ideas like that. But then finally there is one other thing that I will mention. And this is, there is a book by two scholars called de Santillana and von Dechend. It’s a book on mythology. Basically they are looking at myths and so forth from all over the world. So in their studies they came to the conclusion that there was something that they called an ‘archaic culture’ which had worldwide dispersal. And they are trying to reconstruct the worldview of this archaic people based on looking at all these myths. Now the book is of course, as you can imagine, highly speculative, but it’s interesting to see the conclusion they come to here. They’re asking what these archaic people thought about the earth. So they say, “First, what was the earth? In a most general sense the earth was the ideal plane laid through the ecliptic. The ‘dry earth’ in a more specific sense was the ideal plane through the celestial equator. The name ‘true earth’ or the inhabited world did not in any way denote our physical geoid for the archaics. It applies to the band of the zodiac two dozen degrees to the right and left of the ecliptic.” So this is their conclusion based on their studies. But the interesting thing is, it corresponds to this picture of the Bhu-mandala that we have been discussing here as the earth, as described in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. So that is a bit of historical material, and I think this, with further study, could be expanded. Yeah?
Q: Didn't Socrates also have this view of…
A: I am not sure. I know, I think Hesiod, the Greek poet, had something also along these lines. I don’t recall anything with regard to Socrates, but that may be.
Q: Is there any Vedic standards... that at one time the earth was covered with water?
A: Yeah, but the earth that was covered with water, actually if you look in the Bhagavatam it never says that the earth globe was covered with water, the earth was covered with water. And in fact that was the point that I made the other day with regard to that purport by Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, in his commentary on the Bhagavatam, namely that it’s the whole Bhu-mandala that sinks into the Garbhodaka Ocean and is raised up by Lord Varaha. He makes that point. So it’s the whole thing.
So the next point that I wanted to come to had to do with distances, the scale of the universe. So thus far we have been talking about Bhu-mandala, which is four billion miles in diameter. So that’s quite large for the earth. But if you regard that as the diameter of the universe it seems exceedingly small. So the basic description you have in the Bhagavatam is that looking at this from the side, if this is Bhu-mandala and Jambudvipa is in the center, then there is a shell, a spherical shell basically centered on Jambudvipa and all of the different planetary systems and so forth within the universe are contained within that shell. That’s the basic description. Actually the shell is subdivided into seven layers. Each one of them is ten times as thick as the one within it. And once you go through all of those seven layers you come out into the Causal Ocean. And so the total structure is called the brahmanda or the universe. And it’s described that in the Causal Ocean there are innumerable brahmandas floating like bubbles of foam within the ocean. And of course the Causal Ocean is part of the mahat-tattva and that’s where the material creation takes place. That’s surrounded by the Viraja river and on the other side of that is the spiritual world. That’s the basic layout.
So what am I saying? Well, if this diameter is four billion miles, that’s very small. So it turns out that there’s some other information, though, which is relevant to this. And let’s see, I’m looking for my reference, ok, page 30 in this book. So there’s a text in the Caitanya-caritamrta which is interesting. This is Madhya lila, Chapter 21, verse 84 from Caitanya-caritamrta. So in the text, “Kṛṣṇa said, ‘Your particular universe extends four billion miles; therefore it is the smallest of all the universes. Consequently you have only four heads.’” So Krishna is speaking to Brahma. He is mentioning this four-billion-mile figure. So in the purport Srila Prabhupada says,
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, one of the greatest astrologers of his time, gives information from the Siddhānta-śiromaṇi that this universe measures 18,712,069,200,000,000 × 8 miles. This is the circumference of this universe. According to some, this is only half the circumference.
A: Right, so this is why scientists use this power of 10 notation. You know, 1.8712 times 10, how many zeros? 10 to the sixteenth power. So that’s a rather large number. Times 8 means it’s in yojanas because Srila Prabhupada uses 8 miles per yojana.
Q: Do you have any idea where this figure came from?
A: Yes, I looked it up. Srila Prabhupada of course gives us the hint here. He says that its quoted from Siddhanta-siromani. And in fact in the Siddhanta-siromani you will find this. And in the Siddhanta-siromani an explanation is given for this somewhat enigmatic statement that this is the circumference of the universe, according to some this is only half the circumference. So the answer to that is the following, as it turns out: This is the circumference of the region bounding that area where the sun’s rays are visible. It is so stated in the Siddhanta-siromani. Now there are two ways to look at this, and this is also stated in the Siddhanta-siromani. One is the sun’s rays go all the way to the shell of the universe. In that case, this is the circumference of that shell circularly, going around. The other is, though, that after all, the Lokaloka Mountain that we were referring to yesterday blocks the rays of the sun and it’s situated radially half way out from the center. So then according to that view, this circumference is really the circumference of the Lokaloka mountain. So it’s half the circumference of the universe. So that’s the meaning of that part of the statement.
So the situation then is we have this very big number being cited here and it’s cited by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta. In fact I checked this, the commentary by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati to the Caitanya-caritamrta for this verse and indeed he cites this there. Srila Prabhupada is just mentioning his reference. So what can we say about this? First of all I should say something about how big this is, to give an idea. You can calculate what the radius is, this is the circumference, so if you divide by 2π you get the radius. You can convert this into light years. You know this figure. light years. Light travels at 186,000 miles in a second. And so if you figure out how many seconds there are in a year and multiply by that, that is the distance light travels in a year. So that’s called one light year. So the radius that this corresponds to, from the center out to this beginning of the coverings or from the center out to the Lokaloka Mountain, depending on which way you look at it, that comes out to 5077 light years. So that becomes a more respectable distance. Even in modern scientific terms that would include a lot of stars, although it wouldn't include the whole Milky Way galaxy, just to give you a…
Q: It would not?
A: Would not. You see, the trouble is the size of the Milky Way galaxy changes. You have to remember which source you’re getting your figures from. I remember a 10,000 light years and I remember a 100,000.
Q: I read something around 100,000.
A: 100,000. So maybe that’s the up to date size figure. Yeah?
Q: Is there an idea that the universe expands and contracts?
A: In the Vedic literature?
Q: Yeah, as well as in modern.
A: Well, it certainly expands at a certain point. But there is no indication that it expands in the Big Bang fashion. And the impression I get anyway is that once the creation is established, it's not expanding anymore. It’s full grown so to speak. That’s certainly the impression I get. Yeah?
A: That may be.
A: I have no indication that the whole universe is …
A: Well, the people could be bigger than this room. I certainly see no particular reason to link the higher stature of people with an expanding universe. One thing to keep in mind, though of course, I can say that right at this moment I am going to cause all lengths to double. See, it happened – all lengths are doubled! And of course if you try to measure this with a yardstick now you’ll still get the same distance, because that’s doubled too. All the lengths doubled! So in any case, we have this information.
I wanted to say, by the way, that in the Surya-siddhanta and in the Siddhanta-siromani you will find this same large figure; and it’s also indicated there how this is calculated. And I won’t write down the numbers, but it’s on page 32 in the book. But basically it’s calculated based on the motion of the moon, interesting enough. And basically the distance that the moon covers in its orbit in one day of Brahma is this figure, this distance for the circumference. That’s how you calculate it.
A: I don’t know. It’s not explained why, but that’s the way it is, because the figure involves taking this 57 million, 753 thousand, etc. number, which is the number of revolutions of the moon in one catur-yuga, which is 4,320,000 years, times a thousand for a thousand yuga cycles in one day of Brahma, times the circumference of the moon’s orbit, and that equals this number. So that’s where it comes from in terms of the calculation. So the question then is how can you, how do we understand this? What I would suggest is that since Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarsavati certainly, and of course Srila Prabhupada is following him, is just giving us a gigantic distance figure right after Krishna is saying to Brahma in the verse the four-billion-mile figure without offering any explanation of the relation between these two, it would seem both figures must apply. So one can ask, how could both figures apply? I can’t say that I know definitely, but one idea that comes to mind is this concept that there could be different scales for beings in different levels of consciousness.