Conversations: Bhagavatam Astronomy
The extraordinary descriptions of the cosmos presented in the Bhagavata Purana tend to appear mythological to the sensibilities of a contemporary audience. But by utilizing the mathematical concept of “higher dimensions,” Thompson illustrates how geometric features attributed to Bhu-mandala can also offer an account of the solar system that corresponds surprisingly well with modern analyses.
TRANSCRIPT: "Conversations: Bhagavatam Astronomy." Alachua, FL. - 1996 / (013)
Comment: ...think of mountains, and the earth is supposed to be here, and here is this other big high mountain here, and the earth, and the sun is supposed to go around...
Answer (Sadaputa): Well, obviously you don't see those things...
C: Yes. I brushed it off... it's subtle"
A: Well, I think it is.
C: I believe it is.
A: If you look at the... subtle, or I say higher dimensional, which is another way of saying the same thing. If you look at what the Bhagavatam says about Jambudvipa and so on, you'll see that it's a heavenly region except for Bharata-varsha. All of the other varshas are places where demigods are living. And in fact, the name that is given to it is Bhauma-svarga which means Earth Heaven. And, in fact, if you look at the description of the three worlds... we say the three worlds. It's a very common phrase. Well, those would be the lower planets which are called Bila-svarga. And Bila... well you see in the Bhagavatam it's translated as subterranean heavenly planets. The point is they're heavenly. So what does it mean to be heavenly and subterranean?
C: Under Earth.
A: Under Earth. Well in a way it's quite simple because up and down in this context... Up means towards the pole star and down means away from the pole star. So subterranean means on the southern side of the earth going away from the pole star. So planets down there would be subterranean but they're still heavenly. It's described that those are heavenly planets. So that's called Bila-svarga. Then going up towards the pole star... that's called Divya-svarga.
C: Lower heaven and upper...
A: That's the higher heaven. Divya-svarga is the heaven of the devas, or the demigods. And then in between you have the middle planetary system which is called Bhauma-svarga and that's the earthly heaven. So they're all heavens. So then this little earth that we're standing on is situated in the midst of these different heavenly regions. And they're described in great detail in terms of geography with mountains and oceans and so on and we don't see those. Now the whole universe is filled with these things so in every direction you couldn't help but see it if it was solid in the sense that it would block our vision. So that then you could see it. But you don't see that in any direction. Here in the Northern Hemisphere you can look at all the Northern stars and so on, and Southern stars down to a certain degree. And if you go down to the Southern Hemisphere, you can see the Southern Constellations and so on. So you can look in all 360 degrees in every direction and all you see is stars from the earth. But all these other things are there. So the point that I have made is that these are higher dimensional. But higher dimensions also include three dimensions so they still have location in three dimensional space. But they're subtle or higher dimensional or...
C: They don't relate to our optics.
A: They don't relate to our eyes. Now Srila Prabhupada said in a couple of conversations back in 1976... he was... well basically... of course he raised this whole problem of presenting the 5th Canto, and Puskara, in fact, had made these gigantic pictures of the 5th Canto in Vrindavan. And... so they were looking at these pictures trying to figure out what it all meant. And the devotees were saying to Srila Prabhupada: “Well how can you go around the globe if it's like this? I mean, this definitely looks flat, so how can you get around?” Because we've all gone around in jet planes. So this is very difficult. And he basically said that you've got a globe which is part of the whole thing. It's not the whole thing. You haven't seen the real Himalayas for example. The real Himalayas would be ten thousand yojanas high. And if that's about 80,000 miles, when you consider that it's 25,000 miles around the equator, then they couldn't be standing on the earth. Rather the earth would have to be standing on them.
C: That's on the stratosphere, I mean, that's part of the stratosphere?”
A: Well even the stratosphere is only umpteen miles up, you see, if the whole diameter of the earth is 8000 miles. So the diameter of the earth globe as we know it is about 8000 miles. So 80,000 is ten times as big as that. So that creates a problem. But this is all in another dimension basically. And he gave that example of a bull made to walk in a circle by being yoked up to a central pole with blinders and so on. So it's just going around in a circle. So all it can do is go in a circle because that's how it has been restricted. So likewise our senses are restricted so that we can only see certain things. We can't see everything that's there. But then the interesting thing is, in the case of the dvipas; alright we can't see all those different things - the ocean of milk and... and so on and so forth. But if you look at the measurements, you see they're lining up with the planetary orbits in a very nice way. So unless you want to say that's just coincidence that the numbers line up, then it indicates that they must have known something. And you can even use a standard statistical formula to say what the probability is that it's not coincidence and it's at least a 95% chance that it's not a coincidence if you calculate using standard statistical methods that they use. So... and that's considered statistically significant in scientific testing. So you could say... hmm?
C: If it's 95% it can't be...
A: Yeah 95%. Well you could say you land in the other 5%. But still, it's a 95% correlation there. So the point is you see all these things lining up. So what I'm going to...and the further point I would make is that this is something that you could present to scientists... certainly. The only sticking point there would be that those who are involved in Indology - the study of old Sanskrit texts. That's called Indology. They're committed to the idea that these things are old mythology.
C: How do you...
A: Because... of course you see what happened was, the early Indologists were Christians. So they wanted to prove that the Hindu scriptures were mythology so that they could convert everyone to Christianity. So they started using science in order to do that. But that turned out to be a double edged sword because, back at home, people were using science to prove the Bible was mythology. So science sort of cut the ground right out from under them. But then the Christians sort of retreated back to their Bible Colleges where they now are very strong and could probably win elections in the United States very easily, but anyway... and what happened was, the scientists took over and they said, “All these scriptures are mythology.” And that's the standard view. And their position is: “Well if you want to know the truth about things, you have to come to us. We hold the truth.” So if you then come forward and say, “Well look, you know, you see the Bhagavatam has all these things that line up very nicely with astronomy.” Then there are some people who will say, “No no, this is religious proselytization. You know, we don't want this.” But, at the same time, the astronomers will have no reason to object, because after all, it's astronomy that things are lining up with. So... and it's an interesting correlation. So in this lecture that I'm going to give at this conference coming up, I'm going to present this as Archeology. I'm going to say, “What we have here are artefacts of ancient scientific knowledge within old Sanskrit texts.”
C: Will they object to the necessity of making it geocentric rather than solar centric?
A: Well my answer to that is that every astronomer ultimately makes things geocentric. Because to point his telescope, he has to convert things into geocentric coordinates for the simple reason that his telescope is sitting on the earth. So... and for that matter the Navy uses geocentric astronomy all the time to navigate ships. They have to know where the planets are from a geocentric point of view. So there's nothing wrong with being geocentric. And, in fact, to go further, I want to go into further details. The Bhagavatam, the 5th Canto, gives the principle of relative motion, because in the course of the discussion, Sukadeva Goswami at one point says: the sun goes around Mount Meru with Mount Meru to it's right. And then in another... in another place he says: the sun goes around Mount Meru with Mount Meru to it's left. And then Maharaja Pariksit asks, “Well how can it go around with Meru to the right and the left? I don't understand this.” And then he gives this potter's wheel example. He says,”Suppose you have a potter's wheel spinning and you have some ants on the potter's wheel that are walking the other way.” So it's spinning like this, lets say, and the ants are walking like this. “Well from one point of view, the ants are going this way with the wheel – with the axis on their right – and in the other sense, the wheel is carrying them around and they're going this way with the axis on the left.” It's a matter of a relative point of view. Whether you look at the ants walking relative to the wheel or you look at the wheel moving relative to other objects.