"Higher Dimensional Attributes of the Vedic Universe" (SB 3.7.26)
Thompson compares Vedic conceptions of space, with concepts prominent within contemporary scientific discourse. For example, the Srimad-Bhagavatam consistently refers to realms of experience beyond standard human perception, yet potentially experiential through higher-dimensional correspondence. Thompson suggests that an examination of phenomena such as remote psychokinesis which can likewise appear to defy the known laws of nature could facilitate both productive insight, and an expanded appreciation of the concept of space.
TRANSCRIPT: Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto 3, Chapter 7, Text 26. “Higher Dimensional Attributes of the Vedic Universe.” Alachua - 1995-06-03 / (521)
RLT: “Kindly describe how the planets are situated above the earth as well as underneath it. And also mention their measurements as well as that of the earthly planets.” Please repeat: O son of Mitra.
Audience: O son of Mitra.
RLT: Kindly describe how the planets are situated.
Aud: Kindly describe how the planets are situated.
RLT: Above the earth as well as underneath it.
Aud: Above the earth as well as underneath it.
RLT: And also please mention their measurements.
Aud: And also please mention their measurements.
RLT: As well as that of the earthly planets.
Aud: As well as that of the earthly planets.
RLT: Purport by Srila Prabhupada:
Yasmin vijñāte sarvam evaṁ vijñātaṁ bhavati. This Vedic hymn declares emphatically, that the devotee of the Lord knows everything material and spiritual in relationship with the Lord. Devotees are not simply emotional as is ill-conceived by certain less intelligent men. Their direction is practical. They know everything that is and all the details of the Lord's domination over the different creations.
cakṣur unmīlitaṁ yena
tasmai śrī-gurave namaḥ
śrī-caitanya-mano-'bhīṣṭaṁ sthāpitaṁ yena bhū-tale
svayaṁ rūpaḥ kadā mahyaṁ dadāti sva-padāntikam.
O son of Mitra, kindly describe how the planets are situated above the earth as well as underneath it, and also please mention their measurement as well as that of the earthly planets.
So, Vidura is asking Maitreya Muni many different questions. In particular, he's asking about the situation of the different planetary systems and Srila Prabhupada points out in the purport that the devotees actually have knowledge of everything material and spiritual. Srila Prabhupada has said that Vyāsadeva had no business putting imaginary stories in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. So, the descriptions of the planetary systems given in the Bhagavatam in answer to Vidura's question are intended to be completely accurate descriptions of reality. Nonetheless, from the point of view of modern thinking and modern ideas about the universe, some of these descriptions of the planetary systems are a bit difficult to understand. So, I thought I would say a little bit about that in this class.
The first thing I was going to discuss is the question of, you might say, laws of physics in the Vedic system. It should be realized that modern astronomy is based on a combination of two things essentially. One is our idea of what the laws of physics are and the other is observations of light in different forms of radiation that are coming down through the sky.
Basically, what astronomers do is they observe the radiation coming from the sky and see the different patterns that are in it and they ask themselves: Based on the laws of physics, what sort of structures could be producing that radiation? So they make models of what they think could be producing the radiation based on their laws. And then if the models work out consistently, they tend to develop faith that these models represent actual reality. And so they accept that this is the way things really are out there in the cosmos. But the fact is we really haven't been out there. Even if you want to accept the reality of space probes out to Uranus and Neptune and so forth, no one will say that we've been out as far as the nearest star, what to speak of distant galaxies and quasars and so forth. So it's all a matter of model building and then building faith in the models, and these models are based on the laws of physics.
But one can say something about the concepts of physical reality given in the Vedic literature. So, one point is that the universe, according to the Vedic understanding, could be described as higher-dimensional. Now, this is a word you won't find in the Vedic literature itself. I don't know of any word in Sanskrit that directly corresponds to that. But what I use that word to stand for is basically the following: According to the Vedic understanding, Krsna is present and has full access to every location within space. Actually, Krsna determines space – it's not that space comes before Krsna and Krsna is situated somewhere in space. But in fact, Krsna is first. He's the cause of all causes and space is therefore caused by or produced by Krsna. Krsna is located at every position in space; or another way to look at it is that every position in space is where Krsna is. So, Krsna can provide access between any two points in space since he is located everywhere in space.
At this point, one brings in other conscious living entities, jiva souls. So, the conscious living entities are equipped with senses, which are provided by Krsna's arrangement, and the senses are of two types. There're senses of perception and there're active senses by which the living being can move about and do different things. So Krsna can adjust the senses of the living being so that access is made available between any given points in space, or he can arrange it so that access is not available between particular points in space. This basic principle can be deduced by examining the Vedic literature. You can find many different examples showing how by adjustment of the senses of the living entities, one can have access to different regions of space, or one can be restricted in one's access. So that's the basic principle and when I say higher-dimensional, that's the kind of thing that I'm referring to.
So, I wanted to present a story which is taken from the Caitanya-caritamrta that illustrates some of this. This is the story of Brahma's visit to Krsna in Dvaraka. So it seems that once upon a time, Brahma went to Dvaraka to see Krsna, and it seems that many demigods and other important persons, rsis, and so on, we're there to visit Krsna. So Brahma had to wait – there was an outer chamber where he was sitting waiting for his appointment with Krsna. And, of course, he announced to the secretary, “Well, please tell Krsna that Brahma has come to see him.” And Krsna sent word out to him, “Please say, ‘Which Brahma it is who has come to see me?’ ” So Brahma was thinking, “Well, this is an unusual question because I'm the only Brahma in this universe. So what does Krsna mean?”
So, when Brahma got in to see Krsna he asked him, “Why did you ask which Brahma has come to see you?” So, that's the beginning of the story here. Yes,
Why did you inquire which Brahma had come to see you? What is the purpose of such an inquiry? Is there any other Brahma besides me in this universe?” Upon hearing this Sri Krsna smiled and immediately meditated, unlimited Brahmas arrived instantly.
These Brahmas had different numbers of heads. Some had ten heads, some twenty, some a hundred, some a thousand, some ten thousand, some a hundred thousand, some ten million, and others a hundred million. No one can count the number of faces they had. There also arrived many Lord Sivas with various heads, numbering one hundred thousand and ten million. Then Indras also arrived and they had hundreds of thousands of eyes all over their bodies. When the four-headed Brahma of this universe saw all these opulences of Krsna, he became very bewildered and considered himself a rabbit among many elephants. All the Brahmas who came to see Krsna offered their respects at his lotus feet, and when they did this, their helmets touched his lotus feet.
No one can estimate the inconceivable potency of Krsna. All the Brahmas who were there were resting in the one body of Krsna. When all the helmets struck together at Krsna's lotus feet, there was a tumultuous sound. It appeared that the helmets themselves were offering prayers unto Krsna's lotus feet. With folded hands, all the Brahmas and Sivas began to offer prayers unto Lord Krsna saying, "O Lord, you've shown me a great favor. I have been able to see your lotus feet." Each of them then said, "It is my great fortune, Lord, that you have called me thinking of me as your servant. Now, let me know what your order is so that I may carry it on my heads." Lord Krsna replied, "Since I wanted to see all of you together, I have called all of you here. All of you should be happy. Is there any fear of the demons?" They replied, “By your mercy, we are victorious everywhere. Whatever burden there was upon the earth, you've taken away by descending on that planet." This is the proof of Dvaraka's opulences.
All the Brahmas thought, “Krsna is now staying in my jurisdiction.” Thus the opulence of Dvaraka was perceived by each and every one of them. Although they were all assembled together, no one could see anyone but himself. Krsna then bade farewell to all the Brahmas there, and after offering their obeisances, they all returned to their respective homes. [CC Madya-lila 21.65–80]
So this is the description.
The interesting thing to see here is that each Brahma was thinking Krsna is now staying in my jurisdiction. And each Brahma was alone with Krsna, it is stated here. But our Brahma was able to see all of them. So, it would appear from the description, of course, we know that there are many universes called Brahmandas, and Brahmanda means the region dominated by a Brahma. So within each universe, there's a preceding demigod known as Brahma or Brahman, but there's only one per universe. So, each of these Brahmas was the ruler of a particular universe and each Brahma understood that Krsna was within his own jurisdiction, that is his Brahmanda. However, even though each Brahma was visiting Krsna and could only see himself together with Krsna, our Brahma was able to see all of these different Brahmas.
So the description has some interesting features, for example, the tumultuous sound made by the helmets of the Brahmas striking the floor in front of Krsna's lotus feet. So, if all of those heads were striking the floor in front of Krsna's lotus feet you'd think they'd get in the way of one another because there were huge numbers of Brahmas. Of course, each one also had huge numbers of heads and you can wonder why the heads didn't get in the way of one another. But, this is the arrangement of objects within space as described in Vedic literature. There are many different accounts having the basic features of this particular story and everything works together consistently. So basically, what you have is that you have different ways of gaining access to space, which are all under Krsna's control. It's significant here that it said that all of the Brahmas were residing within the one body of Krsna. So that's why it was possible for these interconnections to take place.
So, another example illustrating this phenomenon would be the basic phenomenon of many-headed beings or beings with many different arms. For example, you can consider the story of Banasura. Banasura, had 1000 arms, 500 arms coming from each shoulder. And at one point he was manipulating 500 bows firing arrows at Krsna in a great battle. So you can consider if that is so, then all 500 bows had to be aimed in the direction of Krsna. So why didn't the bows get in the way of each other? And you might say, well, somehow the bows could just pass through each other? But certainly the bowstring pushed against the arrow that that bow was firing – actually, he was firing two arrows at a time from each bow – so, the bowstring had to move the arrow. However, you have 500 bowstrings there all at once. So wouldn't they sort of get in the way of each other?
Well, it seems that each bowstring was moving the arrows that it was connected with, but not interfering with the other arrows. Also, of course, you had 500 hands there manipulating the bowstrings and arrows, but why didn't they get in the way of each other, yet each hand was drawing back the particular bowstring that it was pulling? So how can you make that work as a consistent description? Well, it turns out that you can, and in fact, you can do that in higher-dimensional space. It works out. In fact, I made a model of that, not with 500 hands, but just two arms and made a little videotape of a very crude representation of it, but it does work if you go to higher dimensions of space. In this case, you can get away with just what's called an n-dimensional space, n-dimensional Euclidean space it's called. But in general, the principle is that interconnections between space are under higher control, ultimately under Krsna's control.
Now, another example of this phenomenon would be the mystic siddhi called prapti siddhi. Srila Prabhupada has given a description of how if you're sitting in New Delhi, a person who has this prapti siddhi could reach out his arm and pick some pomegranates from Afghanistan and they would be there with his hand in New Delhi. So you can ask there, well, does this mean that the arm becomes extremely long and attenuated and then, sort of like a rubber band that's very greatly stretched, and then it contracts back with the pomegranates? It doesn't seem that it works this way. It's a direct connection. Srila Prabhupada also mentioned in the Nectar of Devotion that a yogi using this siddhi could reach out and touch the moon with his hand while sitting on the earth. So there are direct connections between different points in space and matter can be transferred from one point to another through these direct connections, but the connections aren't accessible to everyone. It appears that the connections are under higher control. So certain yogis will acquire this power of prapti siddhi.
Actually, the 11th Canto gives a detailed description of the different mystic siddhis and it's pointed out there that these are all powers of Krsna, which the living entity can share to some degree depending on Krsna's mercy. So that description is there. It turns out that, of course, one can say that these descriptions sound very fantastic and imaginary, but it turns out that there is empirical evidence, at least to some degree, that these things could be true. There's certainly empirical evidence indicating that objects can travel from one point of space to another apparently without crossing the space in between. This comes in the area of what is called paranormal phenomena. For example, there are cases where yogis are said to be able to do this. There's the famous case for example of Sathya Sai Baba, who manifests different objects. Of course, this kind of thing can also be done by magicians’ tricks.
I had an interesting interview once with another yogi who claimed to do this kind of thing, named Kalki Baba. Actually, we videotaped it and Krsna-kripa was also there. In this case, the yogi did a pretty good mind-reading act. It was rather hard to see how he could do it. I wrote down various numbers and names on a piece of paper and he told me exactly what they were. It was quite hard to see how he could have gotten to look at the piece of paper and we had this on videotape also, and you really couldn't see how he did it.
However, he also claimed to manifest this ash, or vibhuti, from his hand, which if done in a genuine way would be an example of prapti siddhi; because what happens there is the ashes moved from another place and appeared from the person's hand. So it's crossing the space without crossing the intervening distance. But in this case, on the videotape, it was possible to see that he was doing a trick. However, it must be admitted that he warned us; he said, “I am having siddhi and I am doing trick also.” And I asked him, “Well, can you please explain which of the things you did were siddhi and which ones were trick?” And he said, “You decide.” So, in any case, these things do happen though.
It turns out there's additional evidence for this kind of process which occurs in cases of what is now called spontaneous remote psychokinesis or remote spontaneous psychokinesis, RSPK. That's a sanitized term for what used to be called a poltergeist. Poltergeist means noisy ghost in German, and that's not considered to be a very respectable term. But there are cases where typically you'll have a person living in a house somewhere and all kinds of unpleasant phenomenon will begin to take place. There'll be rapping sounds in the walls and objects will move around, fires will mysteriously start, pictures will fall from walls and so forth.
Typically, it's observed that these phenomena center around some target individual so that if the individual moves to a new location, the phenomena may follow. But one feature of these phenomena is that objects sometimes appear in mid-air. For example, stones may appear in mid-air, move on some odd, twisted trajectory, and then go falling onto the floor. And people have investigated this and they've tried doing such things as marking one of the stones with chalk and throwing it outside the house. Then lo and behold, the same stone marked with chalk appears in mid-air again inside the house. So, there’re phenomena of this kind. There's an extensive amount of testimony referring to this, but it seems to be a direct example of this prapti siddhi, namely that an object disappears in one place and it appears in another place; and somehow it doesn't cross the space in between or it manages to pass through walls in some fashion, which should be a barrier blocking the motion of the object. So there's a great deal of evidence along this line and this basically tends to confirm at least some aspects of the Vedic description. Of course, we can't give direct evidence of innumerable Brahmas appearing in a particular location, but this basic phenomenon of the idea of higher dimensions is there even in ordinary experience.
Another interesting case that I just thought I would mention is the question of linking closed rings together. Let's say you have two leather rings – they've been cut out of one piece of leather. The reason that leather is used is that if you cut a piece of leather, it's very hard to put it back together again so that you can't see the cut. You could try and glue it or something like that but there'd be a groove there that somebody could notice. So you have two leather rings which are separate and the question is, can they link together? So there's testimony indicating that in cases of these paranormal phenomena, sometimes separate rings can link together. So now they're linked. Now, the only way we could do that is by cutting one ring and putting it around and rejoining it at the cut, but if you can move the rings in a higher dimension, then you can show easily enough that it would be possible to make the link without cutting one of the rings. So, in any case, that's another piece of evidence along these lines. So there are indications empirically that there are higher dimensions of space in the sense that I mentioned.
Now, a further aspect of this is the idea that there are realms of existence which we don't directly perceive, but which we can link up with through some higher-dimensional connection. This idea is quite basic in Krsna consciousness because one of the primary examples would be the spiritual world of Goloka Vrindavan, which is linked up somehow with the physical Vrindavan that we can visit in India. So you might ask, well, what is the nature of the link?
What you see is that it is possible for persons and also objects to pass back and forth between Goloka Vrindavan and the Vrindavan that we can visit. An example would be in the story of Dukhi Krsna das. It's described that Dukhi Krsna das, who was...Well his guru was named Hridaya Caitanya, I believe, but he was living in Vrindavan and serving under Jiva Goswami. So, he had the service of sweeping the Seva Kunja area where Krsna's pastimes take place in Vrindavan; and one day he found a sort of ankle ornament laying there, which was quite unusual. He could see that it was not an ordinary sort of thing, but he evidently could pick it up with his hand and move it. So, it was like a physical object in one sense, but he could see that it wasn't ordinary. So, he very carefully hid it.
And it turns out that this was an ankle ornament from Radharani that she had dropped during pastimes there in Seva Kunja and the gopi named Lalita came to get it. So, she approached Dukhi Krsna das in the form of an old lady and made some story about, I forget how it went, something about her daughter lost this ornament and so forth. Dukhi Krsna das was somewhat suspicious as to who this was. So he asked to see her actual form and finally, she did agree and she showed him her actual form, which was exceedingly beautiful. So, she assumed the form of an old lady when she appeared before him. And at that point she gave him… well she initiated him in an unusual way. He acquired a new name, that was Shyamananda, and she gave him some sort of tilak, which was apparently not erasable – it was an unusual form of tilak.
Now, this created a lot of trouble for him as it turned out because his guru was rather perturbed that he had apparently taken another initiation from somebody. And this led to many different pastimes in which he demonstrated that this experience that had happened to him was actually something real. But the reason that I'm mentioning the story is that it illustrates the idea that you have the world of Goloka Vrindavan with Krsna and Radharani and their pastimes and Lalita and Visakha and so on, and you have the world of Vrindavan that we see with its dusty roads and so forth, but somehow they're connected. And the connection can be bridged according to the will of the higher authorities. So somehow it probably wasn't just accidental that Radharani dropped the ankle ornament, but somehow she dropped it in such a way that it fell into the earthly Vrindavan instead of just falling in the Goloka Vrindavan. And then Lalita, Lalita came across and spoke to Dukhi Krsna das. Later on, he went into meditation and in meditation he entered into the Goloka Vrindavan in order to ask for help in convincing his guru as to what had really happened. The guru wasn't about to believe this readily. Of course, he knew about such things, but still, he was sceptical about this particular case. Is this actually really happening or is this just a story that this crazy guy is telling? So, he had to be convinced.
So anyway, another example of this kind of phenomenon of an object crossing over into this world from the spiritual world and still being an object when it crosses over is, let's see, what was it? I think it was Srinivasa Acarya – I'm not sure I have the right one – but he was meditating on Lord Caitanya. In his meditation, he had entered into a place where Lord Caitanya was, and he was a fanning Lord Caitanya and so forth. At a certain point, Lord Caitanya took off the garland that he was wearing and put it over this devotee's head. At that point, his meditation broke and he woke from meditation with the actual garland around his neck. This garland had a very unique fragrance.