"Human Potentialities" (SB 5.5.7)
In this verse, Lord Rsabhadeva teaches his sons that self-realization is the purpose of human life. Thompson contrasts that with worldviews identified with evolutionary perspectives focused on examining animalistic propensities. While drawing upon the Vedic literary tradition, Thompson proposes that human potentialities well surpass those of a sophisticated anthropoid.
TRANSCRIPT: Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto 5, Chapter 5, Text 7. “Human Potentialities.” London – May 28, 1984 / (528)
Even though one may be very learned and wise, he is mad if he does not understand that the endeavor for sense gratification is a useless waste of time. Being forgetful of his own interest, he tries to be happy in the material world, centering his interests around his home, which is based on sexual intercourse and which brings him all kinds of material miseries. In this way, one is no better than a foolish animal.
Purport by Srila Prabhupada:
The influence of maya is so strong that even a person advanced in knowledge actually forgets that he is Krsna's eternal servant. Therefore he remains satisfied in his householder life, which is centered around sexual intercourse. Conceding to a life of sex, he agrees to suffer all kinds of material miseries. Due to ignorance, one is thus bound by the chain of material laws.
cakṣur unmīlitaṁ yena
tasmai śrī-gurave namaḥ
śrī-caitanya-mano-'bhīṣṭaṁ sthāpitaṁ yena bhū-tale
svayaṁ rūpaḥ kadā mahyaṁ dadāti sva-padāntikam
Even though one may be very learned and wise, he is mad if he does not understand that the endeavor for sense gratification is a useless waste of time. Being forgetful of his own interest, he tries to be happy in the material world, centering his interests around his home which is based on sexual intercourse and which brings him all kinds of material miseries. In this way, one is no better than a foolish animal.
So, this verse is part of Lord Rsabhadeva's teachings to his sons on the real purpose of human life. And it describes the situation of a person, a conditioned soul, who is trying to enjoy this material world even though on the basis of material standards one may have a very high degree of education and one may be very intelligent, still one is considered mad if he does not recognize the true purpose of life. So, mere material learning is not able to save one from material suffering. Actually, the problem is that as long as one has an identification with the material body he will be using his material intelligence for the purpose of obtaining sense gratification. So it doesn't matter how intelligent, then, he is, as long as his intelligence is directed along those lines he's going to remain entangled in material existence and thus he will have to suffer.
Actually there's one devotee, an American named Ravindra Svarupa, who has a PhD in Philosophy, so he's familiar with the nature of the academic community. And he made the point that a common man may have two or three reasons for being in maya. And this will be of course sufficient to keep him pretty thoroughly entangled in maya; but a very learned professor at a University will have an elaborate system of hundreds of reasons for being in maya. And he will have worked out this system with great intelligence so if you try and disagree with him about it, he will be able to defeat you with all kinds of very intricate and clever arguments based on all kinds of learned delusions and so forth. So, even though this person is very intelligent and learned, actually he hasn't made any real advancement as a result of his learning. Real advancement would be to come to a stage where one can become free of suffering. But actually, the result of this materialistic person's learning is that he's even more deeply entangled in suffering. His own intelligence has become his downfall.
So, this is the situation of a person who is still inwardly attached to sense gratification. So, in order to become free of this the first thing that one must realize is that the self is completely non-material, that what we really are is something distinct from the material body. As long as we identify our self with the material body then in our desire to be happy, which is a natural characteristic of the soul, we will simply make plans which involve manipulation of the body. That's an inevitable consequence as long as we think that the body is the self.
So these plans ultimately will revolve around sex life in one way or another. Actually, the material body is simply an arrangement of senses of different kinds. Actually, the Vedic literature describes that there are ten senses, five senses of perception and five senses of activity. And these senses are arranged about the mind which is sort of the coordinator of the material senses. So, essentially the body is an arrangement of senses and bodily activity is sense gratification by definition. The different senses are designed to operate in certain ways and the body is simply the sum total of those senses. So, if you identify with the body, there's nothing to do but engage those senses in their various activities. That then becomes the entire center of one's existence. And there are innumerable different ways of doing this. It can become exceedingly complicated but yet that is the basic principle.
So, in order to become actually free from this, the very first thing that one must realize is that we are not this body. That's the first step in spiritual emancipation. So, we have to recognize that actually we are spirit soul and therefore our real interests should be in doing whatever is appropriate as spirit souls, not in trying to satisfy the senses of the material body. So that's the very first stage of spiritual life. So, in order to come to this platform of spiritual life, association is a very important thing. Actually, we tend to be social by nature and our minds tend to be very much affected by the state of consciousness of the people who surround us. So, if we are associating with people who have a materialistic outlook on life, then in many different ways both subtle and gross, we will tend to pick up on the materialistic enjoying spirit of these persons. And the result of this is that even though on an external or superficial level we may, say, be contemplating a spiritual philosophy, still our minds will be very much contaminated with various material lines of thought and this will affect our spiritual advancement.
So, I believe in an earlier verse here Lord Rsabhadeva made this point that association is very important. If one associates with materialistic persons one will become contaminated with their basic attitudes. So, unfortunately in this present society materialism is very strong and there are some people who are working very hard to make extensive propaganda to establish the material viewpoint. Recently in Los Angeles we've been working on a science magazine, which is part of Srila Prabhupada's program to thwart some of this materialistic propaganda. And so we were looking into this subject matter of human evolution. It's very interesting to see what is being done on a subtle platform with this subject matter.
Right now in New York City at the American Museum of Natural History there's an exhibit called "Ancestors". In this exhibit, they've collected the various fossil bones of supposed human ancestors from all around the world and put them together in one exhibit. And this is designed to convince people once and for all that we've descended from apes. So it's quite an interesting exhibit. They have a variety of skulls lined up in cases in this big hallway, and on either side they have lurid, full, about 6-foot high paintings showing the different ape-men going about their activities along with various arguments as to why one should accept this whole thing. And it is interesting to see that apart from the external presentation of logical arguments based on evidence in favor of this theory that man is evolved from apes, there's a more subtle process going on, on the psychological level. And that is that they are presenting animal life to the people and trying to tell people that what you are is really, in essence, an animal. You're essentially just an ape which has become slightly modified with the addition of a higher ability for the development of technology. But apart from that, that's essentially what you are. So this message is being repeated over and over again in various different ways.
For example, they stress that the real turning point in the development of mankind occurred when the apes, which were initially vegetarian, took to meat-eating. So essentially a human being is a predatory meat-eating ape. The idea is that most apes that you'll find living in the forest such as gorillas and chimpanzees are almost entirely vegetarian; and they just spend their day gulping down large quantities of leaves and roots and whatnot which are readily available. And so the argument is that this really doesn't take very much intelligence. All they have to do is reach out their arm and grab some vegetation and munch away. And for this purpose they have very powerful jaws so they can consume a lot of vegetation.
So, the argument is that a few million years ago a small group of apes became ejected from the ape society in the jungles. And they were forced to leave the jungles and go out into the savannah area where there's not so much rainfall and really the only vegetation available is grass which isn't suitable for primate consumption. So, these rejected apes had to take to... Well actually the argument is that first they took to scavenging from the kills of lions. So, they joined the jackals and hyenas and vultures; and they would go and start throwing stones at the hyenas and vultures that were gathering around a lion kill and drive them away, and then come in and start eating the meat. And that in order to do this, because as apes they weren't equipped with very powerful claws and sharp teeth which could tear meat they began to use sharp stones which they could use to cut the meat away from the bones and so forth.
So, this picture is presented of how mankind has evolved and essentially the message is that you're just animals so you may as well live like animals. There's certainly no soul, there's no God in control, you've just evolved. Actually, you're now the pinnacle of evolution. So, therefore, you have the greatest facility possible for indulging in your animalistic propensities. So that's what you should do and you should forget about religion, civilization and all that sort of thing. This is the message that they have to offer to human society and it's interesting that people tend to be so thoroughly motivated to present this. Some of the curators at the Museum there were saying that these bones that they had assembled together were the true sacred relics of mankind. Sort of like the wood from the true cross that used to be venerated by the Roman Catholic Church or something like that. So, this is their presentation.
So, of course, we're trying to counter this presentation. One thing that Srila Prabhupada very much emphasized was that this so-called scientific propaganda is actually an attempt to totally destroy the human form of life by making it impossible for people who have the human form of body to achieve the real goal for which that form of body is intended. Of course, the purpose of the human form of life is to attain self-realization. But if you become convinced that there's no self to realize and that you're just an animal then in effect one loses the advantage of having the human form of life.
So, in this magazine we have an anti-ancestors exhibit, so to speak. Actually, the whole idea of the "Ancestors" exhibit that they have there in New York is to show people a progression of skulls going from a very ape-like creature up to a modern human being with a continuous progression. And they've actually arranged things pretty well in this way. When you go into the beginning of the exhibit you first see this Lucy skeleton, which was discovered in Ethiopia somewhere, which is... the way they interpret it, a creature about three and a half feet high with a skull like that of a chimpanzee essentially but with legs more or less like a human being. So, you can imagine an erect ape – human from the neck down, but chimpanzee from the neck up. Actually this is their image of what a human being really is. From the neck up is just an ape. So therefore one should behave like an ape.
So, then as you go through the exhibit, you'll see a series of skulls which gradually become more human in appearance. The cranium gets larger, the jaws become smaller, the teeth become smaller, and so the face instead of extending out in a big muzzle shrinks back and becomes more vertical. And finally, you have the Neanderthal man and then finally modern human skulls are displayed there. So, the idea is that you can practically see the panorama of evolution right in front of you; and so it becomes perfectly clear that it must be true. And they had very long lines of people going through this exhibit. When I went to see it the line stretched down a very long corridor and around the corner down another corridor and around another corner and so on, although we crowded in.
However, what they don't show people in this exhibit is first of all that they're actually revealing only a small subset of the different fossil remains that have been found. This is an interesting point. They're able to make their case by giving only a selection of the evidence. Actually, there is evidence to show that for every stratum, geological stratum, in which they have found these various sub-human or semi-human beings, they've also found remains of perfectly modern human beings. But this evidence tends to become suppressed. And this is a very interesting story. We've tried to do a little bit of detective work to uncover some of these things. Actually, it would require Sherlock Holmes to really get to the bottom of the matter.
What happens is that, and especially in this field of paleoanthropology, it's the theory that determines what will be accepted as evidence rather than it being the evidence that determines what can be accepted as a theory. You may ask, after all, well what constitutes evidence? Someone may say that a given thing is a fact, but what do they mean when they say it's a fact? Actually a fact is also a kind of opinion. For example, somebody in this case of human evolution, the kind of evidence they refer to would be something like this: you'll hear that a given person such as this Richard Leakey in Africa has discovered a skull of a certain type in a layer of rock, which has been dated to be two million years old. So now is that a fact or not? Well, what has happened actually is that even assuming that this isn't completely a hoax, which it may not be, it may be that something has been discovered.
Well, what has happened is that some bones have been found in association with a certain area near the surface of the earth. And someone will say that, “Well, I think that these bones actually were buried within the earth on this particular level for the last two million years.” So he will say that he thinks that, that is the case. Actually, in practically every one of these finds the bones are found right on the surface. What they do to find these bones is they will have hired individuals, mostly from the local African tribes down in Kenya there, to wander about looking for bones on the surface of the earth. And a number of these people have very sharp eyesight and so for a small reward, they will wander about until they find something interesting; and then they will collect the bones together and take it to the anthropologist, let's say Louis Leakey or Richard Leakey, and say, "Well, we found it over here." And so he will then call in the geologists who will say well this particular section of ground corresponds to the early Pleistocene period and by stratigraphic correlation we can see that a few miles away there's some similar ground made of similar material which is overlaying by a volcanic deposit. So, we can date the volcanic deposit using potassium-argon dating techniques based on the theory of radioactive decay and so forth. So, they obtain such a date and they say, well that proves then that this skull is of such and such an age. So, that then becomes part of the evidence for evolution.
Now you can ask yourself what would happen if instead of an ape-like skull, a perfectly modern human skull had been found in the same place. Well, this does happen. So we can definitely say what would occur if such a discovery were made. In that case, the argument would be given that although the bones were found near the surface of the ground, or on the surface of the ground, in an area corresponding to say lower Pleistocene, actually this was an intrusive burial. But a few centuries ago a perfectly modern individual was buried here in a shallow grave and then gradually erosion lowered the level of the ground until the bones became exposed and because the burial brought the bones down to the level of this particular stratum, the bone seem to be associated with that stratum. But we know that since these are perfectly modern-looking human bones, they couldn't really be millions of years old. And we can explain that very easily, the fact that they're associated with these old strata, by the fact that someone must have buried them, dug a hole and put the bones in. So, therefore, this does not constitute evidence for what was going on in the past. So in this way, one can very easily dismiss such things.
But actually, practically speaking, as many different remains of this kind that is perfectly modern human beings have been found in these ancient strata, as remains of very primitive looking beings. So, apart from this, which is a matter of empirical evidence and the treatment of evidence, there is the argument that well, how can you explain these very ape-like beings except by positing human evolution? In fact, this "Ancestors" exhibit started out with a picture of a human being next to it a picture of a gorilla and the statement was made that, “Well, actually this picture alone is sufficient to prove our case.” You don't even need to look at the rest of the exhibit. Just note the obvious similarity between the gorilla and the human being. So that proves the point. We must be related therefore we must have a common ancestor and so forth.
But actually, this doesn't follow. There are various other ways in which you could come to have human beings and gorillas and also intermediate beings of various kinds. Actually, the Vedic literature describes many different kinds of subhuman beings. For example, in the Ramayana you read about Hanuman’s people or beings. These had monkey-like or ape-like bodies, but they also had human intelligence. They had organized societies with kings and so forth, but they were living in the jungle with a very simple level of culture. So you find such descriptions in the Vedic literature. However, the Vedic literature does not hold that human beings evolved from subhuman beings by a physical process of descent.
Actually, according to the Vedic literature, there's a process of what you might call inverse evolution. The human beings and the subhuman beings are descended from demigods in terms of ancestry. The demigods are in turn descended from higher demigods and those, in turn, are descended from Brahma and Brahma was manifested by Garbhodakasayi Visnu. So, actually there is a kind of descent of the bodies from a common ancestor, but it's literally a descent in that as you go back the ancestors become higher and higher instead of lower and lower. So, there are various ways in which one can wind up with these different kinds of beings. It doesn't follow that it takes place by evolution.
And you can consider the different outlook on human life which would come simply from the consideration that human beings have descended from demigods. Even for those who are materialistically inclined, this will produce an entirely different frame of mind. If we think that we're just slightly modified apes then essentially the only thing to do is engage in gratification of the lower propensities of the human mind. But if we think that we are descended from demigods then even if we have material motives, the basic desire will be to get back to the level of the demigods. Actually, if you look at the Vedic society, you'll see that people who basically had material motives were trying to do just that. By performing various kinds of sacrifices they would try to elevate themselves to the heavenly planets so as to have a higher standard of enjoyment. So, those are a few observations about this theory of evolution.
Of course, another important feature is that this entire idea of evolution assumes from the very start that life is entirely physical, that living beings are nothing but bodies composed of chemicals and that nothing is going on within bodies of living organisms except chemical reactions. The body is just a machine operating according to these interactions of molecules. So this of course, is a complete misconception. No one has of course shown that life is simply chemical. One interesting point to make is that as far as the theoretical chemistry is concerned, you use something called the Schrodinger equation in quantum mechanics to describe the behavior of molecules. But it is not possible to solve the Schrodinger equation exactly even for a hydrogen molecule which contains two atoms of hydrogen, and you can't even approximately solve the Schrodinger equation for let us say a protein molecule which may involve many thousands of atoms. No one can come even close to finding approximations for this.
So, what can one say then about say a single bacterium? Can it be shown that a single bacterium is simply a chemical system obeying laws of chemistry? Well, there's no way to show that because we can't say what the laws of chemistry would predict for a single bacterium. So, by observing the bacterium we can't tell whether or not those laws are really being followed. If one supposes that the bacterium is a purely chemical system, that's pure supposition. There's no proof for it at all. And that's, of course, true of a bacterium, so you can just imagine the situation for say a higher organism or a human being. So, this whole idea on which the theory of evolution is based is that we are simply physical but that hasn't been proven at all. And in fact, there's a great deal even of empirical evidence which suggests that that's not true. So, I won't go into that because I think already we're getting to about 8:30 here. Maybe I better see if anyone has any questions or comments at this point. Yeah?
Answer: Well they believe it. They seem to be sincere. They're convinced.
A: It's very interesting how people deal with evidence. There’s evidence to the contrary, but they reject that evidence. They say it's not evidence. And the nature of argument is such that you can do this. One important thing to realize about the whole empirical method is that arguments tend to be very loose. Typically people who are trying to prove something by an argument will emphasize how rigorous and logical their argument is. And frequently they will start out by giving a little preface in which they say that we are very rational and our arguments are entirely logical and based on incontrovertible fact. But actually if you look at a typical argument, especially in this area of evolution, you'll find that there are all kinds of gray areas where things just aren't well defined or at all clear and that they don't follow logically.
But the arguments that people could bring to bear in opposition to the theory of evolution are of the same nature. They'll also have gray areas or sections where you don't have perfect proof. Practically speaking, it's only in mathematics that you can really prove anything rigorously but mathematics is sterile in the sense that what you can prove in mathematics merely has to do with relations between numbers, so it has nothing to do with reality unless you postulate that it has something to do with reality. But in that case, your postulate is the weak point in the argument. So, arguments are always somewhat vague. So people who try and base their views on this empirical method can actually believe in evolution. They can just choose to reject the arguments against evolution and accept the arguments in favor of it. So, of course, one basic point we make is the empirical process will not lead you to genuine knowledge. That's actually the point made in this verse. Getting back to the verse, namely that even though a person may be extremely learned, that's not going to save him. That won't bring him to the genuine conclusions about the nature of life. So any other questions? Yeah?
A: Well, that's been sort of ISKCON rumor for some time. We asked Srila Prabhupada about dinosaurs once and the conversation was very interesting. Essentially, he said first of all, first basic point that he made, was that someone may find the bones of some big animal but from looking at those bones they can't tell what sort of animal that really was. They know there is a big animal but whether their reconstructions and their ideas of what it was are correct or not, that's another question. Actually he said, "Call it dinosaur or finosaur, that is your choice." This was the comment that he made. So first point is that they may find the bones of some big animal, but that doesn't mean that they can properly reconstruct what it was or what kind of world it lived in. The evolutionists will say that there is an age of dinosaurs, but do they really know that just because they have a skeleton of something. That's one point.
The other point Srila Prabhupada made was that nothing is extinct. And this is a much heavier point. He maintained very strongly that all these big animals are still living in this world. So that's interesting because then you may say, well where are they? But he maintained very strongly that actually there's no such thing as extinction. We asked him whether during the pralaya that comes at the end of, say, an age of Manu, that different life forms are wiped out and he said, yes they are but then they're recreated again. So, there can be periods in which different forms are missing. That's true. But subsequently they'll be recreated again and reintroduced so it will merely be temporary, short period of time in which they're missing. So, he argued that these dinosaurs are still living. He pointed out that many very large animals live in the ocean and we're not aware of what's going on down there. We're not aware of what's living there. He didn't say though that the dinosaurs are from the last Kali-yuga. Although he didn't say that they aren't either. But basically, he stressed the continuity in the presence of different forms of life. So, other questions?
Actually one implication of this is that we don't know the entire world. One of the most basic tenants in modern education is that modern man has covered every single square inch of the globe. We've seen everything that there is to see. So there's no possibility that large animals could still be existing that we haven't already catalogued. But if you look at the Vedic literature, you'll see that that couldn't be true. If you consider the dimensions of Jambudvipa for example and compare them with the dimensions of the earth that we know, then you can conclude that there must be a lot of territory that we don't have access to. And actually, Srila Prabhupada has made that point at various times that we don't really know even this earth. So, that, of course, brings one to another whole subject area, which I won't try and go into. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.