"The Modern and Vedic Universe Further Compared" (SB 3.20.17)
According to the Bhagavata Purana, once Maha-Visnu glances over the unmanifest form of matter (pradhana), it undergoes numerous transformations subsequently producing countless universes. Thompson explains how such perspectives offer surprising similarities to contemporary concepts of quantum foam, wherein quantum jumps produce space within which varied universes can subsequently unfold.
TRANSCRIPT: Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto 3, Chapter 20, Text 17. “The Modern and Vedic Universe Further Compared.” San Diego – April 29 1992 / (941)
[When that] Supreme Personality of Godhead who is lying on the Garbhodaka Ocean entered the heart of Brahma, Brahma brought his intelligence to bear, and with the intelligence invoked he began to create the universe as it was before.
Purport by Srila Prabhupada:
At a certain time, the Personality of Godhead KaranodakasayI Visnu lies in the Karana Ocean and produces many thousands of universes from his breathing; then he enters again into each and every universe as Garbhodakasayi Vishnu and fills up half of each universe with his own perspiration. The other half of the universe remains vacant, and that vacant region is called outer space. Then the lotus flower sprouts from his abdomen and produces the first living creature, Brahma. Then again, as Ksirodakasayi Visnu, the Lord enters into the heart of every living entity, including Brahma. This is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita, 15th chapter. The Lord says, “I am seated in everyone's heart, and by me are remembrance and forgetfulness made possible.” As the witness of the activities of the individual entities, the Lord gives each one remembrance and intelligence to act according to his desire at the time he was annihilated in his last birth in the last millennium. This intelligence is invoked according to one's own capacity, or by the law of karma.
Brahma was the first living entity, and he was empowered by the Supreme Lord to act in charge of the mode of passion. Therefore, he was given the required intelligence, which is so powerful and extensive that he is almost independent of the control of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Just as a highly posted manager is almost as independent as the owner of a firm, Brahma is described here as independent because, as the Lord's representative to control the universe, he is almost as powerful and independent as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The Lord, as the Supersoul within Brahma, gave him the intelligence to create. The creative power therefore of every living entity is not his own; it is by the grace of the Lord that one can create. There are many scientists and great workers in this material world who have wonderful creative force, but they act and create only according to the direction of the Supreme Lord. A scientist may create many wonderful inventions by the direction of the Lord, but it is not possible for him to overcome the stringent laws of material nature by his intelligence, nor is it possible to acquire such intelligence from the Lord, for the Lord’s supremacy would then be hampered. It is stated in this verse that Brahma created the universe as it was before. This means that he created everything by the same name and form as in the previous cosmic manifestation.
cakṣur unmīlitaṁ yena
tasmai śrī-gurave namaḥ
śrī-caitanya-mano-'bhīṣṭaṁ sthāpitaṁ yena bhū-tale
svayaṁ rūpaḥ kadā mahyaṁ dadāti sva-padāntikam.
So, the translation again:
When that Supreme Personality of Godhead who is lying on the Garbhodaka Ocean entered the heart of Brahma, Brahma brought his intelligence to bear, and with the intelligence invoked he began to create the universe as it was before.
So, we have the description of the creation of the material universe, which Srila Prabhupada sums up in the purport. There are many different interesting points one can make here. Let's see, to begin with, there's the point that Karanodakasayi Visnu lies in the Karana Ocean and produces many thousands of universes. So, Karana means cause, so this is also translated as Causal Ocean. So, the domain of material cause and effect is this Karana Ocean. It is stated that, Maha-Visnu or Karanodakasayi Visnu creates thousands of universes by his breathing. Actually, it's described that initially, he glances over the inert material energy, which is called pradhana, and then as a result of his glance, the pradhana is activated. By his glancing, he injects conditioned spirit souls into the pradhana and he also enters it as the force of time. Krsna is time personified.
So, when the potency of time becomes active within this pradhana, it is transformed into what is called the mahat-tattva; and it's explained that the different features of the material energy are present in the pradhana in a latent or unmanifest condition. But once the time potency becomes manifest within pradhana, the different aspects of material nature begin to interact with one another, and you have the development of different material manifestations. So on an abstract level that is what is happening. Also when the spirit souls are injected into the pradhana, they are injected along with their karma from previous lives. And the result of that is that ultimately they're given bodies in which they take up their activities, which they had left off at the annihilation of the previous universe. Srila Prabhupada mentions that here in the purport.
One aspect of this is that it doesn't happen just once, but there are many occasions in which Maha-Visnu creates universes. When he's doing it, as he breathes out, universes are manifested. And when he breathes back in, all the universes are annihilated. I don't know how many times he may breathe on such an occasion. But then on other occasions, he will also be breathing universes in and out. So, there are many universes and many periods of creation going on to infinity without any limit. So that aspect is there.
You can make some comparisons that are interesting with the modern scientific conceptions. Nowadays, there's this idea of the Big Bang, which has recently been given new impetus through propaganda techniques. But in any case, the idea of the Big Bang is that the universe starts out as something very tiny, in fact infinitesimal, and then expands. So, the Big Bang idea... of course, all the ideas of the scientists are mechanistic. What mechanistic means is that everything happens by essentially physical pushes and pulls. It's a matter of particles colliding with one another, forces pushing something, and so on, without any intelligence being involved or any kind of consciousness. This is the scientific conception. So, the same is true of the Big Bang. For some reason, this tiny, whatever it is, expands and produces the universe entirely by physical processes.
There has been a lot of questioning about where the original tiny entity came from that expanded to produce the universe. Some people try to answer this by saying, “Well, time began with the beginning of this tiny entity. Therefore it is meaningless to ask what happened before that.” Because there was no time before that. So that's one answer. Some people haven't been completely satisfied with that answer though, and they've nonetheless tried to figure out what might've happened before.
One concept that is somewhat popular, which I think was invented by a Russian fellow named Velikim, but this is the idea of quantum foam. The quantum foam idea is that basically if you look at quantum mechanics, you have the idea that an atom can be in different energy states. And you have what are called quantum jumps in which an energy state of an atom can shift from one state to another by a jump with nothing in between. That's the nature of quantum mechanics. Atoms have distinct energy levels.
So, this concept of this Russian fellow is that there is a kind of "stuff" – call it what you may, you could call it quantum foam if you'd like – which is sort of like space, but not exactly like space as we know it. And it follows rules of quantum mechanics, so it can undergo quantum jumps. So, when this stuff undergoes a quantum jump in the little local region, it can produce a tiny patch of regular space. That's what the quantum jump does. Instead of changing energy level, it changes its spatial index, you might say, from the quantum foam state, which is sort of space as we don't know it, into a little patch of spaces we do know it. And then there's a fellow named Guth from MIT who explains how this little patch of space will expand incredibly within a very brief moment of time. And as it expands subatomic particles will precipitate out of space and the universe will form as what he calls a free lunch. So, he's very fond of this free lunch idea. This is one concept that is there. This is scientific by the way, these things that I'm telling you are very respectable. These are not disreputable comments.
So in any case, at least though, you can see a broad, very broad analogy that can be made between this totally speculative and imaginary idea of the scientists and the concept presented in the Bhagavatam, because in the Bhagavatam it said that, well you start out with pradhana. Pradhana also is a primordial kind of energy. It's Krsna's external energy and it's eternal. Just as Krsna is eternal his different energies eternally exist. So, this pradhana is matter in a state in which...Well, it is said everything is unmanifest. There is no form, no definite structure. Everything is in a sort of potential state. So, that you could say corresponds to this quantum foam idea and then when Maha-Visnu glances over this unmanifest form of matter, then it undergoes transformations and many different universes are produced. So likewise in the quantum foam, you could have many quantum jumps and many little universes would spring up from little patches of space that are produced by those quantum jumps. So it's a similar idea except that the intelligent creator is completely left out of the scientific picture.
The scientists have a bit of trouble explaining how the universe becomes so organized. The idea they have is that these subatomic particles precipitate out and there are tiny variations in the density of these particles, in different parts of this little space. And that's what they claim that they've discovered recently. That's what all the hullabaloo is about. And because of these tiny little variations in density, gravitation causes contraction of the matter to form galaxies and then ultimately stars and planets. And then finally, once the planets form... on some planets, chemicals will react and produce living cells and then finally by evolution you get human beings who figure it all out. So that's the picture.
But it's a bit hard to understand why those things would happen. It's like saying that you could take a huge box of tinker toy parts... You may have seen in chemistry classes how atoms are like little tinker toy devices, little pegs. This is how they represent them. So, you could imagine taking a huge box full of tinker toy parts and shaking it and then what emerges from that is a model of a windmill. So, it would be a bit amazing if that happened. But essentially that's what they're saying is going on, except it instead of windmills, ultimately you get human beings and rhinoceroses and oak trees and so many different things.
So anyway, the Vedic version would say that a supreme intelligence is involved here, and that's what is being discussed in this verse. So, the next phase in the production of the universe is that after these universes are produced, actually it is described that they began as very tiny objects and they do expand. However, as far as I can see, their expansion is nothing like the so-called expansion of the Big Bang, which is more like a bomb going off. The expansion of the little universes is something orderly and controlled as far as I can understand.
So, once these universes expand and the different shells form and a vacant region is formed within each shell, then as Srila Prabhupada points out here, Garbhodakasayi Visnu – that's another expansion of Visnu who enters into each of these shells – fills half of it with water, interestingly enough. Srila Prabhupada says here that Garbhodakasayi Visnu fills half of each universe with his perspiration. That's the Garbhodaka Ocean; that's the ocean that the earth sinks into. We've discussed that whole topic. Then he produces Brahma by an interesting method of having a lotus come out of his navel and opening up. So he produces Brahma by reproduction, but he uses the plant method of reproduction, which is interesting. Brahma comes out of a flower. So, this Brahma is a very remarkable being in his own right and Srila Prabhupada points out here that he's nearly as powerful within this universe as the Supreme Personality of Godhead – nearly as powerful, this is delegated power. Krsna gives Brahma the power to create the universe and then he's pretty much on his own.
Brahma meditates at the beginning, at the point when he first awakens to consciousness within the universe, he meditates for a very long period of time. And as a result of that austerity and tapasya, then Lord Visnu inspires him within his heart with the intelligence to create the universe. Prior to that point, Brahma doesn't really know what to do. He doesn't even know who he is or what's going on. He just awakens to consciousness within this dark region. But because of his previous karma, he has the intelligence to meditate on the Supreme Lord. Intuitively, he realizes that's what he should do. Then he's given the power to create. So, that's a whole story. Many different things can be said about that.
Basically, Brahma initially produces beings from his mind. By focusing his mind, he creates forms which actually become independently active. Just like... it's curious, our minds also can create forms. It's a rather amazing thing if you think about it. Especially if you consider dreams, like you may just begin to go to sleep and suddenly you see all these people walking around and doing things. Actually, there's something called lucid dreaming, which apparently people can accomplish, in which you remain conscious while going to sleep, and then you can consciously observe all the dream beings that become manifest. Within the mind's eye, they simply appear. So the explanation will be that the brain is somehow doing this, but I don't think anyone knows how the brain does such a thing.
In any case, Brahma would manifest forms from his mind and these would actually become living beings. The explanation would be that the bodily form would be generated from the mind of Brahma, and then the soul would be supplied from the general reservoir of souls, which was being supplied by Visnu. And a soul suitable for that body would then enter into it. So, these are all conditioned souls that had bodies before, generally speaking in previous manifestations of different universes. So, each soul would have its particular karma that made it suitable for a particular body. For example, when Brahma began the creation, initially things didn't go very nicely. He created forms of Rakshasas which were then occupied by demonic souls and they immediately tried to eat him up. So, he had to cope with that difficulty. It's not easy to create the universe.
There's the whole issue of empirical evidence by the way. One may say that it's rather bizarre to say that some being would create living beings from his mind, that we have nothing at all really comparable like that. Dreams aren't really a very good analogy to it, because they're totally insubstantial. If you want to get into the disreputable subject matter, there's good empirical evidence that certain psychics manifest quasi-physical forms. I could go into the empirical evidence for that. All kinds of very intelligent, qualified, and highly skeptical people have observed such things. That's a whole story. But I won't go into it, especially because it's highly disreputable, because of course we know such things aren't true. Right? So in any case, Brahma created these beings from his mind, which were then equipped with souls, which are the actual conscious living entities. They proceeded to create generations of beings by reproduction, and I've discussed before, I think last time, how different transformations of form took place and the universe was populated. Those are some observations.
Then another interesting aspect is the whole question of illusion versus reality. We understand that the universe is real but temporary. The universe is also referred to as being illusory. It's maya, and maya means ‘that which is not.’ However, there are different kinds of illusion. I had an interesting conversation the other day with a fellow named Dobson, an old guy who came to the temple here. An interesting fellow, I first encountered him on a TV show on astronomy. It seems that he goes around with homemade telescopes and sets them up on the sidewalk and shows people the sun and the moon and so forth through the telescope. And his plea is that people don't really know what these different celestial bodies look like, so they need to be educated and this is being done for the sake of science. And so one might ask, “Well, why is he doing this? You know, why is he so concerned about giving people a scientific education anyway?” He goes to state parks and sets up his telescope and all the campers come by and they look at Saturn and see the rings and so on and so forth.
It turns out he's a rather effective Mayavadi preacher; this is his way of preaching. He sets up the telescope, shows them something, says a few things about astronomy, which sounds very impressive and scientific, and then launches into his real message, which is Mayavadi philosophy, and it works. He's got a network of contacts all over the country. He's got clubs set up, he's got newsletters, and it's very interesting, successful preaching.
I was talking with him and he gave me his spiel, launched into his Mayavadi repertoire. So, I pointed out that actually according to Sankaracarya, the universe isn't an illusion in the sense that people normally think of an illusion. So there are different kinds of illusion. For example, you could have a hallucination – you can see something that's just not there at all. This is due to some malfunction of your mind. That's one kind of illusion that can occur.
So, he was saying that; "Well, actually that's what the universe is like according to Vedanta. It's a misperception." Of course, you can ask, "Well, what is misperceiving?" This gets you into a whole problem. According to the Vedantists, of which he is one, there's only one perceiver – that would be Brahman. So, if there's one perceiver and it’s misperceiving things, and that's the universe, the universe is that misperception then well, one is told also there's a liberated state and there's perception of that. So how is the one perceiver, perceiving this liberated state and also subject to the illusion of the universe? If there's just one perceiver, it's a bit hard to see how that would be. Or to put it another way, if someone becomes liberated, why doesn't everyone become liberated if there's only one conscious entity, which is indivisible?
Of course, we say there are many conscious entities. One can be in illusion and another can be liberated. But I pointed out to him that the misperception that Sankaracarya is talking about is a structured misperception, if you want to call it a misperception. It has definite structure, which is always the same. For example, I was talking to him about earth, air, fire, water, ether, mind, intelligence, and false ego, and so forth. And he was saying; "Well, I see you people seem to really accept the Sankhya philosophy, but I don't because I'm a follower of Vedanta.” And I said, “Well, Sankaracarya accepted the Sankhya philosophy,” and he said, “Oh no, he didn't.” I said, “Well, sure. He accepted the three modes of material nature for example.” And he said, “Well, no he didn't because he said the mode of ignorance is one kind of misperception and the mode of passion is a different kind and the mode of goodness is another kind of misperception that's not quite as bad as the others, but still its misperception.”
I pointed out to him, “Well then he accepted goodness, passion and ignorance. The structure of the thing's the same. He just puts the label misperception on it. In other words, what he's doing is taking the entire Sankhya philosophy and all its details, goodness, passion and ignorance, mind, intelligence, false ego, earth, air, fire, water and ether – the whole thing – and he's just putting the label misperception on it and saying, “These are different types of misperception.” Well, okay, we say that it's maya too, that it's illusion. So in one sense there's not so much disagreement. The ultimate disagreement comes as to what the Supreme Absolute Truth is. He is accepting that the whole thing is there, the structured arrangement of different elements and so forth is there, the demigods are there. Sankaracarya is saying that it's illusion, but he is not saying that Indra, to take an example is any more illusion than Mr. Dobson.
Now the common misconception of this Mayavadi philosophy would be that, “Well, the world is false, Mr. Dobson is also false, but Indra is false in a different sense, namely the sense that he's just a story in a book, he's a myth, whereas Mr. Dobson is walking around showing off his telescopes.” I pointed out to him that actually Indra and Dobson have the same ontological status in the philosophy of Sankaracarya. Ontological status is a good a term you can use. It means the state of being that something has, that's its ontological status. Is it just an illusion? Does it really exist? Does it eternally exist? These are different possible states of being. So that's ontological status. So Indra and Dobson have the same ontological status. In other words, Indra is also real, he's out there doing things.
So he finally agreed that, “Well, I guess I could accept that,” but previously he had been giving me this story, which he likes to recount, that the universe is just made of mainly hydrogen and helium gas. So, in that case where does Indra fit into that? That's a question that he should consider seeing as he is a follower of Sankaracarya, and Indra is just as real as he is according to Sankaracarya. Of course, the point we didn't get to then is well, what is the ontological status of Krsna? He'd have to be at least as real as Dobson or Indra, which creates immediate questions. As a matter of fact, Sankaracarya said Narayana parovyaktat. So he saying actually, that Krsna is transcendental to this manifestation. He's above the manifestation. So, that can be considered, that's another topic. It's getting late. Are there any questions? Yeah?
Answer: Well, I have a feeling that it's really a propaganda thing. They're saying, well now we can explain it because they found these density differences and they're going to argue basically that, you know, gravity tends to pull things together. If everything was uniform, because everything would be pulled equally from every direction, nothing would happen. But if you have some non-uniformities then gravity can cause the dense areas to become more dense and that pulls the matter away from the less dense area, so they become more vacant. And then the result is you get these high concentrations and then the vacant regions. So that's how they would want to say it. It's far from clear that it would necessarily happen that way even given the density variations that they say that they found. But that's why they're so euphoric. They say, now we can explain it by gravity, which is what we really require.
Another point is, there is an alternative cosmology that is being promoted by other scientists, who significantly will not even be mentioned in these discussions. In fact, this is going on up here at UCSD. There's this fellow Hannes Alfven who is heading up a group of plasma physicists who have their own theory of the universe. They have an electrical theory. If you put an electrical current through plasma, say in a cathode ray tube, you'll see that it forms all kinds of strange arcs and funny shaped manifestations. They say...
A: Plasma, ionized gas, fire is plasma. So in any case, you put an electric current through it and different things, funny things happen. They say, "Well, when we look out at the universe through telescopes, we see a lot of things that look like an electric current going through plasma." So they've created a plasma theory of the universe and they say gravitation is not the main force involved with the universe. Huge electric currents are the real cause of what you see out there. So the Big Bang theorists regard these people as the enemy. They say, "Well now we've got the proof. It's really gravity after all." So that's what's going on there. Yeah?
A: Yeah, that's true too. Yeah, yeah, that can happen. Sometimes he’s from previous birth too.
A: Yeah, I think so. Yeah.
A: Well as to how one would visualize it, as far as I can see, there's practically nothing there to visualize, because everything is unmanifest. It's in a sort of potential or latent condition. I just think of empty space or something. But even...
A: It seems to be very abstract. You see, even if you think of empty space, empty space would be ether. So that wouldn't even be an adequate conception. So I think it would be rather hard to visualize what pradhana would really be like.
A: Well, sure I mean, that's what we've been saying. A cloud is water in air and I was speaking of space, even as an analogy. Obviously, these are only analogies. That's the point. Yeah, it's a cloud somewhere within the spiritual sky. Yeah, you can think of it that way. It has a river around it. So imagine a cloud surrounded by a river. Or it's an ocean, often referred to as an ocean... Karana Ocean.
A: No, it's not one in the same as far as I can see, but they’re are somehow related. Karanodakasayi Visnu lies down in the Karana Ocean, he glances over pradhana and the Viraja River is in there somewhere. So I mean, it's hard to visualize a river separating a cloud from a region of space. Is the river more like a solid shell of water or... So all these analogies are there. Or, if it's a cloud then how is it an ocean? But these are analogies. Certainly, it's beyond what our senses directly can pick up. Yeah?
A: Oh yeah. That's called the theory of general relativity. They have a geometrical representation of space-time. You have three coordinates of space, call it x, y, and z, and you have one coordinate of time, which would be t. So those are just four coordinates, which form a curvilinear structure in four-dimensional space. If you like, you can imagine embedding that in five-dimensional space and having it curve. Now, time can be begin, just as the whole curvilinear structure has edges. The edges represent the limits of space in one direction and the limits of time in another direction. So time can have a beginning according to their concept. It's just like a circle or a disc has an edge. That's the beginning. So they have a whole scheme worked out. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.