Puranic Cosmos and Modern Astronomy 1; Lee Interview
Though Indology scholars tend to assume that the Puranic concept of Bhu-mandala illustrates a naive conception of a flat earth endorsed by a pre-modern culture, Thompson disagrees. He then discusses four insights that led him to consider Bhu-mandala as a sophisticated model of the solar system which uses basic geographic imagery to illustrate complex phenomena.
TRANSCRIPT: Puranic Cosmos and Modern Astronomy 1; Lee Interview: Laura Lee Show – February 5, 2001 / (301)
Laura Lee: And hello there, I'm Laura Lee. Thanks for tuning in to “Conversation for Exploration.” Tonight we visit with Richard Thompson. Oh you've heard him before on this show – he's the co-author of Forbidden Archeology and his newest book is Mysteries of the Sacred Universe. He joins us from Florida.
Hi Richard. How are you?
Richard L. Thompson: Fine. How are you Laura Lee?
LL: Always a pleasure to talk with you. So I am fine. I am delighted to talk with you today about the Vedic cosmology and the larger picture. And I know in your new book, Mysteries of the Sacred Universe, which also includes a CD and a video on the same subject, you look at the cosmology presented by one particular ancient Vedic sacred religious text. And... but before we go to that one, I'd like to get an overview in general of Vedic and Hindu cosmology. Because I'm particularly intrigued by both the Vedic and the Chinese cultures because they seem to have this continuity that the rest of the cultures pretty much don't have – our own in particular – and you know, going back thousands upon thousands and thousands of years.
And what else interests me about the Vedic cosmology is that they've got this wonderful concept that we're just getting to with modern astronomy of the vast dimensions of space and the way that they... and as you describe it in the book and what little I know of it... the way they look at ourselves as a tiny, tiny subset within a set within a set within a set. It's almost like the Mandelbrot set where... as above so below. That the way that we're structured here on the scale that we can see is similar but in a vaster and far tinier, on both ends of the spectrum, way that things are set up on these scales, macro to microcosm. And I thought: Oh that is so intriguing and I just love when ancient wisdom in it's poetic and mythic metaphorical language talks about understandings that we've arrived at today through science. And you're the perfect guy to address this issue.
So where do we begin on this? An overview of Hindu cosmology.
RLT: Well I guess we could begin with the Vedic literature itself. The Vedic literature basically is the... one of the oldest bodies of knowledge dating back to a much earlier period of human civilization. And the interesting thing about it is that it points to the existence of highly developed scientific as well as spiritual knowledge in ancient times.
So we're accustomed to the idea of the Dark Ages at the close of the Roman Empire. We tend to think that in the ancient world there was a pretty respectable civilization. But then that fell down into chaos and destruction at the end of the Roman Empire. And then gradually knowledge and science built up again until there was a flowering in the Renaissance and then finally you have the world of modern scientific knowledge. The indication though is that actually there are larger cycles in human history. And the Dark Ages that we know of may not be the only Dark Ages. There may have been earlier periods of darkness and before that even earlier periods in which civilization was more advanced.
LL: It's been a real roller coaster ride, history, hasn't it, then?
RLT: Excuse me.
LL: History's been a real roller coaster ride. Up and down.
RLT: Yes. It's had ups and downs.
RLT: That's the indication
LL: You mentioned also in your book, Sacred Universe, that India went through it's Dark Ages, the Middle East went through it's Dark Ages. There were periods of ups and downs throughout recorded history. We just tend to focus on our own European Dark Ages and aren't that aware of the other ones.
RLT: Well it's interesting though. There was apparently a Dark Age period that certainly affected India and also the civilizations of the ancient Mediterranean world at about the same time. This took place between... maybe... in the case of India, about 1500 BC down to around maybe 700 BC. And in the near East it seems to have been shorter, maybe from 1200 or 1000 BC down to 700 BC, judging from the existing records. But there was a period of great decline in civilization...
LL: You say...
RLT: ... recorded in Greece, in Babylon, and also in India.
LL: You say one of the indicators is that great works of architecture and monuments ceased being built during those Dark Ages in India. And that would make sense because characterizing the Dark Ages are a time of economic upheaval, of political unrest, of... so the structure isn't there to support the preservation and the... and the advancement of some of these hallmarks of civilization. So my other question... The Kali-yuga: You also mention that traditional scholars sight the beginning of Kali-yuga, the Dark Age, the Vedic term for the Dark Age out of the four Ages, as happening, beginning in 3102 BC? Could you explain the Kali-yuga in this context?
RLT: Well the traditional system of chronology in India is unique in that it gives very long time spans to the ancient history of human society. Basically the... the most basic unit of time is called the yuga. That corresponds to a period or an epoch in our terminology. And there's a series of four yugas that repeat in a cycle. And they correspond pretty much to the Greek idea of a Golden Age, then an Age of Silver, Bronze and then finally an Iron Age. Of course, in that sequence, the Golden Age is the most prosperous Age in which people have the greatest degree of happiness and were most advanced in many different ways. And the idea is that there was a gradual decline until you reach the Iron Age which is the Age of quarrel and dissension.
So India's Kali-yuga is the period corresponding to the Iron Age. And according to the traditional chronology, we're in the Kali-yuga and that began about 5000 years ago. So I discuss in the book the dates, when it began, which is 3102 BC. There's an interesting story about that date.
LL: Oh let's hear that story.
RLT: Excuse me.
LL: Let's hear that story.
RLT: Well, the story is quite interesting. It seems that the date, first of all, is February 18th, 3102 BC. And that might... may sound a little bit... almost ridiculous. Because you might say: “Well how do you know something with such accuracy?” It turns out though that the date is astronomical. And it also turns out that the same date shows up in European history. For example, at Oxford University back in the 14th century, that date was given as one of the dates for the flood – that's Noah's flood in the Bible. Now if you trace it out historically, of course you may wonder: “Well how is it that in Europe that's the date for the flood, and in India the same date is the date for the beginning of Kali-yuga, the Age of quarrel?”
LL: Because they were looking at the same indicators to come up with those dates.
RLT: Well, it seems you can trace things historically. The European use of that date can be traced back to Spain and to the Muslims. From there it can be traced back to Persia. And of course Persia is right next door to India. So some scholars have said... Well they think the date was first created by some astrologers in Persia. So the standard story is that these astrologers were trying to figure out the date for the flood, the Biblical flood. And their idea was that the flood must occur when there's a conjunction of planets. That is, when all the planets line up, that's when the flood will happen.
So the argument is that using their astronomically information, they tried to calculate backwards and find an alignment. Now in India, as it so happens, the tradition is that all of the planets lined up at the beginning of Kali-yuga. So according to the scholars then, these astrologers were calculating backwards looking for a planetary alignment. And when they found it they said, “Okay, this is the date of the flood.” And that happened to be February 18th, 3102 BC.
The reason you have to make it accurate right down to the day is that you want the Moon to be in the alignment also, and the Moon moves quite a bit during one day. So that would be the explanation for the date. So it turns out that on that date, if you use modern astronomy and you calculate backwards, you'll find that the planets weren't exactly lined up. So the argument goes then, that: “Well it must be that those astrologers had inaccurate data and to them it seemed as though the planets lined up on that date, but they don't really. But nonetheless because that's how their calculations came out, that's the date that they gave.” And later that date spread all the way to Oxford on one side and all the way to India on the other side.
Well an interesting point emerges though if you look more closely at the modern calculations. I did calculations with a modern ephemeris program – that's a computer program for calculating planetary motions. And I calculated the positions of the planets for every day from 4000 BC up to 2000 AD. So that kept my computer going for a little while.
LL: I would imagine.
RLT: But what I found is that the February 18th, 3102 BC has the closest alignment of planets of any day in that entire period accept for two other days. In other words, the alignment may not be exact but then the fact is that the planets never do line up exactly. But that alignment is as close as you get within that entire period of time.
LL: So it demonstrates that despite the lack of computer programs, the ancients had a pretty good way of calculating with good observations taken over the years and such. They had a good way of calculating a date that they wanted to find for a planetary alignment...
RLT: Well yeah. The implication is quite remarkable because either these astrologers were calculating backwards, actually were able to do the calculation I did with the aid of a modern computer which seems incredible.
LL: Or those astronomers... astrologers dating back to 3102 BC kept records that were extant up to the day.
RLT: Right. Well that's the other alternative. The other alternative is that people observed that alignment back then. And they also had a pretty good idea that that was a very unusual alignment. And then historically they kept records that came right down to the present day. And from a historical standpoint, that's also considered to be quite remarkable. Because people will say, “Well historically there was no civilization capable of doing that back in 3102 BC.” So either way you look at it, it's rather a remarkable story.
LL: And the fact that they calculated the date which later science demonstrated to be a good alignment is more remarkable than the fact that they came up with this date or that date.
RLT: Either they were able to calculate that date, which they couldn't have done with their crude astronomy. If we look at the... then of course we must ask when these people did that? The story of the scholars is that this was done, maybe in the first couple of centuries AD. So in that period we know that astronomy wasn't very accurate. That is based on the standard documentation. For example, Ptolemy is widely regarded as being the best astronomer in that time period. He lived in Alexandria in Egypt in around 120 AD. And from that period up until Copernicus in the West, Ptolemy's astronomy was the topmost system of astronomy.
LL: : So what we don't know is how advanced was all of the various arts of civilization much prior? Did they some time in the further past have some very sophisticated means of record keeping and calculations? These are some of the intriguing questions. And you point out that there are some real sophisticated indicators in this particular sacred text that you're looking at and in others about advanced knowledge from the past.
RLT: Yes, the... Should I turn to the specific study reported in this book?
LL: Go ahead, yeah.
RLT: The interesting thing that emerged from this study is that... there was quite sophisticated knowledge of astronomy at some point in the past. So it's hard to tell just when that was, but by a process of elimination we can push it back to before the time in which we know there was a very crude development of astronomy. In other words, if you go back, say, to the time of Ptolemy, you can see that the astronomical knowledge in that period was not sufficiently advanced. And if you back to even earlier centuries within the period in which we know the historical developments, we also see that the knowledge wasn't sufficiently advanced. So that means then that you have to go back to a much earlier period to find a more advanced state of knowledge which ultimately went in to decline leaving us just with some fragmentary remains
So the thing that emerged from the study is that the Bhagavata Purana, which is the text I was mostly looking at, contains a map of the Solar System. And the story behind that... kind of interesting. In the beginning I didn't expect to find that there would be anything scientifically accurate in this map which is found in the Bhagavata Purana. First of all, the Bhagavata Purana describes the cosmos in geographical terms. Everything is expressed in terms of islands, oceans, mountains and so forth. So what you see initially when you look at the text is it seems to be describing the flat earth. It seems to be saying that the earth is a flat disk which is very large, about four billion miles in diameter. So the initial impression that one has is that this is really very unscientific, poetic description of the earth.
LL: [unclear] ...just collapse it down to three dimensions and the scale's way off...
LL: ...with their distance.
RLT: First off it's flat. And secondly: four billion miles is gigantic compared to distances on the earth. If we consider the distance all the way around the equator is about 25,000 miles. So...
LL: But you looked a little deeper into this and you felt that the flat earth concept was a misread later on of... a simplification of something that was actually quite sophisticated.
RLT: Yes. It turns out that the clue that I had for this, interestingly enough, was a book called Hamlet's Mill by two scholars, Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend. They did a comparative study of many different old traditions of mythology including Greek, Babylonian, Scandinavian, and also of course India, China, and the Pacific Islands, and so on.
LL: I've read that book and I found one consistent kind of shorthand mental picture of a common everyday object that would be a substitution for their mental picture of earth orientation to the rest of the cosmos. And I do think it's fascinating – the consistency of that all around the world, if you know the key to read it.
RLT: Yes. The interesting thing that emerged there is that people in ancient times, when they spoke of the earth, they were speaking not of this globe that we're standing on, but they were really speaking about the plane of the Solar System.
LL: Something that's quite sophisticated to understand, isn't it?
RLT: Yes. The basic cosmological model that they had is, first of all, the plane of the Solar System corresponds to the flat earth. Now the interesting thing is that the Solar System really is flat.
LL: It's rather like... Imagine an old fashioned LP rotating on a disk. Right? Rotating on a turntable.
RLT: Right. Yes. You see, if you look at it in terms of the sun with the earth orbiting around it, the orbit is in a plane. Now each planet has its own plane and those planes are slightly tilted relative to one another but the tilt isn't very much. If you look at all of the orbits together, you see that they're nearly in one plane. So that is the plane of the Solar System. Now to the ancients, that was the realm, basically, in which the demigods were engaged in their activities. So the signs of the zodiac also follow that basic plane.
LL: And that's why those stars, those that line up along the ecliptic, are the important ones, the constellations that we pay attention to? Is that because they were on that plane?
RLT: Yes. The stars along the ecliptic.... and of course because stars are found in irregular patterns you have to move a little bit... even below the ecliptic which is the plane of the earth's orbit. Those were the stars that were particularly of interest in ancient times. So you have the signs of the zodiac, and also another division of those into different constellations would be the naksatras that were used in India. There are twenty seven or twenty eight subdivisions going around the ecliptic which are called naksatras. So the basic point is that this region of outer space which is essentially flat was regarded as the inhabited region. And that is referred to then as the earth in many different traditions.
LL: And they saw the earth not just as a geographical physical globe but also extending out to the whole plane of the ecliptic.
RLT: Yes, that was the idea. So the idea then is that later on people took this simply to be the earth...LL: And that's why...
RLT: ... that we're standing on.
LL: ... in the Bible you read about the four corners of the earth which implies a flat plane...
LL: ... and that's why later scholars go: Aha! They must have thought the earth was flat.
LL: Although they'd be pretty dumb to think that with all these [unclear] possibilities just simply on earth. Right?
RLT: Excuse me?
LL: You'd have to be pretty unsophisticated to think the earth was flat because of all of the easy to observe phenomenon around you in the sky that would imply that the earth is round. You could at least get to first base pretty easily.
RLT: Yes, well of course, one reason that the story of the primitive flat earth became widely accepted is that the pre-Socratic Greek philosophers also said that the earth is flat. Even Democritus, who is famous for inventing the idea of the atom, also thought that the earth was a flat disk. And it was only a couple of centuries after that before the Greeks came up with the idea that, well the earth is actually a globe, by observing some of these points that you've just mentioned. So the explanation would be given then that: Well if the pre-Socratic Greeks thought that the earth was flat, then people before them must have also thought that it's flat.
LL: If you believe that knowledge progresses in a linear fashion and not the roller coaster. That...
RLT: Yeah. We assume that in the past things were more primitive. That's the basic assumption. But not necessarily.
LL: So this is describing... You were finding this clue to describe a very sophisticated worldview even though it was represented in sacred text as something very... How would you describe it? What was this Bhagavata describing? The world... what were some of the other clues?
RLT: Well the basic description in this old text... And let me just say briefly that the name of this text is the Bhagavata Purana which is a little bit hard for us to pronounce. It's a Sanskrit term and the shorter term for it is Bhagavatam. So I'll just refer to it that way.
RLT: So this Bhagavatam is an old text, basically the Puranas.... This is one of eighteen major Puranas. These are texts which give a broad overview of the culture of their time. They talk about ancient history, they talk about cosmology, they have spiritual concepts, they talk about the creation and annihilation of worlds, and so forth. So that's basically what you find in the Puranas. So in this particular Purana, which we call the Bhagavatam, there's a section on cosmology which is fairly extensive. It's a long chapter of the book and that gives the basic layout of the Universe.
Now when you first read that, it – as I mentioned before – it sounds very unscientific, because first of all it describes this disk about four billion miles in diameter. Now of course the Bhagavatam doesn't use miles as a unit of distance. But it uses a unit called the yojana. And the yojana, we can... on the basis of historical information you can say that it is about eight miles in length. Well based on that, the diameter of this disk comes out to be about four billion miles.
LL: Which takes us out to the orbit of what planet?
RLT: Wel,l that takes you out about to the orbit of Uranus as it turns out. Now on this disk there's a series of circular features and these have various names. Mostly they are referred to either as islands and oceans, or as mountains. Now normally we don't expect an island, an ocean or a mountain to be a circle. But these are circles. So that should be a clue right away that...
LL: We're outside the realm of reality. Yeah.
RLT: [unclear] ...geography. But the diameters of these circular features are given in the text and so you can list those and make diagrams such as the one that you'll find in the book and on the CD. And the... a number of interesting things emerge if you do that. First of all, the sun is said to go in a circular orbit pretty much in the plane of Bhu-mandala. Oh excuse me. This term Bhu-mandala: I'll probably use that a lot. That's the name for this disk that we're talking about, this four billion mile diameter disk. Oh by the way, Bhu-mandala means... bhu means earth and mandala is a circular pattern of some kind. So you could say that what that says is "Earth Circle" basically.
LL: So geo... geocentric circle that they're describing. Okay.
RLT: Yeah. Yeah that's how you could translate it basically. So the... it's described that the sun moves around just barely grazing the plane of this disk of Bhu-mandala. And that gives us a clue as to what Bhu-mandala is. Now I should mention before we go any further that there's another feature of this Bhagavata Purana which I discovered when I made this study. And I realized on discovering this that actually this is another very general feature of ancient writing. And that is that the text is designed deliberately so that it has multiple interpretations.
More or less today we're accustomed to saying that any given piece of writing says one thing. But...
LL: This is another sign of sophistication though if you have meanings layered in. Isn't it?
RLT: Yeah. It was regarded in one sense as a way of economizing on words. If you can say several different things in a sentence then that was intellectually challenging and it also enabled you to avoid having so many words to write down.
LL: We're talking with Richard Thompson. His earlier work he co-authored was Forbidden Archeology. His newest work, Mysteries of the Sacred Universe, is available both on book, CD, and video. You can get your copy at (800)243-1438. He's explaining ancient sophisticated astronomical knowledge in an ancient text. I'm Laura Lee.
LL: You're listening to the Laura Lee Show in "Conversation for Exploration" as we continue our conversation with Richard Thompson. First of all, I find it fascinating that ancient wisdom was recorded in a way that we are just now beginning to decipher and to confirm with modern science. And there are... you know, this finding a secret code to unlock a secret. It's just so intriguing. It kind of reminds me of this whole process when you look at ancient artifacts to realize anew what all they have within them.
It's rather like those old clay jar batteries. They had put them in the museum thinking: Oh, this is some sort of vase. And then somebody who knew what a battery was... Finally an engineer comes along and goes: You know, that can operate as a battery. Look at the lead rod and the copper this and that. And if you just add this it could generate electricity, although you realized it was incredibly sophisticated. And I think the same is true for so many artifacts that we're picking up and re-examining from ancient times. Also in terms of mapping things, there's so many strategies for representing the world around us. You can draw it. You can diagram it. You can use text to describe it.
But other than that, people have used different sets of parameters, different paradigms for structuring a model. And so just the way that we do things today, the way that we're used to seeing things today is not the only way to represent that. And so it's fun to get over those mental hurdles, to begin to look at things anew and to look at how the ancient mind worked. It's a great way to get an insight in to the... how the ancient mind worked. So continue if you would, Richard.
RLT: Well thank you Laura Lee. Basically we were just starting to give some of the reasons for regarding this Bhu-mandala or this earth disk as being a map of the Solar System. I mentioned that the Bhagavatam is written in such a way that more than one interpretation can be applied to a given part of the text. And that's something that we encounter here. And this brings us to a point that is considered actually by scholars as a contradiction. It seems that the... as I mentioned, the sun is said to move around in the plane of Bhu-mandala in a circle practically in that plane. And you'll find two different statements. One says the sun moves around counter-clockwise and the other says that it moves around clockwise where we're looking down from above, looking at the circular motion.
Now this may seem to be a contradiction initially. As a matter of fact, the text is presented as a conversation between two speakers. One is named Pariksit and the other named Sukadeva Goswami. But anyway, in this conversation Pariksit asked Sukadeva Goswami, who's the one who's presenting the knowledge, he asks him: “You've said that the sun goes around the center of this clockwise, and you've also said that it goes around counter-clockwise.
LL: How can...
RLT: How can that be possible?” So then Sukadeva Goswami explains that in terms of relative motion. And the explanation turns out to be this: Normally we see that the sun rises in the east and travels around overhead and sets in the west. But if we look at the motion of the sun relative to the fixed stars, we see that it's moving actually in the opposite direction,...
LL: Is this why...
RLT: ... moving from west to east.
LL: Is this why the precession of the zodiac signs moves backwards through the signs as we advance from Age to Age to Age, it's actually moving backwards through the signs of the zodiac?
RLT: Well the precession is an even... is a third motion. So they're different motions of the sun actually.
LL: It's like different wheels in a giant clock.
RLT: Yeah. You could make that comparison. So one motion is the daily motion which we now understand is due to the rotation of the earth on its axis.
RLT: Another is the yearly motion which is now understood to be due to the orbital motion of the earth around the sun. Then the precession of the equinoxes: That motion is due to the fact that the spinning earth is moving like a top. The axis of spin of the earth is swiveling around in a cone in the same way that a top spins when you set it spinning on a table. So those are three motions.
But in any case, the Bhagavatam is describing the first two motions, the daily motion and the motion around the... the yearly motion of the earth around the sun. It expresses it, though, in a geocentric fashion. That is, it has the sun moving around the earth. This, by the way, is a legitimate way of representing motion. It's a question of one's relative point of view. So if you make observations day by day, month by month of the motion of the sun, you'll see that it's moving steadily around in a big circle against the background of the fixed stars. Well, that's how it's described in the Bhagavatam also. So the yearly motion of the sun turns out to be the important clue for understanding this disk of Bhu-mandala.
LL: Because that's the only way it would make sense.
RLT: Pardon me?
LL: Because that's the only way this would make sense, that you could... see this...
RLT: Yes. You see, if you take that as the flat earth and if the sun is moving around in that plane, that would mean the sun would never rise because it never set...
LL: Because you would be up north in order to have that perspective.
RLT: Yeah. If you were at the North Pole at a certain time of the year, then you'd see that. You'd see the Sun just skimming around the horizon in one complete circle.
RLT: You'd certainly never see that in India.
LL: Yeah. Since it's nowhere near the Pole then it must mean that they're describing something else entirely here.
RLT: So... And not only that, it tells you that basically the orientation of this disk is the same as the orientation of the sun's orbit which means that it... that's called the ecliptic. The ecliptic simply means the orbit of the sun projected against the fixed stars.
LL: Right. This is the path of the sun. If the sun were shining during the day... or if the stars were shining during the day – if we saw both the sun and the stars together it'd be very obvious to us where the sun's path flew with the back backdrop of the stars. But since they're on... one's during the day, one during the night. We just put those two together.
LL: And then we see where the sun is in relationship to the stars in the backdrop. Okay.
RLT: Yeah. It's unfortunate that the sun is so bright we can't see the stars when the sun is out. But if we could, we would see the sun come slowly moving along this great circle through the stars. So that is where this disk is.
LL: And that's why in astrology they say that your sun is in Aries or your sun is in Taurus or what have you. They're talking about where the sun is in relationship to it's background stars that represent those constellations.
RLT: Yes. So...
LL: And that's why you have one zodiac per year is that the sun has in one year's time gone through the entire circle of the ecliptic, which all those zodiacal signs represent, if we symbolize them.
RLT: Yes the sun goes... it basically spends a month in each sign...
RLT: ... as it goes around. So...
LL: So that’s why you have that relation of time and distance in... another advanced understanding. Go ahead. Alright go ahead.
RLT: Yeah. So that's some of the basic background. That gives you the idea that, well this disk refers to the ecliptic. And so that means the Bhagavatam fits into the same picture that is mentioned in this book, Hamlet's Mill, which says that the ancient people in general were seeing the earth as the plane of the ecliptic.
LL: You know the other real intriguing thing about Hamlet's Mill was looking at, you know, the mill, the grinding stone, but also the pole... earth's tilt... tilted... If you put a pole through the North and South Pole, so it's kind of earth on a stick and you're rotating that... and the earth wobble. That's also a very interesting mental picture and something that our ancients in all cultures saw a correlate in their daily lives. And so they would use these simple metaphors to describe this larger picture of earth in its ... earth in its orientation of... you say a solar projection map of the earth globe is what they're picturing.
So can you describe that, the basic concept of Hamlet's Mill and how through various shorthand motifs the ancients really either knew what they were talking about or have this heritage of at one time... an advanced... predecessors knew what they were talking about? In terms of this and how widespread this understanding was?
RLT: Well in Hamlet's Mill, the basic insight that the authors discovered through their study of many different ancient societies was that, first of all, the earth as I've mentioned corresponded to the plane of the ecliptic, that the ancient people weren't thinking of the earth as the small globe on which we're standing. Secondly, they had an ocean which would be beneath that plane and an area of space above it. Now...
LL: So then you get your upper world, your middle world and your lower world right there.
RLT: Right. You have an upper world, the middle world of... the world of this plane of the...
LL: That you're standing on.
RLT: ...ecliptic. And beneath that there was an ocean. Now what kind of ocean? Obviously people would also see stars and outer space in that direction. But they refer to that as an ocean. And you find that same concept of the ocean in many different cultures. In the Bhagavatam that's there and it's called the Garbhodaka ocean. And in the Bible it's also mentioned. That's ‘the deep’ that is referred to in the flood story when it says that the fountains of ‘the deep’ were opened up. I believe in Hebrew the name is something like tehom. I'm not quite sure how that's pronounced.
LL: How interesting. So they were referring to an astronomical time?
RLT: Excuse me?
LL: Were they referring to an astronomical time by that metaphor?
RLT: Well initially they were referring to astronomy.
RLT: Now the way time comes in to it is interesting. The surface of that ocean was tilted so that part of the ecliptic plane lay under the ocean and part of it was above. This is the basic point made by Santillana and Von Dechend. So that means that certain constellations of the zodiac are under the water, so to speak, and others are above. And the equinoxes or equinoctial points are the points where the water meets the land. That would correspond to the shore, so to speak.
LL: Because they're essentially mapping out the heavens in a very... a different way than we think of it today. They're mapping out... that's why they say the Milky Way. They thought of the Milky Way as a river in this ocean. It's kind of a dividing line between the dead and the undead.
RLT: Yes. The way the precession of the equinoxes comes in then is that as the equinoxes precess through the signs of the zodiac, some constellations gradually go under the water. And other constellations at the other side gradually emerge from the water.
LL: As the wheel cogs forward, some of the signs are below the horizon or below this dividing line and others come in to view...
LL: ...from our perspective.
RLT: That's the idea. And this was expressed in terms of the idea of a flood. That is, when the sign goes under the water, that's ...
LL: When you designate a part of the heavens as the water, when a set of constellations go below that water mark line that you've drawn in the sky then it's said to be flooded.
LL: Inundated with water. So it's a shorthand... It's a shorthand language isn't it?
RLT: Yes. This was a poetic language for referring then to precession of the equinoxes. So that's the basic...
LL: So if we... if we can understand that they didn't have television, they didn't go to the movies back then. What they saw was this giant screen every night on the sky. And they saw this dance of constellations which they saw as characters moving and interacting and such, then you have this big drama played out if you just know who the players are, if you're that familiar with your astronomy, which everybody in those days were. Right?
LL: I'm not saying everybody could read and do astrology and do astronomy. But everybody could look at the stars: Oh there's this constellation. There's that. And to them they were characters. They were .. they were animate beings.
RLT: Right. That's the basic background. The interesting thing though is the quantitative side of the picture. Because this is qualitative. But it turns out that if you look at the Bhagavatam again, you'll find that there's a quantitative basic knowledge there. The curious thing that you find if you look at this diagram of Bhu-mandala, this disk with the many different rings is that it's about the right size for the Solar System.
LL: So how did they know that?
RLT: Well that's an amazing thing because, if you look for example at the best of the Greek astronomers, classical Greek, namely Claudius Ptolemy, you'll find that he did not know the size of the Solar System. In fact he made the Solar System much too small. In Ptolemy's system, the diameter of the orbit of Saturn would be a little bit smaller than the diameter of the Earth's orbit. So that shows how small he made the Solar System.
LL: This brings up a quick question which is a bit of a detour but let me ask it here. The Antikythera computer: There must have been a lot of them; there must have been accompanying bodies of information – you point that out. And yet all we found was this kind of heap in a shipwreck. It broke open and we see this gear box. You X-ray it and see it 3-dimensionally and understand that: Oh, it was kind of a similar structure to help compute astronomy.
So at one point did one small sector of Greeks... or was this an instrument imported from somewhere else? Was this an antique that was... at least a few were brought forward in time? Could there have, at one point, been more of these wheels and gears? Or what do you think the Antikythera computer could have told them in its heyday?
RLT: Well, the Antikythera computer's a very interesting discovery. As you said, this was a lump of material found in a shipwreck off a Greek island called Antikythera. That's where the name comes from. And when X-rayed it was found it had a system of gear wheels. Now after doing a lot of careful study, scientists were able to figure out that these gear wheels mesh together to form a kind of computer.
LL: Which is simply a computational device. Right? Something that...
RLT: It looks as though you could turn a central handle to a point indicating the time. And in little windows you would then see the signs of the zodiac in which the different planets were located at that time. The idea is that by turning the main gear wheel, all the other gears would mesh together in such a way that the appropriate planets, or rather the appropriate signs, would appear in the correct window for each planet.
LL: How interesting. So was it a way to calculate backwards and forwards in time where planets and such would have been?
RLT: It looks as though it was a practical device for use by astrology. Because the idea would be: Someone wants his horoscope cast and so he gives you his date of birth or whatever...
RLT: ... and you just set the main dial of this computer and you can read off his horoscope.
LL: I get it. Okay. So it was a way, rather than doing all the paperwork and mapping out the charts which astrologers used to do... nowadays they just run it through a computer program. It was a way to give them the positions of all the other significant planets at that time.
RLT: Yeah it was like the...
LL: You could make up a whole chart. Okay. So if you were born in the... You're an Aries and your sun was in Aries at this particular date in time, it means that your Moon was here and your this was there and your that was there. I don't know astrology. So... correct?
RLT: Yeah, that would be the idea.
RLT: So the... Of course, the amazing thing is that only one of these was found in one shipwreck. And apart from that, no one has any evidence for the existence of such a thing in ancient times.
LL: And your point is: Look at what was lost! What we have remaining is an exception to the rule of having been lost, destroyed, forgotten. So just because something doesn't exist today doesn't mean it never existed and wasn't part of the body of wisdom at one point?
RLT: Yes, a great deal of knowledge has actually vanished without a trace.
RLT: In this case there must have been some, first of all, theory behind how this machine worked. And from what I've read, it doesn't seem to have worked according to Ptolemy's system. Some people have speculated that it may have been based on a Babylonian model. But they're really not sure, because in fact there's no documentation and no other physical remains. But still there must have been quite a few people who knew how these things worked and were accustomed to building them. It couldn't be that this was the only one that was ever built.
LL: Right. You don't develop something like this in isolation. But I was wondering too, because it was on a ship and they trade with ships, right? Those were their vehicles for import and export of goods. Maybe this was brought from somewhere else and was on it's way to some forward thinking astrologer in Greece who ordered the thing from who knows where. I don't know.
RLT: Well it's hard to say.
LL: But then where... You don't find them anywhere else either. They should exist somewhere else with instructions. Right? Well, maybe someone could find an instruction book.
RLT: Right. We don't find them, so it seems that large amounts of knowledge have vanished.
LL: Without a trace. Yeah. Just hints and those hints. I guess what we're doing is we know enough now to assemble the hints where we can make suppositions about what was once known. You also talk about the pyramids in your book and look at how advanced in terms of their astronomical knowledge they were. And geometry as well through.. couldn't have been an accident. So there you must assume a far advanced knowledge of astronomy just to lay out the pyramids.
RLT: Yes, well I'll come to the pyramids in a moment. Let me just finish the story that I was telling about the astronomical map because that has a tie in with the pyramids interestingly enough.
LL: Okay let's back up and go back to that.
RLT: Yes. So I was saying this disk is about the right size for the Solar System even though if you go to, say, Ptolemy, you'll find he has the Solar System much too small. So that was kind of amazing. But if you look at it more closely... if you make a diagram of the Solar System with the different planetary orbits and next to it you put, on the same scale, this pattern of rings of Bhu-mandala, you discover that they match up.
And at first if you just make the kind of Solar System diagram we normally make which is heliocentric, putting the sun in the center... But if you realize that, well the ancient model is geocentric, then you can see that what you should do is plot the geocentric orbits of the planets instead of the heliocentric orbits. The geocentric orbits simply means that you plot the motion of the planets as they would look if the earth was fixed in the center.
LL: And that's where you get these nice flower shapes. Right?
RLT: Yeah. Basically what you get is something that looks sort of like a spirograph pattern. Because just like a typical spirograph, you're locating... you put your pencil in a little hole in this gear that meshes a larger gear and you rotate around the circle.
LL: And that's when you get the retrograde motion of planets because they're not really going backwards in the sky but as we revolve there are certain moments when it looks like they're going backwards when compared to where we're going because both of them are spinning...
RLT: Well that's right. For example, take Jupiter. Seen from the point of view of the earth, Jupiter's motion is the motion of the planet slowly moving around the sun. But then because we're on the earth which is moving much faster around the sun, that adds a looping motion to Jupiter. And sometimes it's going forwards and sometimes it's going back. And when it's going back you call that the retrograde motion...
LL: Yep. And we...
RLT: ...so we get this sort of spirograph design. Now it turns out, to make a long story short, that if you lay down these spirograph geocentric orbits on the diagram of Bhu-mandala, the rings of Bhumandala are the boundaries of the spiral orbits.
LL: Now that just can't be a coincidence. We're talking with Richard Thompson. We've come to the end of our first hour. Time flies when you're having fun. We have a second hour with Richard, so we will continue the story and you will get the payoff to understand the sophisticated and advanced understanding that must have preceded the writing of this text, the Bhagavat... the Bhag... can't say it...
RLT: The Bhagavatam.
LL: Thank you. As he points out in his newest book, Mysteries of the Sacred Universe. There's also a CD. There's also a video. All this material is available at the Radio book store at (800)243-1438. Also go to... visit Richard's site which is sacreduniverse.com. And next hour we look at that correlation to the pyramids. We look at the larger cosmology of Vedic wisdom. We look more in depth at the Kali-yuga and those wheels upon wheels of time, and much much more. I'm Laura Lee.