"Vedic Origin of Species" (SB 3.13.4)
Thompson considers an alternative model to contemporary Darwinian theory drawn from the Vedic tradition. Thompson presents what he calls the “Bija Model,” and describes bijas (seeds) as information packets embedded within the creative energy. He suggests that the bija concept offers comparisons to the modern idea of genes, both being subtle mechanisms capable of generating biological diversity.
TRANSCRIPT: Vedic Origin of Species. n-d (021)
What I wanted to talk about was the creation of the different living species Of course that was discussed in this previous chapter and there was some discussion there of how various generations of living beings were produced by Svayambhuva Manu. So that particular discussion refers to what happened during what is called the Svayambhuva manvantara period. So I thought I would say a little about this. This is related to the whole question of the theory of evolution.
Of course, in modern scientific terms, evolution is presented as the explanation of where different forms of life have come from. So, one might ask then, what is the Vedic explanation of this? So the Vedic explanation is presented in some detail and it’s actually the alternative that we would propose to the theory of evolution. So therefore that’s a matter of some importance. There is no point in saying that the theory of evolution is wrong, unless you can say what is the actual truth.
So, this description in the previous chapter isn’t very detailed; that does refer to developments within the Svayambhuva Manu period which is about 2 billion years ago, began about two billion years ago, at the beginning of this day of Brahma. So it's an interesting description though. It seems that after Svayambhuva Manu and his wife were manifested from Brahma, as described in the last chapter, they were actually, had their base of operations, on the earth in India. So at that time, you had a Manu actually presiding over the earth. So this was about two billion years ago. It's described that all kinds of plants and animals were there. There’s the story of the sage Kardama Muni who at the time was residing at a place called Bindu-sarovara, which I understand is in what is now Pakistan, near where the Indus River is flowing.
So the sage Kardama Muni was meditating there and there's a description of all kinds of different plants and animals of the modern type. So, that was 2 billion years ago, at a time when - according to the modern scientific idea - algae and bacteria were the only forms of life existing. So, but there’s not too much information there. There is a more detailed description, however, later on, in the Bhagavatam, in the 6th Canto to be exact, describing the process of creation. And the interesting thing to note is that at first this seems very strange, but if you think about it you can see that it actually makes sense. So I thought I would say a little about that.
So the basic principle of creation is that initially, of course, Brahma is created from Garbhodakasayi Visnu. He comes out from the lotus flower coming from the navel of Garbhodakasayi Visnu, and from Brahma various other kinds of living beings are generated. So this all takes place on the level of the heavenly planets or above. Specifically Brahma's abode is called Satyaloka, so that’s the topmost planetary system. So that does not directly deal with the situation, say, on the earth. The earth corresponds to the middle planetary system called Bhu-mandala, according to the Bhagavatam. So the question arises, “How did different living species become manifested on the earth.” Because the explanation about how that happens would be the alternative to the theory of evolution, which says they developed gradually from chemicals and so forth on the earth.
So the basic principle is that different demigods have produced different living species. This has happened in many different ways at different times.The story of Svayambhuva Manu is an example of one occasion in which this occurred. It has to happen repeatedly because there are successive annihilations or pralayas, in which different living species are eliminated. So then they’re again created. So in particular after every manu period, there is a pralaya, I believe according to Jiva Goswami. Srila Prabhupada points out, there is some controversy on that issue. In any case, we're now in the seventh manu period.
The manu period preceding this one, the 6th one, was presided over by Caksusa Manu. So there is an explanation in the Bhagavatam of how the different living species in the Caksusa Manu period were created. That goes, that story is given in some detail, so it’s kind of interesting. The story begins at a point where, without really any explanation as to how it happened, all human beings had vanished from the earth and the earth was covered over by trees.
So some persons named the Pracetas, who had been sons of a previous human king, Pracinabarhisat, had been meditating within the ocean for thousands of years by yogic power. So they came out and found that the entire world was covered with trees. Apparently there were no people around. They began to burn the trees by emanating fire from their mouths. And then Lord Brahma came down and also Soma, the moon god, who is the presiding deity of vegetation. They stopped the Pracetas from doing this. And it turns out that there was a young girl living among the trees named Marisa She was the daughter of Pramloca, who was an apsara. It seems these apsaras would have daughters in various ways and then they would abandon them. This was their usual practise.
So this Marisa was being cared for by the trees and Srila Prabhupada explained that meant by the presiding deity of the trees. So I gather that would be Soma. In any case, she was given to the Pracetas as a wife. And as a result, they had a son named Daksa, who was a reincarnation of the Daksa who had been born previously as the son of Lord Brahma. Daksa was a prajapati, he one of the direct sons of Lord Brahma, and he had been involved previously in the creation of progeny to populate the universe, but he had offended Lord Siva and thus he had gotten into some difficulties. So here at this point, he was being born again as the son of the Precetas. So there is a verse saying that, well it says, it’s right here, that “his previous body had been destroyed but he, the same Daksa, inspired by the Supreme Will, created all the desired living entities in the Caksusa manvantara.”
So this Daksa became the creator of living beings because apparently there was a need for living beings to be created at this stage. In any case, at least it seems evident that there were no humans around on the earth at that time. So there’s a description here about how the Prajapati Daksa carried out this task. The first thing that he tried to do was create with his mind. It's stated here that, “with his mind Prajapati Daksa first created all kinds of demigods, demons, human beings, birds, beasts aquatics and so on. But when Prajapati Daksa saw that he was not properly generating all kinds of living entities, he approached a mountain near the Vindhya Mountain Range and there he executed very difficult austerities." So apparently he tried to use this method of creation through the mind, which is what Brahma does, but it didn't work properly, although it doesn’t explain here what went wrong. So he performed austerities; he recited the Hamsa-guhya prayers, prayers to Lord Visnu, and there's a whole section in the Bhagavatam on that.
So after a long period of time, he was given, well, Lord Visnu appeared before him and gave him a benediction. So it's explained that actually Lord Visnu arranged for him to have a wife so that he could produce very large numbers of offspring. And there is a whole story about what happened next. He produced 10,000 sons known as the Haryasvas. And Narada Muni came along and convinced those sons to remain celebrate and seek self realization. But they were meant to populate the universe. So he then produced another 1,000 sons called the Savalasvas and Narada Muni came along and convinced them also to become celibate. At this point Dakha was fried. And he cursed Narada Muni that “you can never remain in one place for longer than 3 days!” He thought that this would be quite a terrible curse, but Narada Muni said that would be quite allright.
So then Daksha decided to produce daughters because he thought that Narada Muni wouldn't interfere in that case. So he produced 60 daughters. They then became wives of various demigods. Demigods were still about in the heavenly planets. And they produced different offspring. The description of that is rather interesting. It says, by the way, that the descendants of these daughters filled all the three worlds. So even though demigods were there, they produced new generations of demigods also, it would appear. So in reading this description there are many curious points, and it’s sort of interesting to look at all these points and get the general picture. For example, it’s stated here, "O King, a son named Deva-rsabha was born from the womb of Bhanu and from him came the son named Indrasena. From the womb of Lamba, came a son named Vidyota, who generated all the clouds,” it is mentioned.
So we know there are living beings connected with clouds. For example, there is the Samvartaka cloud that engages in destructive activities. That cloud was used by Indra when he was pouring down rain on the Govardhana Hill. So generations of clouds were produced. There’re all kinds of generations descending from these daughters with different names. Most of these are demigods. We learn here that there are demigods called as Muhurtas, who descended from one of these daughters, whose role is to deliver actions and reactions of karma to living entities at different times of the day. It’s an interesting aspect of things. Let's see - a whole series of demigods. It’ s pointed out here that from the wife of Dhruva, who was known as Dharani, this was one of these daughters of Daksa, and from her womb various cities took birth, it is mentioned. From which I suspect is meant presiding Deities of cities.
Let's see, oh towns, pura. Pura - these are not siddhis, “cities”, cities took birth. It’s interesting that in the old days cities used to have patron saints, even in Europe. The idea was there would be a saint who would look over a particular city and sort of be the guardian personality behind that. It doesn't say specifically what is meant here but it's interesting. Basically the picture you see is that there are demigods everywhere, involved in everything. For every hour of the day there are demigods who are looking after your karma during the corresponding period. Those are the Muhurtas. Demigods of the clouds, of cities.
I was looking at an interesting historical reference, that Kashmir has a local Purana associated with it, called the Nilamata Purana. I suspect that's true of a lot of other places. It seems that Kashmir used to be a lake, it’s ringed by, it’s a valley ringed by mountains and right now the rivers in it flow out through a big gorge, at the southern part of the valley. But that gorge didn't exist at one time apparently and the whole thing was a lake. At least that's stated by both geologists and by this Nilamata Purana. And it's stated in the Purana that the lake was drained when a demon occupied the lake and Lord Visnu was asked by the demigods to slay the demon. So he asked his brother, Balarama to open up the cliffs at the foot of the lake with his plow, which Balarama did. So the lake drained out and Lord Visnu slew the demon with his discus.
So once a valley was formed, rivers naturally formed once the lake was gone. And it's described that all kinds of different demigods became the gods, or rather the goddesses, of those rivers as soon as they formed. And also Nagas were moved in. That's a class of living beings, like Kaliya Naga is an example. Pisacas, various races came in and then finally human beings were moved in and so on. So you have a scene in which there are demigods and different kinds of living beings associated with everything. That's the general Vedic picture. It’s also interesting that in ancient times, even if you go back to the times of the Romans, you'll find that people saw things that way.
So, in any case, continuing on, there are various further descriptions here. Just to mention some other interesting ones, I wanted to find the one about the constellations. In any case, the moon god married 27 wives who were the 27 nakshatra constellations, interestingly enough. But then we get down to the question of living entities. So all the different living species were generated from various daughters. For example, “Kasyapa had four wives - Vinata, Kadru, Patangi and Yamini. (So) Patangi gave birth to many kinds of birds, and Yamini gave birth to locusts. Vinita gave birth to Garuda and (also) Anuru, or Aruna. . . Kadru gave birth to different varieties of serpents,” it’s described. Then let's see, here the constellations are mentioned. And then it's pointed out here that the moon god couldn't have any children because Daksa cursed him.
So, let's see from “Surabhi, the buffalo, cow and many animals with cloven hooves took birth”. Those would be the perissodactyls, according to modern terminology. “From the womb of Tamra, the eagles, vultures and other large birds of prey took birth, and from the womb of Muni, the angels took birth.” Let's see. Those are Apsaras. That's what the word ‘angels’ refers to here. So, also “The sons born of Krodhavasa were serpents known as dandasuka, as well as other serpents and the mosquitos. (Then) [All the] various creepers and trees were born from the womb of Ila (and) [The] Raksasas were born from the womb of Surasa.” So then there is a whole list. It goes on and on, of different kinds of species and so forth are born from the wombs of these various daughters.
So, one might say this seems like a somewhat strange description. But actually what I'd like to propose is that this actually makes sense. If you consider, first of all, let's see, I wanted to find, oh yeah, I'll read one more. This one is interesting. There's a whole list here, but Yami, one of these, this is a granddaughter of Daksa, “while wandering on the earth in the form of a mare, gave birth to the Asvini-kumaras”, it’s mentioned. o what apparently is happening here is that we're accustomed to the fact that a given species will reproduce after its own kind. And the modern idea is that there are the genes made of DNA and so on which are essentially the blueprints for producing offspring. So when reproduction takes place the genes from the male and female are combined together and they give the information for producing the developing embryo. But the genes are blueprints only for producing one kind of being in each different species. But it would appear that the demigods had genes if you like, using that term a bit metaphorically, for many different kinds of species.
It's described that, of course, Krsna is the seed giving father of all living entities. And the word bija is used there to refer to seeds. Ah, at one point in his conversations, Srila Prabhupada pointed out that these seeds are subtle machines. He made that point These seeds are not the souls - the soul is a different thing, completely transcendental - but these seeds are material and subtle. And they, just like the seed of a tree, are the generating sources of different kinds of living bodies. So Brahma was invested with all the different seeds for all different kinds of living entities. And it is also described that Brahma's role is like that of a gardener. He doesn't actually create the living entities; he simply plants these seeds in the appropriate material circumstances, so to speak cultivates them, and then they can produce different kinds of living entities. That's the role he has. Also his role is compared to that of an engineer, since he is organizing the arrangements of the different planets and so forth.
So the idea would then be that Brahma would have had within his form the seeds for all the different types of living entities within the universe, described as eight million four hundred thousand. And Brahma would produce different mental sons and so forth. And these would also have various of these seeds within their forms. They would produce generations of descendents, demigods and so on and so forth. So they would in turn have different subdivisions of these seeds of different kinds of living entities. So finally these daughters of Daksa were similarly equipped with seed forms for different types of living beings. This is the basic interpretation I am proposing for this. So they could produce different forms of organisms.Then finally when you get down to specific earthly forms of a species, each one of them has only one type of seed or one type of gene. So they can only produce after their own kind. So that's one aspect of this.
Another aspect is that these beings are on the level of the demigods and so forth, have subtle bodily forms, and they can change form according to their will. There are many examples of how demigods can do that. For example, in that story of King Rantideva, many demigods came before him in the form of different people who were begging for food, including finally a sudra and his dogs and so forth. But these were demigods like Siva and Indra and so forth. Another example is Maharaja Sibi met this pigeon who could talk, which was being chased by a hawk or an eagle, who could also talk, and these turned out to be demigods; they were testing the charitable nature of Maharaja Sibi. Or again when Indra and the different demigods were defeated by Bali, in order to hide, because they had been defeated, they assumed different animal forms like birds and so forth. And here in the verse I just referred to, this Yahmi, it says was wandering on the earth in the form of a mare. So this was a goddess, but she was wandering about as a horse. And it says that she gave birth to the Ashwini Kumaras, and it’s interesting that Aswini Kumara literally means ‘young horse’; but those are demigods however. They are the physicians of the heavenly planets.
Question: What does it mean they changed their forms? Or assumed different forms. Does it mean form is just a kind of ghost-like form with no substance or a form that they mimic and then it dies and they go to another form or...?
Answer: The question is, “what does it mean when they change their forms? Are these forms just ghost-like or insubstantial?” As far as I can see, they have the power to affect matter with their minds, so the forms they can generate are substantial and effective. But because of the power of their mind, they can then change that to another substantial form. So we have, of course, the experience that we have ideas within our minds. And sometimes those ideas are very vivid, but they’re insubstantial. We can't manifest anything solid on the basis of our own ideas. Although in the literature on yoga, you can read about talpas and things that certain Tibetan yogis manifest and so forth. That's manifesting a form from the mind. And who knows perhaps a yogi can learn to do it. Demons can do it. This is not an ability limited to demigods. We have the case of all the demons in Krsna's pastimes who assumed forms.
It seems there, there are two different types because some of the demons would assume a form, they would go to attack Krsna, He would kill them, and the dead body of that form would be left. For example, Agasura's dead body was left there for a whole year, it's described. And it dried up, so that serpent form was left. In other cases, Krsna would kill the being, but their original form would be left. At least that happened in the case of Putana who appeared as a beautiful woman. Then Krsna killed her and this horrible Raksasa form came there. So there seems to be different ways to do it. But some of the demoniac associates of Kamsa were also producing substantial material forms that remained as dead bodies once they were slain.
So looking at these different descriptions, it would appear that beings on the level of the demigods, and also these powerful demons, could generate substantial forms. And apparently they could reproduce when in those forms. That would make sense in terms of how these different species were generated also.
Q: They could maneuver in their subtle bodies and manifest a form and then leave it and go to another form. Is that the idea?
A: Either leave it or change it. That is, they wouldn't have to leave it in the sense of leaving a dead body, but they could change it into a different form, from what I can understand.
A: Well, there, of course that's true, but there, that's regular incarnation in a body. In other words, they were cursed by Narada Muni to take the bodies of trees, so they actually became the souls of those trees. Of course, because it was a benediction by Narada Muni, then Krsna came and liberated them. Typically, you see when Krsna liberates one of these different beings by touching him, as in that case and also the case of the lizard who was King Nrga and in the case of the serpent who swallowed Nanda Maharaja, Krsna would touch them and their original demigod body would become manifest. But then of course, Krsna can cause the body to become manifest by his will. So presumably that was what was happening. Those weren't cases where by their own will they were assuming different forms. Rather their souls were being put into different bodies, which is what’s happened with us too.
Q: Even though they were liberated from tree forms, they didn't assume Vaikuntha forms; they reassumed heavenly forms.
A: That's true. That's interesting. That Krsna, a lot of the beings that Krsna dealt with, he didn't actually liberate them into Vaikuntha forms. He would just return them to their demigod forms. And then apparently having learned a lesson, they had to continue with their spiritual progress. Also when Lord Visnu liberated the elephant, Gajendra, he liberated that crocodile too, but not into a Vaikuntha form. The crocodile was given back his Gandharva body. He had become a crocodile because he had grabbed a sage by his legs under the water. So he was cursed, “So okay, you want to do that, so become a crocodile.”
A: There are different life spans of demigods. Some of them rule as demigods for the span of a manvantara, Indra for example. Others, well, Brahma lasts for the whole period, obviously, of the universe. Some of the persons on Satyaloka with Brahma, it is said, become liberated at the time of Brahma. So I presume their bodies last with Brahma's during the entire span of the universe. There are lesser demigods, for example living on the moon, who live for ten thousand years, which is practically nothing compared with these other life spans.
A: How they can have different opinions? Well, what I gather, here’s what I would just offer as speculation just before the curtains open up, namely we know on the heavenly planets the Vedas are very enormous, millions and millions and millions of verses. So then you have pure devotees on the earth who have tiny, super edited down versions, like the Bhagavatam. Obviously they don't have the complete story. Otherwise you wouldn't need millions and millions of verses on the heavenly planets. Now they’re pure devotees, they’re representing the disciplic succession, but they're dealing with a limited part of the story. So they have some discussion as to what different things mean. That's just a brief discussion.
A: There could be technical details which if you had the million-million verse edition it would all be explained. That's just a proposal, that one can think about.