February 23, 2004 VNN8558 About the AuthorOther Stories by this Author
Going To Mars
BY SWAMI B.V. TRIPURARI
EDITORIAL, Feb 23 (VNN) Q & A with Swami B. V. Tripurari
"We should not be concerned if the upcoming Mars probe returns to Earth with no evidence of life, for as amazing as it is to have gone there technologically, those involved have not gone to a higher planet in the sense that the Vedic scriptures speak of."
Q. I was wondering whether any Vedic texts make reference to the existence of dinosaurs on earth. It would seem that the existence of dinosaurs is irrefutable, yet I've never heard of any religious texts that make any mention of them.
A. The legends and lore of most pre-modern cultures contain descriptions of very large animals and it seems that there is irrefutable evidence that very large animals did inhabit the earth in the distant past. Vedic scriptures mention this as well. For example, Srimad-Bhagavatam 8.7.18 speaks of large water elephants and whale-swallowing fish, timi-dvipa-graha-timingilakulat. The Bhagavatam also speaks of large birds compared to clouds, yatha meghah syenadayo vayu-vasah.
Q. Will there ever be a time when all reach nirvana or is the wheel of birth and death in the material world kept continually turning by an infinite number of souls?
A. The number of jiva souls in this material world is unlimited. The material world is a particular pastime of God known as srsti-lila. This lila is sometimes manifest and sometimes unmanifest, and this cycle from unmanifest to manifest will never cease. Thus there will never be a time when all jivas are liberated.
In the Visnu-dharma Purana a similar question is posed: "One by one, kalpa after kalpa, the individual souls attain liberation. O brahmana, in this way would not the material world become gradually empty in the course of time?" To this question, Sri Markendeya Rsi replies, jivasyanyasya sargena nare muktim upagate acintya-saktir bhagavan jagat purayate sada: "When one individual soul attains liberation, Bhagavan, who has inconceivable potencies, replaces it by creating another soul. In this way he keeps the material world always filled." Sri Jiva Goswami cites and comments on this verse in his Priti-sandarbha, explaining that in the innumerable material universes there are numberless individual souls whose karma is not awakened and who are as if asleep, merged in material nature. When Bhagavan awakens these souls and gives them external material bodies, this is what is referred to as the srsti-lila "creation of souls." In reality souls do not have a beginning or a moment in time when they were created.
Q. I read your comments on aprthak-siddhi and acintya-shakti: I still feel that there was no need for Jiva Goswami to use the special term "acintya-sakti" (inconceivable power) to explain what can be understood by logic. Can you comment further?
A. I think it is folly to deny that God has inconceivable power. The jiva is constituted of one of his saktis and all such saktis of God are dependent on him. He is their source. They have no existence independent of him. In this sense they are one with him. At the same time, the jivas are different from God, who presides over them. Just because one can explain this to some extent with logic does not change the fact that it takes place because God has inconceivable powers.
In other words, if one asks why the relationship between the jiva and Brahman should be called acintya when it can be explained with the above logic, the answer is that what is explained by this logic is that the relationship involves Brahman being simultaneously one with and different (bhedabheda) from its sakti. Just how the simultaneous presence of oneness and difference in Brahman can occur in the first place is beyond our comprehension, for logic precludes the simultaneous presence of oneness and difference in the same object.
Fire and its energy, heat, are simultaneously one and different, and we can cite this example of the simultaneous presence of oneness and difference in a material object in order to explain that Brahman and the jiva are simultaneously one and different. However, all that this example tells us is that as Brahman is acintya-bhedabheda and so too are material objects one and different from their energy, and thus the metaphysic of actinya-bhedabheda is unlimited in its scope. Such is the nature of being, yet even while observing this truth we cannot understand how such a logical contradiction is possible.
All we can say is that it is possible because reality is possessed of inconceivable power by which that which contradicts mundane logic can nonetheless take place.
Q. It is said in Katha Upanisad (1.2.20) that God knows the thoughts of all living entities because he resides in their hearts as Paramatma, the divine Supersoul, who sits next to the individual soul in the material body. What happens when a soul is liberated and does not have a material body? It is said that the Paramatma feature of God does not exist in the spiritual world, so how does Krsna know every thought and desire of the liberated soul?
A. The Paramatma feature of God is the omniscient overseer of the material world in srsti-lila. He presides over the cosmos, each universe, and each atom.
Thus he is described in three phases (Karanodakasayi Visnu, Garbhodakasayi Visnu, and Ksirodakasayi Visnu). The point here is that he is all-pervasive (Visnu); he is everywhere and knows everything. Nothing is a mystery to him.
The description given in scripture of Paramatma as being the size of a thumb and residing in the human heart next to the individual soul is for conceptualization during meditation. His omniscience with regard to the individual soul is not dependent on his residing next to the jiva in the human heart. This is explained by our Gaudiya acarya Sri Baladeva Vidyabhusana in his Govinda Bhasya commentary on the Vedanta Sutra. (1.2.7, 1.3.24-25.) During meditation Paramatma does appear to the yogi or devotee as a localized form in his heart, but in general Paramatma is all-pervasive and all-knowing. God manifests in relation to the material world as the Paramatma and in the spiritual world as Bhagavan. Because the Paramatma is a partial manifestation of Bhagavan, the omniscience of Paramatma must also be present in Bhagavan.
In Vaikuntha, Bhagavan Narayana's omniscience is tied to his love for his devotees rather than being employed for the purpose of witnessing the deeds of the jivas, as in the case of Paramatma in the material world. Narayana is all-knowing in the context of a loving relationship with his devotees, who in Vaikuntha are all in the mood of servitorship.
In Goloka, Maha-Vaikuntha, God's loving relationship with his devotees shifts from formal, as in Vaikuntha, to intimate. In loving intimacy, God's omniscience necessarily recedes to the background to facilitate that intimacy.
His power to do this is known as yoga-maya, or divine self-forgetfulness. For example, in Dvaraka-lila in order to experience an intimate loving exchange, Bhagavan Krsna sometimes asks Uddhava for advice as if he were not omniscient.
This is one way that Krsna in Dvaraka subordinates himself to his devotee.
In Dvaraka his omniscience is prominent and his divine self-forgetfulness less so. However, this equation is reversed in Vrndavana-lila, where his omniscience is clearly subordinate to his divine self-forgetfulness. In Vrndavana he thinks of himself not as God, but as the son of Yasoda, the friend of Madhumangala, and the lover of Radha. God never loses his omniscience, but to the extent that intimate love permeates his relationship with the individual soul, his omniscience becomes less important.
Q. Bhagavad-gita asserts that life is everywhere (sarva-gatah) and Vedic literature speaks of demigods and other beings enjoying life on other planets including the moon and Mars. Scientists say that astronauts have gone to the moon and that there have been a number of robotic probes sent to Mars, but in both cases they found no evidence of life. I don't accept science as an absolute authority but if there is life on the moon and Mars why has science as of yet found no evidence? Some devotees believe that scientists are simply deceiving everyone about their going to the moon and Mars but I suspect otherwise. Is there a Vedic explanation as to why science can find no evidence of life on the moon and Mars?
A. When Vedic scripture speaks of planets on which higher life forms exist, it speaks more of the macrocosmic mental and intellectual planes of experience than it does of the planets we see in the sky with our physical senses.
Although the sages did acknowledge some correspondence between the two, when they speak of attaining other planets, they describe a course to do so that is much different than technological means. Just as there is a physical plane of experience in which the senses are predominant, similarly there are planes of experience where the mind or intelligence are predominant (bhur bhuvah svah).
On the physical plane, we cannot experience all of our dreams. Here we can see gold and a mountain, but not a golden mountain. In the mental plane, however, we can experience a golden mountain and more.
Thus the mind is a plane of experience that is particularly active at night when the physical plane (our sense experience) shuts down. Thus it is identified with the moon, the light of the night, which is said to preside over the mind and desire, as opposed to reason--chandrama manaso jathah. The moon is also identified with heaven, which in one sense is the land of dreams where all our material desires can be fulfilled. In the heavenly plane of mind, there are possibilities that do not exist on the physical plane, and there one can dwell and enjoy almost unlimited heavenly pleasure. However, it is all a fantasy in one sense because it does not endure.
Our senses are dependent upon aspects of the cosmos in order to function and bring us pleasure. For example, in order to see with our eyes we are dependent on the light of the sun. The senses are not ours in all respects, and by acknowledging their dependence on aspects of nature we live sensually yet mindfully. This in turn enables the self to experience increased material enjoyment in the heavenly mental realm without having to undergo as many negative karmic reactions after leaving one's present material body. Thus the means to go to heavenly realms involves relatively little sense control. All that is required is that while enjoying sense objects one acknowledge the deities and aspects of the cosmos that preside over the senses. In Vedic terms this is called yajna, or sacrifice. To live in this way is to live with a sense of gratitude and understanding of how the universe works.
Above the mental plane is the intellectual plane attained by sadhana (spiritual practice). The waning of the moon is the symbol for the waning of the mind, for the flickering of the mind's influence has to be eliminated. All spiritual practice is directed toward this in its beginning stages. Such practice is initially directed by purified intellect derived from saints and scripture.
Intellect, as opposed to mind, brings certainty rather than fantasy.
Macrocosmically, sages who have controlled minds and senses inhabit the plane of intellect. They live in samadhi awaiting liberation. Such saints have no desire for sense pleasure because of the knowledge and mystic insight they possess. They have controlled their minds and thus their senses as well, and by doing so they have come closer to the self and to God.
Therefore, we should not be concerned if the Mars probe returns to Earth with no evidence of life, for as amazing as it is to have gone there technologically, those involved have not gone to a higher planet in the sense that the Vedic scriptures speak about doing so. As interesting as the prospect of going to other planets or experiencing higher realms of material enjoyment may be, we should always be more concerned with sadhana. Sadhana and the grace of saints is infinitely more important than going to Mars.
Editor's note: Further information can be found in the Sanga called
"The Sun and the Moon" Questions or comments may be submitted at the Q&A Forum
http://www.swami.org/sanga/ or email email@example.com.
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