Gods in Goloka

full_moonBy Swami Tripurari, originally published on August 11, 2009.

The idea that the cosmos corresponds with our psyche is of course an old one that is common to East and West. However, this notion faded with the Copernican revolution and Descarte’s scientific method. While there is considerable evidence that the heavens do influence or mirror our psyche, such evidence does not fit into a scientific world view where physical, verifiable evidence is the bottom line. Thus at one point astrology was abandoned by most thinkers of the West, and the evidence of the subtle planetary influence that astrology points to was ignored, even as Jung and others continued to heed astrology—although not fully understanding it.

The Bhagavata’s cosmology is an old one, one that did not even conform with leading secular thinkers’ understanding in India at the time that our sampradaya’s principle commentaries were written, what to speak of today’s thinkers. Today we know that the sun is fixed, not orbiting as it is described in the Bhagavata. And we have the math by which we have accomplished many things we have come to take for granted to prove it. So shall we throw out the Bhagavata’s cosmology?

In one sense it is non-essential. However, we do need a cosmology that corresponds with our world view, and that of modern science does not. It does not in the sense that modern science does not recognize that the universe has a purpose or intelligence, evidenced in the least by the subtle influence the stars and planets have on our lives—the extent to which the microcosm of our psyche corresponds with the macrocosm of the heavens. The fact that the Bhagavata’s cosmology differs in details from modern science is not of much concern; it is its notion that the universe is without purpose and intelligence that is disconcerting.

It is rational to conceive that the heavens have sway on earth and it is irrational to deny this. It is also less anthropocentric to think of the heavens in terms of deities and heavenly worlds within the mental realm than it is to think that reality is entirely subjective, or that it revolves around and is determined by each human individual, as postmodernism posits, leaving us with no objective, absolute reality. Indeed, is it not the height of human hubris to conclude that the source of all meaning and purpose in the universe is centered in the human mind, which is therefore unique and in this sense superior to the entire cosmos? In this sense the postmodern mind is more anthropocentric than the premodern mind that the modern mind sought to distance itself from! We are revolving, not evolving.

I believe that if one’s poetic notion of gods and goddesses is also derivative of a world view that ontologically distinguishes consciousness from matter, giving preference to the former, then one’s position is strengthened. However, it is then weakened considerably if from this position one also maintains that the dated cosmology of the Bhagavata disproves the insight of Copernicus and other similar facts

The heretical Copernican revolution, which eventually took humanity from an erroneous earth-centered cosmology to a sun-centered cosmology and all that follows in its wake, can, however, be superseded by a consciousness revolution: the idea that matter (sun and all) revolves around consciousness. In this consciousness revolution Sriman Mahaprabhu takes us to the consciousness of consciousness, wherein we find prema at the center. Incidentally, he appeared within the same decade that Copernicus first realized the truth of a fixed-sun-centered universe. As the sun appears to move from east to west, may the eastern dawn of the influence of Mahaprabhu reach high noon in the west with deep thinkers concluding that prema is the prayojana.

Now if we are to take part in this revolution we will not only have to think deeply, but more importantly, teach by example. Thus it is our individual spiritual practice that is most important. Leaving aside the physical reality, we enter the realm of ritual and then the realm of bhajana. These worlds have their own cosmology, and it behooves one who desires to enter them to acquaint oneself with it. Therein we find gods and goddesses that might otherwise be thought of as archetypical influences, natural laws, etc. We enter the world of mind (psyche/cosmos) and then transcend it altogether, landing at the feet of the source of cosmic intelligence. Deep within his world there is also a sun and moon, etc. along with their gods and goddesses, although there is, in one sense, no need for them—no need in terms of tattva, but they are needed in terms of bhava. Indeed, how could there be rasa-lila in Goloka without the full moon?

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78 Responses to Gods in Goloka

  1. The last sentence of the article touches on a concept that I proposed on Audarya Fellowswhip forums previously. Yes, how can we possibly imagine that there is no Moon or Moonlight on Goloka which is so much part of the environment wherein the rasa-lila is enjoyed?
    As well,are to to imagine that there is only an eternal daylight in Goloka? No night? No Moon? No changing of the seasons?
    Another odd thing that is often not considered by devotees is that Krishna is not understood to be “God” on Goloka.
    But, are we to think that in Goloka there is no opulent and reverential worship of God? Is there no religiousity on Goloka?
    So, we read in the Bhagavatam that Mother Yasoda and the people of Vrindavan worship Narayana as God.
    The concept of spiritual time is not well understood if we do not understand that there are days and nights on Goloka, a Moon and all the pastimes of Krishna rising from bed in the morning and going out daily to tend the cows.
    If there is only an eternal daylight on Goloka, then so much of the lila of Krishna that we have been taught cannot actually exist on Goloka if in fact there is no Moon, no Moonlight and no changing of the seasons.
    There is dairy farming on Goloka.
    There is agricultural activity.
    Without a changing of seasons, there can be no agricultural production.
    It appears that the Bhagavat and the Gaudiya canon does not go much into detail concerning the spiritual time of Goloka,a spiritual Moon and spiritual days and nights and the seasons wherein the lila of Krishna takes place. Maybe it is because so much effort is made in the Vedic texts to portray the spiritual world as being free of material time that the issues of spiritual time, Moon, days, nights and seasons in the spiritual world are simply avoided for the sake of preventing further confusion and delusion of the conditioned souls who would be grappling with the concept of eternity.

  2. When Krishna says in he Gita that his abode is not in need of sunlight, moonlight, etc. he is speaking in terms of tattva. His dhama is self effulgent. Indeed, the word “dhama” also means “light.” But for the sake lila/bhava there is a definite need for sun, moon, and stars, etc. Thus there are gods in Goloka, but they are different from the gods of this world in that they are suddha bhaktas. In Goloka the clouds rain tears, etc.—all such movements are anubhavas and sattvika-bhavas. Such a high ideal!

  3. Krishna says in the Gita that there is no NEED for Sunlight, Moonlight or electricity.
    So, yes, it is not absolutely necessary for there to be a Sun or Moon in the spiritual world.
    There is no NEED, as we think in our conditioned minds, but it is there for lila – for the fun of it, for the beauty and pleasure.
    In the material world we NEED the Sun and Moon.
    In Goloka it is all simply there to beautify and assist the wonderful pastimes of Krishna.
    Krishna himself illuminates the spiritual world, yet for the sake of the intimate loving relationships he enjoys Krishna appears as son, lover or friend which would otherwise be impossible if his full power and glory were exposed so obviously.

    I have also pondered the idea of whether or not Navadvip might be the Moon of Goloka.

  4. This is a beautiful article, encompassing both bhava (sentiment) and philosophy (tattva). You have wonderfully given hints on harmonizing these two regarding the cosmology of the Bhagavat. Prabhupada would be so proud, for as he was fond of saying, “Religion without philosophy is just sentiment, and philosophy without religion is mental speculation.” Thank you for sharing insights into how to live our philosophy with feeling, avoiding the extremes of religious fanaticism and philosophical speculation.

  5. Maharaja, you write:
    “I believe that if one’s poetic notion of gods and goddesses is also derivative of a world view that ontologically distinguishes consciousness from matter, giving preference to the former, then one’s position is strengthened. However, it is then weakened considerably if from this position one also maintains that the dated cosmology of the Bhagavata disproves the insight of Copernicus and other similar facts.”

    Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s approach to Srimad Bhagavatam and Puranic literature in general was very far from literal acceptance of its ‘material facts’. He even proposed that the vanara army of Lord Ramacandra actually consisted of South Indians. Srila Prabhupada’s approach was very different – taking Bhagavatam literaly on all accounts – but IMO that approach was based on the same principle of an ‘educated guess’ or a personal opinion.

    Admitting that we do not know something for a fact can be very refreshing to the audience. It can be very, very useful as well. So many devotees left our movement because such ‘educated guesswork’ clashing with observable reality was being passed around as the ‘absolute truth’. So much time and effort have been wasted trying to prove the validity of these personal opinions at a great cost to the overall credibility of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. This approach has also lead to sharp divisions among the devotees because the fundamentalists and literalists would never admit that what their guru said was simply his opinion, while others were unable to accept such controversial statements as anything other than ‘educated guesses’.

    IMO neither Bhaktivinoda Thakura nor Srila Prabhupada know what these Puranic cosmology passages really mean (aham vedmi suko vetti vyaso vetti na vetti va), and it would be nice if we were able to admit that without the fear of minimizing anybody. An opinion of a great personality certainly has value but it is no substitute for the truth.

    Dogmatic religions invariably shackle people to outdated concepts, stifling artificiality, and mentality of an everlasting conflict (‘us vs. the rest of the world’). Our tradition has a rich tradition of revolutionary thought so I hope this current dogmatic phase is only temporary (you may say that I’m a dreamer). Imagine how much we could accomplish if we dared to reject our dogmas…

  6. Many subjects are discussed throughout the Bhagavatam that shed light on its principal topic (satyam param) either directly or indirectly (anvayad itaratah). Topics such as psychology and astronomy, while discussed in the Bhagavatam, are not the primary focus of the text. These topics are introduced for reasons other than making definitive statements on the topics themselves. The Bhagavata discusses the structure of the universe for the purpose of stressing that the material manifestation is a fathomless, endless transformation of the gunas (maya-guna-vibhuteh) and thus glorious as the sakti of God appearing as his mystical, venerable Visvarupa.

    Sukadeva Goswami does not make the claim that his description of the universe is definitive. Indeed, he says the opposite: kastham manasa vacasa vadhigantum alam vibudhayusapi purusa, “No one can possibly explain or perfectly conceive of the nature of the material universe even in a lifetime of Lord Brahma.” (SB. 5.16.4) He goes on to say that his explanation is based on the estimations of learned persons of that period, pramana-laksanato vyakhyatah—the science of the times, and science has grown in its understanding of the objective world.

    Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s Sri Krsna-samhita explains the relativity of scripture, the difference between scriptural topics that are subject to human logic and those that are not. Psychology and astronomy fall into the former category.

    Krsna dasa once asked Prabhupada why there is a discrepancy between the views of Bhagavatam and modern scientists regarding the moon and other planets. To this Srila Prabhupada replied, “These things are not very important, we may not waste our time with these insignificant questions. There are sometimes allegorical explanations [in the Bhagavatam]. So there are many things which do not corroborate with the so-called modern science, because they are explained in that way. But where is the guarantee that modern science is also correct? So we are concerned with Krsna Consciousness, and even though there is some difference of opinion between modern science and allegorical explanation in the Bhagavata, we have to take the essence of Srimad-Bhagavatam and utilize it for our higher benefit, without bothering about the correctness of the modern science or the allegorical explanation sometimes made in Srimad-Bhagavatam.” (Letter 72-11-07)

    Here Prabhupada explains that literally accepting the explanation of the material universe found in the Bhagavatam is not essential to one’s spiritual life. Indeed, the entire explanation is nonessential.

    • Apparently these questions were important and significant enough for some devotees to reject explanations given by Srila Prabhupada. Quite a few of them even left ISKCON as a result of this controversy. This subject matter continues to plague our movement. ISKCON is about to start construction on the great Temple of Vedic Planetarium while it is seemingly unable to come to terms with even the easiest and most basic cosmological questions, such as a spatial relationship between Earth, Sun, and Moon.

  7. There are certainly instances where Srila Prabhupada has even commented in his purports certain views which in fact agree with the modern astronomical data.

    For example:
    Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 3.15.15 purport:
    “The modern scientists who are trying to travel in space are having difficulty going even to the nearest planet, the moon, to say nothing of the highest planets within the universe.”
    (end quote)

    So, here in this purport, Srila Prabhupada in fact admits that the Moon is the nearest planet.

    As well we find:
    CC Madhya 19.138 purport

    “This is a challenge to so-called scientists and philosophers who presume that there are living entities on this planet only. So-called scientists are going to the moon, and they say that there is no life there. This does not tally with Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s version. He says that everywhere within the universe there are unlimited numbers of living entities in 8,400,000 different forms.”

    Here, Srila Prabhupada says that the scientists ARE going to the so-called Moon.

    Again –
    CC Adi. 2.35 purport:
    “The inhabitants of earth may be able to reach the moon, but the inhabitants of heaven can reach even the fiery sphere called the sun. What is impossible for man on earth is easy for the demigods in heaven because of their different bodies.”

    Next –
    SB 4.12.25 purport:
    “While the scientist and philosopher go to the moon but are disappointed in their attempts to stay there and live, the devotee makes an easy journey to other planets and ultimately goes back to Godhead.”

    So, in the 5th Canto, Srila Prabhupada stayed chaste to the Bhagavat version of cosmology, but otherwise, in other places, Srila Prabhupada did admit that the scientific attempts to reach the Moon were successful, even though he says that these astronuts did not have the ability to perceive the actual Moon realm which is more subtle than the human eyes can capture.

    BG 8.25 purport:

    “In the Third Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam Kapila Muni mentions that those who are expert in fruitive activities and sacrificial methods on earth attain to the moon at death. These elevated souls live on the moon for about 10,000 years (by demigod calculations) and enjoy life by drinking soma-rasa. They eventually return to earth. This means that on the moon there are higher classes of living beings, though they may not be perceived by the gross senses.”

    Srila Prabhupada states his position as such –

    Śrī Caitanya Caritāmṛta Madhya 19.138 purport:

    “Those who have claimed to have gone to the moon have not gone there, or else with their imperfect vision they cannot actually perceive the particular type of living entities there.”

    So, it appears that Srila Prabhupada is saying that the scientists went to the Moon but did not actually get to the Moon. The Moon is a realm beyond the gross perception of the senses. It can be perceived by the mind when and if the mind has attained to the lunar plane of consciousness of reflected Sun

    The scientists landed on a dark, black, dusty orb that has been very ingeniously disguised as “the Moon” by Lord Narayan in order to bewilder and confuse the materialist attempt to attain higher realms by mechanical means.

    The “Moon” that the scientists landed on is the most gross elemental aspect of the Moon. They could not actually enter into the realm of Candradeva who came directly from the mind of Lord Narayana.

    The Vedas declare:

    candramā manaso jātaś cakṣoḥ sūryo ajāyata; śrotrādayaś ca prāṇaś ca mukhād agnir ajāyata; nārāyaṇād brahmā, nārāyaṇād rudro jāyate, nārāyaṇāt prajāpatiḥ jāyate, nārāyaṇād indro jāyate, nārāyaṇād aṣṭau vasavo jāyante, nārāyaṇād ekādaśa rudrā jāyante.

    The demigod of the moon, Candra, came from the mind of Nārāyaṇa, and the sun-god came from His eyes. The controlling deities of hearing and the life air came from Nārāyaṇa, and the controlling deity of fire was generated from His mouth. Prajāpati, Lord Brahmā, came from Nārāyaṇa, Indra came from Nārāyaṇa, and the eight Vasus, the eleven expansions of Lord Śiva and the twelve Ādityas also came from Nārāyaṇa.”

    Can the scientists enter the mind of Lord Narayan?
    Neither can they enter the realm of Candraloka.

    Finally, when we refer to the Moon, which Moon are we referring to because science has now identified 170 moons in the solar system.

    So, which Moon does Candra live on?

    Which moon is the Moon referred to in the Bhagavatam?

    Is the moon the scientists landed on actually “the Moon” or just “the moon” that could possibly be the great imitator Rahu?

    Sridhar Maharaja said that Rahu means “shadow consciousness”.
    What I found as very curious was the statements of the astronauts that landed on the moon and said that it was as black as asphalt and covered in shadows.

    Srila Prabhupada did say that these astronauts actually landed on Rahu and not the Moon.

    Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 4.29.69 purport:
    “It then appears that this Rāhu planet exists somewhere near the orbit of the moon. The failure of modern moon excursionists may be due to the Rāhu planet. In other words, those who are supposed to be going to the moon may actually be going to this invisible planet Rāhu. Actually, they are not going to the moon but to the planet Rāhu, and after reaching this planet, they come back.”

    For me, that satisfies the dilemma.
    The plane that the astronauts we able to perceive when they landed on the “Moon” was simply the Rahu plane of consciousness which has been very intelligently placed in such a position as to befuddle and bewilder the materialistic attempts to reach the Moon realm.

    Rahu is a type of material illusion which has been arranged by Lord Narayana to frustrate the attempt of materialistic scientists to enter into the Moon realm.

    Krishna is the supreme magician.
    He has more tricks up his sleeve than anyone can imagine.

    • Which moon is the Moon referred to in the Bhagavatam?

      The big thing you see at night in the sky…

      Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 4.29.69 purport:
      “It then appears that this Rāhu planet exists somewhere near the orbit of the moon. The failure of modern moon excursionists may be due to the Rāhu planet. In other words, those who are supposed to be going to the moon may actually be going to this invisible planet Rāhu. Actually, they are not going to the moon but to the planet Rāhu, and after reaching this planet, they come back.”

      This is a good example of ‘educated guessing’. According to the Vedic jyotish knowledge, Rahu is not really a planet, and it does not have a physical aspect (form, or body) on which anyone can land.

      • Even SSM does not consider Rahu to be a planet.
        Also the scientific definition of planet is very different from SP’s use of the word. He even says that sun is a planet. Perhaps he refers to any celestial object as a planet. Also it was hard to go to Rahu also as it is still further than the sun, according to literal interpretation of S.B. Another thing is that Vedic definition of species is quite different from scientific definition as there are 400,000 human “species” who have the capability to interbreed with each other. Secondly, Vedic version classifies based on similar consciousness: if there are only ten species of small fish, it would mean ten different varieties of consciousness.
        These things need to be considered before smashing conclusions down the throat of people in the name of loyalty to SP. When the definitions themselves do not match, what is point of fighting?

        • The sanskrit word ‘loka’ does not really translate into a ‘planet’. Loka is a world or a realm. There is no planet of the snakes – Nagaloka is a world of the sneaks, which has it’s own space and time continuum. Markandeya Purana says that we can not even see the higher worlds from our realm. What we see is a reflection of these worlds into our space and time – like the moon reflected in a pond – one dimension less than the original.

  8. Another way to look at the issue of the Bhagavata’s cosmology is that embracing it may be conducive for bhajana. But that does not mean that what is described therein is something comparable to what modern science is describing with a different purpose in mind.

    The point of the fifth canto is that the material energy of Bhagavan is inconceivable and fascinating, thus how fascinating must Bhagavan be. Then the text goes on to say in the following canto that Bhagavan’s name alone is so wonderful that a dim reflection of it can afford one transcendence of the influence of the fascinating magic of the three modes of nature. After describing the material hells at the close of the fifth canto, the sixth canto says that they do not exist, at least not for one who chants the name of God even casually.

    • I think that Puranic cosmology perhaps reflects the multidimensional Universe as seen in the yogic or shamanic travels. There are strong hints in the Rig Veda that sages (shamans) of old have seen various parts of the Universe in their soma induced travels. In many native cultures shamans travel in trance through paralel astral realities.

      Of course such cosmology is much more conducive to our bhajana than the modern interpretation of astrophysicists.

  9. I most certainly agree with Srila Prabhupada that the NASA astronauts did not go to Candraloka – the Moon.
    The “Moon” is a heavenly planet attained by followers of certain karma-kandiya portions of the Vedas.
    Srila Prabhupada is simply trying to say that these materialist scientists did NOT attain to Candraloka in their spacecraft.
    Candraloka is a heavenly plane of existence.
    It cannot be attained through mechanical vehicles.

    The Bhagavatam itself says that the Bhagavat cosmology is a way of looking at the universe exactly the same way and from the same perspective as Narayana.
    The Bhagavat cosmology is not based upon empiric observations from a finite point of Earthly existence.
    Bhagavat cosmology is explained as if one is observing it from the viewpoint of God.
    Obviously, the subjective perceptions of Narayana would be different than the subjective perceptions of a conditioned living being looking out at the universe from a relative position on Earth.

    All the transcendental shastra are full of mysticism. They are not the ramblings of some Gomer conditioned by imperfect sense perceptions.

    We, of course, attempt to reduce the Bhagavat cosmology down to the level of mundane empiric observation, denying the mysticism of God and the many fibers of illusion that have been so expertly woven into a web for the conditioned souls.

    It is of course very aggravating and irritating when we hear conditioned living entities casting aspersions upon Srila Prabhupada for his presentation of the Bhagavat cosmology in terms of the actual statements in the Bhagavatam.

    Undoubtedly, there is a mystery involved in the Bhagavat cosmology.
    We cannot attain to the transcendental platform as long as we are unable to actually embrace and accept the mysterious and mystical way in which Narayana himself views the universe.

    Maya’s illusion is not perceived by Narayana in the same way that Maya is perceived by conditioned living entities.

    To think that a transcendental cosmology must conform to empiric sense perception is in fact a mistake.

    If the Bhagavat cosmology confirmed the mundane empiric view of the universe, then there would be nothing transcendental about it.

    There are obviously metaphysical aspects of Bhagavat cosmology.
    Empiric observation of the world is certainly NOT a transcendental process.

    We cannot attain to the transcendental platform of Narayana as long as we continue to buy into the empiric process of understanding the universe.
    Taking information from NASA and the Ronald McDonald lunch crowd about universal cosmology will certainly never help anyone advance in spiritual science.
    Vaishnavism is a cult. It does not conform to modern empiric science. If we cannot accept that fact, then we are no more transcendental than Ronald McDonald.
    Trying to make Bhagavat cosmology as obsolete, based upon empiric science is in fact heresy against Vaishnavism.

    Certainly, the attempt to debunk the Bhagavat cosmology is a sure sign of a conditioned living entity whose consciousness is firmly affixed to illusion.

    • The problem comes when devotees deny the cosmological findings of science and try to replace them with the Bhagavata’s cosmology. The two don’t fit well together. But that does not mean that modern science is mistaken in what it perceives when it measures the distance to mars and sends a rocket there. No, they actually go to the planet they see though their telescopes. And that is fascinating to think about to an extent. So the only debunking should be to debunk the idea that what modern science discovers empirically about space is all wrong and the Bhagavata cosmology is the correct, empirically verifiable reality. After all the Bhagavata is about turning inward on consciousness, not outward on matter.

  10. I accept myself as a conditioned living entity, and I can see that even devotees like Sridhar Maharaj and SP had different views about the cosmology(Rahu as a planet or shadow). There are lot of different ways to look at it among devotees. If you insist that I looks at things literally, then yes I am a Vaisnava heretic. Also I do not want to be a part of a personality cult.

  11. Here’s an interesting devotee comment on the issue from another website.

    How is bhakti advanced by pushing arguments that we can neither understand nor defend outside the realm of Srimad Bhagavatam?

    In April 27, 1976, Srila Prabhupada wrote Bhakti Svarupa Damodara Maharaja, “So now all you Ph.D.’s must carefully study the details of the Fifth Canto and make a working model of the universe. If we can explain the passing seasons, eclipses, phases of the moon, passing of day and night, etc., then it will be very powerful propaganda.”

    However, have we succeeded? Do we have a “working model of the universe” based on the 5th Canto that we can present to the intellectual class and they can readily accept? We cannot even explain eclipses without invoking an invisible planet (Rahu) that swallows the moon. I don’t think this is what Prabhupada referred to as “powerful propaganda”.

    If we cannot do it, we should humbly accept it. If you want to believe that in the future some empowered personality will be able to provide this “working model of the universe”, fine. But for now, we should accept our shortcomings and instead vigorously preach about the chanting of the holy names. That will be of benefit for humanity at large.

  12. It is very discouraging to see devotees deny obvious realities. It makes them look like brainwashed cult members all normal people try to avoid.

    When somebody is explaining solar eclipses to devotees by telling them a beautiful story involving Lord Vishnu’s pastimes – that is far more satisfying and relishable than the boring but astronomically correct mechanical explanation. However, it is not good when one tries to discredit scientific facts and rational thinking by quoting that very same Puranic story. It destroys credibility of our movement and makes Vaishnavism look backwards and primitive. How is that good for preaching?

  13. Despite the credibility a yogic/shamanic approach to the fifth canto, it seems clear that this is not all that is involved in the description of the universe we find therein. There are clear references to the planets and stars we see with the naked eye and though the telescope and the attempt is to describe these physical realities in physical terms with reliance on methods of measurement available at the time. Again, Sukadeva has not described an absolute but rather an approximation current at the time, one that varies throughout the puranas. So it is likely that the fifth canto description are not entirely based on a yogic perspective, but rather at least to some extent on the science of the times. After all, the then current science does show up in the Bhagavata, with the calculation of time and atomic theories.

    Now Sanatana Goswami has ignored much of this in his Brihat-bhagavatamrta (his explanation of the essence of the Bhagavatam) and clearly spoken only about subjective planes of religious and spiritual experience from a yogic perspective that are mental, intellectual, and spiritual. Here mental refers to mind-stuff as an ontological reality and so too with intellect, which is of course diametrically opposed to modern science’s take on mind, etc.

    It is interesting to note that when asked by Prabhupada, Sridhara Deva Goswami suggested that he build his planetarium such that Brihat-bhagavatamrta would be represented, not the fifth canto.

  14. The problem we get into with rejecting the cosmology of the 5th Canto Bhagavat, is that by admitting that portions of the Bhagavatam are in fact erroneous, we open up the whole can of worms of admitting that portions of this so-called infallible text are in fact false.
    Certainly, Srila Prabhupada was not willing to open that can of worms.
    Certain modern devotees somehow feel that a process of discrediting certain portions of the Bhagavat will not ultimately end up in a wholesale skepticism of the entire theology of the Bhagavat.

    Sukadeva was instructing Maharaja Pariksit in a way as to invoke a devotional understanding of the world. He was not giving lessons on astronomy, but lessons on transcendental knowledge.

    This process of picking and choosing which portions of the Bhagavat (spotless Purana)that we accept as factual or reject as erroneous is certainly a treacherous path that ultimately ends in the disruption of faith on a very fundamental level.

    To say that one can reject the cosmology of the 5th canto yet have implicit faith in the Bhagavat theology is very treacherous water.

    When we open the door of prejudice and hatred for certain portions of Srimad Bhagavatam, we have in fact been infected with a very virile strain of envy.
    When the Bhagavatam does not conform to OUR world view, we turn on it, rebuke it and discredit it in favor of modern scientific propaganda.
    Better that we try to find an intelligent explanation that somehow, in some sensible way, the cosmology of the 5th Canto is, from the spiritual perspective, perfectly correct.

    Srimad Bhagavatam is eternal. It has been around for a long as the Lord has been performing his pastimes in the material world.
    Perhaps the cosmology of the 5th Canto is some sort of generic description of the universe.
    If the Bhagavatam is eternal, then certainly the cosmology of the 5th Canto cannot specifically refer to this particular universe.
    Therefore, it seems only logical that the cosmology of Srimad Bhagavatam is so ancient that it predates even this cosmic manifestation, what to speak of this particular millennium.

    I can’t help but conclude that the cosmology of the 5th Canto is so ancient that it was in existence for billions and billions of cosmic manifestations prior to this current creation of Maha-Vishnu.
    As such, there is every chance that this particular universe is a little at variance with the cosmology of the 5th Canto. There is every possibility that there is sometimes a variance in the design from one universe to another.

    The cosmology of the 5th Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam is more important for the Vaishnava than is the cosmology of modern science.
    There is no value for the Vaishnava to study the universe described by modern science. That will only put him in more illusion.
    What has value is to understand the material universe in the way that Sukadeva Goswami instructed in Srimad Bhagavatam.
    Srila Prabhupada has most expertly and eloquently translated that great book of transcendental knowledge into a language that the modern world can easily understand.

    The mentality of rejecting the 5th Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam as faulty and erroneous, is certainly the symptom of a less developed faith that is haunted by doubt.

    • Well, you are entitled to your opinion, but in his letter to Krsnadasa cited earlier in this thread Prabhupada seems comfortable with his disciples taking the fifth canto allegorically if this fosters enthusiasm for their spiritual practice. Furthermore we have the examples of Sridhara Maharaja and Thakura Bhaktivinoda not taking this section literally.

      It is not a question of discrediting sections of the Bhagavatam, but rather of understanding the book in non literal ways in some instances where such is warranted and also of understanding its essential message that has been couched in puranic language, cosmology, etc. There is no fifth canto cosmology in the essential four verses of the text. So it is more a question of understanding what the book is about. And with regard to the fifth canto, understanding what it actually says. I have cited the text in which Sukadeva explains that the fifth canto is a description of something that is not possible for anyone to fully understand and thus he offers an explanation based on the thinking of the day about the subject.

  15. Yes Maharaja, I agree, very nice.
    Also, there is the letter from Srila Prabhupada to Harinama das wherein he says:

    December, 21 1968

    Los Angeles, Calif.

    My Dear Harer Nama,
    “The final question which was asked by Tosana about the validity of the story of the sparrow and the ocean, you should know that everything that is found in these scriptures is factual. There is nothing allegory. But you must not depend upon your own limited experience. What happens in different corners of the Lord’s Creation no one can say. But we can hear from the authentic Vedic sources such as the Puranas. This story of the sparrow is found in the Puranas.”

    So, indeed, Srila Prabhupada for the most part never encouraged the allegorical understanding of the Bhagavat.
    In fact, except for the one exception that you are referring to, I don’t know of another occasion in which Srila Prabhupada ever encouraged any disciple to accept Srimad Bhagavatam allegorically.

    As a rule, Srila Prabhupada was most notably AGAINST any allegorical concept of the Bhagavat.

    • Yes, that is true. But why? Furthermore, there are exceptions to the rule.

      • Why?
        I would think that Srila Prabhupada did occasionally make concessions for specific disciples that seemed to be having a real problem with certain aspects of the Bhagavat siksha.
        That does not mean that the neophyte disciple was right and the Bhagavatam was wrong.
        It simple means that Srila Prabhupada would sometimes make compromises for the sake of nurturing a conditioned soul along the very mystic path of the Bhagavat siksha.

        • That is certainly a plausible answer. But Prabhupada was also empowered to create bhakti adhikara on a large scale where previously there was none. And this requires a certain kind of preaching, a more black and white approach. Look at the difference in his approach form that of the more nuanced approach of Thakura Bhaktivinoda and it becomes clear that one’s preaching is relative to one’s audience. Bhaktivinoda was talking to educated, pious Hindus and Gaudiya Vaisnavas who had mistaken form for substance. He tried to communicate with Thoreau, a huge Western intellectual and believer in vegetarianism. Prabhupada was speaking to a very different class of people.

          And now the class of people he preached to should be different from what they were like 40 years ago, more nuanced, more spiritually advanced, etc. Unfortunately many of them are not, and instead they represent a compassionless, pitiful expression of religious fundamentalism prone to and taking pleasure in endless infighting with no hesitation to offend senior Vaisnavas. In my limited experience it is from these quarters that literalism is the norm and the way, the truth, and the light, and personally I want nothing to do with them. As for their cautions and fear mongering about straying from religious literalism, my experience does not bear them out. In their estimation persons like myself are hell bound, but we all know what it means and feels like to progress spiritually, and in all honesty I have found myself advancing and that my insights arise from that spiritual progress I have been graced with by the mercy of my gurus.

          Let me close on this particular comment by saying that I do not mean to group you with the literalists mentioned above.

        • BVT also sent a copy of his ‘Krsna Samhita’to the famous American transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson. Bhaktivinoda was very eager that the philosophy of Caitanya Mahaprabhu should be studied and understood by the western world.

        • Yes, and Sridhara Maharaja encouraged us to read Sri Krsna-samhita, and as I an others have mentioned he did not take the fifth canto literally. He was positioned in the parampara to nourish Prabhupada’s disciples after Prabhupada’s departure. The teaching is understood in progressive stages—installments. My firm faith is that the essential teaching of Sridhara Maharaja was the next installment in the guru parampara for Prabhupada’s disciples. So again, I have no fear of straying from literalism. But those who have such fear may do well to continue to embrace a literal approach as long as in doing so they do not disregard those such as SM who do not.

        • My belief in regards to Sri Krishna Samhita is that in the pastimes of Krishna all the demons and monsters etc. personify certain material evils.
          I believe that the allegorical and literal aspects are both represented in these pastimes of Krishna.

          In fact, there was a time when I realized Jarasandha was an allegorical representation of myself in the fallen, sinful condition.
          In fact, all these demons live within the heart of the conditioned human being.
          At the same time, these evils took form in the pastimes of Krishna and were disposed of properly.

          So, I do see and understand the allegory represented by all the demons Krishna killed in the Bhagavatam.

          But, I think it is a mistake to think that they are only allegorical and not personified beings who came to fight with Krishna when he descended into the universe.

          Bhaktivinode lived in a time when the Bhagavat was highly ridiculed by so-called civilized Hindu society.
          Bhaktivinode even admits there was a time when even he himself despised the book.

          So, that Bhaktivinode was partial to the allegorical rendering of the Bhagavat is no surprise, as such an allegorical theme was certainly more feasible within Hindi society at the time as opposed to any literal acceptance of the Bhagavat.

          I think the rejecting of any literal rendering of the Bhagavat in favor of an exclusive allegorical premise would certainly not be acceptable to Srila Prabhupada.

          Bhaktivinoda was reaching out to a bigoted and prejudiced Hindu society with Sri Krishna Samhita.
          Srila Prabhupada was not trying to reach that particular audience, so he rendered the Bhagavat on a literal premise.

        • So bhaktivinodha was reaching to bigoted and prejudiced hindu society who were neophytes with weak faith and SP was presenting KC to more advanced people?
          How can you just dismiss BVT presentation in the name of glorifying SP’s presentation? That is what most devotees do. Don’t take BVT words seriously as they were just to cater to the needs of the audience at that time. But when it comes to SP, can’t we say the same? He is catering to the audience of his time.

    • I find this section in which Krsna is instructing Uddhava very relevant to this topic. There are number of ways to understand material nature. Science is more quantitative in its analysis and S.B is more metaphysical and qualitative. One more thing to consider is that all Puranas do not agree with each other in their cosmology. I agree that I have less developed faith than you, so kindly be merciful to us and allow us to have some reasonable understanding of S.B. Even BSST accepted Surya Siddhanta and it clearly states that sun is further away than the moon. We need a way to harmonize these things, though some like you won’t need it.

      SB 11.22.1-3: Uddhava inquired: My dear Lord, O master of the universe, how many different elements of creation have been enumerated by the great sages? I have heard You personally describe a total of twenty-eight — God, the jīva soul, the mahat-tattva, false ego, the five gross elements, the ten senses, the mind, the five subtle objects of perception and the three modes of nature. But some authorities say that there are twenty-six elements, while others cite twenty-five or else seven, nine, six, four or eleven, and even others say that there are seventeen, sixteen or thirteen. What did each of these sages have in mind when he calculated the creative elements in such different ways? O supreme eternal, kindly explain this to me.

      SB 11.22.4: Lord Kṛṣṇa replied: Because all material elements are present everywhere, it is reasonable that different learned brāhmaṇas have analyzed them in different ways. All such philosophers spoke under the shelter of My mystic potency, and thus they could say anything without contradicting the truth.

      SB 11.22.5: When philosophers argue, “I don’t choose to analyze this particular case in the same way that you have,” it is simply My own insurmountable energies that are motivating their analytic disagreements.

      SB 11.22.6: By interaction of My energies different opinions arise. But for those who have fixed their intelligence on Me and controlled their senses, differences of perception disappear, and consequently the very cause for argument is removed.

      SB 11.22.7: O best among men, because subtle and gross elements mutually enter into one another, philosophers may calculate the number of basic material elements in different ways, according to their personal desire.

      SB 11.22.8: All subtle material elements are actually present within their gross effects; similarly, all gross elements are present within their subtle causes, since material creation takes place by progressive manifestation of elements from subtle to gross. Thus we can find all material elements within any single element.

      SB 11.22.9: Therefore, no matter which of these thinkers is speaking, and regardless of whether in their calculations they include material elements within their previous subtle causes or else within their subsequent manifest products, I accept their conclusions as authoritative, because a logical explanation can always be given for each of the different theories.

  16. Maharaja, where might one fight the actual statements of Srila Sridhar Maharaja where he specifically states that be considers certain portions of Bhagavat cosmology as allegorical?
    I am not so sure that the cosmology of the 5th Canto is allegory as much as it is actual history that might not particularly refer to this particular creation.
    There certainly are allegorical themes in the Bhagavat, especially in the matter of Narada’s instructions to King Pracinabarhi about Puranajana. Srila Prabhupada specifically mentions in the purport that this portion of the Bhagavat is allegorical. However, it seems that the allegorical portions of the Bhagavat are explicitly referred to as such.
    Otherwise, if we go with an allegorical premise, then in short time we can end up in impersonal water rendering Krishna himself into a mythological character of allegorical nature.

    Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 4.28.65

    barhiṣmann etad adhyātmaḿ

    pārokṣyeṇa pradarśitam

    yat parokṣa-priyo devo

    bhagavān viśva-bhāvanaḥ


    barhiṣman — O King Prācīnabarhi; etat — this; adhyātmam — narration of self-realization; pārokṣyeṇa — indirectly; pradarśitam — instructed; yat — because; parokṣa-priyaḥ — interesting by indirect description; devaḥ — the Supreme Lord; bhagavān — the Personality of Godhead; viśva-bhāvanaḥ — the cause of all causes.


    My dear King Prācīnabarhi, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the cause of all causes, is celebrated to be known indirectly. Thus I have described the story of Purañjana to you. Actually it is an instruction for self-realization.


    There are many similar stories in the purāṇas for self-realization. As stated in the Vedas: parokṣa-priyā iva hi devāḥ. There are many stories in the Purāṇas that are intended to interest ordinary men in transcendental subjects, but actually these refer to real facts. They are not to be considered stories without a transcendental purpose. Some of them refer to real historical facts. One should be interested, however, in the real purport of the story. Indirect instruction is quickly understandable for a common man. Factually the path of bhakti-yoga is the path of hearing directly about the pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead (śravaṇaḿ kīrtanaḿ viṣṇoḥ [SB 7.5.23]), but those who are not interested in hearing directly about the activities of the Lord, or who cannot understand them, can very effectively hear such stories and fables as this one narrated by Nārada Muni.

    The following is a glossary of some of the important words in this chapter.

    Ādeśa-kārī. The actions resulting from sinful activities.

    Agastya. The mind.

    Amātya. The governor of the senses, the mind.

    Arbuda-arbuda. Various types of śravaṇa and kīrtana of the Supreme Lord’s name, quality, form and so on.

    Ari. Impediments like disease.

    Bhoga. Enjoyment. Herein this word refers to real enjoyment in spiritual life.

    Bhṛtya. The servants of the body, namely the senses.

    Draviḍa-rāja. Devotional service or a person eligible to act in devotional service.

    Dvāra. The doors of the body, such as the eyes and ears.

    Gṛha. Home. For spiritual cultivation one requires an undisturbed place or the good association of devotees.

    Idhmavāha. The devotee who approaches the spiritual master. Idhma refers to wood that is taken to burn as fuel for a fire. A brahmacārī is supposed to take this idhma to ignite the fire used in performing sacrifices. By spiritual instruction a brahmacāri is trained to ignite a fire and offer oblations in the morning. He is supposed to go to the spiritual master to take lessons on transcendental subject matter, and the Vedic injunction is that when approaching the spiritual master one must carry with him fuel to perform yajñas, or sacrifices. The exact Vedic injunction is as follows:

    tad-vijñānārthaḿ sa gurum evābhigacchet

    samit-pāṇiḥ śrotriyaḿ brahma-niṣṭham

    [MU 1.2.12]

    “To learn transcendental subject matter, one must approach the spiritual master. In doing so, he should carry fuel to burn in sacrifice. The symptom of such a spiritual master is that he is expert in understanding the Vedic conclusion, and therefore he constantly engages in the service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad 1.2.12) By serving such a bona fide spiritual master, gradually a conditioned soul becomes detached from material enjoyment and invariably makes progress in spiritual realization under the direction of the spiritual master. Those who are misled by the illusory energy are never interested in approaching a spiritual master to make life successful.

    Jāyā. Intelligence.

    Jīrṇa-sarpa. The fatigued air of life.

    Kālakanyā. The invalidity of old age.

    Kāma. A high fever.

    Kulācala. The place where there is no disturbance.

    Kuṭumbinī. Intelligence.

    Madirekṣaṇā. Madirekṣaṇā refers to one whose eyes are so attractive that one who observes them becomes maddened by her. In other words, madirekṣaṇā means a very beautiful young girl. According to Jīva Gosvāmī, madirekṣaṇā means the personified deity of bhakti. If one is attracted by the bhakti cult, he becomes engaged in the service of the Lord and the spiritual master, and thus his life becomes successful. Vaidarbhī, the woman, became a follower of her husband. As she left her comfortable home for the service of her husband, a serious student of spiritual understanding must give up everything for the service of the spiritual master. As stated by Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura, yasya prasādād bhagavat-prasādaḥ: ** if one wants actual success in life, he must strictly follow the instructions of the spiritual master. By following such instructions, one is sure to make rapid progress in spiritual life. This statement by Viśvanātha Cakravartī is in pursuance of the following injunction from the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad (6.23):

    yasya deve parā bhaktir

    yathā deve tathā gurau

    tasyaite kathitā hy arthāḥ

    prakāśante mahātmanaḥ

    [ŚU 6.23]

    “Only unto those great souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master are all the imports of Vedic knowledge automatically revealed.” In the Chāndogya Upaniṣad it is said, ācāryavān puruṣo veda: “One who approaches a bona fide spiritual master can understand everything about spiritual realization.”

    Malayadhvaja. A nice devotee who is like sandalwood.

    Pañcāla. The five sense objects.

    Paricchada. The total aggregate of the senses.

    Paura-jana. The seven elements that constitute the body.

    Pautra. Patience and gravity.

    Prajvāra. A kind of fever called viṣṇu jvāra.

    Pratikriyā. Counteracting agents such as mantras and medicines.

    Pura-pālaka. The life air.

    Putra. Consciousness.

    Sainika. The condition of threefold miseries.

    Sapta-suta. The seven sons, namely hearing, chanting, remembering, offering prayers, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, worshiping the Deity and becoming a servant of the Lord.

    Sauhṛdya. Endeavor.

    Suta. The son of Vaidarbhī, or, in other words, one who is somewhat advanced in fruitive activities and who comes in contact with a devotee spiritual master. Such a person becomes interested in the subject matter of devotional service.

    Vaidarbhī. The woman who was formerly a man but took birth as a woman in his next life because of too much attachment to woman. Darbha means kuśa grass. In fruitive activities, or karma-kāṇḍīya ceremonies, one requires kuśa grass. Thus vaidarbhī refers to one who takes birth in a family of karma-kāṇḍīya understanding. However, if by karma-kāṇḍa activities one by chance comes in contact with a devotee, as Vaidarbhī did when she married Malayadhvaja, his life becomes successful. He then pursues the devotional service of the Lord. The conditioned soul becomes liberated simply by following the instructions of the bona fide spiritual master.

    Vidarbha-rājasiḿha. The best of persons who are expert in fruitive activities.

    Vīrya. One who has mercy.

    Yavana. The servant of Yamarāja.

    • Even Madhavas in gurukuls are given the allegorical meaning of the scripture and lessons to be learned in current devotional practice on one hand, and second the story itself. Always the former is stressed on.

    • Here are some examples of the liberties Sridhara Maharaja and Bhaktivinoda Thakura took when discussing the fifth canto. They were not afraid that all would be lost by speaking in this way. It is clear that they were not concerned with insisting on a literal reading of the text. And this is my position: Taking a literal approach such that one tries to replace the experience of modern science with the Puranic cosmology (which differs from Purana to Purana) will not prove fruitful. This does not mean that there are no heavens or hells, etc. In the yogic world, mind and intelligence are ontological realities, whereas in modern science they are not (mistakenly). Heavens and hells are mind stuff experienced in the subtle body. How will science see them?

      Conversation with Sridhara Maharaja:

      Devotee: When our Guru Maharaja was translating Bhagavat there was some conservation with yourself regarding the sun and moon. The moon is closer or the sun is closer.

      Sridhara Maharaja: Yes. I showed one direction that is not in consideration of physical distance but I think it will be better, the distance of influence. Influence. Just as in political, Russia is closer to India than America than Pakistan. So how? The nearness calculation of the friendly relations of influence. So I say we may take in that way. Not in physical distance. Suns influence over the earth is first, next that of moon, next that of Mars. In this way perhaps we may proceed. I got some hint in that direction. When Sukadeva was describing Bhagavatam the Lord showed him the world situation in such a way. On the basis of that he delivered, but it has got no real background., not any stable background.

      Thakura Bhaktivinoda from The Bhagavata:

      The religion of the Bhagavat is free from such a poetic imagination. Indeed in some of the chapters we meet with some descriptions of the hell and heaven and accounts of curious tales but we have been warned in some place in the book not to accept them as real facts but truth as inventions to control the wicked and to improve the simple and ignorant.

      Prabhupada was definitely concerned that once one began to describe the Bhagavatam allegorically all would be lost. I think this is true given his preaching circumstances, in which he was trying to establish for the first time in the West that Krishna’s form, etc. is eternal. He did a good job of that, excellent. I am not worried about loosing sight of that insight.
      But in today’s world one can justifiably be as or more concerned that by insisting on a literal interpretation in all respects everything will be lost in that thoughtful people will dismiss Gaudiya Vaisnavism altogether, discouraging so many devotees and perhaps causing them to loose faith when they are told that the teaching of the Bhagavata mandates that man never stepped on the moon, etc. based upon a literal understanding of the Bhagavatam.

      After all we are practically living in outer space as it is understood by modern science—answer your cell phone. So to then say that the mathematical calculations of space exploration that have provided us with such technology need to be replaced with the calculations of the Bhagavatam and so on, because modern science’s calculations are false, is foolish and even hypocritical. And above all the Bhagavata teaches that we should not be hypocritical. It is fine at one point in time to have looked down such a road to see how far one could go, but the clear answer at this point is to turn around.

      Otherwise your idea that the fifth canto peaks of another sarga/visarga is in my opinion an example of the need to think creatively about such issues, and I thank you for it.

  17. Of course, we cannot forget that in fact Srimad Bhagavatam is a Purana.
    Puranas are supposed to be histories, not allegorical stories.
    That has always been the concept that the Puranas are histories that perhaps reach back millions or even billions of years.

    When we begin the process of considering them as allegorical stories, then where does it end and why then should they be classified as Puranas?

    At what point do the Puranas become a Hindu version of Aesop’s Fables if in fact we start to consider them as mere allegory?

    The 5th Canto is very fascinating and wonderful.
    If we reduce it down to allegory, then it’s value comes in to question.

    • I don’t think that it quite the way to look at it. Puranas are histories of significant events from a spiritual perspective. But they are written poetically (especially the Bhagavata) and seek to capture the quality and feeling of the time rather than record time chronologically. Ancient Indian’s approach to “history” is very different from modern literal history. It takes a poetic license in seeking to convey the spirit and essential point of an historical event. So much on it is “based on a true story.”

      Also there is no need to identify non literal understandings of the Bhagavata with Adviata Vedanta. Even traditional Advaitins accept Krishna lila as an historical fact. If I want to say poetically that innumerable people crossed the Ganga to see Sri Krishna Caitanya when he returned to Nadiya, I could write, as Sri Kaviraja Goswami has, that the river was so full of swimmers that others walked across on the swimmers’ heads. Poetry is not the language to use for literal accuracy but rather a language for conveying feeling, and the Bhagavata is about feeling, rasa.

      And the difference between Aesop’s Fables and the Bhagavata is that while the Bhagavata is a book of poetic narrative it is also a book of philosophy, and the philosophy is in Sri Jiva’s opinion is acintya behdabheda. You can’t have acintya bhedabheda and no actual eternal personality of Godhead and his lila. Eternal, madhurya lila is the bheda.

    • Puranas are ancient accounts (purana means old, not “history,” which is itihasa). And we must attend carefully to the fact that they are poetry. As Swami points out, poetry is not the language of empricism, but of feeling, rasa. And poetry means not just rhyme and meter, but the use of myriad figures of speech, etc. to convey–even better, to evoke–the feeling. The choice of using poetry to describe everything in relation with the Supreme Personality of Godhead affords a great deal of liberty.

      I also think we should note that no one here has shown any intent to “reduce” the Bhagavatam’s 5th Canto to “mere allegory.” There’s nothing reductive about figurative language. Rather, it is expansive beyond any limits we can imagine.

      And no one has compared it to Aesop’s fables or to anything of that nature. If we want to know what the 5th Canto is really about, we need to read it in its entirety, and in the context of the entire Bhagavatam. It has been said of Proust’s Search for Lost Time that a reader needs to read the entire work, then go back and read it again in the context of the entire thing. I have said the same thing about the Bhagavatam. And if we do so, we see that it is so expansive that it breaks down all dichotomies, including literal/allegorical. Srila Prabhupada often exhorted his disciples to be as brahmanas, which he sometimes defined a liberal, broad minded.

      • Cologne Digital Sanskrit Lexicon: Search Results

        1 purANa mf(%{I} or %{A})n. belonging to ancient or olden times , ancient , old

        There are many scholars to refer to the Puranas as histories.

        Cologne Digital Sanskrit Lexicon: Search Results

        1 itihAsa m. (%{iti-ha-Asa} , `” so indeed it was “‘) , talk , legend , tradition , history , traditional accounts of former events , heroic history S3Br. MBh. Mn. &c.

  18. I would sure like to hear then how it is that anything about the cosmology of the 5th canto can be explained for it’s allegorical meaning and value.
    How can distances and descriptions of cosmological arrangements possibly carry an allegorical meaning?
    What is allegorical about mileage between planets?
    How can these astronomical figures of the 5th canto possibly carry some esoteric allegorical meaning?
    I can see how certain parts of the Bhagavatam can be allegorical, but the attempt to whitewash the astronomical portions of the Bhagavat as being simply allegorical stories just seems to be a very lame and weak attempt to hide the fact that the calculations are just simply erroneous ancient theories.

    I do remember a verse that says that these calculations were estimations approximated by ancient sages of the Vedic age.
    Maybe I can find that verse again.
    It gets tedious trying to dig up verses that I should have made notes on when I read it but did not.
    I have hundreds of bookmarked verses that I can easily refer to, but I don’t think I have that verse in a bookmark.

    However, we must all admit that the admission that the Moon is not a heavenly planet beyond the Sun is a HUGE blow to the Vedic astronomical tradition.
    The idea that the Moon is a small satellite of the Earth contradicts not just the Srimad Bhagavatam but many Puranas and Vedic texts that describe the Moon as a heavenly planet many millions of miles above the Earth.

    When we go to discredit this very important part of the Vedic astronomical tradition, we then open the door of doubt about the validity of the entire Vedic canon.

    After all, if the Vedas are wrong about astronomical data, then why should we then have absolute faith in the Vedic theology in the same books?

    The attempt to just brush off this issue with some simpleton excuse that “it is allegorical” does not properly do justice to these Vedic texts.

    I think there has to be a better explanation, though I have yet to find that explanation.(or, maybe I have)

    This “it’s allegorical” excuse is lame.
    If we can’t do any better than that, then I don’t know why the KC movement should attempt to propagate this literature around the world and expect that intelligent people will buy into these lame excuses for obvious contradictions and flaws in the astronomical portions of the texts.

    Maybe we have all been duped?
    Maybe none of this Bhagavat is factual?
    Maybe we have all just bought into a fraud theology found in books with absurd and ridiculous astronomical data?

    If they were so wrong about something as elementary as the Moon being the closest planet, then why should we trust the theology being advocated by these men with imperfect senses who thought that the Moon was further than the Sun?

    Were they just wrong about these astronomical calculations, or is there possibly a better explanation than to say that they had imperfect sense perception and made some serious mistakes about astronomical calculations?

    Personally, I think there is a fine line there which can cross over into Bhagavat aparadha if in fact we get too carried away with this allegorical explanation and start trying to create a smokescreen of excuses and become apologists for the Bhagavat Purana on the allegorical plea.

    • It was Prabhupada that used the word allegorical. No one else. Non literal is something else. However, it has also been suggested that Vedic astronomy is involved, and this is not a mystical science but rather the empirical science of the times. If someone did not know the correct distance between the sun and the moon but realized that they were not the body, I would no hesitate to listen to them. If someone knows what the material world is in essence, that is real knowing.

      Then again other have suggested that the Bhagavatam’s fifth canto is speaking from a subtle yogic perspective, or that the description is conducive for bhajana, etc. And you want to say it is a description of another creation. I think you can pick whichever one you want to settle your mind and go forward with your spiritual progress.

      • I don’t know Maharaja.
        To say that the Bhagavat – the essence of Vedanta Sutra, the cream of the Vedas contains empirical speculations of ancient Vedic scholars is quite the accusation against the “Amala”(spotless) Purana.

        How can any Purana that contains faulty empirical data from ancient India ever be considered as spotless by Mahaprabhu?

        I have never found any reference that claims that the Bhagavat is a compendium of empiric information formulated by ancient sages containing outdated astronomical data.

        The Bhagavatam is supposed to be revealed knowledge coming down through a chain of self-realized masters beyond such defective sense perceptions.

        If is is simply empiric speculations of some old Indian sages then I will have to start re-evaluating whether or not I am going to put my faith in it’s theology.

        • It’s spotless because it speaks to us about prema—no lesser ideal—albeit in mysterious ways. The Bhagavatam is the samadhi bhasya of Vyasa couched in a Puranic setting. Thus it it seems to have taken its cosmology from the other Puranas. That aside it is complete in four verses.

          You don’t have to think of it as having guesswork about the universe, but remember that Sukadeva is the one that said its fifth canto details are an approximation based on opinions of the time. You can think of it as you have suggested: a description of another creation. But if you play that out you will also probably run into problems. Again, I am not trying to convince you of anything other than to not try to deny the measurements of science and insist on replacing them with those of the Bhagavatam.

        • Another thing to consider is most staunch literalistic people also have to interpret details in S.B non literally.
          Here are two examples:
          1) Prahlad talks about first 25 years as brahmacarya, next 25 years as grhasta etc in satya yuga where lifespans are much bigger. Even the literal devotees answer time span in adjusted according to kali yuga people who live a maximum of 100 years? Isn’t it interpretation in non-literal ways. Similarly Ajamil’s age is mentioned as 77 years,which is way less than satya yuga ages.
          2) Hiranyakasipu was doing tapas for 10,000 years old and when he left his wife was pregnant. When he returned Prahlad was 5 years old. Again some adjustment is required by the literalists.

          This apart from the fact that details of many things differ in different Puranas.
          Therefore it is the question of learning to deal with shades of gray, and it takes a great deal of effort to do that without disrupting your faith. Thus if we do that under the guidance of a sadhu like Tripurari Swami, it will benefit us.

        • At the risk of repeating myself, I think it may be best to stop here with Prabhupada’s words, as he does not see that there is a problem:

          These things are not very important, we may not waste our time with these insignificant questions. There are sometimes allegorical explanations [in the Bhagavatam]. So there are many things which do not corroborate with the so-called modern science, because they are explained in that way. But where is the guarantee that modern science is also correct? So we are concerned with Krsna Consciousness, and even though there is some difference of opinion between modern science and allegorical explanation in the Bhagavata, we have to take the essence of Srimad-Bhagavatam and utilize it for our higher benefit, without bothering about the correctness of the modern science or the allegorical explanation sometimes made in Srimad-Bhagavatam.

        • Well, as far as Srila Prabhupada’s statements in this reference are concerned, I don’t read that he says that the scientific version is correct above the Bhagavat version.
          In fact, he questions whether or not we can put or faith in the scientific version.
          To say that this is a case where Srila Prabhupada deferred to the scientific version over the Bhagavat version would in fact be wrong.
          He certainly is not saying that the scientific version is the correct calculation. He in fact is very skeptical about that.
          To make the leap of claiming that Srila Prabhupada endorsed the scientific calculations over the Bhagavat in this statement is questionable.
          This statement of Srila Prabhupada is certainly NOT an endorsement of the scientific claims.
          To take that next step of wholly putting our faith in the scientific calculations was certainly not the intention of Srila Prabhupada in this statement.
          His final judgment was that we should be skeptical about these scientific claims.
          Again, I would have to say that of the many allegorical stories in the Bhagavatam, the astronomical calculations of planetary geography would have to be the last part of the book that would in fact be allegorical.

          I personally do accept the modern scientific version of the distance to the Moon.
          However, I don’t think the apology that the Bhagavat version is allegorical is at all a very intelligent way to defend the erroneous astronomical verses in the Bhagavat.

          Again, this proposition to just ignore obvious flawed information in the Bhagavat and take the essence of religious values from it is a very weak platform that will NOT be acceptable to the intelligent class of people.

          So called pragmatic preachers who are attempting to make KC more relevant to modern times and modern people and at the same time make the excuse that the astronomical errors in the Bhagavatam are actually allegorical stories, are contradicting themselves with such a lame platform that appears to want to bluff it’s way into the intelligence of modern man.

          The entire Vedic tradition of holding the Moon as a heavenly planet in the higher realms of the universe has been exposed as myth by modern science.
          Trying to defend these Vedic astronomical errors under the plea that they are allegorical does not fix a very astonishing defect in the Vedic tradition.

          Nowhere in the 5th canto does Srila Prabhupada even hint that these astronomical figures are allegorical stories.
          No where in any book does he hint at that.

          But, we have some letter to some neophyte disciple who was having a problem and we are supposed to just forget about what the books say and accept the letter as the absolute conclusion.

          Obviously, this is a chink in the armor of the Hare Krishna cult.

          The apologist excuse that “it’s just a book of poetry” is another lame excuse.
          When “feeling” becomes the main thing that we are supposed to take from the Bhagavat and all the cosmic descriptions are written off as allegorical stories, then we have really delivered a blow to the actual credibility of the Bhagavat and reduced it down to a book of sentimental allegorical poetry.

        • Woorminstool

          This statement of Srila Prabhupada is certainly NOT an endorsement of the scientific claims.

          No one is saying that it is.

          I personally do accept the modern scientific version of the distance to the Moon.

          Ok. So you do endorse their claims, or at least some of them.

          Again, this proposition to just ignore obvious flawed information in the Bhagavat and take the essence of religious values from it is a very weak platform that will NOT be acceptable to the intelligent class of people.

          So if you you are convinced that it is obviously flawed, what other choice do you have than to reject it, but why does that involve rejecting acintya bhedabheda?

          The entire Vedic tradition of holding the Moon as a heavenly planet in the higher realms of the universe has been exposed as myth by modern science. Trying to defend these Vedic astronomical errors under the plea that they are allegorical does not fix a very astonishing defect in the Vedic tradition.

          Others have suggested that the description is a yogic, subjective, shamanic description of mindstuf, etc.

          Nowhere in the 5th canto does Srila Prabhupada even hint that these astronomical figures are allegorical stories.
          No where in any book does he hint at that.

          Yes and at the same time it is he alone who has suggested that it might be plausible to take them allegorically.

          Overall I am finding it difficult to continue this discussion with you because your statements lack the kind of coherence and attention to what others have actually said that I need to feel that the discussion will be fruitful.

        • Obviously, what I am pushing for Maharaja is that somehow, someway the leading thinkers of the KC movement come up with a better explanation of the Bhagavat cosmology than to try some flimsy smokescreen apologist excuse that these astronomical calculations of the Bhagavat are allegorical stories.
          Trying to cover up these obviously flawed astronomical portions of the Bhagavat with the excuse that they are just allegorical stories, though nobody can tell us what the allegorical meaning actually is, is not a success formula for establishing the Bhagavat as a religious authority in the modern age and for hundreds of years in the future.

          So far, I think my explanation that the Bhagavat is eternal and that there is variance from one universe to the other in creation after creation, is the most feasible explanation.
          I personally do not think that Srila Prabhupada considered these astronomical portions of the Bhagavat to be mere allegory.
          I think he might have simply used that excuse because it was the most convenient way at the time to pacify the mind of the ISKCON devotees that were having issue with the 5th Canto astronomy.

          That excuse will not suffice to satisfy the mind of modern people who read Srimad Bhagavatam. It doesn’t even satisfy someone like me who does have faith in the Gaudiya theology.

          I think that the KC preachers of the HK movement might want to rethink the approach of passing off the astronomical portions of Srimad Bhagavatam as allegorical, as that excuse makes no sense in regards to a book that most certainly is not supposed to be accepted as a compilation of allegorical stories.

          To just Buffalo us doubters with the “it’s allegorical” excuse is more or less just saying “go away kid, you bother me”. It’s not a serious answer.

          I think that devotees deserve a better explanation than the flimsy “it’s allegorical” excuse.

          Srila Prabhupada’s simple answer to some disciple in a letter is not going to satisfy the minds and intellect of modern people whom the devotees are trying to induct into Gaudiya Vaishnavism.

          For the sake of the KC movement, I honestly think that a more plausible explanation must be provided.

          Nobody wants to feel duped by flimsy excuses for why the astronomical portions of the Bhagavat are in fact false.

          Srila Prabhupada was human. I am not satisfied with the “it’s allegorical” excuse. The attempt to dispose of the controversy surrounding 5th canto astronomy with an “it’s allegorical” excuse is to me unsatisfactory.

          That is not to say that I have lost faith.
          It simply means that I personally don’t believe that the “it’s allegorical” excuse is an effective strategy for disposing of the controversy and freeing the Bhagavat from this controversy.

          Will scholars and theologians in the world be satisfied with this “it’s allegorical” excuse? I don’t see how.

          Personally, I don’t think for a minute that Srila Prabhupada ever intended for readers of his books to accept that the astronomical portions of the 5th canto were allegorical.
          There is NO hint to that effect anywhere in his books.
          In the book, it is presented as ancient astronomical tradition.

          To then come out with some letter and attempt to reduce the 5th Canto down to allegory is in fact one of the many failings of the KC movement.

          It’s a flimsy excuse that will NOT fly with the modern people and intellectuals that the preachers of the KC movement are trying to recruit.

          I know that KC movement leaders are habituated to strong arm their way through issues by pushing aside lay persons and brushing them off when they have some criticism or doubt.

          That however will NOT be an effective tactic for anyone who is seriously attempting to convert the intelligentsia to KC.
          That is why the KC movement is still stuck with the cult stigma, because there is not enough transparency or honesty to seriously impress the mainstream civilization.
          That is perhaps why the KC movement most often recruits hippies, vagabonds and destitute hardship cases, because the KC movement is not really in a position to stand-up to mainstream scrutiny as anything more than a cult of social drop-outs who subsist by scams and schemes on the fringe of society.

        • I am not arguing that the fifth canto is allegorical. I have cited Prabhupad’s letter in which he suggests this as an alternative only becasue in that letter he says it is not an important issue.

          My point is that the fifth canto description should not be taken literally as the correct description of the cosmos such that it replaces the findings of modern science. Perhaps you should read Sataputa’s book on the subject. I haven’t, but I think he gives a yogic subtle explanation of what is being said therein with the visible planets as reflections of invisible one’s—something like that. This may satisfy you. But my experience is that educated people are fine with dismissing it as an ancient approximation borrowed from other Puranas and in doing so have no trouble embracing the metaphysic of acintya bhedabheda and the essential point that the universe has intelligence behind it. Considering the fifth canto as such does not do away with subtle realities such as heaven, etc. and this approach seems chaste to the language of the Bhagavatam itself.

        • This is very impressive honesty:

          Worm: “That is why the KC movement is still stuck with the cult stigma, because there is not enough transparency or honesty to seriously impress the mainstream civilization.
          That is perhaps why the KC movement most often recruits hippies, vagabonds and destitute hardship cases, because the KC movement is not really in a position to stand-up to mainstream scrutiny as anything more than a cult of social drop-outs who subsist by scams and schemes on the fringe of society.”

          Bravo! I have been saying that for the last 30 years.
          You can start by analyzing the age of Bhagavatam manuscripts and the differing versions of these manuscripts, proclaimed by our movement an infallible and spotless in every way, as well as written by Srila Vyasadeva down to the very last line…

          Yes, Srila Prabhupada was human. And that is the beauty of it. He had a certain way of looking at shastra, just like he had a certain way looking at his leading disciples, including those perennial troublemakers like Kirtananda. Some people are actually more bothered by the way he selected the leaders of his movement than by the Moon issue.

          Is the KC movement ready for the objective and dispassionate critical analysis of it’s peers? I doubt it very much. Our movement is not even ready to admit that Moon is closer to Earth than Sun which all of us can see with our very own eyes.

        • “Our movement,” which you often write, makes me uncomfortable. I would feel more comfortable with “the majority of Gaudiya Vaisnavas” or something like that. After all, a movement is a group of people working together.

        • Sorry for using nebulous terms like ‘our movement’ in the previous post. I was basically refering to ISKCON.

    • Worm: “If they were so wrong about something as elementary as the Moon being the closest planet, then why should we trust the theology being advocated by these men with imperfect senses who thought that the Moon was further than the Sun?”

      The value of a particular theology is not dependent on any single teacher or any group of proponents of that doctrine – it is self evident to the careful observer.

      I came to recognize the value of the Vedic theology long before I met any Hare Krishna devotee. Over the years my trust of the Bhagavata theology only deepend, despite discovering many devotees who greatly disappointed me in various ways. I have also met Vaishnavas who absolutely delighted me with their wisdom, devotion, and personal character.

      How can you, with your imperfect senses, declare someone to be above any sensory imperfection? You can’t. It is all your sentiment and faith.

      With regards to the sun/moon/earth issue… people who refuse to accept both the evidence provided by their own senses and inelligence as well as all the evidence gathered by others over the millenia, risk being led simply by their sentiments.

  19. Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 5.17.4

    tato ‘neka-sahasra-koṭi-vimānānīka-sańkula-deva-yānenāvatar-antīndu maṇḍalam āvārya brahma-sadane nipatati


    After purifying the seven planets near Dhruvaloka [the polestar], the Ganges water is carried through the spaceways of the demigods in billions of celestial airplanes. Then it inundates the moon [Candraloka] and finally reaches Lord Brahmā’s abode atop Mount Meru.

    So, the Moon that is the heavenly planet of Vedic lore is actually located in such a place that the Ganges actually flows there first and then flows to Lord Brahma’s abode in the very highest region of the universe.
    So, the heavenly Moon of the Vedic lore is many millions of miles above the Earth and in a position where the Ganges flows there first and then falls on Lord Brahma’s abode in the topmost realm of the universe.

    This little satellite of Earth we call the Moon cannot possibly be the Moon of Vedic lore that in fact is located in the highest region of the universe.

    This Moon of the Earth must be some sort of local representation of Candraloka which in fact is far beyond the orbit of the Earth.
    The satellite of Earth we call the Moon cannot possibly be the Moon of Vedic lore.

    The actual Candraloka of the Vedic sages sounds like it would be a Moon of Lord Brahma’s abode rather than the Earth.

  20. Here is an example of what I am trying to say:

    S.B. 1.1.3 purport:

    Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is exactly received from the right source. It was brought by Nārada Muni from the spiritual world and given to his disciple Śrī Vyāsadeva. The latter in turn delivered the message to his son Śrīla Śukadeva Gosvāmī, and Śrīla Śukadeva Gosvāmī delivered the message to Mahārāja Parīkṣit just seven days before the King’s death.

    So, if the Bhagavatam was actually brought from the spiritual world by Narada and distributed to Vyasadeva by Narada, then how could these astronomical portions of the 5th canto refer to this particular universe and this particular planet? It would seem more likely that these astronomical portions of the Bhagavat are some sort of generic presentation of how the material universes are designed rather than a specific map of this particular universe.

    To me, that is so much more satisfying than the ridiculous proposition that these astronomical portions of the 5th Canto are simply allegorical stories, though nobody has yet to explain what the allegory is supposed to teach.

    Originally, the Bhagavat was four verses, but all the other verses are supposed be contained within these nutshell verses.
    They are not supposed to be fabrications and additions from outside sources.

    Vyasadeva took the original four verses and realized the rest of Srimad Bhagavatam through those four verse.
    The Bhagavat is the full expansion of those original four verses, not something from elsewhere that was gathered together and lumped into a patchwork quilt of verses from here and from there.

  21. By the way, if, in fact, Srila Prabhupada’s statements in the 5th Canto DO follow an allegorical theme that some are claiming describes the nature of the astronomical portions of the Bhagavat, then his statement that the astronauts actually landed on Rahu and not the Moon is ALSO an allegory, which actually does make sense to me if we think of the universe as a subjective illusion and Rahu to actually represent shadow consciousness as it is filtered through and by material illusion.
    The astronauts were in Rahu (shadow) consciousness, not Krishna consciousness.
    Even if one is on the Moon, if he is in Rahu consciousness he will not be able to perceive the actual Candraloka.

    Why do the thinkers of the “allegorical” camp then NOT also accept Srila Prabhupada’s statements about the Astronauts landing on Rahu as also allegorical?

    If, in fact, the material illusion is subjective and the planets are actually higher and lower levels of consciousness awareness, then what is wrong with Srila Prabhupada saying that the NASA astronauts landed on Rahu instead of the Moon?

    Are there no mysteries in the universe, or has the Ronald McDonald lunch bunch finally reduced the universe down to gross matter and debunked the concept of higher and lower consciousness?

  22. swami bv tripurari says:
    August 14, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    I am not arguing that the fifth canto is allegorical. I have cited Prabhupad’s letter in which he suggests this as an alternative only becasue in that letter he says it is not an important issue.

    In the time of Srila Prabhupada, his order that “these things are note very important” was enough to more-or-less stifle the discussion, but in his absence, of course, there is nothing there to put down the controversy that has really been a bone of contention on internet forums for the last decade.

    In fact, any issue involving the Srimad Bhagavatam and it’s validity, that affects the faith of hundreds or thousands of devotees, is in fact an important issue.
    In the times of Srila Prabhupada he was able to thwart a major controversy over the issue, but to think that in his absence it will not rear it’s ugly head again and demand satisfactory answers is of course naive.

    Srila Prabhupada said it wasn’t important, but over the last 30 years since his departure it most certainly has been an important issue that has dogged many sincere devotees who cannot just brush it off as “it’s not important”, “it’s possible allegory” etc.
    Any plausible explanation apart from “it’s allegorical” is better than trying to brush it under the rug with worn-out excuses.

    The reason that the “it’s allegorical” excuse doesn’t work well is because you and I and most everyone else knows that Srila Prabhupada most certainly did NOT present Srimad Bhagavatam as an allegorical treatise of moral instructions.

    We were never allowed to accept Srimad Bhagavatam as allegorical during the time of Srila Prabhupada.
    Srila Prabhupada most certainly presented the book as historical facts and events, albeit some of the events are even said to have happened so long ago there is no way to historically date them.

    If Srila Prabhupada had most generally presented the book as allegorical stories with spiritual messages, then accepting the excuse that the faulty astronomical data in the 5th canto is allegorical would be no big stretch.

    However, to take a particular portion of the book, that somehow does not correspond with modern scientific data, and justify it by saying “it’s allegorical” most certainly is a weak platform that many devotees around the world are having a problem with because Srimad Bhagavatam for the most part was never considered as allegorical during the time of Srila Prabhupada.

    The “it’s allegorical” excuse just smacks of having the cake and eating it too, because Srimad Bhagavatam in fact should not be approached as allegorical.

    It’s not just me Maharaja.
    There are many “devotees” around the world that are simply stymied by the 5th Canto astronomical claims.

    If somehow a more plausible explanation could be provided than the “it’s allegorical”, I think that it would be a great service to Srimad Bhagavatam and Srila Prabhupada as well.

    Obviously, Srila Prabhupada’s claim that the NASA astronauts landed on Rahu makes the allegorical excuse as contradictory to what he wrote in his books.
    It might have been better had Srila Prabhupada not gone so far as to make that claim, but we are stuck with it now and grappling with some very sticky business.

    Either Srila Prabhupada was human and prone to some mistaken notions, or we are all totally duped by some nameless scientists who make outrageous salaries promoting their theories and discoveries in the field of astronomy.

    Srila Prabhupada was a simple man from India who perhaps could not foresee how advanced modern science would become and thus presenting a formidable challenge to some statements he made back in the 60’s and 70’s.

    I don’t feel that holding up a little letter from Srila Prabhupada and claiming that the 5th Canto astronomy is allegorical is any kind of sufficient defense.

    If “these things aren’t important”, then why did Srila Prabhupada bother with making such outrageous claims to fly in the face of modern science?

    Srila Prabhupada was human, though certainly no ordinary human.
    He was an extraordinary human being, but a human being nonetheless.

    Certainly, his relish of Krishna consciousness was great and quite apparent, but that did not rob him of his humanity.

    The relish of Krishna-lila described in the books of Srila Prabhupada is certainly a staple that sustains many devotees through the difficult issues of the 5th canto.
    Nonetheless, the issue stands out as possibly the greatest thorn in the side of the KC movement in terms of controversial conflict between spiritual science and material science.

    • Ok, now I understand your concern. Did you read Sataputa’s book?

      • No Maharaja, I have not.
        My mentality is that I prefer to stick to the books of Srila Prabhupada and enjoy the fun of personal discovery.

        I am not humble enough to borrow theories and concepts from the Godbros.
        I try to do my own study and mine some gems of my own.
        Sadaputa was certainly more intelligent than i.
        If I had the book at hand I would probably go through it, but I haven’t got around to buying a copy of his books.

        This same Srimad Bhagavatam is also said to exist on the higher planets of the universe, but having many more verses and details. I wonder what the demigods think about the claim that the Moon is further than the Sun?

        In the purport of SB 5.20.38, Srila Prabhupada states that accurate astronomical information from the Jyotir Veda has been included in the commentary by Vishvanatha Cakravarti, though Srila Prabhupada states that the technical terms are too difficult to translate.

        So, from this, it appears that Srila Prabhupada is insinuating that accurate astronomical calculations are found in the Jyotir Veda.
        This might indicate that the astronomical statements in the Bhagavat might not necessarily be technically accurate.

        It would be interesting if someday somebody can actually translate these comments by Visv. Chak. that he wrote into his Bhagavat commentary to see if they might possibly rectify some of the astronomical approximations given in the Bhagavat.

        If they Jyotir Veda could shed some light on the controversy then that would be great.
        However, if the Jyotir Veda supports the Bhagavat version of the location of the Moon, then again modern science will cast it’s eery shadow over the Vedic astronomical tradition.

        Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura has given accurate astronomical information about the location of Lokāloka Mountain, the movements of the sun globe and the distance between the sun and the circumference of the universe. However, the technical terms used in the astronomical calculations given by the Jyotir Veda are difficult to translate into English. Therefore to satisfy the reader, we may include the exact Sanskrit statement given by Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura, which records exact calculations regarding universal affairs.

        sa tu lokālokas tu bhū-golakasya bhū-sambandhāṇḍa-golakasyety arthaḥ; sūryasy eva bhuvo ’py aṇḍa-golakayor madhya-vartitvāt kha-golam iva bhū-golam api pañcāśat-koṭi-yojana-pramāṇaṁ tasya turīya-bhāgaḥ sārdha-dvādaśa-koṭi-yojana-vistārocchrāya ity arthaḥ bhūs tu catus-triṁśal-lakṣonapañcāśat-koṭi-pramāṇā jñeyā; yathā meru-madhyān mānasottara-madhya-paryantaṁ sārdha-sapta-pañcāśal-lakṣottara-koṭi-yojana-pramāṇam; mānasottara-madhyāt svādūdaka-samudra-paryantaṁ ṣaṇ-ṇavati-lakṣa-yojana-pramāṇaṁ tataḥ kāñcanī-bhūmiḥ sārdha-sapta-pañcāśal-lakṣottara-koṭi-yojana-pramāṇā evam ekato meru-lokālokayor antarālam ekādaśa-śal-lakṣādhika-catuṣ-koṭi-parimitam anyato ’pi tathatyeto lokālokāl loka-paryantaṁ sthānaṁ dvāviṁśati-lakṣottarāṣṭa-koṭi-parimitaṁ lokālokād bahir apy ekataḥ etāvad eva anyato ’py etāvad eva yad vakṣyate, yo ’ntar-vistāra etena hy aloka-parimāṇaṁ ca vyākhyātaṁ yad-bahir lokālokācalād ity ekato lokālokaḥ sārdha-dvādaśa-koṭi-yojana-parimāṇaḥ anyato ’pi sa tathety evaṁ catus-triṁśal-lakṣonapañcāśat-koṭi-pramāṇā bhūḥ sābdhi-dvīpa-parvatā jñeyā; ata evāṇḍa-golakāt sarvato dikṣu sapta-daśa-lakṣa-yojanāvakāśe vartamāne sati pṛthivyāḥ śeṣa-nāgena dhāraṇaṁ dig-gajaiś ca niścalī-karaṇaṁ sārthakaṁ bhaved anyathā tu vyākhyāntare pañcāśat-koṭi-pramāṇatvād aṇḍa-golaka-lagnatve tat tat sarvam akiñcit-karaṁ syāt cākṣuṣe manvantare cākasmāt majjanaṁ śrī-varāha-devenotthāpanaṁ ca durghaṭaṁ syād ity adikaṁ vivecanīyam.

  23. That S.B descriptions are allegorical is not what many of us are saying. SP was the one who used that word. I would say S.B is qualitative description and not a quantitative description of the material reality. Poetry is qualitative and is more suited to describe feeling and science is quantitative. Who is to say that the feeling grounded on the philosophy of acintya-abheda-bheda is unreal?
    I do not think it is so hard for intelligent people to get this point. It is harder for them to get the fanatic presentation of devotees, unless they are materially dismayed severely enough to accept any religion.

  24. Certainly, I would have to admit that the only movement I have is a bowel movement. It’s Mahaprabhu’s movement. It is not even Srila Prabhupada’s movement anymore, as there are all sorts of Gaudiya Vaishnavas doing evangelical work all over the world now that have nothing to do with ISKCON.
    If it was my movement or “our” movment, the first question I would have is “where’s the Maha-plate?”.
    It’s a movement of the Holy Name of Krishna.
    To the degree that the Holy Name is being distributed to people all over the world, it is a movement.

  25. Historically not all movements were defined as ‘groups of people working together’. Reformation was one such a movement, and so was early communism. These movements had many groups of people working tgether but these groups were not really coordinated and often competed with one another. Vaishnavism in the West is sort of like that.

  26. Audarya-lila dasa

    I have two comments to make:

    1) The article under discussion is really making a case for spiritual practice and discovering the ‘inner lanscape’. I think most of the comments have missed this point, or not focused on it. It is the relevant point of the article and should really be the focus of discussion in my opinion. As far as representing the Gaudiya tradtion, this is the key question – how developed a practice does the person trying to represent the tradition have? Afterall, we aren’t talking about a revolution in ‘thinking’ as such a revolution is in the realm of matter. Maharaja is suggesting that the next revolutionary step in progress is to move from the mental to the experiential platform which requires dedication and practice of bhakti sadhana. Of course it is obvious that any presentation must be well thought out and resolve as many of the apparent issues that arise from such a presentation as possible such that people are inspired to go from thinking to practicing – from head to heart.

    2) The issue of the cosmogoly of the Bhagavatam has been dealt with by stating that it is describing physical phenomena and that the description is consistent with what was known at the time of the wrting of the text. Allegory may be there as well, but what has been discussed is mostly the descriptions of distances of planets from the earth and the differences between what is written in the Bhagavatam and what is known today based on advances in astronomy and measuring devices. There may be other ways of looking at this, such as the ideas put forward by Sadaputa, but overall I would say that it is quite valid to put forward the idea that the structure of the universe and distances of various planets from the earth given in the Bhagavatam are based on the best empiric data available at the time of the writing. Srimad Bhagavatam is eternal, but this particular iteration of it was written at a particlar time and has a historical context.

    • It is a description of things like Rahu, hellish planets etc that are unobservable by modern science. Hence, you can that it is a different yogic view of things. After SSM said that Rahu is the personality behind the shadow. BVT described hellish planets as allegory.
      So to just say that it is the astronomical description of the astronomers of that time cannot completely account for that fact that the 5th canto talks about things invisible for modern science.

  27. Syama Gopala dasa

    With all this literal vs allegory talk going on, couldn’t it be said that it’s rather limiting to take the Bhagavatam literal?
    To try to fit it into our heads. In a sense, the whole Bhagavatam is an allegory because the absolute can’t be caught in words. Or not in enough words.

  28. Is a movement defined by working together or by working towards the same goal? There are plenty of people who work together but who do not belong to a movement. Is a movement defined by proximity of people or by it’s ideal?
    Cannot sectarian elements all belong to the same movement of a much greater common ideal?
    Or, are we to think that there is now a multiplicity of KC movements in the world and not just one movement of Mahaprabhu?

  29. I would have to say though, that I do appreciate Swami Tripurari Maharaja making the point that the Gaudiya Vaishnava communities all over the world are NOT one homogeneous movement.
    Gaudiyas are ONE on the most fundamental platform, but since there are so many nuanced camps and parties within the global GV culture, we would certainly have to admit that Gaudiya Vaishnavism has in fact so many possible nuances in bhakti bhavas, that the inevitability of division by taste and temperament cannot be denied.
    It is not really such a bad thing that the KC movement is NOT one megalithic monopoly like ISKCON envisioned itself after the disappearance of Srila Prabhupada, though, in fact, Gaudiya Vaishnavism is too broad and accommodating to be contained within the confines of one ecclesiastical institution such as ISKCON.
    Tripurari Maharaja has a very special gift and is very kind in trying to share his great fortune with as many people as he possible can.
    His gravity might need a tinge more levity to be more accessible to a broader audience, but otherwise Maharaja is most certainly a very good choice for guiding the succeeding generation along the path of Krishna consciousness.

  30. Maharaja, thank you for this very interesting article. I have a few comments I would like to contribute as a practicing (“professional”) astrologer and a long time fan of Radharani and Krishna and Bhagavatam.

    1. About the “scientific proof” for astrology and ancient universe conceptions being lacking…

    Scientific proof requires scientific research. Scientific research requires scientists and equipment. Scientists require food, clothes and shelter; and THAT (along with equipment) require $$$ MONEY $$$.

    The government and private industry pours millions of dollars into scientific research on CERTAIN topics. And that is why they have scientific proof only for certain things. People can not complain that the bhagavat cosmology or astrology in general does not have scientific proof if at the same time they are unwilling to fund the scientific research required to generate such proof.

    If anyone wants to grant me even a modest amount (by research standards) I will happily conduct a research team to provide scientific proof for the validity of vedic astrology at least on a par with similarly funded research in other scientific disciplines. So far, though, no grants… =)

    2. The copernican / heliocentric revolution

    Astrology is traditionally “geocentric.” In my opinion this is not a mistake. Astrology is not about the planets in space, it is about life here on earth, and that is why the greatly wise ancient mystics made their observations of the stars from a geocentric viewpoint. Their ability to calculate the movements of the planets in advance along with their symbolic understanding of the Sun as the soul (the center of all things) shows their understanding that the solar system was, in objective fact, heliocentric. They purposely choose to be geocentric in astrology because the whole focus of astrology is centered on earthlings! =)

    • There is plenty of money in the Vedic Planetarium project to prove the cosmology etc. Will you prove everything empirically?
      Will you empirically test the existence of hellish planets?
      Will you empirically be able to test Rahu and Ketu?
      I am not so sure.

      • Dear Gaura Vidya,

        Regarding the Vedic Planetarium, I honestly have no connection to it whatsoever, so I have no idea what they are trying to do or will or will not be able to do. If you have a question regarding the Vedic Planetarium I am certainly not the right one to ask it to.

        If there were sufficient grants I could spend my time developing a hypothesis of what should be proven and in what order. One can not prove the 10th fact without first establishing the 1st 2nd, 3rd, … 9th facts upon which the 10th rests.

        Rahu and Ketu are empirically demonstrable every time there is an eclipse. They are already astronomically accepted points in space. If you are instead referring to proving them to be rakshashas decapitated by the lovely Mohini Murti, then please refer to the above paragrah. That subject would be rather far down the line of things to be proven, as it would rest on prior veracity of so many pre-cominant subjects.

        Basically what I am thinking of is proving that Vedic astrology is empirically reliable and verifiable. That would be an appropriate starting arena for my research. Accepting all grants! 😉

    • Vraja Kishore,

      Regarding geocentrism, earthlings are also the central interest of modern science. And in pursuit of this interest its early contributors discovered that the Earth moved around the Sun.

      I am not sure that your statement below (in bold) it, as I understand it, is supportable:

      Their ability to calculate the movements of the planets in advance along with their symbolic understanding of the Sun as the soul (the center of all things) shows their understanding that the solar system was, in objective fact, heliocentric. They purposely choose to be geocentric in astrology because the whole focus of astrology is centered on earthlings! =)

      So much science and technological development has resulted from the heliocentric revolution that its hard to imagine that ancient Indians were aware of the “objective fact” that the Earth moved around the Sun, despite their notion of a more subjective central reality of the Sun. Had they been aware of heliocentric objectivity, one would think that, as correct as it is, something more would have come of it. After all, this discovery in the West turned the world upside down.

      • Dear Maharaja,

        Thank you for your reply to my comment. I highly respect your intellectual stature.

        You note that earthlings are also the central interest of modern science. Yes, you are right, but I think it misses the point. The point is of relevance to astrology and heliocentrism versus geocentrism. What we have today has come to bear the name “Astronomy” (roughly, “the naming/documenting of astral objects” – right?) and is no longer known as “Astrology” (roughly, “the logging of astral objectes”). Astronomy is NOT earth centric AT ALL. The intention of Astronomy is to know the universe from a universal perspective; and objective perspective. Modern astronomy wants to know “what is out there.”

        Ancient Astrologers (and astronomy was originally the “jnanic” branch of “jyotish”) did not want to know “what is out there” but what is “up there.” The purpose of ancient astronomy is fundamentally different from the purpose of modern astronomy. The purpose of ancient astronomy was to understand the “clock” of the universe (upon which the movements in the heavens are the hands on the clock face). The purpose was to create calendars and mark the passage of time ON EARTH.

        The purpose of modern astronomy is radically different. It is to explore and discover and understand now things out there. This is why the heliocentric view of the heavens is perfectly appropriate and correct for modern astronomy. (Actually even heliocentrism is incorrect, we have come to understand that the milky way has it’s own center, etc. etc. and we really don’t even have a “center” anymore in modern astronomy).

        This is my point in saying that Vedic astronomers purposely maintained a geocentric description of the heavens – because their purpose was to relate the heavenly movements to the passage of time and the affairs on earth. Modern astronomers, on the other hand, have a radically different purpose – for which a radically different understanding of the universe is appropriate and correct in it’s own right.

        I do personally believe that the ancient sages had access to many of the facts we are currently discovering about our 3 dimensional “heliocentric” vision of the cosmos. That may just be my personal opinion and I don’t think it’s extremely crucial to the main discussion at hand. However the reason I think that they DID know that there were OTHER ways of looking at the universe besides the geocentric view was (1) because they were capable of calculations involving rotation of planets around the sun, and (2) because they describe the Sun as the ultimate center of everything – the soul. Even the ancient glyph for the Sun – a circle with a dot in the middle – symbolizes the Sun’s central position. [this glyph is not isolated to a specific culture either – it has at the very least been noted as the root of the chinese kanji character for the sun:日]

        Regarding #1, retrograde motion of planets (i.e. when they appear to move *backwards* through the zodiac), along with the concomitant variations in their speed of movement through the sky is only due to the fact that they do not factually orbit earth. This only happens because the earth itself is moving. I believe the ancient rishis were aware of this. This I may not be able to prove except with an oblique reference to the sun’s glyph as noted above. Otherwise I would have to become a historian, which would perhaps require another 2 arms and an additional head! =)

        Anyway, thank you for the stimulating conversation and for this excellent forum of discussion.

        • Thank you for the clarification overall.

          As for the minor point I addressed, I would like to believe that the ancient rishis were aware of the Sun’s centrality as understood by modern science, but I remain doubtful despite the interesting points you have raised. The ramifications of the Copernican revolution that came to bear are just too far reaching to imagine (for me) that centuries earlier this truth was known yet not taken advantage of for material progress. And even rishis were interested in material progress for humanity. But it is only as a result of Europe’s discovery that India is readily taking advantage of the heliocentric insight. Still some say that the math of Kelper, etc. was known in the Middle East much earlier. But they are Sufis and similarly we are Gaudiyas thinking about the greatness of our own tradition. Otherwise I think your position on this is better stated as a strong belief—for the reasons you have mentioned—that you realize is not verifiable. Thank you for that and for your appreciation of the Harmonist.

        • excellent. thanks for taking the time to comment. I have one more thing to follow up on though, and I hope it isn’t a botheration: You express that if the ancient Indian rishi’s new about the existence of a heliocentric reality they should have taken advantage of it for material progress. And you say that so much material progress has come about as a result.

          Reading that statement from you I tried to “review my memory banks” to become aware of some achievements that were of great help to mankind made as a result of the acceptance of heliocentrism as the primary scientific model… I couldn’t think of any. Am I missing some, Maharaja? Or perhaps you’ve answered your own question – there really is nothing of significant value to humanity in the heliocentric view of reality, and THAT’s exactly why the ancient Rishi’s didn’t bother with it much?

        • Well, the heliocentric discovery marks the beginning of the entire scientific revolution. Reason as we now know it—for better or worse—was born and licensed and the world has been different ever since. It is not any particular technological development I am referring to, but more to the mindset that resulted from this discovery that in turn paved the way for numerous technological achievements. Have you read Psyche and Cosmos by Richard Tarnas? It should prove interesting in this regard and also with regard to astrology and its veracity. It is a very well written book and it makes a good case for astrology, albeit archetypal Greek astrology as opposed to Vedic astrology.

  31. Also the well known Thomas Khun in his The Copernican Revolution has argued well that the Copernican revolution was completed by Isaac Newton, whose impact on the world is perhaps more clear that that of Copernicus himself.

  32. I suppose I may be a little late to contribte to this discusscion and am not sure anyone will even read this but it may be of some interest that I myself asked Srila Sridhar Maharaj this question directly. “I have heard the Srila Bhaktivionda Thakur said the descriptions of Hell in the Bhagavat are allegorical and not literal, could you explain what this means.” Srila Sridhar Maharaj: “They are allegorical in as much as the whole material world is allegorical and not Reality.” I then asked, “The Bhagavat’s whole description of the cosmos is at odds with the findings of modern science. How are we to harmonise this?” Srila Sridhar Maharaj, “We are to understand that our world vision and the vision of the scientists is from the Mayic perspective whereas the vision of Veda Vyas is perfect and unfettered. We are to trust the vision of Vyasadev and not the vison of those under the control of Maya.”

    The learned readers may understand this as they are able. I see that it harmonises both perspectives on this question but finally it remains largely unimportant to argue which is the provable truth because until we are free from the vision of Maya we will only be able to see from our imperfect perspective. The message of the Bhagavat which teaches us that Sri Krishna Prema is the summon bonnum of all attainment and the only goal of life is really the essential matter.

  33. Somebody who craves to be called ‘Worm in the Stool’ wrote:

    Trying to cover up these obviously flawed astronomical portions of the Bhagavat with the excuse that they are just allegorical stories, though nobody can tell us what the allegorical meaning actually is, is not a success formula for establishing the Bhagavat as a religious authority in the modern age and for hundreds of years in the future.

    OK. First things first. How can you complain that majority of ISCKON’s and other GM’s followers come directly from punk or hippie movements, how can you complain about KC not hitting the mainstream and STILL come up with such a repulsive nickname?

    OK. Now, the second part. I am surprised that throughout the whole discussion nobody mentioned (sorry if I did not notice someone did) the difference between sruti and smriti sastras. Sruti has to be heard and felt. Simple. Smriti has to be read and understood. Smriti means Puranas, Upanishads and the epics. Now what it should be understood through? There is a specific tool to do this called the vedanga. How can anyone try to criticise Bhagavatam without having made an effort to understand it through what Vedas are meant to be understood? There are Siksha, Chandas, Vyakarana, Nirukta, Jyotisha and Kalpa. Bhagavatam and other shastras are not that simple. Of course, the bhakti parts are easier to understand, especially if we get them directly from bhakti parampara. But other parts are not that easy. And yes, dear Worm in the Stool, many of those stories are allegorical and there is a way to interpret them if you take vedangas into consideration.

    Of course, if we want better understanding of the sastras then the best way would be to study the vedangas and later come up with satisfactory explanations. However, this is not the problem that blocks KC’s entrance into the mainstream. People nowadays are so eager to believe in so many crazy things, even the wealthy and smart, that really, it is not the problem that in Bhagavatam there is some unclear esoteric part. The fact that KC remains in the shadow results from many other things. But that seems to be a topic for separate discussion.

    Worm in the Stool wrote:

    So, I do see and understand the allegory represented by all the demons Krishna killed in the Bhagavatam.
    But, I think it is a mistake to think that they are only allegorical and not personified beings who came to fight with Krishna when he descended into the universe.

    Yes, they were both allegorical and real. The truth is that Sri Krishna did fight with many opponents. Maybe only their descriptions are full of allegories? You know, the power of the Vedas in the past resulted from it being unavailable to the public. But how can you keep something away from public for such a long time? There are parts for everybody, they are clear, like worship Vishnu, be a good person and ‘here you have a mantra’. There are also parts which are meant for brahmanas only. Higher education.

  34. I am in this discussion pretty late – but I am inclined to take the position that what modern science tells us may not be the complete picture at all. It should be noted that modern cosmological science is completely at cross-roads with regards to the structure of the universe as whole, and whether or not there are multiple dimensions to reality, and the definition of “space” itself.

    The fact is that actual reality of the universe might be very different from what the senses tell us, and would like us to believe in. I could illustrate with a example.

    Our well-developed reasoning suggests that no two particles(or for that matter, moon) can be in 2 different places at the same time.
    Yet, experiments on interferences using single photons of light have yielded conclusions which directly contradict this.
    Interference patterns, using a double slit, are formed when light waves “interfere” in classical terms – producing bands. The experiment works even if single particles of light(photons, as they are called) are shot at the slit, one at a time.
    Physicists reconciled these observations by invoking particle-wave duality, which allowed particle to behave as waves. Now ordinary experience does not allow us to see particles in terms of waves, isnt it?
    Furthermore, when physicists attempted to measure the direction of photons being shot at the screen directly or indirectly, they found to their surprise that the interference patterns disappeared at every instance. Contrary to it, when they stopped measuring the direction of these photons, they found that the interference patterns emerged again. Again, isn’t this an observation which can be reconciled with our day-to-day experiences. How does a inanimate particle know its being “measured”?

    I have given this example just to bring attention to the fact that the science is now where close to deciphering the reality of either micro – or macro world, and much of what it deciphers perhaps may not make sense to us human beings. In light of it, I think it would be preposterous to conclude anything about Bhagavat cosmology without giving serious attention,or doing research around it. What might appear utterly at odds with our understanding, may in fact be the way cosmos works. My point is that we should NOT take whatever Science offers us, as the gospel truth. The fact is that our limited senses also inhibit our potential to discover the nature of reality through experiences and “logic” alone(as we know it).

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