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Srila Prabhupada's Influence on the Scientific World

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Srila Prabhupada's Influence on the Scientific World
by Bhakti Madhava Puri

In 1936 in Bombay, now known as Mumbai which is its ancient Maharati name, Srila Prabhupada (Swami Maharaja) wrote the following in the Harmonist in honor of his Spiritual Master Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Prabhupada,

"Personally, I have no hope for any direct service of the coming crores of births in the sojourn of my life, but I am confident that some day or other I shall be delivered from this mire of delusion in which I am at present so deeply sunk. Therefore let me with all my earnestness pray at the lotus feet of my Divine Master to allow me to suffer the lot for which I am destined due to my past misdoings, but to let me have this power of recollection: that I am nothing but a tiny servant of the Almighty Absolute Godhead, realized through the unflinching mercy of my Divine Master. Let me therefore bow down at his lotus feet with all the humility at my command."

In September of 1965, almost 30 years later, Srila Prabhupada came to New York and after a difficult struggle established ISKCON, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in 1966. He came with the sole intention of continuing the Mission of his own Gurudeva who had established 64 Maths in India during the 1930's. Srila Sridhara Maharaja succinctly stated what his mission was. In three steps Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Prabhupada covered the whole of Reality,

"Calculation, the rules and regulations, awe, reverence, all these things are minimized, checked, slackened with the softness of Vrindavan within, and with the hardness of a devastator without, he [Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Prabhupada] created havoc in the materialistic world, fighting with one and all. Single-handedly fighting against the whole world, and cutting asunder everything in the exploitive realm - that was his external attitude. And hhè€WŸ­`ÀÅ@5!•5 was to put a stop to all scholarly researchers and doctorates of different departments, and to stop their boasting research, and third, to minimize, to slacken the grandeur of the worship of Narayan. He caused the domain of love to descend into this plane with the service of Radha-Govinda, establishing the flow of Divine Love from the heart as all in all. With that we come to serve our object of worship, and he represented the service of Radha Govinda as the highest attainment."

So Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada came with this same mission. We were taught to bow down daily to Guru saying,

" I offer my obeisances to His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who is very dear to Lord Krishna having taken shelter at His lotus feet. Our respectful obeisances unto you O spiritual master, servant of Srila Saraswati Goswami. You are kindly preaching the message of Lord Chaitanya and delivering the Western countries which are filled with impersonalism and voidism."

Modern science teaches that matter is the basis of Reality. This is a philosophy of impersonalism and voidism. The atomic theory of matter is basically the theory of the Greek philosopher Anaxagoras. The Paramanuvada of the Indian sage, Kanada, also presents an atomic theory of matter. The modern atomic theory is very problematic. The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead pointed out that our present atomic theory does not account for the existence of motion. (He later developed his own theory of matter called "process theory" that includes the dynamic aspect of Reality.) Given only atoms and the void as the starting elements, motion appears in the system as an ad hoc principle, not derived from just atoms and void. Time is therefore not inherent in the system either. Thus modern scientific laws are time invariant, meaning that phenomena that they explain can occur in reversible order. Such a description, however, does not correspond to Reality since time goes in only one direction from past to futu re. There is also no definitive explanation of how subjective experience or personhood arises from the basic ab initio principles of physics. These include e, h, m and c, the electronic charge, Planck's constant, mass and the speed of light, respectively.

To describe subjectivity as epiphenomena, apparent manifestations of complex material interactions, is only avoiding the issue. Reductionism means to attempt to explain all subjective experience and personality at the mechanical atomic level. This is the theory that life comes from matter by a process of gradual evolution over a long time span. Srila Prabhupada especially wanted to uproot this idea that life came from matter. He wanted to establish that life comes from life, and even that matter comes from life. I remember that it was a relief for us to realize that we were ultimately persons and God was ultimately personal. A personal Reality was a lot less difficult to conceive than an impersonal, materialistic one. I am a person. This is obvious. To conceive of ourselves as a combination of atoms and molecules is difficult. It is difficult to think of how a stone can give rise to a concept. But that mind or soul can contain "stone" as a concept within it is not so difficult. When we think o f the hard, "kickable" stone out there beyond the subtle and ephemeral mind we may feel that the two realms have nothing in common. However, the objective world relates to the subjective world as its negation, or it’s opposite. For example, night is the negation of day, sleep is the negation of wakefulness. The negative charge is the opposite of the positive, etc. In all these cases we can see that negation does not imply annihilation. So the subjective world is inseparably related to the objective world. If one exists then the other must also exist. So matter and mind both must have their own existence in themselves. If one exists then the other must also exist. But in what medium do these two principles exist? Ultimately the ground or actual being of subjective and objective existence is Spirit or the Absolute. Those who stand on the objective ground do not stand on ultimate Reality. Only those who know that their being arises from the Absolute, the conscious world can know Reality in Truth.

Once I asked Srila Prabhupada a question that Albert Einstein had pondered throughout his whole life but was never able to answer, "What is the relation between the world of ideas and the world as it is?" Srila Prabhupada immediately answered, "Yes, that is the difference between matter and spirit." This was astonishing to us! We were not in contact with matter. Rather we were under the influence of a material conception of life. In other words, matter is the world of ideas, and spirit is the world as it is. Spirit is simultaneously substance as well as subject. We think ourselves to be the knowing agents of Truth. However, if Truth itself is a knowing Agent then we are just a moment in the subjective activity of the Absolute Person. The failure of modern science is that it does not include the observer in its considerations. That the subjective observer is a part of Truth means that Truth must be subjective in itself. This is indeed a Copernican revolution in thought. Copernicus changed the thinking of man's place in the universe from an earth centered perspective to a solar centered one. Srila Prabhupada and ultimately Srila Sridhara Maharaja helped to change our perspective of life from a provincial self-centered one, at odds with others of similar conception, to a harmonious, surrendered life of Krishna-centered existence in the service of Guru and vaisnava.

According to Srimad Bhagavad-gita (4.9) janma karma ca me divyam, one who has transcendental knowledge of how the Lord appears in human shape is a liberated soul. Krishna is not an abstract universal principle but incarnates in the material realm according to our conception. In reality He is always in the spiritual world. From the absolute standpoint we can consider Gurudeva to be as good as the Lord Himself, acharya mam vijaniyat, in different conceptions up to the dearmost servitor of the Lord. This is the conception of the devotee which Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Himself gave to the world. The Infinite comes down to us as His own devotee. The real worshipper of Krishna, the genuine vaisnava, is one who serves Guru and vaisnava in full surrender of body, mind and words. Jnana sunya bhakti we find the highest plane of service in the sensuous feature of the Absolute. Modern science is devoid of this type of scientific understanding, but by the teachings of the great acharyas like Srila Prabhupada and Srila Sridhara Maharaja such perspective is now available in the West. This is the real Science which Srila Prabhupada came to teach. Once Srila Prabhupada said that we should just try to apply our scientific knowledge to understand the mercy of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. His life and teachings can fulfill all desires for knowledge and beyond that to give us the ultimate fulfillment of life - Love of Radha-Govinda.

In order to deliver this message to the scientific world Srila Prabhupada established the Bhaktivedanta Institute with the help of his Ph.D. disciples Sripad Bhakti Swarupa Damodara Maharaja, Sripad Sadaputa Dasa, and myself. A number of conferences on Science and Religion, were arranged by the devotees of the Institute at the beautiful temple-auditorium complex in Juhu Beach, India. They hold similar conferences at various times throughout the world. Calcutta was the site of the most recent one in January 1997. Sripad Sadaputa Dasa has written a number of books on a variety of scientific topics: Vedic cosmography, quantum mechanics, and aliens as well as an influential book called "Forbidden Archeology." He is presently at the Bhaktivedanta Institute in Florida. A number of other devotees have also written books. A few Noble Laureates have taken a favorable interest in Srila Prabhupada's movement. Dr. George Wald, Nobel Laureate from the Biology Department at M. I. T., has shown some interest. Dr. Wa ld made important discoveries about the effect of Vitamin A on the eye. Vision is impossible to understand on the basis of mere mechanism. So naturally one has to inquire about the existence of another principle besides matter to explain some simple observations such as visual illusions like the Nekker cube, for example. Here we look at one object but "see" it in different ways -- as a flat figure of intersecting lines, as a three dimensional cube facing left or facing right. Such a variety of perspectives of a single object by a particular eye is the effect of a meta level of reality operating outside the physical level of the eye.

Professor H.P. Stapp of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory has written a book called Gaudiya Vaisnava Vedanta. He is an internationally known quantum physicist who describes Gaudiya Vaisnava philosophy as a coherent, consistent and more complete conceptual framework for science than the presently accepted paradigm. The good work of the devotees of the Bhaktivedanta Institute is all the result of Srila Prabhupada's preaching mission in the West.

Srila Prabhupada explained that we daily observe that life comes from life. A dog comes from a dog. A human being comes from a human being. Everywhere we look we see that life comes from life. Therefore why should we conclude that life comes from matter? Science means observe and then draw some conclusion based on those observations. We observe that life comes from life, but has anyone ever observed life coming from chemicals? No. Then how can this idea be scientific? Observation or experiment does not support the theory that life comes from matter. Without supporting evidence, imaginative theories are not science. This was his simple argument.

That matter comes from life is also observable. Srila Prabhupada pointed out that our urine contains so many chemicals produced by the effect of the life force in the body. The Indian scientist Jaggadish Chandra Bose carefully measured the amount of water and air used by a growing tree. The weight of the tree, soil, air and water was greater than the sum of the additions. This means that the tree was producing matter from some unmeasurable source. Philosophically, we can understand that spirit is the truth of matter, the truth that matter has no truth. Beyond the experienced world, and the experience itself is the plane of the experiencer or witness, the knower. Vedic literature teaches that beside this knower there is also a superknower or Paramatan. The supreme Sri Bhagavan is established as the actual spiritual ground of Reality, and not the material ground. Maya or the illusion of the material existence is real. Maya actually comes from ma which means "not", and ya which mean s "that." So what is "that?" The Truth or "that" is actually Krishna, so maya means to see "not Krishna." These are all transformations of conscious energy due to the modes of ignorance, passion and goodness. The psychologist Carl Jung once said, "Matter is a symbol we place over reality which may in fact be spirit or anything else; it may even be God."

The US landed a man on the Moon in July 1969. Srila Prabhupada insisted that they did not go to the Moon. We all thought this meant that the US was involved in some type of conspiracy to fool the public. Later as it became clear to us that they had actually gone to the Moon. Srila Prabhupada explained that they had not really gone because they could not enter the atmosphere of the Moon, they had to take their own atmosphere with them. Also they could not see the presiding deity of the Moon, and they could not stay there. Therefore they did not go to this higher planet in truth. At that time we realized that our way of seeing in physical terms was different from the way Srila Prabhupada was seeing things from the perspective of the conscious world. The scientists did not enter the plane of consciousness that the Moon represents.

We have noted that a similar situation has arisen concerning Srila Prabhupada's statement that we sometimes become envious of Krishna's position as the enjoyer and thereby fall into the material conception of life. One engaged in the activities of serving Guru and vaisnavas, may be considered to be on the spiritual platform. However, we may still be carrying some atmosphere of the material tendencies with us. For example, Srila Prabhupada explained, if we are lost in a forest but can find someone who knows his way through, then we are as good as liberated simply by following the guide. One engaged in spiritual practices is as good as liberated, but the tendency to again fall into material existence may still be present. This tendency however, is never present for one who has left the material atmosphere completely and entered the spiritual realm of the absolute world. One can remain there permanently. This is the verdict of sastra and of those who have knowledge of the truth. It is inimical to faith to conceive otherwise. One who is a surrendered soul has no tendency to enjoy separately from Krishna, this is the meaning of surrendered soul. Reality is by itself and for itself, as Srila Sridhara Maharaja was fond of telling us. One who is for Krishna is surrendered to Him. Only the tatashta shakti section can fall under the external energy or bahiranga shakti. Those in the antaranga shakti are impervious to such influence. Srila Prabhupada was fully aware of these things, as is clear from his books, but we may understand it differently according to our platform of realization.

In the Bhagavad-gita (13.30) prakrityaiva ca karmani all activity is explained as being carried out by the material energy. This idea parallels the modern scientific attempt to explain everything in terms of mechanical laws of nature. Galileo laid down the stern laws of the universe with his physics, along with Newton’s help. Chemical determinism conquered the field of biology is in the first decades of the 19th century while Darwin imprisoned life within physical necessity. As Ortega y Gasset wrote, “ It is no longer the organism that moves but the environment that is moving through it. Our actions are no more than reactions.” With Pavlov’s experiments on the conditioned - reflex reaction of dogs, psychology itself became a branch of mechanics. In effect, this whole development reduced the individual to no more than an electricians diagram of afferent and efferent nerves. Life, according to materialistic science, is no more mysterious or divine than what goes on within the interior of the carburetor and engine of one’s car. When the Gita describes that the stringent laws of material nature produce the gross and subtle actions of the living entities, we can understand that it is taking a very scientific approach. Unlike the materialistic theory, it is not reductionistic since it preserves the self or atma as the witness or non-doer along with paramatama. A life in the conscious world is available to the surrendered soul where only the law of love prevails. In any case the individual soul is always subordinate to the energy of the Supreme Lord.

With the advent of computers, Srila Prabhupada, Srila Sridhara Maharaja and other vaisnava acharyas may be found in cyberspace. Now anyone throughout the world can turn on their search engines to Search for: Sri Krishna, Reality the Beautiful. It also gives a chance for devotees to exchange Hari-katha with each other despite distant geographical locations and to keep current about events in the Vaisnava world. One important area of discussion has come up on the internet regarding the propriety of speaking about rasa in the association of devotees. Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Prabhupada, Srila Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada and Srila Sridhara Maharaja all gave the same instructions not to discuss these topics. The unavoidable inner symptoms of a surrendered soul will either arise or not according to the sweet will of the Lord. We are not disbelievers. The spontaneous platform does exist. But we do not approach it directly. pujala raga patha gaurava bhange, means that we want t o stick to the lila of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and keep the worshipable spontaneous flow above our heads. It is greater than us, and greater than anything that can be reached by fruitive attempt. This requires faith, which Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada spent much energy to point out as the essential prerequisite before prema could be attained. Without such strong faith we will have only sahajiya or reflected, imitation experience. This approach may be a little difficult, but the proper spiritual master will always guide his disciples with this correct conception. Srimad Bhagavatam describes the purifying benefits of hearing Krishna lila, but the intensely renounced Srila Rupa Goswami and the other vaisnava acharyas who have given us rasa tattva were all strict followers of Mahaprabhu. Therefore we understand that we are to follow the lila of Mahaprabhu to properly approach Krishna lila. Sharanagati (surrender) is the foundation upon which bhakt i stands, without which it is all bogus. Surrender is possible only to that which is higer than us, beyond our sensuous and reflective capacity. This is the science of Krishna consciousness which Srila Prabhupada taught us, and it is the greatest of all sciences. Learning it carefully from a good preceptor is absolutely necessary otherwise we can easily misunderstand it due to our own material conditioning. We are followers in the line of Sri Chaitanya Sraswat, coming from Mahaprabhu to Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, as well as Srila Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada and Srila Sridhara Maharaja, and Srila Govinda Maharaja is continuing this line. The instructions from these great acharyas are clear, not that they are only giving an introductory course and some higher instruction is to come later. They are teaching that the highest course for us is always in the direction of more surrender, not more subtle or gross enjoyment. We are thankful that the good preceptors are there in our lives, to preserve and te ach this science of Krishna consciousness.

Devotees throughout the world are spreading the teachings of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu because of the efforts of Srila Prabhupada. One day the whole world may recognize his great importance in the history of human civilization. Srila Sridhara Maharaja and other devotees called him a shaktyavesh avatara. Since his appearance in the West modern science has taken a dramatic turn toward developing a more inclusive spiritual conception. There are still those who try to see everything in terms of the grand unifying materialistic theory of everything, but this only concerns the material laws of gravity, electromagnetism, subatomic forces and relativistic phenomena. They cannot unify their laws with the subjective and spiritual realms of the lawmaker. One must consider the three aspects of knower-knowledge-known in any complete scientific description of reality. We cannot only talk about the known world of sense objects and neglect to include the realms of the knower and knowledge. This is not knowledge in the mundane, relative plane but in the plane of transcendental, absolute knowing. Classical philosophy calls these three areas of study

theology - study of the knower and superknower
epistemology - relative and absolute knowledge
ontology - the known and the Supreme Being

A complete scientific system of philosophy must include these three areas otherwise it will be incomplete and one will not be able to understand the Absolute Truth. Once one understands the personal nature of Reality, the necessity of approaching the agent of the Lord and surrendering there will be apparent.

Knowledge of the scientist is the most difficult part of science. The scientist is at the same time above science yet an essential part of it. Modern science is exacting in its description of the objective world but tells us nothing of the scientist. What we say about the scientist may therefore be misconstrued as sentiment or subjective rather than scientific even though science and the scientist are inseparably connected. This is the difficulty. Similarly we may understand something of the science of the Absolute but how do we know and understand the absolute scientist or Guru? We know he must be ananya bhak exclusively devoted to Guru and Krishna, and he must also be anyabhilasitasunyam jnana karmady anavritam completely devoid of any interest in karma and jnana. We also have the acknowledgment of sadhu the other recognized devotees. Then we have sastra the writings of the Lord and previous great devotees and acharyas to confirm and support whatever they may be teaching. We also require sukriti the good fortune to come into the proper connection.

On one of the first occasions that I had to converse with Srila Prabhupada, the thought came to me that first I must say something to glorify and please my spiritual master. While I was beside him on his morning walk I said, “Srila Prabhupada, I think you are the greatest scientist.” Immediately he stopped with a big smile arched across his face from ear to ear. I was astonished to see such a remarkable smile, and very happily he said, “Yes, I think so!” Having pleased him so, I felt as if my whole life was successful. The scientist is always more important than the science. Srila Prabhupada’s influence on science, not only mundane science and scientists, extends to spiritual science and spiritual scientists as well. He has established and shown us the standard of the genuine spiritual scientist. In the absence of Srila Prabhupada we had his example and his instructions before us, and with our faith we tried to remain true to that understanding. By the grace of Srila Prabhupada we came to know that Sri la Sridhara Maharaja was delivering the same conception of surrender and service. He gave us much inspiration and an even greater appreciation of Srila Prabhupada and what he was teaching. Genuine vaisnavas have the ability to magnify other devotees, just as a telescope can magnify distant places. We find the same spiritual current can be traced in Srila Govinda Maharaja who was intimately connected with Srila Prabhupada and Srila Sridhara Maharaja. Srila Prabhupada’s influence is found in reciprocal degree in these three great personalities and by Krishna’s perfect arrangement the same science of Krishna consciousness Srila Prabhupada taught us, is being carried on today in the person of Srila Govinda Maharaja. We cannot speak of Srila Prabhupada’s influence on the scientific world without reference to these things as well. The entire spiritual atmosphere of the world has been influenced by his Krishna consciousness movement and that affects everything. Srila Prabhupada’s godbrothers and their dis ciples who have been in intimate connection with him have felt this influence the most. Now there are also centers of the Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math established worldwide. Many different vaisnava institutions are presently found throughout the world, all by the influence of Srila Prabhupada’s preaching. The influence may be there but is the same essence of Srila Prabhupada’s teachings to be found in all? It is important to know what the science of Krishna consciousness is in order to be able to determine this. To have faith in Srila Prabhupada is to have faith in the pure conception which he was giving us. Merely worshipping the form is just idolatry. A single institution or a consortium of them will not help us in this regard. Srila Prabhupada stepped outside of his institution to spread Krishna consciousness. This important precedent is essential in understanding that it is only by faithful surrender to that highest conception which is the property of guru parampara that we can achieve the ultimat e perfection of life.

The sankirtan movement which was inaugurated by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, conceived by Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura, started by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada and spread throughout the world by Srila Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada is still going on under the direction of the Supreme Lord and His divine potencies, the pure devotees of the Lord. I pray that a drop of their mercy may one day be able reach even me.

In the genuine spirit of guru parampara, that same mood of humble surrender which Srila Prabhupada expressed in the prayer to his Divine Guardian, placed at the beginning of this article, is perfectly reflected in the prayer which Mahaprabhu spoke in His sikshastikam,

ayi nanda-tanuja kinkaram
patitam mama visame bhavambudhau
krpaya tava pada-pankaja-
sthita-dhuli-sadrsam vichintaya

"O Nandanandana, son of King Nanda, although I am Your eternal servitor, I have fallen into the terrible ocean of material existence due to the fructification of my own misdeeds. Please, if even this may be too much, may you graciously consider me to be a particle of dust at Your lotus feet."

B. M. Puri
May 1, 1997
Srila Vrindavan Das Thakura’s Tirobhav