Vanity thought #1672. Spiritual modesty

I’m still waiting for knowledgeable comments on the Flat Earth observation I wrote about two days ago. I don’t think there will be any, though. My calculations were somewhat incorrect, to say the least – the island should be not 100 m but 1000 m below the horizon, which makes it even more difficult to explain, so I was wrong but in Flat Earth favor, not against it. In the meantime I want to return to the topic of reincarnating again and again to serve in the mission of Lord Caitanya. I don’t have anything new to add but I’ve seen two related items that I want to comment on.

First was a general Bhāgavatam class where someone said generic things – we should be respectful of every devotee around us because they might be demigods who came down to taste the nectar of saṅkīrtana movement. We’ve been hearing this for ages now, it doesn’t raise out attention anymore. Could it really be possible?

Why not? Saṅkīrtana sure is sweet and demigods might be bored out of their wits so naturally they want to join. One short life on Earth is not that big of a deal. We might not be getting any of the major ones like Indra of Vāyu because they have actual work to do but there are millions of other heavenly beings whose brief absence might not be missed.

When Lord Caitanya was here demigods came disguised as humans to have a look at Him and people were wondering who those mysterious visitors were. We don’t have Lord Caitanya Himself as the main attraction now but we had a unique moment in history when Kṛṣṇa consciousness was spreading like wildfire, it was clearly intoxicating, so it’s understandable why even demigods might have wanted to be a part of it. Some might have come to help because Śrīla Prabhupāda surely needed it with all our ex-hippies. We are not going to speculate who among his disciples could be a demigod in disguise but simply admit the possibility.

More interesting question is why do we want demigods in our ranks at all. Are we absolutely sincere about it or do we want some extra importance attached to our mission? Is it a cheap trick to rally the troops to go out and fight māyā? It might be cheating but we still need this kind of encouragement because often we won’t get out of bed for purely spiritual reasons, we need some material motivation, too. I’m not sure whether exploiting our materialistic motivations is beneficial in the long run but it definitely helps.

I’ve heard of some of our managers deliberately using women to get male hormones going, otherwise devotees are too lazy. A man would do anything for a chance with a girl, why not use this energy in service of Kṛṣṇa? Why let it go to waste? He’ll fall in love with someone sooner or later anyway. I understand and almost agree with this reasoning but something holds me back from completely agreeing with it. It’s not what I was going to talk about today anyway.

So, we might be bringing demigods into the picture to make ourselves appear important. Ostensibly we’d say that it’s our mission that is important, so important that even the demigods decided to chip in, but the “our” part there makes it about self-importance, too. That is only half the problem, however.

Why do we use demigods to elicit extra respect in the first place? It makes ordinary devotees look insignificant by comparison, which is disrespectful. Are we going to offer obeisances to someone because he could be a demigod but not for the fact that he is a devotee? Do devotees not deserve respect on their own?

Technically, our devotees are going back to Kṛṣṇa while demigods usually go back to heaven, as we can see from numerous examples in our books. I always wondered why they misuse the opportunity of meeting Kṛṣṇa or Viṣṇu face to face and desire to stay in the material world longer. This should not happen to our ISKCON devotees who follow the program. At the end of their lives they are going to be reunited with the Lord while going to heaven would be considered a failure. Well, nothing done in service to the Lord is a failure but it would still be a setback.

So, we’d offer special respects to demigods who are going to enjoy the pleasures of the material world and walk past a simple devotee who is going to be reunited with Kṛṣṇa? It doesn’t make sense and so I don’t understand these demigod references.

A second item on this topic is Śrīla Prabhupāda’s lecture on what it means to be liberated. There is a couple of paragraphs there that I’d actually prefer to read backwards:

    You have to become the servant of the servant of the servant of gopīs. So to endeavor to become gopīs, that is also Māyāvādī, that “I shall become gopīs.” No. So we must always remember that if we want to be recognized by Kṛṣṇa, if we want to become inhabitants of Vṛndāvana, then we must take this lesson given by Caitanya Mahāprabhu, gopī-bhartuḥ pada-kamalayor dāsa-dāsānudāsaḥ.

And then in one of the preceding paragraphs:

    Don’t try to become gopīs. No. Rather, try to become the dust of the lotus feet of the gopīs. Gopī-bhartuḥ pada-kamalayor dāsa-dāsānudāsaḥ (CC Madhya 13.80). Just like Uddhava. Uddhava wanted to become one grass in Vṛndāvana because the gopīs will trample over it. This is the highest perfection. So, liberation. Liberation means gopī-bhartuḥ pada-kamalayor dāsa-dāsa-dāsānudāsaḥ. The more you become servant of the servant, servant of Vaiṣṇava, then your perfection is there

The futility of any other type of liberation is explained as well:

    Ahaṁ brahmāsmi: to understand that “I am not this matter, I am Brahman.” But unless one takes shelter of the gopī-bhartuḥ pada-kamalayor dāsa, he’ll fall down. Āruhya kṛcchreṇa paraṁ padaṁ tataḥ patanty adhaḥ (SB 10.2.32). Why? Anādṛta-yuṣmad-aṅghrayaḥ. Because one does not know, as Caitanya Mahāprabhu teaches, that gopī-bhartuḥ pada-kamalayor dāsa-dāsānudāsaḥ (CC Madhya 13.80), he falls down. He has no shelter. Anādṛta-yuṣmad-aṅghrayaḥ.

Śrīla Prabhupāda makes full use of the linked Bhāgavatam and Caitanya Caritāmṛta verses here – those who do not become servants of the servants do not achieve liberation. Not servants of Kṛṣṇa either, but servants of the servants of the servants.

To me this validates my earlier point that we might be born again and again exactly where we are now so that we can perfect our position of lowly servants of the servants of Śrīla Prabhupāda and should not demand anything better. Uddhava wanted to become grass in Vṛndāvana but for him it was a step down from his exalted position in Dvārakā. If we desire the same it would be a step up, which is not a display of necessary humility. We should simply aspire to serve dedicated servants of Śrīla Prabhupāda in whatever capacity we can, if we do it right we will eventually develop real bhakti ourselves, and with bhakti we’ll have no problems doing this “insignificant” service again and again, lifetime after lifetime.

Or, in other words – we don’t know how good we have it.

Vanity thought #1671. Digging up dirt

I’m waiting for scientific response to yesterday’s Flat Earth phenomenon, it might not be forthcoming, however. It’s hard to imagine how seeing that island would be possible either because it should be obstructed or hidden behind Earth’s curvature. In the meantime, let’s look at something else.

Yesterday’s video came accompanied with some other claims. One was, iirc, that instead of bending into a sphere, Earth’s surface expands four times to keep its flat shape. I don’t know what to say to this, it wasn’t mentioned in the video and there aren’t any clues why that might be the case. Another claim was that Lord Varāha lifted not the globe Earth but the disk of Bhū-maṇḍala. That we can investigate.

As far as I can see from clicking on various relevant chapters in the Third Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, the text mentions bhū-maṇḍala only once and it was in the prayers by demigods. Bhāgavatam uses great many words to refer to Earth there but usually they do not define it as either a globe or a flat disk. The selection of words, however, is interesting in itself and might give us some clues to what had actually happened.

Another problematic area is that Bhāgavatam, and specifically the conversation between Vidura and Maitreya, combine two different stories of Lord Varāha into one. I don’t remember the exact inconsistency but I don’t think it has any bearing on flat vs globe debate about Earth’s shape. Anyway, let’s see how Bhāgavatam addresses the Earth in that story/stories.

One popular word is gām, it’s what Maitreya called the Earth himself in the very beginning in his own words rather than repeating words of others (SB 3.13.16), like Manu and Brahmā. Actually, the very first mention was mahī in the previous verse but it probably derives from mahā, meaning great, a rather generic adjective. Anyway, gām appears a million times in our books and it clearly relates to “go” – meaning go, just like in English. I’m kidding, of course, but Sanskrit go is all about wandering around, which is what cows do.

Once again, without deep knowledge of Sanskrit we are reduced to taking literal translation which do not always convey the root meanings of words. We think of a cow as an animal of a certain shape and the one that gives milk, too, but in Sanskrit principal meaning of cow is to wander about and graze peacefully, I believe. Cows don’t impose themselves on anyone and they have no other purpose in life but to wander around and eat their grass. They don’t defend the property like dogs do, they don’t carry people like horses, they don’t hunt, they don’t beg, they don’t come into the house to be petted, they aren’t interested in anything else but walking around in search of food. That’s what I heard from farmers, too.

This choice of word for the Earth, gām, indicates its purpose, too – a place with idyllic pastures for cows to enjoy, not a place to fight battles or display prowess or practice meditation – the universe has other planets better suited for those other purposes.

Another word that appears a couple of times is dharā, another common name for the Earth that appears a million times in our books. Dharā means providing support, the same root as dharma. The Earth as dharā matches very well with the Earth as gām. It supports peaceful life – these cows need something to graze on, right?

There’s one other word that was used several times, mahīm, but it looks the same as mahī and doesn’t convey any specific information, just an acknowledgement of Earth’s importance. Another word that doesn’t seem to be significant is pṛthvī – quite a common name for the Earth but it was given to it after Mahārāja Pṛthu, at the time of Lord Varāha incarnation it probably was still unknown but was admissible in the conversation of Maitreya and Vidura. There were also bhū and bhūvaḥ, words I can’t attach any particular meaning to.

Finally, we come to a group of words which refer to Earth as earth, the material element. There were various derivation from “kṣ-” like kṣmām or kṣitī which appear numerous times, and two other words that refer to earth itself – avanim and urvīm. Both are used to talk about soil, things like river beds etc – the earth, clay, dirt, that kind of thing.

So, when the Earth was lost at the bottom of the ocean what was actually missing is a peaceful place suitable for cows, sustaining life, and the earth as the material element itself. When Lord Varāha dived in He was looking after Earth by smell – a property of the earth element, though the word used in that particular verse was pṛthvī.

I’m not saying that we should take this story metaphorically but we can’t dismiss these particular features being lost either. Why? Because I’m afraid we are extending our own interpretations of what the Earth is to the story, especially when we think that it was a globe normally floating near the shore of Jambudvīpa that got drowned and then dug up by the Lord. It’s not a shot at our semi-official model of the universe but just a reminder that we are trying to place OUR concept of Earth into Bhāgavatam narrative while we should be going the other way – try to understand what Earth is from Bhāgavatam POV and ignore everything we know about it ourselves. I bet it would be a lot easier to reconcile things if we approach these topics with this attitude.

Lord Brahmā’s body is made of pure intelligence, they say, and other demigods probably don’t have an earthly bone in their bodies, too, only air, fire, and water, so the loss of earth as an element didn’t affect them at all but if this element can’t sustain life of cows then it becomes totally useless. Was the Earth inhabited at the time? Possibly not, possibly it just became mud at the bottom of the ocean and to perform its two other functions of sustaining life and cows it needed to be dug up and shaped into Bhū-maṇḍala. There are verses talking about Lord Varāha balancing it on the end of His tusks, however, which means the Earth already had some sort of a shape when it was rescued.

Another interesting point is that Hiraṇyākṣa told Lord Varāha that the Earth belonged to the lower regions and so the Lord had no right to take it away and that particular verse (SB 3.18.3) is filled with double meanings, just read the purport. Maybe demons had plans for using it down there, which would make sense if they were talking about the Earth as clay but not as much if they were talking about a globe or even Bhū-maṇḍala.

Speaking of Bhū-maṇḍala – the verse is there (SB 3.14.41) while there’s no mention of the Earth as a globe. Maybe it was the entire disk of Bhū-maṇḍala that fell down but then I’m not sure that would make sense, too – isn’t Bhū-maṇḍala too big to fit at the bottom of the universe? Or maybe it lost its shape and became a lump of clay and demons thought they could make whatever they wanted out of it?

So many speculative thoughts, it’s confusing.

Vanity thought #1670. Drowning in Flat Earth arguments

As I sat down to type this post I saw that another video cropped up purporting to scientifically prove that the Earth is, indeed, flat. With all the pauses and replays an hour of my life was gone and I’m still on it because even with their poor presentation what they show there should be impossible to see.

Video starts with a long intro and, along with Śrīla Prabhupāda, it’s dedicated to one of the Gauḍīya Maṭha ācāryas. Ex-ISKCON, okay, doesn’t really matter for our purpose. They shot it at a view point in Eastern Australia looking up north along the Gold Coast. The footage is raw and one has to figure out himself what they are up to. They also never stated clearly what exactly they wanted to prove and what would constitute such proof. Was it about the curvature of the Earth or something else?

If the point was the curvature then some numbers should be in order – how much of a building or a ship, for example, should be hidden by curvature at what distance. I’m not going to do this math myself and no one will but there are curve calculators out there and the one that I used was this site. Locating their observation point on Google Maps was not difficult (here) and the elevation at this point, according to this site is 83-84 feet, plus another 5 feet for the height of the camera, and we are ready to calculate. The place they concentrated most of the time was this cliff and if you have your google maps open its easy to find – zoom out until Brisbane comes into view, zoom a little more to see Moreton Bay and Moretone Island National Park, and the cliff we are looking for is at the northern tip of the Moreton island. Switch to Earth view rather than Map to confirm, right click, measure distance to the observation point and it shows some 78 miles. Punch these numbers into curvature calculator – 78 miles, 88 feet elevation, and the hidden “amount”, or hidden height, should be 2,949.8 feet, or nearly 100 meters.

This is where it shouldn’t compute because according to elevation finder map, if you locate that Moreton Island cliff there and click on what looks like its highest points, you get only about a hundred feet elevation, or thirty meters. The highest I got was 36 meters or 120 feet which is in order of magnitude less than what should be hidden by Earth’s curvature, and we not just see the top of the island but what looks like the entire cliff. We can’t see the beach but whatever is obscured is minuscule compared to the visible part of the cliff.

One way to explain it is an optical effect called Atmospheric Refraction which bends rays of light downwards, making objects appear higher than they really are. The image on this wiki page models it nicely even if math below is incomprehensible. Could it be enough to raise the Moreton cliff some three thousand feet above where it really is? There’s another wiki page which gives approximate values for refraction when calculating distance to the horizon and it’s a laughable 8%. Distance to the horizon is not the same calculation but, if you look at the diagram on the curve calculation site, moving the horizon 8% farther back is not nearly enough to reveal the entire Moreton cliff, so that’s not it.

It beats me how seeing that Moreton cliff could be possible according to modern science, perhaps I should ask some experts and see what they say but that would take time and giving them the link to the raw video won’t be enough, I have to think of an acceptable presentation, too.

And that’s the problem with this particular video – it’s impossible to follow without some serious effort and a degree of trust that they are not cheating in some way. I trust them, skeptics might not. They make you look at a notebook screen in the broad daylight to show locations they are looking at in Google Earth. It’s possible to find the places, distances, and elevations in Google Earth, btw, I just don’t think I have it installed. The speaker rattles off a bunch of Australian places you can’t make on the notebook screen, sometimes the view is obscured by someone’s hand, and at one point he asks his friend to confirm that they are, indeed, looking at Moreton cliff. “You want me to do what?”, his friend exclaims, which makes him into a not a very reliable witness. The guy was there and he was still unable to follow what was going on.

Then some other two dudes walk up and strike a conversation and they do not sound like participants in a serious experiment to proof absence of Earth’s curvature at all. They talk about all kinds of things under the sun, never forgetting to offer a personal opinion on everything, and I was glad when they finally left. Why did we have to observer their departure in detail? This kind of distractions makes the case even harder to follow.

In the second half the video switches to looking from a balcony of a high rise apartment building not very far from the original observation spot but whatever they were hoping to see in their camera just wasn’t there. They panned and zoomed several times with no luck, so another major time waster.

What I initially missed in all this banter was the fact that Moreton island should not be visible at all, and not just because of the curvature but because it should be behind North Stradbroke island which is much much taller than Moreton cliff. In elevation finder I got 113 meters or 372 feet altitude on the very first click – three times taller than Moreton. If you are still on that Google map page, the direct line of sight betwen Moreton and the observation point should cross right through North Stradbroke. North Stradbroke has its own cliff but it looks nothing like Moreton’s, which matches exactly with what we see in the camera. We are not looking at North Stradbroke and think it’s Moreton.

Okay, perhaps this anomaly could be explained by flat maps which, over long distances, must distort the shape of the objects and so what looks straight on a flat map is not straight on the surface of the Earth itself. Fine, but Google maps also offers a satellite view which, by the looks of it, shows the real life vistas over real life terrain shot from high above the surface. It’s what the Earth should look like from a satellite, after all. This view is 3D so we can zoom and pan and tilt and so I get this image here:


There’s a Brisbane pin there but the two pins I mean are the norther tip of the Moreton island and the observation point. Total distance shown is the distance between these two pins. You can clearly see that North Stradbroke island should intrude and hide Morton behind, and the line of sight passes through its highest area so it’s not like we are looking over it. In the camera view there’s absolutely nothing in between the observer and Moreton:


How’s that possible? Beats me, and right now I’m too lazy to search through the video for the North Stradbroke, there must be a shot where they panned along the coastline until the reached Moreton, maybe I’ll find it later.

For now it’s enough – the Earth looks like its lacking curvature and Google maps, including satellite imagery, does not seem to correspond to reality. Let me ponder this for a bit, I got no words to say.

Vanity thought #1669. Elementary

I want to discuss the confusion with elements a bit more. Not because I know what the gross material elements mentioned in the śāstra are but because it’s an interesting subject for speculation.

Yesterday I said that they are not the same substances water, air, fire, and earth refer to now. Ether is a bit special because we have proven that it doesn’t exist. Question – if it doesn’t exist and is imperceptible, why did ancients ever mention it at all? With Greeks one could say they were speculating and invented it as a filler for the heavenly sky as opposed to air we find on Earth. For the medieval scientists we could say it was a mistaken theory that they thought could explain light travelling in vacuum and necessity for such substance was later rejected.

In both these cases our assumption is that ancients were speculating and trying to explain what they couldn’t reach with their senses on the basis of what was perceptible to them. Greeks loved to speculate, we know that, but they assigned ether to the realm of gods and assigned gods to preside over it. I don’t think we have the proof that ether was ever invented by men. Ether first makes its appearance in a book by Plato and the book is speculative, no doubt about that, but it talks about EXISTING concepts, not invents new ones, and it talks about the Creator.

To us it would mean that Plato was engaged in a philosophical speculation – trying to understand how God’s creation works rather than mental speculation of inventing his own stuff for the sake of his vanity. It doesn’t mean, at least to me, that he invented ether but tried to reconcile its a priori given existence with inadequate human perception. In Kṛṣṇa consciousness we are trying to do the same – take infallible words of śāstra and try to explain how our current perception fits.

So, the ether was always there, we just never knew what it was and it’s not our invention to fill gaps in our knowledge. Vedic sages are not known to invent stuff up either and they had nothing to do with Greeks, and yet they had existence of ether from the start.

We could argue whether Vedic version of creation is mythological or a God given record but that besides the point here, which is that gross material elements mentioned in śāstra are not the same things we call water, fire, air etc now. We don’t perceive ether and so we don’t use the word anymore but for the Vedic sages sensory perception was immaterial, the terms they were dealing with were coming from beyond their direct perception, too.

Nowadays by fire we mean fire but a better translation would probably be energy. Better does not mean the best, however. “Energy” to us an ever evolving concept and it evolves in the wrong direction, it’s just that at this point it probably is the closest to Vedic fire.

Yesterday I talked about the earth, how we can use the sense of touch to determine whether something is earth or not. Touch indicates the presence of air, however, not earth. Okay, we can also look at the thing and see whether it qualifies as earth, too, but seeing is the sense triggered by presence of fire, which gives shapes. Here how it is different from energy because we can’t see the energy. On the other hand, we know that energy does have shapes and we can draw energy fields, or even watch its shape through infrared camera.

This is the problem with our eyes – we can see presence of fire, or energy, but our eyes are grossly inadequate and we need to supplement them with instruments or with theories. Energy fields are invisible even in infrared. We have radio telescopes for other frequencies but still can’t perceive 95% of what makes up the universe – the dark matter. Our current state of eye extensions does not allow us to see it and we have no idea how to make it possible.

With the element of fire we can agree that its presence is indicated by presence of energy but we are still severely restricted from perceiving it even with the best instruments. We also have the matter-energy co-dependence from Einstein’s relativity so everything IS energy and fire must be all pervasive and simply takes different forms.

Air is more of a mystery to us because we can’t separate it from subsequent elements anymore, it doesn’t exist in its pure Vedic form. Śāstra says that air is movement introduced into ether, an appearance of the force. We can’t separate force from energy now, the time when we began to study the universe they were already inseparable. With relativity we can’t separate space from energy and matter either so we can’t separate either from the elements that followed, too, they came to us as a complete set.

Water is even more mysterious and the best I can come up with is that it’s gravity. Water binds things, afaik, and so gravity is the best fit, plus gravity is believed to be a force of its own because scientists haven’t been able to explain it on quantum level, to reduce it further – it’s just there and it follows its own laws.

The sense given to us to perceive water is taste and good luck with tasting gravity, it just doesn’t make sense. None of the relations between elements and senses makes sense if we try to explain the elements in modern scientific terms, we just have to live with it – there are no better explanations to what water is than the the Vedic one. We can’t explain it in our own scientific terms, it can’t be reduced to anything other than Vedic fire and air, for which we have no equivalents either.

As for the earth – in science we can take atoms, put them together in molecules, get these molecules together, and create earth in the form of rocks or crystals. That’s what “earth” is to atheists and that’s how they dismiss religious science based on scriptures. Well, according to Vedic science earth is already present in the universe and already all-pervasive. You don’t create it because it’s already there in all your ingredients. We can say that Vedic earth is probably the quarks scientists have been studying in quantum mechanics. Their quarks also have energy and they move – fire and air, and there’s probably water in there somehow, too.

The best we can come up with right now is theoretical equivalents for our Vedic elements – the concepts of space, force, movement, energy etc. It’s beyond me to speculate whether these concepts are properties of matter according to scientific understanding or they could be seen as fundamental to the existence of the universe – which is what śāstra says. What was created during Big Bang fore example? Space, force, energy etc or material elements with space and energy as only their properties. Looks no brainer to me but needs a proper scientific explanation.

Can the scientists explain evolution of force from space, energy from force, gravitation from energy, and quarks from gravitation? I don’t think so, but if they looked at it this way the can surely come with something interesting.

Our position is that we can’t wait for science to catch up and that this knowledge is immaterial to our spiritual needs which are best fulfilled by chanting, not by speculations. We don’t accept the typical proposition that we should wait until the science proves Vedas before taking up Vedic instructions as our life guide. I don’t like this whole idea that we should rely on what science says at all, but that’s a subject for another post.

Vanity thought #1668. Terminology

The very first thing when trying to explain “magic” of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam “scientifically” should probably be clarification of terms. Direct translation into modern languages is easy but in many cases it’s grossly inadequate because reality of our lives is different from theirs.

Some might object that reality doesn’t change significantly but we often don’t realize how many of our assumptions are influenced by ever changing external conditions. Nowadays, due to introduction of knives, forks, or even chopsticks, not having an overbite would be a medical condition but when people used only hands to eat their food it was the opposite and no one had an overbite at all.

Another example is bodily odor – the sweat gland responsible for it is often completely missing in certain nationalities and so when people of these different cultures meet they can have very surprising and often unpleasant discoveries about each other, most often blaming it on lack of proper hygiene while back at home some wear their odor with pride or maybe fight it with strong cologne or deodorants. In Japan, on the other hand, deodorants are hard to find because no one uses them ever.

I once read that teachers in Ireland were going on a strike because temperature in their classrooms has risen to 26 Celsius while in tropical countries people work outdoor in 40s and then set their air conditioners to 26 to cool off inside. That’s roughly 100 and 80 in Fahrenheit.

Maybe these are not very good examples overall but I just wanted to demonstrate that our perception of what is “normal” can vary greatly even now, what to speak of “normal” in previous yugas. People can grow 10 cm taller in only a couple of hundred years, imagine if they kept growing for a couple of thousand. The only conditions necessary are better food and less diseases, which depend on climate as much as on human practice of medicine. I’m not going to discuss why the skeletons of these giants are missing from our fossil record here, maybe some other time.

When “normal” reality changes so greatly we shouldn’t try to see ancient people through our prism. We just can’t see the same things anymore because they no longer exists and so we use our poor substitutes which seem real to us but would probably not be recognized by the ancients themselves.

We don’t believe in yoga siddhis, for example, because no one has them in our society. Well no one practices celibacy in our society either and that’s the primary condition for developing “supernatural” abilities. Another example is that no one can see God anymore and therefore we assume that it was true in Vedic times, too. When Vedic sages wrote about demigods appearing on certain occasions we can’t believe it either. Conditions for demigods to grace us with their presence are still the same and we use the same words but their meanings are different now.

The place needs to be pure, for example. We can clean it up, get a guy with a mop in and scrub it, and disinfect it, too, but that won’t be “pure” by Vedic standards. They probably won’t consider anything plastic as pure in principle and they would require purity from people being present, too. We can send everyone to take a shower but that won’t be enough because demigods require internal purity, ie freedom from lust, and that we can’t provide. It just doesn’t exist anymore. Anyone who has ever eaten unoffered food, let alone meat, would contaminate the place with his gluttony, too.

We can’t even imagine what a really pure assembly place would look like even though we still use the same words. They mean different things to us from what they meant in Vedic times.

For scientific discussion specifically we should highlight the difference in meaning of fire, water, air, earth etc – gross material elements. We assume that ancients used these words just like we do – because they didn’t know what water or earth was made of. For them these elements were prime building materials – take some earth, meaning clay, shape it, put it into fire, and get a pot. Primitives! We can’t even begin to think that these words meant something completely different in Vedic terminology.

Take “earth”, for example. How do we expect to differentiate it from water? By touch, of course. Earth is more or less solid, just put your hand on the substance and you’d know whether it’s “earth” or liquid. In Vedic times, however, earth was associated with smell. If it smells, it’s earth, while touch was a symptom of air. What what?

We are clearly talking about different things here, not common clay and water. We don’t grant the ancients the ability to analyze the matter differently from us. We think that the only way to understand common water, earth, etc is to find their chemical composition and this again forces us to see the world in a very restricted way without even realizing it.

We can’t imagine ancients to make scientific progress using their weird classification, we think that we have the monopoly on honest scientific inquiry while they were hopelessly corrupt and invoked gods to mask their ignorance all the time. That’s another common stereotype, probably completely without merit. We can’t even think about ancients advancing in their scientific understanding on their terms, our brains are not wired for that, there’s a societal pressure, and no one honestly tried it, even for fun. The fact that people even in India can’t pursue yoga anymore doesn’t help either. Even if there are successful yogis there they won’t be mixing with us, the modern people, and so they can’t be studied in laboratories. They’d avoid our atheistic mentality like a plague, and they should be very good at it, too – due to the same yogic powers.

What I mean is that they’d practice mind control where mind means something different from what it means to us. They would practice control of their senses where senses mean something different from what they mean to us. How can we withdraw the sense of smell, for example? Or the sense of sight? We completely lack the ability and so we don’t believe it’s possible for yogis either. That’s just projection of our own limitations and it’s unscientific but often that is all the modern science can offer on this subject.

Vanity thought #1667. Dealing with “mythology”

One of the most obvious questions about stories in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is “How is it even possible?” We don’t normally asks it ourselves and we reserve it for total neophytes and we give the answer only once. I’m not sure it’s a consciously thought out strategy, however.

When we discuss Bhāgavatam topics with devotees we don’t raise doubts like that anymore. A devotee by definition should accept Bhāgavatam as self-evident truth which should not be subjected to critical questioning and this principle provides us with a safe environment. It doesn’t mean we actually know the answer, though, it means we protect ourselves from ever being asked and it’s not the same thing.

Typical answer in devotional circles is that these stories are incomprehensible in our conditioned state. With our current vision we can’t even see the universe for what it is, with Mount Meru, flat Bhū-maṇḍala and possibly round Earth globe floating near the shore. We also say that due to Kali yuga we lost purity necessary for controlling the matter through mantras and so can’t direct thousands of arrows to invisible targets or trigger ancient nuclear bombs or build Vedic airplanes. It’s only a matter of contamination, we say, otherwise Bhāgavatam stories would make perfect sense.

On the subject of the battle of Kurukṣetra we say that it was quite possible to have millions and millions of soldiers, elephants, and horses to be there and fight on a relatively small piece of land. It was all magically stretchable just like the land of Vṛndāvana where Kṛṣṇa could easily go from one place to another and come back in a matter of minutes whereas it takes us half a day on a motoriksha to reach there. It’s just a matter of our personal limited perspective, we say, when we develop proper spiritual visions these things will be easily reconciled.

That might be true and it is certainly a good explanation for fellow devotees but we haven’t seriously tried it on atheists yet, afaik. Atheists are a different bunch and they are by nature very skeptical of such claims. In fact, they cannot possibly take them at the face value and therefore treat our scriptures as mythology. If they ever discuss scriptures with us they grant us temporary right to delude ourselves and approach us with “let’s not raise that ridiculous aspect of your books for a moment and indulge in philosophy, maybe there’s something valuable in that” attitude. This means that they never take our books seriously and discuss them with us like adults discuss fairy tales with kids.

I’m not sure how much benefit they can extract from these conversations even if they otherwise go smoothly. Are we hoping to impress them with philosophy to such a degree that they forget the ridiculous part of our books? Forget doesn’t mean accept as true, however, and without this acceptance they’ll never become devotees, only mildly curious well-wishers.

It isn’t such a bad outcome but why should we settle on it? Is it only because we can’t explain the stories in a way that makes them believable? Would it be much better if we were able to dispel all their doubts? I think the obvious answer is yes. We don’t need to take Śrīmad Bhāgavatam on faith, we KNOW that it’s true in every aspect, we just don’t know how it is so and we don’t know how to explain it properly. There are plenty of devotees who try but we still haven’t got one consistent and widely accepted theory. The argument about Flat Earth perfectly demonstrates our confusion here and the fact is that it’s not going to be solved any time soon.

One approach could be to suggest the possibility how Bhāgavatam might be true even if we can’t explain every detail of it. Nor do we need to explain every detail because figuring out how the universe works is not our goal but rather a waste of time. Another fact is that even Lord Brahmā doesn’t know the universe in full and to every being between us and him it looks slightly different. There can’t be full consensus on this issue by definition – we are all conditioned and we are all in illusion, and those who are free from illusion do not waste time on documenting the universe in full either. This desire to know and understand the universe is caused by illusion and once the illusion is withdrawn it goes away and gets replaced by spiritual knowledge, but still in doses carefully measured by Kṛṣṇa, or rather by His yoga-māyā potency that provides us only with what is necessary for our service.

So, the answer to “how does it work” is that it’s “on the need to know basis”. Okay, but how much to we need to know right now and, especially, how much do we need to know for preaching? Not much. Whatever concerns I raised in the beginning haven’t stopped Śrīla Prabhupāda, for example. He didn’t give detailed answers to many of the questions raised by skeptics and devotees didn’t push him for it. This kind of questioning does not suit the relationship between a guru and his disciples so we didn’t indulge. If it didn’t stop Prabhupāda why should it stop us?

We just have to demonstrate that human form of life begins with athāto brahma jijñāsa¸ that it’s time to inquire about spirit, not matter. Even if we talk to atheists we should still press this point – learn about the soul first, learn that it’s different from the body and it doesn’t die. Learn what is mind, learn how it works, learn how to control it and learn how to engage it in the service of the Supreme. Knowledge of the universe is irrelevant to the spiritual inquiry and the moment it becomes relevant it reveals itself to the necessary degree, no more and no less, we shouldn’t worry about it.

We do not avoid difficult questions about Bhāgavatam because we don’t know the answers, we avoid them because they hijack the spiritual inquiry – an entirely different reason. Will we ever be caught having to actually produce the answers instead of admitting we don’t know anything and our books might be factually wrong? I seriously doubt it. Kṛṣṇa would never put us in such a situation just as He’d never make us starve and force us to subside on meat. Questions like these should not rise in the company of devotees and so we should not be forced to avoid them at all. It’s just not a problem.

There are, however, some ideas on how to reply to these questions on scientific terms but I’ll leave them for another day.

Vanity thought #1667. Groundhog Day

There was an iconic movie with this name some twenty years ago. The protagonist goes to some little provincial town to report on an arcane ritual where locals predict the weather for the rest of the year from a choice of food made by a groundhog on what is known as “Groundhog Day”. What happens is that when the protagonists wakes up the following morning it turns out that the time stuck and it’s Groundhog Day all over again. At first he is surprised but when this phenomenon repeats unfailingly again and again he gets the hang of it, learns every little details of what is going to happen, uses it to his advantage first but eventually he realizes the futility of worrying about trivial stuff. He starts seeking the deeper meaning of life and tries to live this day as perfectly as possible. I don’t remember how the movie ends but that part of the plot is enough for today’s post.

What if our lives here are just like this Groundhog Day and we get to relive them again and again until we realize the value of spiritual side of it? Being in ISKCON we are quite advanced already but clearly have a long way to go to perfection, too.

As I argued yesterday, in order to qualify for this repetitive lives we need to become liberated first, which practically means we need Lord Caitanya to personally extend His mercy to us and take us under His wing. If we are already in ISKCON than this is no problem, we got it covered, and so we need to concentrate on getting our lives right.

Unlike with materialists devoid of Lord Caitanya’s mercy our progress isn’t going to happen in huge steps – one life here on Earth, next life possibly on heavenly planets or, more likely, down in hell, then animal birth here again, and so on. Each new life and the assigned body is going to be very different from the previous one, but not for us. We get to stay and repeat the same mission over and over and over again until we get it right, or possibly forever. Our consciousness will become clarified incrementally and as soon as material body catches up, ie learns to walk and talk, we’ll be right where we left at the previous attempt.

Unlike the movie, however, we are not going to recognize our “new” life right away, it would take a certain level of maturity to see beyond the trivialities of every day life and recognize familiar patterns. They might still look differently but we’ll know that it’s the same experiences and same interactions repeating themselves. Falling in love is the same, getting out of bed and going to work is the same, raising children is the same, food is the same, entertainment is the same. When we are young we feel that we are special and that we have our own, unique experiences never seen in history before but that exultation is repetitive, too.

What we need to finally learn is the appreciation for chanting of the holy name, appreciation for saṅkīrtana. We sort of know it’s important already but we still behave as if we don’t, as if it’s only an add-on or one of many other equally important activities we can’t skip.

There’s one big difference between that Groundhog day and our groundhog lives, and actually any other time tweaking story – they use this opportunity to change history while we don’t. Materialists do not have a spiritual dimension to their lives and so they are not interested in spiritual progress, which is transcendental to material happenings. They want to improve the material life instead.

Given the chance they might go back and kill Hitler, for example, or save Kennedy, or prevent any other catastrophes and disasters. They want to bring modern inventions to help people of old, or they want to bring future inventions into the present. They want past and future to be interactive, hoping to improve things for everybody involved. This, of course, is not going to happen and it will always remain a fantasy.

We, the tiny little jīvas, are not in control of this world and we don’t make changes here, nor can we turn back the time because time works under the orders of the Supreme, not ours, and for us it’s irreversible. The Groundhog Day phenomenon in our lives might become possible only if we are outside of the influence of time, ie liberated, just as I said earlier, or if it happens in different universes which are at different stages of material development but always see Lord Caitanya visiting them anyway.

As spiritual beings we can make spiritual progress but it will remain imperceptible because spiritual matters are transcendental. There are, of course, external symptoms to recognize devotees but I could argue that plenty of ISKCON members qualify for being potentially pure devotees already. They all chant, they all follow regulative principles, they all serve the mission of Lord Caitanya, they all surrender their lives to their gurus, and differences in the amount of visible service are trivial, they don’t mean much. It is possible to become a pure devotee and still do the same things in exactly the same way.

Life of a pure devotee does not depend on external happenings, his body reacts to hot and cold, it needs food and shelter, but it doesn’t break his constant concentration on Kṛṣṇa even if his mind apparently interacts with material objects. Mind is a material element, it will keep doing whatever it is doing according to the laws of the universe.

Pure or not, but, as Kṛṣṇa told Arjuna in Bhagavad Gītā, we all have to perform our assigned duties. Arjuna had to fight, we have to go and vote, for example, and we might also need to explain our voting choices if someone asks. That would all be done by the mind but our spiritual lives underneath the material coverings are not going to be disturbed. In fact, at the stage of perfection we’ll see each and every movement in the material world as an interaction with Kṛṣṇa himself where right not we still see illusion.

So, we will relive our groundhog lives over and over again but the difference would be in our appreciation of Kṛṣṇa’s role in it which we don’t have yet at the moment. We would still chant the same sixteen rounds but with each new life we’d ignore our minds better and better. We’d also have more and more appreciation for whatever little service that is given to us where now we see it as insignificant and inconsequential and not really worth mentioning because we think it’s OUR service that WE deserved ourselves. Right now we might still desire big things for us but that should go away, and even if we happen to come across big service opportunities we’d credit our guru and fellow devotees, not ourselves.

I don’t know how many lives we need to start seeing it as Kṛṣṇa’s service arranged by His representatives for His pleasure, and it’s our presence there that is inconsequential instead. I hope not too many, this selfishness is boring and tiring.

Vanity thought #1666. Devilish thoughts

My last speculation about the Lord keeping historical accuracy of our relationships with him birth after birth might go against some most basic principles of spiritual progress. Given the 666 in the number of today’s post, however, some devilish entertainment is only natural so let me indulge for the moment, something good might come out of it anyway.

The idea is that we were not randomly plucked out of a crowd of faceless materialists but were placed in our current position according to our previous karma and, more importantly, our previous service to the Lord. In this case to Lord Caitanya. Considering how little progress we make in our present life it’s not such an outrageous idea. With all our chanting we should have made giant strides but it doesn’t happen. Why? Maybe we expect progress in the wrong area.

For a materialist traveling through eight million species of life each new birth is progress, it gives him new abilities, new opportunities, new modes of sense enjoyment, everything looks new and improved. This is the kind of progress we expect from our spiritual life, too – we want to perceive the holy name better or see the deities as God and not as brass dolls on the altar, for example. And I mean actually see the Lord standing there because our eyes only perceive inanimate matter when we look. We might also expect penetrating insights into the workings of material energy, the ability to see past, present, and future, the ability to immediately judge one’s spiritual position and give appropriate advice etc. That last one is what happens to our gurus in ISKCON, we assume. They start off as fresh bhaktas, get shaved up, taught to chant and preach, get initiated, and then voila – ten-twenty years later they are promoted to sannyāsa and allowed to initiate. These days it’s not so easy but that was the general path for Prabhupāda disciples. We assume that because of their guru status they possess some superhuman powers, at least in spiritual matters. Our gurvaṣṭaka prayers are pretty explicit about out assumptions of what to expect from our guru, too, so no one can really blame us.

This kind of progress is still materialistic because it’s materially visible and materially measurable. We can’t see how the guru is serving the feet of Rāḍha and Kṛṣṇa in private groves of Vṛndāvana but we can see that he was declared a guru so it must be there – there’s still a materially perceptible designation to make him qualified. When we define our spiritual progress in such terms we can easily imagine what kind of birth would be a step up in the next life. We also have Kṛṣṇa’s assurances in Bhagavad Gītā that even if we fail to return to Him at the end of this life we’ll be placed in favorable conditions in the next and those conditions are defined materially – a family of a brāhmaṇa, for example.

So, how can I propose anything different? Because chanting of the holy name already granted us liberation even if it might not look so to our material eyes. We still suffer and enjoy and our minds are still attracted to material objects and they are still very very hard to control, where is liberation here? To counter this I’d say that we are liberated from the clutches of material energy and everything that happens to us now is lovingly controlled by the Lord Himself. But what about material desires? He recognizes our material desires and He arranges for their fulfillment in the most spiritually harmless way, it is not dictated by cold karma anymore. There’s another discussion to be had on whether law of karma is actually cold and impersonal but let’s leave it for now.

The point is that we are fully in the hands of the Lord, in every conceivable aspect of our lives, and if we don’t see unicorns and rainbows that’s because we don’t love Him in return yet, we are just coming around to realization that it would be a great idea but we are still attached to our “freedom”.

And that is why might need to disassociate our expectations of progress from materialistic perspective. We don’t need to get a better birth, we are perfectly capable of chanting where we are now. There might be relatively more or less material obstacles but they cannot override the irrevocable fact – we’ve been given the holy name and we can chant it. If it’s more difficult than for others then it could be so that we appreciate it more. One name uttered in the state of helplessness could be more spiritually valuable than sixty four rounds chanted in comfort of our home, who knows?

Material obstacles can’t hinder our spiritual progress but they might encourage us to give up our attachments to safety and comfort. We might think that in the next life we need better arrangements for our chanting but do we really? What’s stopping us from achieving perfection in chanting right where we are now? It’s the desire for better arrangements, that’s what. One split second of perfect association can grant us full spiritual perfection and it’s freely available, what better arrangements do we need? So what if we might spend years waiting for this moment to finally come? Kṛṣṇa, or rather Lord Caitanya, who is in charge of our progress, sees the bigger picture and He is infinitely patient. Waiting is not a problem for Him and it shouldn’t be a problem for us either. The state of kīrtanīyaḥ sadā hariḥ is tested precisely by the ability to chant patiently regardless of all kinds of obstacles and the desire to remove those obstacles goes against this principle. When we want better conditions in the next life, even if ostensibly for chanting, it means we still have material hankerings.

How will the Lord deal with them? I’d say He doesn’t need to place us into these better conditions. Judging by the state of our knowledge of philosophy and currently present spiritual opportunities we should be ready to achieve perfection right where we are, we just need more practice in service and detachment.

There’s also the issue of yukta-vairāgya where we must learn to engage everything we see in the service of the Lord. In this spirit we shouldn’t be asking for more stuff when we can’t deal with what we already have. Why would we need a “better” birth when we can’t fully utilize the present one? I’d say that it’s far better to discover connection to Kṛṣṇa where we don’t see it yet rather than demand advancement to the next level.

That’s why we might be born again and again precisely in these conditions, five hundred years after the appearance of Lord Caitanya. We still have plenty of spiritual progress to make here and this work shouldn’t be visible to the materialistic eyes anyway because they can’t see devotion and devotion does not have to manifest externally either.

But what about visible spiritual progress of the kind we can see in our ISKCON? What about it? I’d say it’s no different from a baby learning to walk and talk. We can replay it life after life, this external recognition of our externally visible efforts doesn’t matter, it’s just striving for fame and glory and it would eventually go away once we lived this life a few times.

It’s a fascinating topic, maybe I’ll continue it later.

Vanity thought #1665. For historical accuracy

Today is Gaura Pūrṇimā and it’s impossible to write about anything else but the appearance of Lord Caitanya. I’m also aware that I can’t possibly do justice to this occasion and I don’t want to add artificial sweeteners to go with it.

Lord Caitanya is our life and soul, as simple as that. We know that Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead and we know that Vṛndāvana is every jīva’s spiritual home but we were drafted into this movement by Lord Caitanya who has a unique and distinct personality. Our bond to Him is never going to break, we are never going to be relieved of service to His feet and to His mission, we are never going to graduate to something better.

Nominally, however, He told us to worship Kṛṣṇa and we have examples of the Six Gosvāmīs who took this order and perfected it, informing us of every detail of our possible future service. They didn’t write of their relationships with Lord Caitanya stretching into spiritual reality, it was something they had here while in their meditation they were exclusively with Kṛṣṇa.

Afaik, they haven’t written similar books about Lord Caitanya and His spiritual realm, it’s not described even in Caitanya Caritāmṛta which deals exclusively with Lord’s manifested pastimes here. It was Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura who informed us of the glories of Navadvīpa and, I believe, it was through him that we got to know of our possible spiritual reunion with Mahāprabhu. I must admit I don’t know any details of that for certain, only general ideas picked up here and there.

While Vṛndāvana is our spiritual home and it’s where Śrīla Prabhupāda chose to retire from his mission in the material world, our society is headquartered in Māyāpura. In my own not so humble opinion, those who imagine themselves to be devotees of Vṛndāvana without taking full shelter of the mercy of Māyāpura are very much mistaken.

Surely Vṛndāvana has plenty of its own servants who are eternally connected to it but it’s not us, we are Gauḍīya vaiṣṇavas, we are spiritual children of Lord Caitanya and we will always remain that way. How other people reach Vṛndāvana is not our concern, what we should remember is that we can’t get there in any other way but by worshiping Gaurāṇga. We will always be known there as “those brought in by Lord Caitanya” and it’s as honorable position as anyone else’s there.

In this regard I always remember the departure of Aindra Prabhu who, for all practical intents and purposes, was a Vrajavāsī with no other goal but serving the feet of Rāḍha and Kṛṣṇa but when time called he embraced the feet of Lord Nityānanda’s deity and that’s how he left his body. Not even Lord Caitanya’s, please note that. We, the Gauḍīyas, do not approach any exalted personalities directly but only through the mercy of guru, then predecessor ācāryas, then Advaita Ācārya who brings us to the feet of Lord Nityānanda, then by the mercy of Lord Nityānanda we get the recognition of Mahāprabhu Himself.

Whatever’s next is up to Him, we are totally dependent on His mercy there and no one else can help us. All the links in the chain leading to His lotus feet are obliged to serve Him and have no choice but to pass us up along and then the buck stops there. It’s Lord Caitanya who decides whether we are qualified for receiving pure bhakti or not. Of course we can get rejected somewhere alone the way for various transgressions but I mean that by following our paramparā we won’t end up in service to Lord Rāma, for example. Even Lord Caitanya is not likely to place us in Lord Rāmacandra’s service though He did not mind when one of His devotees was clearly attached to serving Lord Rāma.

Unlike the Vṛndāvana school, devotees in Bengal were always servants of Lord Caitanya first with possibility of serving Rāḍha and Kṛṣṇa being secondary. They were too attached to Mahāprabhu to desire anything else even if technically service to Rāḍha-Kṛṣṇa could be considered higher.

I’m not saying that Six Gosvāmīs abandoned worship of Lord Caitanya but they were admitted in service to Rāḍha-Kṛṣṇa directly while most Bengalis knew only Lord Caitanya and everything else was theoretical. When young Siddhānta Sarasvatī approached Guarakiśora Dāsa Bābājī for initiation the answer was “let me ask Mahāprabhu and see what He says”, not “let me ask Śrī Rāḍhīka”. Once again, I hope I’ll never graduate from service to Lord Caitanya and check Him off the list of my achievements, assuming I’ll ever make it to the spiritual world. I hope it’s not going to be like “oh yeah, first you have to do this, then you have to get that, then you have to get initiated, then you have to serve Lord Caitanya for a while, and then you get into your real spiritual position”.

This kind of eternal bond comes with its own conditions, however. It’s nice and easy to be picked up from the crowds, dusted off, dressed in vaiṣṇava clothes, put into saṅkīrtana service and then, at the moment of death, be taken to Vṛndāvana but I suspect this is not what is happening to us here. Let me explain.

Lord Caitanya’s mercy is universal, that is granted, but we can’t deny that some sort of qualification must be there, too. Some people might stumble onto it accidentally but most of us have been destined to be in ISKCON and we “reserved” our positions here in previous lives. What it might mean is that we are fixed here eternally, lifetime after lifetime, with no chance of moving up the chain.

I mean our guru is eternal, the guru of our guru is eternal, and so we can’t become our guru’s godbrothers let along his seniors, which what would naturally happen if we were to progress closer and close to Lord Caitanya with each birth. That’s why I think our relative position might be permanently fixed. Up in the spiritual world it wouldn’t matter but if we were to take birth here we’d be literally stuck, replaying the same life over and over again in the universe after universe. The historical accuracy of our current relationship with Lord Caitanya would never be broken.

It means we get to bathe His deity, perhaps visit Māyāpura on His birthday, but never come in actual contact with Him, not on the material platform. This kind of contact was available to His contemporaries but not to us.

There’s nothing spiritually deficient about this, someone needs to be born at this time in Kali yuga and serve the mission in these conditions, which are not suitable for Lord Caitanya’s personal associates. If we were asked whether we’d like to continue serving the mission after our death we’d serve the same one.

The point of this is to realize that we’d better appreciate what we already have and find full spiritual value of our present day service. The desire for something more glorious, something better, something with more impact is a material one. On the spiritual platform there’s no such envy and every service is appreciated in full no matter how “small” it is. There’s no such thing as a “small service” in the spiritual world anyway. We don’t necessarily need bigger service, we have to become perfect at executing one that is already given, which means that we should be content with sitting at a computer screen thousands of miles away from happy crowd celebrating Gaura Pūrṇimā in Māyāpura. We just have to learn to do it for Lord Caitanya’s pleasure and give our best.

Vanity thought #1664. Artificial Intuition

For the past couple of weeks internet has been abuzz with news of the computer beating a human champion at Go. Everyone says that Go is more complex than chess because it has far more possible moves, more than the atoms in the universe, the story goes, so beating human at this game was unexpected. Go players can’t possibly calculate all the moves themselves and rely on intuition and it’s this part that offered them an advantage over computers until this latest match. Does it mean that computers cracked the intuition puzzle? Not really.

First of all, we don’t know what intuition is and how it works, and how exactly it differs from instinct. Instincts are a sort of hard wired memories that work outside of our conscious control, they are glorified reflexes. We can try and suppress them but we can’t stop them from being triggered. Instincts can be explained by evolution, intuition, however remains elusive. It isn’t genetic and the best we can come up with is that it taps into memories we don’t realize are there.

That’s not a perfect answer, IMO. In Go, for example, a person can’t possibly collect enough memories and yet every serious Go player relies on intuition as a matter of habit. Intuition requires a certain mastery of the skill but can’t be a result of simple exposure. One should know HOW the thing works, not simply collect an inhuman number of possibilities and let his subconscious mind do the brute force calculations. Maybe there’s a better explanation but I haven’t heard it yet.

This makes intuition into one of those areas of science where everyone knows it’s true but no one can explain it in mechanical terms and no one talks about it. Unlike the origin of life it’s not being widely discussed, just ignored by the militant evolutionists.

In our philosophy intuition is not defined either but we usually explain it as an intervention from the Supersoul. It could be an intervention from presiding deities of the particular activity, too. Śrīla Prabhupāda spoke of intuition as a sign that there’s a living soul within the body (CC Ādi 6.14-15), capitalizing on atheists’ inability to explain it scientifically. Either way, its origin lies outside of gross matter observable by science.

So, did this computer, Google’s AlphaGo, crack the intuition? It wasn’t programmed to channel presiding deity of the Go, and I suppose there’s one there. Brute force attack might be beyond computers abilities but it shouldn’t be a problem for demigods who do know possible outcomes of every move. It’s not a problem for Kṛṣṇa, too.

When these entities interfere in our games they are not trying to win themselves but they are trying to award us the results of our karma. If we are destined to celebrate the victory they offer help and if we are destined to lose they cloud our judgement and force us to make mistakes. In these cases we are amused by “how” but for the demigods it’s “what for” that is more important. We are playing a game of Go but they are enforcing laws of karma by any means necessary.

Could they have interfered with the computer? Possibly but unlikely because we know how AlphaGo works, we know how it’s programmed and we know what data it processes. There’s a little mystery left in this case, however.

AlphaGo is programmed to avoid resorting to brute force calculations by collecting a large number of Go situations and adapting solutions already thought up by human players. It outsources thinking instead of doing it itself. As the match against its human opponent progressed the computer was allowed to go on the internet and search for suitable plays if it couldn’t find ones in its memory. On one level it could be considered cheating because human players aren’t allowed to consult anyone during the game but everyone let this one go on this occasion. It was the handicap they were willing to afford to the computer.

What surprised everyone in this match was that on some occasions the computer chose inexplicable solutions. Human observers didn’t understand the moves and computer programmers haven’t had the chance to trace computer’s decisions either. Maybe in the next few weeks or months they will come up with exact explanation where and how the computer found these particular moves but so far it’s a mystery. At the moment no one can explain why these moves even worked and so the possibility of divine intervention is still there.

Why would a demigod help a computer? Well, it didn’t, it awarded victory to humans who created and programmed it and, like with intuition, they don’t really know how it happened to them, it just did.

There’s a question about the use of intuition by human players, too. Go has a very large board with an impossible number of moves but key battles happen in very small areas with possibilities only in single digits. Of course with moves and counter moves the number of possibilities still increases exponentially but it is possible for humans to calculate them with brute force. Intuition comes in play when outcomes of these little battles are placed in a greater picture, how these small losses or victories affect other areas of the board. This is where brute force fails and humans can only estimate the outcome, and that’s what they call the intuition. “It doesn’t look right”, that’s all they know at this point, and they can’t possibly explain how and why except in very broad terms, and there’s no rule book for them to refer to.

Is it intuition as an insight provided by gods or is it simply inability to verbalize all their thoughts that flash in their minds in a split second? Lots of professionals can’t be bothered either if someone bugs them with detailed explanation of every step they make in the course of their job. I don’t think it’s intuition per se, they just literally can’t be bothered but could explain it if it comes to that.

Take the example of driving – there are great many factors involved in each particular decision on the road. People estimate how other cars would move depending not only on their speed but also on their make, appearance, position on the road, perhaps a short history of observing their behavior etc etc. Sometimes it’s entirely cultural and a person from another city would not be able to read the situation in the same way. Google has a driverless car, of course, and so far it’s doing an amazing job, but most of us can drive practically on autopilot without giving it any conscious thought. Is it intuition? I don’t think so. Does it mean that our brains have this hidden capacity to perform as well as Google Car’s computer? Possibly. Or maybe it’s just our karma that forces us to turn or hit the brakes.

We, again, are interested in “how” but for the karma it’s “what for” that’s important in these cases. For the law of karma every movement of every atom is known precisely and calculated for the duration of the universe, it doesn’t need to replicate these calculations through our brains, just manifest them in our minds.

Anyway, without clear explanations in out literature it’s all only speculative but it feels like it helps me understand the workings of the material nature better, so it’s not all in vain.