Vanity thought #1648. Flat Earth

This is another controversy that suddenly popped up and elicited half a dozen articles on Sampradaya Sun already, and it’s still far from over. There are three devotees expressing their opinions so far and they refer to a few other names, too, and to the model of the universe that is going to be displayed at TOVP.

What can I offer on this subject? I’m not an astronomer and I have no clear concept of what the universe with all the planets looks like, only what we all read in Prabhupāda’s books. It’s an egg, the Earth is in the middle, heavenly planets are in the upper half and hellish planets are in the bottom, literally below Earth. Are these planets globes or disks? I can’t say, so what can I offer here?

Some things are obvious, though. First, TOVP cosmology is not going to be accepted without a controversy. More likely our community would be split into those who support GBC model of the universe and those who reject it, and even among the supporters there would still be a difference of opinion, judging by how the discussion is going right now.

Here’s the latest submission to the Sun and it gives links to earlier articles which give links to more submissions and it escalates rather quickly. It’s a long read plus there are sources, too. This is what looks like an official ISKCON cosmology but I’d be careful to accept it as a final word on the matter, not just yet.

The problem for us is that we learn these things from Śrīla Prabhupāda but whenever someone asked difficult questions about Vedic cosmoslogy Prabhupāda would refer them to the Fifth Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. Easy questions he answered himself but no one posed the problem as it appears before us now so we can only imagine what he could have said on this matter.

Another obvious thing is that no one really knows how to make sense of that Fifth Canto. Lots of devotees can claim to understand it and try to explain it to others but no one gets in full, that’s just the reality. There are different ways to deal this lack of understanding and there are different ways to “translate” Bhāgavatam model into language common people can comprehend and this variety complicates the matter even further.

Fact is, there’s no one theory that would satisfy everybody, every theory offers some good insights but fails in other aspects, too, never mind that each theory’s proponents claim to have a true full picture. And then there are Vedic sources beside Bhāgavatam, like Sūrya Siddhānta, which should be considered important because Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī earned his academic credentials for studying it. It apparently offers a different description of the universe from the one given in Bhāgavatam and this contradiction needs to be reconciled, too. I should say that it might only IMPLY a different structure of the universe, the text itself deals mostly with mathematical calculations, afaik.

We get proponents of the Flat Earth model referencing a youtube video multiple times in support of their theory but only up to a point where Earth there appears as a globe floating on the surface of an ocean (in Part 2 here). On this, they say, the video is wrong. These videos represent the view of Danavir Gosvami who supports our official model going to be represented at TOVP. Or maybe not, hard to say at this point.

As it stands, we have the “Globe” school and the “Flat Earth” school, and the Danavir Gosvami’s/TOVP version that is partly opposed by both parties. Personally, the image of the Earth as a familiar globe floating on the surface of an ocean as it appears in that youtube video poses more questions than it answers.

Oh, and everybody quotes Śrīla Prabhupāda to completely debunk the other side. Globe people quote a couple of times when Prabhupāda mentioned “bhū-gola” and specifically explained that gola means a globe and that in Vedic times people knew the Earth was a globe. Flat Earth refutation of those quotes is not out yet but one explanation is that bhū-gola there refers to the universe, not just the Earth. There’s a verse in Bhāgavatam that mentions “bhūvo golaṁ” and Prabhupāda translate “bhuvaḥ” there as the universe (SB 3.23.43). When he spoke of “bhū-gola” in conversations he didn’t say what scriptures he had heard it from, it’s certainly not in the Bhāgavatam and when contradictions arise evidence from Bhāgavatam is of higher priority than letters or conversations.

Then there’s a problem of what we mean by “Earth”. Is it Bhū-maṇḍala? Is it Jambūdvīpa? Dvīpa means “island” but, curiously here Prabhupāda translates it as “the globe or planet of our residence”. There were other instances when Prabhupāda used words for “island” and “planet” interchangeably. Islands are obviously flat objects and planets are globes. Is the Earth as we know it Bhārata-varṣa? Or does Bhārata-varṣa refer to India – when Prabhupāda talked about special responsibility of Indians to preach Kṛṣṇa consciousness? I don’t think westerners were included in Bhārata-varṣa then. According to Bhāgavatam Jambūdvīpa has other varṣas which are inhabited by non-humans. Otoh, Pāṇḍavas ruled those other varṣas, too.

There’s an attempt in the official version to map Jambūdvīpa and its varṣas to modern geographical features of Asia with Himalayas separating India as Bhārata varṣa from the others. The Himalayas as we know them, however do not look anything like the Himalayas of the Bhāgavatam. The mountain ridges separating the varṣas there are over a hundred thousand kilometers high – we don’t have any such mountains on “our” Earth.

In the youtube video these Bhāgavatam Himalayas are shown and the globe Earth floats in the ocean near the shore there. This is the part that I don’t get at all because this image comes on the heels of an explanation of the verses from Mahābhārata describing how the Earth looks from the Moon – two parts look like peepul leaves and the other two parts look like a giant rabbit. Giant rabbit is what Eurasia and Africa look upside down, and two peepul leaves are North and South America. You can’t see all of them at once if the Earth was a globe and the text talks about a disk, and the diagram drawn in the video is a flat map. Flat maps are useful for us but those looking at the Earth from space, in this case from the Moon, wouldn’t draw them at all, plus Eurasia and Africa are too big to appear like a rabbit if seen on a globe and not on a flat map – you can see in the video itself (or rather you can’t see the rabbit on the Earth globe). Also the Earth in the video is the only globe, all other islands are just that – islands.

I realize that these are not conclusive arguments against depicting Earth as a globe in the video, and in part 3 Danavir Gosvami insist that it’s indeed a globe, but they do raise questions anyway. I mean if the Earth is a floating ball then where’s the submerged part? Where is the part that touches the bigger ocean of the salted water? I have no idea how to explain that.

There are serious questions about Flat Earth theory as well but I’ll leave them for tomorrow.

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