Vanity thought #1775. Creepy crawlings

Continuing with yesterday’s comment on the current state of Dandavats. The site has a great responsibility in setting an example for Krishna conscious internet – topics covered, rules followed etc. It’s supposed to show that following GBC does not mean instant death. I mean other popular websites like VNN and Chakra, now discontinued, declared themselves independent from GBC right from the start, as if it’s a position that cannot possibly be held by any reasonable person. Dandavats is our answer to that.

Maybe they are right and I, personally, don’t think that internet and Krishna consciousness are meant for each other. I don’t know if there are any historical examples that can be compared. Maybe people could say that printing machines of a hundred years ago were incompatible with sweetness of Gaudiya vaishnavism, too, but machines, even if products of ugro-karmic society, are, in themselves, neutral, no different from weaving looms. I do not see internet as similarly neutral.

Books have been with us for thousands of years and all through history written word has been considered as sacred. If there was a book it meant that it was something worth reading, be it a record of event, a philosophical treatise, or a travelogue. It’s only very recently that printed word has become abused for something like adult entertainment. Internet served a different need from the start. Books were meant to conserve knowledge, internet is meant for spreading gossip instead. It’s like a telephone on steroids where every conversation is recorded forever.

“Great thing” about it is that it gave everybody a voice while books were meant to make everybody a listener. Books were meant to capture the heights of human intellect, internet is meant to give same value to most vile and base of human thoughts. People who are attracted to it are attracted not by the entire Catholic Encyclopedia being online but by sites like Urban Dictionary. They seek communities where they own perversions are accepted and celebrated as new normal.

When we step into this world it’s like preaching in a pub on Saturday night – our message is the exact opposite of what people come here for. That’s why declaring a position independent of GBC is seen as a badge of honor – internet is not for followers, internet is for those doing their own thing and being proud of it. Dandavats is a noble attempt at creating our own community insulated from all the nonsense that goes on outside. Unlike Facebook, it can easily be moderated and it’s the devotees, not faceless FB content supervisors who select stories for your newsfeed.

All in all, Dandavats is doing a great job but I have some complaints as well. Lately it has become a place to dump photo albums of any ISKCON related event. These are like extended selfies where you are promoting your group rather than your own face. If you are not a member of this group they are not even mildly interesting. Sometimes these photos carry messages, like a huge number of people attending, but mostly its people you don’t know standing in places you’ve never been to. The entire “article” is two lines of often random text with a link to a Facebook page.

I guess it’s hard for the site designers to decide what should it actually be. Is it a news site to report on every single happening in ISKCON? Should it be a site for devotees to share well-thought articles on topics relevant to Krishna consciousness? I think they started off with the later but ended up with everything being dumped on the front page – news, eulogies, personal realizations – everything.

It’s not as active as BBC but there are two-three screens of new content added every day, meaning you have to scroll way way down and hope you haven’t missed anything interesting. I think they’ll have to made separate sections very soon or people would just share Dandavat links on Facebook and these links would go to their other Facebook pages. The website itself is not very useful in its current form.

And then there’s outright creepy stuff that, in my view, should never have been there in the first place. A few years ago Dandavats was seen as promoting one side in female diksha guru issue and this led to devotees like HH Bhakti Vikasa Swami leaving. One comment, which passed moderation, compared him to Taleban while anything even slightly off about his opposition was not allowed to pass through. That issue has largely resolved itself but, during banning his book controversy, Dandavats was absolutely silent when devotee after devotee stood up in his defense in every other vaishnava forum.

What scares me now is subtle promoting of hospital services provided by what looks like ISKCON and with Srila Prabhupada’s name attached to it, too. The other day their headline talked about Prabhupada’s blessings to Bhaktivedanta Hospital. That was strange, I thought – all quotes from Prabhupada I’ve ever seen is that hospitals is a useless display of sentimental compassion and we should have nothing to do with such charitable activities. Did Srila Prabhupada actually blessed it?

No, the title was completely misleading and missed a key word – it was Srila Prabhupada’s SON who was grateful for receiving treatment, not Srila Prabhupada himself. As far as I remember, Prabhupada’s children had “complicated” relationships with him after he took sannyasa so their blessings after getting free medical treatment should not be taken as anything special. Omitting that one word, “son”, is a big editorial oversight that goes on top of promoting medical services which Prabhupada never blessed in any shape or form.

It probably isn’t the worst example but I’m not the one to look into entire Dandavats history on this issue. The other article that caught my attention is some conference they held in the US for devotee “hospitalists”. It wasn’t immediately clear whether what it was all about – were they encouraging devotees to select medical profession as their service or was it a conference for devotees who ended up working in healthcare (to provide for themselves and their families). I don’t think there’s much difference anymore and they had actual ISKCON leadership giving speeches and setting visionary goals for this association.

Whichever way you look at it – health care has been practically legitimized as devotional service. I don’t want to discuss how exactly they achieved it just from this one article but they have examples of devotees who are also successful medical entrepreneurs and it’s their very existence that gives legitimacy to the whole endeavor.

I can’t help but remember a case of a devotee who approached Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji with a similar idea of setting a clinic in Navadwipa because Murari Gupta was a doctor in Caitanya lila and that he was severely chastised by Srila Gaurakishora for even daring to compare himself with the eternal associate of the Lord. That was imitation instead of following. Following means trying to reach the same level of realization and spiritual potency, not behaving in the same way externally without the same spiritual foundation.

What was even worse is that while these devotees were attending the conference their children were taken on a tour of Hershey chocolate factory. Chocolate is not offerable to the Lord and there’s no other way to look at it but as sense enjoyment. Is this what we are teaching our children these days? Seriously? It might not be as addictive as actual drugs but “chocaholics” and “chocolate cravings” are real, and there’s no way to purify them through Krishna consciousness like we can do with other foods that can be offered to the Lord. Kids would have been better off if someone read them Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that starts with realities of old age and then goes on to demonstrate the pitfalls of attachments.

What is going on in our society? How do these creepy “innovations” crawl into our devotional space? I suspect there already are thousands who see it as perfectly normal. I’ll just give another example before I shut up – Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati once organized a massive Hare Krishna festival in Calcutta when the rest of Bengal was flooded and millions of people were suffering. Some said that it was inappropriate to raise funds for this festival while money was very much needed to solve “real” problems but Srila Bhaktisiddhanta had none of it. Every rupee spent on anything other then preaching is a waste and robbing the Lord of what is rightfully His.

I’m afraid I’ll have to take a forced break from this blog but it shouldn’t be too long. Let’s see how it goes.

Vanity thought #1774. Another rant day

I think it’s essential to regularly change subject of one’s inquiry because it would protect us from unnecessary attachments. The only unchanging subject should be Krishna. Everything else in this world is touched by illusion and potentially dangerous. In discussing Sankhya, for example, we unavoidably step outside of what is given in Bhagavatam and even while we remain tethered to it we are still in a dangerous territory where we can easily fall victim to attractions of logic, reason, and our perceived rationality.

On our own we can see the world through Krishna conscious lens but when we engage with others and try to convince them of the errors of modern science we resort to using their own frame of reference and their own rules. This forces us to think like them and our Krishna conscious vision easily gets lost. Sankhya or not, we can’t reason people into accepting God.

Alternatively, our conviction in Krishna consciousness comes from being exposed to direct manifestation of the Lord in the form of the holy name or deities or through the words of our guru. This perception is primary and overrides all logic and reason. This argument follows from Sankhya where cit aspects of our being is subordinate to ananda, We don’t need logic to experience “good”, though we might need it to reconcile out feelings with the rest of the world around us.

Explanations of Krishna consciousness are no different from explanations of criminals in this respect. We justify our behavior to the public and so do they. We know Krishna consciousness is “good” and they know that their crime felt “good”, too. In both cases no one believes us because they have different perceptions of morality. We resort to justifying Krishna consciousness on the basis that it stops people from drug abuse or sexual misconduct but it does not convey the actual taste of serving the Lord. Criminal defense attorneys will equally find acceptable excuses like the need to provide for one’s family instead of admitting that stealing felt perfectly good on its own. We both try to appeal to what others consider good and moral instead of talking about our own perceptions of morality.

The point is that in order to preach we need to give people the same taste for God and “good”. We can’t express God in terms of sense gratification or renunciation, which are the only terms familiar to non-devotees. This means that whenever we argue science on its own ground we are not doing any preaching. At best we can seed some doubts but if they find someone who can restore their faith in science then all our efforts would be in vain and next time the same approach won’t work at all. They’ll know that proper authorities can easily refute our “conspiracy theories” and they won’t take us seriously.

Only actual taste of Krishna consciousness can open people’s eyes to reality, everything else can at best prepare them to take this opportunity when it arises.

Anyway, this isn’t what I was going to rant about today, but rather troubling developments over at Dandavats. It’s our official ISKCON’s site rather than a project by some individuals and so we expect it to maintain some standards. In fact, just as with Prabhupada’s books, we should learn to see the rest of the internet through Dandavats’ eyes. Of course, no one puts Dandavats on the level of our books but it’s perfectly reasonable for us to expect the site strictly follow our philosophy and serve as an authority on internet related matters.

What kind of content should be acceptable, which views and attitudes, what kind of discourse is encouraged and what is forbidden. How the site is moderated? What is the proper balance between news and articles on philosophy? How much space should be given to personal realizations? How much connection with the outside world should be visible?

All these questions are answered in Prabhupada’s books but mostly in principle. How they should be answered on the website is up to us, we ourselves have to accept the responsibility and make sure we do no deviate and do not take up the role of the acaryas.

Prabhupada’s books are all about Krishna related matters but sometimes he finds place for examples from the outside world, even more so in his lectures and conversations. He uses these examples as springboard to providing Krishna conscious answers to everyday problems and he does so without taking sides between capitalists and communists. We, on the other hand, often side with some materialistic views against others. Some see themselves as progressives and others as traditionalists and then our responses to female gurus or homosexuality issues are often driven by these positions in outside world rather than by pure Krishna consciousness. The very fact is that these became issues at all is the sign of external world intruding into our devotional lives. Veganism is another such issue.

Ideally, our official website should not fall for this but it happens. Srila Prabhupada also gave us principles of civilized Vedic debates where one should first of all represent an authority and not speak on his own but we often do not follow this and advance our own understanding of issues instead. Dandavats is actually pretty good in this area but there are exceptions, too.

Srila Prabhupada also showed us the kind of questions acceptable in vaishnava community and, most importantly, that they should be asked with proper attitude rather than be challenging. Once again, Dandavats is exemplary in this regards and it trains devotees to follow certain rules of a discourse. On the other hand, they don’t seem to be interested in devotees’ comments. After site redesign a few months ago comment section has been moved to the bottom of the page and I bet most visitors don’t even know it’s there. It looks like this is what site designers wanted rather than a simple oversight. Perhaps they don’t have the manpower to moderate active discussions, perhaps they don’t see much use for them at all. None of the articles that I read there have any comments either and I don’t recall article authors ever answering readers questions. It’s not like the Bhagavatam class where questions are a must and speaker ignoring them is unthinkable – we learned this from Prabhupada but don’t follow it outside actual Bhagavatam classes.

There are other aspects which I think need improvement on Dandavats and some of them are troubling for me. This rant will probably continue tomorrow.

Vanity thought #1773. VC – dark times of science

Link: “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”.

This entire section is going through various problems in science and the author is just getting started. So far we’ve covered the basics of the Big Bang and now got to the current and future states of the universe. Big Bang was an “explosion” where massive amount of energy overcame gravitation of highly condensed matter and sent it flowing into space. There are four possible ways the balance between this energy and gravitation can go. Gravitation might overcome and force the universe to collapse again, or the energy can speed up the runaway movement of stars and galaxies, or they might reach some sort of equilibrium and the universe would stay flat, or it might continue expansion at a steady rate.

In the 20th century we built radio telescopes and were able to measure radiation from stars on all frequencies, not just visible light, like normal telescopes do. If the stars were approaching or flying away it would affect the frequency of their light and soon enough “red shift” was discovered, meaning the universe was expanding. That settled the debate but then in the late 90s new data came in and it appeared that it’s expanding at a faster rate than that dictated by the known amount of energy. Scientists couldn’t attribute this energy to any sources and so they called it “dark energy”. The amount of it is not trivial either – by modern calculations it accounts for over two thirds of all energy in the universe.

This “dark energy” comes on top of much older “dark matter” phenomenon that has been discovered almost a hundred years ago. Typically, stars further away from galaxy center would rotate slower than stars in the middle. We know it from how planets rotate around Sun in the solar system. Turns out that this is not what happens in real life of stars and the only reason for this science has, a hundred years on, is existence of some “dark matter” which we can’t see. It doesn’t emit any radiation and does not respond to any force other than gravity. Dark matter makes up almost a third of the known stuff.

In modern theories matter and energy are interchangeable, that is one can be converted into other and vice versa, so in the end it means that non-dark matter and energy, the observable universe, comprises less than 5% of everything that is out there. And it’s not that this stuff is too far for us to see but that we can’t observe it in principle, we only observe effects of its presence.

This covers two chapters in the book and I didn’t go through it in detail because that would require corroboration with other sources and unnecessarily expand the volume of the post.

Next the book goes into problems with measuring distances in the universe. There’s actually a “ladder” of the methods, depending on scale and other things, but one of the most common is calculating distance from luminosity. I should probably remind that stars are too far from us to use radars like we use to track aircraft. We’d have to wait for thousands of years before signal comes back. Anyway, the same 60W light bulb would appear 1/4 of its brightness if it is placed twice as far from the observer. This method is reliable (in science, not in Sāṅkhya, of course) as long as we know luminosity and distance of some starting point and relative luminosity of different stars. None of it is given, however, and the first “hook” was found by a woman, of all genders.

A couple of years ago there was a TV show Cosmos that I covered in this blog in detail and this woman was a star of one of the episodes. Her job was a “computer”, meaning she was given a bunch of photographs taken through a telescope and she was supposed to compute some stuff from them. There were dozens of ladies doing this job but she was the [only] smart one there and discovered that over time some stars’ luminosity changes in patterns. Scientists [other than women] figured out the reason for this pulsation, worked out masses, gravitation, and other related phenomena, and so a “standard candle” with known luminosity was born. Be measuring luminosity of other stars compared to this “standard candle” we figured out how far they were.

I pick on this “woman” part because her example is used to promote gender equality for all females but all females do not display the same scientific prowess. I mean we should judge people on merit, not on gender. Why should we promote those who have “correct” set of genitals instead of those who have correct set of brains? The question of whether we should encourage women to become successful outside of their family roles is also at play here but I don’t want to go into it now.

Anyway, the problem that the author sees here is that we are still talking about observed luminosity, not the actual one. He compares it to the sound of a plucked string. If you pluck it softly and close by it might sound the same as if you plucked it harder but in the distance. This sounds like a reasonable objection but the method in question doesn’t work like that in real life and faces rather different problems. If we bring this objection to actual astronomy forum they’ll tear us to shreds, I expect.

First of all, using the light bulb example above, scientists need to make sure they are looking at stars of the same actual luminosity. If the other “bulb” was 100W but we thought it was 60 then our calculations would become useless. Needless to say, it’s impossible to know exact luminosity of any given star. To deal with this problem scientists use star classification where luminosity can be figured out from the type of the star and type of chemical and thermonuclear reactions inside it. Coupled with mass and probably some other properties they can give an estimate of how luminous the star must be in real life.

Over the time they perfected this classification method and also noticed that some of the known stars were classified wrong, leading to corrections in calculating distances to them. I don’t know how the author’s objection even fits here.

I also thought of an objection that we must know not only brightness of a “standard candle” but the distance to it, too. How can we start comparing distances otherwise? On second though, however, astrophysicists determine star’s brightness from its own properties – mass, the type of reactions, the stage in its life cycle etc. Knowing this absolute brightness they can compare it to observed brightness of the standard candle and get distance from that.

This method is problematic but probably not for the reason mentioned by the author. How can we be sure we know what happens in the star exactly? What if our understanding of star physics is all wrong? Then this entire method would collapse. How do we know we are right? We can’t get samples of star material and we can’t even see them up close. Perhaps we build out theories of what happens based on luminosity and then calculate luminosity based on these theories. A lot of things can go wrong here.

In the end I’d like to remind that the notion of the real world outside that we discover through our senses is not supported in Sāṅkhya in the first place. This section deals with problems within scientific framework itself but reading through it might make us feel that the framework is valid but we use it the wrong way. Nope, the framework is wrong on principle and there’s no right way to use it because it’s built on false premises.

Also we should never forget that science postulates “facts” about reality when it can observe only less than 5% of it and has absolutely no idea what the rest of it is. Even though they all know it they don’t acknowledge this darkness of ignorance in their real communications. It’s the failure of their minds and display of cognitive bias – two things that should disqualify them from doing science right away. Luminosity or not, there’s plenty of darkness and not enough enlightenment there.

Vanity thought #1772. VC – keep your head level at all times

Link: “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”.

The last chapter in the section on Vedic view of causality is very short so it’s very likely that I’ll start the next section today. The injunction to keep balance, however, is applicable to both, as I hope to demonstrate later.

We’ll start with “Theory of Balance” as it applies in ayurveda. Too much of kaphā can cause rigidity in the system and nothing can move, just like an obese person can’t function normally. Too much pitta means “paralysis by analysis”, in author’s words. There are tons of genuine ayurvedic symptoms of pitta imbalance and to me they look like they all relate to excessive processing creating extra “fire”. Pitta works on producing contingent details out of abstracts of kaphā. It takes things and breaks them down, releasing energy in the process. This “breaking down” can, indeed, be described as analyzing larger concepts and converting them into collection of details. If this is all what the body does then it can lead to “paralysis by analysis”. Makes sense. Vāta means changes and excess of it manifests as instability in all aspects and improper coordination of various functions.

The point is that imbalance of any of the three is called disease in ayurveda and it’s for this reason that kaphā, vāta, and pitta are not called guṇas but doṣas instead. In Vedic terms guṇa signify good qualities while doṣa bad. When qualities are in balance they are guṇas, when they go off-kilter they become doṣas. “Everything is good in moderation,” as they say. The author also says that kaphā, vāta, and pitta are related not only to gross bodies but manifest themselves in the mind as well, and in any kind of organism or organisation, too.

In a business company kaphā is the big goals and goal posts set by top management and sales and marketing, pitta is engineers working on translating this big vision into products and services, and vāta, or prāṇa, is the operations department that keeps it all in proper motion. If kaphā predominates then the company becomes big on announcements but short on delivery. If pitta predominates then engineers lose the sight of the goal and come up with tons of irrelevant stuff. If prāṇa predominates then everyone is made to run around like headless chicken and nothing gets accomplished at all. That’s my rendering of that paragraph and I think it’s pretty close to author’s own words.

The point is that kaphā, pitta, and vāta are universal and manifest in every system, not just our bodies, and that we should always keep them in proper balance. And that’s how the section ends.

Next we get to problems of modern cosmology and the first chapter is the overview of the Big Bang theory. It has a Gītā quote as an epigraph and I noticed that it’s taken from “as it is” 1972 edition, not the current BBT version. I hope it doesn’t mean that the author is on the same “no editing allowed” bandwagon as serial offenders from ex-ISKCON circles. The possibility that the author holds a critical view of BBT policies should not be discounted, however. It means that when we look at his work we should always be alert to whether it fully complies with our siddhānta or not. So far it deals with subjects that are not controversial but the explanation of “free will” offered here opens the door for disagreements.

I’m saying this to stress importance of balance, and I need a reminder of it myself – I can’t forget Śrīla Prabhupāda’s explanation of our philosophy in lieu of Sāṅkhya. As soon as Sāṅkhya as presented in the book becomes at odds with our teachings it needs to be reconciled one way or another, we shouldn’t take it for granted and we shouldn’t take it as an authority over Prabhupāda.

The short story of Big Bang is another example of the need for balance. The author’s version looks generally okay to me but when he says that the universe was created from “nothing” (even if “nothing” is in quotes) I bet lots of scientifically educated people would disagree. Btw, the previous chapter contained a spelling mistake in a phrase “..the observer is changings its mental..” and the last sentence of the first paragraph in this chapter has an unnecessary comma: “The nature of this ‘nothing’ and why it exploded in the first place, remains the subject of much debate and research to this day.” I don’t think I’ve seen any editing errors elsewhere and two of them appearing so close to each other are easily noticeable. I’m a sucker for unnecessary commas myself but my ramblings here are not a published book.

The next paragraph presents an overview of how different theories fit together – gravitation governs the behavior of stars and galaxies and when the matter is condensed it falls into the domain of quantum theory. After Einstein came up with theory of general relativity in 1915 our views on what gravity is changed dramatically. It’s not longer a force, as it has been thought of since Newton times, and its propagation isn’t instant either. So now we have general relativity for stars and big objects and quantum theory for everything else. It appears that quantum theory can explain behavior of our everyday macroscopic objects but we, as a whole, are not yet ready to talk about “two trains leaving station A” in the language of quantum particles. It becomes mindbogglingly complex.

Next the author discusses implications of the universe starting with a huge explosion. In Einstein’s time people thought the universe was static but if it started with a massive expansion then all kinds of scenarios become possible. We have the energy that drives the stars apart and we have gravity that pulls them back together. Is their speed enough to escape the gravitational pull of the rest of the universe? If it isn’t they are ought to come back and collapse into each other like failed rocket launches into space. If they are fast enough it would mean the universe is expanding.

The author demonstrates several scenarios – Big Crunch, where the universe expands initially but then stars are pulled back and collapse, Flat Expansion where initial blast eventually evens out with gravitation and universe becomes stable, Open Expansion where the universe expands but at a steady rate, and Accelerated Expansion where gravity pull becomes weaker and weaker and stars speed up to expand universal frontiers faster and faster.

I’ll leave history of scientific experiments to confirm or reject any of these models for another time.

Vanity thought #1771. VC – prana and trajectories

Link: “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”.

As I mentioned at the end of the previous post, the rest of the chapter talks about trajectories. I thought I knew the word but it turns out the author uses it in a complicated way. Trajectories will come up again in later chapters on time and it was even more confusing there. There are plenty of highlighted failings of the modern science, too, and the caveat I mentioned yesterday still applies – not everything attributed to science in this book will be agreed on by scientists.

The very first sentence introducing trajectories goes like this: “The existence of prāna is like the trajectories that exist independent of particles.” Uh-huh. Is “independent of particles” important here? What other trajectories are there? Or does it simply state the obvious to remind us that trajectories are independent of particles? Are they? Never thought of it this way. Next few sentences aren’t very helpful either. I can understand how we conceive trajectories as a collection of consecutive locations taken by objects as they move but not much more than that. “Motion” has been denied here, I guess for the reason that will become clearer in the next paragraph, and otherwise it’s something something something and there’s not causality. Prāṇa is also a trajectory but not that of the objects, it’s the trajectory of the observer as he moves through the experiences of his life. Mmkay.

In quantum theory objects have discrete states and therefore we cannot talk about their motion in the conventional sense. How an object jumps from one state to another cannot be described either. In fact, we can’t be sure that it’s the same object that is doing the jumping and so we cannot talk about continuity of the succession of states either. We can only talk about the succession of our observations. In other words, the author says, it’s not the objects that go from state to state but it’s the observer who is moving from one state to another. It’s not the particle that unites the succession of the states but the observer. This is where prāṇa comes in – it does not describe motion of particles but the experiences of the observer. Prāṇa is a trajectory of the souls and not the motion of particles, and it carries the soul from one state to another.

This idea is simple enough but then we must remember that “states” in the Vedic world can be different levels of abstraction and we can have experiences even when the body doesn’t move. Prāṇa, however, works only on the gross body, not on the mind. It is a product of the mind, as I understand, and the author says that controlled prāṇa can help regulate the mind, too. What prāṇa generally works on is senses and sense objects and it moves them under control of karma, which is under control of time.

Like in quantum theory, it’s not one body that moves from state to state but the soul that takes shelter of one body after another at every step, as created by prāṇa. We sense continuity and talk about one body living through life experiences and the author compares it to the illusion of motion picture which is made up of multiple stationary frames changing very fast. The old body is a state of senses and sense objects that becomes unmanifest and the current body is the currently manifested state, but it’s not the same body as the old – that’s an illusion.

In science the succession of consecutive locations in space was used to create the illusion of “motion” but, because of quantum theory, we can’t talk about it in these terms anymore. Science doesn’t know what connects different states but Sāṅkhya says it’s the observer, the soul. It’s the soul that moves from body to body. This travel is caused by prāṇa, which is controlled by karma, which is controlled by time.

At the time of death prāṇa detaches abstract concepts like the mind from their contingent details (bodies) and carries the soul to a place where new details are developed as a new body. This agency of prāṇa is known as transmigration of souls in Vedic world but it’s not understood in modern science, which leads to the collapse of causality in any movement.

This would be a good place to introduce new concepts into science, the author says, but so far we can remain very skeptical whether science will embrace any new notions coming from Hinduism, of all places. Nevertheless, the need is there and they can dance around their problems only for so long. In Vedic theory the trajectory, path, or process is unrelated to properties of objects and the “force” that moves the observer through the succession of states is not the same as force field in science either. Force fields in science can only put objects in stationary states and so they have causality missing from the picture. This causality can be explained by introducing prāṇa.

The author then says that science has an equivalent of kaphā – fermions, which are actual particles of matter. Science also has bosons, which are particles of force, and they represent pitta – the force that subdivides, the energy that can be seen as information needed to create contingent objects. What science is lacking is vata, I guess, but the author says it rather needs prāṇa, which is trajectories without objects. The author says that we can visualize these trajectories in our minds but we can’t directly observe them, we can only see them through their effects – changes to the bodily states.

The collapse of causality in quantum theory is because they are trying to measure what cannot be measured – prāṇa is not a material object but a trajectory of material objects (or rather trajectory of the observer).

Śrīmad Bhāgavatam talks about celestial objects being moved by the “ropes of wind”. “Ropes” are paths and “wind” is prāṇa that moves planets along them. I’m not fully satisfied with the distinction made here but I totally agree with author’s main point – this “wind” of Bhāgavatam is not the “air” element of Sāṅkhya and it’s not gravitational force field of science either. It’s this wind that explains causality of movement because both matter and energy are inert. As I typed this I realized that the fact of energy being inert hasn’t sunk in yet. I still think that energy signifies movement. In quantum theory energy is released when an object changes its state in a certain way but the cause of that change is missing. Now we found it and it’s in our karma. Prāṇa is the agency that fulfills it.

Vanity thought #1770. VC – Ayurveda and quanta

Link: “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”.

Last two chapters were short and sweet but the next one is long and big on ideas. It’s also one of those you can’t easily go public with because someone will always say you get it wrong and claim superior knowledge of the subject. It’s hard to deal with these objections because the fact that they know more doesn’t mean they don’t draw wrong conclusions from their knowledge but they don’t accept the possibility of being wrong and are always full of themselves. They, basically, say that “I know more and therefore you have to trust me” and the only response I can think of is to find other authorities who come to different conclusions and that from my point of view those authorities sound more authoritative. Still, unless you know the subject yourself you can’t claim that any proposed authority correctly reflects the current state of the field.

First, it looks like the chapter will be about Aurveda as the author describes kaphā, vāta, and pitta. He calls them “three modes” but it quickly becomes obvious that these modes are not guṇas from the previous chapter. He rather classifies them in terms of Sāṅkhya. Kaphā is the ideas, vāta is prāṇa, and pitta doesn’t get a comparison of its own. “Ideas” here doesn’t mean workings of the mind but ideas of the semantic tree – abstract objects which become symbols to be elaborated on as the next step. These “ideas” are not tied up to any particular kind of matter, gross or subtle, but a distinction made for each stage of creation. The author says that it is the cause of form and structure in the body – muscles, bones, blood, fat etc. I think he means the general idea of fat or bones from which actual body parts are grown but it’s not clear.

Vāta is prāṇa and it causes things in the body to move and change and includes processes such as digestion, circulation, or elimination. Vāta, just as prāṇa, is all about processes rather than things.

Pitta is associated with metabolism and is responsible for breaking things down – digesting food and breaking it apart into small particles, basic amino-acids and such. Pitta takes bigger, abstract ideas, and divides them into smaller memes. It creates details of abstractions. The author doesn’t link it to kaphā here even though it naturally follows. I think it’s because pitta doesn’t create actual bones from the idea of bones represented by kaphā. Or maybe it’s because kaphā does not represent ideas of bones but bones themselves, and meat and fat covering them. Pitta then can take this fat and break it down into energy to supply calories. This is the part where someone expert in ayurveda can say that I got it all wrong, but before I start arguing about it the book changes direction and compares these ayurvedic terms to quantum theory.

What we call “matter” in science corresponds to kaphā. Science talks about object concepts such as particles, electrons, photons, waves (not an object but an object concept). These object concepts have properties and so the distinction is there. Electrons have speed and waves have frequency. Ayurvedic vāta corresponds to force in science – that which makes things move and drives changes, and pitta corresponds to energy, I guess as matter can be converted into energy just as pitta breaks down fat to extract calories. The author compares pitta to properties of objects and says that these properties can be divided and organized. He gives no examples so I’m not sure what he means. Converting matter to energy seems like a better fit to me but I might be missing some essential functions of pitta which necessitate a different explanation, such as dividing and organizing properties of objects.

Next is a paragraph on problems in quantum theory and this where physicists will normally stand up and say we got it all wrong. No matter what the audience is there will always be one like that. The rest might go along with our version just fine and display at least equal understanding of the subject but this one prick would insist that we should go back to school and learn quantum theory the right way. Perhaps we should look at it philosophically as karma giving us a lesson to complete our knowledge and his objections need to be included. I just hope this lesson is digestible and we don’t really need to go back to school and learn quantum theory for real. Incorporating missing bits of knowledge of the subject we have only vague understanding of is not easy, and it’s not that we only need to understand what that person says but we should locate this position on the semantic tree as well – we need to know where he is coming from and why his views should or should not matter to our own presentation.

One of the central points in quantum physics, in author’s view, is that science has a notion of matter but it doesn’t treat matter as ideas and meanings. This is a problem from Sāṅkhya perspective and I bet vast majority of scientists won’t even know what we are talking about – in their framework ideas and meanings are very distinct from matter. This argument is clearly given for our own understanding, not for public consumption.

Second problem for quantum theory is that the idea of energy has changed and it’s not “kinetic” anymore but rather fixes particles in stationary states with nothing in between them. The third problem follows from the second in that we have no idea why objects need to change from one state to another (signifying different discrete energy levels) and so we cannot apply our traditional notion of force that causes the changes. Instead it all has been replaced by probabilities and randomness. These three problems correspond to three postulates in Sāṅkhya that are missing from science – matter is ideas and meanings, energy is the agency that divides abstracts into parts, and force as prāṇa that describes processes rather than force as property of objects.

Next paragraphs starts talking about trajectories and trajectories are difficult to digest so I’ll leave it for another day.

Vanity thought #1769. VC – Prison, prisoners, and their orders

Link: “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”.

The next chapter tells us about material world as a prison – a comparison we’ve heard many times already but this time we get to hear it in terms of Sāṅkhya. As expected, the goal proposed here is to learn the truth about nature and reality. In devotional circles it would be about restoring our relationships with God but Sāṅkhya is a description of the material world, not a science of bhakti. Thankfully, we know what to do with Sāṅkhya next so it’s not a problem and I, just like everyone else, would skip over “nature of truth and reality” without being afraid it might mislead us. It won’t – because the nature of truth and reality is that absolutely everything is connected to God.

Material world is, therefore, not only a prison but an educational institution, too. We learn our lessons here and depending on whether we pay attention to what is being taught we get to graduate to the next class or stay back and repeat it.

We are limited in our understanding of the truth because the truth is an abstract and we are contingents. The truth is bigger than us, we are just one instantiated case of it. The whole truth won’t “fit” into our consciousness. We can’t understand even our world, for that matter, what to speak of God. When we talk about full knowledge, therefore, we don’t literally mean all knowledge but rather our place in it, the trail up the semantic tree from us to Kṛṣṇa. Even in the spiritual world we won’t know all of Kṛṣṇa’s qualities but we need to know those that are related to us in our service.

The consciousness that knows the whole universe is God. He is the most abstract reality and He is the knower of that reality. The knowledge of the entire material creation is self-knowledge for God – because it grows out of description of His qualities. When this knowledge is divided various universes are produced and then we become part of that small reality. We’ll never learn the rest of it but we can learn our way to Kṛṣṇa, all of our way.

When we know ourselves as part of God’s creation we can then perform our functions as part of His whole. Like our legs and hands are parts of our body that perform functions in the whole body’s interest, we’ll then become functional parts and parcels of God. Do our legs know they are part of our bodies? Most of the time they follow OUR desires so, in general, they behave like they do. Do we fulfill Lord’s desires in our current state? In general – we don’t, we take part in the creation for our own pleasure, not for the Lord’s. And at the same time we are forced to do the same things as if we were working for the Lord anyway – we just don’t accept who the real enjoyer is and this acceptance will be discussed in the next chapter.

Lord Mahā Viṣṇu treats the creation as a dream and then Lord Śeṣa treats the universes as mustard seeds. From their positions the universes look distant and all their details abstracted. Each successive form of the Lord gets closer and closer, and then the living beings get really involved with the creation. At our stage the full knowledge is not necessary to operate in our fields so we can afford to be ignorant. The Lord never becomes ignorant and therefore there are no lessons to be learned for him, and therefore no karma.

Btw, it’s not in the book but the Lord never becomes ignorant because even in His last form, the Supersoul, He is still aware of all the going ons in our universe. He might not be aware of other universes but karma only works here, ignorance of other universes doesn’t affect our Supersoul. This is an interesting question – does our Supersoul know all the other universes as well as ours? Is it the Supersoul for the rest of the creation, too? The way the process is described in our literature this might not be the case, but does that equal to Supersoul’s ignorance? That would be a pretty bold statement to make and I don’t want to be the first one making it.

And then we come to the next chapter that sheds more light on workings of the guṇas. This time guṇas are said to condition our choices. Remember how I made it into the issue with the free will a few posts back? Once you bring guṇas into our decision making our responsibility apparently shrinks but that is not actually the case because we usually go along with the guṇas so even if they condition our choices, responsibility is still ours.

Among three guṇas sattva is the best and it accepts the reality as it is – because it knows the reality and realizes that there aren’t any flaws in it. Choices made in sattva lead to knowledge and peacefulness. Next best guṇa is rajas and rajo-guṇa directs our consciousness to some aspects of the reality neglecting others. We see it as a need to fix the world to become happy. These fixes and improvements are seen as progress in modern culture and, if you listen to people, they always propose new things to fix some supposedly broken ones. Sometimes they even joke about “solutions seeking for problems” when someone wants to sell something but is not sure what it is supposed to fix (except the problem of his income, of course).

Under the influence of tamo-guṇa we reject the reality altogether, being either ignorant or dismissive of it. It brings us into a depressive state of not liking the reality and not trying to improve it, so we just whine and suffer and refuse to do anything.

Three guṇas here perform three functions – accept, direct, and reject. I’ve never heard of them presented like this before and I find it very insightful.

Among the three the acceptance is the best but simply accepting things doesn’t tell us how we should act. To start acting there must be direction, rajas, and rajas always lead to frustration – tamas. We can achieve “balance” by not falling into tamas in the end but rather accepting the outcomes of our actions whatever they are and returning back to sattva instead. If we are smart then we avoid “sinful” activities which we know will force us to suffer and this course of action can then be described as karma-yoga. It’s not an easy task – avoiding frustration in the end, and most people would rather commit some sinful activity if it promises them fulfillment of their desires.

Our Kṛṣṇa conscious solution, which is called non-material in the book, is to accept work under the order of our abstract entity – guru, and direct our energy towards goals set by him, and we keep rejecting sinful and unfavorable things. Because guru, our abstract, acts in the same way, the ultimate director is Kṛṣṇa. All three modes are still present – accept, direct, and reject, but they are not material and do not produce disappointments anymore. It is also acting in knowledge of our connection to the Absolute, there are no gaps between us and the truth, no lessons to learn and there’s no karma to be accrued.

All in all – a very cool presentation in these two chapters.

Vanity thought #1768. I cannot compute

Before continuing with Vedic Cosmology I want to say a few words about a nice metaphor I found in author’s article on Dandavats in November last year. I missed it then, sadly.

The article discusses devotees’ approach to science and it’s hard to summarize it in one post so I’ll just pick one apt comparison that illustrates the problem. We know world to be illusory. There are disagreements on the exact nature of this illusion in various schools on Hinduism and sometimes we ourselves are hard pressed to define our exact understanding of it. Regardless – illusion is involved in one way or another.

The consequence of this fact is that material nature produces falsities. Once again, we can argue if things are false or only our understanding of them is, but, in general, it means māyā convinces us that there’s no God. This particular aspect is compared in the article to a computer that prints out statements like “I cannot compute”. How can we interpret them?

Scientists can take the statement at face value – there’s no evidence of God’s existence in our empirical experience so there must be no God. This will lead to incomplete knowledge of reality – God is there but we don’t know it. The article shows that this kind of knowledge would be a falsity, avidyā, comparing to studying Vedic scriptures which make up inferior knowledge – aparā-vidyā.

The difference is quite important but I don’t want to talk about it today. Scientific knowledge is based on false representation of reality, on māyā, and so it does’t produce any truth. This seems like an overstretch at first but, methodologically, all moderns scientific theories are false and are waiting to be replaced by something better, which will also be eventually found false and replaced again.

Another food for thought in that article is that when we think that avidyā or apara-vidya relate to this world while parā-vidyā relates to spiritual world where we all want to go then this thinking is aparā-vidyā in itself because it implies seeking liberation from this world rather than correct understanding of it. Parā-vidyā is not somewhere out there but how we should see THIS world correctly, too. Parā-vidyā is a vision of paramahaṁsas and they are not seeking liberation and transfers to anywhere else – they see Kṛṣṇa in everything already.

Back to confusing “cannot compute” prints. If we accept God’s existence it would be contradictory to what māyā prints out for us. In practice it would lead to endless questions that start with “If your God was real, then why..?” Once again, our experiences are created by māyā and her work is to deny God every step of the way, so there will always be contradictions between “beliefs” and “real life”.

The author applies “cannot compute” contradiction differently and I don’t fully get it. I think it goes like this – regardless of whether a devotee or a scientist, a person would accept some things as literal truth and will try to interpret what appears to be false. That is, if we accept the fact that railway tracks run parallel as literal truth than the vision of them converging on the horizon appears as falsity and, therefore, needs an interpretation (solved as visual illusion) – it is not taken literally for what it is. Devotees take the opposite approach – we declare deities, gurus, and scriptures as truth and interpret the rest of the world because it appears to us as false.

Unlike the devotees, scientists take the lie (“I cannot compute”) as truth but this lie contains a contradiction (a computer that computes that it cannot compute) and so everything that starts from here will have more and more contradictions piling up. This is why science always have new theories because old ones can’t explain contradictions, and it resigns to the fact that new theories will have contradictions of their own, too.

What is not clear to me is why both incompleteness and contradiction rise from the same literal interpretation of the statement. In fact, two statements seem to be considered here, or rather two different readings of the same one. The reading that leads to incompleteness denies existence of either God or a computer, and the reading leading to contradictions implies acceptance of God – the “I” in “I cannot compute”. Scientists do not accept God so the second case should not apply to them but rather to religionists.

Contradictions, however, are an important feature of modern science and it’s the one all of them should always be aware of, though it might not be taught at schools. I think the author argues that scientific theories are either incomplete or inconsistent because he discussed Gödel’s theorems elsewhere. I thought I understood these theorems but now I realize that my brain is not what it used to be and, presented formally, they become undecipherable. In short – we can create theories with axioms and solid logic but in the end our theories will be incomplete, and if we make them complete they will become inconsistent. This is a law that we can’t avoid and it has been widely accepted with only a few holdouts that argue the theorems has not been proven.

It would be nice to demonstrate how our different approaches to “I cannot compute” statement resulted in logical systems described by Gödel, that the results would be either incomplete, or, if complete, it would be inconsistent. Perhaps Ashish Dalela covered it somewhere else but this is what we have in this article and Gödel is not even mentioned.

I don’t disagree with the author when he says that modern academia runs in problems with consistency if they accept “I cannot compute” statement as true, I just feel that this approach fits more with religionists than with scientists.

In any case, the important point for us here is that all of this arises from science not recognizing the world as illusory but going along with the illusion instead. Even Christians and Muslims don’t include illusion in their theology so they are constantly dogged by questions about the source of evil and others in the same vein. Knowledge of māyā is indispensable to having a correct knowledge of reality.

Vanity thought #1767. VC – Vedic Justice

Link: “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”.

Yesterday the book dropped a justice bomb that crime committed with full knowledge must incur less karma than a crime committed out of ignorance. This is not how modern justice works and is counterintuitive. Sāṅkhya’s explanation for this is easy – karma comes from acting in ignorance and is meant to complete our knowledge, so the more we know the less lessons we have to learn. This doesn’t explain our sense of justice, however, and in the rest of the chapter the author gives examples to show that our current understanding contradicts Vedic history.

He starts with Rāvana and Hiraṇyakaśipu, two demons with exceptional knowledge of dharma and how the world works, and yet they committed crimes like kidnapping, rape, or attempted murder of Hiraṇyakaśipu’s own son. In our justice they’d both get either life in prison or capital punishment (if they were in the US). In Vedic history they both were killed by the Lord Himself but they didn’t go to hell and achieved liberation instead. I’m not sure it’s a valid example because both these demons were “imported” directly from Vaikuṇṭha as Jaya and Vijaya for a preset number of appearances so they were going back regardless of what they did here.

Next the author gives an example of animals and our immediate reaction would be that animals don’t accumulate karma the way humans do – tigers are not punished for eating meat. On one hand it’s true, on the other hand it is also undeniable that animals have a very long road to full knowledge ahead of them and it’s this distance to perfection that is measured by karma, not the immediate punishment or even next life after the reincarnation.

Then we have an example of demigods who also make mistakes but there’s no question of them being sent to hell, which makes sense if we consider only the path from their level of ignorance when they commit mistakes to the full knowledge of God. It clearly does go through hell.

Other examples could include traditional systems of justice where person’s punishment depended not only on the nature of the crime but on his position. The higher it is, meaning signifying greater knowledge, the less punishment is there. I don’t think brahmanas were punished at all, except maybe for really heavy crimes.

From democracy point of view everybody must be seen as equal and different degrees of punishment for the same crime are seen as a form of abuse rather than actual justice. In democracy’s defense we can admit that in Kali yuga people get to occupy their position with little regard to their actual advancement so abuse is inevitable, but the principle still stands. Equality or not, but people of higher status will always get milder punishment, in part because we can’t inflict karma greater than they deserve and partly because even democratic justice system takes into account person’s previous acts. There’s a legal difference between a first time offender and a person with multiple convictions.

Another aspect is that crimes committed out of negligence should not be always ascribed to a single perpetrator. Let’s say you accidentally push someone into the street and he gets hit by a bus. You did not kill that person personally so if you get charged with manslaughter instead of murder it would not be due to your ignorance of that person’s presence but due to shared responsibility between you, the bus driver, the authorities responsible for the flow of traffic and adequate protection of the public in case of accidents. In short, it’s not as bad as outright murdering someone even if the outcome is the same.

The author traces this inverted assigning of punishment to Christianity. This means that, perhaps, JC was wrong or we misunderstood him – I don’t want to judge anyone here and don’t want to investigate this matter any further. Regardless of the source, this relaxed attitude affects science as well – since not knowing things is easily pardonable then science does not feel the urgency of discovering the truth. This manifests in a complete lack of moral responsibility for accepting a method that leads to perpetual ignorance – the acceptance that all our theories will always be incomplete.

Some of us hope that one day science will discover the theory of everything but that outcome looks impossible on philosophical grounds because our idea of what reality is and how it can be known rules out having complete knowledge as a principle. Without final goal in sight scientists aren’t in any hurry and they don’t realize that staying in ignorance is already punishable. To remedy this situation ignorance should be considered a crime.

The book then offers other arguments in support – people who repent and acknowledge their crime have their punishment shortened while those who still don’t realize their responsibility stay the full term. Modern legal systems contradict themselves here by seeking heavier punishment to those who are aware of their crimes before sentencing but then reducing sentences afterwards for gaining exact same knowledge. I guess they could say that repentance is not the same as awareness but we are talking about full knowledge, not just awareness. Complete knowledge should include not only awareness of the act itself but also of its effects and consequences for everyone involved. Stabbing with a knife leads not only to a loss of blood and victim’s death but also to a loss of a father, a husband etc. etc.

Karma should not be reduced to a mere punishment either – it isn’t a moral judgement on the part of God but an impartial measurement between person’s status and status of full knowledge. Karma is indifferent whether path to knowledge lies through hell or heaven. It’s us who value these paths differently, not karma. The author talks about karma as a gap between the reality and our perception of it. This gap is never infinite and, therefore, there cannot be eternal damnation. I don’t know where Christians got that idea either.

The law of karma is that this gap becomes new experiences in which our ignorance will be reduced. If we learn about God then we reduce this gap faster that if we learn some mundane lessons and so we “suffer” less. It’s like a school, the author says – people can learn faster or slower but upon graduation they all attain the same level of knowledge and “graduate” from material experiences. If we are too slow we have to repeat our classes and this repetition can be called transmigration of souls. That last step is a metaphor only, of course.

This completes the chapter on the theory of karma.

Vanity thought #1766. VC – illusion, effects, consequences, and karma

Link: “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”.

It’s possible that today I’ll cover more than one chapter for a change. Or it might not happen because the following two chapters reveal surprising ideas that I’ve never seen before even considering all we’ve heard about karma in Kṛṣṇa Consciousness, and yet they make total sense from the position of Sāṅkhya.

We, despite our long exposure to the philosophy, treat the law of karma as that of cause and effect. The author, however, also brings in consequences, which are a different category.

First, our illusion rises from interaction between our ideas and the world. It’s not quite the same as mind-body dualism of western thought because in Sāṅkhya our bodies are also ideas. That perception of dualism leads to many confusing things in modern worldviews but is automatically resolved in Sāṅkhya. Illusion is also far more than a philosophical consideration – it’s a moral one, too. Philosophical speculations are largely harmless in themselves but illusion as a product of choice of some axioms over others must lead to real life consequences. It’s here that consequences are separated from effects.

Effect of acting on selected set of axioms (meaning morals) is illusion. A consequence is a creation of a new event that might correct the illusion by making us to reconsider our choice of morals. Cause-effect relationships terminates after the interaction. Consequence creates a new event in the future, meaning another cause-effect interaction. The author uses an example of mixing sugar and water. After you’ve done mixing it’s over, the effect of having sweet water is there and the interaction is terminated. However, the consequence of this interaction is yet to manifest – will you drink it or will you give it to someone else? By simply observing the cause and effect we are unable to predict the next event, for that we need consequences. Science deals only with causes and effects and therefore can’t predict next events. Of course, science is known for it’s ability to predict but I suppose the author means here the most fundamental level of it – quantum behavior, which is just as famously unpredictable.

To incorporate consequences into science we must also include the observer, the conscious choice, and moral responsibility for these choices. I’ve never seen favorable reactions to the suggestion of introducing morality into science. Perhaps, we need a better word that doesn’t evoke images of an angry God casting everyone to hell.

In Sāṅkhya these consequences are called karma. That’s the word we know, but we never thought of it as being anything other than effects. It makes sense and describes the same thing so the word itself is not important. It would be nice to know Sāṅkhya’s term for effects, though. Not offered here.

The author then presents karma in a somewhat different way. All choices create consequences if they are based on incomplete knowledge of reality. This means that if there are four moral principles but we choose to act only on one, unaware of three others, then that would be incomplete knowledge and it would create karma. To know all moral principles is the same as to know Kṛṣṇa, and so only one who acts in complete knowledge of the Lord is free from karmic reactions. This conclusion is not different from what we already know but it’s expressed from a different perspective. Acting on the orders of the Lord means that our actions are based on Lord’s complete knowledge and so they don’t create karma either – also fits. Go Sāṅkhya.

There’s a tiny little thing called a nuance here, though. In modern view crime done in full knowledge of it is considered as more severe while in Sāṅkhya it’s the opposite – the more you know the less guilty you are! How so? When we look at the world and we discuss justice we go by the same modern understanding of it – ignorance is generally an excuse. “Forgive them, Lord, for they don’t know what they are doing” – the quote the author brings in as well. Lack of knowledge and intent can reduce murder to manslaughter, for example. How could it be different from the Vedic perspective?

Very simple, actually. Karma is meant to correct our misunderstandings about nature and one who already knows the law needs a shorter lesson.

A devotee already possesses the ultimate knowledge of the Absolute Truth and so his misdeeds must be overlooked – according to api cet su-durācāro verse from Gītā (BG 9.30). It’s often the tough one to accept in real life but it’s there and it has been there all along. Sāṅkhya now explains why it is true whether Kṣṇa said it or not. In the commentary Śrīla Prabhupāda gives another quote from Nṛsiṁha Purāṇa, and in the book the author quotes Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (SB 5.26.3):

    If one acts in the mode of ignorance because of madness, his resulting misery is the least severe. One who acts impiously but knows the distinction between pious and impious activities is placed in a hell of intermediate severity. And for one who acts impiously and ignorantly because of atheism, the resultant hellish life is the worst.

I must say that this is only a part of translation and it doesn’t follow word-for-word strictly. There appear only two cases of acting in ignorance in Sanskrit but in the translation there are three, and it appears that one who acts in ignorance is punished less than one who acts in lust, meaning despite knowledge. However, this is how Prabhupāda chose to translate this verse and I’m not going to argue against his translation. There’s not purport there to help either. Perhaps it’s a good reason to contact and ask them for clarification. If the request is reasonable they’ll contact Sanskrit editors and some explanation will be offered. For the Fifth Canto they must have both tapes and transcriptions, and editorial notes, too. The author quotes a selected part of this verse and he surely must have noticed if there was some inconsistency with Sanskrit but he doesn’t say anything.

Even if we go with Prabhupāda’s translation the gradation of punishment is not clear. We have those acting due to madness, those knowing the difference between right and wrong, and atheists. Madness is punished less but knowledge of piety is punished more severely – shouldn’t it be the opposite? It would make sense if madness was a temporary condition like in api cet su-durācāro. And then we have atheism, which means no knowledge of God, which is less knowledge than that of pious people, and it’s punished by worst hell possible. Modern atheism, however, is different because these people often know common piety better than believers and so have more knowledge, they might even know more about God than believers. Believers, however know God, not “about” God. In short, application of this verse to modern society is tricky.

Anyway, we have Gītā support for this idea so in itself it’s not in question. The chapter then proceeds arguing for this point – committing sins in knowledge is better than committing them in ignorance, and we’ll discuss this tomorrow.