Srimad Bhagavatam and Science, according to Rasaraja Prabhu

Rasaraja Prabhu is a long running director of Bhaktivedanta Institute in Mumbai and recently I’ve listened to a couple of his presentations on the topic of Bhagavatam, science, and philosophy. Since they are repetitive I think I got the gist of how it goes. It’s not pretty, I’m afraid, but I want to record it somewhere for posterity, so here it goes.

He starts by saying that he worked on this for forty years and the knowledge he developed is actually not his by Lord Caitanya’s. That’s a radically different “mangalacarana”, where devotees usually declare their personal incompetence and beg for mercy in order to complete their work. Anyway, since it’s Lord Caitanya’s knowledge we are lucky to receive it, right? Nope. Rasaraja Prabhu says that the world is nor ready for it and so even if he tries to explain it, we won’t understand, but when time comes we’ll understand everything without explanations. Why would we even need Rasaraja Prabhu then? Anyway, he obtained it, we don’t have it, and he won’t tell us what it is – because it’s Lord Caitanya’s. That’s the first time I see this kind of mercy from Mahaprabhu. He might be right, for all I know, but it definitely sounds as fishy as snake oil, pardon my mixed metaphors. I guess he means it like when the world had to wait for ISKCON to manifest itself, which makes sense. Did Srila Prabhupada go around telling people they are not ready and so he won’t tell them of Lord Caitanya’s message though?

Next he engages the audience and asks for simple definitions of Krishna Conscious philosophy. “We are souls, Krishna is God, He is the cause of all causes” – that type of thing. Then he smashes them all by declaring that they are not philosophical but theological statements. Things we believe – not philosophy. Then he spends time explaining the difference and citing examples, which brings us to actual definition of philosophy and science, which he took from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the gold standard of philosophical repositories on the internet. This is a good time to tell the audience that he is mentioned on that site as well, that he has a standing there, he is an entity, and so what he says about it is good, solid knowledge and we can trust him. Humility, anyone? Not in this Bhagavatam class.

He quotes definition of science that goes roughly like this: “Observations of patterns in empirical reality and explaining them through the language of mathematics”. From here follows predictive power and technology. Cool, but why do we have to comply with patterns observed in empirical reality? Why do we have to compete with that? What concern is it to us? Why do we have to follow science on this? Anticipating this question he goes on to describe glories of modern science as was taught to us by Srila Prabhupada. What? Didn’t Srila Prabhupada routinely used words like “rascals” when talking about scientists? Sure, but here comes more audience shaming – that language was actually addressed to us, not to scientists.

There’s an example given – a thief is seen walking out of the house. You ask him: “What you were doing there?” He answers “I left my shoes inside”, and you let it go. When policemen interviews you he blames you for being an idiot and believing this explanation, and that’s how we should see Prabhupada’s strong words about science, too – he was blaming us for believing them. It was us who were being stupid.

I don’t know about this. Maybe it happened here and there, but it’s certainly not a definitive presentation of Srila Prabhupada’s views on science. Then we hear more about scientists’ superior knowledge and qualities. They don’t believe in their own theories, for example. They know that they are only provisional and will be replaced by something else. Okay, sounds good in theory, but in practice they are VERY defensive about their turf and they would rather die then change their minds about something. No one likes realizing he has been wrong and wasted decades of his life on a wrong theory, scientists are no exception. I’m afraid Rasaraja Prabhu might not be an exception either.

Anyway, glorification of science culminates in a quote from Srila Prabhupada that they actually attain realization of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Pretty tall claim, totally inconsistent with everything else said in Bhagavatam about the value of bhakti, but it is made and is supported by a quote. Here’s the full paragraph, though – let’s see if you can come to the same conclusion (CC Adi 6.14-15):

“Since materialistic philosophers and scientists are too much engaged with their imperfect senses, naturally they conclude that the living force is a product of a material combination. But the actual fact is just the opposite. Matter is a product of spirit. According to the Bhagavad-gītā, the supreme spirit, the Personality of Godhead, is the source of all energies. When one advances in research work by studying a limited substance within the limits of space and time one is amazed by the various wonderful cosmic manifestations, and naturally one goes on hypnotically accepting the path of research work or the inductive method. Through the deductive way of understanding, however, one accepts the Supreme Absolute Person, the Personality of Godhead, as the cause of all causes, who is full with diverse energies and who is neither impersonal nor void. The impersonal manifestation of the Supreme Person is another display of His energy. Therefore the conclusion that matter is the original cause of creation is completely different from the real truth. The material manifestation is caused by the glance of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is inconceivably potent. Material nature is electrified by the supreme authority, and the conditioned soul, within the limits of time and space, is trapped by awe of the material manifestation. In other words, the Supreme Personality of Godhead is actually realized in the vision of a material philosopher and scientist through the manifestations of His material energy. For one who does not understand the power of the Supreme Personality of Godhead or His diverse energies because of not knowing the relationship between the source of the energies and the energies themselves, there is always a chance of error, which is known as vivarta. As long as materialistic scientists and philosophers do not come to the right conclusion, certainly they will hover above the material field, bereft of proper understanding of the Absolute Truth.”

Quoted sentence is: “the Supreme Personality of Godhead is actually realized in the vision of a material philosopher and scientist through the manifestations of His material energy”. I don’t think it means what it looks like outside the context, though.

Other questionable claim is that we cannot know philosophy of Bhagavatam unless we know philosophy of the outside world. This is supported by various “vidya avidya ca” quotes from shastra, but, once again, it doesn’t usually mean we have to go and get degrees in philosophy or mathematics in order to understand Srimad Bhagavatam. To be fair, Rasaraja Prabhu also warns us from understanding it that way – instead of going to universities we should learn science from him, where else? He’s the sole guardian for now.

There’s more shaming throughout the class, more suspicious quotes, all demonstrating that we don’t know anything, including what we think we know, but he is the one who has figured it out. One demonstration is “cause of all causes” definition. “What does ’cause’ mean?” The audience replies “Reason”, but that is simply replacing one word with another. Fair enough. Then he goes into logical explanations of “if A then B” and possible variations of it. Then says that there are forty different kinds of causes listed on Stanford’s site. “Why are you wet?” – “It’s raining” – “Why is your friend not wet?” – “Because he has a raincoat” – “Why do you not have a raincoat?” – “I forgot”. So the cause of being wet is forgetfulness. Very enlightening. The audience is shamed enough that no one dares to say “cause of all causes” means all these permutations are covered. There are also various causes listed in our literature, with Sanskrit terms and translations into words like “efficient” and “material”. We are not complete fools about it, we just need to brush up on definitions.

The presentation is subtitled “Green Glass” and it’s another major thread that goes all throughout. It refers to a blind person getting green glass to finally start seeing the world. His vision is somewhat restored, but the world is not actually green and he needs to update his power of sight to see it as it is. Similarly, we receive some rudimentary spiritual knowledge but it’s covered and filtered and cannot be accepted as real truth. More shaming of the audience follows. Whatever we say is dismissed as “green glass” vision, what can you answer to that? It’s like talking to a kid who repeats everything you say just for the fun of it. In a Bhagavatam class you aren’t allowed to say much anyway, just sit and listen to this titan of thought.

We get quotes from Nobel Prize laureates praising his work, we get mentions of his papers being studied at Ivy League universities, and so it goes and goes.

He sort of acknowledges that Bhagavatam itself is enough for attaining spiritual knowledge, but explains that material knowledge would still have to come first. I haven’t traced the quote yet, but Srila Prabhupada once said, allegedly, that our spiritual advancement begins with material knowledge. Okay, maybe – you need to know the language and how books work, but there are no requirements other than that. What is that mysterious thing that we are still missing?

Twice it was practically the first question from the audience. “You said that this, this, and that understanding of this quote is wrong, but could you tell us what is the right understanding?” I couldn’t believe the answer, but it was repeated twice: “For that you have to write me a check for the institute I’m establishing.” Where else do you have to pay to hear an answer in a Bhagavatam classes? As a sign of mercy he then gives a totally forgettable long winded preview of his “scientific” answer, and then launches into a promotional speech about this Institute of Semantic Meaning in Science, Technology, and Engineering or some such. Technology is mentioned because otherwise no Indian would enroll, I guess. Main problem of this Institute is that BBT does not want to sponsor it, they need “scientific preaching”, which, as we learn, is a phrase Srila Prabhupada never used, and therefore we go about it all wrong, and he got it right.

The presentation concludes with more declarations of Lord Caitanya’s will behind all this work, and how it is non-different from Mahaprabhu Himself. For now Rasaraja Prabhu is the sole guardian of this secret knowledge and all he waits for is Mahaprabhu’s blessing to spread it all over the world. Anyone who doesn’t want to wait has to pay. Period.

That is not to say that he doesn’t make any good points during his talk. He does. I, personally, liked the argument that “There’s a chair over there” and “There’s a pain in my knee” are statements from the same category according to Bhagavatam. In modern science, on the other hand, pain is subjective and chair is objective – they are categorically different. I like the argument that only Krishna exists and all others, meaning demigods in that particular case, are products of illusion with no existence of their own. The world as a hallucination is also a good point to consider. Nevertheless, I’ve never seen anyone so boastful and so indulgent in belittling others in Bhagavatam classes. He is clearly a dedicated devotee who will never leave his service to the Lord and for that he deserves utmost respect, but I would caution anyone attempting to learn either Bhagavatam or philosophy of it from such a speaker.

I wouldn’t challenge him on quantum mechanics, of course, but everything else he touched on in these presentations is highly debatable and, I think, is fairly easy to demonstrate as nonsensical. He just ambushes the audience and people do not have time to digest, check the sources, and reply. And they are being shamed for their stupidity and lack of humility all the time, too – who will dare to object under these conditions? It really feels like he is peddling snake oil there.

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