On moons, planets, and orbits

BG 15.13 begins with:

gām āviśya ca bhūtāni
dhārayāmy aham ojasā

gām — the planets; āviśya — entering; ca — also; bhūtāni — the living entities; dhārayāmi — sustain; aham — I; ojasā — by My energy;

Let’s try to parse the meaning from word-for-word. We have “planets” and “living beings” and we have “enter” and “sustain” as verbs. The meaning is obvious, but let’s look at Srila Prabhupada’s translation:

“I enter into each planet, and by My energy they stay in orbit.”

Where did the “orbits” come from and where did “living being” go? Save for minor details, this translation is the same as in 1968 and 1972 editions, but is different from the available manuscript, where it goes:

“I enter into each planet’s moon, and by My energy these stay in orbit.”

There should be no surprise that “each planet’s moon” was edited out of published editions, but we want to know the meaning of the verse and the flow of Srila Prabhupada’s thought. Where did “orbits” come from?

planetary orbits

Thankfully, the purport provides an explanation, but before copy pasting it here I want to explain how it makes sense to me before you read and form your own s̶t̶u̶p̶i̶d̶ ideas. This was meant to be a joke, so lighten up a little.

The purport makes it easy to interpret as talking about modern model of the universe and the solar system, but it could be easily talking about Vedic universe, too (Bhagavatam/Puranic model). The thrust of the argument is the same – the Lord supports various planets preventing them from falling down. In the modern view this means planets have to constantly move to escape gravity, and this movement creates orbits, and therefore “sustain” means “keep in orbit”.

Orbits are described in Bhagavatam, too, so it holds. Bhagavatam doesn’t have gravity, however, and this should be the natural next question – why would things fall down without introducing gravity? How can we claim to explain the universe and not mention gravity? Nobody would take us seriously.

In the purport Srila Prabhupada talks about dust – if you hold in your hand it stays, but if you through it in the air it falls down. Gravity? Not necessarily so. Things don’t just fall down but they disappear, decompose, and dissolve. “Decompose” is also mentioned in the purport but in a different context. When dust falls to the ground it becomes invisible and unless we are talking about floors it merges into the earth. Gravity might make someone fall down to his death but it’s only one stage of the process – without sustaining force the body itself would gradually decompose, loose its shape, and eventually merge into the earth. With planets it’s even more obvious – if they fall into the Sun the cease to exist.

The point is – “sustain” means not only to hold in place but also hold shape and generally make the thing “exist”, keep it manifested and prevent it from going into unmanifest state again. Let’s not forget that all the beings come from earth, and all the planets came from their suns, too. Originally, everything was unmanifested but by the force of living energy everything becomes manifested. This is where “living entities” in the verse went – “bhu” in “bhutani” means “manifested” into what we call empirical reality and it’s Lord’s sustaining power that does that. This is explains “moons” in the manuscript, too – moons are manifested from their parent planets just as planets manifest from suns or people and plants manifest from planets. In Vedic universe they are all alive and, relative to their parents, they all become “bhutani”.

This power to manifest things from unmanifested state comes from the Lord and this is what the verse states.

At this point one could say but what about us? Don’t we contribute to this, too? There is a verse that says universe is sustained by the living entities (yayedaṁ dhāryate jagat – same dhara as in dharayami here). There is no explanation given in this verse but I would argue that the universe moves by Lord’s power and we take shelter of the manifested creations within it. We do not create our bodies (stars, planets, and moons are also someone’s bodies), they are brought forward by the Lord, by what we otherwise call “force of nature”. We like the experience of being in these bodies and we contribute a little, but without Lord’s sustaining power we can’t hold it on our own. When the Lord says “that’s enough, time to wind this all down” we have no choice but to comply.

Other commentaries explain this verse in the same way but without references to “moons” and “orbits”. Visvanatha Cakravarti’s:

    “Entering the earth (gam) by my own sakti (ojasa), and being situated there, I maintain the moving and non-moving entities (bhutani).”

Baladeva Vidyabhusana’s:

    “Entering the earth, which is just a lump of dust, I make it firm and thus support all moving and non-moving things by My sakti. The sacred text says yena dyaur ugra prithivi ca dridha: It is He by whom the heavens and powerful earth are made firm. (Rig Veda This indicates that, if not for His power, the earth would perish, dissolving like a fistful of sand.”

Other commentaries go along the same lines. It should be noted that they all translate “gam” as “the Earth” but Srila Prabhupada included all the planets and mentioned their moons, too. Perhaps from the “go” root in “gam” – they all have to move to live, creating “orbits” in modern science. They do other things as well and so become “chandra” or “soma” mentioned in the second half of the verse, but as far as sustenance goes – they have to move and they all have to be “gam”.

Second part of the verse talks about the step in manifesting “bhutani” – soma, the Moon, nourishes plants that appear from the Earth, and imbues them with succulent taste, which makes them into “vegetables”, and this nourishment comes from the Lord, too.

Prabhupada’s purport:

    It is understood that all the planets are floating in the air only by the energy of the Lord. The Lord enters into every atom, every planet and every living being. That is discussed in the Brahma-saṁhitā. It is said there that one plenary portion of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Paramātmā, enters into the planets, the universe, the living entity, and even into the atom. So due to His entrance, everything is appropriately manifested. When the spirit soul is there, a living man can float on the water, but when the living spark is out of the body and the body is dead, the body sinks. Of course when it is decomposed it floats just like straw and other things, but as soon as the man is dead, he at once sinks in the water. Similarly, all these planets are floating in space, and this is due to the entrance of the supreme energy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. His energy is sustaining each planet, just like a handful of dust. If someone holds a handful of dust, there is no possibility of the dust’s falling, but if one throws it in the air it will fall down. Similarly, these planets, which are floating in the air, are actually held in the fist of the universal form of the Supreme Lord. By His strength and energy, all moving and nonmoving things stay in their place. It is said in the Vedic hymns that because of the Supreme Personality of Godhead the sun is shining and the planets are steadily moving. Were it not for Him, all the planets would scatter, like dust in air, and perish. Similarly, it is due to the Supreme Personality of Godhead that the moon nourishes all vegetables. Due to the moon’s influence, the vegetables become delicious. Without the moonshine, the vegetables can neither grow nor taste succulent. Human society is working, living comfortably and enjoying food due to the supply from the Supreme Lord. Otherwise, mankind could not survive. The word rasātmakaḥ is very significant. Everything becomes palatable by the agency of the Supreme Lord through the influence of the moon.

Vanity thought #698. So Krishna is found, but where are we?

It looks like Krishna never leaves the spiritual Vrindavana and His pastimes are continuously visible in a material world through something like a window. Under the force of time universes pass by that window for the period of 125 years and after than they move on to watch something else and then come by again in the next day of Brahma.

So, Krishna is there are we are on this sort of carousel and we get to see Him on each turn, right? Wrong.

This model describes Krishna’s visibility by material senses but we are not matter. What our senses are able to perceive might have nothing to do with our actual location whatsoever. I’m not sure we can even use the word “location” in this sense because for us it means being in a three dimensional space of our material vision with X, Y, a Z coordinates that spiritually might not make any sense.

This, accidentally, explains why our vision of the universe is nothing like Bhagavatam vision of it – with all the dvipas and planetary systems and Mount Meru and what not. This is the reality and Bhagavatam also explains how it came about, how the universes are created and populated and how they eventually withdraw back into Maha Vishnu’s body.

In that description we are inside these egg like universes that float on the surface of the Casual ocean, nothing about windows or carousels there. On the other side of this ocean there’s Viraja river and beyond that there’s spiritual world. How’s the ocean is bordered by a river is unimaginable with our understanding of what an ocean is, and for our understanding we also need to know what’s on the side of the ocean opposite of Viraja and also how deep this ocean is, and whether there are any Ice Age like creatures living in it (there is a movie in the Ice Age series with scary underwater monsters).

Obviously, our understanding, our model of an ocean is inapplicable here. And, I suspect, the same goes for the rest of our perception of the world. It’s illusory, pretty much like a movie on a screen. It makes sense and shows familiar views and vistas when you watch it but if you are not a spectator than it’s just a sheet of white cotton hanging out there and it doesn’t carry any resemblance to the actual world nor to the world shown on it for the viewing public.

Good news is that the illusion is all we can see by Krishna’s design and the lack of this knowledge is not an impediment on our way back home, back to Godhead.

So, instead of trying to imagine what the universe really looks like we should concentrate on how to make the best of what we’ve been shown here.

125 years of Krishna’s pastimes is not all, after we have passed that window Krishna’s pastimes are still available here but not for our eyes, they are available for our ears in the form of Srimad Bhagavatam. After showing us the pastimes of Lord Chaitanya we also get to see and hear the sound of sankirtana, which in the past forty years has been louder than ever.

For our material eyes these images and sounds are not as good as seeing Krishna Himself but spiritually there’s no difference. Let’s not forget that we must awaken our spiritual perception of Krishna, not material. If we are still longing to see Krishna with our own eyes and touch His feet with our own hands we are being too fussy and, possibly, sahajiic, if that was the word.

While everyone can appreciate immediate benefits of seeing Krishna face to face let’s not forget that any such vision is only temporary and it serves only our interests, not Krishna’s. If we really want to become His servants we should learn to serve Him on the spiritual platform. Whatever we claim we are cooking for Him now is going to be so much more enjoyable and pure if we cooked it with our spiritual senses, and there’d be no chance of us secretly lusting after Krishna’s food, too.

Perhaps it’s time to stop watching the window, hoping that Krishna would enter the frame again, and concentrate on our spiritual progress instead.

One big step would be disassociating ourselves from our bodily consciousness that puts us under the influence of time and hides Krishna’s pastimes from our vision.

Let’s learn to see our bodies as something totally external and as something that belongs to Krishna and His material energy, not to us. Let’s get off this ride and let our mind and intelligence follow our bodies and appear to “act normally” while we concentrate on our unbreakable spiritual connection to the Lord.

Vanity thought #218. More debates.

Not long ago I complained I don’t get enough meaningful input during the day to reflect upon in this blog. Today I have too much and I wish someone would turn it off.

Most of the day I spent thinking about things instead of chanting but there were long periods when I prayed for the Holy Name to replace all the ideas rushing through my mind. Why doesn’t the Holy Name become meaningful for me? Why doesn’t it occupy my mind and attract all my senses? More on the senses to follow.

For the past three days I was following a religious debate on the pages of my local newspaper, today it came to an end, I hope. There was no resolution, just one of the parties decided that no debate is worth fighting about. When the arguments degrade to the level of name calling and personal offenses there’s no point trying to prove anything anymore.

Both sides belong to the defenders of religion group and so in the eyes of the neutral public misbehavior by one party cast a shadow on both and on religion in general as well. It is better stop it until it turned really ugly.

So I got a little breather in this regard but picked up two other issues almost simultaneously.

The first was about Prabhupada and astronomy, the Sun, the Moon, the stars, the universe, the good old Moon landing, and the authority of Prabhupada and his infallibility as a jagat-guru, the spiritual master of the whole universe.

Everyone can understand and sympathize with people who can’t get their heads around Prabhupada’s insistence that NASA didn’t go to the Moon, it makes us look ridiculous in the eyes of the world. We can’t tell people with a straight face that the Sun is closer to the Earth than the Moon, too. Or how about “each universe has only one Sun” statements?

In fact the entire Srimad Bhagavatam cosmography is a source of endless confusion and embarrassment. Lots of devotees just avoid the subject to save themselves from troubles. The fact that our ISKCON scientists are still unable to reconcile two models of the universe doesn’t help either. The fact that their explanations, however cheerful, do not make any sense only adds to the problem.

They do not make any sense in a sense that they can’t easily show how the universe looks like anything that is described in Bhagavatam. Most people expect an easy solution – a hanging model, perhaps, you stand in one place and the universe looks like what we’ve been taught at school, you stand in another place and the universe has one Sun that is closer to the Earth than the Moon and there’s Mount Sumeru and all that.

I don’t know what they are going to put in the Temple of Vedic Planetarium, they still have time to work it out. That temple is going to be so massive, so much bigger than the current temple housing Sri Sri Radha Madhava, and it’s main purpose is to prove that Bhagavatam cosmology is not mythology. It would be a major disappointment if it fails in that task.

On the other hand, if it pulls it off, we are all good and clear to rule the world.

In the meantime I’m going to stick “the world is not what it seems” excuse for a little longer. It can’t be completely wrong – the world IS an illusion, at least in the sense that it appears to be godless and disconnected from Krishna.

This is how my argument goes – the world is designed to mislead us in so many ways that we can’t really talk about it being objective. Nothing here is what it seems, we might be lulled in the false sense of security one moment only to face death the next. We might look at the same thing and have totally different impressions about it. Just talk to football supporters of opposing teams about penalties, yellow cards and offsides – they will never agree on what has happened on the field, even with multiple replays in slow motion they would still insist on diametrically opposite interpretations.

Another phenomenon, discovered a hundred years ago but not kept on the down low in popular science discussion, is that in this world the mere act of observing the object changes its condition. It was one of the very first findings in quantum mechanics – it is impossible to find precise condition of the system, the more you measure it the more it changes. You can’t find the position of an electron without sending it in another direction. You can’t capture it, weigh its mass, and send it on its former way, it will become lighter just due to the fact that you tried to weigh it. That’s the principle, it might become heavier instead, who cares.

In that regard there was an unfinished joke in the latest Louie episode. He knew the gist of the joke already but didn’t know how to present it properly. It goes something like this – jungle animals are talking about humans, they all kind of agree that humans have two legs and two arms but no one could agree with the lion who insisted that humans have faces permanently fixed in horror, and they are always shitting their pants.

This is another example how the mere fact of observation has a profound effect on the object to the point that other observers do not recognize it anymore.

This is what could be happening with our universe, too. Bhagavatam describes the universe how people like Narada Muni see and experience it, we describe it how we see it in our telescopes. Needless to say that Narada Muni has a completely different body, travels according to completely different principles, and he doesn’t make stuff up.

We, on the other hand, use tools that are merely extension of our imperfect senses. We figured out ultrasound and infrared but it’s still only about adjusting the dials on the duplicate of our imperfect hearing and sight. We have no idea if the sense could work under completely different principles and perceive objects in a completely different way.

Thus, when Narada Muni sees Chandra, the Lord of the Moon, he can come to his house, have sumptuous dinner, have a big singing and dancing party and we would be seeing only dead rocks and dust. Perhaps all the partying and wine and cheese tasting is happening in other dimensions, just like a flat, two dimensional coaster on the table has no clue to the contents of the glass standing on it. As a perfect two-dimensional object it wouldn’t even know the concepts of “on top” and “inside”.

So, scientists see what they see, they are not wrong, the Moon simply shows itself to them as it should appear to imperfect scientists, but we acquire our knowledge from people who see so much more in so many ways and we don’t have reasons to mistrust our sources, and I leave it at that. I leave it to our scientist to figure out the exact explanations, dimensions or any other reasons.

As far as Prabhupada is concerned – he didn’t invent anything, he only repeated what is in the shastras. We can’t say he was wrong on this or that subject – he wasn’t, we should direct our accusations to the shastras instead. Even if the Moon landing wasn’t denounced in Srimad Bhagavatam Prabupada judged it by the criteria given there, it wasn’t his decision to make. Bhagavatam says there are demigods on the Moon and so astronauts must have been somewhere else. At least they weren’t on the Moon from our books, they might have been on the Moon of their own visions.

The third problem would have to wait, it’s getting late already, I hope it won’t be eclipsed by yet more stuff cramming into my head tomorrow.

I’m going to go to bed thinking about how Prabhupada had absolutely no concern for the teachings of modern science. I have my doubts now and then but he didn’t have any, he had full and absolute faith in shastras and Krishna.