(Dandavats.com) – By Sadaputa Dasa
The following exchange took place at the Second Annual Conference of the ISKCON Academy of Arts and Sciences, held in New Vrindavan, WV, December 2007. Organized by Drutakarma Prabhu (Michael Cremo), Janakirama Prabhu (Jonathan Edelmann), and others, prominent ISKCON scholars such as Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu (William Deadwyler), Garuda Prabhu (Graham Schweig), Hridayananda Maharaja (Howard Resnick), and Sadaputa Prabhu (Richard Thompson), were featured speakers opening the conference.
This exchange between Janakirama, who moderated the panel, and Sadaputa, one of the founding members of the Bhaktivedanta Institute (BI), took place during a discussion following the session speakers completing their presentations. It offers relevant insight for considering outreach exchanges, particularly while examining examples from the Srimad Bhagavatam that appear exotic to a modern appreciation of the natural world.
Janakirama Dasa: Can I ask a question of Sadaputa? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself now, [will] talk about it in my talk, but I just wanted your feedback on it. You’ve spent a lot of time trying to look at the Bhagavatam in a scientific way and to show how it has scientific relevance, but what’s the point of doing that, why bother doing that? Why do you do that?
Sadaputa Dasa: Why do I do that?
Jrd: Yeah, that’s my question.
Spd: Ultimately it has to do with facilitating people’s faith, because for some reason the Bhagavatam was written with reference to things that impinge on science. This was on that one slide that I had there – scientific statements that would have an impact upon a scientific view of the world. So because those statements are there, you have to deal with them. For example, I mentioned the point that the Vedic literature tends to go against the theory of evolution, as it’s generally understood by scientists. So okay, here you are, you’re trained up believing in evolution from an early age; I mean for me it started with the world we live in, with the pictures of the dinosaurs and so forth. I think I first got that when I was about seven.
Comment: Oh dear [laughter] …
Spd: So it’s an early indoctrination [laughter]. But anyway, just to continue on this example, you come into contact with Krishna consciousness with a thoroughgoing belief in evolution. I remember being in harinam parties in Manhattan, we were there with mridangas and everything, and I was thinking, “What about the dinosaurs?” [laughter]
Spd: So ultimately there needs to be an answer to these questions that satisfies people. And there’s the basic consideration that if the text is saying things that are wacko as far as science is concerned, then how can you put faith in the transcendental statements, which are beyond your present levels of realization? Because many of us do not have any direct realization of these higher levels of bhakti. If we did, we could probably say, you know, to heck with science and all those different issues, simply sit under a tree like the Goswamis, and drink the nectar of Krishna consciousness, and influence people through our purity and effulgence and so forth.
But, there are problems with faith. I remember when the Fifth Canto first came out – I was in Atlanta at the time – and I was taking a walk through the nearby golf course, it’s up over the hill there …
Spd: … and looking at the trees. I knew from the Fifth Canto, there’s a description of trees that are as large as the diameter of the earth. And I was looking at the trees there on the golf course, thinking, “Well, these trees aren’t that big, there’s nothing I can do to force that. So how am I going to understand this?”
So ultimately you need to have some understanding. So I think that would be the basic motivation, why science is important.