A Friendly Conversation

PPratik Akshayraj is a young medical student, currently in his second year at the prestigious Kamani Institute. One day while on Orkut*, he find an old friend Vinay Buddhi (VB). Vinay Buddi is pursuing his MBA from the Indian Institute of Management Studies. As they exchange e-mails and then start chatting online they both find out their common interest – philosophy and popular science. This is a continuation of their conversation that appeared in the September 2009 issue.

PA – Nice to meet you, Vinay. How are you?

VB – Thank you Pratik. I am fine.

PA – Shall we continue our discussion?

VB – Yes.

PA – The other day I was having a discussion with a friend and what he said was most astonishing. He said that according to some Vedic scholars, the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu correspond to the way in which the species evolved. This was even used by some as evidence of the great progress made by the Indian sages in the past. Do you agree with this statement? Or, do you have to say anything on this.

VB – The Vedas do assert that the living entity has to pass through millions of species of life. This passage happens by gradual evolution. By that I mean, the living being changes one form of body for another and in this way he ‘evolves’.

Let me tell you about a historic discussion between a great Vaishnava scholar and an American professor.

In 1929 Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, who was a great Vaishnava acharya and the spiritual master of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, had a series of meetings with Professor Albert E. Suthers of Ohio State University and spoke to him on evolution. Srila Sarasvati Thakura explained to the Professor that the real evolution of a person is in the growth of his serving mood to the Lord. The ten popular incarnations of Vishnu can be analyzed as the historical stages of the living being’s serving mood.

Thus it is Lord Vishnu who appears to attract souls to His worship by appearing in all the various stages. Life is visible in different stages from the invertebrates to the fully grown human beings. These can be broadly put into ten categories:

(1) The invertebrate,

(2) Testaceous or shelly,

(3) Vertebrate,

(4) Erectly vertebrate (as in the combined form of man and beast), (5) Manikin (dwarf),

(6) Barbaric,

(7) Civilized,

(8) Wise,

(9) Ultra-wise,

(10) Destructive.

A Friendly Conversation

These are the historical stages of living beings. According to the gradation of these stages as indications of evolution of the serving mood of the living being, there are manifested the ten Incarnations of God, viz. Matsya (fish), Kurma (turtle), Varaha (boar), Narsimha (man-lion), Vamana (dwarf), Parashurama, Rama, Krishna, Buddha and Kalki.

PA – I am just amazed at the similarity of these stages with the physical appearance of species in this world.

VB – The professor was flabbergasted to hear this, to say the least.

But what Srila Sarasvati Thakur said next was even more important. I have saved that quote somewhere on my computer. Let me check…Yes, here it is:

The essential principle of Vaishnavism is that, how-so-ever great a scholar and intellectual giant a man may be, he will not be able to appreciate even the easiest points of the Vaishnava philosophy, until and unless he has entirely surrendered himself to an Acharya whose character is the embodiment of the Vaishnava philosophy. You must have heard about the Indian scripture named Gita, which has been translated into different languages of the civilized world. There is a shloka in it [4.34] which says that the Vaishnava philosophy is understandable only with unconditional surrender, honest enquiry, and serving temper. It is only to such an approach with these three as the preceptorial fee that the professors of Vaishnava philosophy give instructions about the correct philosophical truths. These professors are never to be tempted by any type of worldly fees.

Can I ask you something?

PA – Sure.

VB – Do you approve of the rise in militant atheism as propounded by Darwinian scientists in the West today? Just visit any discussion forum and very soon the whole topic degenerates into name calling, swearing, and use of horrible expletives.

PA – I understand what you say. I really disapprove of such means and methods of trying to prove your point.

VB – Another notable feature of the way of popularizing individual angles on the theory of evolution is to call oneself either a scientist or philosopher as it suits the purpose. One claims to be anti-Darwin but has an agenda of pushing his own religion as the only way to understand God, while another claims to be pro-Darwin but is more interested in demolishing the idea of God in a popular religion.

How can there be debates or even intelligent discussion when the common man finds every one of those jumping on the Darwin-bandwagon to be some sort of entrepreneur on a get-rich-quick scheme. Biology and archaeology professors are becoming philosophers while religious fanatics are spawning scientific discoveries from their own religious books. Sometimes I feel that the masses are enjoying the whole show as some kind of boxing match. Although, it is accepted that the crowd cheer one boxer and boo-boo his opponent, there are many who just want one of them to be clobbered.

PA – Vinay, if somehow you were forced to accept that Darwin was right, then what dangers will fall on mankind.

VB – Ha ha! I feel that this kind of science reduces everything to physics and chemistry and ultimately to atoms and molecules. Atoms may describe life but they are not life in themselves.

Nobel Prize-winning scientist Albert Szent-gyorgi wrote, “In my search for the secret of life, I ended up with atoms and electrons, which have no life at all. Somewhere along the line, life has run out through my fingers.

Now it is my turn to ask you the same question:

“What do you feel is the danger in accepting the idea of creation from religious scriptures?”

PA -Which scripture should I accept as bona fide? There are simply too many of them and more than that they have been used to abuse power. As someone said, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I shudder as someone shouts at me from his high religious seat that the universe is only six thousand years old. I am angry to read that someone pursuing science is burnt at the stake for rocking the boat.

I feel that science bears the brunt of doing all the hard work and religion just wants to eat the cake and walk away.

As there are so many different religious dogmas they will all eventually disagree with each other and hurl the world into chaos.

A Friendly Conversation

VB – Here I agree with you.

We need to accept the process of creation not on the basis of some dogma but understanding the motivation behind that theory.

Do you agree that scientific research in its purest form is meant for the search of truth, understanding truth, and then disseminating it?

PA – Oh wholeheartedly !

VB– Good. Then one thing is clear we need to learn only from those teachers who do not have any selfish motive in propagation of their teachings.

PA – Yes that is why I respect scientists who pursued the path of knowledge.

VB – Similarly I hold in highest respect great spiritualists, both contemporary and ancient who pursued the path of spiritual knowledge. Once I know that my life is safe in their hands I also firmly believe what created my life in the first place.

(Syamananda Dasa)