Is the Vedic tradition based on powerfully effective spiritual practices or simply legendary fables?
In November 2005, a Roorkee IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) professor and I were discussing the sophisticated science and technology of ancient India mentioned in the Vedic literatures. I used the example of the power of mantras, which Arjuna and other warriors of the Vedic era chanted to invoke weapons of immense power and precision. Hearing this, the professor unhesitatingly revolted, "You have to remember, the Mahabharata and other Purdnic stories of the Vedas are only mythology."
I was shocked to hear this educated Indian demoting the heritage of his own country as simply legendary fables. This relegation of Vedic knowledge started from the British, who expertly misrepresented the Vedic scriptures so that even now the educated class of Indians considers Vedic tradition and culture as just an antiquated backward way of life. They consider that it should be renounced for the pursuit of scientific advancement. Perhaps this is only a ramification of British indologist F. Max Muller's quest, where he asserted: "India has been conquered once, but India must be conquered again and that second conquest should be a conquest by education."
The professor expressed his cynicism of the possibility of invoking divya astras (divine weapons) by the chanting of mantras (Vedic invocations and incantations). He considered it just impossible to generate matter from mere utterances. His conception was grounded in the modern scientific view of nature. In reply to the professor's misconception, I recalled a symposium, which I attended in Lima, Peru, presented by my Guru Maharaja Hanumatpresaka Swami, the founder of the North American Institute for Oriental and Classical Studies. He presented the fundamental difference between the modern scientific viewpoint of nature and the Bhagavata (or Vedic) philosophy of nature. Modern science proposes a bottom up causality inert matter is believed to have developed into microorganisms, aquatics, flora, fauna, which further evolved into the many different species of life we see today. On the other hand, the Bhagavata Purana presents a top down causality the Supreme Lord Sri Krsna expands Himself as the purusa-avatdras, for the purpose of creating and maintaining the cosmos. These purusa-avatdras impregnate material nature, making possible the birth of all species of life. As Lord Krsna states in the Bhagavad gita,
murtayah sambhavanti yah
tasam brahma mahad yonir
aham bija-pradah pita
"It should be understood that all species of life, 0 son of Kunti, are made possible by birth in this material nature, and that I am the seedgiving father." (Bg. 14.4)
The modern scientists accept only gross matter to be real, and they claim the mind, thoughts, emotions, and feelings are all based on chemical interactions in the body. For them, life must be explained in terms of mathematical and physical relations. In contrast, the Sankhya philosophy expounded by Sri Kapiladeva in the third canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam, describes the subtle elements of mind, intelligence, and ego to be more durable, more enduring, than our gross body; for it is our mind's desires and our intelligent plans that direct the actions of our gross body. Not only do they direct our physical actions in this life, but also they carry us to our next life, as revealed in the Bhagavad gita:
sariram yad avapnoti
yac capy utkramatisvarah
vayur gandhan ivasayat
"The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas. Thus he takes one kind of body and again quits it to take another." Bg. 15.8)
According to the atheistic Sankhya philosophy, the cosmos originates from a void, nothingness . On the contrary, Sri Kapiladeva's Sankhya in the twenty-sixth chapter of the Srimad Bhagavatam's third canto, describes how the cosmos is created when , time, the external representation of the Supreme Lord, impregnates pradhilna, the unmanifest form of the material energy. Pradhilna then volves into the mahat tattva, the original undifferentiated sum total of the cosmic creation. Mahattattva first manifests ahankara, or the false ego, which allows the conditioned living entities to falsely identify themselves with matter. When this false ego is transformed by the three modes of material nature, it manifests the gross and subtle elements of nature:
1. In the mode of goodness, false ego produces manah , the mind , whose thoughts and reflections give rise to desire.
2. In the mode of passion , it produces buddhi, intelligence, which ascertains the nature of objects when they are perceived throughthe senses. Furthermore, the interaction of false ego with the mode of passion produces the knowledge acquiring and working senses (shown in the table below).
3. In the mode of ignorance, the transformation of false ego produces the objects of the senses along with the great material elements (shown in Table 1)
These five sense objects, the five great material elements, the five knowledge acquiring senses, the five working sense organs, mind, intelligence, false ego, and the aggregate comprise the twenty-four material elements. The twenty-fifth element is comprised of by the living entities, the marginal potency of the Lord. Finally, the twenty-sixth element is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the origin and cause of all the other elements. Sri Kapiladeva describes in his account of creation that sound evolves into space, which next transforms into touch and air (SB 3.26.35), from which we can understand that tactile energy (which allows us to perceive tangible bodies and visible forms} is generated by sound energy. Thus the invocation of Vedic mantra generated armaments is possible by apposite incantations, because sound energy is finer than tactile energy and it is the interaction of the sound energy with the impluse of time that allows the creation of matters. When the IIT professor heard the systemartic description of how each element is produced by the interactions of time and modes of nature, he reconception that the vedic astras and sastrs weapons are mythological, and he reconsidered the fact that Mahabharata is not a legend like the Odyssey or Iliad, but it is rather a chronollogical account of ancient India.
Aja Govinda Dasa, 20, a disciple of His Holiness Hamumatpresaka Swami, has won a Clarendon scholarship to pursue a Ph.D. in artificial intelligence at Oxford. At age 17,he was named a top ten scholar at Boise State University and one of the top four electrical engineers in the USA by Eta Kappa Nu Honor Society.