"The transcendental qualities of Shri Krishna are completely blissful and relishable. Consequently Lord Krishna's qualities attract even the minds of self-realized persons from the bliss of self-realization.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 17.139)
Question: “Don’t the moon landings and other scientific discoveries debunk Vedic science?”
Answer: The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that demigods, or elevated living entities, manage the affairs of material creation. These demigods possess extraordinary powers, and so they are given extraordinary bodies like planets, stars, etc. The Vedas tell us that each of the major planets in the universe has a presiding deity, including even the sun and the moon. Yet scientific advancements such as the moon landing and the Mars rover seem to go against the authorized statements of the Vedas. Upon landing on the moon, the astronauts did not see a presiding deity nor did they find any life. Regardless, this does not mean that the Vedas are wrong.
Vedic science tells us that the material world is governed by three gunas, or material qualities. There is a difference between matter and spirit. Spirit is the guiding force, while matter itself is dull and lifeless. Spirits souls are expansions of God, and they are thus eternal. Matter, on the other hand, is temporary. The material world was created by God to be a sort of playground for the spirit souls; a place where they could dominate matter. To take birth in the material world, a spirit soul must be placed in a body composed of matter. These bodies are made up of various combinations of the three modes of nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance. The soul transmigrates from one species to another, life after life, due to activities and desires. These two things, guna and karma, determine what type of body, or species, a spirit soul is placed into in its next life.
Human beings are one of the more advanced species due to their possessing a high level of intelligence. Animals can’t really think beyond eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. Human beings have the ability to hanker, lament, and more importantly, contemplate the meaning of life and why they are put on earth. Yet human beings aren’t the only advanced species. The Vedas tell us that there are up to 8,400,000 varieties of life forms. The demigods, or devatas, are highly advanced living entities who are given bodies possessing extraordinary powers. Human beings are all equal in a spiritual sense, but physically there are differences. Some are stronger than others, some are shorter, while some have a higher level of intelligence. In a similar manner, other species also have unique features. An eagle has amazing eyesight. It can see something which is hundreds of miles away very clearly. Dogs and other animals have unique abilities to smell and hear. Pet owners often use dog whistles which are nothing more than sound generating devices. These sounds are barely audible to human beings even though the dogs can hear them.
Since we don’t possess the eyesight of eagles, or the hearing ability of dogs, does it mean that their powers don’t exist? Most people would take this to be a faulty conclusion. Dogs can certainly hear the sounds generated by dog whistles, for they immediately stop what they are doing when these sounds are triggered. Each species has certain trademark characteristics because of the type of body they possess. For example, aquatics live in the water, while humans live on land. If we reversed the situation, both species would die. Thus we see that God gives each living entity a body commensurate with their desires and past karma.
The presiding deities of the sun, moon, earth, and other planets also have specific bodies suitable for their activities. The Vedas tell us that there are five primary material elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether. Depending on the specific planet or geographic location within a planet, one element can be found in abundance over the others. We see that the earth is mostly covered by water. In a similar manner, fire is dominant on the sun. For this reason, the sun-god, Surya, has a body composed of fire. This is something we cannot understand, for if our body were to be covered by fire, we would die instantly. The sun-god and the moon-god certainly do exist, but we do not have the eyes to see them.
“In the Third Canto of Shrimad-Bhagavatam we are informed that those who are expert in fruitive activities and sacrificial methods on earth attain to the moon at death. These elevated souls live on the moon for about 10,000 years (by demigod calculations) and enjoy life by drinking soma-rasa. They eventually return to earth. This means that on the moon there are higher classes of living beings, though they may not be perceived by the gross senses.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 8.25 Purport)
This may seem like a cop out. “Well isn’t that convenient? The Vedas tell us one thing, material science debunks it, and then you tell us that our eyes aren’t capable of seeing these invisible gods. Why can’t you just admit that the Vedas are wrong?” Actually, the presence of the moon-god or sun-god is not very difficult to believe. For example, we could never live in the water since it is not our natural habitat. We could put on some scuba gear and try to artificially remain in the water, but that would be going against nature. In a similar manner, we’re not meant to live on the moon in our current body. We can certainly go there with spaceships, spacesuits, and oxygen masks, but again this is not natural.
“A karmi may work very hard to acquire a million dollars, but as soon as he gets a million dollars he desires another million. For the karmis, there is no end of desire. The more the karmi gets, the more he desires.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 19.149 Purport)
The Vedas provide very limited information on material science because in reality, such information is useless. Modern science is actually God’s gift to the karmis. Since the material world is a place governed by karma, those who choose to remain here are known as karmis, or fruitive workers. Fruitive action is quite simple. We perform such and such activity in hopes of procuring such and such fruit, or reward. The basis for this activity is our desire to imitate God or simply to satisfy our senses. The Supreme Lord creates, maintains, and destroys, so we have a desire to act in a similar manner. Of course we are not God, so we are incapable of creating in the same way that He does. Nevertheless, since the Lord doesn’t want to stand in the way of our independence, He created this material world. Here we can pretend to create, maintain, and destroy. We build advanced machinery, procure great amounts of wealth to maintain our families, and also destroy other living entities such as cows, chickens, and other animals.
This is actually pretend activity because unlike God, we are forced to die and then take birth again. The Supreme Lord is the creator of the material world, which is governed by His illusory energy known as maya. Therefore He can never associate with maya nor can He be subject to her control. Since we have the faulty desire to imitate God, we are ripe for the picking as far as maya is concerned. Mankind’s flawed desire to imitate God is the driving force behind modern day material science.
“So are you saying that all science is bad?” The issue is not about good or bad. The Vedas give us very limited information as far as the workings of the universe go. Vedic information tells us that Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, expands Himself into various Vishnu forms who then create the universe. Then elevated living entities, the demigods, are put in charge of running everything from generating offspring to managing the food supply. This concise information is not meant to whet our appetite for knowledge, but rather as a way to keep us focused on the real aim of human life. The Vedas tell us that the human form of life is most auspicious because humans have the ability to know, understand, and love God. Those who develop a love for God and think of Him at the time of death never have to return to the material world.
“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.9)
Human beings are meant to study spiritual science and not material science. Learning about the soul and its relationship with God brings one closer to achieving perfection in life. Material science, on the other hand, brings one further and further away from Krishna’s eternal abode. God is so kind that He facilitates everyone’s desire. All the major scientific achievements of the recent past actually came from God. Atheistic scientists love to discover new things that prove that man can control nature, so God gladly gives them little discoveries from time to time to maintain their faithless attitude towards Him. The moon landing is a great example of this. God basically says, “Ok, you want material advancement? Go ahead and land on the moon. This will further bewilder you into thinking that I don’t exist. In this way, you can keep trying to pick off other aspects of the material creation and remove Me as the cause. In the end, however, your efforts will come up short because you will be forced to give up your current body and then accept a new one at the time of death.”
This is an important lesson. What do these scientific advancements bring us? A longer life? Material comforts? These things can be acquired without the help of material science. Lord Brahma, the great demigod and creator of everything on this planet, lives for billions of years without the aid of any scientific advancement. Many animals also live very peaceful and happy lives. Pigs spend all their time playing with and eating their own stool. We would never think of doing such a thing, but pigs love it. There is even a common expression that people use which compares their happiness to that of a pig’s while it is in stool.
Material scientists aren’t the only people who endeavor for material perfection or powers. Yoga originated from the Vedas as well. Unlike the gymnastics postures and breathing exercises of today, real yoga means achieving communion of the soul with God. There are different ways to achieve this link, with the meditational yoga system being one of the prominent ones. Meditational yoga, when practiced properly, can reward the practitioner with a variety of siddhis, or perfections. An expert yogi can become minute in stature, very light, or even very heavy.
“Having received the permission of Narada, Shukadeva, the son of the Island-born Vyasadeva, saluted the celestial Narada Muni and once more set himself to performing yoga and entered the element of space. Ascending then from the breast of the Kailasa mountain, he soared into the sky. Capable of traversing through the welkin, the blessed Shukadeva, of fixed conclusion, then identified himself with the element of wind.” (Mahabharata)
Some yogis can actually leave their bodies and travel through space. This was the case several thousand years ago with Shukadeva Goswami, the son of Vyasadeva. In the Mahabharata, there are stories relating to Shukadeva and his yogic perfection. Yet Shukadeva Goswami is not famous for his practice of meditational yoga, but rather for his narration of the Shrimad Bhagavatam, or Bhagavata Purana. Shukadeva Goswami achieved probably the highest material perfection in being able to travel through space, but the happiness he derived from that was short-lived. For this reason, he took to bhakti yoga, or devotional service to Krishna instead. This is man’s real business. We are meant to learn about God, and to then use that knowledge to serve Him in a loving way. Since this is our eternal occupation, it is the only thing that can make us truly happy.
Some people might scoff at the idea of a personal being able to fly through space. They take the authorized statements of the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Mahabharata to be mythology. Even though people might not want to believe that Shukadeva was capable of this yogic perfection, it is still undoubtedly true that material scientists today are working very hard to achieve the very same power. What if they were to get it? What if someone came out with an invention today that would let man go anywhere they wanted to at the speed of the mind? Would this make us happy? We may find it intriguing or fun for a little while, but then what would we do? The problems of birth, old age, disease, and death certainly wouldn’t be stopped. The result would be that material scientists would forge ahead looking for the next big discovery in hopes of finding the permanent happiness which eludes them.
We should take note of the lesson taught to us by Shukadeva Goswami. Real happiness can only come from devotional service. Lord Shiva, Hanuman, Prahlada, Janaka, and other countless Vaishnava authorities all tell us to look to God for happiness. In our spiritual pursuits, we should not get distracted by scientific advancements. Devotional service brings pure bliss and happiness. Taking up the regular chanting of “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” is the best adjustment we can make. Krishna is the long lost treasure we’ve been looking for.