Reply to Srutakirti
Posted July 10, 2005
In the article entitled 'A priori knowledge defies reason', Srutakirti Das wrote: "Srila Prabhupada always accepted what he read in the sastra as the Absolute Truth."
Srila Prabhupada wrote in a letter to Krsna das (Nov. 7, 1972):
These things are not very important; we may not waste our time with these insignificant questions. There are sometimes allegorical explanations [in the Bhagavatam]. So there are many things which do not corroborate with the so-called modern science, because they are explained in that way. . . . So we are concerned with Krsna consciousness, and even though there is some difference of opinion between modern science and allegorical explanation in the Bhagavata, we have to take the essence of Srimad-Bhagavatam and utilize it for our higher benefit, without bothering about the correctness of the modern science or the allegorical explanation sometimes made in Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Also in Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur's Krsna Samhita it states that the Bhagavata cosmology is allegorical.
Is there really an actual ocean of yogurt, an ocean of milk, of sugar cane juice, of wine, a giant mountain at the center of the earth reaching up to heaven, a subterranean world beneath us etc? And is it a sign of insincerity and arrogance to not accept these things as literally factual?
Sometimes the sastra tells us that Vaikuntha is so many billions of
above the earth. This is from the Bhagavatam:
(1 yojan = 8 miles = 12.8 km)
Dhruvaloka, the polestar, is 3,800,000 yojanas above the sun. Above Dhruvaloka by 10,000,000 yojanas is Maharloka, above Maharloka by 20,000,000 yojanas is Janaloka, above Janaloka by 80,000,000 yojanas is Tapoloka, and above Tapoloka by 120,000,000 yojanas is Satyaloka. Thus the distance from the sun to Satyaloka is 233,800,000 yojanas, or 1,870,400,000 miles. The Vaikuntha planets begin 26,200,000 yojanas (209,600,000 miles) above Satyaloka. Thus the Visnu Purana describes that the covering of the universe is 260,000,000 yojanas (2,080,000,000 miles) away from the sun. (SB 5.23.9)
Every bit of that is wrong, totally wrong in fact. What is the first problem? Well the first and most obvious problem is that we live on a sphere and the sun is a sphere as well, so which way is up ? All those planets are described as above the sun. Second problem is that Pluto on average is over 3.5 billion miles away from the Sun. Our Milky Way is 5,865,696,000,000 X 90,000 miles wide. And that's just one of hundreds of billions to trillions of Galaxies.
So first off if we are going to accept the Vedic descriptions of the material and spiritual worlds LITERALLY, we may notice that they cannot possibly be accurate. If they are in fact truthful, then they have to be allegorical. Unless we want to accept that Vaikuntha is somewhere in our own solar system, some 2 billion miles away from earth, closer to us then Pluto.
So what we have here is Srila Prabhupada someties insisting on the primacy of the vedic cosmological teachings and at other times he contradicts that idea and agrees with Bhaktivinoda Thakura.
As for the contentions by some people that it is vital to accept the literal descriptions of the moon being 1,600,000 miles above the sun; that can only lead to ridicule. There is no "above" the Sun because it is a sphere. While "scientists" are no doubt in error in many of their theories, simple tasks like determining the size and distance of the planets and moons in our solar system is easily done. If we insist that Vaikuntha begins somewhere in our own solar system and other provably fallacious cosmological theories from the Vedas then we will seen as fools by almost everyone. Only the least educated and simplest types of people will take the message of a group which teaches that the Vedic cosmological theories are inviolate seriously
Sri Caitanya said "In every verse of Srimad-Bhagavatam and in every syllable, there are various meanings." (Caitanya-caritamrita, Madhya 24.318)
But there are those who will insist that there is in fact a mountain 80,000 miles high. Sadaputa Das has some intersting theories about non literal interpretations of these things at www.sciencereligionbooks.com.
Blind faith in magical allegorical tales and the demagogic attempt to coerce people into accepting that outlook is a disservice to them. If you want to teach that literal acceptance of these stories is some kind of yardstick that measures a person's humility and faith, I put it to you that those who think and speak in that way are misguiding and misguided. Only ridicule will come of it. I have written about this earlier at on Chakra.