Remembering Sadaputa (Richard L. Thompson)
Posted September 18, 2009
About 10 years ago, after finishing my master's degree in astrophysics, I took a gap-year and travelled. While backpacking around the world that year, I discovered Prabhupada's books and I soon began to associate with devotees. The devotees would usually, upon discovering my scientific background, tell me about Sadaputa Prabhu, and guide me to his books. This happened practically everywhere I went. "What do you do?" the devotee would ask. "Oh, I am a scientist" I would reply. The next line, usually spoken very enthusiastically, always went something like "Did you know we have this great scientist in ISKCON called Sadaputa dasa, Richard L. Thompson? You should read his book Mechanistic and Non-Mechanistic Science , or Vedic Cosmography and Astronomy." I could see that devotees all over the world were very proud of their ISKCON scientist, so I thought I had better check him out. I bought a copy of his Vedic Cosmography book somewhere on my travels and began to read.
I had to wait a few more years before I would meet this great ISKCON scientist. It happened after I became involved in research work for the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium (TOVP). In early 2004 I met Pancharatna Prabhu who invited me to get involved in the project. At that time there was no official research group for the Vedic Planetarium. There had been earlier efforts, mainly by Sadaputa Prabhu, which resulted in his book on Vedic cosmography and later his Mysteries of the Sacred Universe, but, after the management and finances for the TOVP project collapsed in the late 90s, there was no organized research going on. I could see from the beginning that this was a huge subject area to research, and that it was not a one man (or one woman) job. I began to contact various qualified ISKCON scholars I knew for their advice. Sadaputa Prabhu was an obvious choice. He replied enthusiastically - he was keen to contribute. I could tell even from the beginning that the TOVP project was very important to him; not as an academic exercise, more like a life-mission; not for his own intellectual prestige, but for the pleasure of his spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada.
I drew up a list of research goals and objectives for the Vedic Planetarium research project, then Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu was recruited as the Project Leader and together we invited Sadaputa Prabhu and others to form a research committee. In the beginning I only knew Sadaputa through his emails.
I finally met Sadaputa in person when the research committee first met in 2006 in Gainesville. My first impression was that he was gentle and humble - quite a rare thing for a scientist. He was also funny. When Brahmatirtha Prabhu introduced him as Sadaputa, he added with a smile "or Sada-Putana as the local gurukulis call me." During the meetings, it was interesting for me to see how he would approach each subject with his own unique perspective. He would analyse the issues with extreme concentration, and present relevant observations that came from a fresh and often unexpected angle. Practically everything he spoke was deep and profound, spoken with such concentration and intensity . I lost count of how many times I heard Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu use the words "wow" and "far out" in those meetings. There was certainly something very mysterious and sage-like about Sadaputa Prabhu, but at the same time something very human and likable. He was extremely broad minded, but not arrogant as some/many scientists can be.
During the meetings, he contributed from his years of experience and knowledge and helped to refine the research plan. After that we continued to exchange emails on subjects such as the problems of geocentrism, relativity, interpretations of the Fifth Canto and Puranic cosmology in general.
I was fortunate to meet Sadaputa again in December 2007 at the ISKCON Academy of Arts and Sciences Conference in New Vrindaban, where he gave a presentation entitled "Interpretation and the Srimad Bhagavatam." He gave insights into sections of the Bhagavatam based on his scientific background. He used the calculation of time from the atom (3rd Canto) as one example, and Bhumandala (5th Canto) as another.
Sadaputa was one of Prabhupada's very few scientist disciples. He was a true pioneer and I expect that, 10, 50, or 100 years from now, devotees in ISKCON will look back and realize, more than we do now, the value and importance of the foundation he laid for the scientific presentation of Krishna consciousness.