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IBSA (ISKCON Bhaktivedanta Sadhana Asrama), Govardhana, India
28 December 2003

yah sva-prapti-patham devah
sevanabhasato 'disat
prapyam ca sva-padam preyan
mamasau syamasundarah

I love handsome and dark Lord Krsna, who shows, even to they who have only the dim reflection of devotional service, the path that leads to Him.

Krsna Consciousness versus Reductionism

Aristotle's Theory of Everything

More than any other classical Greek philosopher, Aristotle (384-322 BC) laid the foundations of the Western Weltanschauung (world-view). His guru, Plato (427-347 BC), was a mystic who taught that the material world was an imperfect reflection of an eternal transcendental mindscape of pure forms. (Personally, I think Plato was to some degree Hiranyagarbha-realized). But Aristotle did not agree with his teacher that ideas exist apart from the things of this world. Eidos (idea) was the form of kyle (matter). The material world was a Becoming that got its shape from an impersonal cosmic mind that was nothing else than Being. The whole raison d'ętre of Becoming was to evolve toward Being. (Recall the doctrine of Hegel described here a few days ago; it's clear that this German Idealist borrowed his fundamental metaphysics from Aristotle. ) If among the hirsute thinkers of ancient Greece Plato was the other-worldly mystic, then Aristotle was the scientist.

But Aristotle was not like a scientist of today, who tests theories from observation. If Aristotle liked a theory, it didn't need testing. For example, he taught that by the law of nature, men are endowed with more teeth than women. Now, this learned philosopher had two wives. Women were more obedient to men in those days, so he could have easily ordered those ladies to open their mouths so as to count their teeth. But such was the science of his time that if an idea appeared elegant to the mind, then it must be Truth. The world, you see, exists in the mind of Being. So, in the main, the philosopher needs to think about Being in order to come to know the true nature of the world.

Aristotle applied his thinking to what today would be called a TOE, a Theory of Everything. In his cosmology, the moon marked the celestial border between the superior (superlunary) and inferior (sublunary) realms of the universe. The superlunary realm was thought to be formed of pure matter and populated by "secondary gods" (demigods) who enjoy a divine, perfect and happy existence. Impure matter formed the sublunary realm populated by imperfect organic creatures like plants, animals and men. Aristotle's writings elaborately described the universe as a system of fifty-five concentric crystalline spheres whose rotation accounted for the movements of the sun, moon, stars and planets.

Translated into Latin in the Middle Ages, his model of the cosmos had a deep impact upon Church scholars, starved as they were for "cosmic" information. In AD 1266, the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas officially wed Aristotelian philosophy with Catholic theology. It was the Theory of Everything of Medieval Europe--an awesome intellectual monument to both the protoscience of the ancient Greeks and the moral authority of Jesus Christ. The soaring cathedral of Chartres--completed while Aquinas was alive--was a monument to the Church's TOE. Figures of Pythagoras and Aristotle were carved into the stonework.

Galileo Galilei and the arrival of Reductionism

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) sparked a crisis in that TOE. After calculating the height of the lunar mountains with the aid of a telescope, he concluded that the moon is a world similar to the earth. But Aristotle had taught that the moon is not like the earth--it is made of the stuff of heaven.

Since the Church allowed only science and philosophy that was ancilla ecclesiae (servant to the Church) and ancilla Aristotelis (servant to Aristotle), Galileo was forced into public silence in 1632. His reducing celestial "perfection" down to base elements and simple mechanics is now marked as the birth of the modern scientific creed: reductionism. Reductionism is nicely summed up by Bryan Appleyard in his Understanding the Present--Science and the Soul of Modern Man (1992) on page 259. Science after Galileo concluded "we could not search for value in the world. We could describe nature but we could do so only objectively and without imposing our notions of good and evil. " Thus not only did science dispense with God--the subject of theology--it dispensed with morality, which is one of the vital issues of philosophy. (Western philosophy has four, or sometimes it is said five, basic areas of investigation: logic, epistemology, metaphysics, ethics (morality), and, as the possible fifth, aesthetics. )

Aristotle's universe was more than a material universe. Indeed, it was primarily a moral universe. His superlunary and sublunary realms were plotted on a map calibrated to his ideas of moral merit, of pure and impure, good and evil. It was not a "star map" of today, photographed through a telescopic lens.

Bhagavatam Cosmology

As devotees well know, Srimad-Bhagavatam describes the universe as being divided into fourteen regions. The earthly region, wherein human beings dwell, is called Bhurloka. Above this is the Bhuvah-loka, where entities who are antariksa-sthanah (denizens of outer space) and madhyama-sthanah (denizens of planets between earth and heaven) dwell. Included are the Yaksas, chief of whom is Kuvera, the treasurer of the demigods; the Kinnaras and Kimpurusas, whose looks combine human and animal features; Raksasas, fearsome man-eaters with black magical powers; Vidyadharas, angelic beings who fly in the sky without vehicles; Gandharvas, celestial musicians who subtly inspire earthly musicians; Apsaras, lovely dancing girls who consort with the Gandharvas and other handsome residents of heaven; Caranas and Siddhas, who are naturally endowed with all mystic powers; ghosts (pretas, pisacas, bhutaganas, etc. ); and many other kinds of supernatural entities (Uragas, Patagas, Nisacaras, etc. ).

Above Bhuvah-loka is Svargaloka, the heaven of the karma-devatas, or the thirty-three million demigods who were raised to heaven by pious karma performed in previous human births. Sarve purusakarena manusyad devatam gatah, states Mahabharata 13. 6. 14: "all, by human effort, went from human status to demigod status. " And Mahabharata 12. 250. 38 asserts: sarve deva martya sanjna-visistah--"All these demigods become human beings when the fruit of their good karma is exhausted. "

The regions of Bhur (earth), Bhuvah (outer space) and Svarga (heaven) are tinged by the mode of passion, as Srila Prabhupada explained in a Bhagavad-gita lecture in Bombay on 24 March 1974. Above this passionate realm is the realm of goodness, where the great rsis (sages) reside. This realm includes the Maharloka (region of the rsi Brghu); Janaloka (region of the manasa-munis, the mental sons of Brahma); Tapaloka (region of the Vairaja sages); and Satyaloka (region of Brahma, Ksirodakasayi Visnu and Siva, each of whom directs one of the three modes of material nature).

Below the earthly Bhurloka is a sevenfold realm known as Bila-svarga (the underworld heaven), where ignorance predominates and sunlight never penetrates. The first region is Atala. It is ruled by a demonic scientist named Bala who is a master of 96 magical arts. The residents of Atala seek happiness through intoxication and sexual excess. The second region is Vitala, an abode of Hatakesvara--an expansion of Siva--and his consort Bhavanidevi. The third region is Sutala, ruled by Bali. Though born among the demons, he is a pure devotee of the Lord. The fourth region is Talatala, where Maya Danava lives, the preceptor of all black magicians. The fifth region is Mahatala, the abode of the Kadrudevatas, a brood of many-headed serpents born of Kadru, wife of Kasyapa Muni. Despite their extreme ferocity, they always live in fear of Garuda. The sixth region is Rasatala, inhabited by the Daitya and the Danava demons who, being very envious of the demigods, sometimes mount military campaigns against the Svargaloka. At the very bottom is Patala. Here reside the Nagaloka-adhipatis, the lords of all serpentine demons. They bear effulgent jewels in their multiple heads that mysteriously illuminate the entire Bila-svarga realm.

Beneath Bila-svarga is Pitr-loka, the personal abode of Yama. This is a heavenly place associated with Soma, the moon-god. Near Pitr-loka is Narakaloka, where sinners suffer hellish torments. Below this is the cosmic ocean known as Garbhodaka.

Bhagavatam cosmology describes a moral universe that is calibrated to the karma of the living entities who dwell in its different regions. Bila-svarga is reserved for demons, Svarga-loka is reserved for demigods. . . all this is in accord with dharma, the cosmic moral law.

Reasoning in Krsna Consciousness

Of course modern scientific observation contradicts the Bhagavatam description of the universe. We've seen how the Church-approved, Aristotelian-Thomist model of a moral universe fell by the wayside of history after the telescope "proved" it not factual. Well, truth be told, the Srimad-Bhagavatam locates the earth, moon and sun in positions very different from the astronomical standard. Is this cause to doubt the Bhagavatam? If it is, then it is also cause to doubt the moral dimension of the universe taught by the Bhagavatam. It is cause to neglect the regulative principles and indulge the whims of the senses.

The Vaisnava scriptures tell us the material energy is Lord Krsna's adhara-sakti or all-accommodating energy. She accommodates the lusty desires of the materialistic living entities by presenting herself as exploitable matter. They perceive her as exploitable according to the particular range of their cognitive and motor senses.

In this journal on 18 December I related the example of a spider and its web. The web is actually the sensory network by which the spider understands its world. The adhara-sakti accommodates the spider's desires by providing it a "factual world" which the poor creature can perceive and control. If the spider's worldview could be rendered into English, there is little doubt the average person would find it to be bizarre mythology, fiction, or lunacy. Our own world of human facts is no less bizarre to the demigods.

Beyond these worlds of facts populated by creatures lusty for sense gratification, there is the real form of the world. This is the dharmic or moral form, seen by those living entities who know nature's primary purpose. That primary purpose is to accommodate the Lord's plan for the reformation of His wayward parts and parcels. The dharmic form is presented in Srimad-Bhagavatam, which states:

Krsna consciousness means constantly associating with the Supreme Personality of Godhead in such a mental state that the devotee can observe the cosmic manifestation exactly as the Supreme Personality of Godhead does. Such observation is not always possible, but it becomes manifest exactly like the dark planet known as Rahu, which is observed in the presence of the full moon. (Bhag. 4. 29. 69)

At Kuruksetra five thousand years ago, Krsna revealed His visvarupa (the form of the entire universe) to His constant companion Arjuna. An opportunity like Arjuna had--to directly observe the universe exactly as Krsna sees it--is very rare. But all of us can take advantage of an indirect method that allies human reason with scriptural revelation. This method is explained by an analogy. During a full lunar eclipse, the halo around the moon allows us an indirect perception of a darkness that blots out the lunar disc. It is indirect because our eyes cannot tell us what is blotting out the moon. At least we can tell from the soft halo that the moon is masked by something passing in front of it. The Vedic scriptures tell us this shadowy mask is Rahu, a planet that otherwise cannot be seen.

Similarly, the moonlike light of reason guided by scripture permits us to indirectly perceive the material universe as a mask of the spiritual world. A mechanistic reductionist will argue that what eclipses the moon is not a mysterious dark planet but the shadow of the earth. The difference between the mechanistic and the Vedic view is a question of what is known as "the scale of observation. " For example, if we are asked to say with the unaided eye what we see when we look at an even mix of two powders--white flour and finely-ground charcoal--we will say we see a gray powder. But if we are able to observe that gray powder through a microscope, we will suddenly understand it does not exist. The microscopic scale of observation reveals countless white and black particles.

On the mechanist's "factual" (man-made) scale of observation, it is certainly logical to say the darkness eclipsing the moon is just the shadow of the earth. But on the Vedic scale, the scale of God-made observation, mechanistic facts vanish, just as the fact of the gray powder vanishes when it is observed through a microscope. On the Vedic scale, cosmic events are seen to be the interrelation of two potencies (spirit and matter) of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krsna. The moral dimension is defined by the three qualities of that interrelation: goodness, passion, and ignorance.

The moral dimension of the cosmos is revealed by purification of consciousness, not by sensory inspection or mental speculation. Purification entails detaching consciousness from the exploitation of matter aimed at physical sense pleasure, and attaching consciousness to the employment of matter in Krsna's service.

Two Kinds of Illusion: Natural and Speculative

Someone might object that the example of the gray powder which turns out to really be two powders just demonstrates that the scale of human observation can be improved with the help of a man-made instrument, the microscope. This example comes to the aid of Galileo's reductionist description of the moon. It does not support the religio-philosophical cosmology of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas--or for that matter, the Vedas.

If I may resort to a tired metaphor, this objection confuses apples and oranges by saying they are the same fruit. What we need to understand is the difference between two kinds of illusion. Natural illusion is one thing. Speculative illusion is another.

The powder example shows how the human senses give rise to an illusion, which is the gray color of the mixed black and white powders. That grayness does not actually exist save within the network of our sense perception. This is a natural illusion.

It is a different type of illusion than the Aristotelian-Thomist description of the moon that Galileo disproved with his telescope. That description was not a product of sense perception. It was a speculative illusion, a product of the mind of Aristotle. A natural illusion and a speculative illusion are not to be equated, as much as an apple and an orange, both fruit, are not to be equated.

The Bhagavatam teaches that prakrti, material nature, projects a natural illusion into our minds. Our speculative illusions are the result of our attempts to "figure out" the natural illusion. The Western science of then and now--ancient Greece, Medieval Europe, and today's world--believes in a fundamental mistake. The mistake is the notion that human beings can arrive at the truth by material sense perception. Nowdays, for example, scientists believe that if sense perception is aided by high-tech instrumentation, it becomes empowered to grasp "correct" data. Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas were bereft of such instruments, of course; but they never doubted that if a human being could see the moon up close, he would see it as their philosophy described it. There was no inkling in the Aristotelian-Thomist TOE that human sense perception is by nature deluded.

This is why Galileo's telescopic perceptions had such a devastating impact on the Church's TOE. Some churchmen argued that the telescope must somehow generate a delusion that bewildered the eye of anyone who looked through that devilish instrument. They did not dare to point to the human eye behind the telescope and pronounce it the culprit. That would have undermined their TOE even more. You see, this is the essence of what the West inherited from Aristotle. His guru Plato was of the opinion that sense perception can't be trusted--that is the whole point of the "cave analogy" that is still presented in philosophy courses today as the lesson most representative of all that Plato taught. The form of reality is not here in our world of profane matter, which is like a dark cave full of misleading shadows. It is outside the world, in the bright, pure World of Ideas. But Aristotle didn't accept this. He thought that the form of the material world as we see it now is directly shaped by the mind of Being. There is no other more perfect form somewhere else. Aristotle was an impersonalist who believed that without matter, there was no form. Being existed in its own right beyond matter, yes, but Being in that state was absolutely monistic. No forms existed therein. What Aristotle kept in common with Plato was the logic that matter proceeded from mind. Thus at the end of the day Aristotle was more of a rationalist than an empiricist. But empiricism had a grip on his philosophy in a way that it did not have on Platonic philosophy .

Scientific Instruments Prove that the Senses are Defective

The powder example would contradict my position if I were to admit that scientific instruments like microscopes and telescopes transmit knowledge that is absolutely real. But I do not; even a quantum physicist, when pressed, would be obliged to admit this is not the case. (The standard quantum physical position is that we see with our instruments only what we can see of nature. We do not see what nature is herself. . . the Ding-an-sicht of Kant. ) Instruments show that the knowledge we assume we get from our perceptions and thoughts is always defective. That is because our senses and minds are inherently defective. Take what we know about the cosmos from modern-day instruments. Compare that to the instrumental knowledge of just sixty years ago. We can rightly say, "Six decades ago, our knowledge was so defective. " We cannot rightly say, "At last! Now we know the real truth!" Why can't we say this? Sixty years in the future, instruments more powerful than we have now will reveal the defects of our present level of knowledge.

This is the crux of the argument I am making from the gray powder example: that our sense perception is inherently defective. Instruments can show us that much. There is always something more to be known about sense data, even if it comes to us through a microscope or telescope. Sense data is never the final answer.

Physical instruments cannot probe the spiritual and moral states of existence. These exist in a different dimension or scale of observation. That dimension controls the physical dimension. The Vedic scriptures tell us the moon is the heavenly station of Candradeva, a morally superior being. He controls the lunar phenomena familiar to our senses. We cannot access his existence by adjusting physical factors like spatial distance or the magnification of visual impressions. By spacecraft, we approach the phenomenal moon. By telescope, we magnify the image of the phenomenal moon. But the moon as a moral entity remains unseen.

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