Questions and Answers (part
Here we give brief answers to a number of common questions
about Vedic cosmology. We also indicate sections in the preceding chapters
where more detailed answers are given.
Q: To my knowledge, Srila
Prabhupada never hinted at explanations of other dimensions; he always seemed
to emphasize accepting it as it is written. If these ideas are right, why
didn't Srila Prabhupada save us a lot of trouble by bringing them out years
A: The Vedic literature does not explicitly refer to
the concept of higher-dimensional space, as far as I am aware. This idea is
borrowed from modern mathematics. However, the Vedic literature does refer
implicitly to higher-dimensional space, and therefore it is justifiable to use
this idea to clarify the Vedic description of the universe.
For example, in the description of Lord Brahma's visit
to Krsna in Dvaraka, it is stated that millions of Brahmas from other
universes came to visit Krsna. However, each Brahma remained within his own
jurisdiction, and apart from our Brahma, each thought he was alone with Krsna.
Thus Krsna was in many universes at once, and our Brahma could also
simultaneously see different Brahmas visiting Krsna in all of these universes.
This is impossible in three dimensions; it illustrates the implicit
higher-dimensional nature of the Vedic conception of space (see Chapter
Q: If we could visit the moon, would the inhabitants be
visible to us or invisible?
A: Srila Prabhupada has said "almost invisible" (see
Q: Couldn't it be that denizens of higher planets are
invisible to us simply because they have subtle bodies? Why bring in the idea
of higher-dimensional worlds?
A: The clothes, food, dwellings, airplanes, and other
paraphernalia of the demigods must be just as invisible to us as the demigods
themselves. (Imagine what it would be like to see a suit of clothes being worn
by an invisible demigod!) In other words, the demigods live in a complete
world that is invisible to us but perfectly visible to them. They can travel
to our world since they are endowed with suitable mystic powers, and advanced
yogis can travel to their world. However, humans with ordinary senses cannot
perceive the demigods or their gardens and cities. This sums up what we mean
by a higher-dimensional world.
If we use the word "subtle," we should realize that we
are speaking of a complete subtle world that looks perfectly substantial to
the persons living in it, just as our world looks substantial to us. The
worlds of the demigods should be contrasted with the situation of a ghost, who
is stranded in our own continuum in a subtle form, but is unable to enjoy
Q: These higher-dimensional worlds may be normally
inaccesible to us, but if they are actually real, shouldn't there be some
empirical evidence of them? Do we just have to accept this whole incredible
story on blind faith?
A: There is abundant empirical evidence of
higher-dimensional worlds, and such evidence has been well known in
practically all human cultures since time immemorial. Our modern scientific
culture is an exception in this regard.
In Chapter 5 we briefly discuss some empirical evidence
taken from non-Vedic sources.
Q: But isn't this empirical evidence imperfect?
A: Empirical evidence is always imperfect. One may
accept the version of sastra according to the descending process, or one can
turn to the empirical process with all its imperfections. Of course, Srila
Prabhupada advocated the descending process.
Q: There are places in the Srimad-Bhagavatam where it
is said that the coverings of the universe begin with water. Since this is
clear water, and the farther coverings are transparent, it should be possible
for us to see the suns of other universes. Couldn't these be the stars we see
in the sky at night?
A: In SB 5.21.11p, Srila Prabhupada says, "The Western
theory that all luminaries in the sky are different suns is not confirmed in
the Vedic literature. Nor can we assume that these luminaries are the suns of
other universes, for each universe is covered by various layers of material
elements, and therefore although the universes are clustered together, we
cannot see from one universe to another. In other words, whatever we see is
within this one universe."
In Section 6.d it is shown that the coverings of the
universe are listed four times in the Bhagavatam as beginning with earth. We
suggest that when Srila Prabhupada mentions water or fire first, he is giving
a partial list of the coverings.
Q: In SB 5.16.5, Jambudvipa is described as having a
length and breadth of one million yojanas, yet in SB 5.16.7, it is described
as having a width that is the same as Sumeru's height, namely 100,000 yojanas.
This seems contradictory. In SB 5.16.7, Sumeru's width is stated to be 32,000
yojanas at its summit, and in SB 5.16.28, the township of Brahma has sides
that extend for ten million yojanas. Does Brahmapuri hang way out over the
edge of Sumeru?
A: The correct diameter of Jambudvipa is 100,000
yojanas, since this figure agrees with all the other dimensions mentioned in
the Fifth Canto. Likewise, the width of Sumeru at its summit is 32,000
yojanas. We do not know the explanation for the other figures.
Q: What can be said in general about such apparent
contradictions in the Bhagavatam? Does it mean that we should not have faith
in it as a source of absolute truth?
A: Certainly it would not be justifiable to draw such
conclusions from minor discrepancies. In many cases the discrepancy may have
an explanation that we cannot guess because we have too little information.
For example, in the Third Canto, two boar incarnations of Lord Visnu are
mentioned. In certain verses there appears to be some ambiguity in the
description of these incarnations, and Srila Prabhupada cites Srila Visvanatha
Cakravarti as saying that "the sage Maitreya amalgamated both the boar
incarnations in different devastations and summarized them in his description
to Vidura" (SB 3.13.31p). Without this information from Srila Visvanatha
Cakravarti, we might find it difficult to resolve the apparent contradictions
in the story of Lord Varaha.
We suggest that some of the apparent contradictions
discussed in Section 3.d may have a similar explanation.
Q: SB 5.17.6 places Bhadrasva-varsa west of Mount
Meru, and SB 5.17.7 says the same thing about Ketumala-varsa. How do you
resolve this contradiction?
A: If we look at the Sanskrit texts of these verses, we
find that Bhadrasva and Ketumala varsas are on opposite sides of Mount Meru.
Careful inspection of SB 5.16.10 shows that Bhadrasva-varsa is to the east of
Mount Meru, since its boundary mountain is Mount Gandhamadana.
Q: SB 5.24.2 says that the moon is twice as big as the
sun, and Rahu is three times as big. The purport says that Rahu is four times
as big as the sun. How do you explain this?
A: This is another case of an apparent contradiction.
Since we have practically no information, we cannot make a definite statement.
But it is possible that the large sizes of the moon and Rahu may have to do
with the higher-dimensional aspects of these planets.
The Surya-siddhanta gives a diameter of 2,400 miles for
the moon. This is close to the modern figure (see Section 1.e).
Q: I have heard that all of the planets are in the stem
of the lotus from which Brahma took birth. How can that be?
A: This is stated in SB 1.3.2p. Since the planetary
systems are distributed throughout the universal globe, it must be that the
stem encompasses everything within this globe. We should note that the
standard pictures we see of Brahma sitting on the lotus flower are
three-dimensional representations of a scene that cannot be seen using our
ordinary senses. Although the pictures show the lotus stem emerging from the
navel of Garbhodakasayi Visnu, Brahma himself was unable to locate the origin
of the stem. Thus, part of the scene was beyond the senses of Brahma, and so
it is certainly beyond the reach of our senses. We also note that the
planetary systems were created by Brahma from the lotus (SB 3.10.7-8). This
suggests that these systems were produced by transforming the substance of the
Q: The Bhagavatam says that Rahu causes the eclipses of
the sun and moon. How can this be reconciled with modern science?
A: The jyotisa sastras, such as Surya-siddhanta, give
the same explanation of solar and lunar eclipses as modern science. These
sastras also describe the orbit of Rahu (and Ketu) and point out that eclipses
occur only when one of these two planets is aligned with either the sun and
the moon or the earth's shadow and the moon (see Section 4.e). Some will
maintain that this account was devised centuries ago to reconcile Vedic
sastras with Greek astronomy. But this is sheer speculation.
Q: What can be said about the precession of the
equinoxes and the consequent displacement of the polestar?
A: The phenomenon of precession is described in the
jyotisa sastras. We discuss this topic in Section 4.f.
Q: The Bhagavatam says that the diameter of the
universe is 4 billion miles. This is much too small to accommodate even the
solar system, what to speak of the stars and galaxies. How can the Bhagavatam
A: Srila Prabhupada, citing Srila Bhaktisiddhanta
Sarasvati, also gives a figure of 18,712,069,200,000,000 yojanas for the
circumference of the universe (or half the circumference) (CC ML 21.84p). He
also says that "scientists calculate that if one could travel at the speed of
light, it would take forty thousand years to reach the highest planet of this
material world" (SB 3.15.26p).
We suggest that cosmic distances may appear different
to observers endowed with different levels of consciousness. We also suggest
that the laws governing distance and time may not be the same in outer regions
of the universe as they are here on the earth (see Sections 1.f and
Q: Scientists in the twentieth century have amassed a
huge amount of information about distant stars and galaxies. How can you
lightly suggest that it may be seriously wrong?
A: In Chapter 7 we discuss some of the latest findings
of modern cosmology. There is abundant evidence in standard scientific
journals to show that modern cosmological theories have serious defects.
Q: The scientists say that spectroscopic studies show
that the stars are incandescent bodies and not mere reflectors of light. They
also say that the stars are typically as powerful or more powerful than the
sun, and they have worked out in detail the thermonuclear reactions that
sustain stellar radiation. How can this be reconciled with the Vedic
A: This is discussed in Section 6.e. Briefly, we
suggest that stars may well give off their own light. However, the Vedic
literature indicates that they cannot be independent suns. The highly detailed
scientific theories about stars may well be wrong in many respects. After all,
these theories are based entirely on the interpretation of starlight. Their
underlying logic is: This model seems to fit the data, and therefore it should
be accepted and taught to students. Chapter 7 shows some of the pitfalls of
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