Govardhan Hill Publishing--Vedic Cosmography and Astronomy--Sample Chapter
Vedic Cosmography and Astronomy
by Richard L. Thompson

Sample Chapter

Vedic Physics--The Nature of Space, Time, and Matter
Extending Our Physical World-View
The Position of Krishna
Mystic Siddhis
The Activities of Demigods, Yogis, and Rishis

Vedic Physics--The Nature of Space, Time, and Matter

"By Him even the great sages and demigods are placed into illusion, as one is bewildered by the illusory representations of water seen in fire, or land seen on water. Only because of Him do the material universes, temporarily manifested by the three modes of nature, appear factual, although they are unreal" (SB 1.1.1).

Our ideas of the nature of space, time, and matter are essential ingredients in our understanding of the cosmos. When we look into the heavens, our direct sensory data consists of patterns of light. These patterns say nothing, in and of themselves, about the nature of the sources of this light. In order to say something about the cosmic manifestations that have produced the light, it is necessary to assume that the universe is made of some kind of "stuff", or matter, that has certain characteristics and obeys certain laws. Given such assumptions, we can then ask ourselves what arrangement of this matter, acting in accordance with the laws, would produce the observed light patterns. If we are successful in putting together a consistent explanation of the observed data based on the assumed laws and properties, then we tend to suppose that we have correctly understood the structure of the universe. In our mind's eye, our theoretical models take on an air of concrete reality, and it almost seems as though we are holding the universe in the palm of our hand.

Throughout most of modern human history, people have been limited to the surface of the earth, and they have based their ideas of the nature of matter on observations that can be performed in this limited domain, using our ordinary senses. Over the last two or three hundred years, Western scientists have used experimental observation and the analysis of experimental results to build up an extensive body of knowledge--the science of modern physics--which gives a detailed picture of the properties of matter and the laws governing its behavior. The modern Western understanding of the nature and structure of the universe as a whole is based on interpreting observed celestial phenomena within the framework of modern physics.

The thesis of this essay is that the framework of modern physics is too limited to accommodate many phenomena which occur within this universe. In particular, this framework cannot accommodate many features of the universe which are described in the Vedic literatures, and thus the Vedic accounts often seem absurd or mythological when viewed from the perspective of modern science. At the present time, certain assumptions of modern physics have been adopted by people in general as the very foundation of their world-view. These assumptions are incompatible with the underlying assumptions of the Vedic world-view, and thus they tend to block people from having free access to the Vedic literatures. In this section we will try to alleviate this difficulty by discussing the nature of the material energy, as described in the Vedic literature. Since this is a very deep and complex subject, we will be able to touch only on a few points that are relevant to the understanding of Vedic cosmology.

Extending Our Physical World-View

Before making a truly radical departure from our familiar conceptions, we begin by discussing some relatively moderate instances in which the Vedic literatures refer to phenomena and theoretical ideas which do not fit into the current framework of scientific thought. These examples illustrate two main points: (1) Although many Vedic ideas contradict current scientific thinking, they also allow for the possibility that the contradictions can be alleviated by extending the conceptual scope of modern science. (2) Many ideas relevant to our physical world-picture are alluded to only briefly in literatures such as the Srimad Bhagavatam, since these literatures were not intended to serve as textbooks of astronomy or physical science. Thus the conceptual advances needed to reconcile the Vedic worldview with modern science may be difficult to make since they require ideas that radically extend current theories, but these ideas are not explicitly spelled out in available Vedic texts.

Our first example is found in SB 3.26.34p. There we read that the ethereal element provides a substrate for the production of subtle forms by the mind, and that it is also involved in the circulation of vital air within the body. Srila Prabhupada indicates that "this verse is the potential basis of great scientific research work," and, indeed, it provides a clear idea of how the subtle mind may interact with the gross elements of the body and brain.

In the theoretical structure of modern physics, however, there is presently no place for such a conception of the mind and the ethereal element (although some physicists have begun to tentatively entertain such ideas.) As a consequence, scientists still generally adhere to the idea that it is impossible for the brain to interact with a distinct "nonphysical" mind. This in turn makes it impossible for them to give credence to many phenomena which imply the existence of such a mind, even though empirical evidence for these phenomena has existed for many years. These include the psychic phenomena studied by the parapsychologists, out of body experiences, and the spontaneous remembrance of previous incarnations by small children.

It is not our purpose here to make a case for the reality of such phenomena. Our main point is that it is very difficult for people (including scientists) to seriously contemplate particular ideas about reality unless those ideas fit neatly into a familiar and accepted conceptual system. The current theories of physics have been worked out in great technical detail, and one who lives in the conceptual universe that they provide may find that the Vedic idea of the ether seems crude and unimpressive. They may also be blocked by certain unnecessary misconceptions, such as the idea that ether must be like the "luminiferous ether" rejected by Einstein. Yet, the possibility is nonetheless there that physical theory can be extended by introducing a new conception of the ether which agrees with the Vedic conception, and is also consistent with experimental observations. And such an extended theory may provide explanations for many phenomena that are presently considered to be scientifically impossible.

Literatures such as the Srimad Bhagavatam were written for the purpose of clearly explaining certain spiritual ideas to the people in general. However, they inevitably make reference to many other ideas that were familiar to people of the ancient Vedic culture, but which may be very unfamiliar to people of modern Western background. One interesting example is the analogy given by Srila Sanatana Gosvami, in which the transformation of a lowborn man into a brahmin is compared to the transformation of bell metal into gold by an alchemical process (SB 5.24.17p).

The alchemical process itself is not described, and on the basis of modern science we might tend to regard such a transformation as impossible. Yet, the dictionary defines bell metal to be an alloy of copper and tin, and if we consult the periodic table of the elements, we find that the atomic numbers of copper and tin add together to give the atomic number of gold. This suggests that there just might be something to this example, but if so, it clearly involves an extensive body of practical and theoretical knowledge which is completely unknown to us. For Sanatana Gosvami, however, this transformation simply provided a familiar example to illustrate a point about the spiritual transformation of human beings.

The Position of Krishna

Thus far, we have discussed Vedic references to phenomena and theoretical entities which do not fit into the rigorously defined theories of modern physics, but which can be readily inserted into our ordinary picture of the world around us. In this essay, however, we will be dealing with many things that do not seem to be at all compatible with that picture. We suggest that to accommodate these things, it is necessary for us to re-examine our basic ideas concerning the nature of space.

Modern physics and astronomy began with the idea that matter is made of tiny bits of substance, each of which has a location in three-dimensional space. According to this idea, which was strongly developed by Descartes and Newton, three-dimensional space can be seen as an absolute, pre-existing container in which all material events take place. This idea is quite consistent with the picture of the world provided by our own senses, and it tends to provide an unquestioned background for all of our thinking. However, many cultures have maintained quite different ideas about the nature of space, and this is also true of the Vedic culture.

To understand the Vedic conception of space, it is necessary to consider the position of Krishna as the absolute cause of all causes. Clearly we cannot regard the transcendental form of Krishna as being composed of tiny bits of substance situated at different locations in three-dimensional space. Whether we regard the tiny bits as "spiritual" or "material", such a form is certainly limited and relative. The actual nature of Krishna's form is indicated by the following verses from the Brahma-samhita:

I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, whose transcendental form is full of bliss, truth, substantiality and is thus full of the most dazzling splendor. Each of the limbs of that transcendental figure possesses in Himself, the full-fledged functions of all the organs, and eternally sees, maintains and manifests the infinite universes, both spiritual and mundane. [SBS 5.32].

He is an undifferentiated entity as there is no distinction between the potency and the possessor thereof. In His work of creation of millions of worlds, His potency remains inseparable. All the universes exist in Him and He is present in His fullness in every one of the atoms that are scattered throughout the universe, at one and the same time. Such is the primeval Lord whom I adore [SBS 5.35].

Here we find that the form of Krishna is made of many parts, but each part is identical to the whole. Also, all space is within the form of Krishna, but at the same time Krishna is fully present within every atom. One implication of this is that the entire universe, which is within Krishna, is fully present within every atom of the universe. Such a state of affairs cannot be visualized in three-dimensional terms, and indeed, it is not possible within three-dimensional space. It must simply be taken as an axiom describing the position of Krishna as the supreme absolute truth. Thus, the Vedic concept of space begins with a statement of Krishna's unified nature, rather than with the geometric axioms defining three-dimensional space.

Here we will introduce an idea of "higher dimensional" space which may help us understand the ideas about space which are implicit in the Vedic literature. The term "higher dimensional" is borrowed from modern mathematics, and it does not appear directly in Vedic literature. It is part of an attempt to bridge the conceptual gap between modern thinking and the Vedic world view. Naturally, since the traditional followers of Vedic culture have not been confronted with such a gap, they have not been motivated to introduce ideas to bridge it.

The most fundamental feature of the Vedic idea of space is that, according to this idea, more things can be close to one another than is possible in three-dimensional space. In the course of this chapter we will give many examples from the Vedic liturature illustrating this theme. Since the higher dimensional spaces of mathematics also allow more things to be close to one another than is possible in three-dimensional space, we have chosen the term "higher dimensional" to refer to this feature of the Vedic view of reality.

Although Krishna's situation cannot be represented three-dimensionally, we can visualize, at least in principle, how "higher dimensional" spaces of this kind can be generated, starting from Krishna's position. Krishna's situation is that He has full access to every location simultaneously. In ordinary three-dimensional space we have access, through the operation of our senses of action and perception, to locations within a limited neighborhood, and we can change that neighborhood by moving from one place to another. Thus we can see that our situation can be viewed as a restricted form of Krishna's situation. A "higher dimensional" space corresponds to a situation in which access between locations is more restricted than it is for Krishna, but less restricted than it is for beings experiencing three-dimensional space.

This concept of "higher dimensional" space is closely tied together with the idea of varying levels of sensory development in sentient beings. Access between locations depends on the operation of senses of action and senses of perception, and thus it should be possible in principle to enlarge the "space" of one's experience by increasing the scope of one's sensory powers.

These ideas about space and its relation to sense perception are implicit in the Vedic literature, and they can best be understood by giving some specific examples. The nature of Krishna's absolute position is nicely illustrated by the following story of a visit by Lord Brahma to Krishna in Dvaraka. In the story, Krishna first responds to Brahma's request to see Him by having His secretary ask, "Which Brahma wishes to see Me?" Brahma later begins his conversation with Krishna by asking why Krishna made this inquiry.

"Why did you inquire which Brahma had come see you? What is the purpose of such an inquiry? Is there any other Brahma besides me within this universe?"

Upon hearing this, Sri Krishna smiled and immediately meditated. Unlimited Brahmas arrived instantly.

These Brahmas had different numbers of heads. Some had ten heads, some twenty, some a hundred, some a thousand, some ten thousand, some a hundred thousand, some ten million and others a hundred million. No one can count the number of faces they had.

There also arrived many Lord Sivas with various heads numbering one hundred thousand and ten million. Many Indras also arrived, and they had thousands of eyes all over their bodies.

When the four-headed Brahma of this universe saw all these opulences of Krishna, he became very bewildered and considered himself a rabbit among many elephants.

All the Brahmas who came to see Krishna offered their respects at His lotus feet, and when they did this, their helmets touched His lotus feet.

No one can estimate the inconceivable potencies of Krishna. All the Brahmas who were there were resting in the one body of Krishna.

When all the helmets struck together at Krishna's lotus feet, there was a tumultuous sound. It appeared that the helmets themselves were offering prayers unto Krishna's lotus feet.

With folded hands, all the Brahmas and Sivas began to offer prayers unto Lord Krishna, saying, "O Lord, You have shown me a great favor. I have been able to see your lotus feet."

All of them then said, "It is my great fortune, Lord, that you have called me, thinking of me as your servant. Now let me know what Your order is so that I may carry it on my heads."

Lord Krishna replied, "Since I wanted to see all of you together, I have called all of you here. All of you should be happy. Is there any fear of the demons?"

They replied, "By your mercy, we are victorious everywhere. Whatever burden there was upon the earth You have taken away by descending on that planet."

This is the proof of Dvaraka's opulence: all the Brahmas thought, "Krishna is now staying in my jurisdiction."

Thus the opulence of Dvaraka was perceived by each and every one of them. Although they were all assembled together, no one could see anyone but himself.

Lord Krishna then bade farewell to all the Brahmas there, and after offering their obeisances, they all returned to their respective homes [CC ML 21.65-80].

In this story it is significant that each of the Brahma's remained within his own universe. This means that Krishna was simultaneously manifesting His Dvaraka pastimes in all of those universes. Each Brahma except ours thought that he was alone with Krishna in Dvaraka within his own universe, but by Krishna's grace our Brahma could simultaneously see all of the others. This illustrates how Krishna has access to all locations at once, and it also shows how, by Krishna's grace, different living beings can be given different degrees of spatial access, either permanently or temporarily.

Arjuna's vision of Krishna's universal form on the battlefield of Kuruksetra is another example of how Krishna can expand the sensory powers of a living being, and give him access to regions of the universe which were previously unknown to him. Before revealing this form to Arjuna, Krishna said,

O best of the Bharatas, see here the different manifestations of Adityas, Vasus, Rudras, Asvini-kumaras and all the other demigods. Behold the many wonderful things which no one has ever seen or heard of before.

O Arjuna, whatever you want to see, behold at once in this body of Mine! This universal form can show you whatever you now desire to see and whatever you may want to see in the future. Everything--moving and nonmoving--is here completely, in one place [BG 11.6-7].

Thus from one place Arjuna was able to see many different realms occupied by demigods and other kinds of living beings. To simultaneously perceive such a vast variety of scenes, Arjuna clearly had to transcend the limitations of three-dimensional space, and it is significant that Krishna made this possible through the medium of his all-pervading universal form. The story of mother Yasoda seeing the entire universe (including herself and Krishna) within Krishna's mouth is another example showing how Krishna can reveal all locations through his all-encompassing form (see KB, pp. 83-84).

It is interesting to note that the Brahmas visiting Krishna had varying numbers of heads, ranging from hundreds to hundreds of millions. It is rather difficult to understand how millions of heads could be arranged on one body in three dimensional space, and it is also difficult to see how millions of Brahmas could all be seen simultaneously within one room. We suggest that these things are made possible by the fact that the underlying "space" is not three-dimensional.

Similar observations could be made about the incident in which Banasura used 1,000 arms to simultaneously work 500 bows, and fire 2,000 arrows at a time at Krishna. In this case we are dealing with a materially embodied being living on the earth. One might wonder how 500 material arms can be mounted on one shoulder without interfering with one another. And if this is possible, how can they aim 500 bows in the same direction at once? (Do the bows pass through each other?) We suggest that stories of this kind implicitly require higher dimensional conceptions of space.

We can sum up the idea of dimensionality of space by saying that the greater is the degree of access between locations, the higher is the dimensionality of the space. Since Krishna has simultaneous access to all locations, He perceives space at the highest level of dimensionality. Different living beings will perceive space at different levels of dimensionality, and thus they will have access to different sets of locations (or lokas.)

It is interesting to note that the idea of higher dimensional access between locations is a key feature of quantum mechanics. The quantum mechanical atom cannot be represented in three-dimensional space. In fact, to represent something as commonplace as an atom of carbon, quantum mechanics makes use of a kind of infinite-dimensional space called Hilbert space. The three-dimensional bonding of carbon and other atoms is made possible by the higher dimensional interactions within the atoms. Thus, although the idea of higher dimensional realms may seem to be an extreme departure from accepted scientific thinking, it is possible to interpret modern physics as laying the groundwork for such an idea.

Mystic Siddhis

The eight mystic siddhis provide a direct illustration of how sentient beings can operate at different levels of sensory power by being endowed to varying degrees with Krishna's primordial potencies. Srila Prabhupada gives the following description of some of the mystic siddhis:

...a mystic yogi can enter into the sun planet simply by using the rays of the sunshine. This perfection is called laghima. Similarly, a yogi can touch the moon with his finger. Though the modern astronauts go to the moon with the help of spaceships, they undergo many difficulties, whereas a person with mystic perfection can extend his hand and touch the moon with his finger. This siddhi is called prapti, or acquisition. With this prapti siddhi, the perfect mystic yogi can not only touch the moon planet, but he can extend his hand anywhere and take whatever he likes. He may be sitting thousands of miles away from a certain place, and if he likes he can take fruit from a garden there (NOD, pp. 11-12).
The prapti siddhi provides a perfect example of what we mean by the extension of access between locations. Consider the yogi on the earth who reaches out his hand to touch the moon. Does the yogi experience that his hand moves up through the atmosphere and crosses over thousands of miles of outer space, followed by a greatly elongated arm? This hardly seems plausible. We suggest that this siddhi actually allows the yogi to directly reach any desired location, and thus it requires higher dimensional connections between remotely separated regions. The idea here is that Krishna always has direct access to all locations, and by His grace this power of direct access can be conferred to varying degrees on various living beings.

The following verses in the Eleventh Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam show that the eight siddhis are indeed obtained by partial realization of Krishna's inherent potencies:

1. anima -- becoming smaller than the smallest. "One who worships Me [Krishna] in My atomic form pervading all subtle elements [bhuta-suksma and tan-matram], fixing his mind on that alone, obtains the mystic perfection called anima" (SB 11.15.10).

2. mahima -- becoming greater than the greatest. "One who absorbs his mind in the particular form of the mahat-tattva and thus meditates upon Me as the Supreme Soul of the total material existence achieves the mystic perfection called mahima" (SB 11.15.11).

3. laghima -- becoming lighter than the lightest. "I exist within everything, and I am therefore the essence of the atomic constituents of material elements. By attaching his mind to Me in this form, the yogi may achieve the perfection called laghima, by which he realizes the subtle atomic substance of time" (SB 11.15.12).

4. prapti -- acquisition. "Fixing his mind completely in Me within the element of false ego generated from the mode of goodness, the yogi obtains the power of mystic acquisition, by which he becomes the proprietor of the senses of all living entities. He obtains such perfection because his mind is absorbed in Me" (SB 11.15.13).

Similar statements are made about the other siddhis. According to the purport to SB 11.15.13, "Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura states that those who pursue such perfections without fixing the mind on the Supreme Lord acquire a gross and inferior reflection of each mystic potency."

The Activities of Demigods, Yogis, and Rishis

In the Srimad Bhagavatam there are many references to the mystic powers of demigods, yogis, and rishis. These living beings are clearly endowed with more highly developed sensory powers than ordinary human beings such as ourselves, and they also are able to operate within a more extensive realm of activity than the space-time continuum of our ordinary experience. (Note that in accordance with Vedic usage, we are using the term "sensory" to refer to both senses of perception and senses of action.)

A typical inhabitant of the higher planets has a life-span of 10,000 celestial years, measured in days and nights of six months (SB 4.9.63p). However, many demigods live for a much longer period. Thus demigods such as Indra hold official positions in the universal administration for the span of one manvantara, or 71x12,000 celestial years, and their total life span is much longer.

The demigods have the power to assume any desired form (SB 8.15.32p), and to appear and disappear at will before ordinary human beings. Thus SB 9.21.15 says that demigods such as Lord Brahma and Lord Siva appeared in human form before Maharaja Rantideva, and SB 1.12.20p says that Indra and Agni appeared before Maharaja Sibi in the form of an eagle and a pigeon. There are also many instances in the Bhagavatam indicating that demigods on higher levels of karmic merit can appear and disappear at will before lesser demigods. For example, Indra's guru, Brhaspati, made himself inaccessible to Indra after Indra offended him (SB 6.7.16).

Our thesis is that this ability to appear and disappear is not "just" a matter of mystical power. Rather, it demonstrates an important feature of the physical world in which we live. This world contains many manifestations which are not accessible to our ordinary senses, but which are accessible to more highly developed beings, such as the demigods. There is a hierarchy of "dimensional" levels within the universe, and beings on one particular level can operate within a larger continuum than beings on lower levels. The spiritual realm of Vaikuntha and Goloka Vrndavana is on a still higher level. Thus Brahma, the topmost demigod within the material universe, became completely bewildered when Krishna revealed the spiritual world to him.

In SB 1.16.3 it is said that during Maharaja Pariksit's horse sacrifices, even a common man could see demigods. It appears that in Vedic times demigods often visited the earth and engaged in various dealings with human beings. However, only qualified persons were generally able to see them. Even recently, after the advent of Lord Caitanya, demigods used to invisibly visit the home of Jagannatha Misra to glorify the Lord (CC AL 14.172-174).

The Bhagavatam often alludes to the idea that by acquiring higher spiritual qualifications, one's sensory powers will be enhanced, and one will automatically be able to experience phenomena within a broader realm of existence. (It is also emphasized, of course, that such automatic developments should not be exploited for sense gratification, since this would divert one from the actual goal of spiritual life.) One example of this is given by the instruction of Narada Muni to Dhruva Maharaja that by chanting the mantra, "om namo bhagavate vasudevaya," he would soon be able to see "the perfect human beings (khe-caran) flying in the sky" (SB 4.8.53).

One method that was sometimes used to travel from the higher planets to the earth is mentioned in (SB 3.8.5p), where we read that great sages can travel from Satyaloka to the earth via the Ganges river, which flows all over the universe. Srila Prabhupada points out that this form of travel is possible in any river by mystic power. It hardly seems plausible that this method of travel involves swimming up or down stream over vast distances, and, of course, the connection between the earthly Ganges and its celestial counterpart is not visible to us. We suggest that this process of travel involves higher dimensional connections between locations, and that the river serves as a kind of guiding beacon to direct such higher dimensional transport. In the case of the Ganges, the course of the river from higher planets down to the earth must also be higher dimensional.

In KB p. 534 there is a description of how Citralekha, a mystic yogini, traveled in outer space from Sonitapura to Dvaraka and transferred Aniruddha back to Sonitapura in a sleeping condition. This is another example of a form of travel that seems to require higher dimensional connections for its operation.

The Vedic sastras mention many remarkable events which are said to have taken place on the earth in the remote past. Many of these events involve phenomena that we do not experience today, and one might ask why this should be so, if these events actually did occur at one time. One reason for this given in the Bhagavatam is that prior to the beginning of Kali-yuga, natural processes on the earth operated in a different mode than they do today (see SB 1.4.17p). The sensory powers of all living beings were on a higher average level than they are at present, and advanced beings such as demigods and great sages regularly visited the earth. Thus the earthly realm of ordinary human life was more intimately linked up with higher realms of material and spiritual reality than it has been since the start of the Kali-yuga.

This idea leads naturally to the following tentative scenario for the history of the last few thousand years: Once the Kali-yuga began, demigods and higher beings greatly curtailed communications with people on the earth, and the general sensory level of human beings also declined. For some time, people continued to believe in stories about the earlier state of affairs on the earth due to the authority of tradition. However, due to the lack of feedback from higher sources and the natural cheating propensity of human beings, the traditions in various parts of the world gradually became more and more garbled, and people began to lose faith in them. Finally the present stage of civilization was reached, in which old traditions are widely viewed as useless mythology, and people seek knowledge entirely through the use of their current, limited senses.

Regions on this Earth Not Visible to Our Senses

We have been developing the idea that the three-dimensional continuum of our experience does not constitute the totality of spiritual or material reality. One feature of this idea is that there exist worlds, or realms of experience, which are located here on the earth, but which cannot be perceived or visited by human beings possessing ordinary sensory powers. Of course, the most striking example of this is Krishna's transcendental dhama of Vrndavana. In CC AL 5.18p it is stated that Krishna's abode is unlimited and all-pervading, and yet it is identical to the Vrndavana of this earth. This implies that within the tract of land called Vrndavana in India there exists a completely real realm of spiritual existence which is not accessible to the senses of ordinary conditioned beings. This is another example of higher dimensional connections, and it implies that two (or more) worlds of experience can co-exist in parallel, in the same location.

The holy dhama of Navadvipa is another example of this (and, of course, Navadvipa dhama is also identical to Vrndavana.) Srila Bhaktivinod Thakur states in the Navadvipa Mahatmya that, "The dhama of Navadvipa, within Gaura Mandala, and served by the Ganga, is situated in eternal splendor. . . . The form of Gaura Mandala, eternally transcendental to the material world, is like the sun. The materialist's eye is covered by the cloud of illusion, and because of this he sees only the secondary transformations of that spiritual energy, the dull, inert material world" (NM, p. 4).

The transcendental realms of Navadvipa and Vrndavana are purely spiritual, but there are also material examples illustrating the idea of parallel worlds co-existing in one place. For example, the Bhagavatam states that Maru and Devapi, two ancient royal princes belonging to the Surya and Soma dynasties, are still living in the Himalayas in a place called Kalipa-grama. By the power of mystic yoga they will prolong their lives until the beginning of the next Satya-yuga and then revive the lost Surya and Soma dynasties by begetting children (SB 9.12.6, 9.22.17-18).

If we go to the Himalayas we will certainly not be able to perceive Maru and Devapi using our ordinary senses, even though they are human beings possessing gross material bodies. It can also be argued that we will not be able to perceive the surroundings in which they live. A human being cannot live without interacting with his material surroundings. Even a yogi who is simply living on air requires an undisturbed sitting place. Could it be that the material accoutrements and sitting places of these two persons are directly visible and accessible to us, even though they themselves are invisible? We suggest that they are actually living in a setting which is entirely inaccessible to our senses, but which can be seen and entered by a person, such as an advanced yogi, whose senses can operate on an appropriate level.

Here the objection may be raised that a co-existing invisible world cannot be on the same level of reality as our world because it must be "subtle", transparent, or ghostlike in nature, whereas our own world is opaque and substantial. Our reply is that such a co-existing world is not invisible to us because it is made of transparent substance distributed within our own three-dimensional continuum. Rather, it is invisible because it lies in a higher dimension, and is entirely outside of our continuum. It can be in the "same place" as we are by virtue of higher dimensional interconnection. A person with higher sensory powers is able to perceive this world not because he can discern some nearly transparent substance lying within his own three-dimensional space, but because his senses are not restricted to three-dimensions, and have access to broader realms of material or spiritual reality.

We should note that the basic elements of earth, water, air, fire, and ether are present in some form on all levels of reality, both spiritual and mundane. In SB 11.21.5 it is stated that these five elements constitute the bodies of all conditioned souls, from Lord Brahma down to the nonmoving creatures. Also CC AL 5.53 states that, "the earth, water, fire, air and ether of Vaikuntha are all spiritual. Material elements are not found there."

The five material elements (pancha bhuta) are described in the Bhagavad-gita as separated energies of Krishna. Their counterparts in Vaikuntha are evidently similar enough to them to warrant being called by the same names. However, the spiritual elements must belong to Krishna's internal potency. It would therefore seem that the spiritual world and the material world are similar in the sense that both contain variegated forms containing solid, liquid and gaseous constituents. At the same time, they have distinct qualitative features, of which one of the most notable is the presence of the modes of passion and ignorance in the material world, and their absence in the spiritual world. Material realms on various dimensional levels will also possess similar variegated forms, but the higher realms will be characterized by greater predominance of the mode of goodness over the modes of passion and ignorance.

As a final point, we note that the history of the Madhva-Gaudiya sampradaya sheds some light on the higher dimensional nature of reality. In SB 1.4.15p Srila Prabhupada points out that Vyasadeva is residing in Samyaprasa in Badarikasrama. Many people in India make a pilgrimage to Badarikasrama every year, but it is not possible for an ordinary person to meet Vyasadeva. However, it is said that Madhvacarya met Vyasadeva there and took initiation from him. It was through this higher dimensional link that the Madhva-Gaudiya sampradaya was passed down from Srila Vyasadeva to the recent line of acaryas.


I. Works by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. These works are all published by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust in Los Angeles, California.

Bhagavad-gita As It Is (1983)

Sri Caitanya-caritamrita (1974)

Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead (1-vol. edition, 1986)

Nectar of Devotion (1985)

Srimad Bhagavatam (1987)
II. Other works.

Bhaktivinod Thakur, Navadwip Mahatmya, trans. Banu das, ms.

Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami Thakura, Sri Brahma-samhita (Los Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1985).

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