I must begin this post with a clear disclaimer: I am not even going to pretend that I have anything close to an in depth understanding of Hindi faith/philosophy and Vedic culture based on one conversation with a member of the Vedic community but I can give you my impressions as it relates to the search for life elsewhere in the Universe. First of all, my gratitude to Dr. Prashant Jani, Medical Doctor and Pathologist who lives in practices in my home community and is an active and prominent member of the Hindu/Vedic community. Dr. Jani was kind and open enough to share some time with me after a prayer session at the Vedic temple. Full disclosure: prior to meeting with him, I was not even aware that there was a Vedic Cultural Centre in our community. I was able to make the connection through a mutual acquaintance in the South Asian community.
So–now that I have established my utter lack of qualifications in this area, let me point out Dr. Jani’s very solid qualifications in both the Vedic culture and the field of science. As a medical doctor and pathologist, he is trained in the scientific method and everything he does, he told me, is based on scientific evidence and observation. His specialty is diagnosing cancer which would most certainly require a rigorous practice of the scientific method.
As Dr. Jani took me through some of the basics of the Vedic/Hindu belief system, he stressed the fact that all Vedic teachings are based on science, although it may not be traditional science as we understand it in Western culture. As I listened and tried to absorb concepts that are completely out of the realm of anything I have ever considered or believed, it occurred to me that the existence of life on other planets already exists within this tradition and has for centuries. Any discoveries that may occur in western science and space exploration that reveal the existence of life elsewhere will surely be old news to members of this faith. But, it seems to me that once again, we are back to that pesky conundrum of how we define “life”.
Allow me to explain- well–as best as I can as an outsider. In order to assist me in understanding these very existential concepts, Dr. Jani gave me a small book entitled ” Easy Journey to Other Planets” by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. In the summary on the back cover, the Swami tells us that ” Interplanetary travel is very tempting and exciting because the sky is filled with unlimited globes of varying qualities. The desire to travel to other planets can be fulfilled by the process of yoga….” I am not a yoga practitioner, although I know many people who are and very devoted to the practice. This is not a reference that I have heard before and I would suspect that understanding such a concept would take years of study and practice. But it seems that me that, although there is a clear and definitive acceptance of the existence of other planetary systems, these systems are spiritual planes or spheres rather than material or physical, or at least physical in the way that most of us would understand physical to be. And that opens up another conversation on how one defines the material world, consciousness and the nature of reality–a discussion that is far too complex to go into here. Responses would be likely be as diverse as the human population and would largely be affected by people’s faith, philosophy and/or world view—which is what we are talking about here.
One of the more interesting concepts in the Swami’s book is introduced in a chapter called “Varieties of Planetary Systems”. In it, he tells us that the world might view Krishna consciousness as old fashioned but “people should not misunderstand and assume that we are lagging behind modern scientific advancement.” He cites the NASA moon landing as an event that has taken place before and that “millions of men have went there and come back.” This has been going on since ancient times, he tells us and then asks a very relevant question later in the chapter : ” Now someone has gone to the moon but what will human society benefit from it? If after so much energy and money, one goes to the moon and simply touches it, what is the benefit of that?” And that is a question that I am fairly certain has been asked of many people of diverse faiths and one that I have even asked myself on occasion. It’s a good question, regardless of your belief system. He goes on to remind us that no matter what planet we travel to, we cannot rid ourselves of the same miseries- old age, disease and death. And that is most certainly a universal truth.
One of the things that I found especially fascinating about Swami Prabhupada’s teaching is his reference to the fact that there are “millions and billions of universes and millions and billions of suns and moons and planets.” As far as I can tell, the book was published in 1972. At that time, we weren’t even aware of the existence of any planet beyond our own solar system. The first exo planet was discovered in 1992 and it is only in the past decade or so that scientists now know that virtually every star in the sky in our own galaxy- and the billions of galaxies beyond- probably hosts a planetary system of at least one exo planet.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, I cannot claim to even begin to understand the complexities of the existential concepts of the Vedic culture and Hindu faith –all of which seem completely foreign and esoteric to my rather linear Christian/Catholic view of life. And my interest is specific to how people of faith will respond to the inevitable discovery of life beyond our planet. It seems to me that such a discovery will barely register a ripple in the beliefs of this faith and whether I subscribe to the same beliefs or not, doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate them. Believers of Krishna , it seems to me, already know that the Universe is vast beyond our comprehension and contains many wonders that have yet to be revealed —regardless of how they are revealed –and to whom.
What do you think? Please join the conversation 🙂