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World Views: Vedic Vs. Western

This is an article I found on an ftp site a while back. This article, and a 
number of others like it, were actually formatted in xmosaic form, but I have
edited out all that formating junk and posted it here in text file form for
those who don't have xmosaic. It was originally published in _Back to Godhead_

-- Krishna

>From Back to Godhead Magazine, January/February 1993


By Sadaputa Dasa

(c) 1993 The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust
Used by permission

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, European scholars
and scientists began to come in contact with the culture of India. Many
were impressed by the antiquity of Vedic civilization and the deep
spiritual and material knowledge contained in the Vedic literature. But
other European intellectuals were dismayed ny these developments. For
example, in 1825 the British scholar John Bentley wrote of his conflict
with the scientist John Playfair, who was an admirer of Indian culture:

      "By his [Playfair's] attempt to uphold the antiquity of Hindu
        books against absolute facts, he thereby supports all those
        horrid abuses and impositions found in them, under the pretended
        sanction of antiquity....Nay, his aim goes still deeper; for by
        the same means he endeavors to overturn the Mosaic account, and
        sap the very foundation of our religion: for if we are to
        believe in the antiquity of Hindu books, as he would wish us,
        then the Mosaic account is all a fable, or fiction."[1]

For Bentley, a devout Christian, the matter was simple. The Mosaic
account in the Bible says that the earth was created in about 4004 B.C.,
and it completely contradicts the Vedic scriptures. Therefore, either
the Bible or the Vedic scriptures must be false.

Bentley and pioneer Indologists such as Sir William Jones and Max Muller
worked hard, and quite successfully, to convince people that the Vedic
scriptures are nothing but fables and fiction. They started a school of
thought that is solidly established in modern universities, both in
Western countries and in India itself. One of the teachings of this
school is that all Vedic literature, from the Rg Veda to the Puranas, is
essentially a fraudulent concoction written in recent times.

In the early days of Indology, writers such as Bentley openly expressed
the opinion that the authors of the Vedic scriptures were impostors,
cheaters, and superstitious fools. Today scholars customarily express
these conclusions in moderate language, which often gives the impression
that they are favorably disposed toward Vedic culture. For example,
Clifford Hospital teaches at Queen's University at Kingston in Canada,
and he has been principal of the Theological College since 1983. In a
recent interview conducted by the Vaisnava scholar Steven Rosen, he
discusses the date of the Srimad Bhagavatam:

       "STEVEN ROSEN: And it [the Bhagavatam] predates Vopadeva?
        DR. HOSPITAL: Oh yes. Absolutely. On a separate note, though,
        what's interesting about their [J.A.B. van Buitenen's and
        Friedholm Hardy's] work is that they do a detailed analysis
        about the relation between certain parts of the Bhagavata and
        the South Indian Alvar tradition. I think they make a very good
        case for what people have long suspected: that many of the ideas
        of the Bhagavata are coming out of the South Indian

The point here is that if many of the ideas of the Bhagavatam come from
the medieval Alvar tradition of South India, then the Bhagavatam was not
composed five thousand years ago by Vyasadeva. Since the text of the
Bhagavatam says that it was composed by Vyasadeva, Dr. Hospital's
comment is tantamount to saying that the real author of the Bhagavatam
was a fraud. But Dr. Hospital says it nicely, without using harsh

All Indologists, historians, and archaeologists in modern universities
agree that there was no civilization in the Ganges basin of India five
thousand years ago. To say that there was such a civilization is
considered utterly indefensible. This means that no modern-day scholar
can say that the pastimes of Krsna recounted in the Bhagavatam and the
Mahabharata really happened. According to accepted scholarly
conclusions, the civilization in which those pastimes are said to have
occurred simply did not exist. The stories of that civilization are
mythological and were gradually invented over the centuries, beginning
with early versions of the Mahabharata in the third century B.C. and
culminating in the Bhagavatam in perhaps the ninth century A.D.

Indologists often say that ancient Indians were content with fables and
had no interest in recording history. Yet some traditional Vedic
scholars strongly disagree with this. For example, Pandit Kota
Vankatachela has written a book giving an unbroken sequence of kings of
Magadha from the time of the Mahabharata up to the invasion of India by
Muhammed Ghori in 1193 A.D.[3] He uses the Puranas and related Sanskrit
texts to give dates for the reigns of these kings. The table [...] lists
the kings and the dates of their reigns, from Jarasandha to the dynasty
of Candragupta Maurya.

Kings of Magadha From the time of the Mahabharata to Candragupta Maurya

          King         Reign in       Length
                       Years B.C.     of reign
                Dynasty of Barhadratha
        Jarasandha      3222-3180       42
        Sahadeva        3180-3138       42
        Somapi          3138-3080       58
        Srutasrava      3080-3016       64
        Yutayu          3016-2980       36
        Niramitra       2980-2940       40
        Sunaksatra      2940-2882       58
        Brhatsena       2882-2859       23
        Karmajit        2859-2809       50
        Sutanjaya       2809-2769       40
        Vipra           2769-2734       35
        Suci            2734-2676       58
        Ksema           2676-2648       28
        Suvrata         2648-2584       64
        Dharmasutra     2584-2549       35
        Sama            2549-2491       58
        Suvrata         2491-2453       38
        Dyumatsena      2453-2395       58
        Sumati          2395-2362       33
        Subala          2362-2340       22
        Sunitha         2340-2300       40
        Satyajit        2300-2217       83
        Visvajit        2217-2182       35
        Ripunjaya       2182-2132       50
                Dynasty of Pradyota
        Pradyota        2132-2109       23
        Palaka          2109-2085       24
        Visakhayupa     2085-2035       50
        Rajaka          2035-2014       21
        Nandivardhana   2014-1994       20
                Dynasty of Sisunaga
        Sisunaga        1994-1954       40
        Kakavarna       1954-1918       36
        Ksemadharma     1918-1892       26
        Ksetrajna       1892-1852       40
        Vidhisara       1852-1814       38
        Ajatasatru      1814-1787       27
        Darbhaka        1787-1752       35
        Ajaya           1752-1719       33
        Nandivardhana   1719-1677       42
        Mahanandi       1677-1634       43
                Dynasty of Nanda
        Nanda           1634-1546       88
        Sumalya & Co.   1546-1534       12 (jointly)
                Dynasty of Maurya
        Candragupta     1534-1500       34
        Varisara        1500-1472       28
        Asoka           1472-1436       36
        Suyasa          1436-1428       8
        Dasaratha       1428-1420       8
        Indrapalita     1420-1350       70
        Harsa           1350-1342       8
        Sangata         1342-1333       9
        Salisuka        1333-1320       13
        Somasarma       1320-1313       7
        Satadhanva      1313-1305       8
        Brhadratha      1305-1218       87

According to Vankatachela's presentation, recorded history in India
extends all the way back from the Middle Ages to the time of the battle
of Kuruksetra. But his dates disagree with accepted scholarly
conclusions. For example, note that the dates for the reign of
Candragupta Maurya are 1534-1500 B.C. According to the Indologists,
Candragupta Maurya was a contemporary of Alexander the Great, who
invaded India in 326 B.C. They would reject Vankatachela's list of kings
as largely fictitious.

What is the truth? To find out with reasonable certainty requires
extensive research. Indologists have written hundreds of books and
scholarly articles expounding their views, and these need to be
carefully studied. Historical information is found in many Sanskrit
texts, including major and minor Puranas, commentaries on Puranas, and
related works. Other sources should also be researched -- temple
records, jyotisa sastras, calendrical records, the works of traditional
panditas such as Vankatachela, and finally, archaeological evidence and
records from other ancient civilizations.

One of the key strategems of the early Indologists was to use science as
a weapon to show the absurdity of Vedic scriptures. They observed that
to break people's faith in the philosophical and metaphysical teachings
of the scriptures is difficult, since these involve subjects beyond the
reach of our senses. But by showing that the scriptures give an
unscientific account of observable natural phenomena, Indologists could
make people lose faith in all scriptural teachings. Bentley made this
point in connection with the science of astronomy:

       "It is by the investigation of truth, and the exposure of
        Brahminical impositions, which can only be done through the
        means of astronomy, that the labours of those who are laudably
        endeavoring to introduce true religion and morality [i.e.
        Christianity] among the Hindus can have their true and
        beneficial effect. So long as the impositions and falsehoods
        contained in the Hindu books, which the common people are made
        to believe are the productions of their ancient sages, are
        suffered to remain unexposed, little progress can be expected to
        be made: but let the veil be withdrawn, uncover the impositions
        by true and rational investigation, and the cloud of error will
        of itself disappear; and then they will be not only more ready,
        but willing to adopt and receive the word of truth."[4]

Since Bentley's time, Indologists have tried hard to show that Indian
astronomy consists of unscientific ideas originating in India, and
misrepresented scientific ideas borrowed from the Greeks and the
Babylonians.[5] We can argue that this is not correct, but much research
is needed. A beginning has been made with the publication of our book
Vedic Cosmography and Astronomy.[6]

As it turned out, the strategy of using science to discredit the Vedic
scriptures backfired. Science was also used to discredit Christianity.
As a result, many of today's Indologists tend to take a secular stance,
and reject the Vedic literature as false, not because it disagrees with
Christianity, but because it disagrees with fundamental tenets of modern
science. Likewise, instead of becoming ready to receive the Christian
"word of truth," college-educated people in India now accept the
mechanistic world view of modern science. The impact of modern
scientific thinking on people's understanding of Vedic literature is
shown by the following remarks by Dr. H. Daniel Smith, a professor of
religion at Syracuse University. He comments on the Ramayana:

       "DR. SMITH: Well, to get right down to basics, it has to do with
        how one understands the word avatara, more specifically, in what
        sense, if any, the avatara of Rama was historical. If so, when?
        If so, where?

        STEVEN ROSEN: They say Treta-yuga.

        DR. SMITH: That's the answer given. And the literalists can even
        give a date, in July or something of such-and-such a year. And
        that's fine for the believer -- but it's only one of several
        possible perspectives. You see, it's that literalist commitment
        to the historicity of it -- just as Christians are absolutely
        committed to the historicity of Jesus -- that is at the crux of
        the matter.

        STEVEN ROSEN: Right.

        DR. SMITH: Just as many Christians affirm that Jesus really did
        exist in Jerusalem in the year One, also many Hindus say with
        the Ramayana: Rama really did exist, and he lived in Ayodhya,
        and when he went, he went out to Lanka, and there he fought and
        defeated Ravana and laid low all the Raksasa hosts. Now that's a
        real tight bind that people put themselves in. Whereas on the
        other hand, another way of dealing with it is to say that it is
        all a myth. Now please don't misunderstand me: this view doesn't
        necessarily hold that the story is fictional; what it says is
        that the Ramayana is telling a story that doesn't have to be
        taken literally on all counts, and that it is basically a story,
        if nothing else, that tells us quite a bit about human nature.

        STEVEN ROSEN: And some believers take it like that?

        DR. SMITH: Oh, indeed. Quite a few Hindus share that perspective
        -- not many but there are definitely those who do. For example,
        how do college educated Hindus deal with it? Well some, to be
        sure, just go back to their childhoods, saying, "Oh Rama. Bless
        Rama." Others, however, do try to think in terms of mythic
        meaning, and try to probe for deep, psychological references in
        their own experiences."[7]

Note the attempt to soften the blow: A myth is not necessarily
fictional; it's just a story that doesn't have to be taken literally and
that tells us something about human nature. The reasons Smith gives for
calling the Ramayana a myth are significant. First there is the problem
of saying that Lord Ramacandra lived in Ayodhya in the Treta-yuga. This
is ruled out by the Darwinian theory of evolution, which says that in
that time period, more than 864,000 years ago, there were no humans of
the modern type.

Careful research, however, can reveal evidence contrary to the accepted
scientific view and in agreement with the Vedic picture. Drutakarma Dasa
and I have just completed a 900-page book, Forbidden Archaeology, which
gives extensive evidence showing that human beings of the modern type
have been living on the earth for many millions of years.[8]

Another problem raised by Smith is that if we take the Ramayana
literally, then we are obliged to accept the existence of beings such as
Raksasas, endowed with remarkable mystic powers. Smith refers to the
world of the Ramayana as a "Walt Disney world" of fantasy -- a world
that scientifically educated people can hardly take seriously. This
problem applies to all the Vedic literature, which presents a view of
reality that assumes the existence of mystic powers, beings with subtle
bodies, transmigration of souls, and avataras of the Supreme Personality
of Godhead.

This too is an area where the findings of careful research support the
Vedic world view. A great deal of evidence in the domain of the
paranormal supports the reality of subtly embodied beings and mystic
powers. Official science tends to reject this evidence because it
violates accepted theories. Theoretical frameworks can change, however,
and many eminent scientists have seriously studied paranormal phenomena.
Research findings in the domain of the paranormal fit consistently into
the Vedic world view. They give empirical support to the reality of the
Vedic picture, and the Vedic literature provides a rational, scientific
framework for understanding paranormal phenomena.


[1] Bentley, John, 1825, Historical View of the Hindu Astronomy,
    Osnabruck: Biblio Verlag, reprinted in 1970, p. xxvii.
[2] Rosen, Steven, 1992, Vaisnavism: Contemporary Scholars Discuss the
    Gaudiya Tradition, New York: Folk Books, p. 71.
[3] Vankatachela, Kota, 1957, Chronology of Ancient Hindu History, Arya
    Vijnana Grandhamala.
[4] Bentley, p. 213.
[5] Pingree, David, 1976, "The Recovery of Early Greek Astronomy from
    India," Journal of the History of Astronomy, pp. 109-23.
[6] Thompson, Richard, 1989, Vedic Cosmography and Astronomy, Los
    Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.
[7] Rosen, p. 42.
[8] Cremo, Michael, amd Thompson, Richard, 1992, Forbidden Archaeology,
    San Diego: Bhaktivedanta Institute.
[9] Drake, Stillman, 1978, Galileo at Work, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago

Sadaputa Dasa (Richard L. Thompson) earned his Ph.D. in mathematics from
Cornell University. He is the author of several books, of which the most
recent is Vedic Cosmography and Astronomy.

Posted by Kalki Dasa for Back to Godhead (kalki33!kalki@lakes.trenton.sc.us)

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