This chapter is an excerpt from a conversation between Srila Sridhar Maharaj, neurophysiologist Dr. Daniel Murphey, and physical organic chemist Dr. Thoudam Singh.
Dr. Singh: When scientists speak of evolution, they mean that life has evolved from matter. I have heard you speak of evolution with quite a different concept. You say that everything is evolving from consciousness.
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: Yes, consciousness comes first and then matter. The basis of all things material is consciousness, which is spiritual. Consciousness can contact consciousness directly. When consciousness comes into the stage of matter, material conception, we experience a kind of vague consciousness; first there is hazy consciousness and then material consciousness. But everything has its spiritual side. And as eternal souls, our direct connection is really only with the conscious aspect of existence. For example, the earth is conceived of as a woman. According to the Vedas, the presiding deity of the earth is a woman. And the sun is conceived of as a devata, a male god.
The soul, coming into material consciousness, must come through some hazy reflection of consciousness, chidabhas. Only then can the soul experience material consciousness. Before pure consciousness evolves to material consciousness, it will pass through a hazy stage of consciousness or chidabhas. So, in the background of every material thing, there is a spiritual conception. This cannot but be true.
Dr. Singh: What is chidabhas?
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: Something like mind. Suppose consciousness comes to feel matter. When consciousness is coming to the material world to know the material world, it has to first pass through material consciousness, and then it can feel what is matter. According to Darwin’s theory, matter gradually produces consciousness, but before producing consciousness it must produce some hazy consciousness; then mind and then the soul. But in reality, it is just the opposite. So, subjective evolution parallels objective or material evolution. But in the evolution of consciousness, the supersubject is first, then the individual soul or jiva-subject is next. Then, from the subjective consciousness of the jivas, matter is produced. But consciousness must penetrate hazy consciousness to perceive matter.
I say that the process of evolution moves from the top downward. The Absolute Reality — if we at all assert that there is anything which is the absolute reality — must possess two qualifications. What is that? First, in the words of Hegel, He must be by Himself: He is His own cause. Second — and more important to us — He is for Himself: He exists to fulfil His own purpose. He is not subservient to any other entity for then His position would be secondary. Reality the Absolute is full in Himself. All other things are coming from Him. The perfect substance already exists. What appears to us as imperfect comes down according to our own defective senses.
The imperfect must be dependent upon the perfect, the ultimate reality. And the imperfect may be so arranged by Him in order to prove His perfection. To prove the perfection of the Absolute, there is conditioned and unconditioned, finite and infinite reality. The defective world, therefore, has an indirect relation to the truth. However, consciousness cannot jump at once into the conception of matter; it must pass through a process to come to material consciousness. From the marginal position, from the verge of the higher eternal potency, evolution and dissolution of this material world begins. This takes place only on the outskirts of svarup-sakti, which is the system responsible for the evolution of the spiritual plane and is an eternally evolving dynamic whole. It is not that nondifferentiation is the origin of differentiation. An eternally differentiated substance exists. That plane is filled with lila, dynamic Pastimes. If a static thing can be conceived of as eternal, then why can’t a dynamic thing be conceived of as eternal? That plane of svarup-sakti is fully evolved within. It is eternal. Evolution and dissolution concern only the degradation of the subtle spirit to the gross material platform and his evolution towards perfection. Here, there is evolution and dissolution, but these things do not exist in the eternal abode of svarup-sakti.
Dr. Singh: Objective evolution is what modern science calls Darwinian evolution, but how does subjective evolution unfold in Krishna conscious science?
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: You have to take the example of hypnotism. Through a form of mystic ‘hypnotism’, the supersubject controls the subject to see a particular thing, and he is bound to see that. One may think that as we see a stone, the stone compels us to see it as stone, but it is just the opposite: we are compelled to see it as stone being under the influence of the supersubject who displays everything as He likes. When He commands, «See stone», then we shall see stone. Full control over whatever we see rests in His hands. No power to control what we see rests in the objective world. The objective world is fully controlled by the subjective. This is confirmed in Bhagavad-gita, where Krishna says, «Pasya Me yogam aisvaram: if I say, ‘Behold my mystic power’, you are bound to see it. You have no other choice.»
Krishna says mattah smrtir jnanam apohanan cha: He is the prime cause of remembrance, forgetfulness, and intelligence. He is the controller. For His own pleasure, His lila, He can do anything. This is true not only in the material world, but also in His own domain. What is meant by this statement of the Gita concerns this brahmanda, this material world. The gist of this statement is that from the lower planetary systems up to the highest — this entire area of evolution and dissolution — everything is manipulated by Him. No credit can be attached to any external thing. All credit should go to the Centre who controls everything.
And reality is subjective. It is based on consciousness. Colour is perceived through the eye. It is not that the colour is there and the eye can catch it. But the seer sees through the eye and perceives colour. So colour is a perception. Its position as actual substance should be traced to the subtle plane of existence. This is the nature of reality: the gross is coming from the subtle. In sankhya philosophy, of course, that is described as a bifurcated thing. According to sankhya philosophy, there are three branches of reality: the sense, the senses, and the sense objects. Sound is created by the ear, colour is produced by the eye, and so on.
The objects of the senses are in the mode of ignorance, tama-guna, the sensual instruments are in the mode of passion, raja-guna, and the power of sensation is in the mode of goodness, sattva-guna. From these proceed light, the eye, and colour; sky, the ear, and sound. In this way, mundane reality branches in three ways: tama, raja, and sattva. So the gross world is coming from the subtle through the channel of consciousness. The feeler, the instrument of perception, is creating the object of his perception.
Try to understand this principle of hypnotism. The whole thing is hypnotism — this whole creation — and it is completely in the hand of the Supreme Subject. All material laws have no meaning: the laws and the sublaws are all pertaining to the subjective world.
Dr. Murphey: But how can one perceive this sort of hypnotism?
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: How can we know beforehand that in a laboratory, combining hydrogen and oxygen — two gases — will produce water? Only when one comes to a particular stage of scientific knowledge can he know that a more subtle thing like gas can produce a tangible material thing like water. In that way, when you have an idea of the higher substance, then you can understand how from the subtle, the gross has originated.
The relative world is a perverted reflection of the Absolute Reality. Highly qualified things must be given the position of causal importance. It is not that a lower thing can produce a higher thing, but it is easy for a higher thing to produce something lower. This is not difficult to understand.
The modern scientific position is saying basically that stone can produce soul; but why not consider that soul can produce stone? We have to enquire about that process — how the soul can produce stone. But we have done away with that and instead we say that stone is gradually producing soul.We are very fond of investigating in that line. Why? The subtle should be given more importance than the gross. Why should we think that man has created God, and not that God has created man?
Dr. Singh: Then God is the magician and we are His subjects?
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: Not only is He a magician, but the Super-magician. He is not merely the kind of magician that is within our experience.
Dr. Murphey: What is the role of yogamaya, the Lord’s internal potency?
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: She is found in the eternal company of Krishna. In our conception of divinity, purusa/prakrti, the masculine/feminine, are existing together. Potent and potency, substance and potency, are inconceivably interconnected. Otherwise, if we conceive of the Supreme Soul as existing independent of any potency, that will be the Brahma conception of Sankar Acharya: ultimate consciousness as non-differentiated oneness. So, the Absolute Truth includes both potent and potency — purusa/prakrti — consciousness with energy.
Actually, there are three main elements to be traced within divinity: jnan, bala, and kriya. The eternal aspect of the absolute whole is divided in three ways: energy, consciousness, and ecstasy. Thinking, willing, and feeling. Sat, chit, ananda. Sat, the potency for maintaining existence, is the potency of Baladev (bala). Chit, the aspect of consciousness, is Vasudev (jnan). And ananda, ecstatic feeling, is Radhika (kriya). Jnan, bala, kriya (knowledge, strength, feeling); sat, chit, ananda (eternity, cognition, bliss); sandhini, samvit, hladini (existence, realisation, ecstasy): Baladev, Krishna, Radharani. These are the three phases of Advaya-jnan, or the one whole. The one whole can be thought of in its primary, evolved stage in three ways: main consciousness, main energy, and main satisfaction. In three phases, we are to conceive of that ultimate reality. It is there: jnana-bala-kriya cha. Thinking, feeling, willing. Sat, chit, ananda. Satyam, sivam, sundaram (eternity, auspiciousness, beauty). And these three principles are expressed through evolution and dissolution in the eternal and non-eternal.
These aspects of theism have been dealt with in a very scientific way in the Sri Krishna-samhita of Bhakti Vinod Thakur. Once, I considered from this point of view the question of the planets in Vedic cosmology. We see that by the movement of the different planets a solar eclipse is caused by the moon’s shadow falling upon the Earth. And yet in the scriptures it has been described that, during an eclipse, the planet Rahu is devouring the sun or the moon. When Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur was in Puri during his last days and an eclipse came, one devotee who was supposed to know siddhanta, the conclusions of scripture, was sitting next to Prabhupad. He suddenly ridiculed the idea given in the Bhagavatam that during a solar or lunar eclipse Rahu devours the sun or moon.
I could not tolerate that such a remark should be passed in regard to the Bhagavatam and argued that what Srimad Bhagavatam has stated is not to be taken lightly. I offered what seemed like some far-fetched support. I said that in his Jaiva-dharma, Bhakti Vinod Thakur has created so many characters, but I think that they are not imaginary. What he has written might have occurred during some other millennium (kalpa), or day of Brahma, and that has now come to the surface. In this way I went on to support the cosmological position of the Bhagavatam by arguing that what is necessary to prove reality must also have some real position. It cannot but be. In this way my argument went, and Prabhupad supported me.
In understanding the position of the planet Rahu, what Sukadev and Vyasadev have said is geographically impossible, but their statements are there in Srimad Bhagavatam, and the literal meaning of the scriptures is not to be taken lightly. Considering the importance of the literal meaning of scripture, Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj presented Bhagavad-gita As It Is. I thought, «How am I to prove what the Bhagavatam says? I don’t know. But what is said in Srimad Bhagavatam must be true. I have faith in that.»
There are so many statements on the cosmology of the universe in the scriptures. The Aryans, the spiritually developed men of former times, used to see everything as consciousness. They saw that the shadow is also conscious. The shadow, abhas, is also considered to be a stage of consciousness. Only through that shadowy stage of consciousness can we come to the material conception of a thing. Before we reach the conception of a shadow, we must pass through some mental stage, and personification may be attached to that mental stage. The personification of the shadow may be referred to as ‘Rahu’.
The soul approaches matter, the material world, but before that, he must pass through a shadowy stage of consciousness called chidabhas. Consciousness passes through the shadow level of consciousness into matter, non-consciousness. And that shadow stage of consciousness has its personality. It is also conscious, and may be known as ‘Rahu’.
Every material conception presupposes a spiritual conception of that particular thing. The shadow through which consciousness must pass in order to perceive things as material has personality, and in the Bhagavatam, the rsis, the seers of the truth, are addressing it as Rahu. Because they are highly developed, they find the personal aspect of existence everywhere. What we perceive to be dead matter, they perceive to be conscious. Therefore, they always take the personal perspective.
The soul, when going to experience any material conception, will have to pass through a medium which influences his consciousness to see things as material. What is concrete matter is unknown. It is a mere effect of consciousness. As everything material must have some conscious origin, or origin in personal consciousness, there must be a personal conception of the sun, the moon, the earth, and all the planets. Before we reach the conception of a shadow or any other object, the soul has to pass through a conscious stage. That stage has some spiritual existence as a person. Therefore, the Bhagavatam refers to the sun, the moon, and the planet Rahu, as persons. Everything — the earth, the moon , the stars, the planets — has a personal conception. In the background of what we can perceive with our dull senses, everything that is said to be matter, there must be a personal conception. Without the influence of a personal conception, consciousness cannot reach the stage of gross matter.
Therefore, in the ancient scriptures we find that the great sages and rsis are always addressing everything within this world as a person. Although to us it is dead matter, they have considered them as persons. Why? The matter is rather the shadow of the personal entity. The personal, conscious entity is more real, and the matter we perceive through dimmed consciousness is less real.
Dr. Murphey: So, that shadow is Rahu?
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: When we conceive of the personal representation of that shadow, it will be known as Rahu. Everything is conscious. The shadow, its effect — everything.
When the moon is between the sun and the earth, the shadow of the moon is coming here, and what is coming is also conscious. Everything is conscious first — then there is matter. From the personal conception things evolve to gross consciousness. It is all personal. So, the rsis with such a vision of reality used to address everything as a person: the trees, the mountains, the sun, the moon, the ocean. When pure consciousness is coming to experience pure matter, then there must first be some mixed stage, and that is a person suffering in karma. Person means they are not a fully developed spiritual person at present, but in a mixed condition. So, what the rsis are saying — that everything is a person — is real; it is not a concoction.
Everything is conscious. As the present scientists say everything is matter, we have real cause to think that everything is conscious. Whatever you see does not matter; we can directly feel what is in our nature. That is conscious. Our consciousness may be in a developed or degraded position, but consciousness is nearer to us. We feel our mental energy only.
Dr. Murphey: This is a bit difficult for us to fully grasp. When we see colour, what are we actually seeing?
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: That is a mental stage.
Dr. Singh: What is the reality of that object?
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: Reality — that is in the soul. Only the soul is real; the seer is reality. The subject is real. And whatever the subject feels also emanates from the subject.
Dr. Singh: But are the objects the subject perceives also persons? When we are seeing the colour red, now is red also a personality?
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: Everything has its representation in the original, personal, conscious, spiritual reality. Otherwise, there is no possibility of its being reflected into this plane as matter. First, there is consciousness, and then when it is in a more gross condition, it appears to be matter. In the study of ontology, it is taught that when studying a particular thing, although we can know that it has certain attributes to the eye and that it appears to the ear in a particular way, these are all appearances. Independent of appearances, the ontological aspect of a thing — what it is, the reality of a thing — is unknown and unknowable. My contention is that when consciousness is going to feel non-conscious matter, it will have to pass through a conscious area to meet the material object. So, the full perception of that material thing cannot but be conscious, and consciousness always indicates person. First, there is conception and then the material idea.
The conscious world is very near and the material world is very far off. Therefore, the great rsis, whose thinking is highly developed, address whatever they find within the environment as if they are all persons. In the Vedas, the ancient scriptural literature of India, we find that the saints and sages are always in the midst of so many persons. In the background everything is a person.
Dr. Murphey: And person means thinking, feeling, willing.
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: Thinking, feeling, willing — a living entity has three phases. And it is also the same with God and His potency. There is a subject existing first, and then his experiences. And experiences of the subtlemost character come first and are given the most importance. And when the subject is coming to the more distant area to conceive of matter, that will be the farthest point from him. He will address everything by which he is surrounded with personal conceptions.
A personal conception cannot but assert that matter is far off. The direct connection of consciousness is with the shadow, the reflection of the material into the conscious world. The soul can understand that only. If matter can exist independently, then also matter has a shadow in the conscious world, and the soul is concerned with that shadow.
In other words, there is the person and then the body. Just as the body is the after-effect of the conscious living agent, matter is the after-effect of spirit. Irrespective of all material consciousness, that which is in direct contact with soul is all personal. Chidabhas is something like the mental substance we have within.
There are two kinds of persons, ksara and aksara: the pure liberated soul and the soul who is struggling in matter. When liberated and non-liberated persons are mixed within the world of material transactions, whether as moving or non-moving entities, or whatever their position might be, still they should be considered persons. Since everything is a unit of consciousness, everything has personal existence.
Dr. Murphey: So, externally we see the Ganges as water, but in reality she is a person.
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: Everything is a person. Before we go to the material conception, we must pass through the personal conception or aspect of that thing. In Vrndavan, everything is conscious, but some things are posing in a passive way. But they are all conscious: the Yamuna river, the cows, the trees, the fruit — everything is conscious, spiritual, but they pose in different ways. Being able to detect the conscious characteristic in everything, the Aryans saw all of nature as conscious and personal and addressed everything as conscious.
Consciousness and personality are the universal basis of reality. Whatever we may experience is conscious. The reflection of a material object is within me, and the plane within me is conscious. The subject is consciousness, and whatever kind of thing the object may be, it casts its reflection into the plane of consciousness. The observer of any objective reality is involved only with consciousness from beginning to end and can have no conception of matter apart from consciousness.
Dr. Murphey: How can we differentiate consciousness from mind?
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: In Bhagavad-gita, the path of differentiation between consciousness and mind is suggested: indriyani parany ahur. What is atma, the soul, the spiritual conception? We have come to the world conception by a particular process. By the process of elimination we can trace out what the mind is. It is said that the basis of the mind is acceptance and rejection: sankalpa-vikalpa — «I want this, I don’t want that.» What is the mind? A thing that contains apathy and sympathy for the external world. That is the mind. We have to trace within us what that thing is. It is within us, and one has to enter into his own self and try to have some personal experience of what the mind is. Then by internal analysis one can try to come directly in touch with the faculty of judgment, reason, intelligence, by asking, «What is intelligence? Where is it within me?» We should try to find that out and come in touch with that directly. We should enquire, «What is the mind? It is already within me. But what is it? And what is reason within me? What is the source of the mind and intelligence? And crossing the stage of the decisive faculty, what is the soul?» We must try, as a yogi does, to come in direct touch with the elements within us. Mind and intelligence are within each of us. Why should we not be able to trace out exactly what they are, to see internally what they are?
Dr. Murphey: When our faith is growing in a particular direction, how can we know that our realisations are coming from our own internal self, from our inner consciousness, and not from the influence of the environment, the circumstances that surround us?
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: The self is in a dormant state, but by some external help it may be reawakened, just as when one is sleeping, by external interference a man can be roused. It is something like that. Someone is dormant, but when, by external help, he awakes from his slumber, he again becomes aware of himself. Once he is awakened and his self-awareness has returned, he immediately knows, «I was such and such; I am such and such.» By the help of our friends, we may recover our health. In the same way, if we continue to apply the process of bhakti, we shall become more and more conscious of our self and of reality. We are our own guarantee.
Dr. Murphey: I wanted to clarify one point. In Kapila’s system of analysis, sankhya, he says that pradhan is «that unmanifested matter which is eternal.» You say that everything is consciousness. Is pradhan also composed of consciousness?
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: Yes. What is material is only the misconception which is the cause of all this material existence. But it also has personality — Devi, the goddess.
The world begins within misconception. When you have the proper conception, then you can read Krishna-lila everywhere. Everything will excite you about Vrndavan. You won’t see the outward thing if you are relieved from misconception. A madman has a maladjusted brain. He may be in the midst of friends, but he is lost in his madness, his paranoia. When he goes back to his normal position, he finds the same thing — all friends. In the same way, everything is all right — only the disease, our misconception needs to be removed.
Dr. Murphey: The disease is our lack of Krishna consciousness.
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: Lack of consciousness means misconception, disease. This is described in Srimad Bhagavatam: bhayam dvitiyabhinivesatah syad — the disease is separate interest. The deviation from our normal spiritual condition, the development of misconception, is based on the charm — the prospect — of separate interest. That is the root cause of all misunderstanding. The conception of local, provincial interest has caused the difference between a proper conception of reality and misconception. We have gone away from the central conception. From universal consciousness we have come to this provincial plane. And according to the gradation of consciousness in its development from provincial to universal, we may find ourselves in so many different planets or planes of existence: Bhu, Bhuva, Sva, Jana, Maha, Tapa, Satya; all these different stages of development are involved in this process of provincialism and universalism. But loss of consciousness of the Centre is the root of this entire material existence.
One who is conscious of the organic whole, on the other hand, is in the most healthy position. That is proper adjustment, and maladjustment is the cause of our present diseased condition. Adjustment is life; it is liberated life, and to be the prey of maladjustment is to approach pain and misery. Everything within the environment is all right. The only difficulty is found in the conception of selfish special interest. Our aversion to the universal interest is the cause of our detachment from the conception of the whole and from happiness and health. We have been deprived of the happiness of our healthy position, and the cause is selfish interest.
The Absolute Autocrat is absolute good. So, there is no room for complaint against Him. Krishna says, suhrdam sarva-bhutanam. He is the owner of everything; in comparison, we are nothing. But still, He is our friend. We should not forget that. We are represented in Him. Our detachment from Him is the cause of all the miseries that we are suffering. We and others like us have lost faith in Him, but He is our friend. We are jealous of Him and are thinking, «I am not the master? Someone else is the master — this is intolerable. No taxation without representation!» But our interests are well-represented in Krishna. He cares about us even more than we can conceive. Why do we forget that?
If we only reinstate ourselves in that faith, we will be all right. It is our fault that we are suffering; otherwise, there is no difference in vision from the universal standpoint. Isad apetasya: we have turned away from our master. But we should remember that He is our master, He is our well-wisher, He is our guardian. Deviation from that consciousness is misery of an infinite magnitude. Its cause is very subtle and very minute; it is our mentality of separate interest. And as a result, we have been captured by the enemy camp.
Patanjali has said we are moving towards evil in an intelligent, organised way. That is not only mad but wicked; it is worse than mad, according to Patanjali. What will be the relief of a soul in such a deplorable condition? A madman is in possession of everything — he is only out of his mind. His consciousness has to be adjusted properly. Then he will find, «Oh, everything is all right — let me go back home.» At present his consciousness is cast aside. He is not at home; his consciousness must be pushed homeward.
That is the problem. Our Guru Maharaj used to say, «I don’t admit any famine in this world — only that of a lack of Krishna consciousness: jagate eka-matra Hari-katha-durbhiksa chada ara kona durbhiksa nai.» Whenever he became excited, he used to use this expression. He would say, «From door to door tell everyone, ‘Krishna is the Supreme; you are all servants of Krishna.’ Remind everyone of this, from door to door. Then they will find, ‘Oh, I have everything I need. I am Krishnadas, a servant of Krishna. I must connect with Krishna.’ That link must be supplied, and then everything will be all right. There is no dearth of anything else. There is no real misery, except that we have forgotten Krishna, our Lord. That is the only point we must push. This is the universal necessity. I don’t admit any necessity besides this.»
Within this world there is always a fire burning, but there is no necessity of extinguishing the fire because we have nothing to do with the world that will be burned into ashes by the fire. All our inner demands can be met only in connection with Krishna. All other things are unnecessary. They may be burned into ashes or devoured by flood. We have no real concern with any of those things. Rather, those material attachments are dragging us back towards the wrong thing. And as a result, we can’t allow our mind to be attracted to Krishna. The things of this world, or attachments, are all negative; these things are all our enemy. The whole universe may be burned to ashes, but we will not be affected in any way. The world may be devastated — the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars — everything may vanish, but still we remain. The soul is eternal. And if we can have a connection with Krishna, the things of this world are all unnecessary for us and for everyone else. Why should we come to live in the mortal world, erroneously identifying ourselves with flesh and blood? We only think that we are being born and dying. But it is a false notion.
Everything is conscious. And when we realise it fully, we shall be fixed in the svarup-sakti domain in the spiritual world. There, the different living beings may pose as matter, as the Yamuna, as water, as creepers, as trees, but they are all conscious units, simply posing in different ways.
Dr. Murphey: It is said that when Krishna goes to take bath in the Yamuna, all the waves rush in to embrace Krishna.
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: Sometimes the stones melt feeling the imprint of Krishna’s lotus feet. Everything is conscious. So, it is also in the case of Rahu and Ketu and other planets. Everywhere in the scriptures, the spiritually developed sages are found talking with nature as if they are talking with a person. And it is real. But our consciousness is deviated in ignorance.
So, as scientists, you must crush the philosophy of fossilism. Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj has ordered you to take a strong position in the scientific community in the West and crush fossilism. Why should we accept fossilism? First there is consciousness. This is Berkeley’s theory. Not that mind is in the world, but world is in the mind. Everything is based on consciousness; no conception — nothing remains — without consciousness. So ultimately, all undesirable things are only a mental concoction.