Saturday, August 19, 2017


The other day I met five gentlemen (four elephants and a tortoise, actually) and asked them what they thought of Vedic cosmology in general and the idea that the world is a disc supported by them in particular. This was their reaction:

If I were still a Hare Krishna devotee, I would have been scandalized by their blasphemy and reported them to the cult's authorities for immediate corrective action. Imagine questioning the literal reading of Vedic literature promulgated by our guru and the founder/acharya of the ISKCON cult, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada! How offensive! What guru-aparadha!

As one of his earliest disciples, I remember hearing how a dear godbrother left the cult ("blooped") rather than accept Prabhupada's notion that the Sun is closer to the Earth than the moon. At the time, these cosmological beliefs of our guru were little known outside of his inner circle of followers. Had he informed the rest of us about this nonsense, few new disciples would have been recruited and many initiated devotees would have simply walked out the door. 

However, it soon became apparent that intellectual inquiry was actively discouraged as a condition of becoming a Hare Krishna devotee, with humility and sincerity equated with blindly following everything our guru taught us. This attitude so permeated our thinking that we were not in the least surprised when we heard that Prabhupada praised the submissive attitude of another one of his first disciples, an earnest young man, by stating that he would drink boiling ghee if he asked him to do so.

Today, under the impression that ISKCON is a bona fide Hindu religion, Indians throng to its grand temples throughout the world and provide crucial logistical and monetary support. Few know anything about the history of the cult nor of its philosophical underpinnings. This ignorance is exploited to the full and is the primary reason for the inroads the Hare Krishna leadership has made among many affluent and educated Hindus. Politicians have also fallen under its spell, with ISKCON aligning itself since the 1990’s with Hindu Nationalist nativist sentiments. A more foolhardy tactic by a cult that makes no secret of its contempt for Swami Vivekananda (whom the Hindutva movement has adopted as it spiritual godfather) is hard to imagine.


Before I continue with more on ISKCON's lunar lunacy and related matters, I would like to bring to your attention the demands Indian Prime Minister Modi made during his meetings with the Secretaries of Scientific Departments on Tuesday, July 18th in New Delhi. While admitting that he lacked the expertise to offer recommendations himself, he was disappointed with their progress in finding "solutions to societal problems."  Having just returned from visits to the U.S. and Israel  (in June and July, respectively), Modi's impatience  was understandable. So too was his example of the air pollution in New Delhi, a health menace that requires urgent remediation.

On the other hand, India has justly achieved renown in the scientific community with its Mars Orbital Mission ("Mangalyaan") launched on 6 November 2013, which has been orbiting Mars since 24 September 2014. What you might not know is that just a month later, in his October 2014 inaugural address at Sir H.N. Reliance Foundation in Mumbai, the newly elected PM declared that the elephant head on the human body of the god Ganesh is the work of an ancient plastic surgeon, whose successful grafting technique "started off plastic surgery." After you stop laughing, some context is necessary.

In common with politicians in general, Modi's priorities shift with the winds of party loyalties, strategic relationships, and inescapable social realities. A prime example is his appointing Yogi Adityanath as the new Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh this past March. A saffron-clad priest and brazen fanatic known for his indiscriminate hatred of Muslims, he is a serious liability for the Modi administration. Keep in mind that India's 172 Muslims are the world's third-largest (after Pakistan and Indonesia) and are overwhelmingly moderate politically. Adityanath's governing ability seems limited to closing butcher shops and banning the use of tobacco, what to speak of his "anti-Romeo" squads. These practices have earned him more ridicule than respect.


That Uttar Pradesh can ill afford such governmental hooliganism was on display just a few days ago when BBC News reported that 60 children died in a hospital in Gorakhpur “amid allegations that the oxygen supply was cut over unpaid bills.” Tragically, the majority of victims were babies in neonatal units or patients being treated for encephalitis. Despite the fact that 30 of the deaths occurred on Thursday and Friday (August 10 and 11th), hospital officials disputed the initial findings, claiming that the deaths were attributable to the poor health of many of their patients. This pattern of officials denying responsibility in the aftermath of preventable tragedies is a symptom of a society with a weak or, as in the case of India, an overburdened legal system riddled with corruption and mismanagement.

Like a tortoise that retreats into its shell when it senses danger, Modi has mastered the political art of avoiding conflict by denouncing terror and then ceding the criminal investigation to ill-trained police and a court system that moves at a snail’s pace. Case in point: this past February 27th marked the fifteenth anniversary of the Godhra train disaster, in which devotees of Lord Ram on their way to Ayodhya were attacked by a massive crowd of Muslim protestors while they sat helpless in the Sabarmati Express as it arrived at the Godhra station in the Gujarat. Fifty-nine were burnt alive in their railcar and many others were wounded.

Justice was long in coming for the survivors and their families, however. In this case, it took seven years for the case to go to trial and included the typical slew of violent rhetoric, unwarranted arrests, and botched physical evidence.[i] At the time of the attack, Modi had been Chief Minister of Gujarat (on a BJP ticket, no less) only since October 2001 and, like any newly-elected politician, took the issue of affiliated loyalties seriously. Among these are his ties to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (“VHP”), a Hindu nationalist group who organized the trip to Ayodhya that ended so tragically for the Kar Sevaks (devotees of Lord Rama), and who were also behind the destruction  in 1992 of the Babri Masjid mosque built over what was reputed to have been Rama’s actual birthplace.

These tragedies and many others between various religious factions could not have occurred without the complicity of elected officials and the BJP and VHP national organizations. As populist movements, they naturally appeal to the masses by applying a literal reading of the Vedas and Puranas, in the process reducing them to a series of comic books or the ancient equivalent of a long and typically overblown Bollywood crowd-pleaser. Forgotten in the rush to the lowest common denominator are philosophical considerations and other riches, as if locating and eradicating Muslim usurpers of various Hindu places of pilgrimage are deemed both acts of religious piety and Hindutva allegiance. These are political and fundraising tactics in a saffron guise. 


For the Hare Krishna (ISKCON) cultists, it has been a goldmine: their leaders have exploited Hindu sentiment to such an extent that its status as a marginal New Age cult has been forgotten in the presence of their opulent temples. This success, however, was built on a shoddy foundation of their guru’s literal reading of the literary epics such as the Bhagavad-Gita and the Srimad Bhagavatam (the English translations of which he cheerfully plagiarized). In order to keep the whole ISKCON enterprise from toppling over from the simplistic, pseudo-scholarship of its founder—what to speak of the social disasters his experiments in communal living brought upon his followers—current disciples of his disciples turned gurus themselves have worked overtime to give his ideas a veneer of legitimacy. Although Prabhupada was reliably strident in his denunciation of Hinduism, today ISKCON temples market themselves as Hindu mandirs and observe festivals he never would have considered necessary.

Yet, for reasons perhaps due to the intellectual equivalent of group hysteria, ISKCON has taken a collective leap into the deep end of the pool of pseudo-science by dedicating two of their most ambitious projects to date, the $45 million Vrindavan Chandrodaya temple and the $60 million Temple of the Vedic Planetarium in Mayapur, West Bengal, to a celebration of Vedic and Puranic cosmological ideas that they insist are factual. That the public is so thoroughly ignorant of their intentions is showcased by PM Modi’s letter to them dated 30 March 2017, New Delhi, in which he extols ISKCON for building the Vrindavan Chandodraya Mandir, crediting it for “promoting ideals of compassion and brotherhood.” Explain to me how the ISKCON cult’s attempt to promote ignorance of basic science and treating mythology as true history is anything other than making fools of its donors and devotees.

Proponents of “Vedic Science” have gained respectability only by lecturing on their theories among Hindus who insist, as Meera Nanda puts it, on “accommodating science and Hindu beliefs.”[ii] For such believers, all scientific knowledge is in the Vedas and the Puranas, making all subsequent discoveries strictly derivative. If you persist in any delusions you might have about so-called “Vedic Science,” go to the source and see for yourself!

For the next installment on this topic, please go to: The elephants all have names!!!

If you still think the vimanas (flying machines of supposedly Vedic original) really flew about, pre-dating the Wright Brothers, please read: Deb, Siddhartha. “Those Mythological Men and Their Sacred, Supersonic Flying Machines.” 14 May 2015. The New Republic.

[i] Mitta, Manoj. “’Preplanned Inhuman Collective Violent Act  of Terrorism’” What Modi Got Away With In The Godhra Case.” 27 February 2017. Scroll India.
[ii] Nanda, Meera. “Saffronized Science: Rampant Pseudoscience in ‘Vedic’ Garb in the Indian Subcontinent.” 25 January 2016. SERRC: Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective

For William.

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