Ask the Swami: Dharma vs. Darwin?
If you're bad enough, will you be reincarnated as an amoeba? Vedic perspectives on evolution, dinosaurs, Mars, and the Big Bang.
BY: Swami B.V. Tripurari (Bio)
When Vedic scripture speaks of planets on which higher life forms exist, it speaks more of the macrocosmic mental and intellectual planes of experience than it does of the planets we see in the sky with our physical senses.
Although the sages did acknowledge some correspondence between the two, when they speak of attaining other planets, they describe a course to do so that is much different than technological means. Just as there is a physical plane of experience in which the senses are predominant, similarly there are planes of experience where the mind or intelligence are predominant (bhur bhuvah svah). On the physical plane, we cannot experience all of our dreams. Here we can see gold and a mountain, but not a golden mountain. In the mental plane, however, we can experience a golden mountain and more.
Thus, the mind is a plane of experience that is particularly active at night when the physical plane, our sense experience, shuts down. Thus it is identified with the moon, the light of the night, which is said to preside over the mind and desire, as opposed to reason--chandrama manaso jathah. The moon is also identified with heaven, which in one sense is the land of dreams where all our material desires can be fulfilled. In the heavenly plane of mind, there are possibilities that do not exist on the physical plane, and there one can dwell and enjoy almost unlimited heavenly pleasure. However, it is all a fantasy in one sense because it does not endure.
Our senses are dependent upon aspects of the cosmos in order to function and bring us pleasure. For example, in order to see with our eyes we are dependent on the light of the sun. The senses are not ours in all respects, and by acknowledging their dependence on aspects of nature we live sensually yet mindfully. This in turn enables the self to experience increased material enjoyment in the heavenly mental realm without having to undergo as many negative karmic reactions after leaving one's present material body. Thus the means to go to heavenly realms involves relatively little sense control. All that is required is that while enjoying sense objects one acknowledge the deities and aspects of the cosmos that preside over the senses. In Vedic terms this is called yajna, or sacrifice. To live in this way is to live with a sense of gratitude and understanding of how the universe works.
Above the mental plane is the intellectual plane attained by sadhana (spiritual practice). The waning of the moon is the symbol for the waning of the mind, for the flickering of the mind's influence has to be eliminated. All spiritual practice is directed toward this in its beginning stages. Such practice is initially directed by purified intellect derived from saints and scripture. Intellect, as opposed to mind, brings certainty rather than fantasy.
Macrocosmically, sages who have controlled minds and senses inhabit the plane of intellect. They live in samadhi awaiting liberation. Such saints have no desire for sense pleasure because of the knowledge and mystic insight they possess. They have controlled their minds and thus their senses as well, and by doing so they have come closer to the self and to God.
Therefore, we should not be concerned if the Mars probe returns to Earth with no evidence of life, for as amazing as it is to have gone there technologically, those involved have not gone to a higher planet in the sense that the Vedic scriptures speak about doing so. As interesting as the prospect of going to other planets or experiencing higher realms of material enjoyment may be, we should always be more concerned with sadhana. Sadhana and the grace of saints is infinitely more important than going to Mars.