Chicago, 1972 – a group of students milled around an orange robed, shaven head monk who had travelled to America to share spiritual wisdom. He had made the journey from his home in India when he was sixty-nine, suffering two heart attacks along the way. Many thought he wouldn’t make the full journey. But His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada was determined to share the knowledge of Krishna consciousness with the West. Within a year he had established the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) whose aim was to do just that.
A university student named Roger was part of the group meeting with the extraordinary spiritual teacher that day in Chicago. Everyone was asking questions, and Roger was waiting for his chance to ask his. When there was a lull in the conversation, he raised his hand and asked: “Swami, could you tell me about Vedic technology?”
Vedic knowledge comes from the Vedas, ancient spiritual texts packed with advanced knowledge. This knowledge is the basis of the spiritual system known as Krishna Consciousness.
Roger had read many books describing sophisticated ancient technologies, and he expected Prabhupada to give more information on the topic. But instead, Prabhupada simply responded, “Vedic technology is the system of passing spiritual knowledge from teacher to student.”
This was not at all what Roger was expecting. Here was Prabhupada, a man with vast knowledge of all the Vedic writings. Prabhupada would teach spiritual knowledge all over the world, write over sixty books, found over a hundred temples and create the vision to build the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium, the largest temple in the world, currently under construction in Mayapur, India.
He could have talked about Amazing Ancient Technologies such as:
Vastu, the ancient science of architecture and city planning. The Vedic writings explain how to arrange a building for maximum positive energy and comfort; how certain geometric symbols influence the energy-dynamics in a house; how to insulate a house with baked bricks; how to construct a multi-level house with an inner courtyard that is cool in the summer and warm in the winter; how to construct an underground sewage system, and much more. This remarkable science was available in 5000-year old literature. So, why didn’t Prabhupada mention it?
Or, how about sonic levitation? The Vedic writings explain that specific sounds spoken in exactly the right way can produce wondrous effects. One use of the sonic technology was to levitate objects. This technology from India may have spread all over the world and enabled the building of great pyramids by the ancient Mayan civilisation in Mexico, where stories mention “needing only to whistle to bring together stones in their correct position in buildings.” Or, in ancient Greece, where Amphion built the city of Thebes, “using sounds from a harp to move large stones” has been described. Furthermore, the Swedish engineer Henry Kjellson observed monks using sonic technology in Tibet in the 1920s: “The monks played trumpets and drums, chanted rhythmically, and four minutes later, a stone block wobbled on the ground then rose into the air, and, in an arc-like pattern, travelled to a ledge 750 feet above. There the stone crashed to a halt, sending dust and gravel flying in all directions.”
And why didn’t Prabhupada discuss the ancient Brahmastra nuclear weapon? The Mahabharata, a 5000-year old historic chronicle, describes the elite warrior Arjuna, who had the ability to use specific spiritual sound vibration to unleash a nuclear explosion upon his opponents. The text describes the effect of such a weapon:
“An incandescent column of smoke and flame, as bright as ten thousand suns, rose with all its splendour. The corpses were so burned as to be unrecognisable. Hair and nails fell out, pottery broke without apparent cause, and the birds turned white . . . After a few hours all foodstuffs were infected . . . To escape from this fire the soldiers threw themselves in streams to wash themselves and their equipment.”
Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist who headed the Manhattan Project to create the first nuclear weapon during World War II, was a student of the Vedic literature. When he saw the mushroom cloud rise after the test firing of the first nuke in the New Mexico desert, he quoted a verse from the Bhagavad-gita (part of the Mahabharata) saying:
“Now I am become Death, [Time] the destroyer of worlds.” (11.32)
Later, when asked if that was the first bomb of such power ever created, he responded: “Well, yes, in modern times.” Oppenheimer had read the stories of the Brahmastra weapon and recognised that he had merely recreated a technology previously known in ancient India.
Given these mind-blowing examples of Vedic technology, why did Prabhupada deem it only worthy of mentioning the system of knowledge transmission? Let’s try and understand.
Knowledge Transfer System
There are three ways of learning something new:
- By direct observation
- By logical deduction
- By receiving knowledge from a teacher
All these are valid means of discovering knowledge, but learning from someone who already knows is the easiest and most reliable way of learning. Our eyes can deceive us when observing something, and our logic can be flawed, but a qualified teacher, provided they genuinely know what they are teaching, has none of these shortcomings.
In this way, the Vedic knowledge has been passed down since time immemorial from teacher to student. Originally, the knowledge was passed down as an oral tradition. Then, as writing was invented and memories faded, the text was written down.
A sophisticated feature of the poetic Sanskrit language used in the Vedic knowledge is its built-in error-correction system utilising rhyme and rhythm. If a student makes a mistake while reciting the text, the rhythm is off and it is immediately obvious. This helps ensure that text is kept accurate, and the knowledge isn’t distorted.
Technology to Stop Death
The definition of technology states that for knowledge to be technology it must have a practical purpose. So, for something to be the best technology, it must have the most practical of purposes. Vastu, levitation, and nuclear energy, as amazing as they may be, do not address how to get to the root of the problems we are faced with today nor do they promote life’s real aim. Therefore Prabhupada did not consider them important.
In a conversation in 1976 Prabhupada said:
“Artificial necessities of life do increase your so-called comfort, but if you forget your real business, that is suicidal. We don't want to stop the modern advancement of technology, although the so-called advancement of technology is suicidal.”
The “real business” Prabhupada was concerned about was the knowledge of the eternal self as different from the temporary material body and the self’s transmigration to a new body at death. The technology he taught was the ability to control that transmigration, to transform the self into a being of pure consciousness and thereby stop death. The death of the material body is inevitable, but the consciousness powering that body can transform into its pure original state with proper application of this spiritual knowledge. As a result, the consciousness of that body doesn’t reincarnate into another body, and the cycle of repeated birth and death is broken.
That technology to stop death was originally taught by Krishna, the Supreme Person, who is himself beyond death. He is therefore uniquely qualified to be the original teacher, and knowledge passed down from him is the perfect technology for understanding our eternal nature. That purpose understanding our true self is, indeed, the aim of life, and this knowledge was taught to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita for the benefit of all humanity. Those who could theoretically stop their body from dying would still be killed at the end of time when the universe collapses in on itself. But Vedic technology is designed to provide a truly unlimited lifespan, beyond the lifetime of the universe, by restoring the self to its true form of pure consciousness, unimpeded by the material body.
“Inconceivable!” you might say. “How can anyone possibly do that?” Srila Prabhupada gives some answers:
“Arjuna was a fighter, and he remained a fighter, but he changed his consciousness. We want that. … We are not against [material] technology. No, but we try to teach this Krishna consciousness to people.”
To restore ourselves to pure consciousness we need to change our consciousness. That doesn’t mean we need to reject lesser technology or necessarily change our occupation. Instead, we simply need to apply Krishna consciousness, the greater technology that will transform our consciousness.
Sound to Transform Consciousness
Krishna consciousness involves chanting the ancient sound vibrations known as mantras. Sound vibrations have the power to levitate giant boulders and create nuclear blasts, but they also have the power to transform consciousness. A mantra’s sound vibrations can help transform a person, eliminating behaviours that are unattractive to the self. For example, by adopting the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra, cravings for spiritually unhealthy activities abate automatically. A spiritually unhealthy activity is any activity that binds us to this material world and forces us to reincarnate into a body made of flesh and blood. By stopping such activities we loosen the ropes holding us to our material bodies. However, it is exceedingly difficult to stop all spiritually unhealthy activity only by using one’s personal will power.
Krishna consciousness mantra meditation can help strengthen a person’s will power. In this way a person no longer desires spiritually unhealthy activities. It’s not that we are forced to give them up artificially, but that we simply do not desire them anymore. By adopting the higher taste of the Hare Krishna mantra, the lower taste of activities that cause harm to oneself and harm to one’s environment naturally cease.
Once our consciousness is sufficiently purified by the mantra’s sound vibration, we no longer need to accept another material body at death. Instead, one’s self is ready to enter a world of pure consciousness. You become a person of such high character that you are welcomed into the company of other such highly elevated saintly souls in the spiritual dimension that is Krishna’s home world.
The ideal Vedic teachers instruct their students in this science of consciousness transformation using the system of spiritual knowledge transmission. This applied spiritual technology is Srila Prabhupada’s greatest contribution to the modern world, a timeless gift that helps address the root cause of the world’s problems.
“Yes. You can stop your death. That technology we are teaching.” - Srila Prabhupada