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 voyage. 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), which had the aim of doing just that.
A university student named Roger was part of the group meeting with the extraordinary spiritual teacher in Chicago. Everyone was asking questions, and Roger was waiting for his chance. Raising his hand, during a lull in the conversation, he asked: “Swami, could you tell me about Vedic technology?”
Vedic wisdom comes from the Vedas, ancient spiritual texts packed with advanced knowledge, the basis of the timeless spiritual system, bhakti-yoga.
Having read many books describing sophisticated ancient technologies, he expected Prabhupada to elaborate. But instead, Prabhupada simply responded, “Vedic technology is the system of relaying spiritual knowledge in a chain from teacher to student.”
Roger was not expecting this response. Here was Prabhupada, a man with vast knowledge of all the Vedic texts. Prabhupada would teach spiritual knowledge all over the world, write over sixty books, open over a hundred temples and conceive the vision to build the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium, one of the largest temples in the world, currently under construction in Mayapur, West Bangal, India.
Prabhupada could have taught Roger about ancient Vedic technologies such as:
Vastu, the ancient science of architecture and city planning. The Vedic texts explain how to arrange a building for maximum positive energy and comfort, alter the energy dynamics in a house with geometric symbols, insulate a house with baked bricks, construct a multi-level house with an inner courtyard that is cool in the summer and warm in the winter, build an underground sewage system, and much more. The ancient Vedic literature offers this remarkable five thousand-year-old science. So, why didn’t Prabhupada mention it?
Or, he could have spoken about sonic levitation. The Vedic books explain that specific sounds spoken in exactly the right way can produce wondrous effects. For example, sonic technology was used to levitate objects. This technology from India may have enabled the ancient Mayans to build great pyramids. Accounts mention the Mayans needed only to whistle to assemble stones in their correct position.
Or, information from ancient Greece describes how Amphion constructed the city of Thebes playing sounds from a harp to move large stones. Furthermore, travelling in Tibet in the 1920s, the Swedish engineer Henry Kjellson observed monks demonstrating sonic technology. 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 Vedic version of a nuclear weapon? The Mahabharata, a Vedic chronicle difficult to date, describes localised nuclear armaments. Chanting a precise mystic sound vibration would unleash a nuclear explosion upon only a specific opponent, rather than wreaking indiscriminate havoc. The Mahabharata 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, had read some of the Vedic literature. Upon the test firing of the first nuke in the New Mexico desert, seeing the mushroom cloud, he spoke a verse from the Bhagavad Gita (part of the Mahabharata). “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Later, when asked if that was the first bomb of such power, he responded: “Well, yes—in modern times.” Having read accounts of Vedic weapons, Oppenheimer recognised that he had merely recreated a technology previously known in ancient India.
Given these awesome examples of Vedic technology, why did Prabhupada deem it only worthy of mentioning the system of knowledge transmission? Let’s try and understand.
Three ways of knowing
There are three ways of learning something new:
1. By direct observation.
2. By logical deduction.
3. 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. 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 imparted since time immemorial from teacher to student. Originally, the knowledge was transmitted as an oral tradition. Then, as the power of memory faded, writing became the medium of choice.
Some of the Vedic knowledge has its own built-in error-correction system, based on rhyme and rhythm. If a student recites the text incorrectly, the rhythm is off, and the error is immediately obvious. This method helps ensure accuracy and freedom from distortion.
Technology to stop death
For knowledge to be classified as technological, it must have a practical purpose. Consequently, the best technology must accomplish for us the most practical purpose. Vastu, levitation, nuclear energy, and other Vedic technologies, although amazing, do not finger the root of the problems we face today nor do they promote life’s real aim. Therefore, Prabhupada did not consider them important.
In a conversation in 1976 Prabhupada explained, “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.”
Prabhupada’s main concern, the real business, was the science of the soul—how the eternal self is different from the temporary material body and how the self transfers to a new body at death. He taught applied spiritual technology: controlling that change, transforming material consciousness into pure consciousness, stopping the cycle of birth and death.
Krishna, the Supreme Person, who is beyond matter, teaches us that we, in our original nature, are also beyond matter. Krishna, the Supreme Soul, never undergoes birth and death and neither do we, his spiritual parts. As the Supreme Source, he is uniquely qualified to be the original teacher, giving us the perfect technology for understanding our eternal nature. But Vedic technology is designed to provide a truly unlimited lifespan, beyond the lifetime of the universe, by restoring the self to its original consciousness in connection with Krishna, unimpeded by the material body. To benefit all humanity, Krishna taught this knowledge to Arjuna, the virtuous and noble-hearted warrior in the Bhagavad Gita.
“Inconceivable!” you might say. “How can anyone stop the cycle of birth and death?” Srila Prabhupada gives some answers:
“Arjuna was a fighter, and he remained a fighter, but he changed his consciousness. We want that change . . . We are not against material technology, but we try to teach Krishna consciousness to people.”
To transform our consciousness, we do not need to reject lesser technology or change our occupation. Instead, if we simply apply Krishna consciousness, that greater technology will uplift our consciousness.
The power of sound
Sonic vibrations have the power to levitate giant boulders and create nuclear blasts, but a mantra’s spiritual sound has the power to change consciousness. Chanting the Hare Krishna mantra makes a person’s cravings for spiritually unhealthy activities abate automatically. A spiritually unhealthy activity is one that binds us to this material world, forcing us to reincarnate into another physical body. 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 conscious mantra meditation can help strengthen a person’s willpower because it produces a higher taste for spiritually beneficial activities. Consequently, a person is not forced to give up destructive habits artificially, but simply no longer desires them. We lose our lower taste for activities that cause harm to the environment and ourselves.
Purified by the Hare Krishna mantra’s sound vibration, we no longer need to accept another material body at death. Instead, having become persons of higher character, we enter Krishna’s world of spiritual consciousness.
This applied spiritual technology, the science of consciousness transformation, is Srila Prabhupada’s greatest contribution to the modern world, a timeless gift to uplift all humanity.
“Yes. You can stop your death. That technology we are teaching.” – Srila Prabhupada