His Divine Grace A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
the Hare Krsna movement)
His Divine Grace A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
the Hare Krsna movement)
Astonishing Descriptions of a Human Embryo in the Vedas
by Makhancora dāsa
The Hare Kṛṣṇa movement transplanted from the timeless vedic tradition into the western world by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda is based on authorized revealed scriptures, of which Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the formost. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam written down by Śrīla Dvaipāyana Vyāsa is the natural commentary on the Vedānta-sūtra, which in turn is the summary of the four Vedas - Ṛg, Yajur, Sāma and Atharva. Śrīla Prabhupāda summarizes the importance and purpose of vedic literature in one of his purports:
"The Vedas are compared with the desired tree because they contain all things knowable by the human being both for mundane necessities as well as spiritual realisation. The Vedas contains regulated principles of knowledge covering social, political, religious, economical, military, medical, chemical, physical, metaphysical and all that may be necessary for the proper up keep of the body and the soul together and above all there is specific direction for spiritual realisation also. Regulated knowledge means to raise the living entity gradually to the spiritual plane and the highest spiritual realisation is to know the Personality of Godhead as the reservoir of all mellows (Rasas)."
(Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.1.3 purport)
Some people object: "These are some fairy-tales of primitive people who were freaking out cuz there were lightning and thunders in the sky..." Unfortunately for them, it will not be so easy to prove this assumption. In the light of modern science, the statements and mind-blowing details of different aspects of material nature (to start with) described in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam call for attention of serious Absolute Truth seekers who are willing and ready to go beyond the limited range of sense perception, mental speculation, intellectual acrobacy and egotistical "I know everything" self-deception.
One astonishing description, amongst many, is the profound and extremely accurate account of the development of a human, from the stage of gametes (ovum and sperm), through the stages of an embryo and fetus within mother´s womb up to the point of delivery and after. It is a fact, that from a certain point of time when the developing body acquires an observable mass, its description may not be such a difficult task for an experienced medic with a trained eye, regardless of the era of history he may belong to. But to accurately describe a cluster of cells measuring not more than 0,1 millimetre and the exact timing of its structuring is a feat which doesn't seem to be possible to be described by any primitive man.
The Vedas with all the supplementary literatures like the Upaniṣads, Purāṇas or Mahābharata (containing the Bhagavad-gītā) were compiled 5000 years ago. They precede any other scripture in the world and concerning that it was the era of stone age transiting into bronze age with people just discovering the secrets of agriculture or metallurgy and developing basic skills like pottery and writing itself (according to what we are taught in school), their content is simply wondrous.
One can find in them informations about the universe being held together by a force of attraction a.k.a. gravity, sphericity of Earth, the speed of light, motions of the Earth (rotation around the axis and its revolution around the sun), revolution times and distances of other planets in our solar system, (all this in the Ṛg Veda), Earth being flattened at the poles as well as the scattered sunlight being the physical cause of blue colour of the sky (Mārkandeya Purāṇa), Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam describes the "seven islands" of the Earth (the continents) long before the Vikings or Columbus set their feet on American soil and what to speak of discovering the Australia or Antarctica which had to wait for the westerners until the 17th and 19th century respectively. Hippies will be happy to know that the Bṛhat-samhitā explains how a rainbow forms due to the multicolored sunrays splitting in clouds and even such concept as relativity of time proposed only many centuries later by professor Albert Einstein (an inspired reader of the Bhagavad-gītā btw) is to be found in the Vedas. I don't wish to continue this enumeration as it may cause diversion from the main topic of this article. One who knows what to look for can find many more interesting informations on the web.
Someone may object that the Vedas or, in our context, the knowledge of embryology is a modern-day creation to make the whole "Vedic mythology" look nice. Śrīla Prabhupāda deals with this so-called argument:
"Some scholars of the Mayavada school argue that Srimad Bhagwatam was not compiled by Sri Vysadeva and some of them suggests that this book is a creation of modern age by some body of the name Bopedeva. Śrīla Sridhar Swami, in order to refute these meaningless arguments, says that there is reference of the Bhagwatam in many other oldest Puranas. The first sloka of the Bhagwatam is begun with Gayatri Mantra and there is reference of this in the Matsya Puranam (the oldest Puranam). In that Puranam it is said with reference to the context of Gayatri Mantra in the Bhagwatam that there are so many narrations of spiritual instructions beginning with the Gayatri Mantra and there is the history of Vitrasura. Any one who hands over a charity of this great work on the full moon day, attains to the highest perfection of life by going back to Godhead. Similarly there is reference of this Bhagwatam in other puranas also where it is clearly said that the work is finished in twelve cantos and completed in eighteen thousand Slokas. In the Padma Puranam also there is reference of the Bhagwatam during the conversation of Goutam and Maharaj Amburish. The king was advised therein to read regularly Srimad Bhagwatam if he at all desired liberation from the material bondage. Under the circumstances there is no questions brewing any sort of doubt regarding the authority of Sri Srimad Bhagwatam Puranam. And later on within five hundred years from the present era many erudite scholars and Acharyas like Jiva Goswami, Sanatan Goswami, Viswanath Chakravarty, Ballavacharya, and many other distinguished Scholars even after the time of Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu made elaborate commentations on the Bhagwat Puranam with unique scholarship and the serious student will do well to make an attempt to go through them to relish more happily about the transcendental messages from the Bhagwatam.
(Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.1.1 purp.)
As followers of the Vedic tradition, we do not accept the proposal that the Vedas are a creation of human mind, neither do we accept the dating of the Vedas proposed by mundane scholars. But even if, just for the argument sake, we admit, that the Purāṇas etc. were written later than 5000 years ago, still, it is a win-win situation for the "believers". Here are a few statements on the origin of the vedic literatures relevant to the abovementioned purport of Śrīla Prabhupāda as generally conceived by mundaners:
Bhāgavatam commentaries: "The oldest exegetical commentary presently known is Tantra-Bhagavata from the Pancaratra school. From the modern age there is the commentary by Madhvacharya (c. 13th century CE) titled Bhagavata Tatparya Nirnaya, then later Sridhara Swami's Sridhariyam written in the 15th century CE."
note: Logically, if there is a commentary, there must be the text which is commented upon. Thus, even from the mundane point of view, the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam was already existent in the 12th century latest and, as it is referred to in the Matsya and Padma Purāṇas, we may say with confidence, that it was existent even many centuries before.
"The Matsya Purana, like all Puranas, was revised and updated continuously. The composition of the text may have begun in the last centuries of the 1st-millennium BCE, and its first version complete by about the 3rd-century of the common era, asserts Ramachandra Dikshitar – known for proposing ancient dates for Indian literature. Other scholars, such as Pandurang Vaman Kane, place the earliest version of the text to between c. 200–500 CE. The Matsya Purana, in chapter 53, includes a note stating that as a Purana, it is supposed to be edited and revised to remain useful to the society.
Wendy Doniger dates the Matsya Purana to have been composed between 250 to 500 CE. The general consensus among scholars is that Matsya Purana is among the older Purana, with its first version complete in the 3rd-century CE, but sections of it were routinely revised, deleted and expanded over the centuries, through the 2nd-millennium CE."
"The Padma Purana, like other Puranas, exists in numerous versions. One major recension, traced to Bengal region, has five khandas (parts, books) and an appendix, but has neither been published nor translated. The second major different recension, traced to western region of India, has six khandas, is the adopted and oft-studied version since the colonial British India era. The Bengal edition is older. The Bengal edition is notable in that the 39 chapters on Dharma-sastra are missing from the Sristikhanda book, in all versions of its manuscripts.
The composition date of Padma Purana is unknown. Estimated vary between the 4th and 15th century CE. Some parts of the text may be from the 750 to 1000 CE period. The extant manuscripts and ones widely studied, states Wilson, is very likely to have been written or revised well after the 14th century, probably in the 15th or 16th century, because it describes later era major temple sites of south India and sites in the Vijayanagara Empire. No portion of the versions of the Padma Purana available in the 19th century, wrote Wilson, is "probably older than the 12th-century". Asoke Chatterjee, in 1963, suggested that the text may have existed between the 3rd and 4th century CE, but the text was rewritten and greatly expanded over the centuries and through the second half of the 17th century."
In fact, carefully reading these descriptions we can understand that the academics have no idea wherefrom the Vedic literature originates, they don't know its history (as the only source of such knowledge are the Vedas themselves and that history they do not accept) and are left simply with speculations, suggestions, consensuses, "probablies", estimations and "may have beens". Nevertheless, theoretically accepting this dating, we will still be struck with the authority of the Vedas.
Just like a leech attaches itself to the body of its host, so the embryo attaches itself to the wall of the uterus to receive nourishment. At this stage the embryo is about 2,5mm long and indeed resembles a leech in its form. Also, the correct description of bones coming before the muscles is to be found in this verse.
This is just to show a little example, in fact, the Quranic account of the embryonic development is quite impressive. Yet it does not go into details of such a minuscule structures like cell formations which we will see described in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.
The Western embryology was not exactly developed until the invention of microscopes (the earliest ones in the 17th century) and it really took shape only in the recent 120 years. It is therefore a legit question, how could Śrīla Vyāsadeva, the author of the Vedas 5000 years ago (or if we take the academic version, the sages of the past up to the 13th century) have informations which allowed him (them) to exactly describe the stages of human embryo from the first phase such as fertilization of the ovum by a sperm.
Dr. Keith L. Moore, PhD from the Department of Anatomy, University of Toronto gives this short summary of the evolution of embryology in the West:
"We do not know when it was realized that human beings underwent development in the uterus (womb), but the first known illustration of a fetus in the uterus was drawn by Leonardo da Vinci in the 15th century. In the 2nd century A.D., Galen described the placenta and fetal membranes in his book "On The Formation of the Foetus." Consequently, doctors in the 7th century A.D. likely knew that the human embryo developed in the uterus. It is unlikely that they knew that it developed in stages, even though Aristotle had described the stages of development of the chick embryo in the 4th century B.C. The realization that the human embryo develops in stages was not discussed and illustrated until the 15th century.
After the microscope was discovered in the 17th century by Leeuwenhoek descriptions were made of the early stages of the chick embryo. The staging of human embryos was not described until the 20th century. Streeter (1941) developed the first system of staging which has now been replaced by a more accurate system proposed by O'Rahilly (1972)."
As in many other cases (and dragging up until today), the idea of western "scholars" was somewhat a humorous imagination without any basis:
"As recently as the 18th century, the prevailing notion in western human embryology was preformation: the idea that semen contains an embryo – a preformed, miniature infant, or homunculus – that simply becomes larger during development. (note: this means that there is no ovum, simply the male injects the little midget into the woman's belly and there he grows to come out one day...)
Until the birth of modern embryology through observation of the mammalian ovum by von Baer in 1827, there was no clear scientific understanding of embryology. Only in the late 1950s when ultrasound was first used for uterine scanning, was the true developmental chronology of human fetus available.
The competing explanation of embryonic development was epigenesis, originally proposed 2,000 years earlier by Aristotle.
Much early embryology came from the work of the Italian anatomists Aldrovandi, Aranzio, Leonardo da Vinci, Marcello Malpighi, Gabriele Falloppio, Girolamo Cardano, Emilio Parisano, Fortunio Liceti, Stefano Lorenzini, Spallanzani, Enrico Sertoli, and Mauro Rusconi.
According to epigenesis, the form of an animal emerges gradually from a relatively formless egg. As microscopy improved during the 19th century, biologists could see that embryos took shape in a series of progressive steps, and epigenesis displaced preformation as the favoured explanation among embryologists."
Let us now take a dip into the depths of Purāṇic evidence on embryonic development which in detail and precision precedes any other such account in the known human history. The following are the verses of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam´s 3rd Canto, 31st Chapter entitled Lord Kapila's Instructions on the Movements of the Living Entities translated from Sanskrit language by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda:
karmaṇā daiva-netreṇa jantur dehopapattaye
striyāḥ praviṣṭa udaraṁ puṁso retaḥ-kaṇāśrayaḥ
Translation word by word:
śrī-bhagavān uvāca—the Supreme Personality of Godhead said; karmaṇā—by the result of work; daiva-netreṇa—under the supervision of the Lord; jantuḥ—the living entity; deha—a body; upapattaye—for obtaining; striyāḥ—of a woman; praviṣṭaḥ—enters; udaram—the womb; puṁsaḥ—of a man; retaḥ—of semen; kaṇa—a particle; āśrayaḥ—dwelling in.
"The Personality of Godhead said: Under the supervision of the Supreme Lord and according to the result of his work, the living entity, the soul, is made to enter into the womb of a woman through the particle of male semen to assume a particular type of body."
In the first śloka (verse) of this Bhāgavatam chapter we see the description of a sperm cell (puṁso retaḥ-kaṇāśrayaḥ: puṁsaḥ—of a man; retaḥ—of semen; kaṇa—a particle) as the agent of procreation, entering the womb of the mother. People naturally must have had the notion that male semen and its discharge into woman's womb is the cause of pregnancy, but the idea that semen contains "particles" couldn't be conceived without an instrument to enhance the power of the scientist´s insufficient vision. In the West such knowledge was not revealed until the 17th century:
"The person with the dubious honor of being the first to study sperm in detail was Anton van Leeuwenhoek, a Dutchman who developed the early compound microscope. Van Leeuwenhoek first used his new tool to examine more chaste subjects such as bee stingers, human lice and lake water in the mid-1670´s.
Colleagues urged him to turn his lens to semen. But he worried it would be indecent to write about semen and intercourse, and so he stalled. Finally, in 1677, he gave in. Examining his own ejaculate, he was immediately struck by the tiny “animalcules” he found wriggling inside.
Hesitant to even share his findings with colleagues van Leeuwenhoek hesitantly wrote to the Royal Society of London about his discovery in 1677. “If your Lordship should consider that these observations may disgust or scandalise the learned, I earnestly beg your Lordship to regard them as private and to publish or destroy them as your Lordship sees fit.”
His Lordship (aka the president of the Royal Society) did opt to publish van Leeuwenhoek’s findings in the journal Philosophical Transactions in 1678—thus begetting the brand new field of sperm biology."
Amusing history, indeed. A bit disturbing, though, is the "cognitive filter" immediately applied on a startling discovery by its own author. On top of that, His "Lordship" was obviously at liberty to conceal or even destroy the new information in case he´d find it "disgusting" or "scandalous" for the "learned". Fortunately enough for the western civilization, his Lordship evaluated the discovery as beneficial for advancement of knowledge and published it.
Again, there may be dubious persons who will suggest that the translator of these verses makes meanings up to somehow fit an agenda of: "See here? It´s in our scripture since a long time ago!" on the modern scientific knowledge. It´s ok. For them I submit here just a few sample reviews by Sanskrit scholars, acknowledging the authority of Śrīla Prabhupāda´s Sanskrit-English translations:
"The original version of this work is by Swami Bhaktivedanta. Essentially, it consists of a commented translation of the Bhagavad-gita, edited in English, a language which the Swami has completely mastered, as he has Sanskrit and Bengali."
(Olivier Lacombe, Professor, Sanskrit and Indology, Sorbonne University, Paris; Director, Institute of Indian Civilization, Paris )
"The gates of these most valuable treasures of Indian literature were thrown open by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda by his establishing the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust and founding the International Society for Krishna Consciousness with centers in all parts of the world. The BBT has already published a number of important books written by him on the tradition of bhakti yoga coming down from the hoary Vedic Age to recent times, such as Srimad Bhagavatam and Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita. The book production of these encyclopedic renderings is of a very high order, not only in respect of the external get-up and printing, but also in respect of the authenticity of the English translation of the original Sanskrit texts, accompanied by Roman transliterations, vocabularies, detailed cultural expositions of the stanzas, aids to reading of Sanskrit and copious indexes, all of which will serve to make even the common non-Sanskritist readers enjoy these inspiring literary expressions of ancient Indian civilization. I would therefore recommend that these books be acquired by all college and University Libraries, for they reflect the highest peak of literary genius."
(Dr. V. V. Gokhale, B. A. (Hon), D. Phil (Indology, Sinology and Philosophy - Bonn; 37 years as Prof. of Sanskrit, Fergusson College, Pune)
"We must thank the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust for giving us this significant text which is one of the great books of humanity. This edition is doubly beneficial because in addition to the translation of the Sanskrit text, there is A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami's masterful verse-by-verse commentary... Let us hope for a wide distribution of this commented translation of the Bhagavat Purana. Those who are interested in the living India will find herein the genuineness of an authorized spiritual tradition while having access to one of the most beautiful religious poems in the timeless Hindu tradition."
(Professor Jean Varenne, Dept. of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Universite de Provence, Aix-en-Provence, France)
"I am most impressed with A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda's scholarly and authoritative edition of Bhagavad-gita. It provides a clear script of the Devanagari stanzas, beautifully presented with Roman transliteration, precise word-for-word equivalents and lucid English translation followed by an outstanding and comprehensive exegesis, with extensive subject index."
(Dr. Samuel D. Atkins, Professor of Sanskrit and Vedic, Philology, Princeton University)
Let´s go on:
kalalaṁ tv eka-rātreṇa pañca-rātreṇa budbudam
daśāhena tu karkandhūḥ peśy aṇḍaṁ vā tataḥ param
kalalam—mixing of the sperm and ovum; tu—then; eka-rātreṇa—on the first night; pañca-rātreṇa—by the fifth night; budbudam—a bubble; daśa-ahena—in ten days; tu—then; karkandhūḥ—like a plum; peśī—a lump of flesh; aṇḍam—an egg; vā--or; tataḥ—thence; param—afterwards.
"On the first night, the sperm and ovum mix, and on the fifth night the mixture ferments into a bubble. On the tenth night it develops into a form like a plum, and after that, it gradually turns into a lump of flesh or an egg, as the case may be."
And here it gets really interesting. On the fifth night the mixture of sperm and ovum (which was also not known in the west until the 19th century) ferments into a BUBBLE. Sounds funny... a bubble. Well, a "bubble" indeed forms exactly five days after conception and that bubble is called a blastula.
"The blastula (from Greek βλαστός (blastos), meaning "sprout") is a hollow sphere of cells, referred to as blastomeres, surrounding an inner fluid-filled cavity called the blastocoele formed during an early stage of embryonic development in animals.
In humans, blastocyst formation begins about 5 days after fertilization, when a fluid-filled cavity opens up in the morula, a ball of cells. The blastocyst has a diameter of about 0.1–0.2 mm and comprises 200–300 cells following rapid cleavage (cell division).
How could anyone observe a "bubble" of 0,1-0,2 millimetres within the womb of the to be mother and what to speak of having an idea, that the object is hollow inside... It would be very interesting to hear an explanation of these descriptions which date thousands of years back by the main-stream academics. And, as was shown, even if one does not accept the history of Vedas as being compiled 5000 years ago, still they precede in their dating any sort of an instrument which would be capable of identifying the blastula cell formation.
"In the course of a month, a head is formed, and at the end of two months the hands, feet and other limbs take shape. By the end of three months, the nails, fingers, toes, body hair, bones and skin appear, as do the organ of generation and the other apertures in the body, namely the eyes, nostrils, ears, mouth and anus."
The following is a description from a medical website:
Weeks 9–12: The fetus reaches approximately 8 cm. (3.2 in.) in length; the head is approximately half the size of the fetus. External features such as the face, neck, eyelids, limbs, digits, and genitals are well formed. The beginnings of teeth appear, and red blood cells begin to be produced in the liver. The fetus is able to make a fist.
Text of the Bhāgavatam continues to describe further stages of development, needless to say that it fits the modern knowledge about the fetus perfectly.
For further, extended reference I submit here a portion from the Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa dealing with the same subject matter:
CHAPTER - 11
The son said: "As soon as the male seed is mixed with female blood one, released from heaven or hell, enters into it.
(1) O father, the two kinds of seed being influenced by him he attains stability. He then grows into protoplasm, next into a bubble and then into a lump of flesh.
(2) The germ that grows up in the lumps of flesh called Ankura and then are gradually produced the five limbs.
(3) Then the minor limbs, fingers, eyes, nose, face, and ears are developed from (principal) limbs and from them the nails, &c.
(4) Then hairs grow on the skin and then those on the head. Thus does the embryo grow up along with the uterus.
(5) As a cocoanut fruit grows along with its case so does this increase along with its case, with is face bent downwards.
(6) It grows keeping its hands downwards to its thighs and sides; the thumbs are placed on the thighs and the other fingers before them.
(7) The eyes are behind the thighs and the nose is within the thighs. The hips are between the two heels; the arms and legs remain outside.
(8) Thus a Creature, lying in the womb of a female, grows up gradually; the embryos of other creatures lie in the womb according to their forms.
(9) It gets hardened by fire and lives by what is eaten and drunk; the embryo exists in the womb depending upon virtue and vice.
(10) The entrail called Apyayani fixed to its navel is attached to the entrail of the female and it grows there.
(11) Having its body nourished while in the womb, by the food and drink a creature gradually grows up.
(12) It then gets the recollection of its many births and then pushed hither and thither it comes to entertain a distaste (for such a state).
(13) Having been released from the womb - "I shall never do it again - I shall so strive that I shall not have to enter into the womb any more" - thus does it think remembering a hundred miseries of births originating from destiny which he had experienced before.
(14-15) Then in the course of time, the creature, with its face bent downwards, turns itself and is then born in the ninth or the tenth month.
(16) And coming out it is assailed by the Prajāpatya wind and tormented by the grief that is in its heart it bewails.
(17) Coming out of the womb it falls into an unbearable trance; it regains its consciousness when it feels the (surrounding) air.
(18) Then the enchanting illusion of Vishnu takes possession of it; having its soul possessed by it, it sustains a bewilderment of sense.
(19) With the loss of sense the creature comes of infancy, boyhood, youth and old age.
(20) A man repeatedly goes through a cycle of births and deaths. In this way, he rolls like a clock on the wheel of the world."
This is the authority of Vedic literature. Those who want "proofs" should consider these amazing descriptions which are not explainable with our conventional mindset. And, as the Vedas contain descriptions of this material world and the laws by which it is run, so they contain descriptions of transcendental reality of the soul (like you and me), God - Kṛṣṇa and their eternal relationship of loving reciprocation. One´s spiritual journey begins with a little faith. Then, in the process of submissive inquiry from and selfless service to the spiritual master in association of devotees a spiritual realization turns faith into knowledge and through transcendental knowledge one becomes firmly established in the self. A human being should aspire to reach this platform of self-realization and terminate his revolution in the saṁsāra - the vicious cycle of birth and death.
"According to the principles of yoga, such stage of perfection is called trance, or samādhi, when it is seen that by practice of yoga one's mind is completely restrained from all mental activities connected to matter. This is characterized by one's ability to see oneself by the pure mind and by satisfaction in the self. In that joyous state, one is situated in transcendental happiness realized through one’s transcendental senses. Upon achieving this, one never departs from the truth and he no longer cares for any other gain in this material world. Being situated in this transcendental position, one is never shaken, even in the midst of greatest difficulty. This indeed is actual freedom from the miseries arising from material contact. (Bhagavad-gītā 6.20-23)