TRAVEL TO THE STARS
Recently, there has been a major announcement in the field of space science. The famous British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking gave a sensational yet fatalistic prediction regarding earth’s future and a plan of action to counter that at a recent conference hosted by the tech giant company Tencent in Beijing, China.
First he explained the “problem”. He said that the rate at which human population is increasing on earth will cause the population to stand shoulder to shoulder by the year 2600 and that the immense amount of electricity that will have to be used will eventually blow up the entire planet in a huge ball of flames — an apocalypse.
He added that the solution is to quickly look beyond earth for colonization. He added that one of the moons of Jupiter might be possible to host life. But a much better possibility, according to him, is the closest star system to our solar system called Alpha Centauri that is apparently 4.36 light years away or 41.25 trillion kilometres away. He says, as do many other scientists believe, that there is a high possibility of an earth-like planet which can be inhabited by humans.
The problem, according to them, is that current spaceships, which can cruise at a blinding speed of 16 kilometres per second are way too slow to make any tangible progress in the direction of the Alpha Centauri. The speed has to be comparable to that of light, which is about 300,000 km/s.
With the financial help of a Russian billionaire Yuri Milner and also with Mark Zuckerberg (CEO of Facebook Inc) on the board, a team of world-renowned scientists have started a $100 million mission called Breakthrough Starshot in which a nanocraft (a nano-sized spacecraft), the size of a regular smartphone, is proposed to be sent to Alpha Centauri with the help of light sails that are just like wind sails but are propelled by light beams. According to them, this can theoretically send the nanocraft at one-fifth the speed of light to Alpha Centauri and reach it in 20 years. They plan to fit the nanocraft with data-gathering, imagery and communication systems with which they plan to receive the data at the speed of light after another 4 years of reaching there. Through that data, they want to figure out the possibility and means of human colonization in that planetary system.
EASY JOURNEY TO OTHER PLANETS
When I first saw this article on the internet along with the video of the event in Beijing, my initial thought was to send Stephen Hawking a small booklet titled Easy Journey To Other Planets authored by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda thinking that if he can be convinced about our method and in turn, convince the scientific community, there can be a huge appreciation of Vedic culture across the globe. I was very excited.
If you have not read that book, you should. You can order it from our temple. That book is absolutely revolutionary. By reading it you can understand how perfect a scientist a Kṛṣṇa’s devotee can become. The book is thoroughly based on the Vedic conclusions and is starkly relevant to the mission under discussion.
My excitement faded soon enough when I did a bit of research on Stephen Hawking on Wikipedia. He is an atheist. He has absolute disregard for God. He is unlike Einstein who had respect for God. I understood that my attempt would not see fruition. So I thought of writing this article to enlighten sensible people about the mission. Although it would not reach as many people without the help of Hawking’s influence, at least the message gets out and hopefully drives some eyeballs to the Vedic literatures.
Although the drama is building around this massive project, looking at the entire scenario from the Vedic perspective, or theistic perspective, the whole mission is bound to be an inevitable failure. But there is hope. If they lend an ear to our advice, the mission can be tweaked and it will be a monumental success and it can be achieved at a minute fraction of the budget. Moreover, the benefits to be reaped are far more than they can ever imagine. It shall be the crest jewel of scientific advancement. These are not hyperbolic statements. First let us identify the faults of this mission. Then we shall present our suggestions based on Vedic conclusions.
SCARCITY DESPITE ABUNDANCE
The justification for the expedition is the possible scarcity of supply of natural resources to meet the demand of future population. One has to understand that the Lord has already made perfect arrangement for everyone’s maintenance. There is no need to search out for anything or anywhere else. The Īśopaniṣad (Invocation) confirms that each planet is complete in itself and the maintenance of the planet and its inhabitants are already arranged perfectly by the energy of the Supreme Lord. Hence, the idea that the earth will blow up in flames is ludicrous. Even if such a thing happens, it can only be due to the godless activities of atheistic humanity. The atomic bombs that are manufactured have the potential to effect that future. Otherwise, if everyone is Kṛṣṇa conscious, mother nature, being Kṛṣṇa agent, takes good care of everyone. If we observe all around us, we are such a minority compared to the abundance of species on this planet. If the rest of the species are provided for by Kṛṣṇa’s arrangement, how will humans not be tended to?
The concept of scarcity that forces one to think that the earth will not be able to host a vast number of human beings stems from an atheistic viewpoint. The Kaṭha Upaniṣad (2.2.13) declares: eko bahūnāṁ yo vidadhāti kāmān — the one Supreme Personality of Godhead supplies the necessity of all the unlimited numbers of living entities both in the spiritual and material worlds. If there is some scarcity, He will adjust the situation so that the scarcity is removed.
One may ask then why there is so much scarcity in the world. The scarcity is because of a lack of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. When we fail to acknowledge the presence of God and His merciful arrangement for the sustenance of the entire creation, when we become antagonistic to Him and thus commit sinful activities, then nature restricts supply and we feel scarcity. If I do not pay my phone bill, eventually my phone number gets disconnected from the network. Then the problem is not with the network or the phone or the service provider but me. The network is there for everyone to take advantage of but due to my ungrateful act of not paying the bill, I experience scarcity despite the presence of abundance. If I pay my bills on time, I will have uninterrupted service. The same is true for the cosmic arrangement of the Lord. The supply is in abundance but we may feel scarcity because of atheism, which is the sum total of all ungratefulness.
Therefore, the answer to satisfy everyone’s needs is to become Kṛṣṇa conscious, not to fruitlessly travel far and wide in the limitless space of the universe searching after an alternative residence.
The next issue is about habitation on different planets. The scientists think that there is no life on planets like Mercury, Venus, moon, Jupiter, and the majority of the luminaries in the sky. Stephen Hawking also, for example, said in his speech in Beijing that Mercury and Venus are too hot to allow habitation.
But the Vedic information differs from this conclusion. In the Bhagavad-gītā (2.24), the living beings are described as sarva-gataḥ sthāṇuḥ: they are existing everywhere without gap. Just as this earth is congested with life, all other planets are also fully congested with life. No planet is empty. In fact, in the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and other Vedic literatures, detailed descriptions of civilizations on these planets have been disclosed. In the Bhagavad-gītā (4.1) also, Lord Kṛṣṇa hints of a highly developed civilization on the sun globe where we might expect a no-life-zone owing to the tremendous heat. Lord Kṛṣṇa clearly mentions that He spoke to the saintly king of the sun globe and his name is also revealed as Vivasvān. The mention of a king suggests the presence of kingdom and subjects. It is indicative of a very highly advanced civilization. In fact, in the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, it is mentioned that the standards of life and lifespans on the sun and moon and other luminaries are thousands of times greater than that of the earth.
The scientists’ logic holds that because we humans on earth cannot live in atmospheres that are not similar to that of the earth, nobody can live in such atmospheres. That is such a crippled and childish understanding. From Vedic references, we get the answer that on each planet there is a unique atmosphere and there are living entities there with suitable bodies to inhabit such atmosphere. This is confirmed in Brahma-saṁhitā (5.40): aśeṣa-vasudhādi vibhūti-bhinnam. Even in this planet, the atmosphere in the water and the land are different. We cannot live in the water but fish live comfortably in the water and vice versa. Similarly, it is just a question of having a suitable body to live in a particular atmosphere.
The third issue is that of interplanetary travel. For us Vedic observers, the concept of interplanetary travel is very old. There are many vivid descriptions of interplanetary travel in the Vedic histories. But the way the modern scientists approach this field is not correct according to the Vedic viewpoint. Even in the past, there were such ludicrous attempts to send people to other planets. About 2 million years ago, Rāvaṇa wanted to build a staircase to the heavenly planets so that even common men could go there. But he was not successful. But there are many who traveled successfully even as recently as 5,000 years ago.
Even the concept of traveling on a light beam is not new. Great mystic yogīs attain the laghimā-siddhi (the perfection of weightlessness) by which they can become so light that they ride on the sun’s rays and thus travel far and wide in almost no time. But there is one prerequisite to such powers — powerful sense control by penance. Our petty modern scientists do not have that. With great endeavors in science and technology they can now only achieve an insignificant portion of what great yogīs achieved in days of yore by the perfection of their mystic powers.
Śrīla Prabhupāda mentioned it multiple times that we cannot force our entry into any country just by wearing a good dress but not securing a visa or other credentials; similarly, we cannot enter other planets just because we wear a spacesuit. We need to have necessary qualifications in order to gain entry into those planets. The Bhagavad-gītā (14.18) broadly describes these qualifications:
ūrdhvaṁ gacchanti sattva-sthā
madhye tiṣṭhanti rājasāḥ
adho gacchanti tāmasāḥ
“Those situated in the mode of goodness gradually go upward to the higher planets; those in the mode of passion live on the earthly planets; and those in the mode of ignorance go down to the hellish worlds.”
Although there are some perfected beings of yogic mystic powers who can travel to different planets with their same body, the general rule holds that we can go to other planets depending on how we live our life in this lifetime. Then, only in the next body, we can go.
HOW MUCH ARE WE TO GAIN?
Even accepting the really far possibility of one or two scientists making it to the Alpha Centauri, it will not be possible for common man to go there and therefore cannot be a solution to transport people from here to there. The movement of the living entities within this material world is very much restricted. It is just like a prison. Lord Kṛṣṇa certifies the material world in the Bhagavad-gītā (8.15) as duḥkhālayam, or a place of misery. A prison is meant for inflicting misery on the inmates. Inside the prison, there are many different classes of cells and one cannot simply go from one cell to the other. The movement is restricted. Similarly, each planet is a cell and one cannot go from one planet to another without being sufficiently qualified.
The next question to ask is what is the gain even if we reach Alpha Centauri?! The miseries of birth, death, old age and disease continue. None of that is going to change. Whether we die on earth or go to a distant planet and die there, the misery is not going to change or be different in any way.
Whether one travels to other planets by yogic power or by spacecraft, Lord Kṛṣṇa warns us of the futility of such expeditions in Bhagavad-gītā (8.16):
punar āvartino ‘rjuna
mām upetya tu kaunteya
punar janma na vidyate
“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode never takes birth again.”
TWEAKING THE MISSION
He does not totally discourage us from embarking on interplanetary travel. He says, “Come to My planet where life is eternal.” Now, that is a real deal. Moreover, it is heartening to know that such travel needs no expenditure. Opening one’s mouth and chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra is the only preparation one needs to do in order to go to Kṛṣṇa’s planet Goloka Vṛndāvana.
Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (1.5.18) administers sagacious advice that the scientists badly need to hear.
tasyaiva hetoḥ prayateta kovido
na labhyate yad bhramatām upary adhaḥ
tal labhyate duḥkhavad anyataḥ sukhaṁ
kālena sarvatra gabhīra-raṁhasā
“Persons who are actually intelligent and philosophically inclined should endeavor only for attaining an eternal life of bliss and complete knowledge which is not obtainable even by wandering from the topmost planet [Brahmaloka] down to the lowest planet [Pātāla] in the material world. That means they should endeavor to go to the planet of Śrī Kṛṣṇa called Goloka Vṛndāvana, which is the highest planet in the spiritual sky. That destination is only achieved through devotional service to the Lord (such as hearing and chanting about Lord Kṛṣṇa, etc.) As far as happiness derived from sense enjoyment is concerned, there is no need to endeavor for it because it can be obtained automatically in course of time, just as in course of time we obtain miseries even though we do not desire them. So there is no point in attempting to counteract material problems. They have to be tolerated and one’s intelligence has to be fixed in the process of devotional service.”
In conclusion, if the scientists need to make the following tweaks in order to make their mission a success:
- Become a theist.
- Change the reason for travel. It is not about counteracting scarcity. It is about attaining immortality.
- Change the destination from Alpha Centauri to Goloka Vṛndāvana.
- Scrap the multi-million dollar nanocraft mission and freely chant the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra and induce the whole world to chant the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra:
hare kṛṣṇa hare kṛṣṇa
kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa hare hare
hare rāma hare rāma
rāma rāma hare hare
These suggestions are made not to make a mockery of their mission. These are real, tangible and practical suggestions to make their otherwise impractical mission a grand success so that the whole population of the world can embark on the epic voyage back to the kingdom of God. [End]