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Forward or Backward?

By: for ISKCON News on Jan. 21, 2011
The power of illusion
A cartoon once showed the legendary image of soldiers struggling to raise an American flag on Iwo Jima. The caption read, “Are we putting it up, or taking it down?” Similarly, I ask on behalf of the human race, “Are we advancing, or sinking?”

In geometry, we learned that a point has no dimensions. It is only a theoretical location.

On the other hand, the spirit soul, which is tiny, HAS dimensions, a specific mass. The measurement is given in the Vedic literatures. For example, keshagra-shateka-bhaga punath shamasha kari tara sama sukshma jivera ‘svarupa’ vicari, which Srila Prabhupada translates as follows: “The length and breadth of the living entity is described as one ten-thousandth part of the tip of a hair. This is the original subtle nature of the living entity.” (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila 19.139)

Yet the soul is so small that it cannot be seen even with the most powerful microscope.

One may challenge that the “tip” [of the hair] is inexact and that therefore the soul’s mass cannot be accurately calculated. However, the Sanskrit term agra, sometimes meaning “tip”, is often used in conjunction with other words, and it has multiple meanings.

Agra can be translated as “before,” “forward,” “elder,” “beginning,” “first,” “top,” “best,” “chief ” and the extensive list goes on. So agra, by its very nature, is sometimes exact and sometimes inexact. It is something like the English word “particle.” A particle ALWAYS has mass and is therefore measurable and exact. However the size and weight of any given particle is generally going to be different from any other particle. Therefore the word “particle” is also INexact.

A particle is something that actually exists. The “tip” of a hair DOES have dimension or mass. Similarly the spirit-soul, being one thousandth of the agra of a hair, also has measurable bulk. The Vedas state unequivocally that the soul HAS dimensions, whereas a geometric point, by definition, has not. Yet whole systems are built on geometry. Geometry, and its corollary disciplines of trigonometry, physics, and engineering would seem to make us more sophisticated.

Advances in medicine, communication, and travel appear to confirm we are succeeding. In the preface to Srimad Bhagavatam, Srila Prabhupada writes, “Human society, at the present moment, is now in the darkness of oblivion. It has made rapid progress in the field of material comforts . . . But there is a pinprick somewhere in the social body at large . . .”

One obvious “pinprick” is that less than 5% of the earth’s human population has access to state-of-the-art medical facilities. This minimal percentage also makes extensive use of the Internet and employs state-of-the-art travel.

The illusion of progress is strong enough to make most people think the human race is improving.

But is it?
[ illusion ] [ soul ]