for ISKCON News on April 9, 2011
ISKCON Hungary’s Vedic Science Research Center (VSRC) recently submitted its annual report to the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust Science Committee, which supports its activities year to year; as well as to various devotee scientists, scholars and communication forums.
The report, which was met with enthusiastic and encouraging feedback from devotees around the world, included many statistics about lectures given, videos made, and conferences attended in 2010 by staff of the VSRC, which works as an institute of the Bhaktivedanta College in Budapest.
“The VSRC is a group of devotees who want to distribute spiritual knowledge in modern day style and language,” explains organizer Isvara Krishna Dasa. “We try to apply the principles given by Srila Prabhupada for the Bhaktivedanta Institute. The aim of the VSRC—which was established in 2005 with inspiration from my guru Sivarama Swami—is to answer modern scientific and social questions based on the Vaishnava understanding of the ancient knowledge of India.”
To this end, biologist and ISKCON scholar Aja Govinda Dasa was invited to visit Hungary and speak at Bhaktivedanta College in 2010, while Isvara Krishna was also invited to thirty public lectures as a speaker throughout the year.
“I’m a regular guest at the Synthesis Open University, an esoteric school presenting colourful opinions about significant topics,” he says. “I was also invited to a talk about hot social issues such as the environmental crisis, tolerance, and our lifestyle and philosophy. I was able to speak openly on Vedic themes like vegetarianism, the soul, reincarnation, equal vision, and the final goal. During the year, I also held school lessons, home programs, and even spoke at a beekeepers conference about the mysterious instincts of the honeybee.”
The latter was due to Isvara Krishna’s co-authorship—along with Bhagavat-priya Dasa—of the successful book Nature’s IQ, which increased the popularity of the VSRC in Hungary, and in America was one of USA Book News’ “Books of the Year.” With its examples of “intelligently programmed” instincts of various animals, it has increased awareness of alternative explanations—particularly Krishna conscious ones—of the living world’s origins.
The book’s popularity spawned an hour-long professional documentary version filmed last year and directed by Karuna Productions’ Krishna-lila Dasi, which will be shown on US and international television stations later this year.
As well as appearing in this film, Isvara Krishna—with the help of cameramana and editor Madhupati Dasa—creates “home-made” videos on scientific topics of interest, which are posted to the VSRC’s Youtube page in both English and Hungarian.
“We did a five-hour interview last year with Drutakarma Prabhu, who lives in Los Angeles but is a member of our institution,” says Isvara Krishna. “He has spent many years studying the history of humanity and presenting the Vedic perspective, and we’ve posted our talks with him about the deficiencies of modern science on our Youtube page in small parts.”
The page also includes a video about the astonishing Mallee Fowl—an Australian bird that defies evoloution theory—and one about dinosaurs seen in the light of the Vaishnava understanding of the history of life on Earth.
Unsurprisingly, members of the VSRC have created much controversy and attracted attacks from the mainstream scientific community. When the organizers of the first Hungarian TED conference invited Isvara Krishna to speak on his book Nature’s IQ, and advertised the program on their homepage, thirteen evolutionists immediately formulated a petition against it. The group, mainly atheists, said their reason was that Isvara Krishna’s approach wasn’t scientific enough. But he’s certain that they had a hidden agenda.
“They wanted to suppress alternative ideas and protect the monopoly of their materialistic worldview in the public arena,” he says. “They intimidated the organizers, who were worried, so finally I changed topic and spoke about the common principles of world religions instead. But after the conference, we wrote a press release and published an article in our Back to Godhead magazine about the episode, which helped us to get sympathy from the public.”
The VSRC continued its battle with modern science by challenging the Hungarian Sceptic Society to a written debate about the origins of the living world. Three persons wrote articles defending evolution—biophysicist Dr. Géza Meszéna, biologist János Zsámboki, and journalist János Geréb. On the other side, chemist Dr. Ferenc Farkas and Isvara Krishna wrote responses promoting a designed, created world with scientific arguments.
“It was very well regulated, almost like a structured debate from Vedic times between different schools of thought,” Isvara Krishna says. “We exchanged four detailed letters with them, in which I think we successfully illustrated the hypothetic nature of the evolution theory and argued rationally for a higher, creative being beyond the material realm.”
Meanwhile, the VSRC has also attracted attention from the media, with interviews on Radio Cafe and Civil Radio. Most noteably, members of the VSRC were interviewed about the activities of their Center by index.hu, the most popular website in Hungary, for an article entitled, “Did Evolution Create Us, or Did God?”
The article created a maelstrom of controversy, with both positive and negative comments flooding in.
Of course, the Center also has its own websites—a static English one at vedicscience.eu, and an active Hungarian one, kutatokozpont.hu, which has became popular in spiritual and alternative science circles. Nandagopa Dasa helps to run and develop the sites, while Isvara Krishna also gets regular assistance with VSRC activities from many other full time devotees and members of the congregation, such as Drutakarma Dasa and Madhupati Dasa. Several have science degrees, such as bioengineer Bhagavat-Priya Dasa, co-author of Nature’s IQ and manager at the Budapest ISKCON temple; and András Kun, a botanist who writes powerful articles on questions of life’s origins.
There are also some interesting side projects to the VSRC. Isvara Krishna supports the activities of Értem, Hungary’s active intelligent design movement, although they are independent from ISKCON—because their scientific arguments help others to understand the existence of a higher conscious entity.
“On their homepage, Ertem.hu, we published a video of a debate with an atheist professor,” says Isvara Krishna. “Alongside it, we organized a poster campaign in ten busy subway stations, which read, ‘You have to see the arguments and choose the better position!’ At the time, there was an election in Hungary, and many people watched the video because they thought it was a debate between the opposing political parties! In reality, of course, there was an opposition not between political parties but between something much more important—competely different viewpoints on the origin of life.”
Another interesting engagement for Isvara Krishna last year was one he sees as directly connected to his work in spreading the scientific philosophy of Bhagavad-gita. When a devotee friend of his, Bhakta Andras, lost his father and mother in the same year, he asked Isvara Krishna to speak at their funeral ceremonies as a priest.
“Many of the parents’ relatives and friends were there,” says Isvara. “Andras allowed me to speak strictly Krishna-conscious philosophy because his parents liked the devotees and appreciated Krishna consciousness. So there I was in a black suit and tie, holding the Bhagavad-gita in my hands and speaking about the eternality of the soul, reincarnation and the pious nature of passed souls.”
As packed as 2010 was for the VSRC, 2011 looks set to be another busy year. After the success of Aja Govinda’s visit to Hungary, devotees there will be inviting Lalitanatha Dasa, author of “Rethinking Darwin: A Vedic Study of Darwinism and Intelligent Design” for a speaking tour. The Nature's IQ film will be released, with the VSRC assisting with Hungarian and international promotion. And they will continue presenting written materials, lectures and videos on spiritual science, and trying to reach wider and wider audiences.
“As a cultural anthropologist, I’ve studied and compared the philosophical backgrounds of different cultures, ancient and modern,” says Isvara Krishna. “And my conviction is that the basic worldview of a society deeply influences the moral values and way of living in a particular country or region. I think that modern humanity lost some very important elements of the ancient worldviews, and therefore their lifestyle has become more and more materialistic.”
Isvara Krishna warms to his theme. “In our contemporary consumer society, many people think that there is only one life, and the goal of life is only to possess wealth and try to enjoy the facilities of an industrial society,” he says. “This mentality is probably one of the main causes of global warming. But the more serious problem is ‘moral warming.’ The members of a society that has lost a considerable part of its spirituality neglect the laws of nature and God’s ethical laws.
Horrible cruelty against man and animals, alcoholism, prostitution and cheating are largely the results of this ignorance of the hidden rules of the material word.”
“In this way, people cause serious problems for themselves and each other—both from the material and spiritual points of view,” Isvara Krishna concludes. “I would like to engage myself and others in an effort to give back to the global human society the greatest value on Earth: Vedic knowledge.”