How can devotees trained in science and other academic disciplines best use their education in Krishna’s service?
This question inspired the Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies (BIHS) to sponsor an international conference last January on “Consciousness in Science.” A mood of conciliation rather than conflict emerged as the more effective method for approaching the educated class.
Taking this message to heart, Murali Gopal Das, a BIHS research associate with a PhD in Physics, embarked in June on a global tour, to encourage devotees to use science in Krishna’s service.
His journey started in Gainesville FL, with the BIHS/ToVP-sponsored Evolution Workshop. A diverse group of devotees and other academics gathered to discuss ISKCON’s place in the ever shifting Religion-Evolution dialogue. The outcome was a narrative that challenges the atheistic conclusions generally associated with Darwinism, while maintaining a respect for the science itself.
After the Gainesville evolution conference, Murali Gopal flew to the UK, where he lead a teachers’ training seminar on “Creation:the Vedas and Modern Science” at the Bhaktivedanta Manor. The purpose of this program was to give the local educators tools for navigating issues related to science and religion in a classroom context. Also in England, ToVP, along with the Science and Philosophy Initiative (SPi) and the BI, sponsored a follow-up to the earlier evolution conference. Many devotees/scientists gathered at the historic Buckland Hall to put the narrative generated by the earlier workshop to practical use. These devotees have formed working groups to research specific topics which aim to generate talking points for potential ToVP exhibits. One participant summed up the mood of the workshop with these words: “I am especially interested in contributing towards Science in Krsna Consciousness and doing research to try to reconcile what we know of both the spiritual paradigm and the empirical scientific theories.”
Next, Murali Gopal was invited to speak at the Scandinavian Bhakti Sangam in Sweden, so on July 22, he boarded a plane to Stockholm. In Sweden, Murali gave two presentations, “Creation” and “Evolution,” both based on his recent UK seminars. Six days later, Murali was being greeted in Saint Petersburg, Russia by his two friends Damodar Pandit (PhD in Philosophy) and Nari dd (PhD in Philosophy, and director of the recently incorporated Institute of Consciousness), who had both presented at the 2019 BIHS “Consciousness in Science” conference. Nari had scheduled a host of engagements, and Damodar Pandit accompanied him on his whirlwind Russian tour. There was only enough time for two talks, a tour of the State Hermitage Museum (second-largest art museum in the world, founded in 1764 by Empress Catherine the Great), and a boat ride on the famous local canals, before he was whisked away to Yekaterinburg, a thousand miles to the east. As one of the largest educational centers of Russia, this town is home to the Russian Bhaktivedanta Institute initiative, which hosts regular academic conferences. Many devotees gathered to give presentations and hear talks by Murali and listen to Nari reveal her master plan for the Institute of Consciousness.
Murali next headed back west to attend the Ukrainian conference: “Vaishnava Tradition through the Ages” at the Institute of Philosophy of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine on August 5-8. This gathering was sponsored by the Academy of Krishna Consciousness, under the guidance of Siddhartha Das, who works through the Department of Philosophy. Murali gave three talks: “Creation,” “Evolution,” and a new one on “Tan-matras and Quantum Physics.” The event was successful, with an interesting mix of devotees and other academics, all seriously considering the impact of the Vaishnava tradition on modern academics. Murali finally got some rest, and was able to give a Srimad-Bhagavatam class at the new Kiev Temple, and devote a day to sightseeing in one of the oldest and most beautiful cities in Eastern Europe.
Professor Vladimir Nikitin at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna invited Murali to a one-day seminar, “Mutual connection: Science and Philosophy” on August 10. Damodar Pandit joined him as they hopped a plane to Moscow on the 9th, and drove four hours north to Dubna to attend the event, picking up Ishvara Chaitanya, a Yekaterinburg devotee biologist, on the way. Yudhisthira-prana, a former employee of the facility, had helped to make arrangements for the program. They arrived in the evening and stayed at the site hotel, in a simple, private room. The next day, Murali gave a professionalized version of “Tan-matras,” carefully removing all the jokes. A few others spoke, and they all toured the unusual above-ground accelerator used for the Institute’s research.
On August 14th, after a brief stop in Moscow, Murali caught an Aeroflot flight to Vrindavan, India, to give a 10-part course on the Srimad-Bhagavatam, 5th Canto, for the Vrindavan Institute for Higher Education (VIHE). In order to make the material accessible to newcomers, he took an innovative approach in his classes, using group exercises designed to allow the students to enter into the Vedic cosmos. He wanted to establish an understanding of the 5th Canto in an intellectual way using science and critical thinking. This teaching style was well-received, Murali explains, “It was the first time for many hearing an open-minded approach.” Krishna-Balarama Mandir Temple vice-president Sanak-Sanatan Prabhuattended many of the classes, demonstrating his appreciation of the content with frequent questions and thoughtful comments.
One hour after the 10-day seminar ended, Murali was on his way to the Delhi airport to begin the tedious journey home, to the Bhakti Center in New York City. Exhausted but happy, Murali felt that he achieved his goal: enlivening devotees for scientific preaching, mainly by making new connections and maintaining those from last year. He dreams of extending his tour to include westernEurope next year.
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The BIHS would like to thank all of the wonderful devotees in England, Wales, Poland, Sweden, Russia, Ukraine, and India for their support and loving concern for Murali Gopal as he carried his message, to engage your education in Krishna’s service, to Vaishnava’s around the world.
To hear a podcost of Murali Gopal Prabhu discussing his tour in detail, follow this link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChz-a9985r_s6n2EeC6zTgg
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