Modern Historical Consciousness: Its Causes and Cure

Part II: The Breaking Of The Chain

Ravindra Svarupa Dasa

In December 1993, Ravindra Svarupa Dasa outlined the history and content of the idea of the Great Chain of Being, a paradigm of reality that ruled European thought from the Second Century AD until the Eighteenth Century. The author based his description largely on the study by Arthur O. Lovejoy, 'The Great Chain of Being: A Study in the History of an Idea'. In part two, he describes how 'modern historical consciousness' arose out of the 'temporalisation of the Chain of Being', and attempts to provide an understanding of what is at stake in the differing outlooks of ISKCON devotees and modern academia. He also recommends some remedial measures to bring about the 'cure' for modern historical consciousness and the effect it has on both individuals and the world.

Modern historical consciousness originates with the toppling of the 'Great Chain of Being'. Although Lovejoy does not bring the reflections of Friedrich Nietzsche into his examination of that event, in my view the breaking down of the Chain should be recognised as part and parcel of the event that Nietzsche called 'the death of God', and even 'the murder of God'. Nietzsche used the word 'God' to mean precisely the concept of God we have been discussing - the philosophical concept expropriated by Christianity from Plato and Plotinus. This is God understood not simply as the controller but as the Absolute Truth, the anchor of the entire order of being, a God from whom and on whom depends the entire hierarchy of creation. The 'death of God' naturally extends to include the destruction of the entire cosmic order.��

Of course, we can only reject the utterly absurd notion of the Absolute Truth 'dying'. Yet, Nietzsche's proclamation is true if we recognise it as an acknowledgment of a momentous event in European cultural history. That event was not as recent as Nietzsche seems to have thought. Nietzsche was right in saying that people had still not allowed themselves to be fully conscious of what they had done - that is, murdered God; they still could not comprehend that the churches in which they dutifully worshipped were now God's tombs. Nor did they have the courage to face the possibilities opened to them by their decision. In short, they were unworthy of their crime. (See Fr�liche Wissenschaft, aphorism 125).�

For Nietzsche, the death of God frees man if he were strong enough to recognise and utilise his freedom, to become the creator of himself, to evolve by the power of his own will into something greater that himself: man can re-create himself, transcend himself, and in so doing become the �bermench, superman. This future, perfectional state, reached by a process of wilful self-transformation, functions for Nietzsche as a secular replacement for the traditional transcendental God of European civilisation.��

I have tried to show that we can find anxiety about the collapse of the medieval world-order as a major motif in Shakespeare. Lovejoy, focusing his discussion on direct, explicit philosophical reflections on the idea of the Chain of Being, is able to trace the breakdown of the Chain back to the early part of the eighteenth century. There, he finds thinkers beginning to articulate revolutionary notions of perfection and of progress, notions commonly thought to have appeared in the nineteenth century.��

This new idea of perfection does not fit in with the ideas previously associated with the Chain of Being. The medieval notion of perfection entailed that any one occupant of a particular place in the Chain would achieve perfection by staying in his ordained place, perfectly fulfilling the requirements of his station. By exemplifying all possible degrees of being, the Chain was complete and perfect, and for one to think of improving oneself by going up the Chain was to commit violence to the whole. Moreover, the concept of perfection connoted something so complete as to be incapable of improvement. Any alteration would necessarily be for the worse. Perfection thus entailed fixity and stasis. Here is Lovejoy (206):��

The doctrine of the Chain of Being thus gave a metaphysical sanction to the injunction of the Anglican catechism: each should labour truly 'to do his duty in that state of life' - whether in the cosmical or the social scale - 'to which it shall please God to call him'. To seek to leave one's place in society is also 'to invert the law of Order'.��

However, some thinkers began to sound a new note. Lovejoy quotes the famous English essayist Addison, who in 1711 wrote: 'There is not, in my opinion, a more pleasing and triumphant consideration in religion than this of perpetual progress which the soul makes toward the perfection of its nature, without ever arriving at a period in it.' (247) In 1718, the philosopher Leibniz expressed similar sentiments:��

Our happiness will never consist, and ought not to consist, in a full enjoyment in which there is nothing more to desire, and which would make our minds dull, but in a perpetual progress to new pleasures and new perfections. (248)��

In this new idea of perfection, Lovejoy sees a 'new eschatology' associated with a 'new conception of value'.��

The Platonic identification of the consummate good with cessation of desire - 'he who possesses it has always the most perfect sufficiency and is never in need of anything else' - was giving way to its opposite: no finality, no ultimate perfection, no arrest of the outreach of the will. Such passages as those quoted from Leibniz, Addison and Law clearly foreshadow the Faust-ideal: man is by nature insatiable and it is the will of his Maker that he should be so. The tendency to substitute the idea of a streben nach dem unendlichen - an interminable pursuit of an unattainable goal - for that of a final rest of the soul in the contemplation of perfection, has usually been post-dated by historians. It was no invention of Goethe, nor of the German Romanticists. (250)��

In this way, the idea of perfection starts to include ideas of alteration, variation, growth, continual increase and improvement - not toward any ultimate terminus but as ends in themselves. The idea of perfection takes on temporal attributes.��

When I read these and similar passages collected by Lovejoy, I receive the strong impression that these eighteenth century thinkers - Leibnitz most of all - were hinting at transmigration of the soul. I have already pointed out that the notion of transmigration was integral to the idea of the Chain of Being as originally propounded by Plato and Plotinus; but Christian orthodoxy eventually accepted the Chain shorn of the notion of transmigration. While for Platonic philosophy the Chain was for every soul a route back to God by gradual ascent through transmigration, it became for the Christian thinker merely the ascensio mentis ad deum per scalas creaturarum - the contemplative ascent of the mind to God through the scale of the creatures. When the notion of the Chain as a path of real individual elevation reappeared, it had the effect of temporalising the whole Chain.��

Here, Lovejoy summarises his thesis:

One of the principal happenings in eighteenth century thought was the temporalising of the Chain of Being. The plenum formarum came to be conceived by some, not as the inventory but as the programme of nature, which is being carried out gradually and exceedingly slowly in the cosmic history. While all the possibles demand realisation, they are not accorded it all at once. Some have attained it in the past and have apparently since lost it; many are embodied in the kind of creatures which now exist; doubtless infinitely many more are destined to receive the gift of actual existence in the ages that are to come. It is only of the universe in its entire temporal span that the principle of plenitude holds good. (244)

It is important to note that although the Chain toppled, even in its fallen state it retained its basic structure. The idea of creation as an ordered hierarchy of forms from low to high, simple to complex, primitive to sophisticated, certainly did not disappear. Rather, the Chain itself, structure intact, rotated, as it were, on its axis, shifting one hundred and eight degrees, from vertical to horizontal.��

Imagine an upright ladder. It is secured at the top. The resting place at the top crumbles. The ladder then falls onto its side. In a similar way the Chain became temporalised. It no longer linked all creatures to their eternal source, yet even in its fallen state it retained its old structure of an ordered, ranked series of beings. Perfection is now posited as the direction of a temporal series, rather than the actual apex of a fixed ontological hierarchy. The origin of the Chain becomes not the top but the bottom, something that is a bare minimum above nothing.��

In Lovejoy's judgment, 'The static and permanently complete Chain of Being broke down largely from its own weight.' (245) By this he means that when various implications of the idea of the Chain had been drawn out over centuries of thought, it amounted to a kind of enormous reductio ad absurdum argument. From the very beginning, the notion of the Chain, as articulated in European thought, was incoherent - an unworkable fusion of 'otherworldliness' with 'this worldliness'. The former tendency resulted in the conception of an impersonal Absolute - which, on strict logical grounds, could not be coupled to any creation whatsoever. Strictly speaking, the creation ought to have been devalued to the point of non-existence - as was done by Sankaracarya or by the pre-Socratic philosopher Parminides. Yet the contrasting tendency of this worldliness cemented a creation to the impersonal Absolute, so that that the Absolute One overflowed into the production of a world both real and good.��

Often in the history of Christian thought it seems that one encounters a sort of schizophrenia: God as the object of worship is not the same as God as the object of thought. Although Christian orthodoxy held God to be personal, Christian speculation tended to slide into a theology of negation and promulgate impersonal ideas. This occurred in speculations about creation. Creation was seen as the impersonal working out of a rigid programme, mechanically driven by logical necessity. All possible forms had to be realised in material production. God had no choice in this matter. There could be no wilful, or logically arbitrary, preferences. Such free choices are characteristics of persons, and perfectly within the rights of the Supreme Person, but in this matter, thinking was driven by impersonal philosophy. Given a theistic revelation, there was no need to adhere to such an impersonal creation - to adhere to a 'rationality' that, when carried through with rigid and undeviating obsession, became a kind of insanity.

This, therefore, was the conception: since creation was the working out of a rational necessity, in creating the world God was bound to produce, at one time, all possible forms. This is the 'principle of plenitude'. Creation had to be a seamless continuum from top to bottom, with not the slightest jump or gap anywhere. Furthermore, since God is good, this creation likewise had to be 'the best of all possible worlds'. Therefore, all the particular deficiencies or evils that we see must be necessary to the goodness of the whole. To justify as good all degrees of being, all kinds of deficiencies, depravations, depravities and apparent distortions, became the now infamous project of eighteenth century theodicy. By this time, however, the overwhelming empirical absences of the required intermediate forms of species - and the theory demanded that there be huge numbers of them differing from each other in the smallest possible degree - began to be a serious problem. It was beginning to be recognised that the fossil record gave evidence of apparently extinct species. In short, the world increasingly began to seem neither as rational' nor as 'good' as the theory demanded.��

These are the factors Lovejoy dwells on, and I have suggested other factors he does not consider. In any case, the point I want to focus on here is Lovejoy's observation that the breaking down of the Chain of Being was not a collapse into chaos. On the contrary, it was a rather stately, structured event, in which the Chain remained basically intact as a graded hierarchy of beings, but simply shifted into a temporal dimension. It became 'not the inventory, but the programme of Nature'.��

In this temporalised version of the Chain of Being, we recognise, of course, the framework of the Darwinian theory of evolution. It is important to note that this toppling of the Chain, this temporalisation, preceded the Darwinian theory of evolution by over a century (Origin of the Species was published in 1859). In other words, many people had already accepted the theoretical framework for the Darwinian theory of evolution long before the theory itself was produced. The Darwinian theory is a detailed articulation of the concept of the temporalised Chain into the area of biology and anthropology, giving a 'scientific' justification for what was already 'known' to be true. It answered a felt need, an a priori demand. People had already started to think and feel in evolutionary, developmental terms. They viewed the world through the lens of a new paradigm, through a new set of categorical spectacles. In Krsna-conscious terms, there had been a shift in their intelligence, and in consequence they felt and perceived the world in an entirely new way. Darwin and others knew that nature had to answer the new interrogatories they had put to her. As indeed she did: the theory of evolution concretely filled in the framework that had already come to determine their mind-set.��

This can be strikingly illustrated by looking at the early work of the German philosopher F.W.J. Schelling. Here we find the doctrine of evolution as part and parcel of a theology of an Absolute that itself develops and evolves in time. In 1810, Oken, a close friend and disciple of Schelling, wrote:

The philosophy of Nature is the science of the eternal transformation of God into the world. It has the task of showing the phases of the world's evolution from the primal nothingness: how the heavenly bodies and the elements arose, how these advanced to higher forms, how finally organisms appeared and in man attained to reason. These phases constitute the history of the generation of the universe. (320)

In the beginning, God is a nullity, but the evolution of the universe is the same as the evolution of God: evolution is the gradual realisation (Realwerden) or self-realisation of God that is achieved through conflict and struggle in time and history. The full achievement of God's self-realisation is finally attained - guess where?��

Man is the creation in which God fully becomes an object to himself. Man is God represented by God. God is a man representing God in self-consciousness . Man is God wholly manifested, der ganz erschienene Gott. (321)

In 1812, Schelling explicated the same evolutionary theology:

I posit God as the first and the last, and the Alpha and the Omega: but as Alpha he is not what he is as Omega, and in so far as he is only the one - God 'in an eminent sense' - he cannot be the other God, in the same sense, or, in strictness, be called God. For in that case, let it be expressly said, the unevolved (unentfaltete) God, Deus implicitus, would already be what, as Omega, the Deus explicitus is. (323)

Interestingly, even at this early stage, Schelling justifies his evolutionary theology with an appeal to our first-hand experience of 'nature itself, (which) as all know who have the requisite acquaintance with the subject, has gradually risen from the production of more meagre and inchoate creatures to the production of more perfect and more finely formed ones.' (323)�

It is also interesting to note how Schelling sees the necessity of revising even the principles of logic in order to make them compatible with evolutionary ideas:

Always and necessarily that from which development proceeds (der Entwicklungsgrund) is lower than that which is developed; the former raises the latter above itself and subjects itself to it, inasmuch as it serves as the matter, the organ, the condition, for the other's development. (325)

In this way, the cosmos necessarily develops from nothing, and proceeds always from less to more. For you can indeed give, after all, what you have not got.��

All this amounts to a huge shift in human consciousness, expressing itself in the temporalising of the Chain of Being. The shift gradually produced that characteristic mentality called 'the romantic temperament', a ceaseless, restless yearning for an ever elusive goal, a sense of life as an endless quest, propelled by an appetite for experience that would always want more and more, that would never say 'Stop! I'm satisfied.'

Having discovered the Upanisads, the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer published a study in 1818 (Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung) in which he enthusiastically embraced the concept of a single undifferentiated reality lying behind all appearances. But in Schopenhauer's philosophy, the Upanisadic Brahman becomes recast as 'the Will' (der Wille). The unified substrate of all appearance is not luminous, peaceful consciousness, but rather blind, voracious, unslackable appetite. Everywhere in nineteenth-century Europe we encounter a sense of vast energies released and on the move, of an indefatigable engine of progress roaring along - nature progresses, humanity progresses, God progresses.��

In the nineteenth century, European civilisation became captivated by the idea of progress. The steady production of technical discoveries that, organised by laissez-faire capitalism, produced the industrial revolution, was all the proof most people needed. When the Darwinian theory of evolution was propagated, it gave scientific reinforcement to the gospel of progress. Moreover, in its original context, the Darwinian theory, which saw struggle and competition as nature's mechanism of progress, was immediately applied to human society. Social Darwinism, as it was called, offered a ruthless justification for the worst abuses of wealth and power - for the exploitation of labour at home, for colonialism abroad.��

Now I want to turn to the question which I believe Lovejoy really doesn't answer very well: why did this collapse take place, this turning on its axis of this Chain of Being? When we look at the entire scope of the alteration, the immense shift in consciousness involved, we see that Lovejoy doesn't do it justice. The collapse of the Chain seems in itself an expression of a more comprehensive transformation. Why did that transformation happen?��

I have given this question a good deal of thought, and it will require more research from a Krsna-conscious point of view to consider all the aspects of the issue. Yet it seems to me that one can basically describe it as a change - a shift of consciousness - from the mode of goodness to the mode of passion. Certainly, this notion of an endless restless striving, this insatiable seeking - the 'Faust-ideal' in short - is a textbook description of the mode of passion: ('born of unlimited desires and longings'). All the activities associated with the modern idea of 'progress' exemplify the mode of passion in action. One could not ask for any indication more stark and explicit than Schopenhauer's metaphysical substitution of 'Will' for 'Brahman'.��

In Bhagavad-gita (14.7 purport), Prabhupada remarks that 'Modern civilisation is considered to be advanced in the standard of the mode of passion. Formerly, the advanced condition was considered to be in the mode of goodness.' The shift in standard began in the Renaissance; by the Eighteenth Century revolutionaries are explicitly trying to destroy the ancient traditions, and we have philosophers such as Diderot declaring that 'mankind will never be free until the last king is strangled by the entrails of the last priest.'��

Here we can understand this great historical shift in terms of familiar categories - the modes of material nature. ISKCON is trying to create - or rather recreate - a culture in which goodness is re-established as the standard of advancement. The Bhagavad-gita teaches that knowledge depends upon goodness. The mode of goodness is the existential condition for the development of knowledge. What is that knowledge? It is knowledge of the Absolute Truth, the ultimate source of all emanations. Much of the medieval worldview, with its transcendent eternal source that is perfect and complete, with its production of a structured world of iterations of hierarchies, with its systems of correspondences, with its notion of perfection as the fulfilment of one's own 'dharma', seems familiar because what devotees are getting from our tradition, even though it seems an exotic import from India is, in fact, astonishingly close to the worldview of medieval times. Thus, it may be fair to say that Srila Prabhupada is restoring to Europeans their own lost cultural heritage, in a form free from the defects in thought and action that led to its abrogation a few hundred years ago. In the future, we may look back at 'modernity' as merely a nasty interruption in the true advance of Western civilisation.�

A few hundred years ago a disaster took place, and now knowledge is in the mode of passion. A certain picture forms the mental backdrop for all our actions. You start with nothing, or something near to it, a point infinitesimal in size and infinite in mass, and somehow, for reasons unknown to us all, that point 'explodes', begins to expand (space expanding with it) and to cool down. Entities begin to precipitate out of the cooling primordial plasma: a whole mass of subatomic particles, which eventually come together as atoms, and the atoms as molecules. The molecules become longer and more elaborate, especially those containing carbon atoms, those molecules begin to form more complicated structures and lo and behold, life appears! Simpler forms lead to more complex ones; single-celled creatures are followed by multi-celled ones. Nature produces more and more sophisticated form of plants, insects, animals, vertebrates, hominids, humans and finally scientists. Thus we have molecular evolution, chemical evolution, biological evolution, human evolution - all fitting into one big scheme. Today, this picture is believed to be the result of long, painstaking empirical scientific investigation. Yet it is, after all, a temporalised version of the old Chain of Being. Such pictures have a venerable history. It is well to remember that in 1755 - when the French and British were fighting each other in the wilderness of North America - the philosopher Immanuel Kant published a theory of pre-organic cosmic evolution. In addition, as we have seen, Schelling outlined the entire picture, complete with philosophical and logical justification, in the year Napoleon invaded Russia.��

When I attempt to understand the transformation in consciousness - of which the temporalisation of the Chain of Being is a major component - in the most general possible terms, I see it as the birth of 'historical consciousness'. It is a characteristic of historical consciousness to understand everything genetically, in terms of development, progression, evolution. Whenever you attempt to understand something in the world, you automatically ask: how did it get to be that way? How did it evolve or develop from simpler, more primitive units? This is historical consciousness.��

In the field of linguistics, there is a technical term for this sort of historical view - 'diachronic'. It means the study of a language as an historical entity, with reference to how it evolves and changes through time. The opposite approach is called 'synchronic'. A synchronic approach to language studies it descriptively, not historically, without reference to what may have gone before or after. You might say that the one view of creation is synchronic - everything is present simultaneously in all its fullness, having come from God; the other is diachronic - the creation itself takes place over time. Historical consciousness is the most comprehensive form of the diachronic vision.��

I learned the terms 'synchronic' and 'diachronic' on a university Sanskrit course. The traditional way devotees approach Sanskrit is strictly synchronic, while academics employ the diachronic. Tradition says that Sanskrit is a perfected language spoken by the devatas; the academics see it as a mundane historical creation, a language that evolved from more humble origins. This attitude originates from Nineteenth Century German scholars, who devised the historical science then called 'Indo-European philology' (the word 'philology' has now been replaced by 'linguistics'). In 1786, the English scholar Ernest Jones had noted affinities among Sanskrit, Persian, Greek and Latin. Inspired by evolutionary ideas, German scholars applied them to the history of languages and traced branching paths of evolutionary development to a vast family of languages that includes Sanskrit, Persian, Latin, Italian, ancient and modern Greek, Gaelic, Swedish, French, German, Spanish, Russian, Polish and Armenian. The result is considered one of the most well-established of scholarly achievements.��

Prabhupada taught that Sanskrit is the mother of all languages, but the philologists place Sanskrit as one among a group of ancient languages that evolved from an original, parent language which they called Proto-Indo-European, the Indo-European Ursprache. If you research the derivation of a modern English word, it can sometimes be traced back, for example, to a modern French word, then an Old French word, then a Latin one, a Sanskrit one, and finally a Proto-Indo-European word. That word will have an asterisk before it. This sign indicates that the word is imaginary, or hypothetical. There is no attestation for it, no written appearance of the word. It has been imaginatively constructed or reconstructed, as indeed has the entire Proto-Indo-European language.��

When I took the Sanskrit course at the University of Pennsylvania, the graduate assistant liked to put forward the diachronic view of Sanskrit, which was admittedly persuasive. Panini's classical Sanskrit grammar has some four or five thousand rules, but there are a number of them that have only one application. These are the anomalies or exceptions. Why should they be there? The graduate assistant would account for the otherwise inexplicable anomaly by showing how the anomalous form in Sanskrit was standard in, say, Avestan, and then go on to show how both evolved out of earlier forms in Proto-Indo-Aryan that in turn evolved from Proto-Indo-European. Making allowances for presuppositions, the entire structure seemed to make sense on its own terms, and to account for things that on the face of it seemed otherwise inexplicable. It tidied up a whole area of thought; it was enormously clever. Yet I did not for a moment accept it as true. I recognised it as the product of modern historical consciousness, and I realised that the graduate assistant and I were simply inhabitants of two different cognitive universes. My coin of truth - a citation from sastra - had no value whatsoever in his kingdom.��

Similarly, any modern scholar of religion is operating from a similar evolutionary view of religion, the same diachronic mentality. For example, in an article about the worship of Jagannatha in Puri, the author describes how some village or tribal people in Orissa worship wooden posts. Without bothering to construct an argument, the author understands at once that the worship of the wooden Jagannatha image has evolved out of the primitive worship of wooden posts. It did not cross his mind to consider the possibility that tribal people may have been imitating in their own way the elaborate worship of Jagannatha.��

The academic study of religion (Religionswissenschaft) looks at every aspect of our tradition as a human product, the result of social, cultural, economic and psychological forces interacting in history. Scripture - sastra - is particularly subject to these considerations. It is a human construction that has grown and developed over time, and critical analysis shows how a text thought to be 'revealed', entire and complete at a single time and place, contains within it traces of the submerged histories of its parts.��

This academic discipline is called textual criticism, and to a large degree it represents the modern scholarly study of religion. When it was established as a formal discipline in the Nineteenth Century, it was called 'higher criticism', in contrast to basic textual analysis - such as variant reading, scribal errors, etc. - which was termed 'lower criticism'. Higher criticism attempts to understand the various social and historical circumstances in which a particular work came to be composed, and thus rediscover its original meaning.��

As an example, let us take the first five books of the Bible - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy - traditionally attributed to a single author, Moses. A close critical inspection of the Genesis account of creation, however, shows that Genesis actually contains two creation stories, one after another (Genesis 1:1-2:3 and Genesis 2:4-2:5) Each has its own focus and taken together do not provide a seamless, continuous narrative. Now how did that happen? Where did these two different stories come from? As the result of this and many similar considerations, it is now held that the five books of Moses are the outcome of the work of a number of unknown writers and editors. The earliest writer is known as 'Yahwist writer' or 'J' for short, because he (or she) refers to God by the proper name 'Yahweh'. Scholars believe they have detected a second stratum of old material - 'E'- composed by the 'Elohist writer', who preferred the plural name 'Elohim' for God. Later on, another compiler put 'J' and 'E' together and added other material.��

This account is so well accepted that any Christian or Jew who rejects it invites the charge of 'fundamentalist'. Of course, a similar historical criticism is brought to bear on the Vedic texts. There is much less consensus about dates, with even the accepted ones uncomfortably lacking in foundation, yet the speculation still continues.��

I recently discovered a new historical-critical study of the Bhagavad-gita that attempts (yet again) to isolate the real and original part of the work by freeing it from the supposed later additions and accretions on the part of various interested parties. With an implicit polemical allusion to Srila Prabhupada's Bhagavad-gita As It Is, the author titled his work The Bhagavad Gita As It Was. The approach that accepts the Bhagavad-gita as some kind of eternal, timeless document, totally revealed, and capable of being transmitted without change across all temporal and cultural divisions - Prabhupada's interpretation - is regarded by such professors as infuriatingly backwards and simpleminded. It angers them that such an unenlightened view of these texts is actively promulgated, thus countering their own efforts at education and enlightenment.��

This evolutionary, historical perspective is the shared, unquestioning assumption of modern scholarship. Go into any department of religious studies and say, 'I believe this text was revealed by God, was transmitted intact and that a tradition can preserve its original teachings in spite of changes in historical circumstances', and you will be met by utter disbelief. Not just that: they will view you as unworthy of serious consideration. The general premise is that such things do not happen, and this matter is not up for discussion. To suggest otherwise is not merely to make a wrong claim; it is to step outside of the very rules by which they operate.

In a similar way, it is a ground rule - not the conclusion - of modern science that there is no God. A number of years ago, I read an account of a cosmologists' conference on the subject of the origin of the universe. One cosmologist presented mathematical proof that if the initial conditions at the origin were completely random, there is no possibility that order could have arisen by change within the requisite timeframe. He proposed therefore that at the very beginning of creation there must have been some order. A vigorous debate ensued. The 'stacked-deck theory' of the origin of the universe was opposed to 'the shuffled-deck theory'. Apparently the 'stacked deck' made people nervous. Initial order begged for an explanation. If the deck was stacked, how did it get stacked? Well, the traditional stacker of decks is God, and finally somebody actually brought up that name. 'But,' the account tersely reported, 'most scientists prefer not to take that cop-out route,' indicating that in the game of science, the rules forbid the mention of God.

When devotees are confronted with Indo-European philology, textual criticism or the historical study of religion, it is not just with the supposed facts of this or that discipline but also the various outgrowths of historical consciousness. For example, if I meet a professor who invokes the authority of Indo-European philology, a formidable intellectual structure that makes sense on its own terms, how do I deal with this? Little result will arise from trying to argue with the professor. Citing scripture to highlight his mistakes merely indicates I am making a move in a game he isn't even playing. Although I cannot change his mind, for my own sake I should try to understand what is occurring between us. I can see what he cannot - that Indo-European philology is a product of knowledge in the mode of passion. I should also be aware of the way the process of knowledge works. The theory expounded by St. Augustine is fairly accurate. Augustine rejects the epistemological theory that in acquiring knowledge of the world the subject is completely passive and contributes nothing to the process. He propounds the doctrine of the 'primacy of the will in knowledge'. He observes that what we initially know is what we are interested in. Before there is knowledge, there must be interest. This interest, this attraction, is a movement of the will. When interest is most fully developed, it is called love. In this way Augustine sought to explain why loving God was a prerequisite for knowing Him, and conversely, how, for those who by an act of will turn away from God, God becomes invisible - unrecognised, unacknowledged. So the movement of the soul toward or away from God, toward knowledge of God or lack of knowledge of God, is due to a prior disposition or direction of the will that, Augustine says, is determined by grace.��

What Augustine identifies as an act of the 'will', Krsna consciousness refers to as the determination of buddhi. The director of the buddhi is Supersoul. 'I am situated in everyone's heart (as the Supersoul) and from Me comes remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness,' matah smrtir j�anam apohanam ca. Apohanam means literally 'pushing aside'. Pushing aside what? Pushing aside Krsna. Prabhupada explained this phenomenon by saying that if you want to forget Krsna, He will give you the intelligence to forget Him; and if you want to remember Krsna, He will give you the intelligence to remember Him. Prabhupada once asked where all these arguments came from - that there is no God, that God is dead or that creation can arise by chance from nothing, and so on. These are clever arguments; people who are otherwise reasonably bright accept them. But where do they come from? 'They come from Krsna,' Srila Prabhupada said; Krsna Himself gives the intelligence by which they can forget Him.��

It is buddhi that determines the mind-set, the paradigm that determines the most fundamental categories by which we view the world, what we acknowledge and cannot acknowledge, recognise and cannot recognise. Sometimes in history there are great collective shifts in intelligence, a cultural reorientation on the platform of buddhi. One can see just how instinctive and pervasive this historical way of looking at things is. If you want to know why a person is the way he is, what do you look at? You look at his childhood, his development. Historical consciousness is the instinctive habit of the modern mind. Where does it come from? As we have seen, it began to arise in the eighteenth century. It cannot be said that this consciousness is a result of the biological, sociological or psychological development theories put forward by Darwin, Marx and Freud; rather, this consciousness produced those 'theories'. So where did it come from?��

If we are to succeed in Srila Prabhupada's mission, it will be our task, somehow or another, to take the temporalised Chain of Being and set it upright again. How will we accomplish that? For example, I do not know of anyone presently in our movement who can deconstruct Indo-European philology. Yet I am convinced that if there is a Krsna-conscious intellectual who can look at all the relevant historical data -including that which Indo-European philosophy has had to overlook - that person will be able to see formerly invisible things.��

Another important study in the history of ideas was 'The Structure of Scientific Revolutions', undertaken by Thomas Kuhn,. Kuhn shows that scientific progress is not a linear advance composed of the accumulation of data and the adding of a series of congruent theories on top of each other. Rather, there are periods of change so sweeping and total - and so destructive of what went before - that they deserve the title 'revolutions'. Kuhn studies the way these revolutions take place. For instance, there was a time in which chemistry posited the existence of a theoretical substance called phlogeston to explain combustion and other phenomena. The replacement of phlogeston with the atomic theory constituted a revolution, or a paradigm shift. A paradigm is a fundamental framework for looking at things; it establishes not only the theoretical terms for explanation, but also an orientation which determines what avenues are worth exploring, what problems are worthwhile addressing. A paradigm shift in science can even change what kinds of equipment you use, what a laboratory or an observatory looks like. The proponents of conflicting paradigms, Kuhn says, in a significant sense live in different universes.��

When a paradigm is well established and routine work goes on within its parameters, we have 'normal science'. The paradigm endures because it has explained many things and pointed the way for further research; it has brought intelligible order into the world and promises to keep on doing so. Therefore, a few anomalies encountered here and there don't bother anyone too much; they're put aside to deal with later, and usually forgotten. However, if gradually the anomalies accumulate so much that they can no longer be ignored, science enters a period of crisis. At that point, someone may come up with a radically different way of doing science, something that, theoretically speaking, starts afresh. It accounts for the anomalous material, and sets research off in an entirely new direction. Quite often the new paradigm is provided by an outsider, someone free from the mindset of normal science. For example, the atomic theory was proposed by John Dalton, who was not a chemist but a meteorologist.

Modern historical consciousness is another name for a widespread and deeply rooted paradigm. Lovejoy's description of the temporalisation of the Chain of Being has all the characteristics of one of Kuhn's paradigm shifts. ISKCON's job is to effect another such shift. I am encouraged by the work done by Sadaputa Dasa and Drutakarma Dasa, the results of which were published in Forbidden Archeology. They have researched original reports of excavations and looked at the way anomalies in the evidence for human evolution have been dealt with. The anomaly collection is surprisingly large. It is clear that there has been a double-standard of rigour for accepting data: what appears to agree with theory is easily accepted, and what appears to conflict is subject to a more intense level of doubt. If the same standards of unambiguity were applied to all the data, there would be little evidence for anything at all. The formidable defence mechanism of modern science to keep anomalies from interfering with their evolutionary paradigm, shows that the stakes are very high. The whole of modern life may rest upon it. From the very beginning, Prabhupada indicated that evolution is the weakest point in the edifice of modern consciousness. The evolutionary paradigm puts a frame around people's lives; it tells them 'this is who I am; this is how the world came into being; this is how I got here'. If the theory of evolution is abandoned or discredited, people are going to say, 'Here I am, here you are, here's this world around us - and I have no idea of how I or you or this civilisation or this world got here'. Then anything is possible.

I believe it's simply a matter of time before this happens. Once you start looking at things through a new paradigm, you'll start to discover things you were unable to see before. One has to do some serious excavation to get down to the root evidence, because even what gets acknowledged or recognised as a fact, even the very criteria of what constitutes a fact, is often determined by a paradigm. A fresh paradigm lights up a whole new world. Knowledge is not a simple thing - it depends on what you want, what you love, what your hopes and fears are. You must learn to love the right things, to hope and fear the right things, in order to know in truth. Knowledge depends upon goodness. We know through sabda, proper hearing, that the theory of evolution is wrong. The paradigm given to us by sabda, delivered by the mercy of Krsna and guru, has enormous affinity to that of the Great Chain of Being, but the Vedic version is much improved over the earlier European account. Now we want to help bring about a total revolution in human consciousness. If we don't do that, Krsna consciousness will not survive. Krsna consciousness is so incompatible with the modern temperament that if we don't eradicate it, it will eradicate Krsna consciousness. That's my conviction, and I think Krsna will give us the tools and show us the way, on the condition that our faith is unflinching. I haven't the slightest doubt, for example, that when the formidable edifice of Indo-European philology is subjected to the same sort of scrutiny Sadaputa Dasa and Drutrakarma Dasa are giving human evolution, it will prove to be equally full of anomalies and double-standards. Kuhn notes, by the way, that in science, an old paradigm is left behind only when there is a new, more satisfactory one to replace it. We have to provide that as well.� If people actually take to the process of Krsna consciousness, and a trusted brahminical class in the mode of goodness develops to guide society, then another sort of science will be established - or re-established - that will defeat this 'knowledge' in the mode of passion and ignorance. That is our mission.

This paper was originally delivered at the Second European Communications Seminar, Nava-Jiyada-Nrsimha-Ksetra, Germany, January 1992.