Q: What do you think about extreme human antiquity, anti-evolution campaign, ideas like “we didn’t go to the Moon”, “Sun travels around the Earth”, “humans were ten times taller before Kali-Yuga” etc.? Should people see these ideas as a part of Vaisnavism?
These are ideas of people who are trying to be Vaiṣṇavas and trying to fit the Vaiṣṇava world-concept within the modern world-concept – but I don’t think they have really read the śāstra carefully from all angles.
In my study of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam cantos 2 and 3 it became very clear to me that the Bhāgavatam is quite compatible with most aspects of modern theories. For example, Bhāgavatam describes an enormous period of time when the universe is void of manifest living beings, and the primordial atomic building blocks are simply evolving on their own. Consciousness does not develop tangibly in the universe until all these elements have evolved fully, and even then it manifests in a very abstract form. Bhāgavatam also describes a sequence of design by Brahmā which is similar to evolutionary stages (plants first, then various types of animals, then humans, then superhumans)
As far as history goes, the calculation of the actual duration of yugas is uncertain. The Bhāgavatam describes an astronomical yuga as well as a historical yuga. The astronomical yuga is 360 times longer than the historical yuga. This may be another cause of confusion when trying to bring the Bhagavatam’s version of history into some basic parallel with our modern theories.
The “we didn’t go to the moon” campaign is based on something Śrīla Prabhupāda said – and he said a few different things at different times on the topic. It’s not a topic I would waste my time with. It easily and quickly becomes “prajalpa.” For me it boils down to this: we went to “the moon” but we obviously didn’t go to candra-loka (the abode of the Moon god) – so my conclusion is that “the moon” is not identical in every way to candra-loka. In other words the lokas are not literally “planets” in our 3-dimensional universe. They are locations and exist on various planes of reality, not at various spatial coordinates in this 3-dimensional reality.
The idea that “the sun travels around the earth” is perfectly true, because such statements are made in the context of how to calculate time, and are made from the viewpoint of an observer on earth. Because motion is always relative, it can be described differently depending on the viewpoint of the observer. We stand on the earth. From that viewpoint everything appears to move around us. If we abstract our viewpoint to the Sun, everything appears to travel around it. If we abstract our viewpoint to the center of the galaxy, everything appears to travel around it. Etc. etc.
“Human’s were ten times taller previous to kali-yuga” – Maybe so. They were supposed to be much taller, healthier, live much longer, etc. The entire environment was different. We are currently in an unusual kali-yuga, however, 1 out of 1,000 – because of the advent of Śrī Caitanya Mahaprabhu – so not all the effects of a normal kali yuga are already felt. Also, if we take the astronomical length of the yuga, we have not even really begun the yuga itself, but are still transitioning into it (it has a 43,200 year intro and outro transition).
All these ideas are not exactly part of Vaiṣṇavism, but they are part of the Vedic Culture that supports Vaiṣṇavism.
Q: What is the real Vedic view on the Earth? Everybody is saying different things about it. Is it flat or round?
As above, movement and everything observational is always relative. If you stand on the ground, the Earth, it appears flat. But if you abstract yourself from the ground and go up some distance into the sky (or look very far off at a distant horizon) you can see that it has curvature and is round. Every observation is relative, subjective – and the truth of the observation is only relative to the observers point of view.
Q: In Srimad Bhagavatam, Vyasadeva says that he wrote Mahabharata for women and sudras, because they were unable to understand the Vedas. What does that mean? I remember, you had said that there’s no sexism in the Vedic scriptures themselves, and because of it, even it looks like sexism to me, I thought maybe there’s another reason for Vyasadeva to talk like this which I can’t see. Maybe the women of that era were not so good at academic (or “high”, I don’t know) Sanskrit or something like that. I want to know the exact reason of this.
In this age, a high level of Vedic scholarship is practically impossible. So Vyāsa wanted to write books that would help people who were not scholars – like housewives, businessmen, and laborers… people who have little practical time for extended studies.
It is not demeaning of women as a group (nor towards businessmen or laborers). It is simply that modern people have no time to devotee to the kind of study required to be a Vedic scholar.
There were, and perhaps are, some exceptional men and women who could accomplish a Vedic level of scholarship but by and large in the current epoch, it’s impossible – so Vyāsa wanted to write some books specifically designed for us.
Q: Again, in Srimad Bhagavatam, there are some verses about animal sacrifice (especially horse). In Caitanya Caritamrita, Lord Caitanya says that before Kali-Yuga, Vedic animal sacrifices were not for killing animals, but for giving new bodies to the souls of sick and old ones. If that’s the case, then why in Srimad Bhagavatam Yuddhistira Maharaja becomes so sad after horse sacrifice? He says “We killed these animals for nothing.” or something like that and feels very sorry.
It’s not exactly as you depict it. You are saying (a) the sacrifice doesn’t harm the animal, and (b) Yudhiṣṭhira felt sorry for doing them. But the truth is closer to this (a) the sacrifice brings the animal back to life after killing it, and (b) Yudhiṣṭhira didn’t want to do more such sacrifices. Yuddhiṣṭhira feels sorry for killing so many people in the Kurukṣetra War – and says, “Don’t tell me to do another horse-sacrifice, how can more killing atone for the killing I’ve already done?”