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Advanced Embryology in the Srimad-Bhagavatam

The Hare Krsna movement transplanted from the timeless Vedic tradition into the western world by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is based on authorized revealed scriptures, of which Srimad-Bhagavatam is the foremost. Srimad-Bhagavatam written down by Srila Dvaipayana Vyasa is the natural commentary on the Vedanta-sutra, which in turn is the summary of the four Vedas - Rg, Yajur, Sama and Atharva. Srila Prabhupada summarizes the importance and purpose of Vedic literature in one of his purports:

"The Vedas are compared with the desired tree because they contain all things knowable by the human being both for mundane necessities as well as spiritual realisation. The Vedas contains regulated principles of knowledge covering social, political, religious, economical, military, medical, chemical, physical, metaphysical and all that may be necessary for the proper up keep of the body and the soul together and above all there is specific direction for spiritual realisation also. Regulated knowledge means to raise the living entity gradually to the spiritual plane and the highest spiritual realisation is to know the Personality of Godhead as the reservoir of all mellows (Rasas)." (SB 1.1.3 purport)

Fools often object: "These are some fairy-tales of primitive people who were freaking out cuz there were lightning and thunders in the sky..." Unfortunately for them, it will not be so easy to prove this assumption. In the light of modern science, the statements and mind-blowing details of different aspects of material nature (to start with) described in the Srimad-Bhagavatam call for attention of serious Absolute Truth seekers who are willing and ready to go beyond the limited range of sense perception, mental speculation, intellectual acrobacy and egocentric "I know everything" self-deception.


One astonishing description, amongst many, is the profound and extremely accurate account of the development of a human, from the stage of gametes (ovum and sperm), through the stages of an embryo and fetus within mother's womb up to the point of delivery and after. It is a fact, that from a certain point of time when the developing body acquires an observable mass, its description is not a difficult task for an experienced medic with a trained eye, regardless of the era of history he may belong to. But to accurately describe a cluster of cells measuring not more than 0,1 millimetre and the exact timing of its structuring is a feat which doesn't seem to be possible to be described by a caveman.


The Vedas with all the supplementary literature like the Upanisads, Puranas or Mahabharata (containing the Bhagavad-gita) were compiled 5000 years ago. They precede any other scripture in the world and, concerning that it was the era of stone age transiting into bronze age with people just discovering the secrets of agriculture or metallurgy and developing basic skills like pottery and writing itself (according to what we are taught in school), their content is simply wondrous.

One can find in them information about the universe being held together by a force of attraction a.k.a. gravity, sphericity of Earth, the speed of light, motions of the Earth (rotation around the axis and its revolution around the sun), revolution times and distances of other planets in our solar system, (all this in the Rg Veda), Earth being flattened at the poles as well as the scattered sunlight being the physical cause of blue colour of the sky (Markandeya Purana), Srimad-Bhagavatam describes the "seven islands" of the Earth (the continents) long before the Vikings or Columbus set their feet on American soil and what to speak of discovering the Australia or Antarctica which had to wait for the westerners until the 17th and 19th century respectively. Hippies will be happy to know that the Brhat-samhita explains how a rainbow forms due to the multicoloured sunrays splitting in clouds and even such concept as the relativity of time proposed only many centuries later by professor Albert Einstein (an inspired reader of the Bhagavad-gita btw) is to be found in the Vedas.

So far other revealed scriptures, or those which are supposed to be revealed, are concerned, the Bible doesn't really give any significant information on the development of a human within the womb, while the Quran is more advanced in this context. It is mentioned there that the man develops in stages in the womb and it also describes these stages:

The Quran

"He makes you in the wombs of your mothers in stages, one after another, in three veils of darkness." (Sura ' 39:6)

"Then We developed the semen into a leech (just like a leech attaches itself to the body of its host, so the embryo attaches itself to the wall of the uterus to receive nourishment). Then We developed the leech into a lump. Then We developed the lump into bones. Then We clothed the bones with flesh. (Here is the correct description of bones coming before the muscles). Then We produced it into another creature. Most Blessed is Allah, the Best of Creators." (Sura 23.14)


This is just to show a little example, in fact, the Quranic account of the embryonic development is quite impressive. Yet it does not go into details of such minuscule structures like cell formations which we will see described in the Srimad-Bhagavatam.


In the West, the science of embryology was not exactly developed until the invention of microscopes (the earliest ones in the 17th century) and it really took shape only in the recent 120 years. It is, therefore, a legit question, how could Srila Vyasadeva 5000 years ago (or if we take the current academic version, the sages of the past up to the 13th century, according to their so-called dating of the Vedas) have informations which allowed him (them) to exactly describe the stages of human embryo from the first phase such as fertilization of the ovum by a sperm.


Dr. Keith L. Moore, PhD from the Department of Anatomy, University of Toronto gives this short summary of the evolution of embryology in the West:


DaVinci's embryo illustrations

"We do not know when it was realized that human beings underwent development in the uterus (womb), but the first known illustration of a fetus in the uterus was drawn by Leonardo da Vinci in the 15th century. In the 2nd century A.D., Galen described the placenta and fetal membranes in his book "On The Formation of the Foetus." Consequently, doctors in the 7th century A.D. likely knew that the human embryo developed in the uterus. It is unlikely that they knew that it developed in stages, even though Aristotle had described the stages of development of the chick embryo in the 4th century B.C. The realization that the human embryo develops in stages was not discussed and illustrated until the 15th century.


After the microscope was discovered in the 17th century by Leeuwenhoek descriptions were made of the early stages of the chick embryo. The staging of human embryos was not described until the 20th century. Streeter (1941) developed the first system of staging which has now been replaced by a more accurate system proposed by O'Rahilly (1972)."


As in many other cases and dragging up until today, the idea of western "scholars" was somewhat a humorous imagination without any basis:

the "homunculus"

"As recently as the 18th century, the prevailing notion in western human embryology was preformation: the idea that semen contains an embryo – a preformed, miniature infant, or homunculus – that simply becomes larger during development.

Until the birth of modern embryology through observation of the mammalian ovum by von Baer in 1827, there was no clear scientific understanding of embryology. Only in the late 1950s when ultrasound was first used for uterine scanning, was the true developmental chronology of human fetus available.


The competing explanation of embryonic development was epigenesis, originally proposed 2,000 years earlier by Aristotle.

Much early embryology came from the work of the Italian anatomists Aldrovandi, Aranzio, Leonardo da Vinci, Marcello Malpighi, Gabriele Falloppio, Girolamo Cardano, Emilio Parisano, Fortunio Liceti, Stefano Lorenzini, Spallanzani, Enrico Sertoli, and Mauro Rusconi.


According to epigenesis, the form of an animal emerges gradually from a relatively formless egg. As microscopy improved during the 19th century, biologists could see that embryos took shape in a series of progressive steps, and epigenesis displaced preformation as the favoured explanation among embryologists."


Let us now take a dip into the depths of Puranic evidence on embryonic development which in detail and precision precedes any other such account in the known human history. The following are the verses of the Bhagavatam's 3rd Canto 31st Chapter entitled Lord Kapila's Instructions on the Movements of the Living Entities translated from the Sanskrit language by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.


TEXT 1

sri-bhagavan uvaca

karmana daiva-netrena jantur dehopapattaye

striyah pravista udaram pumso retah-kanasrayah


sri-bhagavan uvaca—the Supreme Personality of Godhead said; karmana—by the result of work; daiva-netrena—under the supervision of the Lord; jantuh—the living entity; deha—a body; upapattaye—for obtaining; striyah—of a woman; pravistah—enters; udaram—the womb; pumsah—of a man; retah—of semen; kana—a particle; asrayah—dwelling in.


Translation:


"The Personality of Godhead said: Under the supervision of the Supreme Lord and according to the result of his work, the living entity, the soul, is made to enter into the womb of a woman through the particle of male semen to assume a particular type of body."



"particles of male semen"

In the first sloka (verse) of this Bhagavatam chapter, we see the description of a sperm cell (pumso retah-kanasrayah: pumsah—of a man; retah—of semen; kana—a particle) as the agent of procreation, entering the womb of the mother. People naturally must have had the notion that male semen and its discharge into woman's womb is the cause of pregnancy, but the idea that semen contains "particles" couldn't be conceived without an instrument to enhance the power of the scientist's insufficient vision. In the West, such knowledge was not revealed until the 17th century.


"The person with the dubious honour of being the first to study sperm in detail was Anton van Leeuwenhoek, a Dutchman who developed the early compound microscope. Van Leeuwenhoek first used his new tool to examine more chaste subjects such as bee stingers, human lice and lake water in the mid-1670s.

Anton van Leeuwenhoek

Colleagues urged him to turn his lens to semen. But he worried it would be indecent to write about semen and intercourse, and so he stalled. Finally, in 1677, he gave in. Examining his own ejaculate, he was immediately struck by the tiny “animalcules” he found wriggling inside.

Hesitant to even share his findings with colleagues van Leeuwenhoek hesitantly wrote to the Royal Society of London about his discovery in 1677. “If your Lordship should consider that these observations may disgust or scandalise the learned, I earnestly beg your Lordship to regard them as private and to publish or destroy them as your Lordship sees fit.”


His Lordship (aka the president of the Royal Society) did opt to publish van Leeuwenhoek’s findings in the journal Philosophical Transactions in 1678—thus begetting the brand new field of sperm biology."


Amusing history, indeed. A bit disturbing, though, is the "cognitive filter" immediately applied on a startling discovery by its own author. On top of that, His "Lordship" was obviously at liberty to conceal or even destroy the new information in case he’d find it "disgusting" or "scandalous" for the "learned". Fortunately enough for western civilization, his Lordship transcended the cognitive dissonance, evaluated the discovery as beneficial for the advancement of knowledge and published it.

Srila Prabhupada reading his Srimad-Bhagavatam

Someone may argue that the author of the translations may be making the meanings up because he has an agenda: "See here? It´s in our scripture for a long time!" and he wants to impose it on modern scientific knowledge. To address such a claim I humbly submit here just a few reviews by Sanskrit scholars from around the world, acknowledging the bona-fides of Srila Prabhupada’s translations:


"The original version of this work is by Swami Bhaktivedanta. Essentially, it consists of a commented translation of the Bhagavad-gita, edited in English, a language which the Swami has completely mastered, as he has Sanskrit and Bengali." (Olivier Lacombe, Professor, Sanskrit and Indology, Sorbonne University, Paris; Director, Institute of Indian Civilization, Paris)


"The gates of these most valuable treasures of Indian literature were thrown open by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada by his establishing the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust and founding the International Society for Krishna Consciousness with centers in all parts of the world. The BBT has already published a number of important books written by him on the tradition of bhakti yoga coming down from the hoary Vedic Age to recent times, such as Srimad Bhagavatam and Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita. The book production of these encyclopedic renderings is of a very high order, not only in respect of the external get-up and printing, but also in respect of the authenticity of the English translation of the original Sanskrit texts, accompanied by Roman transliterations, vocabularies, detailed cultural expositions of the stanzas, aids to reading of Sanskrit and copious indexes, all of which will serve to make even the common non-Sanskritist readers enjoy these inspiring literary expressions of ancient Indian civilization. I would therefore recommend that these books be acquired by all college and University Libraries, for they reflect the highest peak of literary genius." (Dr. V. V. Gokhale, B. A. (Hon), D. Phil (Indology, Sinology and Philosophy - Bonn; Thirty-seven years as Prof. of Sanskrit, Fergusson College, Pune)


"We must thank the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust for giving us this significant text which is one of the great books of humanity. This edition is doubly beneficial because in addition to the translation of the Sanskrit text, there is A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami's masterful verse-by-verse commentary... Let us hope for a wide distribution of this commented translation of the Bhagavat Purana. Those who are interested in the living India will find herein the genuineness of an authorized spiritual tradition while having access to one of the most beautiful religious poems in the timeless Hindu tradition." (Professor Jean Varenne, Dept. of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Universite de Provence, Aix-en-Provence, France)


"I am most impressed with A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s scholarly and authoritative edition of Bhagavad-gita. It provides a clear script of the Devanagari stanzas, beautifully presented with Roman transliteration, precise word-for-word equivalents and lucid English translation followed by an outstanding and comprehensive exegesis, with extensive subject index." (Dr. Samuel D. Atkins, Professor of Sanskrit and Vedic, Philology, Princeton University)


TEXT 2

kalalam tv eka-ratrena panca-ratrena budbudam

dasahena tu karkandhuh pesy andam va tatah param


kalalam—mixing of the sperm and ovum; tu—then; eka-ratrena—on the first night; panca-ratrena—by the fifth night; budbudam—a bubble; dasa-ahena—in ten days; tu—then; karkandhuh—like a plum; pesi—a lump of flesh; andam—an egg; va—or; tatah—thence; param—afterwards.


"On the first night, the sperm and ovum mix, and on the fifth night the mixture ferments into a bubble. On the tenth night it develops into a form like a plum, and after that, it gradually turns into a lump of flesh or an egg, as the case may be."


And here it gets really interesting. On the fifth night, the mixture of sperm and ovum (which was also not known in the west until the 19th century) ferments into a BUBBLE. Sounds funny... a bubble. Well, a "bubble" indeed forms exactly five days after conception and that bubble is called a blastula.


"The blastula (from Greek βλαστός (blastos), meaning "sprout") is a hollow sphere of cells, referred to as blastomeres, surrounding an inner fluid-filled cavity called the blastocoele formed during an early stage of embryonic development in animals.


In humans, blastocyst formation begins about 5 days after fertilization, when a fluid-filled cavity opens up in the morula, a ball of cells. The blastocyst has a diameter of about 0.1–0.2 mm and comprises 200–300 cells following rapid cleavage (cell division).

How on earth could people observe a "bubble" of 0,1-0,2 millimetres in size within the womb of the to be mother and what to speak of having an idea, that the object is hollow inside... It would be very interesting to hear a mainstream scientist's explanation of these descriptions which date thousands of years back as they, by their antiquity, greatly precede any sort of an instrument capable to identify this cell formation.


TEXT 3

In the course of a month, a head is formed, and at the end of two months the hands, feet and other limbs take shape. By the end of three months, the nails, fingers, toes, body hair, bones and skin appear, as do the organ of generation and the other apertures in the body, namely the eyes, nostrils, ears, mouth and anus.

This is a description from a medical website:

Weeks 9–12: The fetus reaches approximately 8 cm. (3.2 in.) in length; the head is approximately half the size of the fetus. External features such as the face, neck, eyelids, limbs, digits, and genitals are well-formed. The beginnings of teeth appear, and red blood cells begin to be produced in the liver. The fetus is able to make a fist.


The verses of Bhagavatam then continue to describe the embryonic and fetal stages one by one up until the point of birth. Then it describes the root problems of man’s existence beginning from childhood up to the point of death and then the descriptions continue to describe the path of a soul departed from the body.


A similar account on the development of a human being in the womb is to be found in the Mārkandeya Purana (Ch.11):


"The son said: - As soon as the male seed is mixed with female blood one, released from heaven or hell, enters into it. (1) O father, the two kinds of seed being influenced by him he attains stability. He then grows into protoplasm, next into a bubble and then into a lump of flesh. (2) The germ that grows up in the lumps of flesh called Ankura and then are gradually produced the five limbs. (3) Then the minor limbs, fingers, eyes, nose, face, and ears are developed from (principal) limbs and from them the nails, &c. (4) Then hairs grow on the skin and then those on the head. Thus does the embryo grow up along with the uterus. (5) As a cocoanut fruit grows along with its case so does this increase along with its case, with is face bent downwards. (6) It grows keeping its hands downwards to its thighs and sides; the thumbs are placed on the thighs and the other fingers before them. (7) The eyes are behind the thighs and the nose is within the thighs. The hips are between the two heels; the arms and legs remain outside. (8) Thus a Creature, lying in the womb of a female, grows up gradually; the embryos of other creatures lie in the womb according to their forms. (9) It gets hardened by fire and lives by what is eaten and drunk; the embryo exists in the womb depending upon virtue and vice. (10) The entrail called āpyāyanī fixed to its navel is attached to the entrail of the female and it grows there. (11) Having its body nourished while in the womb, by the food and drink a creature gradually grows up. (12) It then gets the recollection of its many births and then pushed hither and thither it comes to entertain a distaste (for such a state). (13) Having been released from the womb - "I shall never do it again - I shall so strive that I shall not have to enter into the womb any more" - thus does it think remembering a hundred miseries of births originating from destiny which he had experienced before. (14-15) Then in the course of time, the creature, with its face bent downwards, turns itself and is then born in the ninth or the tenth month. (16) And coming out it is assailed by the Prajāpatya wind and tormented by the grief that is in its heart it bewails. (17) Coming out of the womb it falls into an unbearable trance; it regains its consciousness when it feels the (surrounding) air. (18) Then the enchanting illusion of Vishnu takes possession of it; having its soul possessed by it, it sustains a bewilderment of sense. (19) With the loss of sense the creature comes of infancy, boyhood, youth and old age. (20) A man repeatedly goes through a cycle of births and deaths. In this way, he rolls like a clock on the wheel of the world."

The spiritual world with Goloka - the highest spiritual planet, the Vaikunthas and the dark portion known as the material world

We see the remarkable scientific knowledge about the workings of the material world in the Vedas, which is literature so ancient, that this kind of knowledge is simply not supposed to be there, at least according to what we are being taught about the history of human consciousness. If the Vedas give us so accurate information about the realm where we reside, why not consider the information they give about the realm which is now beyond our perception - the spiritual world? We don't have to waste time with experiments. The experiments were already performed and their results are put forward by great sages and acaryas. We simply have to take advantage of the Vedic knowledge to liberate ourselves from the cycle of birth and death, so we don't have to become a blastula again.

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