A Vedic Account of Human Origins
Michael A. Cremo
In the Bhagavad-gita, the warrior prince Arjuna asks Lord Krishna about the fate of yogis who do not reach the stage of complete perfection. Lord Krishna replied that such souls, after taking birth again, will become automatically attracted to the yoga principles and make further progress. That appears to be the story of my life. I was born in 1948, and even though the place of my birth was America, as I grew up, I found myself attracted to essential aspects of the yogic way of life. I became a vegetarian. I felt much better, physically and mentally. I very much liked reading the Upanisads and the Bhagavad–gita. These books were very satisfying to my intellect. I developed a strong desire to visit India. Over the past 30 years, I have visited India over a dozen times. My voyages have taken me throughout the entire country, from north to south, from east to west. I have felt like a person coming home after a long absence. I became attracted to the teachings of one of the prominent gurus from India, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, and became his initiated disciple, learning from him the practice of one of the ancient Indian yoga systems, bhakti-yoga, the yoga of devotion. In so doing, my initial attraction and curiosity have matured into the commitment of a practitioner who has found a deep spiritual satisfaction.
According to the bhakti-yoga system, one’s work can become one’s yoga, one’s transcendental connection to the supreme conscious personality behind all worldly phenomena. I have always had a tendency toward intellectual work, toward study, and writing, and speaking. I have always wondered about the origin and history of human beings. I am, of course, not unique in this regard. The question of human origins has always been a hot topic among philosophers and scientists. Today, most of them accept the Darwinian account that humans like us came into existence about 100,000 years ago, having evolved from more apelike ancestors.
I myself accepted that account during the early part of my intellectual life. And I probably would still accept it today had it not been for my encounter with the Vedic literature of India. Among this literature, one finds the Puranas, or histories. Had I not studied the Puranas, I would not have had any reason to question the evolutionary ideas I had grown to accept during my early education. In the Puranas I found another account of human origins. I call this account human devolution. To put it in its most simple terms, we do not evolve up from matter but devolve, or come down, from spirit.
The human devolution process, the process by which conscious selves enter human bodies on earth, has been going on for a very long time. According to the Puranas, or histories, humans like us have existed on earth for vast periods of cyclical time. The basic unit of this cyclical time is the Day of Brahma, which lasts for 4.32 billion years. The day of Brahma is followed by a night of Brahma, which also lasts for 4.32 billion years. The days follow the nights endlessly in succession. During the days of Brahma, life, including human life, is manifest, and during the nights it is not manifest. According to the Puranic cosmological calendar, the current day of Brahma began about 2 billion years ago. One of the forefathers of humankind, Svayambhuva Manu, ruled during that time, and the Bhagavata Purana (Shrimad Bhagavatam 6.4.1) tells us: “The . . . human beings . . . were created during the reign of Svayambhuva Manu.” Therefore, a Vedic archeologist might expect to find evidence for a human presence going that far back in time. In our book Forbidden Archeology, my coauthor Richard L. Thompson and I documented extensive evidence, in the form of human skeletons, human footprints, and human artifacts, showing that humans like ourselves have inhabited the earth for hundreds of millions of years, just as the Puranas tell us. This evidence is not very well known because of a process of knowledge filtration that operates in the scientific world. Evidence that contradicts the Darwinian theory of human evolution is set aside, ignored, and eventually forgotten.
For example, in the nineteenth century, gold was discovered in California. To get it, miners dug tunnels into the sides of mountains, such as Table Mountain in Tuolumne County. Deep inside the tunnels, in deposits of early Eocene age (about 50 million years old), miners found human bones and artifacts. The discoveries were carefully documented by Dr. J. D. Whitney, the chief government geologist of California, in his book The Auriferous Gravels of the Sierra Nevada of California, published by Harvard University in 1880. But we do not hear very much about these discoveries today. In the Smithsonian Institution Annual Report for 1898–1899 (p. 424), anthropologist William Holmes said, “Perhaps if Professor Whitney had fully appreciated the story of human evolution as it is understood today, he would have hesitated to announce the conclusions formulated, notwithstanding the imposing array of testimony with which he was confronted.” In other words, if the facts did not fit the theory of human evolution, the facts had to be set aside, and that is exactly what happened.
Such bias continued into the twentieth century. In the 1970s, American archeologists led by Cynthia Irwin Williams discovered stones tools at Hueyatlaco, near Puebla, Mexico. The stone tools were of advanced type, made only by humans like us. A team of geologists, from the United States Geological Survey and universities in the United States, came to Hueyatlaco to date the site. Among the geologists was Virginia Steen-McIntyre. To date the site, the team used four methods—uranium series dating on butchered animal bones found along with the tools, zircon fission track dating on volcanic layers above the tools, tephra hydration dating of volcanic crystals, and standard stratigraphy. The four methods converged on an age of about 250,000 years for the site. The archeologists refused to consider this date. They could not believe that humans capable of making the Hueyatlaco artifacts existed 250,000 years ago. In defense of the dates obtained by the geologists, Virginia Steen-McIntyre wrote in a letter (March 30, 1981) to Estella Leopold, associate editor of Quaternary Research: “The problem as I see it is much bigger than Hueyatlaco. It concerns the manipulation of scientific thought through the suppression of ‘Enigmatic Data,’ data that challenges the prevailing mode of thinking. Hueyatlaco certainly does that! Not being an anthropologist, I didn’t realize the full significance of our dates back in 1973, nor how deeply woven into our thought the current theory of human evolution has become. Our work at Hueyatlaco has been rejected by most archaeologists because it contradicts that theory, period.” This remains true today, not only for the California gold mine discoveries and the Hueyatlaco human artifacts, but for hundreds of other discoveries documented in the scientific literature of the past 150 years, discoveries that contradict the Darwinian account of human origins..
There is also fossil evidence showing that the current Darwinian picture of the evolution of nonhuman species is also in need of revision. Beginning in the 1940s, geologists and paleobotanists working with the Geological Survey of India explored the Salt Range Mountains in what is now Pakistan. They found deep in salt mines evidence for the existence of advanced flowering plants and insects in the early Cambrian periods, about 600 million years ago. According to standard evolutionary ideas, no land plants or animals existed at that time. Flowering plants and insects are thought to have come into existence hundreds of millions of years later.
To explain the evidence some geologists proposed that there must have been a massive overthrust, by which Eocene layers, about 50 million years old and containing the plant and insect fossils, were thrust under Cambrian layers, over 550 million years old. Others pointed out that there were no geological signs of such an overthrust. According to these scientists, the layers bearing the fossils of the advanced plants and insects were found in normal position, beneath strata containing trilobites, the characteristic fossil of the Cambrian.
One of these scientists, E. R. Gee, a geologist working with the Geological Survey of India, proposed a novel solution to the problem. In the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of India for the year 1945 (section B, v. 16, pp. xlv–xlvi), paleobotanist Birbal Sahni noted: “Quite recently, an alternative explanation has been offered by Mr. Gee. The suggestion is that the angiosperms, gymnosperms and insects of the Saline Series may represent a highly evolved Cambrian or Precambrian flora and fauna! In other words, it is suggested that these plants and animals made their appearance in the Salt Range area several hundred million years earlier than they did anywhere else in the world. One would scarcely have believed that such an idea would be seriously put forward by any geologist today.” The controversy was left unresolved.
In the 1990s, petroleum geologists, unaware of the earlier controversy, restudied the area. They determined that the salt deposits below the Cambrian deposits containing trilobites were early Cambrian or Precambrian. In other words, they found no evidence of an overthrust. The salt deposits were in a natural position below the Cambrian deposits. This supports Gee’s suggestion that the plant and insect remains in the salt deposits were evidence of an advanced fauna and flora existing in the early Cambrian. This evidence contradicts not only the Darwinian concept of the evolution of humans but of other species as well.
Aside from fossil evidence, from genetics and developmental biology also contradicts the Darwinian theory of human evolution. Although the origin of life from chemicals is technically not part of the evolution theory, it has in practice become inseparably connected with it. Darwinists routinely assert that life arose from chemicals. But after decades of theorizing and experimenting, they are unable to say exactly which chemicals combined in exactly which way to form exactly which first living thing. As far as evolution itself is concerned, it has not been demonstrated in any truly scientific way. It remains an article of faith. The modern evolutionary synthesis is based on genetics. Evolutionists posit a relationship between the genotype (genetic structure) of an organism and its phenotype (physical structure). They say that changes in the genotype result in changes in the phenotype, and by natural selection the changes in phenotype conferring better fitness in a particular environment accumulate in organisms. Evolutionists claim that this process can account for the appearance of new structural features in organisms. But on the level of microbiology, these structures appear to be irreducibly complex. Scientists have not been able to specify exactly how they have come about in step by step fashion. They have not been able to tell us exactly what genetic changes resulted in what phenotypic changes to produce particular complex features of organisms. This would require the specification of intermediate stages leading up to the complex structures we observe today. In his book Darwin’s Black Box (1996, p. 183), biochemist Michael Behe says, “In the past ten years, Journal of Molecular Evolution has published more than a thousand papers. . . . There were zero papers discussing detailed models for intermediates in the development of complex biomolecular structures. This is not a peculiarity of JME. No papers are to be found that discuss detailed models for intermediates in the development of complex biomolecular structures, whether in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Nature, Science, the Journal of Molecular Biology or, to my knowledge, any science journal.”
Attempts by scientists to use genetic evidence to demonstrate the time and place that anatomically modern humans have come into existence have resulted in embarrassing mistakes and contradictions. The first widely publicized reports that genetic evidence allowed scientists to say that all living humans arose from an African Eve who lived 200,000 years ago in Africa turned out to be fatally flawed. Researchers have attempted to correct the mistakes, but the results remain confused. Considering the complexities surrounding genetic data, some scientists have suggested that fossils remain the most reliable evidence for questions about human origins and antiquity. In an article in American Anthropologist (1993 v. 95, no. 11), David W. Frayer and his coauthors said (p. 19): “Unlike genetic data derived from living humans, fossils can be used to test predictions of theories about the past without relying on a long list of assumptions about the neutrality of genetic markers, mutational rates, or other requirements necessary to retrodict the past from current genetic variation. . . . genetic information, at best, provides a theory of how modern human origins might have happened if the assumptions used in interpreting the genetic data are correct.” This means that the archeological evidence for extreme human antiquity documented in Forbidden Archeology provides a much needed check on the rampant speculations of genetic researchers. This evidence contradicts current Darwinian accounts of human origins.
Although there is much evidence from archeology, genetics, and developmental biology that contradicts the current Darwinian theory of human evolution, it does not tell us anything about the actual origin of human beings. This contradictory evidence simply tells us that we need a new explanation for human origins. But that is also important. Why offer a new explanation, unless one is really required? In my new book Human Devolution, I set forth such a new explanation, an explanation based on information found in the Puranas and other Vedic literatures.
Before we ask the question, “Where did human beings come from?” we should first of all ask the question, “What is a human being?” Today most scientists believe that a human being is simply a combination of matter, the ordinary chemical elements. This assumption limits the kinds of explanations that can be offered for human origins. Inspired by my studies in the Vedic literature, I have proposed that it is more reasonable, based on available scientific evidence, to start with the assumption that a human being is composed of three separately existing substances: matter, mind, and consciousness (or spirit). This assumption widens the circle of possible explanations.
Any scientific chain of reasoning begins with some initial assumptions that are not rigorously proved. Otherwise, one would get caught in an endless regression of proofs of assumptions, and proofs of proofs of assumptions. Initial assumptions must simply be reasonable on the basis of available evidence. And it is reasonable, on the basis of available evidence, to posit the existence of mind and consciousness, in addition to ordinary matter, as separate elements composing the human being.
For the purpose of scientific discussion, I define mind as a subtle material substance associated with the human organism and capable of acting on ordinary matter in ways we cannot explain by our current laws of physics. Evidence for this mind element comes from scientific research into the phenomena called by some “paranormal” or “psychical.” Here we are led into the hidden history of physics (the knowledge filtering process also operates in this field of knowledge).
For example, every physics student learns about the work of Pierre and Marie Curie, the husband and wife team who both received Nobel Prizes for their work in discovering radium. The account is found in practically every introductory physics textbook. What we do not read in the textbooks is that the Curies were heavily involved in psychical research. They were part of a large group of prominent European scientists, including other Nobel Prize winners, who were jointly conducting research into the paranormal in Paris early in the twentieth century. For two years, the group studied the Italian medium Eusapia Palladino. Historian Anna Hurwic notes in her biography of Pierre Curie (1995, p. 247), “He saw the séances as scientific experiments, tried to monitor the different parameters, took detailed notes of every observation. He was really intrigued by Eusapia Palladino.” About some séances with Eusapia, Pierre Curie wrote to physicist Georges Gouy in a letter dated July 24, 1905: “We had at the Psychology Society a few séances with the medium Eusapia Palladino. It was very interesting, and truly those phenomena that we have witnessed seemed to us to not be some magical tricks—a table lifted four feet above the floor . . . All this in a room arranged by us, with a small number of spectators all well known and without the presence of a possible accomplice.” Pierre Curie reported that on such occasions, the medium was carefully physically controlled by the scientists present. On April 14, 1906, Pierre wrote to Gouy about some further investigations he and Marie had carried out: “We had a few new ‘séances’ with Eusapia Paladina (We already had séances with her last summer). The result is that those phenomena exist for real, and I can’t doubt it any more. It is unbelievable, but it is thus, and it is impossible to negate it after the séances that we had in conditions of perfect monitoring.” He concluded, “There is, according to me a completely new domain of facts and physical states of space of which we have no idea.”
Such results, and many more like them from the hidden history of physics, suggest there is associated with the human organism a mind element that can act on ordinary matter in ways we cannot easily explain by our current physical laws. Such research continues today, although most scientists doing it are concentrating on microeffects rather than the macroeffects reported by Pierre Curie. For example, Robert Jahn, head of the engineering department at Princeton University, started to research the effects of mental attention on random number generators. A random number generator will normally generate a sequence of ones and zeros, with equal numbers of each. But Jahn, and his associates who have continued the research, found that subjects can mentally influence the random number generators to produce a statistically significant greater number of ones than zeros (or vice versa).
Evidence for a conscious self that can exist apart from mind (subtle matter) and ordinary matter comes from medical reports of Out of body experiences (OBEs). During traumatic events such as heart attacks, blood stops flowing to the brain, and the subjects become unconscious. But some subjects report separating from their bodies at such times. They report consciously observing their own bodies. The reality of such experiences has been confirmed by medical researchers. For example, in February 2001, a team from the University of Southampton, in the United Kingdom, published a favorable study on OBEs in cardiac arrest patients in the journal Resuscitation (v. 48, pp. 149–156). The team was headed by Dr. Sam Parnia, a senior research fellow at the university. On February 16, 2001, a report published on the university’s web site said that the work of Dr. Parnia “suggests consciousness and the mind may continue to exist after the brain has ceased to function and the body is clinically dead.” This is exactly the Vedic conception. At death the conscious self leaves the body, accompanied by the subtle material covering of the mind, and then enters another body of gross matter. Memories from past lives are recorded in the mind, and may be accessed by the conscious self in its new body made of gross matter, as shown by psychiatrist Ian Stevenson’s extensive studies verifying past life memories of children.
If the human organism is composed of gross matter, mind, and consciousness (or spirit), it is natural to suppose that these elements come from reservoirs of such elements. This suggests that the cosmos is divided into regions, or levels, of gross matter, mind, and consciousness, each inhabited by beings adapted to life there. First, there is a region of pure consciousness. Consciousness, as we experience it, is individual and personal. This suggests that the original source of conscious selves is also individual and personal. So in addition to the individual units of consciousness existing in the realm of pure consciousness, there is also an original conscious being who is their source. When the fractional conscious selves give up their connection with their source, they are placed in lower regions of the cosmos predominated by either subtle material substance (mind) or gross material substance. There is thus a cosmic hierarchy of conscious beings. Accounts of this cosmic hierarchy of beings can be found not only in the Puranas but in the cosmologies of many other cultures. The cosmologies share many features. They generally include an original God inhabiting a realm of pure consciousness, a subordinate creator god inhabiting a subtle material region of the cosmos along with many kinds of demigods and demigoddesses, an earthly realm, dominated by gross matter, inhabited by humans like us.
This suggests that the universe of our experience should show signs that it was designed by a higher intelligence for accommodating human life and other forms of life. Modern cosmology does provide evidence for this. Scientists have discovered that numbers representing fundamental physical constants and ratios of natural forces appear to be finely tuned for life to exist in our universe. Astronomer Sir Martin Rees considers six of these numbers to be especially significant. In his book Just Six Numbers (2000, pp. 3–4), he says, “These six numbers constitute a ‘recipe’ for a universe. Moreover, the outcome is sensitive to their values: if any one of them were to be ‘untuned’, there would be no stars and no life.” There are three main explanations for the apparent fine tuning of the physical constants and laws of nature: simple chance, many worlds, and some intelligent providential creator. Many cosmologists admit that the odds against the fine tuning are too extreme for a simple chance to be offered as a credible scientific explanation. To avoid the conclusion of a providential designer, they have posited the existence of a practically unlimited number of universes, each with the values of fundamental constants and laws of nature adjusted in a different way. And we just happen to live in the one universe with everything adjusted correctly for the existence of human life. But for modern science these other universes have only a theoretical existence, and even if their existence could be physically demonstrated, one would further have to show that in these other universes the values of the fundamental constants and laws of nature are in fact different than those in our universe.
The Vedic cosmology also speaks of many universes, but all of them are designed for life, and beyond all of these material universes, with their levels of gross and subtle matter, is the level of pure consciousness, or spirit. Originally, we exist there as units of pure consciousness in harmonious connection with the supreme conscious being, known by the Sanskrit name Krishna (and by other names in other religious traditions). When we give up our willing connection with that supreme conscious being, we descend to regions of the cosmos dominated by the subtle and gross material elements, mind and matter. Forgetful of our original position, we attempt to dominate and enjoy the subtle and gross material elements. For this purpose, we are provided with bodies made of the subtle and gross material elements. The subtle material body is made up not only of mind, but of the even finer material elements, intelligence and false ego (for the sake of simplicity, I have in this discussion collapsed them into mind). The gross material body is made of earth, water, fire, air, and ether. Bodies made of these gross and subtle material elements are vehicles for conscious selves. They are designed for existence within the realms of the subtle and gross material elements. According to their degree of forgetfulness of their original nature, conscious selves receive appropriate bodily coverings. Those who are more forgetful receive bodies that cover their original consciousness to a greater degree. The original conscious being in the Vedic universe (aside from God) is Brahma, the first demigod. His body, manifested directly from Vishnu (the expansion of Krishna who controls the material universe), is made primarily of the subtle material elements. He is tasked with manifesting bodies for the other conscious selves existing at various levels of the cosmic hierarchy. From the body of Brahma come great sages, sometimes known as his mental sons, and also the first sexually reproducing pair, Svayambhuva Manu and his consort Shatarupa. The daughters of Manu become the wives of some of the sages, and they produce generations of demigods and demigoddesses, with bodies composed primarily of the subtle material energy. These demigods and demigoddesses, by their reproductive processes, through a kind of intelligently guided genetic engineering, produce the forms of living things, including humans, who reside on our earth planet.
In the devolution process, our original pure spiritual consciousness is covered by layers of subtle and gross material elements. But the process can be reversed. There is a kind of re-evolution by which we can free consciousness from its coverings, and restore it to its original pure state. Every great spiritual tradition has some means for accomplishing this—some form of prayer, or meditation, or yoga. In my own practice of bhakti yoga, I rely on the process of vibrating the transcendental sound of the Hare Krishna mantra to restore consciousness to its pure state. However, I will simply advise each person to look deeply within the spiritual tradition of his or her choice, and find the form or prayer, or meditation, or yoga that is there to help one make progress toward the ultimate goal of life.