In 1976 Srila Prabhupada instructed the founding members of the Bhaktivedanta Institute “to build a model of the universe that could later be built full size at the future Mayapur Temple and Planetarium complex.” To help broadly facilitate Srila Prabhupada’s directive, the Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies (BIHS) based in Gainesville recently hosted its second cosmography workshop, “Models and memes and maps: A modern journey through ancient cosmography.” It attracted online participants from around the world over the weekend of November 21-22, 2020.
The BIHS workshop aspired to provide a unified framework for facilitating intellectual discourse involving 5th Canto puranic cosmographical models within ISKCON. The workshop explored specifics of both present models under discussion within the society, as well as new research that enhances the already rich devotional scholarly tradition engaging this topic. The Director of the BIHS, Brahmatirtha Dasa, explained, “We are striving to elevate the discourse to a level suitable for publication in appropriate academic circles so that the efforts of the many Vaishnavas can be appreciated by the intellectual communities while remaining loyal to our tradition.”
Workshop highlights included the first day’s session titled “Creating modern context for a millennia-old discussion.” It featured presentations by Pracarananda (PhD Geology), Janakirama (PhD Religion), and Sthita-dhi-muni (PhD History of Science). Participants in the afternoon’s session broke out into smaller working groups to consider methods for enhancing ISKCON scholars’ roles, agendas, and means for entering productive dialogue both within the society and its outreach.
Session 3 of the second day featured a number of prominent models discussed within ISKCON. Among the presenters were Prishni (Mathematics), Radha Mohan, Pavaneshwar (MS Electrical Engineering), Rsiraja Prabhu (M. Sc.), and Sulabha Dasa. The workshop’s final session offered presentations of more recent research, coupled with healthy critical analysis. Talks were given by Vrindavana Priya, Prem Gauranga (Mechanical Engineering), Vaishnav (PhD Astrophysics), Murali Gopal (PhD Physics), Dvija Govinda (PhD Physics), and Doug Watson (PhD Physics).
In his parting words, BIHS director Brahmatirtha encouraged the international participants to visit Gainesville in the future: “We do hope you can visit our new BIHS headquarters, former home of the president of the University of Florida and situated near the university in an historically preserved neighborhood. Be our guest and enjoy our 3000 plus books library, gardens and beautiful walking areas. BIHS has been able to secure use of this new facility with the generous support of Hridayananda Maharaja.”