Our Tiny Universe
By His Holiness Danavir Goswami
From Vedic literature we find that our universe, compared to other universes, is relatively small. The Brahmä in charge of this universe has only four heads, whereas Brahmäs managing larger universes have proportionately more heads.
“Kåñëa said, ‘Your particular universe extends four billion miles; therefore it is the smallest of all the universes. Consequently you have only four heads.” (Caitanya-caritämåta Madhya 21.84)
Çrémad Bhägavatam (3.11.40) confirms this distance of four billion miles.
vikäraiù sahito yuktair
äëòakoço bahir ayaà
“This phenomenal material world is expanded to a diameter of four billion miles, as a combination of eight material elements transformed into sixteen further categories, within and without, ….”
Half of the universe is filled with the water of the Garbhodaka Ocean and the other half is filled with planets floating in space. (Caitanya-caritämåta, Ädi 5.96).This huge egglike universe (Brahmäëòa) is covered by seven layers of material elements; earth, water, fire, air, etc. The first layer is ten times the diameter of the universe, i.e. forty billion miles. The next is ten times that, namely 400 billion miles. Each layer is successively ten times greater than the previous one.
kñity-ädibhir eña kilävåtaù
saptabhir daça-guëottarair aëòa-koçaù
“Every universe is covered by seven layers—earth, water, fire, air, sky, the total energy and false ego—each ten times greater than the previous one.” (Çrémad-Bhägavatam 6.16.37)
Altogether, the universe of floating planets and its immense coverings has a radius of approximately 44.5 quadrillion miles, or a diameter of approximately 89 quadrillion miles.
To calculate the circumference of the universe we multiply the diameter times pi (3.14) which equals approximately 280 quadrillion miles or 35 quadrillion yojanas (a yojana equals eight miles). This figure brings us into the realm of calculations presented by Çréla Bhaktisiddhänta Sarasvaté in the Siddhänta-çiromaëi.
“Çréla Bhaktisiddhänta Sarasvaté Öhäkura, one of the greatest astrologers of his time, gives information from Siddhänta-çiromaëi that this universe measures 18,712,069,200,000,000 x 8 miles. This is the circumference of this universe. According to some, this is only half the circumference.” (Caitanya-caritämåta Madhya 21.84 Purport)
If 18,712,069,200,000,000 yojanas is half the circumference, then the full circumference is 37,424,138,400,000,000 yojanas, which is almost exactly the 35 quadrillion figure. Çréla Pra-bhupäda always supported the Çrémad Bhägavatam statement that the part of the universe that contains planets and the Garbhodaka ocean, which is the relatively hollow part within the coverings, is four billion miles in diameter.
Prabhupäda: The whole universe, diameter, is païcaçat-koöi-yojana… fifty crore yojanas, païcaçat. So one yojana equal to eight miles, one crore equal to ten million.
Parämahaàsa: Four billion miles is the diameter.
Prabhupäda: Is the diameter.
Parämahaàsa: You gave that in The Teachings of Lord Caitanya also.
Prabhupäda: Yes. And the sun is in the middle.
Parämahaàsa: So two billion miles from the edge of the universe.
(Morning walk: May 12, 1975)
Sometimes it is reasoned that Çréla Prabhupäda suggested a different, far greater, size for our universe. Such ideas are based on statements such as the following, found in the Çrémad Bhägavatam (1.9.29, purport):
“Even attempting to reach the highest planet will take millions of years at a speed of millions of miles per hour.”
There are many statements like this. The point Çréla Prabhupäda is making is a philosophical one—that the material creation is beyond our calculations, what to speak of the spiritual world! In the above statement as well as those cited below, Çréla Prabhupäda is not giving exact astronomical distances of the universe. Rather he is establishing an essential philosophical understanding. Consider the following statements:
“The conditioned souls may try to understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead for many billions of years through their mental speculative processes, traveling at the speed of the mind or the wind, but still the Absolute Truth will remain inconceivable to them because a materialistic person cannot measure the length and breadth of the Supreme Personality of Godhead’s unlimited existence. (Çrémad-Bhägavatam 6.4.23 Purport)
“Just like if you start your jet plane from here to see where is the original cause, panthäs tu koöi-çata-vatsara, and go on for many, many millions of years with the speed of mind, panthäs tu koöi-çata-vatsara-sampra… Koöi-çata-vatsara… Millions and millions of years… So with the mental speed, airplane, if you start today and go for many millions of years, still it will be not possible to find out wherefrom the explosion is coming.” (Lecture:, April 2, 1975, Mäyäpur)
“Space is unlimited, and the Brahmä-saàhitä suggests: Suppose one travels by spacecraft for millions of years at the velocity of the wind or even the speed of mind. Everyone knows that the mind is so swift that in even one ten-thousandth of a second it can take us millions of miles. If we have seen something millions of miles away, the mind can go there immediately. But even if we can travel at that speed on a spacecraft manufactured by muni-puìgavänäm, the greatest scientists and most thoughtful men, will that be perfection? No. The Brahmä-saàhitä says, so ’py asti yat-prapada-sémny avicintya-tattve: still this creation will remain inconceivable to our understanding.” (Teachings of Queen Kunté: 14)
The precise distances for the size of the universe (an inner diameter of four billion miles for the space-and-planet-filled portion) are given in the fifth canto of the Çrémad Bhägavatam. Çréla Prabhupäda adamantly confirms their accuracy in his purports. It is not justifiable to suggest, therefore, that Çréla Prabhupäda is inferring that our universe is something other than four billion miles in diameter.
Yet if we’re determined to build a hypothesis on the statement, “Even attempting to reach the highest planet will take millions of years at a speed of millions of miles per hour,” then we cannot rule out the possibility of material planets beyond our puny universe. There are many universes, each with countless planets. To travel from one brahmäëòa to another (and there are innumerable brah-mäëòas) would require billions of light-years. In this way, Çréla Prabhupäda’s statement is easily verified. Vedic cosmology involves vast distances of incalculable light-years. However, according to Vedic authority, such distances are not within our visible universe.
In conclusion we humbly present that the circumference of our Brahmäëòa, including the seven coverings, according to the Çrémad Bhägavatam, is approximately thirty-five quadrillion yojanas. That is a fact. Whether someone wishes to connect that fact to the Siddhänta-çiromaëi estimate is up to him. Hare Kåñëa.
Prabhupäda, A.C. B.S. (1976). Çrémad Bhägavatam. Los Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.