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Letter to Dr. Wilfred G. Bigelow
His Divine Grace A.C.
Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Founder-Acharya of the
world-wide Hare Krishna Movement, Brahma Sampradaya Acharya
In 1972, a distinguished panel met in Windsor, Ontario, and
discussed "problems associated with attempts to define the exact moment
of death." Panel members included world-famous heart surgeon Dr.
Wilfred G. Bigelow, Mr. Justice Edson L. Haines of the Ontario Supreme
Court, and J. Francis Leddy, president of the University of Windsor.
Dr. Bigelow upheld the existence of the soul and urged systematic
research to determine what the soul is and where it comes from. Dr.
Bigelow's and other panelists' comments were later published in the
Montreal Gazette. When the article came to the attention of Srila
Prabhupada, he wrote a letter to Dr. Bigelow offering substantial Vedic
knowledge of the science of the soul and suggested a practical method
for scientifically understanding it. The Gazette article and Srila
Prabhupada's response follow.
Gazette headline: Heart surgeon Wants to Know
What a Soul Is
world-famous Canadian heart surgeon says he believes the body has a
soul which departs at death and theologians ought to try to find out
more about it.
Dr. Wilfred G. Bigelow, head of the cardiovascular surgery unit at
Toronto General Hospital, said that "as a person who believes there is
a soul," he thought the time had come "to take the mystery out of this
and find out what it is."
Bigelow was a member of a panel which appeared before the Essex County
Medical-Legal Society to discuss problems associated with attempts to
define the exact moment of death.
The question has become vital in the age of transplants of hearts and
other organs in cases when the donors are inevitably dying.
The Canadian Medical Association has produced a widely accepted
definition of death as the moment when the patient is in coma, responds
to no stimulus of any kind, and brain waves recorded on a machine are
The other members of the panel were Mr. Justice Edson L. Haines of the
Ontario Supreme Court and J. Francis Leddy, president of the University
Bigelow, elaborating on points he had raised during the discussion,
said in an interview later that his thirty-two years as a surgeon had
left him no doubts that there is a soul.
"There are certain cases where you happen to be present at the moment
when people pass from a living state to death, and some mysterious
changes take place.
"One of the most noticeable is the sudden lack of life or luster to the
eyes. They become opaque and literally lifeless.
"It's difficult to document what you observe. In fact, I don't think it
can be documented very well."
Bigelow, who became world renowned for his pioneering work in the "deep
freeze" surgical technique known as hypothermia and for his heart valve
surgery, said "soul research" should be undertaken by theology and
allied disciplines within the university.
During this discussion Leddy said that "if there is a soul, you are not
going to see it. You are not going to find it."
"If there is a principle of vitality or life, what is it?" The problem
was that "the soul doesn't exist anywhere specifically, geographically.
It's everywhere and yet it's nowhere in the body."
It would "be nice to start experimenting, but I don't know how you are
going to get on any of these things," Leddy said. He said the
discussion reminded him of the Soviet cosmonaut who returned from space
to report there was no God, because he didn't see Him up there.
Maybe so, said Bigelow, but in modern medicine when something was
encountered that could not be explained, "the watchword is discover the
answer, take it into the laboratory, take it somewhere where you can
discover the truth."
The central question, said Bigelow, was "where is the soul and where
does it come from?"
Srila Prabhupada Gives the Vedic Evidence
My dear Dr.
Please accept my greetings. Recently I have read an article in the Gazette
by Rae Corelli entitled "Heart Surgeon Wants to Know What a Soul Is,"
and it was very interesting. Your comments show great insight, and so I
thought to write you on this matter. Perhaps you may know that I am the
Founder-Acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
I have several temples in Canada-Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, and
Hamilton. This Krishna consciousness movement is specifically meant to
teach every soul his original, spiritual position.
Undoubtedly the soul is present in the heart of the living entity, and
it is the source of all the energies for maintaining the body. The
energy of the soul is spread all over the body, and this is known as
consciousness. Since this consciousness spreads the energy of the soul
all over the body, one can feel pains and pleasures in any part of the
body. The soul is individual, and he is transmigrating from one body to
another, just as a person transmigrates from babyhood to childhood,
from childhood to boyhood, from boyhood to youth, and then to advanced
old age. Then the change called death takes place when we change to a
new body, just as we change our old dress to a new dress. This is
called transmigration of the soul.
When a soul wants to enjoy this material world, forgetting his real
home in the spiritual world, he takes this life of hard struggle for
existence. This unnatural life of repeated birth, death, disease, and
old age can be stopped when his consciousness is dovetailed with the
supreme consciousness of God. That is the basic principle of our
As far as heart transplant is concerned, there is no question of
success unless the soul is there in the heart. So the presence of the
soul has to be accepted. In sexual intercourse, if there is no soul,
there is no conception, no pregnancy. Contraception deteriorates the
womb so that it no longer is a good place for the soul. That is against
the order of God. By the order of God, a soul is sent to a particular
womb, but by this contraceptive he is denied that womb and has to be
placed in another. That is disobedience to the Supreme. For example,
take a man who is supposed to live in a particular apartment. If the
situation there is so disturbed that he cannot enter the apartment,
then he is put at a great disadvantage. That is illegal interference
and is punishable.
The undertaking of "soul research" would certainly mark the advancement
of science. But advancement of science will not be able to find the
soul. The soul's presence can simply be accepted on circumstantial
understanding. You will find in the Vedic literature that the dimension
of the soul is one ten-thousandth the size of a point. The material
scientist cannot measure the length and breadth of a point. Therefore
it is not possible for the material scientist to capture the soul. You
can simply accept the soul's existence by taking it from authority.
What the greatest scientists are finding, we've explained long ago.
As soon as one understands the existence of the soul, he can
immediately understand the existence of God. The difference between God
and the soul is that God is a very great soul, and the living entity is
a very small soul; but qualitatively they are equal. Therefore God is
all-pervading, and the living entity is localized. But the nature and
quality are the same.
The central question, you say, is "Where is the soul, and where does it
come from?" That is not difficult to understand. We have already
discussed that the soul is residing in the heart of the living entity
and that it takes shelter in another body after death. Originally the
soul comes from God. Just as a spark comes from fire, and when the
spark falls down it appears to be extinguished, the spark of soul
originally comes from the spiritual world to the material world. In the
material world he falls down into three different conditions, which are
called the modes of nature. When a spark of fire falls on dry grass,
the fiery quality continues; when the spark falls on the ground, it
cannot display its fiery manifestation unless the ground is favorably
situated; and when the spark falls on water, it becomes extinguished.
As such, we find three kinds of living conditions. One living entity is
completely forgetful of his spiritual nature; another is almost
forgetful but still has an instinct of spiritual nature; and another is
completely in search of spiritual perfection. There is a bona fide
method for the attainment of spiritual perfection by the spiritual
spark of soul, and if he is properly guided then he is very easily sent
back home, back to Godhead, wherefrom he originally fell.
It will be a great contribution to human society if this authorized
information from the Vedic literature is presented to the modern world
on the basis of modern scientific understanding. The fact is already
there. It simply has to be presented for modern understanding.