When bows-arrows are more cumbersome than machine guns why did the advanced technology of the past use primitive weapons?

by Chaitanya Charan dasApril 10, 2013

Our understanding is that humans were much more advanced in other yugas than now. For warfare, the main weapons were a bow and an arrow which are quite primitive compared to bullets, lasers, rockets that travel thousands of miles etc.. Arjuna could discharge the brahmastra and other wondrous weapons, but why did he need a bow for that – a bowstring cannot generate much thrust and is cumbersome compared to an automatic gun

Answer Podcast

Question: When bows arrows aew more cumbersome than machine guns why did the advanced technology of the past use primitive weapons?

Answer: Much of the development of modern technology is motivated by the notion that humans have to develop power by taking control of nature. Whereas in Vedic technology, the underlying understanding was that power is accessed by harmonizing with the higher beings that control nature. So because of this fundamental difference which can be stated succinctly as modern technology is manipulative while traditional technology was supplicative (means praying or asking). Based on this difference, the need for material mechanisms that can operate matter through forces that we can tap independent of the higher beings – that is the underlying defining notion today. That is why we need technology in which we manipulate nature and accordingly we need specific devices which have the capacity to manipulate nature. So from the clumsiness or the functional utility point of view, we may feel that missiles or automatic guns are much more effective but there is also a collateral cost- there is an environmental cost. And also generally the use of technology is often meant to compensate for the decline of human ability. That means for example because my power of seeing has decreased so I need spectacles to see. My power of memorizing has decreased so I need devices with reminders. Now these may in a sense convey to us that our abilities have increased but actually though we may be able to function better with spectacles or cellphones with periodic reminders, the fact remains that we are not able to do those ourselves. So human abilities have declined through the ages.  Though we may be able to function better with technology, the fact remains that we are not able to do those things ourselves. The human, physical and intellectual abilities have declined over the ages, and the Bhagavatam also talks about this- kalena balina rajan… tatascha.. . Various faculties like strength, lifespan, intelligence decrease as kaliyuga progresses. We may feel that bow and arrows are clumsy to use, not as effective as a machine gun. But the fact is that we ourselves are not very good at using these things. If we look at the descriptions of the Mahabharata, how Arjuna so swiftly drew out and shot arrows that people could not even understand when he actually took his hand took out the arrow, put on his bow and shot it- the arrow would sometimes look practically like a circle. Within that cultural context, the expertise the people had with bows and arrows was extraordinary- which is beyond human capacity today. That means there was higher human capacity in the past, combined with the connection with higher powers- who conveyed superhuman abilities to these weapons. Both these factors need to be considered. Also in general whenever there is any description of a scriptural incident, that Krsna does it in a way which is more or less in harmony with those times. If we look at the mood in Caitanya Caritamrita or in the Mahabharata- both are describing the pastimes of the Lord (or even the Ramayan) but the socio-cultural setting is substantially different. There is a particularly stage on which the pastimes of the Lord take place and that stage is often set in such a way that it gels with the socio-cultural ethos of those times. That is when transcendence is manifested in this world, it is manifested in such a way that it stands out from its culture because of its spirituality- but other things remain the same. Caitanya Mahaprabhu comes- there is the background of the Islamic rule, the rigid caste system, the preponderance of karma and gyana and negligence of bhakti, and it is within these that his pastimes are performed. If we look at the Ramayana- Rsis were living in hermitages, and there are Vedic kings which respect the Rsis, the kings perform massive fire sacrifices and they have svayamvaras. We see the culture in the Ramayana and in the Caitanya Caritamrita is different- so although the Lord is manifesting the pastimes, the overall setting in which the Lord is manifesting the pastimes doesn’t change dramatically. This principle applies not to just to the Lord’s pastimes, but to the Vedic history. Even when higher powers are manifested- like Brahmastra or Suryastra or whatever, they are manifested through the culture that is present over there at that time. If at that culture at that time say bows and arrows are used, the higher powers are also invoked through the use of bows and arrows and this is the general way in which higher power manifests through the existing culture. The Mahabharata also describes yantra vidya- that is when Maya danava after being grateful to Arjuna and Krsna for having spared his life- wants to give something in return- yantra vidya- Krsna says that yantra vidya is reserved for the dark age of Kali- so we will not use it right now. Not due to a lack of knowledge but due to a conscious turning away from it- what we call technology was not used during those times. To summarize- the supplicative nature of technology during those times, the higher human capacities for physical and intellectual activity in the past times, and the general adherence of the higher realities being revealed with the existing culture as the appropriate setting and the conscious rejection of yantra vidya during previous ages and its relegation to the dark age of kali- all these are factors because of which we don’t see modern machinery and such technological gadgetry during those times.

Thank you.

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Chaitanya Charan das
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