In 1974, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, expressed a desire to “establish a Vaisnava Research Institute” to present the science of Krishna Consciousness among intellectuals.¹ The following year, in August of 1975, he requested his disciple, Dr. Thoudam D. Singh (Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Maharaja – PhD Organic Chemistry), to start such an institute in the United States. In July 1976, while visiting the Washington DC ISKCON, Prabhupada discussed with Singh and a small gathering of scholarly disciples how to organize the Bhaktivedanta Institute, which was intended to interact with an educated audience. Included among the followers were Michael Marchetti (Madhava dasa – PhD Chemistry), Richard L. Thompson (Sadaputa dasa – PhD Mathematics), and Robert Corens (Rupanuga dasa). Dr. Singh recalled that at the time, “Prabhupada specifically instructed us to build a model of the universe that could later be built full size at the future Mayapur Temple and Planetarium complex.”²
This same group plus William H. Deadwyler (Ravindra Svarupa dasa, PhD Religion) met again in Washington, DC on December 10, 1976 and, along with Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, signed the incorporation papers that legally established the Institute. This core group served as the Institute’s founding board, with Singh as director. Others soon joined, including Bob Cohen (Brahmatirtha dasa) and David John Webb (Jnana dasa), both of whom also spoke at the Institute’s inaugural conference held October 1977 in Vrindavan, India. Among the materials produced for the First International Scientific Conference on Life Comes From Life were a set of monographs, along with a brochure that offered short biographies of the founding members: Bhaktivedanta Institute Prospectus and Lecture Series on “The Origin of Life and Matter”.
Dr. Singh articulated the mood of the founding members on the inside cover of a 1979 magazine titled, “Perspectives on Bhaktivedanta Institute”:
[Prabhupada] was never one to criticize modern, materialistic science per se, but only insofar as it ignores and rejects the fully verifiable findings of the higher science of transcendence – of which he himself was an unquestioned master. Knowing through personal realization the transcendental, conscious source of all manifested existence, he was especially critical of the “life-comes-from-matter” theory that now holds sway over most of the modern scientific community. Thus he has charged the Bhaktivedanta Institute with the primary task of disproving this theory through the use of the most sophisticated techniques of modern mathematics, chemistry, and physics themselves.³
Over the years, chapters of the BI established branches in several cities within both the United States (Boston, Atlanta, Philadelphia, San Francisco, San Diego, Gainesville FL, and Princeton) and India (Mumbai and Kolkata). It also organized a number of conferences, including the World Congress of the Synthesis of Science and Religion (1986) and The First International Conference on the Study of Consciousness Within Science (1990), under the directorship of Dr. Singh, with Dr. Ravi Gomatam (Rasaraja dasa) as Organizing Secretary. The works published during this period include the journal Sa-vijnanam, the book Mechanistic and Nonmechanistic Science, Origins magazine, Vedic Cosmography and Astronomy, and the provocative tome, Forbidden Archeology, coauthored by Michael Cremo (Drutakarma dasa).
Over the years the BI branches continued to collaborate while independently exploring research and outreach interests, all the while motivated by the aspirations of the founding members. Currently, Dr. Ravi Gomatam heads the Bhaktivedanta Institute chapter in Mumbai and Berkeley, pursuing research areas in quantum theory and consciousness studies. At the Bhaktivedanta Institute offices in Kolkata, followers of Dr. T. D. Singh maintain his legacy as the founding director, while pursuing research and outreach programs from a variety of centers. Michael Marchetti, another founding member, would later take sannyasa within another Gaudiya Vaisnava sanga and receive the name Bhakti Madhava Puri. He leads the Bhakti Vedanta Institute office in Princeton, New Jersey. In 2015, Bob Cohen reestablished the Gainesville chapter as the Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies, a name used in the Institute’s pioneering literature. Another group of ISKCON members in the former Soviet Union long interested in Bhaktivedanta Institute academic research recently organized using the name “Institute of Consciousness.” Dr. Natalya Antonova (Nari devi dasi) serves as project coordinator.
- “Perspectives on Bhaktivedanta Institute”, (Philadelphia: Bhaktivedanta Institute, 1979), p. 10.
- ibid, p. 11.
- ibid, inside front cover.