“Akshaja means ‘the measurement of our senses,’ and adhokshaja means ‘that which is beyond the measurement of our senses.’” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.19.25 Purport)
“I often hear His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada make a passing reference to Dr. Frog. Something about being stuck in a well and trying to understand the Pacific Ocean. Could you elaborate on that comparison? I don’t think I am understanding completely, though that may be my fault more than anything.”
The premise is the attempt to understand the Almighty through the scientific method. Also known as the ascending process of knowledge gathering, the idea is to pile one conclusion on top of another. Sort of like a game of stacking blocks, this tower of knowledge would be so high as to reach the sky and beyond.
One of the reasons for the attempt is the success in other areas. As an example, in the 18th century certain people began with the conclusion that lightning is the same as electricity. They then conducted experiments to try to prove the hypothesis. Once they were certain of the truth, they then used that for further research of this amazing aspect of nature. The concept of a battery and opposing charges have their origin in the lightning theory.
If we take the bulk of recorded science thus far and maybe add to it in the future, there is the chance to one day understand the entire universe and more. This is one way of viewing God, though the scientist may not acknowledge the equivalence. Bhagavad-gita has the vision of the virata-rupa shown to Arjuna, the trusted disciple to Shri Krishna, who was the guru in that instance.
तत्रैक-स्थं जगत् कृत्स्नं
शरीरे पाण्डवस् तदा
tatraika-sthaṁ jagat kṛtsnaṁ
śarīre pāṇḍavas tadā
“At that time Arjuna could see in the universal form of the Lord the unlimited expansions of the universe situated in one place although divided into many, many thousands.” (Arjuna, Bhagavad-gita, 11.13)
On the other side, the wise person compares this ascending process of knowledge gathering to Dr. Frog in the well. The story is that this frog has been stuck in a well his entire life. He knows nothing else but the close surroundings. A stranger one day approaches him and tries to explain the size of a large ocean, such as the Pacific or Atlantic.
The frog can only think in terms of the well. Is this ocean double the size of the well? Triple? Just exactly how big is this ocean of which the foreigner speaks? In reality, using the well as a unit of measure is ridiculous in trying to understand the size of the ocean.
In the same way, we all have a Dr. Frog-like experience in the manifest world. That which we have seen with our eyes is nothing. Even if you add in satellite imagery from outer space and the observations of others throughout the history of man, the sum collection of knowledge is like a drop of water in a bucket.
There is a name for the Almighty which references this predicament. He is known as Adhokshaja. He is beyond the measurement of blunt instruments. Place God on a scale and there is no accurate way to determine His weight. Look high into the sky and try to measure height, but know that God can expand to the size of the universe and beyond, as proven in the dwarf incarnation of Vamana.
The acharyas recommend against the Dr. Frog method. Hear as much as you can about God from shastra, but carry some humility to the endeavor. Know that we can only understand in a limited way, since God Himself is unlimited. Fortunately, even a little understanding is enough to reach perfection in this auspicious human birth.
Take whatever we acknowledge to be great and realize that God is greater. While one person may be able to defeat an entire attacking army, Bhagavan can singlehandedly repel an approaching force consisting of 14,000 of the best fighters in the world. In the form of a small child He can lift up an entire hill and hold it up with the pinky finger on His left hand.
While we require years of an upbringing in a proper environment or the equivalent in academic training to understand a new language, Shri Krishna can converse with anyone. He hears the prayers offered simultaneously throughout the world, and He is especially fond of those who are devoted to Him, who are not looking to compete but rather to bring pleasure to both Him and others following a similar occupation, which is the highest engagement: sanatana-dharma.
Dr. Frog in well tries,
To determine ocean’s size.
Comparing only by what is known,
Not the entire universe yet shown.
Same with the scientist so,
Despite volumes of journals to grow.
Bhagavan beyond the senses to see,
Unlimited in every opulence is He.