Do the śāstras state that there are 400,000 species of humans?

The claim

The following verse is claimed to be variously from the Padma purāṇa, the Garuḍa purāṇa and the Visṇu purāṇa.

jalajā nava-lakṣāṇi sthāvarā lakṣa-viṁśati kṛmayo rudra-saṅkhyakāḥ
pakṣiṇāṁ daśa-lakṣaṇam triṁśal-lakṣāṇi paśavaḥ catur-lakṣāṇi mānuṣāḥ

I have tried to find this verse in these claimed sources but have been unable to do so. My working hypothesis is that the verse is not authentic.

My translation is:

There are 9 lakh marine animal forms, 20 lakh trees, 11 lakh worms, 10 lakh birds and 30 lakh four-legged animal forms. There are four lakh humans.

This verse is claimed by proponents to represent the number of species of each type, and evidence that the scriptures already contain the knowledge of modern science. This is because modern science estimates the total number of species at around 8.7 million. See here: https://www.nature.com/articles/news.2011.498. The total number of forms in the above verse is 8.4 million.

Problems with the claim

There are a number of problems with this claim. First, unlike the verse, modern science estimates the number of human species at around 20. There is no way there were 400,000 human species on earth – the fossil evidence simply does not support it.

Second, by definition, the word ‘species’ in science refers to a group of organisms that can reproduce with one another. What is the definition of ‘species’ in the verse above (if we translate the verse to include the word ‘species’)? If we say that the devas are a distinct species of humans according to the above verse, it is well known that devas can beget children with humans. So such a classification does not match the definition of species in science.

The classification in the verse, assuming the verse is even authentic, is entirely undefined. It is a mistake to interpret it to mean the scientific notion of species, and to then take credit for the estimate (as modern Caitanya sects love to do).

Śrī Jīva Goswami’s view

In Anuchheda 108 of the Bhakti Sandarbha, Śrī Jīva cites three verses from the Brahma-vaivarta purāṇa:

prāpyāpi durlabhataraṁ mānuṣyaṁ vibudhepsitam yair āśrito na govindas tair ātmā vañcitaś ciram
aśītiṁ caturaś caiva lakṣāṁs tān jīva-jātiṣu bhramadbhiḥ puruṣaiḥ prāpya mānuṣyaṁ janma-paryayāt tad apy aphalatāṁ jātaṁ teṣām ātmābhimāninām varākāṇām anāśritya govinda-caraṇa-dvayam

Those who have not taken shelter of Bhagavān Govinda, even after obtaining this human birth, which is exceedingly rare and aspired for by the devas, have effectively cheated their true selves over a vast sequence of time. After evolving successively through eight million, four hundred thousand species of life, a person finally attains a human birth. But that too is rendered futile by the self-conceited, wretched souls who do not take shelter of Govinda’s lotus feet. (Brahma-vaivarta Purāna)

From the bolded sentence above, it is evident there is only one human ‘species’!

Categories: jīva-tattva, Science

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7 replies »

  1. I have tried to find this verse in these claimed sources but have been unable to do so. My working hypothesis is that the verse is not authentic.

    This brings up another difficulty that many of us have in evaluating modern Caitanya sects’ use of śāstra: there are enough documented cases of falsification that we naturally become skeptical when we can’t verify a verse for ourselves. Many preachers from modern Caitanya sects innocently expound upon “śāstra” that was in fact invented by their gurus in the late 19th or early 20th centuries. Discovery of such inventions was a major factor in the breakup of one modern Caitanya sect that splintered into many smaller groups, from which one member late in his life traveled to the West, finding new recruits who were innocent about such embarrassing details. Today, senior members of the modern Caitanya sects typically try to hide from newcomers the truth about these inventions, but when the question can’t be dodged and members are thoroughly indoctrinated they are told that the past gurus weren’t fraudsters, but in fact were more qualified than Vyasadeva to write new authentic śāstra.

  2. During the mid-19th century, the Sanskrit scholar Rādhākānta-deva Bāhādura considered this verse to come from the Śrī Bṛhad-viṣṇu-purāṇam:

    jalajā nava lakṣāṇi sthāvarā lakṣa-viṁśatiḥ |
    kṛmayo rudra-saṅkhyakāḥ pakṣiṇāṁ dāsa-lakṣakam ||
    triṁśal-lakṣāṇi paśavaś catur-lakṣāṇi mānuṣāḥ |
    sarva-yoniṁ parityajya brahma-yoniṁ tato’bhyagāt ||

    Furthermore, he mentions a work called Karmavipākaḥ, where the author rearranges the words of the first three padas and almost paraphrases the last line:

    sthāvarās triṁśal-lakṣaś ca jalajo nava-lakṣakaḥ |
    kṛmijā daśa-lakṣaś ca rudra-lakṣaś ca pakṣiṇaḥ ||
    paśavo viṁśa-lakṣaś ca catur-lakṣaś ca mānavāḥ |
    eteṣu bhramaṇaṁ kṛtvā dvijatvam upajāyate ||

    The Skanda-purāṇa and Garuda-purāṇa have verses that are related to that but are not exactly the same. So it seems that it is an authentic śloka. Anyway, perhaps the essence of its message is not to establish an accurate taxonomy of the world creatures but rather to highlight the crucial importance of the human condition.

    • Thank you. Can you cite the source from where you got this information about radhakanta deva bahadur citing this verse. Have you found the verse in the brhad Vishnu purana? Can you point me to it? Also can you point me to the related skanda and Garuda purana verses. I am not convinced that the verse is authentic.

    • If this verse is to be accepted as authentic, then one of the ‘species’ or ‘yoni’ is brahmana-yoni, which is distinguished from ksatriya ‘species’ and so on. So the species’ definition would definitely not be the same as the definition in science as ksatriyas and brahmanas are known to have children together! It is not clear, still, how there are 400,000 species of humans. Also, this verse seems to highlight the importance of the brahminical condition, rather than the human condition. In the verse cited by Sri Jiva Goswami, the words are mānuṣyaṁ janma or human birth, which makes more sense. Non-brahmanas can also do bhakti – there is no need for being born as a brahmana for that.

  3. Yes, sure. It is in his Śabda-kalpadrumaḥ encyclopaedia. Please see the yoniḥ entry (https://bit.ly/3fXFs8F). There you’ll also find the verse from Garuda-purāṇa. And in the Skanda-purāṇa, see the section (Brahma-khaṇḍa, dharmāraṇya-khaṇḍa).

    Just by the way, your reasoning could imply that the group of modern scholars behind that work relied on apocryphal or forged texts. That does not grant the right to seriously doubt the significant and untraceable ślokas that Jīva Gosvāmī mentions in his philosophical corpus?

    On the other hand, I agree that the key to understanding the caturlakṣāṇi mānuṣāḥ/ caturlakṣaś ca mānavāḥ lies in the precise definition of the polysemous term yoniḥ. However, brahmayoniṁ/dvijatvaṁ refers not only to brāhmaṇas but also to kṣatriyas, vaiśyas, and even some śūdras (anulomajas). All of them accepted the sāvitrya-saṁskāra. So it seems that the verse is ultimately aimed at highlighting the human condition and not a restricted socioreligious position that is quite controversial today (especially in the gauḍīya vaiṣṇava milieu).

    • Of course anyone is free to doubt Sri Jiva Goswami’s untraceable slokas. I happen to trust him- doesn’t mean others have to! Likewise I reserve the right to be skeptical of verses which I cannot find in the puranas, and which appear to clash with Sri Jiva’s understanding.

      Thank you for providing the sources. I will check them.

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