Hindu Cosmology08/07/2012 13:55:48
Origin and evolution of the cosmos constituted an important subject in India ever since the dawn of its civilization. Indian cosmology reached almost its perfection with most of its findings, as if spoken from the sanctum of truth, appearing to be the result of direct experience with the ultimate reality. As opined by many modern European scientists including Schrödinger, Indian knowledge systems pronounced the final words about the secrets of the universe. (Erwin Schrödinger, My View of the World, Ox Bow Press, Connecticut, 1983, p. 18) India’s Ve`da=nta, the sum total of both the spiritual and material knowledge, was the end of all knowledge systems as the word itself implies. It analyzed the three-phased existence of the universe, creation, preservation and destruction, in a highly scientific way. If Europe’s religion deterred the progress of its science and continues to be the same, India even in ancient times presented an entirely different picture. Reminiscence of the renowned scientist Stephen Hawking is worth mentioning here. After his having lectured at the 1981 Vatican conference on cosmology he had an audience with the Pope who told that “it was okay to study the evolution of the universe after the big bang, but we should not enquire into the big bang itself because that was the moment of creation and therefore the work of God”. Hawking did not reply since he “had no desire to share the fate of Galileo”. (Stephen Hawking, The Theory of Everything, Jaico Publishing House, Mumbai, 2009, p. 73) This shows the fundamental differences between the world views upheld by the church and science. While European Church stands for vested interests, science seeks after the Truth, something European religious system hates because if science would succeed the former would collapse.
But in Indian tradition spirituality and science have never been at dagger heads. Instead they cooperated and coexisted to the extent that religion was science and vice-versa, proving millennia ago that science without religion is lame and religion sans the former is blind. Indian systems gave importance to curiosity, inquisitiveness, criticism and remedial corrections. In India anything could be studied on, but with the seriousness it called for. What the Pope forbade to study as mentioned above, the origin of cosmos, Indian visionaries had enquired into millennia ago. Thus one comes across in Bruhada=ran/yaka Upanishad the metaphysical argument between Yajnavalkya and Gargi Vachaghnavi about the origin of universe and ultimate truth behind it, definitely one of the early Indian analyses on cosmology which was religion and science inextricably intertwined. In the metaphysical tournament at the Court of Janaka Videha of Mithila Yajnavalkya, with his oak like stature was discoursing on the Brahmalo=ka or sphere of the Brahman as the basis of visible world. But Gargi Vachaghnavi, the lady scholar countered him asking about the basis of Brahmalo=ka too. The belief that nothing would come out of nothing and that existence can not be produced by nonexistence – na=sato= satja=yate` – was as old as the budding of science and civilization in India. Naturally, basing on this satka=ryava=da or causation, Gargi believed that everything both visible and invisible had a cause behind and hence her enquiry, “where is the warp and woof of the Brahmalo=ka paved?” (kasminnu khalu brahmalo=ka= o=ta=s`cha pro=ta=s`che`ti). A more experienced Yajnavalkya then replied:
ma=te` mu=rddha= vya=paptat
Gargi do not cross the limits lest your head should fall down
You are asking about the Devine which is beyond analysis.
Therefore, oh Gargi don’t analyze beyond the limits.
(Bruhada=ran/yaka Upanishad. 3. 6. 1)
And he taught Gargi about the futility involved in experimenting or speculating on the pure and supreme Reason which could only be experienced. It is the subject of a=gama, not anuma=na, he said. That the object or event to be studied is to be experienced rather than merely experimented, and that ‘sitting out’ one can not understand what is going on inside is a fact modern science accepts. Therefore it prefers ‘experience’ to experiment and ‘participation’ to ‘observation’. Science thus acknowledges the many realities beyond the world of laboratorial apparatus, experiments and observations. Not superficial, they are only to be experienced. Gargi continued, “Oh! Yajnavalkya wherein are laid the warp and woof of the One which is above space and below the earth and is past, present and future condensed in one?” All the characteristics of that One constitute the visible world and its warp and woof are in the invisible a=ka=s`a, Yajnavalkya answered. And to clear all her doubt he gave the final explanation on the ultimate reality thus:
Oh! Gargi the object of your enquiry, according to men of highest knowledge, is indestructible (e`tadvai tadaksharam ga=rgi+ bra=hman/o= abhivadanti). It is neither big nor small, neither short nor long, neither reddish nor oily, neither shadowy nor dark, neither ether nor air. Unattached, it is without taste. It has neither light nor appearance. It has no fragrance, no eye, no ear, no tongue, no light, and no breath. Unscalably infinite, it has neither interior nor exterior. It does not swallow anything, nor is being swallowed.
All moving and unmoving bodies of the universe are controlled and determined by this imperishable entity and the awareness about it is the supreme knowledge. This One which is akshara or imperishable the Hindu scriptures call achyuta or indestructible, both the synonyms for God. It is interesting to quote Albert Einstein according to whom “what is important is the force of this superpersonal content and the depth of the conviction concerning its overpowering meaningfulness”. (Albert Einstein, ‘Science Philosophy and Religion: A Symposium’, Published by the Conference of Science, Philosophy and Religion in their relation to the Democratic ways of Life, New York, 1941; Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions, Rupa & Co, New Delhi, 1987, p. 45) Indeed both spiritualists as well as the scientists equally admit that the ‘Reason’ that works out the cosmic existence is definitely imperishable and super-personal. Then how this imperishable one evolves into the origin, expansion and existence of the cosmos? Herein is the relevance of Ve`da=nta. Swami Vivekananda explains the problem thus:
The Vedas teach us that creation is without beginning or end. Science is said to have proved that the sum total of cosmic energy is always the same. Then, if there was a time when nothing existed, where was all this manifested energy? Some say that it was in a potential form in God. In that case God is sometimes potential and sometimes kinetic, which would make him mutable. Everything mutable is a compound, and everything compound must undergo that change which is called destruction. So God would die, which is absurd. Therefore there never was a time when there was no creation. (Swami Vivekananda, ‘Paper on Hinduism’, Read at the Parliament of Religions, Chicago, 19 September 1893. Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Calcutta, 2009, Vol. I, p. 7)
Many scientists starting from the time of Einstein favoured the Big-Bang model as a viable explanation for the origin and nature of the universe. A mere 13.7 billion years ago, all matter, energy, space and time fountained into existence in a titanic explosion – the Big Bang. Modern physics said that the universe did not exist before the Big Bang. Instead there existed a singularity of zero volume of infinite density and energy. This singularity of zero volume or the entirety condensed exploded, multiplied and expanded to form the present universe.
In 1929 American astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered that the galaxies, the universe’s building blocks were flying apart from each other like cosmic shrapnel and that universe was growing in size. The result was the Hubble’s law of expanding universe. The ever expanding nature of the universe supports the Big Bang origin of the cosmos because the universe must have been smaller in size as one travels back in time till one comes to the zero volume condensed to a single point. (Paul Davies, The Mind of God, Penguin Books, London, 1993, pp. 47-61)
It was a hot Big Bang. The Ukrainian-American scientist George Gamow reasoned that in the first few moments after the Big Bang the universe must have been like blisteringly hot fireball of a nuclear explosion. But unlike the radiation and glow nuclear explosion emits the Bib Bang fire ball did not die out. The afterglow of the Big Bang had nowhere for it to go and remained in the universe to assume different forms including the invisible light characteristic of very cold bodies. This afterglow is called the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMB) discovered in 1965 by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, scientists at Bell Labs in New Jersey. (This discovery won them the 1978 Nobel Prize for physics) The heat the big explosion emitted flowed back and forth throughout the universe, from the hot to cold regions, equalizing the temperature. The universe thus born 13.7 billion years ago expanded to its present state with its many planets, stars, galaxies and super clusters. Science however speculates about universe’s big crunch also in line with the idea of expansion and contraction. Accordingly whatever expands would contract. The universe may slow and reverse its expansion and collapse back to a Big Crunch. It may cycle back to a sort of mirror image of the Big Bang in which the universe was born. (Marcus Chown, Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You, Faber and Faber, London, 2007, pp. 141-153). Big Bang and Big Crunch are thus the two assumed poles between which the universe like a pendulum moves to and fro. This also leads to the possibility of thinking about many universal cycles, or the universe which in its cycles of creation and destruction underwent many Big Bangs and Big Crunches. Birth and death are only two stages of the cycles the life travels through. Likewise the proto-soul of the universe travels through the different stages, expansion and contraction, holding the sum total of its energy and matter sometime in potential state and releasing at another to the kinetic. The universe thus appears like the God’s dice play.
But this cosmology has come in for criticism ever since the Goddard Space Center of NASA accepted it. Interestingly it all started with the English astronomer Fred Hoyle who coined ‘Big Bang’ in one of his 1949 BBC Radio programme. But ironically Hoyle to the day he died, never believed in the Big Bang. Though the theory has been refuted time and again none has damaged it to the extent the modern Indian scientist A K Lal did.(Lal is Deputy Adviser, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, New Delhi, India.) His recent article ‘Big Bang? A Critical Review’ vehemently vilifies this theory. (Journal of Cosmology, Harvard, January 30, 2010) First, he says that the originators of the Big Bang have not explained what the ‘singularity’ of Zero volume is or how it originated, why and where it existed and why it exploded. Surely if everything has a cause this singularity too must have it. But the exponents of the Big Bang do not explain its cause. Second, there are also reservations about the meaning of the CMB believed to be the relic of the Big Bang. Though it was discovered by Penzias and Wilson in 1965 and confirmed by NASA’s Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) many scientists like H C Arp, H Ratcliff and T C Van Flandern had reservations about the measurement of the CMB. Again, the intensity of the heat emitting Big Bang would have burned all the elements into iron turning the universe into a metal ball different in shape and look from what it is now as opined by another cosmologist R Joseph. Besides, the Universe has in it large scale galactic formations and super clusters which are older than 13.7 billion years. Some of them are 200 billion to 250 billion years old. In 1989 a group led by John Huchra and Margaret J. Geller of the Harvard-Smithsonian center of astrophysics discovered “The Great Wall” – a series of galaxies requiring 100 billion years to form. The later discovered “Sloan Great Wall” of galaxies was 80% longer than the Great Wall discovered by Huchra and Geller. It must have taken at least 250 billion years to form. In addition to these, the scientists in 2003 have come across the oldest of planets discovered thus far. This huge gaseous object 2.5 times the size of Jupiter and located some 7200 light years away in the northern-summer constellation of Scorpius required at least 13 billion years to form. The planet-making ingredients like iron, silicon and other heavy elements, cooked in the nuclear furnaces of the stars accumulate from the ashes of dying stars (supernovae) to be recycled into the planet. The very formation of this planet itself must have thus taken many billion years. Its age totaled with the billions of years taken for its origin would thus be more that the assumed age of the universe i.e. 13.7 billion years. Existence of planet and the Great Galactic Walls which are older than the 13.7 billion years old universe only grates on common sense. In fact there are a number of evidences to demonstrate that the universe could not have begun with a Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago and that future cosmologists would hardly believe in the Big Bang refuted by so many contradictory evidences as opined by Dr Lal.
But the ever growing cosmology that brings knowledge on more and more old objects in the universe including, as noted above, 100 to 250 billion years old galaxies and Great Walls, push back its origin to such a distant antiquity. If older objects than these would be discovered in future, the scientists would again be compelled to push it back further. If this process would continue we would be in a position to think that there was no time when there was no creation and that the cosmos is without beginning. Whatever has no beginning has no end. While falling in with this argument in line with Swami Vivekananda’s it would be wiser to study about the cosmos sans its origin.
The Indian idea that Brahman is the primordial and ultimate truth and all that are worldly are its visible expression is as old as the Vedas. Brahman is the universal content condensed and is ever expanding as meant by its root br/ (The word bruhad or expanded, expanding etc has its root in br/.) That the primordial and ultimate content of the cosmos is ever expanding as well as dynamic was well within the vision of the Indian Seers and hence their visualizing Brahman as the potential entity or the ultimate Reason behind the universe. Brahman is thus the invisible reason behind the visible universe. Universe too is dynamic like the dynamic Brahman. Universe is always moving or is in the process of gata (moving forth) and hence the word jagat for world in Sanskrit.
Veda says that in the beginning there was neither existence nor non-existence. nasada=sinno= sada=si+t (R/k Ve`da. 10. 129.1. asat na asi+t = in the beginning there was not non-existence. sat na asi+t = existence was not there) In fact creation is that process through which the invisible entity evolves into visible existence. It is indeed the cycle through which the soul of the universe passes from invisibility to visibility and vice versa. World is mith/ya and Brahman alone is the satya (Truth) and ji+va or life is nothing other than the Brahman, opines Sankaracharya. mith/ya has often been interpreted as that which does not exist. If this interpretation is to be taken in face value the world is bound to be written off as something that does not exist, an argument human beings to whom the world is an experienced reality cannot digest. Actually this is not what Sankara meant. That which exists is sat and that does not is asat. mith/ya of Sankaracharya is thus not asat or non-existing. mith/ya is really the existing world, something that exists between the sat and asat or existence and non-existence or the visible world between the two invisibilities, the beginning and the end. Sankara’s mith/ya is thus not the unreality. mith/ya to him connotes the visible world which is the expression of the invisible reality that is Brahman. It is the dynamic and moving jagat or the visibly vibrant world that exists between the two invisibilities, the beginning and the end. The world was never unreal to Sankara but the real expression of the truth that is Brahman.
tatraka=paride`vana= (Gita. 2. 28)
Matter and particles are invisible in the beginning and end but visible only in between these two points.
Whatever comes from the invisibility would return to the same invisibility, and what is in between these two is the visible world. A thorough study on this line would reveal that the very cause of the world itself is Brahman. According to the Upanishads Brahman is the ultimate and eternal bliss. (a=nandam brahma)
a=nanda=dhye`va khalvima=ni bhu=ta=ni
ja=yate` a=nande`na ja=ta=ni ji+vanti
a=nandam prayantyabhisamvis`anti (Taittiriya Upanishad. 3. 6)
Everything is nothing other than the expression of a=nanda or the ultimate bliss. Born of a=nanda, they return to a=nanda.
A+nanda or the ultimate bliss is the basis of the very existence, says the Taittiriya Upanishad. a=nandam brahmam or a=nanda is Brahman, it says. This a=nanda or the ultimate bliss is the only reality and the rest are its reflections. It is the ultimate and eternal light or chaitanya from which all that are subtle and gross source off, says Sri Narayana Guru in his dars`anama=la. (chaitanya=ta=gatam sthu=lasu=kshma=tmakamidam jagat. Dars`anama=la. 21) Jagat or the moving world is evanescent whereas Brahman is the ultimate reality.
The word jagat for world is of special significance because it is ever moving in high speed. Whatever moves in speed assumes visibility. In fact speed is the cause of visibility. Accordance to Indian science it is spanda or dynamic movement that results in visibility. Without this dynamic movement or speed, visibility ceases to exist and along with it the visible world subject to eye would turn ephemeral. Indeed the creation of this ephemeral existence is the play of prakruti which according to Sankhya philosophy is Brahman itself. prakruti in Sanskrit means that which does actions (kruti) which are dynamic and noble (prakrusht/a). It is the dynamic movement that results in ma=ya which like the wand of a magician overshadows the Brahman, the ultimate reality. In fact what one sees is a superimposition which if deconstructed would help one know the basic truth that is Brahman. Upanishads clarify this through the example of the rope taken for snake until observed in light. Only an objective approach and direct study based on both experiment and experience would help know the reality. Just like the Schrödinger’s cat that keeps one in suspense regarding whether it is dead or alive till the box wherein it is kept for experiment is opened, reality is kept away from one’s know till it is thoroughly studied after breaking the crust of superimpositions (adh/ya=ro=pa). What is seen above is a hallucination brought in by the power of ma=ya which superimposes and hides the reality. This ma=ya according to Indian thought is the very part of the Supreme energy (para=s`akti), one with the force of creation itself; it is not separate from the creative force. In fact it is the magic of this ma=ya that conjures up the vibrancy and dynamism of the universe resulting in the solidity and mass and the resultant visibility.
A look into the atomic structure would be relevant. Experiments by high speed particle accelerators have shown that particles come out of nothing. An examination of the structure of an atom, especially its planetary model makes this clear. An atom consists mostly of empty space with nucleus at the centre which contains almost its whole weight. Electrons revolving around the nucleus have only negligible weight. This weight difference is due to the speed of particles. The speed of particles in the nucleus is 40,000 miles per second whereas the speed of the electrons is 600 miles per second. It is the speed of particle which appears as mass. Atom which is mostly of empty space appears as matter due to high velocity of its particles that cover up the empty space giving the appearance of a solid matter. This high speed mobility or motion is thus the reason of visibility. When motion ceases, visibility too ceases with matter vanishing into disappearance. When the world is no more jagat or moving, it is no more lo=ka or visible. (jagat means that which is in movement (gata) and loka means that which is subjected to lochana or eye.) According to Indian science it is this speedy movement that makes everything visible or subjected to eye or lo=chana. The world is visible (lo=ka) because it is moving (jagat). With movement or spanda stopping the world as one sees also ceases to exist. To explain this, Ve`da=nta cites the example of ala=ta bhraman/a or swirling of torch that causes the appearance of circle of fire.
Ve`da=nta, quoting the example of the swirling torch, establishes that speed or dynamism is the cause of visibility. Like the fan blades which in their circular motion appear like a round plate covering up the sky above them from sight the swirling of torch makes the appearance of a circle of fire. This ephemeral visibility that lasts only as long as the torch swirls creates a temporary superimposition covering up the objects on the other side. When the swirling stops the temporary superimposition vanishes and what was ‘covered’ up so far becomes ‘discovered’. It is interesting to note that though Vedanta and modern physics differ in regard to the methods of enquiry both agree that movement is the secret of visibility. Vedanta, crossing the limits of material science, seeks the ultimate truth which is beyond both the early modern determinacy and the most modern indeterminacy, an adventure into the vast expanse of the unchartered sea of knowledge. Truth, as said above, is superimposed by many things. What one sees is only the tip of an iceberg which is to be deconstructed to know what lies beneath. This Ve`da=ntic concept of superimposition (adhya=ro=pa) is thus explained by Gaudapada with the example of ala=ta bhraman/a or swirling of torch that causes the appearance of the circle of fire.
Just like the speedy movement of fire at the end of the faggot band appears straight and curved, so is the vijn#a=na or the unreal knowledge which appears the way one perceives it.
Just as there is no straight or curved line of fire when the fire at the end of the faggot band remains still, so is the absence of differences when vijn#a=na or the unreal knowledge ceases to work. (Jn#a=na or the real knowledge dawns when the vijn#a=na or the unreal knowledge ceases.)
Here it is clear that the fire-circle comes from the act of swirling the torch. Consequently when swirling stops the circle of fire vanishes like an illusion. Likewise, the world of experience is only a fanciful creation resulting from the movement of the wand of the great magician, the Brahman or undifferentiated consciousness.
The many in the universe are sometimes called parts of the universal Brahman as the waves are parts of the sea. But, in truth, these waves are each of them that sea, their diversities being those of frontal or superficial appearances caused by the sea’s motion. As each object in the universe is really the whole universe in a different frontal appearance, so each individual soul is all Brahman regarding itself and world from a centre of cosmic consciousness. (Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Pondicherry, 2000, p. 36.)
When this movement is no more, there is no mind and also no world. The permanent knowledge about and a union with the Absolute is possible only through sama=dh/I, the state of balanced intelligence. When the intelligence attains coherence, the de-cohered mind disappears and with it all the hallucinations.
The duality seen in all the moving and unmoving is the mind-born. When the mind vanishes, with it would vanish all the dualities.46 (Mandukyakarika, 98.)
Diversity thus disappears only to a de-cohered mind. Gaudapada even carried his views to the extreme of the non-creation of the world or aja=tava=da. To quote him:
Some people regard the universe as the greatness of God, others as his creation, others as a dream, others as an illusion, others think of the world as an accidental product of time. Others regard it merely as the will of the God… still others the object of His enjoyment, some people call it a play of God, and yet others regard it as God’s nature. (Mandukyakarika. 7, 8, 9.)
But Gaudapada’s view of non-creation would dawn only to one who has control over his mind to the extent of realizing world as a mirage. Having crossed the world of dualities affected by happiness and sorrows, he experiences perfect bliss. Sankara’s theory of ma=ya should be studied in this light. His mithya as explained earlier is only a stage in the cyclical process of universal movement wherein existence (sat), visible world (jagat or mith/ya) and non-existence (asat) come one after the other. Jagat which means ‘ever moving’ is the reflection of the very Brahman which too is ever expanding, dynamic and vibrant. Brahman is not god conceived in ordinary sense of the term. It is not a concept which serves the purpose of religion, sociology or theology. It is the primordial energy or undifferentiated consciousness and the ultimate one which is all-comprehending. He does not completely negate the existence of world but states that the world disappears for a person who realizes the highest reality or parama=rth/ikasatta like the hallucination of snake in the rope ceases when the rope is apprehended.
Seekers of mo=ksha or liberation used to mistake material world as an obstacle in their attaining it and tended to negate the reality of matter. But Upanishads remove this ignorance, explaining material world as manifestation of Brahman or the Absolute indwelling spirit of individual soul. This Upanishadic view is thus explained by Sri Aurobindo:
There are always two possible views of the universe. The one supposes, with modern Science, Matter to be the beginning of things and studies everything as an evolution from Matter; or, if not Matter, then, with the Sankhya philosophy, an indeterminate inconscient, active Force or prakruti of which even mind and reason are mechanical operations, – the conscious soul, if any exist, being a quite different and, although conscient, yet inactive entity. The other supposes the conscious soul, the purusha, to be the material as well as the cause of the universe and prakruti to be only its s`akti or the material of forms. The latter is the view of the Upanishads. (Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Op. Cit, p. 131.)
In fact the Brahman or the ever expanding entity that acts as the basis of the visible world is the ultimate bliss (a=nanda), the ever and eternally pure and infinite light or the undifferentiated consciousness. Brahman is the secret behind all the creations. Brahman has its root in br which means ever expanding (bruhad). It according to the Vedic thought is permanently involved in the dynamics of evolution and involution (not to be confused with the European physicist’s ‘Big Bang’ and ‘Big Crunch’). This Brahman or the cosmic soul is unborn and without beginning or end and has been in eternal manifestation and withdrawal. Hence the cosmos too without beginning or end. Thus according to Indian cosmology there was no time when there was no creation. This is what Swami Vivekananda, believed to be the sage Nara reincarnate, theorizes in his ‘Paper on Hinduism’, the repetition of the same lesson Narayana or Krishna taught his beloved disciple Partha in the battle of Kurukshetra. To the grief stricken Arjuna who appeared worried at the thought of killing his royal kith and kin who came to fight him in the battle of Kurukshetra, Lord Krishna said:
natve`va=ham ja=tuna=sam natvam ne`me` jana=dhipa
nachainam na bhavishya=ma sarve` vayamata param
It is not indeed that I did no exist at any time, nor you, nor these kings; nor that we all shall not exist hereafter. (Gita. II. 12)
The world thus heard once again this ancient mantra from the lips of Swami Vivekananda, India’s dynamic and young sage. This is the Everest of the Hindu science where all the doubts, getting their final clarifications, come to take their rest for good. This is the Vedanta, the end of all the Vedas or knowledge systems. But this is the world view someone with a Vedantic mindset alone would digest, some thing unacceptable to the mind of the West stuffed with the superficial and the imaginary ‘ultimate end’ and maddened with the ideas of limitations and separations. An Indo-American researcher very aptly puts it as follows:
...according to Indian cosmology, there can not be an ‘ultimate war’ since there is no imminent finality. Even at the end of the universe, there is always the birth of a new one, which is but one in an infinite series of universes with neither beginning nor end. The notion of a beginning-less and endless universe is daunting to most westerners, who are accustomed to fixed boundaries – the beginning and end of time, the beginning and end of the universe, objects that are finite and separate, etc. (Rajiv Malhotra, Being Different, New Delhi, 2011, p. 169)
According to Hindu thought there was thus no time when there was no creation. It never believed that universe has a date of birth as given by the Big-Bang exponents even as they came across planets and great walls which are older than 13.7 billion years, the age they ascribe to the cosmos. According to the upanishadic thought universe was, is and will be a continuous process. What is seen is only the infinite stretch of manifestation and withdrawal taking place simultaneously and continuously. Within the seeming destruction there is creation which again holds in it the former, or they are inseparable, taking place simultaneously. The creation and destruction are thus mutually embedded in each other. What one sees is the great cosmic dance wherein creation and destruction, birth and death, pleasure and pain – all merge together into an unbearable ecstasy. This philosophy is seen at its best in the image of Nat/ara=ja, the cosmic dancer or S`iva, the auspicious. Thus writes an admirer of Indian philosophy and art:
Whether he be surrounded or not by the flaming aureole of the tiruva=s`i (prabha=mand/ala) – the circle of the world which he both fills and oversteps – the King of Dance is all rhythm and exaltation. The tambourine which he sounds with one of his right hands draws all creatures into this rhythmic motion and they dance in his company. The conventionalized locks of his flying hair and the blown scarfs tell of the speed of this universal movement, which crystallizes matter and reduces it to power in turn. One of his left hands holds the fire which animates and devours the world in this cosmic whirl. One of the god’s feet is crushing a Titan, for “this dance is danced upon the bodies of the dead”, yet one of the right hands is making the gesture of reassurance (abhayamudra), so true it is that, seen from the cosmic point of view and sub specie aeternitatis, the very cruelty of this universal determinism is kindly, as the generative principle of the future. And … the King of the Dance wears a broad smile. He smiles at death and at life, at pain and at joy alike … his smile is both death and life, both joy and pain. … From this lofty point of view, in fact, all things fall into their place, finding their explanation and logical compulsion. … The very multiplicity of arms, puzzling as it may seem at first sight, is subject in turn to an inward law, each pair remaining a model of elegance in itself, so that the whole being of the Nataraja thrills with a magnificent harmony in his terrible joy. And as though to stress the point that the dance of the divine actor is indeed a sport (li+la) – the sport of life and death, the sport of creation and destruction, at once infinite and purposeless – the first of the left hands hangs limply from the arm in the careless gesture of the gajahasta (hands as the elephant’s trunk). And lastly as wee look at the back view of the statue, are not the steadinesses of these shoulders which uphold the world, and the majesty of this Jove-like torso, as it were a symbol of stability and immutability of substance, while the gyrations of the legs in its dizzy speed would seem to symbolize the vortex of phenomena? (R. Grousset, (Tran. C. A. Phillip), India (‘The Civilization of the East’ Series), London, 1932, pp. 252-3)
The cyclic idea of manifestation and withdrawal is accepted by the scientists of the new age. According to them behind the observable world is a depth of mystery which influences their own existence in some way. This awareness arose not from ordinary faculties of knowledge but thanks to a creative insight. To quote Paul Davies:
Taken in to logical conclusion, it is possible to imagine a supermind existing since the creation, encompassing all the fundamental fields of nature, and taking upon itself the task of converting an incoherent big bang into the complex and orderly cosmos we now observe; all accomplished entirely within the framework of the laws of physics. This would not be a God who created everything by supernatural means, but a directing, controlling, universal mind pervading the cosmos and operating the laws of nature to achieve some specific purpose. We could describe this state of affairs by saying that nature is a product of its own technology, and that the universe is a mind; a self-observing as well as self-organizing system. Our own minds could then be viewed as localized ‘islands’ of consciousness in a sea of mind, an idea that is reminiscent of the Oriental conception of mysticism, where God is then regarded as the unifying consciousness of all things into which the human mind will be absorbed, losing its individual identity, when it achieves an appropriate level of spiritual advancement”. (Paul Davis, God and New Physics, New York, 1983, p.210.)
In Kath/a Upanishad the Brahman is explained as the life source (pra=n/a) which controls every worldly occurrence. (Kath/a Upanishad, 6. 2-3). Swami Vivekananda explains the Brahman as the Pra=n/a or the life that infuses spanda or vibration into the cosmos. According to him,
… all the forces, whether you call them gravitation, or attraction, or repulsion, whether expressing themselves as heat, or electricity, or magnetism, are nothing but the variations of that unit energy. Whether they express themselves as thought, reflected from antahkaran/a, the inner organs of man, or as action from an external organ, the unit from which they spring is what is called pra=n/a. Again, what is pra=n/a? Pra=n/a is Spandana or vibration. When all this universe shall have resolved back into its primal state, what becomes of this infinite force? Do they think that it becomes extinct? Of course no. If it became extinct, what would be the cause of the next wave, because the motion is going in wave forms, rising, falling, rising again, falling again? Here is the word Srisht/i, which expresses the universe… It is Srisht/i, projection. At the end of a cycle, every thing becomes finer and finer and is resolved back into the primal state from which it sprang, and therefore it remains for a time quiescent, to spring forth again. That is Srisht/i, Projection. And what becomes of all these forces, the Pra=n/as? They are resolved back into the primal Pra=n/a, and this Pra=n/a becomes almost motionless – not entirely motionless; and that is what is described in the Vedic Su=kta: “It vibrated without vibrations” – Anidava=tam… And what becomes of what you call matter the forces permeate all matter; they all dissolve into a=ka=s`a from which they again come out; this a=ka=s`a is the primal matter. Whether you translate it as ether or anything else, the idea is that this a=ka=s`a is the primal form of matter. This a=ka=s`a vibrates under the action of Pra=n/a, and when the next Srisht/i is coming up, as the vibrations become quicker, the a=ka=s`a is lashed into all these wave forms which we call suns, moons and systems.” (Swami Vivekananda, Complete Works, Vol. III, p. 399-400)
Indian cosmology thus does not endorse the idea of an accidental big-bang and an all ending big-crunch. Instead it upholds the principles of evolution and involution, both simultaneous and unending, making the cosmos itself sana=tana, eternally new. Brahman, the ultimate reality is differently called, a=nanda (bliss), bo=dha (consciousness), saundarya (beauty), bha=ti (light), etc. Beauty of light or vice versa makes one’s consciousness blissful in the ordinary meaning apart, all these are one and the same according to Vedantic interpretation. Upanishad says, Brahman is a=nanda (a=nandam brahma).
a=nanda=dhye`va khlvima=ni bhuta=ni ja=yate
a=nande`na ja=ta=ni ji+vanti
a=nandam prayantyabhisamvis`anti (Taittiriya Upanishad. 3.6)
All beings are born of ananda (sivam) or bliss. All are living in it. All return to ananda.
The Upanishad thus says, the basis of all living and no-living being is the ultimate bliss or a=nanda. Another monist or Advaita Vedantin from Kerala Guru Sri Narayana in his Advaita Dipika equates a=nanda with bha=ti or chaitanya or light. (a=nandama=stiyitu bha=tiyithonnutanne` (Advaita Dipika, (Malayalam). 15). According to him all those are subtle and gross emanate from the ultimate light which is the cosmic vitality or chaitanya. (chaitanya=da=gatam sthu=lasu=kshma=tmakamidam jagat. Darsanamala. 21).
Vedanta thus confirms that the real basis of the cosmic existence is Brahman or the undifferentiated consciousness (akhand/abo=dh/asatta) which is the supreme light (chaitanya) of the ultimate Beauty. This Consciousness, splitting itself, expresses as many. On the eve of creation, which is an eternal phenomenon, the scriptures say, the universal or cosmic intelligence decides to divide itself into the many so that manifoldness of the world appears.
so=ka=ma=yata. bahusya=m praja=ye=ye=ti.
so=tapo=tapyata. sa tapastapa tva=m idam sarva masrujata
yadidam kimcha tat srusht/va= tade`va=nupra=vis`at.14
The universal soul desired to be born into the many. It sank into a long meditation. Out of the energy thus acquired it created everything and entered into all creations pervading them with itself.
This idea is further underscored by Aitare`yo=panishad which says:
o=m a=tma= va= idame`ka e`va=gra a=si+d,
na=nyat kinchana mishat sa i+kshata lo=ka=nnu
sruja iti. (Aitareyopanishad. I. 1.)
Before the creation of the cosmos truly there was only one soul
There was nothing as either active or inactive.
That cosmic soul decided, “I may create the worlds”.
The unity thus expressed itself into the verity. Unity and diversity are thus one and the same like cause and effect which are inextricably intertwined. Cause is born for the effect just as effect is within the cause. Every thing is predetermined and things happen as are due. True, theory of causation gains significance in ordinary human contexts but this too is just a medium in the hands of destiny so that what are already in store must have their terrestrial expression. Causes are just factors that bring about an incident and it is for the happening of an incident the cause surfaces. What is already in store must happen either due to one cause or the other. Thus before an intuitive and penetrating analysis even the theory of causation itself gets relegated to secondary importance, the cause being just a means to serve the divine end or, being inextricably intertwined, both are one and the same.
Brahman or ananda or chaitanya is thus the potent force that works out the cosmos. It is the causal consciousness that permeates and pervades all the cosmic beings and acts as the supreme intelligence that guidelines everything. As noted earlier this consciousness is undifferentiated (akhand/a) that manifests into multiple individual consciousnesses. This is unity manifesting into verity. This consciousness or the cosmic intelligence lying at the heart of the cosmos is the highest harmonizing force that causes the local and non-local connections. This is the non-local intelligence that pervades everything cosmic. In fact the destiny of the world itself is the result of synchronicity worked out by this universal consciousness or non-local intelligence. Indian born, American based physicist and physician, Deepak Chopra thus sums up:
The final stage of living synchrodestiny occurs when you become fully aware of the interrelatedness of all things, how each affects the next, how they are … “in synchrony”, which means operating in unison, as one. Picture a school of fish swimming in one direction, and then in a flash, all the fish change direction. The fish don’t think, “The fish in front of me turned left, so I should turn left”. It all happens simultaneously. This synchrony is choreographed by a great, pervasive intelligence that lies at the heart of nature, and is manifest in each of us through what we call the soul. (Deepak Chopra, Synchro Destiny, Landon, 2005, pp. 27, 28.)
Thus all through out the universe one experience the pulsating force of consciousness. Omnipresent, it is in everything as the very life breath (pra=n/a) of universal existence. This non-local or all pervading consciousness is beyond time and space which are mere constructs of mere localized mind which is only a slice of the cosmic mind. The relation as well as the difference between the local and non-local minds or the plural and singular consciousness is thus well explained by Erwin Schrödinger:
From the early great Upanishads the recognition ATMAN=BRAHMAN upheld (the personal self equals the omnipresent, all-comprehending eternal self) was in Indian thought considered, far from being blasphemous, to represent the quintessence of deepest insight into the happenings of the world. The striving of all the scholars of Vedanta … was really to assimilate in their minds this grandest of all thoughts … To Western ideology the thought has remained a stranger, in spite of Schopenhauer and others … Consciousness is never experienced in the plural, only in the singular. (Schrödinger, What is Life, Dublin, 1944, Epilogue.)
Consciousness gets multiplied to manifest into the universe of differences where to quote Schrödinger it “finds itself immediately connected with, and depend on, the physical state of a limited region of matter, the body”. Following the Vedantic lines, he compares the world with a dream wherein the very same mind dons the role of several characters. In a feast, for instance, enjoyed in a dream, the mind becomes three-in-one i.e. the food enjoyed, the enjoyer and the process of enjoyment, all that vanish while awakening. But while in dream the mind does not know that it is dreaming. The dream is the half-conscious mood wherein mind gets multiplied and acts as the many. Sankaracharya while introducing his ma=ya=va=da says that life itself is a dream the soul or atman falls into from the state of the supreme or undifferentiated consciousness, the Brahman. If this is so the atman which is Brahman split is bound to return to the totality just as the dreaming mind returns to the wakened mood. The Atman-Brahman evolution and involution, according to the Ve`da=nta, determines the process of creation which is without beginning and end. The knowledge one comes across is thus regarding the reality of monism which stands above and beneath all the pluralities. “The only possible alternative”, as Schrödinger points out, is simply to keep to the experience that consciousness is singular and that “there is only one thing and even in that what seems to be a plurality is merely a series of different personality aspects of this one thing, produced by a deception (the Indian MAYA), the same illusion … produced in a gallery of mirrors and in the same way Gaurisankar and Mt Everest turned out to be the same peak seen from different valleys”. (Schrödinger, What is life?, Epilogue) In fact, there is nothing as separate consciousness. Everything forms the part of totality. Thinking in this manner, Schrödinger continues,
“you may suddenly come to see, in a flash, the profound righteousness of the basic conviction in Vedanta; it is not possible that this unity of knowledge, feeling and choice which you call your own should have sprung into being from nothingness at a given moment not so long ago; rather this knowledge, feeling and choice are essentially eternal and unchangeable and numerically one in all men, nay in all sensitive beings … This life of yours which you are living is not merely a piece of the entire existence, but is in a certain sense the whole … This as we know, is what the Brahmins express in that sacred, mystic formula which is yet really so simple and so clear: Tat tvam asi, this is you. Or, again, in such words as ‘I am in the east and in the west, I am below and above, I am this whole world”. (Erwin Schrödinger, My View of the World, Connecticut, 1983, pp. 21-22)
He further writes:
To divide or multiply consciousness is something meaningless. In all the world, there is no kind of framework within which we can find consciousness in the plural; this is simply something we construct because of the spatio-temporal plurality of individuals, but it is a false construction. Because of it, all philosophy succumbs again and again to the hopeless conflict between the theoretically unavoidable acceptance of Berkeleian idealism and its complete uselessness for understanding the real world. The only solution to this conflict, in so far as any is available to us at all, lies in the ancient wisdom of the Upanishads. (Schrödinger, My View of the World, p. 31)
The consciousness, as explained by both physics and metaphysics, is thus undifferentiated or akhand/a. All the cosmic beings spring forth from and return to this consciousness. It is the infinite or the zero volume singularity from where everything proceeds and recedes to. It is the great zero which the Indian systems call the pu=jya or the revered one. And it is to this worshipful infinite or the undifferentiated cosmic consciousness all beings sought to return to find their ultimate bliss (a=nanda) in a final creative unity. Cosmos was to them not merely a subject of study, but something they were the inseparable parts of. It was to them the path they walked to the ultimate enlightenment or the wisdom giving supreme light. The very nomenclature Bha=rat, meaning one who finds enjoyment (rasa) in bha=sa or supreme light or wisdom is of much significance. The Vedas umpteen time eulogizes the importance of Agni, the giver of light as puro=hita or the promoter of all the desires. Light was the symbol of the supreme wisdom or consciousness the seekers sought after. Hence the exhortation of the Gita to seek asylum in bo=dh/a or the ultimate and undifferentiated consciousness through selfless action since any action instigated by selfishness or desire would be mean. Because the temporal selfishness based on ego, a product of split consciousness runs in contrast to the idea of non-ego emanating from the awareness regarding the all pervading impersonal or super personal content which the Vedas call Brahman, a=nanda, bo=dh/a etc. Hence the Gita’s advice to seek asylum in the bo=dh/a or the universal consciousness.
buddhau s`aran/amanvis`chha krupan/a= phalahe`tava (Gita. II. 49)
Indian culture has been carrying this torch of consciousness down the generations. This light of bo=dh/a or consciousness the long array of Indian teachers preserved with at most care and in full effulgence. The chant of the mantra or spell on consciousness reverberated down the corridors of time. Time and again India’s Seers exhorted her people to fall in with the dictates of this light and follow it. Centuries after the withdrawal of the author of the Gita, one of her ancient teachers, Gautama, the Seer of Kapilavastu exhorted his people to find asylum in the ultimate consciousness. And the nation still sings down the lane of its cultural life that ancient mantra as the chorus for the ultimate deliverance:
buddh/am s`aran/am gachha=mi
(I am taking asylum in the ultimate consciousness!)
Author is Associate Professor of History, Sanatana Dharma College, Alappuzha.