VEDANTIC MAYA UNDER THE LENS OF SCIENCE

                           

                                    (Interactive session on 20th August, 2016)

Keynote addresses by Mr. Prasanta Ray & Mr. Angsuman Chakraborty

(Other participants: Mr. Krishnapada Sarkar, Mr. Subrato Basu, Mr. Niloy Ghosh, Mr. Amalendu Dasgupta, Ms. Sunipa Basu, Mr. Sudeep Ray, Mr. Falguni Mitra etc.)

Opening Song: Ms. Ruma Banerjee

Anchoring, Introduction & concluding remarks: Asish K. Raha

 

 

INTRODUCTION – WHAT IS MAYA?

The Sanskrit word ‘Maya’, essentially a philosophical concept associated with Advaita Vedanta or Vedantic non-dualism used in the Upanishadas and Bhagavat Gita is often used in the sense of ‘illusion’ or ‘delusion’. However, according to Swami Vivekananda, one of the greatest Vedantists of all times, Maya is neither illusion nor delusion, neither idealism nor realism, nor a theory, but a statement of facts (refer “Maya & Illusion, vol. 2 of Complete Works). According to Sri Shankaracharya, one of the greatest spiritual scholars of India, Maya is the distorted reflection of the reality like reflection of sunlight on sand (mirage) being taken for water or snake taken for a rope in darkness. Thus, according to him, Maya makes unreal appear as real. In the above context, we have to determine in the beginning what precisely does Maya connote.

Interestingly, while the term Maya is seen to have been used in the early Vedic period, notably in the Rig Veda, its meaning has undergone a significant change in the Upanishadas. To elucidate, the Rig Veda uses the term in the sense of delusion created by magical power, like: “Through his Maya, Indra assumed various forms.” In the Upanishadas such as the Svetasvatara (refer verses 9 & 10 of Chapter 4) the term came to be identified with Prakriti through which Brahman (Pure Consciousness or God) evolved Itself into or created the universes. The said verses are reproduced below:

Ashman mayee srijate Vishvametam

Ashminschanyo mayaya sanniruddhav II – 9

Mayam tu prakritim vidyanmayinam cha Maheshvaram I

Tasyabayabbhutaistu vyaptam sarvamidam jagat II  – 10

[“By Its Maya, Brahman creates this universe of mortals and by the same mechanism (Maya) all the souls get entrapped in this universe. Prakriti is the substance by which this world of mortals is created. Know this Prakriti as Maya and know the Maheshvar (read Brahman) as the Mayin (Creator of the Maya)”]

Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (Br.II.V.19) states that Brahman on account of his Maya is perceived manifold, while Chhandogya Upanishad (Cha. VIII. iii. 1-2) proclaims that all that can be desired is covered by falsehood. Sage Uddalak’s proclamation to his son Shvetaketu – Tat Tvam Asi (Thou art That) made in Chhandogya Upanishad (Cha.  VI. Xiii.3) reveals that Brahman as either the creator or the core sentient element, as the case may be, is both the efficient and the material cause of this universe. Uddalak used a practical illustration to elucidate his point. He asked his son to mix a lump of salt in water in a container and bring that container to him next morning. When the son complied with the instruction, he was asked to drink the water from the top, the middle and the bottom and to tell the sage how it tasted. Shvetaketu informed his father that the water tasted salty uniformly. Uddalak explained that the salt, which was no longer visible, was the material as also the efficient cause of the salty water. Brahman like the salt was the subtlest soul of this universe, not seen but yet present in minutest particles of the universe. “Shvetaketu, Tat Tvam Asi:” or “That Thou Art” was the cardinal message conveyed in the Upanishada that resonates even today as the Vedantic message to the whole of humanity. ‘That’ meaning Brahman is the reality while ‘Thou’ meaning individual entities is the Maya. The question that has been troubling Vedantists of all schools is whether the said ‘Thou’ is existing or non-existing in reality.

The Advaita (non-dualist) school represented by Shankaracharya, posits that Brahman is the only reality while Tvam or ‘Thou’ or for that matter, the entire creation is nothing but Maya, or illusion/delusion, and unreal. It is like mistaking rope for a snake. The Dvaita (Dualist) school represented by Nimbarka, Madhavacharya, Sri Chaitanya etc. on the contrary holds that the Creator cannot be the same as the creation and the former is the efficient cause of the latter, but not the material cause. To this school, the creation is as much real as the Creator. The Vishistadvaita (Qualified non-dualist) school represented by Sri Ramanuja strikes a synthesis between the above two schools of apparently conflicting thoughts holding out in Sri Bhasya of Brahma Sutra (Interpretation of Brahma Sutra of Veda Vyasa by Sri Ramanuja) that the Brahman as the Creator is both efficient and material cause of the creation. It is already explained above that the concept of Tat Tvam Asi appears to support above line of thinking.

Swami Vivekananda, one of the greatest commentators of Vedanta, is clearly reluctant to use the term Maya in the sense of illusion or delusion, but as a statement of fact. To be more precise, in Shankaracharya’s illustration of rope and snake, both cannot exist together and simultaneously. When we are deluded, the snake exists and not the rope. But when we are not, the rope exists and not the snake. But when we take Maya as a statement of fact, we do not deny its existence. Nor do we deny the reality that Brahman is the efficient and material cause of the Maya. The Tat Tvam Asi (That Thou Art) proclamation goes even farther into suggesting that Brahman is Maya and in that case there may not be any causal connection between the two.

In the above perspective of Maya, and having regard to our emphasis on science, apart from philosophy, the following questions arise for determination

  • Do we exist with our physical identity in this phenomenal world?
  • Does the philosophical concept of Maya stand the scrutiny of quantum science, as known today?
  • Assuming that Maya is a statement of fact, can it be eliminated / removed?

Before we address the above three posers, let us first briefly understand certain findings and/or hypotheses of modern science, that may be considered as relevant to our subject.

 

[Following write-up is based on the power point presentation by Mr. Prasanta Ray]

(1) Old Physics (Science)

 

(A) Philosophical Basis        

  • All observation shows reality as it truly is.
  • Space and Time are absolute, sovereign, stand-alone, abstract entities : the setting of phenomena. Mass (loosely, weight,) is also similar.
  • Space, Time and Mass have the same measure for ― are measured identically by ― all observers, whether moving with different uniform speeds with respect to the ‘measured’ or ‘observed’, or accelerating.
  • Thus, ‘observation’ of an object or event is absolutely ‘objective’ ― totally independent of the observer or his status; the ‘observer’ and the ‘observed’ are wholly distinct from each other, each stand-alone.
  • Thus, to the observer, the object or event ― the ‘objective’ world ― really exists or happens ‘out there’ on its own, independently of the observer. Such world would exist as it is even sans the observer/s or observation : ‘objective reality’.
  • The object or event itself is observed, values of their properties are measured ― and measured unerringly and with complete certainty ― in an ‘observation’.
  • Objects and events get to be ‘known’ and ‘understood’ in science.
  • There are perfect and ‘objective’ causalities underlying events of the world ― else, indeed, there could be no science. By discovering and logically (often mathematically) formulating the causalities, science makes possible the exact, unerring prediction of results of experiments : measurement of values of properties. The results or measurements can and do tally exactly with predictions.
  • The universe is static.
  • In the ultimate analysis, doing science means making ‘models’ of the world, its objects and events, and such models are ‘correct’ representations of the world ― of its objects and events and causal relations among them.
  • Only the observer ― and other sentient creatures ― have consciousness; everything else is unconscious.

 

(B) Some Important Attainments

  • Galileo-Newton’s mechanistic (mathematical) model of the world. All motions (of everything) are governed by a small set of laws (mathematical / quantitative relations) where the entity ‘force’ generates change in velocity (loosely, speed,) ― positive (acceleration) or negative (deceleration). The world is a huge ― and unconscious ― ‘machine’, which exists by itself without regard to observer/s or observation, and whose behaviour is exactly, completely and unerringly predictable by the model.
  • Newton’s ‘Gravitation’. Every ‘body’ ― entity with mass ― attracts every other body through empty space in three dimensions as per a certain mathematical relation : ‘gravitation’. Gravitation explains the ‘fall’ of bodies and also their ‘orbiting’ around other (usually heavier) bodies; also comets.
  • Any change in the position or mass of the attracting body would have instant effect on the attracted body : so-called ‘action-at-a-distance’ principle.
  • ‘Field’. A body has an infinitely spread out gravitational ‘field’, which field makes any other body in it experience gravitational pull. There are similar fields for electric charge and magnetic poles.
  • The above ‘findings’ spectacularly explained everyday motions and correctly predicted motions under given sets of conditions.
  • Light ― initially ‘modelled’ as (a stream of) ‘particles’ ― was later modelled as waves, considered correct. The medium of the waves was (modelled as) undetected, surmised, ‘luminiferous aether’. (See below).
  • This too successfully explained and predicted light’s behaviour under given conditions.
  • Heat and mechanical energy equivalence. Heat is the aggregate mechanical energy of all molecules of a substance, solid, liquid or gas. Temperature is roughly the average energy per molecule.
  • ‘Entropy’. The ‘entropy’ of a system is a measure of the total ‘disorder’ in the system. Most natural events or processes increase total entropy or disorder. The universe is proceeding towards increasing disorder : the ‘arrow of time’.

 

(2) New Physics (Science)

(Rough descriptions that are not wholly correct but serve the immediate purpose.)

 

(A) Special Relativity (SR) : Space, Time, Mass, Energy

  • What is light ― particles (‘corpuscles’) or waves? There were two schools of thinking : (a) of Isaac Newton and others, that light is particles, and (b) of Christiaan Huygens and others, that light is waves.
  • Thomas Young passed single-coloured light through two very fine slits situated very close together. If light is particles, passing through the slits, it would spread into two patches on a screen situated behind, as would happen with say machine gun bullets. In the event, a series of light and dark bands – ‘fringes’ – were formed. This implied that light is waves, forming the wave-like criss-cross pattern of a close pair of waves. The mathematics of waves perfectly explained the fringes.
  • Entirely mathematically also, without experimentation, light ― and all electromagnetic radiation, which includes light, x-rays, heat, microwaves, radio-waves, and others ― was shown by James Clerk-Maxwell to be (electromagnetic) waves propagating at the speed, c (= 300,000 Km/sec), of light. This was experimentally detected shortly after.
  • But waves have to be waves of something – the medium – as for example, of water, air, or violin strings (solid metal). As mentioned above, (‘aether’) ‘ether’ was conjectured to be that (as yet undetected) medium.
  • Michelson and Morley conducted an experiment to measure the speed of light in and against the direction of earth’s motion, in the expectation that the difference in the speeds would give a measure of earth’s speed through ether.
  • The result was startling : light’s speed was found to be the same ― c ― in both directions. It was as if (a) light was waves of nothingness, or (b) the earth was motionless. Neither was acceptable.
  • This led Albert Einstein to formulate Special Relativity (SR). Ramifications :
    • Light has no relative speed; its speed is measured at the same c by observers moving at different speeds.
    • Light’s speed c is the absolute speed limit of Nature. Nothing, no particle, matter, wave, electromagnetic radiation, can exceed that speed; not even by adding two speeds (like for a man running on a moving ship). So, no signal, no information, can travel faster than c.
    • Each observer has his own Space-Time-Mass ‘frame of reference’; (measures of) space, time, mass are not absolute or objective but depend on the subject-observer’s speed.
    • Two spatially-separated events seen as simultaneous by a certain observer will not be seen so by another observer moving relative to the first observer.
    • Space (itself, and not an object in space,) shrinks, time slows, and mass increases with increasing speed. (If anything travels at light’s speed, then its length would become zero, its clock would stop, and its mass would become infinite).
    • Space and time are not different entities ― they are two aspects of one entity : ‘spacetime’.
    • Mass (m) and energy (E) are interconvertible as per the famous equation E = mc2.
  • All these have since been verified by experiments.

 

(B) General Relativity (GR) : Space, Time, Gravitation

  • While special relativity dealt with observers moving with uniform speeds, Albert Einstein next focussed his attention on changing speed ― acceleration.
  • He reasoned that a person in a ‘frame (of space-time-mass) of reference’ that is accelerating upward (say, in a rocket,) would have the very same experiences as those of an observer standing on a massive ‘gravitating’ (gravitationally attracting) body like the earth. It would be impossible to distinguish one from the other; without referring to anything external, the person in the rocket would not know whether he was in an accelerating rocket or in a gravitation field. In every way, they are the same.
  • Mathematical processing showed that :
    • a ‘gravitating’ body warps 3-dimensional spacetime around it; and
    • that is how straight lines of such ‘warped’ spacetime seem to be curved ― as straight latitudes seem curved on the curved surface of the earth; and
    • thus lighter bodies seem to be ‘attracted’ by, and ‘orbit’, heavier bodies (like planets around the sun), the bent trajectories or closed orbits actually being straight lines in ‘warped’ spacetime; and
    • thus, there is no so-called ‘gravitational attraction’ per se ― it is only geometry of (warped) spacetime.
  • Some implications / predictions were :
    • Time would run differently depending on the state of acceleration of the clock and the strength of the gravitation in which the clock is.
    • Light rays would bend when going past heavy bodies like the sun, creating positional errors in observing stars near the sun, and ‘gravitational lens’ that would produce false, ‘duplicate’ images.
    • Changes and motions of heavy gravitating bodies would create ‘gravitation waves’ of spacetime.
    • Massive bodies growing progressively super-massive through gravitational accretion of more and more mass could conceivably so warp spacetime as to form a hole in it from which nothing would escape, not even light.
  • All implications / predictions of General Relativity (GR) have been experimentally verified. The hole in spacetime is the well-known ‘black hole’, and ‘gravitation waves’ were experimentally detected for the first time in 2015.

 

(C) Philosophical Issues of Special and General Relativity

  • If measures of space, time and mass depend on the observer’s (measurer’s) speed with relation to the measured (object), then are space, time and mass not sovereign, absolute and objective ― independent of the status of observer/s?
  • Does it then mean that the so-called ‘objective’ is not comprehensively ‘objective’ after all? Is the (status of the) subject-observer involved in creating the so-called (and debatable) ‘objective reality’?
  • If space and time together constitute one single entity, spacetime, then is the (so long accepted) reductionist scientific model of space and time being absolutely distinct from each other comprehensively wrong ― to be discarded?
  • If mass and energy ― so totally dissimilar-looking ― are different aspects of one entity, then again, is the (so long accepted) reductionist scientific model of mass and energy being absolutely distinct from each other comprehensively wrong ― to be discarded?
  • If curvature of spacetime is gravitational force, then does it mean that force is nothing more substantial than geometry (of spacetime)?
  • If space and time, spacetime, can shrink or undulate, or crumple into a hole, then are space and time not a constant ‘setting’ ― as so far axiomatically understood by the lay and physicists ― but rather, perceivable, measurable, objects (or an object, spacetime,) in an as yet unknown and unconceived of setting?
  • Is there any meaning ― even existence ― of ‘space’ and ‘time’ sans objects and events, i.e., without having any spatial dimensions or time duration (of an object or event) to observe / measure? Are ‘space’ and ‘time’ myths?
  • Thus, are some of our ― and science’s ― most fundamental everyday ideas axiomatically, unquestioningly, held as ‘true’, not true after all?

 

(D) Quantum Physics (QP): Discretization, Quantization

  • Electromagnetic waves (radiation) ― see above ― have different frequencies (rapidity of vibration), which difference shows up as light, heat, x-ray, etc. The distribution (relative proportions) of such frequencies of electromagnetic radiation in a closed space was known from experiments.
  • There already were mathematical formulations that successfully explained similar distribution of speeds of molecules in closed space : proportions of the total population of molecules vis-à-vis their speeds. But those mathematical formulations failed in the case of frequencies of electromagnetic waves.
  • Max Planck postulated that electromagnetic radiation energy is not absorbed or emitted in (continuously, unbrokenly, variable) arbitrary amounts but in (steps of) integral multiples of a unit of energy, E, that is proportional ― proportionality factor h (‘Planck’s constant’) ― to the frequency, ν : E = hν. The mathematical formulation based on this postulate of ‘wave-packet’ (later, ‘quantum’, ‘photon’,) successfully explained the frequency distribution of electromagnetic waves.
  • ‘Photo-electric effect’ is a process whereby light, or other electromagnetic radiation such as x-ray, ejects electrons (sub-atomic particles carrying negative electric charge) from substances by striking them. The relationship of the quantity of ejected electrons to (a) the intensity of the electromagnetic radiation, and (b) the frequency of such radiation, was known from experiments. However, extant concepts and mathematics of pure particles or pure waves were unsuccessful in explaining photo-electric effect.
  • Albert Einstein used the Planck concept of ‘wave-packet’ to develop a new mathematical formulation of electromagnetic radiation that successfully explained the ‘photo-electric effect’. Electromagnetic radiation was not only absorbed and emitted in integral multiples of units, hν, but actually consisted of such units.
  • Thus, electromagnetic radiation and its energy were ‘discretized’ or ‘quantized’ : energy varied not unbrokenly but discretely in steps, the size of the steps depending on the frequency.
  • And thus, light ― and all electromagnetic radiation ― came to be seen to possess mysterious ‘wave-particle duality’.
  • The atom was modelled as a tiny nucleus with electrons whirling around it, not with any arbitrary energy and at any arbitrary distance from the nucleus, but with quantized energies in quantized orbits.

 

(E) Quantum Mechanics (QM) : Observer, Observation and Result

  • Two new concepts emerged from the above Planck-Einstein formulations of electromagnetic radiation :
    • the concept of wave-particle duality ― neither particles per se, nor waves per se ― quanta, photons, which are ‘particle-like’ ‘wave-packets’, and
    • the ‘quantization’, or discretization, of energy.
  • De Broglie conceived the reverse case : if energy, which is (electromagnetic) waves, can be particle-like, particles (at extreme speeds) should be wave-like. He formulated a mathematics to relate the speed (momentum) and (kinetic) energy of particles (like, say, electrons) to wavelength and frequency (of vibration) of his conjectured waves associated with high-speed particles. This was experimentally confirmed : ‘fringes’ like in the double-slit experiment with light were produced. ‘Matter-wave’ was born : another class of ‘wave-particle’ duality.
  • Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrodinger formulated beautiful mathematical procedures to deal with the (a) discretization or quantization, and (b) wave-particle duality. Quantum mechanics (QM) was born.
  • Paul Dirac and others brought QM to maturity. Some basic concepts and principles :
    • ‘Observables’ and ‘observation’. There can be no physics (science) of that which cannot be, or is not, ‘observed’. Thus, science is of ‘observables’ and ‘observation’.
    • ‘Uncertainty’ or ‘Indeterminacy’ in measurement (observation). In some (not unusual) circumstances, two properties, ― for example, the position, x, and the momentum, p, of a given particle (quantum) ― cannot be simultaneously measured with 100% certainty : the more certainty / determinacy in the measurement of the one, the more uncertainty / indeterminacy in the measurement of the other. The product of the uncertainty, dx, of position, and the uncertainty, dp, of momentum ― dxdp ― is always greater than a minimum amount. (If measurement of the one is absolutely certain, that of the other is absolutely uncertain). This is not on account of defects in the measuring mechanism ― which defects can conceivably be reduced without limit ― but is a feature of (observed) Nature itself; it is an objective fact and not any subjective shortcoming.
    • Physics ― or the mathematics of QM ― can predict only the probability of a particular value of a property, say, energy, resulting from (measured in) an observation, and not the value itself. (It is like predicting the probability heads-tails 50-50 in a coin toss but not whether heads or tails in a given toss).
    • In a more recent experiment, the double-slit experiment was conducted with electrons shot one by one to produce spots on a detector screen. Even though the spots appeared individually one after another at unpredictable locations, collectively, the same ‘fringe’ pattern got built up.
    • The QM mathematics ― often called the ‘wavefunction’ ― represents the entire set of all possible results (measured values) of an observation latent before observation (somewhat, but not really, like a tossed coin in unarrested flight), and the observation seems to actualize one result ― the so-called ‘collapse of the wavefunction’ to one particular value (somewhat, but not really, like a tossed coin arrested, to show head or tail) ― which value is not definitely predictable but its probability is predictable.
  • Most implications / predictions of QM have been experimentally verified.
  • Albert Einstein and others formulated what came to be known as ‘quantum entanglement’. If two (or several) particles are born in one single event, or if they interact and separate, then their mathematics ― wavefunction ― will be one, not two (or several) : they will become ‘quantum entangled’. The upshot is that the two together will have a constant, predictable, value of a property ― like, say, ‘spin’. As such, the measurement of such property carried out on one will be sufficient to fully and instantly determine the (complementary) value of that property of the other without any measurement carried out on that other ― even when the particles are separated by large distances, conceivably millions of kilometres. Most importantly, this happens even though the measured value actualizes upon measurement and not before.
  • If any information were imagined to flow from the observed particle to the unobserved, then it would exceed the relativistic speed limit of light’s speed, c, which is not possible. In fact, since time interval is itself relativistic (see above), in some situations, depending on the observer’s speed, the unobserved particle’s result could happen before the observed particle is observed, and yet the two results would be mutually consistent : the unobserved particle’s result, ‘effect’, would happen before the (possible) ‘cause’, namely, the observation of the observed particle.
  • Quantum entanglement has been experimentally verified, up to roughly 150 Km separation. Nothing has been found that disproves it or calls it into question.
  • In the so-called ‘quantum eraser’ experiment, a pair, A and B, of entangled photons was (repeatedly) created. A went straight to a detector and B to another detector but through a double-slit, creating the expected ‘fringes’ (see above). Then a device was inserted to record ‘which slit’ B passed through. This localization (to a particular slit) being possible only with particles and not waves, the fringes vanished and was replaced by two patches. Next a device was inserted in the path of (entangled) A to erase, via entanglement, the recording of ‘which slit’ in B’s path after such recording. The fringes reappeared, as if the photons were waves.

 

(F) Fields and Quantum Field Theory (QFT)

  • As mentioned above, there was the concept of a ‘field’ associated with gravitating particles (gravitational field), electric charges (electric field), and so on, in old physics. This concept carried over to quantum objects and phenomena too, giving rise to Quantum Field Theory ― actually theories; special relativity (SR) too is incorporated to formulate Relativistic Quantum Field Theories (aka, simply, Quantum Field Theories).
  • The universe is considered to be filled with ‘fields’ of various kinds ― for example, electron field, photon field, and so on. There is no real vacuum; it is field-filled. Disturbances (‘excitations’) in each kind of field represents the corresponding particle or quantum : electrons in electron field, photons in electromagnetic field, and so on.
  • Reconciling the wave mode and the particle mode of the wave-particle duality, quantum field theories posit that particles are ‘quantized’ (discretized) ‘excitations’ (energizations) in their corresponding fields, such excitations rippling through the field representing (movement of the) particles (energy and mass being inter-convertible as per of SR).
  • The fields are considered more fundamental, more real, than the corresponding particles / quanta : e.g., the electromagnetic field is more fundamental than a given photon. It can be said that it is the fields that give birth to the corresponding particles, and not vice versa, and decide their behaviour and interactions amongst them.
  • The fields are essentially mathematical constructs ― not material. Yet, it cannot be too wrong to say that there is neither the wave nor the particle of the wave-particles, or ‘wavicles’ ― there is just the ‘field’.
  • A perfectly placid field represents complete absence of particles / photons, a kind of vacuum. However, the uncertainty principle of QM (see above) does not permit such perfect placidity ― a zero measure of energy every time. Sometimes a non-zero amount of energy will be, and is, measured ― called ‘vacuum fluctuation’ or ‘quantum fluctuation’ ― and this represents a particle-pair which survives for something like a trillionth of a second. Quantum fluctuation is not any real fluctuation of anything; it is merely quantum uncertainty induced variations in results of repeated observations. The particles are called ‘virtual particles’. The universe teems with virtual particles, popping up and popping out after lasting for immeasurably super-small fractions of a second. (It is to be noted that even a ‘real particle’ is just an excitation of a field (see above), not quite a particle, and virtual particles are even less so).
  • Unification of fundamental forces. In early, old physics, three fundamental forces were recognized :
    • Gravitation,
    • Electric,
    • Magnetic

The electric and magnetic forces were later seen as different manifestations of one force : electromagnetic. Then, in new physics, two new fundamental forces were discovered :

  • Weak (nuclear) force, and
  • Strong (nuclear) force.

Of these, the electromagnetic and weak forces were found to be different aspects of one ‘electroweak’ force. So, now, there are three forces to reckon with :

  • Gravitation,
  • Electroweak, and

Thus, the so-called ‘unification of forces’ has been making progress.

  • Physicists now see the forces as being on account of exchange of virtual particles.
  • Efforts are on to unify all forces into one force : the ‘grand unification’ of Unified Field Theory.
  • QFT is considered quite a successful model of Nature.

 

(G) Philosophical Issues of Quantum Mechanics

  • The ‘deterministic’ model of an experiment repeated giving a particular value of a certain property on measurement every time seems to be wrong.
  • The ‘deterministic’ model of values of properties being measured with exactitude seems to be wrong.
  • ‘Objective reality’ ― a model of a fully objective and real world existing stand-alone all by itself regardless of observers and observation ― seems to be in need of re-examination.
  • Interpretation of the mathematics of QM, and the understanding of ‘quantum events’; many deep and unprecedented issues :
    • Does physics have any legitimate and meaningful jurisdiction to ‘interpret’ the mathematics and events of physics? Or must it be content to only present the mathematics and results of experimental observations, period?
    • If the mathematics is unable to predict any definite result, how come it can yet predict the (wavelike distribution of) probabilities of particular results?
    • How is it that when spots (on detectors) evidence particles, their distribution is represented by the mathematics of waves?
    • Even though individual spots are created randomly by (presumed) individual particles, how is it that the particles collectively form the ‘fringes’? Is there collective ‘awareness’ among the particles?
    • What really happens between the ‘shooting’ of an electron (from a source) and its detection as a spot on a screen? Is there really any such thing as the real electron and does it have any such thing as a real trajectory between the source and the screen? What is ‘perceived’ is not really an electron but a sign (spot) of an imagined electron. The experiment does not at all ‘track’ any electron all the way.
    • If one out of all possible values actualizes upon observation, who or what actualizes that particular value ― in other words, gets the wavefunction to collapse to that value (to the exclusion of other values)? Could it be that the observer’s consciousness or mind plays a role in the selection?
    • Does the mathematics represent anything real ― like, for instance, undulations in spacetime ― or is it just a logical mechanism that by itself represents nothing real but simply predicts probabilities of results?
    • Is it that scientists ― and laymen too ― deal with interactions of something (not known} with the observing / measuring apparatus, even including the human senses and mind, and cannot ever deal with that (unknown) something?
  • Interpretation of ‘quantum entanglement’ :
    • Is any interpretation in terms of familiar experience and understanding at all possible? Is it even incumbent upon physics to supply it? ‘There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract quantum physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out hownature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature…’ ― Niels Bohr, Nobel physicist
    • If, in deep Nature, one observation serves for all entangled particles, and if there is instantaneous information flow, then is it that what is considered to be cause-and-effect ― causality ― is a myth?
    • Could it not be that, in quantum entanglement, the apparently distinct, separate particles are actually one (thing) and not several?
    • Time is a phenomenon that emerges from quantum entanglement.
    • If the universe began in one point-particle, could it be that the entire universe is entangled?
  • Interpretation of ‘quantum eraser’ experiment :
    • Do the photons get to know what kind of experiment is being carried on with them and adopt behaviour accordingly?
    • Thus, is there awareness among the photons?
  • Interpretation of QFT :
    • If the fields are more fundamental than the particles, then can the birth of particles be imagined to represent the substantial being born in the substantial?
    • If the universe fairly teems with virtual particles, then is it that (a) movement-less ‘quantum fluctuations’ only ‘appear to be’ real matter, and (b) while science develops the ‘virtually real’, the world is really virtual?

 

(H) Astrophysics and Cosmology

  • The common belief of old astronomy was that the universe is static. General Relativity calculations however indicated that the universe is either expanding or contracting. In order to make it conform to this static universe idea, Einstein surmised a (fictitious) ‘cosmological constant’ in GR.
  • Astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered that stars and galaxies receded from the earth with speeds that are proportional to their distances from the earth : ‘Hubble’s Law’. This implied an expanding universe. Accepting the expanding universe idea and realizing his mistake of proposing the fictitious ‘cosmological constant’, Einstein later wrote that the cosmological constant ‘was the biggest blunder of his life’.
  • Development of sophisticated and high-resolution optical, radio, infra-red, ultraviolet, x-ray, gamma-ray, telescopes enabled observations and studies of very deep space. This enabled the formulation of alternative concepts of the universe. The expanding universe concept now prevails.
  • The most accepted concept of the expanding universe is the so-called ‘Big Bang’ theory : the universe beginning in a super-dense, super-hot and super-high-energy point some 13.8 billion years ago and expanding ever since.
  • Study of cosmic rays ― usually of super-high energies ― helps scientists understand the universe at various stages of its expansion. Also, large particle accelerators / colliders, such as the large hadron collider of CERN, does the same by replicating such super-high-energy events in the laboratory and to the scientists’ specifications.
  • The present model of the expanding universe is something like this :
    • Beginning of universe (BB) some 13.8 billion years ago, in an unimaginably dense and super-high-energy point (inconceivable point / moment of infinite density)… Breakdown of all laws of physics including GR.
    • At age of something like one millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second, one primordial force divides into ‘gravitational’ and ‘electronuclear’ forces…
    • Over a span of a trillion seconds after that, the electronuclear force further divides into the ‘strong’ and ‘electroweak’ forces… Homogeneous matter begins to emerge… The electroweak force further breaks up into the electromagnetic and weak forces… quarks, leptons, photons emerge as ‘boiling soup’…
    • At age 135 seconds, universe is a super-hot, super-dense rock, vapourizing… Helium forming…
    • At age 10,000 years, temperature is 4500 degrees Kelvin (roughly Celsius)… Light breaking…
    • At a hundred million years, universe is a sea of hydrogen and helium… Protogalaxies forming…
    • At one billion years, galaxies and first infant stars are being born…
  • ‘Big crunch’ has been proposed as a possible ‘ultimate fate’ scenario of the universe. But, so far there is no experimental evidence of this. In fact, accelerating expansion seems to have been observed.
  • (Unobserved and unknown) ‘dark energy’ has been hypothesized to explain the accelerating expansion. At the same time, measurements of accelerations of stars and galaxies indicate gravitational effects far in excess of what visible and detected / known matter of the universe can explain; this has led to the inference that (unobserved) ‘dark matter’ exists, which accounts for the apparent gravitational effect anomaly. In fact, some estimates of dark energy and dark matter in the universe are that dark matter accounts for 85% of the universe’s mass, and dark energy plus dark matter account for 95% of the universe’s total mass-energy.
  • The universe must have a certain minimum ― ‘critical’ ― mass for the big crunch to happen, and the present directly observed mass of the universe falls short of it by far.
  • If dark matter does exist, it may conceivably lead to the big crunch scenario.
  • So-called ‘black holes’ ― an increasingly massive body collapsing under gravity to an extremely small volume, with gravitation becoming so strong as to hold back all matter and even all electromagnetic waves, including light, so that the black hole itself cannot be perceived by any means ― is theoretically predicted and now experimentally ‘observed’ indirectly by studying motions of neighbouring stars and galaxies. At its heart, a black hole is theorized to have infinite density.
  • ‘Gravitation waves’ of GR, created by a pair of merging black holes, was detected in 2015.

 

(I) Philosophical Issues of Latest Cosmology

  • If dark energy and dark matter actually pervade the universe, then is it that the universe so far perceived, known, via optical and other kinds of telescopes and inferences made therefrom, are significantly incomplete ― even error-fraught?
  • If sufficient dark matter is eventually discovered, then will the ‘big crunch’ become acceptable?
  • If space and time are products of creation, then how could such creation begin at a certain point in space and a certain point in time?
  • If space is included in the universe ― as it indeed is ― the what is the universe expanding into?

 

(3) Advaita Vedanta Concepts relating to Maya

 

(A) Brahman & Absolute Existence (Truth) : sat, Atman

  • (One meaning of Vedanta is : the end, or consummation, of knowledge).
  • That alone is Truth that exists absolutely, unchangeably, eternally :
  • Brahman is the ultimate and only Truth : sat. All else are untruths :
  • Brahman is sat (absolute existence) + chit (absolute consciousness / knowledge) + ananda (absolute bliss) = It is not ‘existent’, ‘conscious’, ‘blissful’ : Adjectives do not apply to Brahman because it is absolute, not relative.
  • Brahman is One-and-Only =
  • Brahman is absolute, consciousness, infinitude, im-material, indestructible, undifferentiated, unqualifiable, indescribable.
  • Atman (individual sentient creature’s essence, soul) is Brahman – ayam atma brahma. (Roughly like a wave of a boundless sea being the same as the sea).
  • All so-called knowledge or understanding is and of the relative : involving mediateness, comparison, classification, etc. At least two are necessary ― duality.
  • (Therefore, absolute, non-relative, one-and-only,) Brahman ― advaita ― is beyond access of speech and mind = (Who will know, and know what, and who speak?)
  • Normal ‘knowing’ and ‘understanding’ is nothing but familiarity, acquaintance.
  • The Atman (= Brahman) cannot be attained by explanations, nor by intelligence, nor through much hearing – na yam atma pravacanena labhyo na medhaya na bahuna shrutena. It can be attained by im-mediate, aparoksha, experience ― yoga.
  • Such experience cannot be described by common language which is born of mediate, empirical experience.
  • How will the knower be known? (Can the eye see itself?).
  • Everything originates in, subsists in, and merges in, Brahman.
  • All this (the perceived, conceived, performed) is Brahman only = sarvam khalu idam brahma. Advaita Vedanta is not monotheism ― it is monism, more correctly, non-pluralism.

 

(B) Maya & ‘Appearance’ of Brahman

  • There is Brahman per se, and there is Brahman’s appearance. ‘Appearance’ or ‘manifestation’ of Brahman is comprehensively different from Brahman per se.
  • Yet ― all that appears is Brahman : sarvam khalu idam brahma.
  • Appearance happens per Maya : Maya deludes.
  • Maya is neither real nor unreal; like darkness – absence of light – is neither real nor unreal. Maya is indescribable, (super-)mysterious.
  • Maya covers Reality (sat) ― Brahman ― and projects phantasms, unreality (asat).
  • ‘Appearance’ – perception – involves (a) (so-called) subject and (so-called) object, a spurious division, and (b) the mechanism of the senses + mind + intellect (+ scientific instruments) ― making for mediate, paroksha, experience, which distorts. (‘The senses cheat you day and night.’ ― Vivekananda).
  • Only im-mediate, aparoksha, experience – per yoga (= ‘yoke’, ‘join’) ― is correct. Im-mediate experience is indescribable, anirvachaniya, because it is transcendental, having nothing to do with the senses or mind or anything relative or empirical that form the basis of ‘normal’, and even ‘scientific’, perception-cognition and understanding.
  • Brahman is ‘noumenon’ (‘thing-in-itself’) ― that which ‘appears’ or seems ― and Maya is phenomena ― the ‘appearance’ or ‘seeming-ness’ of noumenon. The whole world is Maya.
  • Noumenon ― Brahman ― is the one reality, existence, sat; phenomena ― the world ― are falsities, asat : brahma satya, jagat mithya, jiva brhamaiva, na aparah – Brahman is true, the world is false, sentient creatures are Brahman only, not different.
  • However, as long as you are in and of the world (phenomena), the above statement uttered by you is rendered false thereby – Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.
  • The highest, most comprehensive, appearance, manifestation, of Brahman is Ishwar (God) : the universe.
  • Perception-cognition involves that which is perceived-cognized plus the mind. If the noumenon (thing-in-itself) of the external world is x, then the perception-cognition of such external world is x + mind. Similarly, if the noumenon of the internal world is y, its perception-cognition is y + mind. What we observe, perceive, know, understand is never x or y but x + mind or y + mind. x and y per se are ever unknowable… ― Vivekananda (paraphrased).
  • All perception-cognition is via interactions (that distort). ― Vivekananda (paraphrased).
  • ‘External nature is only internal nature writ large’. ― Vivekananda

 

(C) Change, Involution & Evolution

  • Empirical entities ― everything of the perceived world ― go through six stages : birth, growth, stability, change, decay, death; thus for atoms, galaxies, stars, universe, bacteria, humans ― everything.
  • ‘Change’ involves (a) material cause (like clay), and (b) efficient cause (like the potter).
  • As per Advaita, Brahman may be seen as the material and the efficient cause, both.
  • The properties of the cause inhere in the effect.
  • Therefore, essentially, all things, creatures, events are Brahman-like : one unity (or inseparably interconnected), infinite, shot through with consciousness ― in varying degrees; nothing is really ‘local’, it is all ‘global’, ‘universal’, infinite, eternal, one.
  • ‘Mayik’ appearance or manifestation of the One-and-Only Brahman seems many per the specious and beguiling mechanism of name-cum-form ― namarupa : the sticking of name-tags on spuriously isolated parts ― really ‘forms’ ― of the real one integral whole, the One-and-Only.
  • Thus, a multiplicity of things, events, entities are created by the ‘observer’ by speciously defining forms via namarupa. (‘You limit a thing by defining it.’ ― Vivekananda.)
  • Thus, every thing, creature, event of Maya is a mix of Brahman-like-ness and namarupa : asti (being existent, from sat,) + bhati (being cognizable (through senses and mind), from chit,) + priya (being attractive (to someone), from ananda,) + nama (name) + rupa (form) = asti-bhati-priya-nama-rupa.
  • All perception / knowledge, common or scientific, is of bhati, appearance, ― via mediative, distorting, interaction ― and never of asti, that which really exists.
  • That which changes is not sat. (Roughly speaking : a cloud can successively take on forms of an elephant, a horse, a cow, and then vanish : the elephant, horse, cow are asat. A clay ‘dog’ can be made short to tall and then slapped out of existence; such dog is asat but the clay is sat).
  • Namarupa is Maya : delusion
  • Space, time, causality ― desh-kala-nimitta ― is Maya : delusion
  • Since the absolute, the independent, cannot have a cause, therefore, Maya is Brahman’s sport only ―
  • Change can be (a) real change, as in a potter changing a lump of clay into a pot, or (b) as per Advaita, only apparent change, per fake superposition ― adhyas / adhyaropa ― as a non-existent, fake, snake seen in a rope.
  • Thus, evolution could be (a) real evolution ― parinam(vada), or (b) pseudo evolution ― vivarta(vada) ― of Advaita.
  • That which does not exist cannot come into existence (a kind of conservation law). So, there can never be any real increase, but there can be apparent decrease ―through covering or non- or fractional manifestation.
  • Therefore, there can be no evolution unless there is involution first.
  • Thus, so-called evolution of science is involution + evolution = srishti (creation) + sthiti (subsistence) + pralaya (dissolution) = kalpa. Kalpas
  • Maya is the very first stage of srishti ― also described as agyan (ignorance, nescience); everything after that is Maya-shrouded, delusive.
  • Srishti is pran progressively acting on akash. Pran may be considered to be akin to primordial energy ― motive power, changing power. Akash may be considered to be akin to the primordial substance that is moved or changed.
  • Roughly : pran = efficient cause; akash = material cause.
  • (So-called) scientific evolution is absolute Brahman, first, in srishti, ‘appearing’ as progressively relative, less conscious, more finite, more material / physical, more differentiated, less permanent, more numerous… and then, reversing the process, in pralaya, to become progressively less relative, more conscious, less finite, less material / physical, less differentiated, more permanent, more one.
  • In the beginning of creation, ‘That One’ began to vibrate without motion’ ― anidabatam.
  • In the non-physical is born the physical, in the insubstantial, the substantial, in the abstract, the concrete.
  • Universal srishti-sthiti-pralaya happens ― mahapralaya ― but there can also be local srishti-sthiti-pralaya also – Vivekananda (paraphrased).
  • In the course of creation, srishti, there ‘appear’ (or ‘manifest’) (a) finest to finer to fine to gross to grosser to grossest particles / matter, (b) tanmatras ― rudimentary, ‘virtual’, particles ― that do not participate in processes, (c) the senses and mind and intelllect, (d) sentient creatures in subtle forms, and (e) sentient creatures in gross forms.
  • In the ultimate analysis, there is no such thing as cause and effect; cause-and-effect, causality, is a myth. ― Vivekananda (paraphrased).
  • Maya, Nature, is aghatana-ghatana-patiyasi – skilful in making the impossible happen : thus, non-causality.

 

(D) Some (Advaita) Vedantic Prognoses About New Science

  • The concepts of most entities of physics / science, including fundamental quantities of ‘space’, ‘time’, ‘mass’, will need to be rethought, and possibly, revised.
  • The absoluteness and sovereignty of space and time will be called into question; as will be their very existence as entities or settings (‘reference frames’).
  • A more holistic picture of nature will emerge; the apparently disparate will be seen more and more as aspects of an integral whole.
  • The idea of independent, stand-alone existence of an ‘objective world’ will be revisited.
  • It will be realized that all perception-cognition, by ordinary or scientific means, is mediate, and im-mediate perception-cognition is not possible through such means.
  • It will be realized that, thus, it is the combination of the (so-called and conjectured) ‘perceived’ plus the ‘perception’ / ‘observation’ process that is erroneously considered to be ‘perception of objects per se’. What the (conjectured) ‘perceived’ is and whether there is at all any such ‘perceived’ all by itself, and if yes, whether the ‘perceived’ exist/s in plurality or is singular ― one ― cannot be known through such means.
  • Common or scientific knowledge and understanding involves conjecturing reality ― and not apprehending reality per se.
  • A beginning of srishti ― so-called conventional ‘evolution’ ― will be discovered; also, progressive creation of variety and multiplicity from oneness will be found. A certain end of evolution will seem probable.
  • More fineness, more oneness and more awareness will be found in events closer to the beginning of srishti.
  • In objects and events, whether (a) finite or infinite, (b) temporary or eternal, (c) plurality or unity, (d) various or same, (e) conscious or unconscious, will be moot scientific issues.
  • Whether so-called scientific ‘entities’ are really so and whether, if so, they exist by themselves, will need to be examined.
  • The issue of innate and sure causality among events will be called into question.
  • Whether, at bottom, everything is chancy and disconnected will become a valid question.

 

CONCLUDING REMARKS

 The following three posers were set out in the Introduction:

  • Do we exist with our physical identity in this phenomenal world?
  • Does the philosophical concept of Maya stand the scrutiny of quantum science, as known today?
  • Assuming that Maya is a statement of fact, can it be eliminated / removed?

Before we address the first poser, let us come to a logical finding about the concept of Maya.

Maya, in sum, is a concept that has undergone changes over a period of time from early Vedic period till modern time. The earliest use of the term ‘Maya’ was in Rig Veda implying somewhat like magic to befool or befuddle people. During later Vedic period, the term was used to denote Prakriti (Nature) through which Brahman created the universe. Still later, when Sri Shankara developed Advaita (non-dual) Vedanta as a distinct philosophy by interpreting the Upanishadic verses compiled in the Brahma Sutras by Badarayana, Maya was taken for delusion / illusion. However, the same Brahma Sutras were interpreted differently by Dualists (Dvaita Vadis) such as Nimbarka, Madhavacharya, Sri Chaitanya etc. and qualified non-dualists (Vishistadvaita Vadis) such as Sri Ramanuja. The former accepted the universe as real and Maya as irrelevant, while the latter accepted and synthesized both the concepts, and did not reject the concept of Maya like the dualists did.

We, however, find the interpretation of Swami Vivekananda in this regard as the most logical. According to him, the Maya of the Vedanta is “neither Idealism, nor Realism, nor is it a theory. It is a simple statement of facts – what we are and what we see around us.” Explaining the concept of Maya further, he states that the world around us has no absolute existence. “We see this world with the five senses but if we had another sense, we would see in it something more. If we had yet another sense, it would appear as something still different. It has, therefore, no real existence; it has no unchangeable, immovable and infinite existence. Nor can it be called non-existence, seeing that it exists, and we have to work in and through it. It is a mixture of existence and non-existence” (refer: his lecture on Maya & Illusion, London, 1896).

In order to understand how senses operate in this phenomenal world, let us take a practical example. Man, as we all know, is a 3-dimensional creature. How a man would look like to a single dimensional and a 2-dimensional creature? A man would appear to be no larger than a dot to a single dimensional creature, and not larger than multiple lines to a 2-dimensional creature. But we know that above-said appearances are not actual physical representation of a man. Likewise, a 4-dimensional creature or for that matter a creature having an extra sense of perception may find a man quite differently, assuming that higher the dimension, higher the senses. According to string theorists, each additional dimension after the 4th one is understood with reference to additional curves of microscopic sizes. And we have practically no idea as to how a man would look like from a higher dimension. Thus what we see in this 3-dimensional world cannot be an absolute reality, even in physical sense. Therefore, our existence with our respective physical identities in this phenomenal world is a relative truth at best, conditioned by dimensional cum sensory limits.

Let us now address the second poser; viz. does the philosophical concept of Maya stand the scrutiny of quantum science, as known today?

One of the well known hypotheses of quantum mechanics is that particles exist as particles as long as these are under conscious observation / watch. When not under observation, particles behave like wave and have no separate identity as particles. Above hypothesis is based on scientific experiments and cannot be brushed aside as unreliable or flawed. If we apply above find of quantum scientists to the concept of Maya, we may come to the same conclusion that what is apparent in the phenomenal world is not necessarily real. Perhaps in reality there is no phenomenon. From above quantum perspective, whatever we see or sense may not be real even in material sense. Thus we find a striking similarity between quantum uncertainty and the concept of Maya. Assuming that Maya is a statement of fact, can it be eliminated / remove?

Our last poser is: assuming that Maya is a statement of fact, can it be eliminated / removed?

The above poser has a spiritual angle, as it involves consciousness and, therefore, falls outside the ambit of quantum science. From spiritual perspective, the poser is re-framed as follows: ‘how the veil of the Maya can be lifted’? We find that in Bhagavat Gita a categorical answer to the above poser has been provided by Sri Krishna, which is as follows.

In Chapter VII, verse 14, of the Gita, Sri Krishna tells Arjuna:

“Daivi hi esa gunamayee mama maya duratyaya I

Mameba ye prapadyante mayametam taranti te II – 14”

[Since my divine Maya constituted by the Gunas or qualities (Sattva, Rajas and Tama) is hard to cross over, there is no other way but to take refuge in Me to cross over this Maya.]

In verses 5 onward, chapter 14, Krishna explains that the three Gunas (qualities) born of nature (Prakriti) bind the immutable soul to the body through numerous attachments. As to the question how this Maya can be transcended, Krishna answers in verses 24 to 26 of chapter 14 that the one to whom happiness and sorrow, censure and praise, honour and dishonour, friend and foe are alike, the one who is established in his own Self, the one to whom a lump of earth, iron and gold are the same, can transcend the three Gunas or the Maya. In other words, a man of complete equanimity alone can transcend Maya. It was believed that Suka, the son of Veda Vyasa, was one such person who was not subdued by Maya.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Echoes of Vedanta in Modern Physics!

 

                              (Interactive session on 06.07.2016)

Keynote address by Prasanta Ray

(Other participant speakers: Mr. Birendra Lal Bhattacharya, Mr. Pranab K.Ghosh, Prof. Krishna Pada Sarkar, Mr. Asim Kr. Raha & Prof. D. K. Banwet)

Introduction & concluding remarks by Asish K Raha

 

 INTRODUCTION

 Vedanta (the end of the Vedas), comprising ancient Indian spiritual treatises known as the Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, dwells primarily on Brahman or Pure Consciousness as the ultimate source of all existence that is phenomenal. Physics, on the contrary, is a science of the matter, having very little to do with consciousness. It seeks to explore and explain how the material universe has come into being by the laws of the nature (or laws of gravitation). Thus the subject and the object of Vedanta and physics are ex-facie antithetical and incompatible. Is it possible then to find the echoes of Vedanta in physics?

Secondly, while both Vedanta and physics seek to know the ultimate truth, variously called Brahman by Vedantists and ‘the theory of everything’ by physicists, their approaches are entirely different. The former deduces its finds from certain axioms or postulates while the latter proceeds on the basis of certain rational hypotheses, subjecting each inference to strict validation checks. Is it possible for physics with its usual, rigorous validation checks to corroborate some of the Vedantic postulates? Only if the answer is yes, the title of today’s deliberation will stand the test of our scrutiny.

Lastly, one of the postulates of Vedanta is that there is no demarcation between spirit and the matter, as materialization of spirit and spiritualization of matter continue ad infinitum by the will of Pure Consciousness or Brahman. Physics accepts the proposition that the energy converts into matter and vice versa, thus substituting the word spirit for energy. The moot question, therefore, is whether the energy is conscious or sans consciousness. In the event of the former, one may feel the echoes of Vedanta in modern physics. Otherwise not.

Before we address the above issues in our concluding remarks, let us broadly analyze the essence of Vedanta and modern physics, also known as quantum physics.

 

 Probable origins of the Upanishads and science

The Rishis (sages) of the Upanishads may have been impelled to undertake introspective search for deep truths (facts) by the thirst for knowledge and the need to banish worldly misery. The scientist too may have been similarly motivated. The latter sought knowledge and remedy in the spiritual world, the former sought the same in the phenomenal one.

 

Philosophy and methodology of the Rishis (Upanishads)

  • The apparatus of the senses plus mentation and cerebration via the mind and brain ― paroksha, mediate ― is not the only means of fact-finding re the ‘objective’.
  • Since every experience ― including facts of the ‘without’ ― eventually culminates in perception and understanding ‘within’, the ‘within’ may as well be addressed directly ― via meditation ― aparoksha, immediate.
  • Knowledge, so-called, derived from sense-mind-intellect perception is relative ― understood with reference to other things ― and not absolute.
  • Inference is unreliable as a fact-finding means. Direct experience is better.
  • There can be no such thing as ‘understanding’; only ‘familiarity’ is possible.
  • Mathematics may say ‘how’ but not ‘what’.
  • Gather experience ― anubhuti. To that end, do sadhana ― diligent self-effort. ‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating’; there is no other way.

 

Vedanta ― Salient findings

[Since the very means of Vedanta involves realization or direct (aparoksha) apprehension and not (the common or scientific) perception and inference ― a lockdown, so to say, of the sense-mind-intellect complex ― it is difficult, nay, impossible, to convey such realizations via language, for language evolves from sense-mind-intellect ‘perception’ and ‘understanding’. That is why ― and also, perhaps, because of occasional sub-maximal realizations ― there are (at least, apparent,) variations and inconsistencies among different Upanishadic passages. That is why, truly, ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’ ― swanubhuti or self-discovery is essential. That is why, again, Upanishadic passages have for millennia been the subject of interpretation by intellectuals and sages ― giving birth to various ― six popular ― darshanas. Indeed, Vedanta itself has three schools of advaita, vishishtadvaita and dvaita. Here, we shall adopt advaita.

Yet, it is good ― probably a must to begin with ― to do shravana and manana on Vedanta darshana and Upanishadic passages, to gather meaning ― even if a bit error-fraught­ ― as possible and needed for an intellectual foundation ― intellectual ‘faith’ ― from which to embark upon nididhyasana, or contemplation-meditation ― again a must.]

  1. Perception via sense-mind-intellect ― paroksha, mediate ― distorts, cheats. So, ‘absorption’, ‘realization’ sans sense-mind-intellect ― aparoksha anubhuti ― im-mediate apprehension, is superior and necessary.
  2. Ultimate reality, Brahman, is ekam eva advitiyam (One with no second) ― from before space-time ― indescribable (anirvachaniya), undifferentiated, infinite, unchanging, birth-death-less, insubstantial, abangmanasogocharam ― beyond access of speech and mind ― not amenable to existential investigation.
  3. Brahman is ‘all-absolute’ ― sat (absolute existence), chit (absolute consciousness) and ananda (absolute joy). Adjectives do not, cannot, apply.
  4. Sarvam khalu idam Brahma ― all this is verily Brahman (as ‘appearing’ to sense-mind-intellect). (‘Tis but One ― Vivekananda).
  5. Brahman’s ‘appearance’ (via sense-mind-intellect), or manifestation ― fundamentally and comprehensively different from Brahman per se ― is phenomena, the world. Such appearance happens per the power of maya, an aspect ― so to say ― of Brahman. Maya ‘projects’ Brahman, or makes it ‘appear’, in ways that are delusive, pseudo. Advaita holds: phenomena is false, like the false perception or superimposition ― adhyas ― of a snake in a rope. Such snake is neither real nor unreal ― neither existence nor non-existence; the snake is unreal but the rope is real. Maya is agyan, ignorance, lack of knowledge, ‘unreal-real’. (If light exists and darkness is lack of light, can one say ‘darkness exists’? Nasadiya Sukta, Rk Veda, the ‘hymn of creation’: na asat asit na u sat asit tadanim ― then there was neither existence nor non-existence.)
  6. The utterly non-existent, asat ― like a barren woman’s child (advaita illustration) ― cannot become existent, nor vice versa ― a kind of inevitable ‘conservation’; infinitude cannot increase or decrease. Brahman being infinitude, its appearance per maya cannot be and is not equal to or more than Brahman ― it is ever less.
  7. Creation is thus not any kind of growth ― it is ‘more’ or ‘less’ ‘manifestation’.
  8. To ‘acquire’ gyan, knowledge, is to progressively lessen the ‘less’ till the One-and-only is realized.
  9. Creation is really like involution ― ‘less’ ― followed by evolution ― ‘more’ ― of Brahman. Involution is like (so-called) srishti, evolution is like (so-called) laya. The srishti-sthiti-pralaya cycle ― kalpa ― repeats ad infinitum. Evolution reaching consummation is total dissolution ― pralaya ― of (apparent) creation. (There can be localized pralaya ― Vivekananda).
  10. In ‘involution’, Brahman becomes (‘appears to become’) finite, temporary, change-prone, many, less conscious. In evolution, the reverse happens. Evolution encompasses sentient beings up to man (and beyond to superman, mukta-jiva, through sadhana) ― with Brahman becoming (‘appearing to become’) enduring, less change prone, more conscious. So, things are subtler, more energetic, more interconnected, more one, more ‘aware’, more conscious, in deeper layers of nature, which is towards the beginning of creation, nearer Brahman per se. (Can moksha or mukti be compared with micro pralaya?)
  11. Thus, somehow(?), from Brahman issued(?) first of all, agyan, maya, (veil of) ignorance, then space and time, and pran (energy?) and (insubstantial) akash (field’?), whence chronologically evolved ― rather, ‘appeared’, ― the subtlest, less subtle, gross, grossest… with jivas (sentient creatures) coming towards the end closer to recent times. At some time in this process sprang tanmatras ― rudimentary (virtual?) particles incapable of participating in processes.
  12. Since everything is only an appearance of the absolute infinitude ― Brahman ― therefore, everything is essentially Brahman-like, infinite, one ― there is really no plurality (advaita). (That is why a discerning man wants to go on living (sat), to know (chit), and to experience pure joy (ananad)). Nothing is ‘local’, everything is ‘global’. But, maya-bound, man ― the observer ― sees (specious) many by erroneously considering ‘forms’ (rupa) of Brahman to be distinct, stand-alone, things, entities, events, creatures; he then concretizes the (so-called) many by affixing nametags to such ‘things’ etc. in a process called namarupa ― ‘name-cum-form’. (Bohu rupe sammukhe tomar ― before you in myriad forms ― Vivekananda). (Un)real adhyas plus namarupa is maya at her hoodwinking best!
  13. All being essentially Brahman ― everything (of maya, phenomena) is made up of asti + bhati + priya + nama + rupa. Asti (existence), bhati (appearance to sense-mind-intellect) and priya (joyousness) are reflections of the intrinsic sat, chit and ananda, which is Brahman, and the observer gullibly adds namrupa to these to manufacture the spurious many.
  14. Thus ― in a most meaningful way ― it is the subject-observer who, at least partially, creates the so-called ‘objective’ world.
  15. Maya is ‘aghatana-ghatana-patiyasi’ ― skilful in making the (apparently) impossible possible.
  16. Space-time-causality ― desh-kala-nimitta ― is maya, illusory and delusive.

 

Philosophy and methodology of physics

  • There is the subject or ‘observer’, and the observer-independent ‘object’.
  • Space and time are sovereign, absolute, objective, and independent of and distinct from each other ― and the constant ‘setting’ or arena of phenomena.
  • There is (objective) causality in phenomena, and the purpose of science is to discover causal links and use them to predict or control (events). A particular set of facts invariably leads causally to another particular ― unfailingly causally-predictable ― set.
  • Inference is an infallible methodology.
  • It is possible to ‘understand’ ― and ‘explain’ ― things and events and their causal interconnectedness.
  • Perception via the usual apparatus of the senses plus mentation and cerebration via the mind and brain is the only ― and an infallible ― means of fact-finding re the ‘objective’.
  • Only that which is perceived or inferred from perception is fact, truth. Such perception and inference constitute the bedrock of scientific understanding.
  • Therefore, sharpening the powers of perception ― via instrumentation ― and sharpening logic, lead to more and better fact-finding and understanding. (So, optical- and radio-telescopes, optical- and electron-microscopes, particle accelerators/colliders, Hubble space telescopes, have been invented to peer deeper and finer into nature in incisive experiments).
  • Mathematics ― a highly refined and codified system of logic ― is an infallible and unique means of ‘understanding’ and predicting. Two classes of events following the same mathematics may be considered identical or similar.
  • Diligent experimentation and intellection is necessary. (That is how, Tycho Brahe (mapping the heavens) plus Kepler (discerning ‘laws of planetary motion’ in the maps) plus Newton (discovering universal gravitation from those laws) ― spanning 100 years in all! ― did long and incredible collective sadhana in physics/astronomy).

 

Physics ― Salient findings

  1. Experiment (experience) showed that observers moving at different speeds relative to light, all measure light’s speed at the same c ― thus, in a manner of speaking, light has no relative speed.
  2. The above characteristic of light forms the basis of Special Relativity (SR) ―
    • Space and time are not different ― it is one 4-dimentional ‘space-time’.
    • Simultaneity of events depends on observer’s speed. Space shrinks, time slows and mass increases as observer’s speed increases. Thus, observer plays a role in observation of the (so-called) ‘objective’.
    • In nature, light’s speed c is the maximum speed of any particle or wave. Even two speeds added cannot exceed c ― there can never be ‘superluminal’ speed. (For example, the net speed of a man running at 0.75c speed on a ship moving at 0.75c will be 0.96c and not 1.5c!)
    • E = mc2 ― energy and mass (weight) are inter-convertible ― germ of ‘atom bomb’. While conservation laws such as conservation of mass and of energy were known, now, it becomes conservation of mass + energy.
    • Questions:
      • The subject-observer plays a role in observation of the objective?
      • Space and time ― so different-seeming ― are together, one?
      • Mass and energy ― so different-looking ― are inter-convertible, one?
      • Inevitable conservation in infinitude of different entities taken together?
  1. After SR, General Relativity (GR) was theoretically formulated ―
    • An observer under gravitation is the same as an accelerating observer.
    • A ‘gravitating’ (weighty) body ‘warps’ the space-time around it ― much as a heavy ball warps the membrane on which it sits. Just as the depression of the membrane seems to attract balls rolling into it, and seems to make them orbit it, similarly, the space-time warp seems to create gravitational­ force that seems to attract, and seems to keep bodies in orbit; there is in reality no such thing as gravitational force of attraction.
    • Movements of and changes in massive bodies generate ripples in space-time. ‘Gravitation waves’ have been recently detected.
    • A massive body grows in mass by attracting more and more matter to it to eventually have super-high concentration of mass, which, in time, will punch a hole in space-time. The ‘black hole’ has been observed.
    • Questions:
      • Undulating space? Space and time are somewhat like ‘objects’ in some unknown setting ― and not really the sovereign ‘setting’ itself? Desh-kala(-nimitta) ― space-time(-causality) ― is maya, illusory?
      • (Gravitational) force (and particles too) are only a geometrical bending of space-time? From the insubstantial is born the substantial?
      • Holes in space-time ― are the (observed) ‘black holes’?! Local pralaya?
  1. Light behaves like waves by producing wave-like patterns when split and recombined, and also behaves like particles in photo-electric effect of light striking matter to emit electrons; so, light is both particle-like and wave-like ― ‘wave-particle duality’. Strangely, it ‘travels as waves and arrives as particles’.
  2. The above wave-particle duality forms the basis of Quantum Mechanics (QM) ―
    • Here, the mathematics of 2 + 3 = 5 does not apply. The newly-minted and somewhat wavelike mathematics of QM applies.
    • A particle of light ― ‘quantum’ ― is like a ‘wave-packet’, so to say. Actually, it is impossible to describe a ‘quantum’ ― it is totally ‘indescribable’.
    • Physics is of ‘observables’ and not of un-observables.
    • All measurement ― observation­ ― involves an unavoidable, irreducible minimum ‘uncertainty’ or ‘indeterminacy’; this has nothing to do with (defects in) the instruments of observation, it is a feature of nature itself. (Uncertainty in observed nature?)
    • In an experiment ― observation ― many outcomes are possible pre-observation, but one ― unpredictable ― outcome actualises upon observation. The individual outcome is unpredictable but the ‘probability’ or ‘chance’ of its occurrence is predictable. (Who chooses?)
    • Yet, collectively, observation by observation ― quantum by quantum ― the wavelike pattern builds up. (Like schoolgirls on a field ― being collectively aware ― running in randomly but forming a pre-planned pattern collectively?)
    • When quanta are allowed to go through either of two paths, they subsequently organize themselves in a certain way; when one path is blocked, the quanta reorganize in a totally different way, as if the blocked path does not exist. (An awareness of ‘road closed’ in the system?)
    • When the observer does not register which of two paths a certain quantum has taken, the wavelike pattern is produced; but when he does register the ‘which path’, a particle-like pattern results. If the registration of ‘which path’ is erased immediately after registration, the wavelike pattern returns. (‘Hide-and-seek’ between the quanta and the observer?)
    • When a (composite) particle with a fixed value of an attribute ― characteristic and definitive of such particles ― is split and separated (even by a hundred kilometres, conceivably millions), the values of such attribute on each component, measured independently of each other, yet always add up to such characteristic value of the composite ― even though the measured values of the components actualise only upon observation and not before. (A ‘superluminal’ communication not being possible, is there, then, ‘instant’ communication’ which is like another way of saying ‘oneness’?) This is known as ‘quantum entanglement’. (An abiding oneness or clairvoyant awareness?)
    • A similar thing happens when two particles interact and separate after such interaction; they thereafter become ‘quantum-entangled’ with each other (Like two becoming one?).

 

  • Questions:
    • Mathematics is just a tool of logic and not any uncanny insight? 1 + 2 = 3 is followed by cats and humans, but cat ≠ human!
    • “Indescribable’ ― anirvachniya?
    • Is ‘understanding’ then ‘familiarity’ only? Nothing can really be ‘explained’?
    • Physics is built on ‘observation’ of ‘observables’? On bhati and not asti?
    • ‘Objective’ scientific ‘observation’ involves ‘indeterminacy’ ― it cheats?
    • Bhati is distinct from asti ― and perhaps not like asti at all? Only deceptive appearances? Only ‘phenomenon’, ‘noumenon’ never known?
    • ‘Chancy outcomes? No such thing as (objective) causality?
    • Who chooses ― the observer? Unsuspected subject-object duet? The subject-observer, at least partially, creates the so-called ‘objective’ world?
    • Space-time-causality ― desh-kala-nimitta ― is maya, delusive?
    • ‘Particle-like’ and ‘wavelike’ behaviour of quanta depending on the kind of observation being carried out by the observer? A quantum versus observer ‘Spy v spy’? Maya is aghatana-ghatana-patiyasi?
    • Quirky ‘interconnectedness’, ‘oneness’, and mystifying ‘collective awareness’ in deep nature? ‘Global’ system-wide awareness?
    • ‘Quantum entangled’? Together? One? ‘Local’-‘global’?
    • Big Bang began in one particle. Is the whole universe then ‘entangled’ as one? Nothing is local? ‘Tis but One? ‘Before you in myriad forms’?
  1. SR and QM were (mathematically) united into Quantum Field Theory (QFT) ―
    • Space is not empty. It is filled with extensive gravitational fields, which go hand-in-hand with massive bodies. Space is also filled with ‘quantum fields’ in which are born (physics: ‘creation’) and die (physics: ‘annihilation’) particles. Energy input causes excitation of fields which excitations are particles.
    • ‘Quantum fluctuation’ born of unavoidable ‘indeterminacy’ shows up as phantom-like particles ― called ‘virtual’ particles. These are not quite particles for they cannot be detected as such.
    • Questions:
      • The field is ‘global’ even when the body is ‘local’? Can the body then be considered separate and distinct from its field? Is anything local?
      • The ‘insubstantial’ field (akash) to the substantial? Energy (pran) input?
      • ‘Virtual particles’ ― like tanmatras?

 

Issues to ponder

Vedanta-science comparison and contrast cannot be pushed beyond a point, and it has to be more in terms of discerning parallels rather than identities. This is because the two follow radically different methodologies ― because findings, even when similar, are never identical, as they cannot be, because experience sans sense-mind-intellect is most probably most unlike that via sense-mind-intellect. One really cannot say physics finding = Vedanta finding.

However, that these two produce parallels is a matter of great philosophical significance worth reflecting upon. If either was the only true procedure and the other false, then their findings should have been utterly and comprehensively different, but they are not; broad qualitative and philosophical correspondence is noticeable. Even physicists are beginning to bend their attention to Vedanta.

Shankaracharya has spoken of paramarthika (supreme, transcendental) gyan, vyavaharika (existential) gyan and pratibhasika (fake) gyan, and recommended vyavaharika gyan, not Vedanta, for workaday use. Neither Vedanta nor science needs to replace the other ― at least, as of now.

‘Science and religion will meet and shake hands. Poetry and philosophy will become friends.’ ― Vivekananda

 

 CONCLUDING REMARKS

 Our first poser relates to the cause of this phenomenal world. Is it Pure Consciousness, as Vedanta would put it or deterministic, insentient nature, as classical physicists generally believe? However, quantum physics has shaken the very root of classical physics. The genesis of the problem for physicists began in 1925 with the startling discovery of divergent functions of electrons by Erwin Schrodinger; one, like a particle when under observation, and at another time, like a wave when not under observation. Even though classical physicists like Einstein had stuck to objective reality and rejected the role of consciousness in the materialization of particles or collapse to their wave-like behavior, modern quantum physicists like Nobel-laureate Eugene Wigner by their pioneering researches have by now established that particles indeed have dual behavior, one, wave-like, and the other as the particle, and the cause of the collapse of wave-like behavior or materialization into particle form is a conscious observer. Granted that a conscious observer ought to be a materialized entity, there ought to be a second observer to materialize the first one, and a third observer to materialize the second one. In the process, we may come to the concept of the cosmic observer / consciousness that brought into existence entire creation. In the words of Wigner, who happened to be one of the founding fathers of Quantum Mechanics: “It was not possible to formulate the laws (of quantum theory) in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness”. He in fact became interested in Vedantic philosophy, according to which, consciousness pervades the whole universe (refer: verse 1 of Isa Upanishad: Om Isavasyam idam sarvam) and the whole phenomenal creation that can be divided eightfold, viz. the earth, water, fire, air, space, mind, intellect and egoism is pervaded by the supreme soul or Pure Consciousness (refer verses 7.4-5, Bhagavad Gita). In that sense, consciousness is more fundamental than atoms and sub-atomic particles. This is where Vedanta and quantum physics appear to converge.

Some quantum physicists like Hugh Everett, however, posit that wave functions never collapse but split apart. In other words, the universes are constantly splitting apart into multiverses. Stretched logically, it would suggest that a person who has died in one universe might be alive in another. Above proposition of modern physicists also appears to agree with Upanishadic anecdotes of dead persons being alive on another plane.

Admittedly, the process and procedure of research by vedantists and physicists widely differ. While Vedantic logic is basically deductive, following a postulate or axiom pronounced by a realized soul, mostly sages, without explaining how that realization can be validated, physics, whether classical or quantum, is built on inductive logic, basing its finds on hypotheses. By way of illustration, let us take a few verses from the Gita, having scientific implication.

Verse 8.17: “Only those who know that Brahma’s (not Brahman) one day is equal to one thousand mahayugas or great time cycles (1 mahayuga = 12000 earth years) and one night equal to another one thousand mahayugas, are the knowers of the concept of day and night.”

The above verse from the Gita is axiomatic and smacks of relativity of earth time vis-à-vis space time without explaining how the said axiom was established. Einstein’s theory of relativity, on the other hand, was built on extensive and intensive researches with validation checks.

Verse: 3.27: “Actions are performed by the gunas (qualities) of prakriti (Nature). A man deluded by egoism thinks ‘I am the doer’.”

Neuro scientists will surely corroborate above postulate of Vedanta.

Verse 15.8: “When the soul departs from the body, or enters one, it takes along all the attributes of the gunas (qualities).”

The above verse from the Gita is strikingly similar in its content to the finds of Sir John Eccles, a Nobel laureate neuro-scientist, according to whom, consciousness leaves a dying person, floats around observing things and later attach itself to an unborn fetus to start a new existence (refer: How the Self Controls its Brain). Neuro-scientific researches have further revealed that the dis-embodied consciousness possesses visual, auditory, and olfactory senses and experiences a new perception of reality outside of one’s self, I-ness, or oneness. Above finds of neuro-scientists are still in the nature of hypotheses and not postulates, like in Vedanta. Nevertheless, the similarity or coherence in the finds of two opposite schools of thought cannot be lost sight of.

Let us now address the last poser: whether the energy is conscious or insentient, in order to settle whether the title of the current topic passes our scrutiny.

While classical physicists were generally reluctant to attribute consciousness to the Nature, Quantum physicists have different explanation for this phenomenon. To Stephen Hawkins consciousness is nothing more than an accidental byproduct of laws of physics (refer: The Grand Design). But to David Bohm, another well-known quantum physicist (refer: The Undivided Universe: An ontological interpretation of quantum theory), consciousness is present to some degree in all material forms. In his words: “everything material is also mental and everything mental is also material, but there are many more infinitely subtle levels of matter than we are aware of”. “”It could equally well be called idealism, spirit, consciousness. The separation of the two – matter and spirit – is an abstraction. The ground is always one.” Above views of David Bohm are in conformity with those of Eugene Wigner.

Viewed from the angle of pure physics also, it is inconceivable that any phenomenon such as consciousness can originate from a cause / source other than the Nature or Energy. Consciousness, therefore, can be taken as immanent or subsumed in the Nature / Energy. As a logical corollary to the above, one can reasonably infer that the Nature / Energy is sentient or conscious. Surely an insentient nature cannot produce consciousness, even accidentally. Once we accept the above proposition, Vedantic postulates will resonate with modern physicists.

 

 

 

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MANTRA POWER – REALITY OR MYTH!

                                                  

(Interactive session on 31.10.2015)

Address by Asish K. Raha

 

 

INTRODUCTION

Mantra is a sanskrit word as old as the Vedas of the Hindus, comprising the root word ‘man’ or mind and the suffix ‘tra’ meaning an instrument or wave or projection. According to Vedic tradition, the meaning of mantra goes well beyond its etymological meaning, i.e. projection of mind or wave of thought. It is believed to have originated from the cosmic perception of the Vedic sages, and is meant to evoke supernatural power by repeatedly chanting a combination of words thereby creating the right vibration to achieve a specific objective. However, it comes with a caveat, viz. mantra must be pronounced correctly with proper intonation, failing which it will have no effect. In Buddhism, the word mantra has been used more in the sense of protecting mind rather than achieving supernatural feats.

Our rational mind, however, needs to address the following pertinent posers in regard to mantra.

  1. Granted that every word chanted or spoken causes vibration, does the vibration so caused by repeated chanting or muttering of a mantra achieve the result that may be called supernatural? Or, the so-called sound vibration generated by a mantra is merely incidental, not capable of creating any magical power or effects?
  2. Is there any scientific explanation for the power attributed to mantra?
  • Is the meaning of a mantra relevant?
  1. Is the mantra chanted in silence as effective as the one pronounced with proper intonation?
  2. Is mantra divine or God-neutral?

Before we address those questions, let us dwell upon the traditional concept of mantra and its purported power as has been recorded or recounted since time immemorial.

 

‘WORD’ AS GOD & THE ULTIMATE CAUSE

It looks prima facie, more than just a co-incidence that both the Vedas and the New Testament describe the ‘Word’ (root of Mantra) as Brahman or God, ascibing the origin of the universe to it. It is stated in the Vedas as follows:

Prajapatir vai idam asit; Tasya vak dvitya asit; Vag vai paramam Brahma” (ref. Krishna Yajurveda, Kathaka Samhita, 12.5, 27.1; Jaiminiya Brahmana II, Samaveda, 2244)

[In the beginning was Prajapati (Brahma), with Whom was the Vak (Word), and the Vak is Brahman.]

In New Testatmant vide John 1.1 it is stated that “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God Himself.”

The striking similarity between the Vedas and the New Testament in regard to identity of the ‘Word’ with God cannot be missed except for a subtle difference. While the Vedas use Prajapati and ‘Paramam Brahma’ in two different contexts, Prajapati for the existence in the beginning and the ‘Word’ as Supreme God (the Ultimate Cause of creation), New Testament uses the expression ‘God’ in both the contexts. The distinction between Prajapati or Brahma (one of the Trinity, responsible for creation of the universe) and Brahman or Supreme God has been brought out in the Vedas, the Upanishadas and Bhagavad Gita extensively. While the former was a living existence, the latter was non-existence in phenomenal sense or beyond all phenomenal existence, and symbolically described as the word ‘OM’, the ultimate cause of the creation. It is said that Prajapati used ‘Word’ as the instrument for creation of the universe.

 

NADA YOGA

The sanskrit word nada meaning sound is derived from the root nad meaning flow. Read together, nada literally means flow of sound. Since nada vibrates in inner consciousness, it implies flow of consciousness. Nada yogis have identified four stages of manifestation of nada, viz. i) para or transcendental, ii) pashayanti or visible sound, iii) madhyama or in-between subtle and gross sound and iv) vaikhari or gross audible sound.

Para nada happens to be the subtlest nada, which is not audible nor perceptible by sense organs. The sound generated by para nada has a very high frequency of vibration which our ears cannot capture. It acquires stillness having gone to the maximum pitch. In the upanishadas para nada has been identified as the sound of ‘Om’.

Pashyanti nada is grosser than para nada, having less frequency, and yet it cannot be heard. It can, however, be visualized. When we hear a piece of music in our dream or even in awaken stage, losing sense of the outer world or sound, it is called pashyanti nada.

Madhyama nada has lower frequency than the preceding two nadas, but not yet audible. It is akin to whispering sound, producing very minute vibrations. It is called madhyama or middle sound as it is in-between gross audible sound and subtle inaudible sound.

Vaikhari nada is both audible and producible by friction of two objects.

According to nada yogis para nada or transcendental sound Om is the seed of the creativity, from which the universe has evolved as a projection of sound vibrations. The Sufis in India call it surat yoga while the Sikhs call it shabda yoga. According to nada yogis, five elements, ten indriyas, manas (mind), buddhi (intelelct), ahamkara (ego) and the three gunas have evolved out of the eternal sound Om or para nada. Nada yoga has been extensively dealt with in Nada Bindu Upanishada (contained in Rig Veda) and Hamsa Upanishada. Mantra and music are materialized form of nada. It is on record in the annals of contemporary authors that Tansen, the famous court-musician of Emperor Akbar, could make the rain happen even in drought by singing the Raga MEGH MALHAAR, and could lit the lamps by singing RAGA DEEPAK, thus suggesting a strong and intimate link between music and the nature.

Nada yogis, according to Swami Satyananda Saraswati, a well-known Kriya Yogi, classify human into following five categories: physical, pranic, mental, supra-mental, and finally the ananda or atmik. The first to the fifth category is a journey from the grossest to the subtlest nada. The yogis have broadly divided human consciousness into three parts, viz. annamaya and pranamaya kosha (bodies made up of food and life force), manomaya and vigyanamaya kosha (consciousness resting with mind, astral matter or cosmos), and finally anandamaya kosha (blissful state).

According to Nada Vindu Upanishada (part of Rig Veda) and also Hamsa Upanishada, nada sound is of ten types, depending on the spiritual level of the yogi. Those sounds are as follows: 1) Chini, 2) Cninchini, 3) bell-like sound, 4) conch-like sound, 5) lute-like sound, 6) cymbal-like sound, 7) flute-like sound, 8) drum-like sound, 9) Mridanga-like sound, and 10) thunder-like sound.

A yogi can access knowledge of hidden things when he hears sound of flute at the seventh level. At this level, he tends to lose his individual identity. The Yogic explanation of the irresistible attraction of the Gopis toward Krishna when he played his flute, as depicted in Bhagavat Mahapurana is as follows:

First the story from Bhagavat which reads as follows: “”Lord Krishna left his place at midnight and went into the jungle. It was the full moon night of the first month of winter. He began to play the flute. The echo of the flute spread in the calm and undisturbed atmosphere. Music rose from the jungle and was heard by the gopis (the village cowherd girls). When they heard the sound of the flute, they immediately left their houses and their husbands, forgetful of all that was taking place. They ran, without consideration, to the place from where the nada from the flute was emanating. They started dancing about the flute player. After some time, it so happened that each one found herself dancing individually with Krishna.”

The interpretation of the above story by nada yogis is that Krishna represents higher consciousness at seventh level wherefrom nada emanates as flute music. The senses and the indriyas renounce their respective acitivities and rush to the place from where the flute sound or the nada is emanating. There the senses dance around the nada, withdrawing completely from all outer objects. Thus in yogic parlance, a dharana (conception) has taken place as a precursor to dhyana (meditation). Significantly, each gopi felt that she danced with Krishna exclusively, which in real life could not have happened.

A more realistic interpretation of the above story would also suggest that the nada of flute music of Krishna struck the receptive inner chord of the gopis at the seventh level which drove them almost crazy and completely lost. To be more precise, the gopis heard the flute nada internally and not through their ears. Their state of withdrawal from the outer world is known in nada yoga as pratyahara (withdrawal).

When a nada yogi reaches the ninth level, the yogi’s Third Eye awakens, and at the tenth level, he attains para Brahman. At this level, the thunder-like nada comes from the sphere beyond anandamaya kosha, and individual consciousness merges with the cosmic consciousness. The yogi sees the whole universe in form of sound only.

 

NADA IN BUDDHISM

In a Mahayana sutra, known as the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, which is well known in the Chán (a Chinese word derived from sanskrit dhyana or meditation) school of Buddhism, Avalokitesvara is cited as saying that he attained enlightenment by concentrating on the subtle inner sound. The Buddha then praised his method as the supreme way. He called the transcendental sound of Avalokiteswara as the ‘pure Brahman sound’, describing it as the ‘subtle murmur of the sea tide setting inward’. Buddha pronounced that this mysterious sound would bring nirvana (liberation) and peace to all sentient but distressed beings who sought nirvana. He directed all his disciples and Ananda in particular to reverse their outward perception of hearing and to listen inwardly for the sublimely unified and intrinsic sound of mind in order to attain enlightenment.

 

OM – THE WORD THAT SYMBOLIZES BRAHMAN

Like in the human micro-cosm there cannot be a single wave in the mind stuff (chitta-vritti) unconditioned by name and form, cosmic macro-cosm cannot also be without name and form, as is explained by Swami Vivekananda (vide The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, vol 3, pp 56-57). There may, however, be serious challenge from physicists to the above proposition at the very threshold as to how macrocosm can conceive name and form, which smacks of cosmic mind or consciousness, which is highly improbable, if not impossible. The above objection is countered with simple logic as also yogic perception that lies beyond mundane logic. As for the logic, it is posited that since nothing comes out of nothing, our mind stuff or consciousness must necessarily have a source in macrocosm, as it cannot simply crop up from nothing. Therefore, it would stand to logic that there is cosmic mind or super-consciousness. As regards yogic perception, we will deal with it later.

Now reverting to the philosophical proposition of the Vedanta, as has been explained by Swami Vivekananda, In the evolved state of Brahman, Brahma (distinct from Brahman) or Hiranyagarbha (golden womb) or the Mahat (cosmic mind) is the name and the universe is the form. But the cause of both the name and the form in the macro-cosmic universe is the eternal, inexpressible Sphota (sound that bursts forth). And that Sphota is OM.

Swami Vivekananda is, therefore, inclined to call the word ‘OM’, ‘the mother of all names and forms’. One may argue that there may be various word-symbols for the same thought, and it is not necessary that the single word ‘OM’ is representative of the thought that is responsible for the manifestation of the world. The Swami’s reply to that objection is that “this ‘OM’ is the only possible symbol which covers the whole ground, and there is none other like it.” To substantiate his contention, Vivekananda explains that if all the distinctive features that distinguish one word from the others are removed, then what remains is OM. The three letters ‘A’, ‘U’ and ‘M’ at the root of OM is the generalized symbol of all possible sounds. The letter ‘A’ being the throat sound is the least differentiated sound. ‘M’ is the lip sound, and ‘U’ rolls forward the impulse which begins at the root of the tongue till it ends in the lips. Pronounced together properly, the OM covers ‘the whole phenomenon of sound production and no other word can do this’. Therefore, according to the Swami, OM was the fittest symbol of the Sphota (or Brahman).

Viewed from another angle, when a person pronounces ‘A’ (as in ‘bar’), he opens his mouth and brings forth the throat sound from the root of his tongue. This may be called macro-cosmic sound of creation. When he pronounces ‘U’ (as in coup), there is a funnelling effect taking his consiousness into subtler region of Gunas or attributes. ‘U’, therefore, represents micro-cosmic sound of creation. The last component ‘M’ ending with lips produces sounds like the drone of a bee with prolonged vibration.

 

OM & SUPER-STRING THEORY

We have briefly mentioned the Vedic propositon that the repeated sound-vibration of OM is the primordial mantra of creation of the macrocosm and the microcosm, which include the physical and the mental world. The super-string theory, even though it does not refer to OM as the cause of creation, appears to have a striking similarity with the above Vedic proposition. Here is a brief background and the essence of super-string theory.

Physicists in general were struggling to reconcile Albert einstein’s Theory of Relativity that deals with the macro-cosmic universe with the theory of Quantum Thermodynamics that deals with the micro-cosmic one. Einstein himself focussed during the later part of his life on the discovery of the Grand Unified Theory or the Theory of Everything, that would unify macrocosm with microcosm, but died without completing his mission. The super-string theory now appears to offer the much elusive unification. It suggests that at sub-atomic level incredibly small strings like those of a violin have been constantly vibrating and thereby creating sub-atomic particles, ever since Big Bang. This theory appears to provide a framework that may encompass all forces and all matters. According to this theory, the constantly vibrating loops of the strings have their varying patterns of vibration for different particles, just as strings on a violin or piano vibrate at resonant frequencies to create various musical notes. Though strings vibrate in different ways for different particles their patterns of vibration are not chaotic, but systematic. So far super-string theorists have conceptualized eleven dimensions of matter.

OM or AUM also, like strings, are believed to send sound waves through the medium of ether, which are transformed into energy. Now the question is whether the primordial sound OM, as perceived by Indian Yogis, can be called the cause or the effect of the Big Bang, as envisaged by physicists. Based on yogic experiences, OM has been held as synonymous with Brahman in the Vedas, the Upanishadas (refer first chapter of Chhandogya Upanishada, believed to be the oldest one) and in the Bhagavad Gita (refer verses 8.13 and 9.17). It is pertinent to refer to the personal experience of Swami Yogananda as recounted in his Autobiography of Yogi (refer chapter captioned ‘An Experience in Cosmic consciousness’). By a gentle touch on his chest by Sri Yukteswar, his spiritual master, writes Yogananda (then known as Mukunda), he experienced ‘the vibration of the Cosmic Motor in form of resounding AUM’. Since that vibrant sound of AUM has been experienced by yogis from time immemorial even to present time, it cannot be termed as either cause or effect of the Big Bang in mundane sense.

 

GAYATRI MANTRA – ITS REAL IMPLICATION

“Among poetic metres, I am Gayatri”, so said Krishna in verse 10.35 in Gita. Among all mantras in Vedic time, Gayatri undoubtedly was held in the highest esteem. The Atharva Veda states that Gayatri endows chanter with longevity, power, energy, fame, wealth and divine radiance. It is said that according to Yajnavalkya, when Gayatri was weighed in a balance with all the Vedas, the balance tilted in favour of Gayatri mantra. Was it because of its purported or deeper meaning or for the effect of the mantra on the body and mind of the chanter or on the environment as such? There has been considerable research on the real meaning and effect of Gayatri mantra. But before we dwell upon the meaning of Gayatri, let us first understand the essence and characteristics of a mantra in general in yogic parlance.

According to yogic interpretation, a mantra is a means of activating cosmic energy of the words (shabda) contained in it. It may have meaning, like in the case of Gayatri, or no meaning at all like in the case of some tantric mantras. By repeated chanting of the mantras, specific result-oriented vibrations are created, not chaotic or random, but pre-determined by the yogi who had explored it. The symbiotic relationship of a mantra with subliminal energy centre that is supposed to be awakened by it, is implicit or explicit, as the case may be, in the viniyoga (structural classification) of that mantra. All Vedic and Tantric mantras have distinct viniyogas, usually described in the scriptures of Agama and Niyama. Each mantra has following five components: 1) Rishi, 2) Chhanda, 3) Devata, 4) Bija and 5) Tatva. The first component names the Rishi who had discovered the mantra, while the second contains the rhythmic composition – a combination of swaras (musical accents), gati (amplitude) etc. Sonic wave forms of a mantra depend largely upon its syllables and the type of chhanda. The third component viz. Devata represents the deity or the targeted cosmic field that is aimed at by the yoga practitioner. This is known as sakara upasana (worship of God in form of deity) primarily with a view to concentrate mind on a form. Bija (the root) constitutes the fifth component of a mantra. It is the essence of the mantra as it contains the gist of it in coded form. It helps in activation of the latent power of the mantra. Finally tatva is the gist of the mantra.

We are given to understand that when some mantras were tested with the ultrasonometer developed by Dr. Fristlov, it triggered chemical reactions in varying degrees, some so fast that it made steady water churn violently. This corresponds to yogic conception of acquiring super natural power by using vital power of the fire, air or akasha element. It is believed that a mantra correctly pronounced has effect on five elements of the nature as also on the minds of individuals, targeted or otherwise within its periphery. The mantras like radar devices are capable of sending sound signals in the space and receiving the echoed sound back in a few micro seconds. It is thus believed that mantras properly and repeatedly chanted to invoke deities create vibrations that travel like waves of light to that particular deity and return to the chanter with the blessings sought for.

As for gayatri mantra, it is believed that when it is repeatedly chanted, it creates ring shaped sound waves which move up with the speed of light through ether toward the Sun and after touching its surface bounce back with the subtle power of the Sun to enter the subtle body of the chanter. It is important to note that our body being made up of 70 per cent water becomes an excellent conductor of sound vibrations, with its cells acting as sound resonators.

The shorter form of Gayatri mantra is as follows:

“OM Bhur, Bhuva, Swaha

OM Tat Savitur Varenyam

Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi

Dhiyo Yonaha Prachodayat”

[“We meditate on the glory of that Being who has produced this universe; may He enlighten our minds.” – Swami Vivekananda

“We meditate on the adorable glory of the radiant sun; may he inspire our intelligence.” – Dr. S. radhakrishnan]

We notice a difference in the interpretation of the gayatri mantra by Swami Vivekananda and Dr. S. Radhakrishnan in that while the former refers to the creator of the universe for the word Savitur, the latter accepts the literal meaning for savitur to denote Sun only. However, the strength of the Gayatri mantra is not in its meaning, but in the 24 syllables that being repeatedly and properly chanted are believed to produce strong vibrations that eventually rejuvenate extra sensory 24 energy centres (or Chakras) in the subtle body of the chanter.

The longer version of Gayatri mantra invokes the seven lokas (spheres), viz. “OM BHUR, OM BHUVAHA, OM SWAHA, OM MAHAHA, OM JANAHA, OM TAPAHA, OM SATYAM”, each spiritualy more advanced than the previous one.

It is pertinent to mention here that our emphasis on proper pronunciation of mantra for having the desired effect should not be misunderstood as suggesting that mantra chanted or muttered in silence has no effect. As a matter of fact Japa (muttering of mantra) is performed in silence only and the state of Ajapa (non-stop muttering of mantra) is considered as one of the highest states of pratyahara (withdrawal from the material world). As we have already explained, nada is inaudible vibration in our energy centers resulting from mantras, whether muttered in silence or chanted loudly. Likewise, mantra inscribed in a talisman or locket is also believed to be effective depending upon the occult power of the dispenser.

 

ABUSE OF MANTRA POWER

The link between mantra and occult power is widely believed not only in India but almost in every country. When such power is misused for selfish end, primarily to harm others for self-interest, it is called black magic or witchcraft.

From the epics, viz. Ramayana and Mahabharata, it can be seen that mostly the Asuras and demons with asuric vritti (destructive tendencies) were engaged in using their occult power acquired through mantra to fight the devas known for their sagacity and righteousness. To fight the asuras in self defence, the devas also used their occult power. Various non-conventional weapons described in the epics were invariably triggered by some specific mantra, for want of which those weapons were ineffective. For a medium for the purpose of activation of occult power, bow, arrow, trident, axe, and even blade of grass may have been used by devas, asuras and sages. Sage Nara, for instance, had used a blade of grass to activate his occult power to destroy the whole army of king Dambhodbhava who challenged him to a battle (refer speech of Parasurama in the court of Dhritarashtra, Udyoga Parva, Mahabharata). Likewise, Ashvathwama had used a blade of grass for activating Brahmashira weapon to kill the Pandavas (refer Souptika Parva, Mahabharata). Both Ramayana and Mahabharata mention several such unconventional weapons activated by mantra, with devastating effect. Karna was cursed by Parasurama for deception that he would not remember the mantras for activating his unconventional weapons while engaged in a life-threatening battle.

Same Parasurama described 8 unconventional weapons (with their properties), obtained by Arjuna from Indra, the king of the Devas, stating that if Arjuna used those weapons in the battle, Kauravas would not be able to counter the same (Incidentally Arjuna did not use any of those weapons as he was under oath not to use the same on humans except under serious threat to his life). Those weaons were named by Parasurama as follows:

Kakudika, Shuka, Naka, Akshisamtarjana, Santana, Nartana, Ghora and Ajyamodaka. The attributes of those mantra-triggered and mantra-protected weapons were described as follows: ‘Those who are hit by those weapons would confront inevitable death, or move around insane, or would become unconscious, or would be put into sleep, or jump around, or vomit, or urinate, or incessantly cry or laugh’ (refer Mahabharata, p.413, vol.4, translated by Bibek Debroy).

What is patently clear is that those weapons named above were not conventional man-made arrows or weapns. In the above given fact, there are following three possibilities. First, above said weapons were not real but fictitious. This would cast serious doubt on the integrity of Vedavyasa who wrote Mahabharata as history and not fiction. The second possibility is that those wepons were code-protected scientific invention by devas who were scientifically much more advanced than contemporary humans. And thirdly, those weapons were nothing but occult power which needed a medium such as a bow and arrow, and even the blade of a glass for application on material objects and subjects. Undoubtedly, there is scope for research into the real character of various unconventional mantra-protected weapons mentioned in Ramayana and Mahabharata.

We may mention here two more instances from Mahabharata, in one of which mantra power was used and in the other it was intended to be acquired. The first instance refers to the Yajna by king Drupada to facilitate killing of Drona in order to avenge his defeat against Drona’s young disciples and consequent loss of half of his kingdom to Drona. The yajna was conducted by sage Yaja who, according to his own brother sage Upayaja, was unscrupulous and prepared to do any unethical thing for material gain. The mantra chanted by sage Yaja with assistance from his brother sage led to the emergence of a young warrior from yajna fire, named Dhristadyumna, who was adopted by king Drupada as his son. Eventually said Dhristadyumna killed Drona.

The second instance where mantra or occult power was intended to be acquired was the anecdote of Jarasandha, king of Magadha, who imprisoned a number of kings with the intent to sacrifice them as soon as the number reached 100, in order to acquire occult power which would make him invincible. Jarasandha could not accomplish his mission as he was killed by Bhima in an one on one wrestling, contrived by Krishna.

It may be reiterated that those unconventional mantra-linked weapons were not man-made and were invariably linked to devas or mantra power of sages.

In course of time, mantra-generated occult power became accessible to commoners during post- Vedic period. Consequently, the mantra power was being widely misused by contemporary men to achieve their selfish ends. Cultivation and pursuit of Tantra cult became widespread. The blatant misuse of mantra power led to regimentation of caste system with a view to restrict the access to mantras to qualified Brahmins only who were expected to practice self-effacement and mendicancy and to refrain from misusing the occult power for material gains. Unfortuantely, once the fruit of super-natural occult power was tested by Brahmins, some of whom were highly materialistic, degeneration of the society could not be prevented. The caste system became strictly hereditary, and exploitation of weaker sections of the society became the order of the day. It was Buddha who revolted against such Brahminical exploitation and domination but in course of time, even a large number of Buddhists fell for the lure of occult or esoteric power and deviated from the spiritual goal of Nirvana. The above historic background is deemed as essential to drive home the point that mantra power has often detracted seekers of Truth from spiritual path. Therefore, it would not be correct to assume that mantra invariably has a divine goal to achieve, per se.

 

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Let us now address the posers made in the Introduction. Our first poser is: Granted that every word chanted or spoken causes vibration, does the vibration so caused by repeated chanting or muttering of a mantra achieve the result that may be called supernatural? Or, the so-called sound vibration generated by a mantra is merely incidental, not capable of creating any magical power or effects? Secondly, is there any scientific explanation for the power attributed to mantra?

Even though considerable researches are in progress to determine the effects of mantra, we are yet to reach any conclusive finding as to the causal connection of a mantra with its purported effects. Empirical evidence, however, strongly suggests that mantras have effects on human body and mind, and also help one in acquiring occult power as tantriks and kriya yogis have often demonstrated. However, scientific researches in the realm of consciousness are quite scant. Of late, consciousness has been receving some attention in neuro-biological and psychological fields. In view of the above, it would not be logical and fair to be dismissive about the empirical evidence on hand about the existence of occult power and its causal connection with mantras.

Our next poser is: is the meaning of a mantra relevant?

It is a fact that in Tantrik mantras, meaning is not relevant as the words known as Bija mantras appear to be meaningless. Some such Bija mantras meant to be repeatedly chanted are shrim, hrim, krim, hum, aim, krom, phat, klim, drim etc. But there are mantras with deep meaning. It is important that those meaningful mantras are chanted with clear understanding of its deeper meaning so that the mind gets absorbed in cosmic consciousness. As for symbolic sounds like tantrik mantras it is important to visualize the deity concerned with every Bija mantra.

As to the question whether the mantra chanted in silence is as effective as the one pronounced with proper intonation, the whole of nada yoga is about mantra in silence. Its efficacy has never been in doubt.

We now come to our last poser, viz. is mantra divine or God-neutral? It has been extensively covered in our discussion above under the sub-title ‘Abuse of Mantra Power’ to substantiate that all mantras are not necessarily divine. Some mantras are destructive in intent, content and effect, meant to harm targeted person(s) or people, while some others are beneficial to individuals and mankind in general. It is thus safe to conclude that mantras are God-neutral.

 

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MANTRA: RHYTHMIC WORD OF THE INFINITE

SPEAKER:  ASHOKE SENGUPTA

Mantra may be defined as a sacred utterance, numinous sound, or a syllable, word, phonemes, or a group of words, believed to have an occult, mystical or spiritual power on the body, life and mind of individuals and collectivities as well as on the world at large. A mantra may or may not have syntactic structure or commonly understood meaning; it may be a full verse, or some seed-sounds like the eternal syllable of the Veda (AUM or OM) or the bija used by the Tantriks (e.g. Hring, Shring, Aing, Hong, Jong, Hung, Phat, etc.) which are supposed to carry in them their symbolic significance and secret power.   These seed-sounds may be chanted either separately or in conjunction with verses as mantra, to have the intended effect.

Mantras are an essential part of all religions originating in India – Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. Mantra-like words or sound-formations are also found to be used in Taoism, Zoroastrianism as well as in the Abrahamic or other religions originating in West Asia and North Africa.

 

ETYMOLOGY AND ORIGIN

The Sanskrit word mantra consists of the root man (manas) signifying mind or thought-process and the suffix – tra meaning tools or instruments. As per this interpretation, mantra is an instrument of mind or thought. Another such interpretation (which does not strictly follow the etymological formula) by a saint, is that mantra came from man+tran (liberation) meaning that which liberates or purifies the mind.

The Chinese equivalent of the word mantra is zhenyan, literally meaning “true words”.   The Japanese on’yomi reading of this Chinese word is shingon, which is also used as the proper name for a prominent esoteric Japanese sect, called Shingon.

In India, the origin of mantra is often considered to be Veda. The verses of Rig Veda, for example, are termed mantras, which are thematically arranged and put under Mandalas and sub-divided in Suktas, with the name of the Rishis to whom these mantras are attributed, indicated in each Sukta. There are also mantras used in the Tantra, which some scholars consider to have a pre-Vedic origin.

Since when the mantras were being used in India? Nineteenth century Western scholars did not give more than 3 to 4 thousand years of antiquity to Vedas. But latest findings and conjectures arising from archeological, genetic, radiological research and interpolations of the positions of stars and planets referred to in ancient texts including Ramayana and Mahabharata, put Krishna’s life-time at 5000 + years, Rama’s life-time at 7,000 + years, which may mean Vedic period was around 8000 years ago or still further beck in time. And if Tantra is pre-Vedic, then origin of mantras would have been still earlier.

Some scholars like Staal think that mantras may be older than language. This points to the possibility that primitive men, who had not yet developed a language in the modern sense of the term, might have used sound-constructs which, they believed, had put them in touch with the powers of the invisible world. Origin of mantra is, therefore, the origin of man on the earth.

 

DEFINITION OF MANTRA

There is no universally accepted definition of mantra, and scholars have given their own interpretations. Renou has defined mantra as thought. According to Silburn, mantras are structured formulas of thoughts. Farquhar points out that mantras are a religious thought, prayer, sacred utterance but also believed to be a spell or weapon of supernatural power. Zimmer defines mantra as a verbal instrument to produce something in one’s mind. Bharati’s definition, particularly in the context of Tantra, views mantra as a combination of mixed genuine and quasi morphemes arranged in conventional patterns, based on codified esoteric traditions, passed on from a guru to a disciple through prescribed initiation. Jan Gonda defines mantra as general name for the verses, formulas of sequence of words in prose which contain praise, are believed to have religious, magical or spiritual efficiency, which are meditated upon, recited, muttered or sung in a ritual and which are collected in the methodically arranged ancient religious texts of India.

In fact, Indian yogis have always given supreme importance to mantras. For them, it is a cry of the soul that leaps in ecstasy and adoration at the vision of Truth. Sri Aurobindo reveals: “The Mantra, poetic expression of the deepest spiritual reality, is only possible when three highest intensities of poetic speech meet and become indissolubly one, a highest intensity of rhythmic movement, a highest intensity of interwoven verbal form and thought-substance, of style and a highest intensity of the soul’s vision of truth.”

Indian spiritual view of mantra is largely shaped by the Vedic Rishis who considered Veda mantras as apaurusheya, one that are not composed by any man. The seer only sees it (mantradrashta rishi), hears it in his inner being, which makes entire Veda as Shruti-shastra, as opposed to other humanly composed spiritual texts (smriti-shastra). Sri Aurobindo explains: “What the Vedic poets meant by the Mantra was an inspired and revealed seeing and visioned thinking, attended by a realisation, to use the ponderous but necessary modern word of some inmost truth of God and self and man and nature and cosmos and life and things and thought and experience and deed. It was a thinking that came on the wings of a great soul rhythm, chandas. For the seeing could not be separated from the hearing; it was one act. Nor could the living of the truths in oneself which we mean by realisation, be separated from either, for the presence of it in the soul and its possession of the mind must precede or accompany in the creator or human channel that expression of the inner sight and hearing which takes the shape of the luminous word.  The Mantra is born through the heart and shaped or massed by the thinking mind into a chariot of that godhead of the Eternal of whom the truth seen is a face or a form. And in the mind too of the fit outward hearer who listen to the word of the poet-seer, these three must come together, if our word is a real Mantra, the sight of the inmost truth must accompany the hearing, the possession of the inmost spirit of it by the mind and its coming home to the soul must accompany or follow immediately upon the rhythmic message of the Word and the mind’s sight of the Truth.”

 

THEORY OF MANTRA

 In fact, mantra was the very basis of ancient Indian culture, both in theory and practice. “The theory of the mantra is that it is a word of power born of the secret depths of our being where it has been brooded upon by a deeper consciousness than the mental, framed in the heart and not originally constructed by the intellect, held in the mind, again concentrated on by the waking mental consciousness and then thrown out silently or vocally – the silent word is perhaps held to be more potent than the spoken – precisely for the work of creation. The mantra can not only create new subjective states in ourselves, alter our physical being, reveal knowledge and faculties we did not before possess, can not only produce similar results in other minds than that of the user, but can produce vibrations in the mental and vital atmosphere which result in effects, in actions and even in the production of material forms on the physical plane.”

Are we looking at a science of mantra that we often overlook? “Even ordinarily, even daily and hourly we do produce by the word within us thought-vibrations, thought-forms which result in the corresponding vital and physical vibrations, act upon others, and end in the individual creation and of forms in the physical world. Man is constantly acting upon both by the silently and spoken word and he so acts and creates thought less directly and powerfully even in the rest of Nature. But because we remain engrossed with external forms and events and do not take the trouble of examining its subtle and nonphysical processes, we remain ignorant of all these field of science behind.”

Sri Aurobindo has pointed out that the Vedic use of mantra is only a conscious utilization of this secret power of the word. And if one takes the theory that underlies it along with another hypothesis of a creative vibration of sound behind every formation, one begins to understand the idea of original creative Word.

According to Indian tradition, this original creative Word is the srishtibak of Brahma, with which the universe was created. There are other old traditions, like the Old Testament, which speak of the creative Word: “Let there be light and there was light.” Sri Aurobindo says: “In the system of the Mystics, which has partially survived in the schools of Indian Yoga, the Word is power, the Word creates. For all creation is expression everything exists already in the secret abode of the infinite, guha hitam, and has only to be brought out hare in apparent form by the active consciousness. Certain schools of Vedic thought even suppose the worlds to have been created by the goddess Word (Vak Devi) and sound as first etheric vibration to have preceded formation. In the Veda itself there are passages which treat the poetic measures (Chanda) of the sacred Mantras, – anushtubh, trishtubh, gayatri, – as symbolic of the rhythms in which the universal movement of things is cast. By expansion then we create and men are even said to create the gods in themselves by the Mantra. Again, that which we have created in our consciousness by the Word, we can fix there by the Word to become part of ourselves and effective not only in our inner life but upon the outer physical world. By expression we form by affirmation we establish. As a power of expression the word is termed gih or vacas, as a power of affirmation, stoma…

In the Tantrik worship, mantras are considered to be its basic building blocks. A mantra has four koshas or sheaths. First, as a Word, it has a meaning; another more subtle form is its feeling; still more subtle is a deep intense and constant awareness or presence and the fourth, the most subtle level is the soundless sound, a state of ajapa-japa.

 

PRACTICE OF MANTRA: SOME ILLUSTRATIONS

In the Vedic tradition, aantras are to be chanted correctly, the correctness includes proper pronunciation of each word as well as adherence to the prescribed accents. There is a story about a king who performed yajna for protecting his kingdom from the enemy who had threatened to capture it. The Rik mantra chanted for the Yajna described Indra slaying the asura Vrittra with his thunder (vajra). In the mantra, reference to Indra was in the Udatta(acute) accent and that to Vrittra in Anudatta (grave) accent. The priest performing the Yajna chanted the mantra wrongly, putting reference to Vrittra in Udatta accent. This produced the opposite effect and in the ensuing war, the king was defeated and killed.

The question of correctness covers not only pronunciation and accent during chanting, but also choosing the correct mantras for the intended outcome. We may recall a historical event of the Mughal period when an inadvertent use of inappropriate mantras, had an unintended outcome. It is well known that the Vishwanath temple of Benaras was repeatedly destroyed by he invaders during the medieval period. During the realm of Emperor Akbar, Hindus had a more tolerant ruler. Some prominent Hindus in Akbar’s court, particularly Raja Todarmall, decided to construct a new magnificent Vishwanath temple at the holy city of Benaras. The priest, who was entrusted with the task of performing the puja to install the temple, was trying to muster the occult forces, through rituals and mantras, so that the temple lasts far many centuries. During the ceremony, the Chief priest was called to perform puja in another minor temple in the same premises. He left the ceremony at the main temple for a short while, asking one of his assistants to continue chanting. The young priest chanted some well known Upanishadic mantra like Pashyema Sharadah Shatam, Jivesme Sharadah Shatam, which are prayers for a man to live a healthy life for hundred years. But such a mantra was totally inappropriate for the foundation ceremony for the temple, which was intended to survive many centuries. It is a historical fact that one hundred years after establishing the grand temple, it was destroyed by Akbar’s great grandson, Aurangzeb!

Analyzing the theory of the mantra earlier in this paper, we have found that mantras can have great power on the internal mental and emotional state of human beings as well as on the external physical surroundings. The stories of miraculous powers of great yogis and Tantriks as well as those recorded in our epics – Ramayana and Mahabharata, would have to be considered in this background. Each of the devastating weapons used in the battle of Kurukshetra by great heroes on both sides – Arjuna, Karna, Bhisma, Drona, etc., was said to be powered and activated by a secret mantra. There are two instances in Mahabharata, which confirm that these weapons were mantra-based. In his final battle with Arjuna, Karna who had the bow and arrows with himself, could not throw a single potent weapon towards Arjuna since due to the curse of his guru, Parushuram, he forgot all the mantras necessary to activate such weapons. Again, towards the end of the Mahabharata episode, the great warrior Arjuna was seen helplessly watching the Yadava women, being escorted by him from Dwarka to Hastinapura, abducted by robbers. Arjuna could not throw a single potent weapon towards the decoits as he could not remember the mantras to activate the powerful weapons. It is said that Lord Krishna had departed from life by that time and that was why Arjun’s divine powers were also gone.

If we follow the narration in the epic, no great hero with miraculous powers appeared in the scene after Arjuna’s death. The traditional explanation is that with Lord Krishna’s demise, all that mantra-based miraculous powers were withdrawn   But stories of yogis and tantriks wielding miraculous powers, are also common place. Moreover, from the writings of highly credible scholars like Pandit Gopinath Kaviraj, one hears the accounts of secret ashramas in the Himalayas, of great yogis doing tapasya for centuries and practicing mystic sciences like Surya Vijnan and wielding extra-ordinary powers. It is said that these mystic/yogic systems they practice, are largely mantra-based.

Mantras can be effective not only in the life of individuals, but also for collectivities. Bandemataram is such a mantra that awoke the nation during the days of India’s freedom movement. The author, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhya wrote the song Bandemataram in Sanskrit and Bengali mixed in early 1870s. It was a part of his historical novel “Anandamath’, which portrayed the story of the revolt of a group of Sannyasis against the rule of British East India Company. Bandemataram was shown as their patriotic war cry. Beginning from anti-partition of Bengal movement of 1905, the mantra (Bandemataram) became the war cry of every patriotic Indian during the freedom movement. Sri Aurobindo then a nationalist leader wrote Bandemataram came as a mantra given to the nation. The Mother revealed herself to the people. It was a mantra of patriotism that awoke the entire nation. He termed Bankim Chandra as a seer who found this mantra in his vision (Mantra-drashta Rishi.) There are hardly any parallel in world history of the power Bandemataram exerted on the people of India.

 

PRACTICE OF MANTRA: THE PATH OF YOGA

Chanting or repetition of a mantra (mantra japa) is considered as an important means for God-realization and spiritual progress in most of the religions and system of yoga. There are millions of mantras available in various spiritual texts, shastras, and it is necessary to choose the right mantra/mantras that would assist the spiritual progress of an individual.

In many religious sects and yogic disciplines the selection of the right mantra for an individual is performed by a guru. There is a sacred and often a secret ritual of initiation of a disciple by the guru, called mantradiksha.

Commenting on the system, the Mother, Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual collaborator, said: “Basically, the guru’s real power is to fill up the gaps! To bring you into contact: when you are on the higher planes, to bring you into contact with the Highest. Or to bring you into contact with your soul, your psychic being within, or to bring you into contact with the Supreme – but that not many can do.”

She also points out that “a true mantra … is something that wails up from within. It must spring from within… spontaneously, like a profound, intense need of your being – then it has power, because it is not something that comes from outside, it is your very own cry.”

The Mother said that a mantra can provide great help in our day-to-day life, particularly when we are in difficulty if we ‘develop the habit, automatically at this moment, of calling as by a mantra .. that has an extraordinary effect.’ She said, one must farm the habit of repeating the mantra in moments when difficulties come. “If you form the habit, one day it will come to you spontaneously: when the difficulty comes, at the same time the mantra will come. Then you will see the results are wonderful.”

In the Indian religious system, a mantra may be used in four different ways.

  • Uchcharita (spoken loud)
  • Anirukta (not enunciated)
  • Upamsu (inaudible)
  • Manasa (not spoken, but recited in the mind),

There is, however, a fifth type of mantra, called ajapa that continues constantly in the inner recess of our being. Our external mind is generally unaware of it. While it is not clear whether every human being has a current of ajapa within himself, many people who have a spiritual bent of mind, reported hearing this mantra japa within themselves in rare moments of benediction or crisis and a few may have been aware of it frequently in their external consciousness. But ajapa is always an index of an awakened inner being unconnected with what we are externally aware of.

Upanishads prescribe triple steps to realize Atman (Brahman) – shravana (learning from shastras, sacred texts), manana (reflections on what are learned from these texts) and nididhyasana (meditation on Atman). The same triple paths are indicated in another manner in sage Yajnavalkya’s teaching to wife Maitrayi (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad) in reply to her expressed aspiration of how to attain immortality (amrita). He said ‘atma va are drashtavyah, shratavya, mantavya nidiyasitavyah’. “Ramanujacharya, the great exponent of Vishishtadvaita philosophy, while commenting on this triple path to self-realization or God-realization, said the culmination of these is nididhyasana, or constant focusing of one’s consciousness on the Divine – Atman, Brahman or God. He said the meditation should be incessant like the flow of oil, tailadhara vat!

Here we are facing a practical problem. While it may be possible for an ascetic doing tapasya in a cave to remain continuously in meditation (although he too would require to give time for sleeping, eating and answering to other calls of the body), this would be a tough call for a man of the world, who is required to take many worldly responsibilities, to keep his external mind focused only on the divine. The yogic systems have, however, found out a solution to this problem – taking the worldly duties with a different attitude. A song by the poet Ramprasad, an ardent devotee of goddess Kali, advise the sadhak to recite his mantra, given by the Guru, day and night, and take all activities, eating, sleeping, going round the city, conversing with people etc., as an offering to mother Kali. An intense practice of this kind would create a condition like nididhyasana even for a person, engaged in multi-fold worldly activities. And herein comes the role of ajapa, where pure waters of the mantra flows constantly like a river-stream gone under ground (antah salila), keeping the inner consciousness of the sadhaka focused on his divine goal.

There is, however, a Tantrik/ Siddha view of ajapa-japa, T.N. Ganapathy, renowned scholar of Siddha tradition, writes:

“According to the Tantras, mantra is an inexplicable mystery of sound. In the Tantric tradition shabda is not merely a process, taking one towards the Supreme Reality, it is itself divine. Shabda-Brahman the sound-form of the Supreme Reality. It is the aim of the yogin to be absorbed in this eternal, undifferentiated sound. By the process of breathing every jiva is doing a japa, that is, utterance of a mantra. The breath of every person in entering makes the sound sah and in coming out that of ham.  These sounds make so’ham (I am He).   Throughout day and night every living being performs this japa constantly but unconsciously. This called ajapa-japa.

 According to Ganapathy, the repetition of mantras is called purascarana in Tantric language. It means performing or carrying out before. Mantra plays an important part in arousing the kundalini. Kundalini power has two forms – the subtle luminous form and the subtle sound form. Mantra as a subtle sound-form helps in arousing the kundalini. This aspect of the Kundalini is accomplished by ‘subtle sounds’ which are ‘luminous’ and not accessible to the external senses. The yogin through Kundalini-Yoga must exert himself to obtain sounds as subtle as possible; and finally he will reach a state where he experiences no sound at all. This is the state of Para-Brahman or Parama Shiva. The Nada-bindu-upanishad speaks of the different sounds heard by a yogin during his yogic practices. There are actually four traditions of the mantras used and taught by the yogins. They are: Veda mantra, Purana mantra, Tantra mantra and Apta mantra (oral tradition).

There is a prevailing view that most of the mantras are ‘full of sound and fury signifying nothing.’ Of course, majority of the mantras are sequence of sounds which have no apparent meaning. Their meaning is unintelligible to the uninitiated. These mystical syllables have the unique capacity to maintain the religious life of a man and the tradition to which he belongs. They stand as support for concentration. For the yogin also the so called unmeant syllables have a message. In the Tamil Siddha tradition the unmeaningness of the syllables is their real message and the real meaning. By negating all possible meanings to the mantra, the yogin realizes the real, transcendental meaning that Reality is ‘beyond the beyond’ and that it is vettaveli, verum-pai, shunya and indescribable.”

 

NOTES ON SOME WELL-KNOWN MANTRAS

Pranav Mantra

Pranav Mantra, the mono syllable word OM or AUM is the most important mantra coming out of Veda. It represents all of Brahman – what is manifest as well as whatever is in the unmanifest. Sri Aurobindo wrote:

“OM is the imperishable Word. OM is the Universe, and this is the exposition of OM. The past, the present and the future, all that was, all that is, all that will be, is OM. Likewise all else that may exist beyond the bound of Time, that too is OM.”

OM is sometimes used alone for mantra japa. Otherwise it mostly is prefixed or occasionally suffixed in most of the Vedic and Tantric mantras. Otherwise it is mostly prefixed or occasionally suffixed in most of the Vedic and Tantric mantras.

 

Gayatri Mantra

 Another famous mantra in the Vedic system, attributed to Rishi Vishwamitra. It is the mantra for bringing the light of Truth into all the planes of the being. The power of Gayatri is the Light of the Divine Truth. It is a mantra of Knowledge.

The mantra is written in Gayatri Chanda, which has 24 syllables. The Rig Vedic form of the Mantra is

Om Tat Savitur Varenyam bhargo devasya dhimahi

dhiyo yo nah prachodayat.

 This has 24 syllables, as per rules of Chanda. But there is another version of Gayatri found in Yajur Veda and used for conducting a Yajna:

 Om Bhur BhuvaSwah tat Savitur varenyam bhargo devasya dhimahi dhiyo yo nah prachodayat.

This yajurvedic version of Gayatri is more well-known. Evidently, it has more than 24 syllables.

 

Mahamrityunjaya Mantra

 Attributed to Rishi Vasishtha, this Rik mantra prays for attainment of immortality. Although the immortality aspire for in this sastra is the immortality of the inner being, of atman, it is said the mantra can save the life of a person, which is threatened by an accident or a disease or a grievous hurt if the person is yet to reach the ripe old age of 100.

Pavamana Mantra

 This is from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. It portrays men’s eternal aspiration for ascent to a realm of Truth, Light and Immortality.

Asatoma sadgamaya, tamosama jyotirgamaya,

Mrityorma amritam gamaya

 Lead me from unreal to real, from darkness to light, from death to immortality.

 

Shanti mantra

 This is from Taittiriya Upanishad.

Om Sahana vavatu

Sahanau bhunaktu

Sahaviryam karvavahai

Tajasvi navadhitamastu

Ma vidvisavahai

Om Shantih, Shantih, Shantihi.

 

Tantrik Mantras

 The Tantrik Mantras use the seed (bija) sounds, like hring, shring, kling, aing, hung, hang, jang, phat, etc. These words may not have a normal dictionary meaning, but in Tantrik philosophy each one of the bija represents a deity or express one aspect of the divinity. These bijas may be used separately or in conjunction with other words. A typical Tantrik mantra, a hymn to goddess Chamunda, is given below:

Om aing hring shring kling

Chamundai namo vichche

 What are the origin of Tantrik Bijas? Some say, the tantrik monosyllabic mantras or sounds called bijas are found in the Vedas. The use of phat was mentioned in Rig Veda and is clearly found in Vajasaneyi Samhita. The Taittiriya Aranyaka (4.27) distinctly mentions chanting consisting of the sounds Khat, Phat and Kat. Again the Chandogya Upanishad (1.1) and Ashvalayana Shrauta-Sutra (1.1) explicitly refer to hinkaropasana and aunkaropasana.    

 

The simple mantra – MA

 The common word MA meaning mother is also used as a mantra in sadhana. Here is an etymological explanation as to why it is effective as a mantra. It has been stated in the scriptures that the Sanskrit letter M is the bija (seed-syllable) for Chandra, the moon. Chandra contains amrita, divine nectar, and is cooling and peaceful; it is the embodiment of bliss. When the sadhaka repeats this seed-syllable, peace, bliss and devotion become established in his mind, vital and body. Then the hostile forces, which create obstacles in his life and are the cause of depression, greed, attachment, lust and anger, cannot easily become active. Consequently the sadhaka obtains encouragement and happiness and takes interest in his sadhana. The obstacles become less and, as his mind, vital and body become purified, the Divine Power descends int them and starts the work of transformation.

By adding the Sanskrit letter A to the letter M, one gets the word MA. A is the seed-syllable for agni, the purifying spiritual fire. Because the letter A in the word MA is the seed-syllable for the purifying spiritual fire, the sadhak’s three types of karma, which are the results of his unfavourable past actions – sanchita (the results of actions from previous lives), kriyamana (the results of actions from this life) and prarabdha (the present destiny – will be burnt away by the japa of Ma.

 

 SECRET-SACRED MANTRAS: BOTH WHITE AND BLACK

 But all mantras are not in the public domain. There are said to be many mantras, some very sacred and beneficial, some dark and dangerous which are held as closely guarded secrets in hidden ashramas or in the dens of those dealing with black magic. There are said to be very powerful mantras, which can bring a paradigm shift in the way thins are in the world.

First the dangerous world of black magic, variously termed as jadu tona, tuk tak, etc. in India. The practitioners of this arts or science have supposedly powers to buy people under one’s control (vashikaran), cause harm to or even kill people (maran) and also various others obnoxious or undesirable things with their mantras. There are plenty of reasonably credible accounts of people about black magic. I met a sannyasin, who first hand witnessed a maran kriya (tantra act of killing by mantra in a Bengal village. Two village women, both engaged in dehusking of paddy with a large stone apparatus, called dhenki, were quarrelling with one another. When tempers rose, one of the women muttered a terse rhyme in rustic Bengali. Next moment, the large dhenki stone quivered and then moved at considerable speed to hit the other woman standing in opposite side of the road.

Then there are the powers of ashtasiddhi, which many yogis are said to have achieved. The first three of the eight siddhis are anima, laghima and garima. Anima is the power to disassemble ones body to atoms (anu) that makes one invisible and then to reassemble it again. Laghima is to make the body so light, that it can float in the air. Garima is to make one’s body huge and heavy like a hillock. Incidentally, these are the very powers the Bhima’s son Ghatotkatcha used in Kurukshetra war, creating panic in Kaurava army.

 Gopinath Kaviraj, the famous scholar and saint, noted that the Mahatmas or saints in the secret Himalayan Ashram (Jnanganj) practice Surya Vijnan which have miraculous powers like attaining a very long life, cure disease, carry heavy things over a distance etc. A book on Jnanganj, narrate one incident of a sadhu who was given a rose, but he converted it a small bird, by transferring the life-seed of rose to the birds. And these miraculous powers are mantra-based too.

The Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, who in her early youth was an adept in occultism, and roamed those occult realms in her subtle body, once received a Mantra of Life. This is the mantra by which one can give life and also take it, create life and also destroy it. Mother said, ‘This mantra was shut away, sealed, with my name on it in Sanskrit.” It is a different matter that she did not choose to use that mantra, but it shows that such mantras that can bring cataclysmic changes the the world, are always there.

I would like to end this paper with a poem by Sri Aurobindo which describes the supreme power of mantra on man’s spiritual pursuit:

“As when the mantra sinks in Yogi’s ear,

Its message enters stirring the blind brain

And keeps in the dim ignorant cells its sound;

The hearer understands a form of words

And, musing on the index thought it holds,

He strives to read it with the labouring mind,

But finds bright hints, not the embodied truth:

Then, falling silent in himself to know

He meets the deeper listening of his soul:

The Word repeats itself in rhythmic strains:

Thought, vision, feeling, sense, the body’s self

Are seized unutterably and he endures

An ecstasy and an immortal change;

He feels a Wideness and becomes a Power,

All knowledge rushes on him like a sea:

Transmuted by the white spiritual ray

He walks in naked heavens of joy and calm,

Sees the God-face and hears transcendent speech”

 

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VEDIC CONCEPT OF TIME & YUGA CYCLE

                                       (Interactive session on 16.9.2015)

Keynote address by Asish Kumar Raha

(Other participant speakers: Mr. Somnath Sarkar, Mr. Gautam Kanjilal, Mr. A.K.Sengupta, Mr. Paritosh Bandopadhyay, Dr. Kalyan Chakravarty & Dr. Suhas Majumdar)

Anchor: Mr. Ramesh Chandra Chanda

Opening Song: Mr. Basudeb Shandilya

 

 INTRODUCTION

 Can there be any unit of time without a timekeeper? To be more precise, how is it possible to measure, count, quantify or calculate time in hours, minutes or seconds without a watch, and when there was no watch, how the ancients were reckoning time in India during the Vedic period or thereafter? Yet the greatest puzzle for us is that the distinctive units of time were known to Vedic people not merely in terms of hours, days and nights, but in units that are fractions of a second, even smaller than milliseconds, as is evident from ancient texts like the Vedas and Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana. Is it merely speculative or imaginary to speak of division of time in such miniscule units, which even today beats a modern man except with the help of a highly sophisticated watch? But the point is that each such fractional unit was given a specific distinctive name for calculation of time when there is no evidence of a tool or mechanical equipment existing during the Vedic period or even much later. There ought to be a satisfactory answer to the above puzzle.

At the macro level, yuga cycle was envisaged in terms of several millions of years with two fundamental axioms. First, the four yugas viz. Satya, Treta, Dvapara and Kali, each lasting for specific time span of several thousand years, move on cyclically. Second, earth-time relatable to the sun and the moon is different from space-time. As for instance, the Vedic people made the equation as follows: 1 day in Deva Loka (realm of the gods) = 360 earth days. 1 day in Brahma Loka (12 hours period) = 1000 maha yugas (1 maha yuga = 4 yugas). The above equation smacks of the concept of relativity of time prevailing in Vedic India, which on the face of it would sound like an absurd proposition. A satisfactory explanation for this also is absolutely necessary.

 

COMPUTATION OF TIME – MODERN CONCEPT

 The scientific standard of time at micro level, on a scale of second – minute – hour, was based on the earth’s period of rotation until 1955. The computation of second was determined based on the above standard as 1/86,400 of the mean solar day. However, scientific researches revealed that the earth’s rate of rotation was irregular and was slowing down, which made it necessary for the International Astronomical Union to revise the definition of second as 1/31,556,925.9747 of the solar year in progress at the noon of December 31, 1899. The international Committee on Weights and Measures adopted the above standard in 1956. The high precision caesium-beam atomic clock, constructed in 1955, made it possible to measure time accurately by utilizing the frequency of a special line produced by the caesium-133 atom. The official definition of the measurement of the second in the International System of Units, available since 1967, was based on the duration of the radiation corresponding to the transition between two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium-133 atom.

Scientific researches in the current century have led to the construction of Quantum Clock to eliminate error. In the process minutest units of time have been scientifically established, known as femtosecond, which is to a second what a second is to about 31.71 million years and an attosecond, which is to a second what a second is to about 31.71 billion years. However, the accuracy of experimental quantum clocks has since been superseded by experimental optical lattice clocks (2013) containing about ten thousand atoms and not differing in time. The optical clock, made in the current year (2015) is expected to neither gain nor lose a second in more than 15 billion years.

 

COMPUTATION OF TIME – VEDIC CONCEPT

As against atomic calculation being the basis of modern computation of time, beginning middle of the 20th century, the Vedas and Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana refer to ‘Paramanu’ or sub-atomic level to determine the base unit of time.

In Discourse XI of Bhagavata Mahapurana (approx. 3070 BC, based on Hindu calculation of Kaliyuga commencing from 3102 BC), the sage maithreya describes units of time as follows:

“The measure of time which flits across the smallest particle of matter is called a Paramanu; while that which extends over the whole life-span of the universe is the longest measure of time.”

Bhagavata goes on from the level of Paramanu as follows. Two Paramanus make one Anu (atom), Three Anus make one Trasarenu, three Trasarenus make a Truti, hundred Trutis make a Vedha, three Vedhas make a Lava, three Lavas make a Nimesha (the twinkling of an eye), three Nimeshas make a Ksana (moment), five Ksanas make a Kastha, fifteen Kasthas make a Laghu, fifteen Laghus make a Nadika, a couple of Nadika make a Muhurta, six or seven Nadikas (depending on the length of day or night) make a Prahara (one quarter of a day or night). A day comprises four Yamas (six hours period), fifteen days constitute a fortnight, bright and dark alternately, two months make a Ritu, six months constitute an Ayana, known southerly and northerly by turn, following the course of the sun, and two Ayanas constitute a day and night of the gods. The year on earth is variously known as Samvatsara, Parivatsara, Idavatsara, Anuvatsara and Vatsara, calculated on the basis of the revolution of the sun, the Jupiter and the moon.

The equation of Vedic time vis-à-vis modern time units at micro level is given below in tabular form.

1 paramanu 60,750th of a second
1 truţi = 29.6296 microseconds
1 tatpara = 2.96296 milliseconds
1 nimesha = 88.889 milliseconds
45 nimesha = 1 prāņa 4 seconds
6 prāņa = 1 vinādī 24 seconds
60 vinādīs = 1 nadī 24 minutes
60 nādīs = 1 ahorātra

 

TIME ACCORDING TO SURYA SIDDHANTA & VEDIC ASTRONOMY

SURYA SIDDHANTA of Hindu tradition contends that the time is born out of Sun. The time, according to this tradition, starts from Nimesha (twinkling of an eye), while Truti is referred to as a quarter of the time of falling of an eyelid. The computation of time, according to Surya Siddhanta, is given below in tabular form.

 

100 truti (atoms) = 1 tatpara (speck)
30 tatpara (specks) = 1 nimesha (twinkling)
18 nimesha (twinklings) = 1 kashtha (bit)
30 kashtha (bits) = 1 kala (~minute)
30 kala (minutes) = 1 ghatika (~half-hour)
2 ghatika (half hour) = 1 kshana/muhūrta (~hour)
30 kshana/muhūrta (hour) = 1 ahorātra (~day).

According to Vedic astronomical texts, units of time can be broadly divided into two categories; (i) mūrttakālah (manifested time) meaning the units that are manifested by the nature and (ii) amūrtakālah (unmanifested time) meaning the units that are created by man. To be precise, ahorātra, prāņa & nimeşa are mūrttakālah and the rest are amūrttakālah.

 

VEDIC HORA INTO ENGLISH HOUR & VEDIC NAMES OF WEEK DAYS

The famous Hindu astronomer Varaha Mihira divided a day and night into 24 Horas. It is generally believed that from this Hora system the modern world has adopted the system of 24 hours a day. Etymologically, it is quite possible that from Sanskrit Hora came Greek Ora (ωρα), Latin Hora and English Hour. According to one school, the names of the seven days in a week have been derived from the Hora system, while it is predominantly believed that the names of the days in a week have come from Vedic astronomy, which assumed a lord for first Ghatika (half an hour) of the day. Vedic names with corresponding modern names of the dayare given below in tabular form.

surya sunday
soma monday
mangala tuesday
budha wednesday
guru thursday
shukra friday
shani saturday
rahu & ketu eclipse

According to the Vedic system, the sun or Ravi, being the most powerful among the planets, has been honoured to be the lord of first ghaţika of the first day of the week. Hence it is named Ravivāra or Sunday. Vedic astronomers divided a day and night into 60 ghaţikas or 60 daņdas, which were later reduced into 24 Horas. That the names of the days owe their origin to Vedic astronomy is further evident from a verse (1/296) of Yājňavalkya Samhitā (approximately 3150 BC), wherein the names of the planets are given exactly in the order of present weekdays.

 

MOON THE BASIS OF FORTNIGHT & MONTH

While the larger Units of time like fortnight, month and year in modern age are based on solar system, during the Vedic period moon or the lunar system was the basis for those units. The words “aruņo māsakŗvikah’’ in Rig Veda have been interpreted by Āchārya Yāska in his commentary as follows: “aruņo arocano māsakŗņmāsānām cārddhamāsānām ca kartā bhavati” or “the moon is the creator of months and fortnights”. The moon is called chandramas in sanskrit and the word māsa is a derivative from the syllable ‘mas’ of chandramas. It is thus established that during the people during the Vedic period counted months and fortnights according to the phases of the moon, since it was quite tedious to calculate the duration of a solar month but much easier to calculate lunar month based on visual observation. The concept of solar months came into being much later.

 

CONCEPT OF SAMVATSARA & CYCLE OF SIXTY YEARS

Samvatsara means ‘year’ in Sanskrit. According to Hindu tradition, there are sixty Samvatsaras, which rotate in cyclical order. These sixty Samvatsaras are divided into three groups of 20 Samvatsaras each, the first 20 being attributed to Brahma, the next 20 to Vishnu & the last 20 to Shiva.

 

CONCEPT OF YUGA & YUGA CYCLEPOPULAR BELIEF

The Sanskrit term yuga has been derived from yoga and yoga from samyoga, or conjunction (of heavenly bodies). So yuga implies conjunction of the heavenly bodies in the cosmos. Hindu astronomy speaks of the yugas and the mahayugas that last for five to several thousand and even millions of years. Let us concentrate here on the well-known four yugas, namely Satya (Krita), Treta, Dvapara and Kali. The mahayuga, also known as chaturyuga (four yugas combined), comprising all four yugas rotate in cyclical order in the ratio of 4:3:2:1. To be precise, the length of Satya, Treta, Dvapara and Kali yugas is in years 4800, 3600, 2400 and 1200. There is controversy as to whether those years are Deva years or earth years and we must address this controversy.

It is popularly believed that the duration of the yugas is in terms of Deva years and not earth years. Therefore, the term of each yuga is to be multiplied by 360. When so done, the duration of the yugas in terms of earth years will work out as follows:

 

yuga human years ratio
krita-yuga 17,28,000 years 4
treta-yuga 12,96,000 years 3
dvapara-yuga 8,64,000 years 2
kali-yuga 4,32,000 years 1

 

1 chatur yuga (mahayuga) 43,20,000 human years

As we progress from Satya through Treta and Dvapara to kali yuga, there is a decline of man in all respects, physical, mental, moral, spiritual and intellectual. Accordingly, Satya yuga is known as the golden age, Treta yuga as the silver age, Dvara as the bronze age and Kali yuga as the iron age. As the Mahayuga moves on cyclically in descending and ascending order, from kali we progress upward in ascending order through Dvapara and Treta to satya yuga. While in ascending order man goes on excelling in all respects till he reaches the pinnacle of development in Satya yuga. This cyclical process goes on ad infinitum.

One thousand Mahayuga period is called Kalpa, or a day of Brahma, the creator of the universe. Another one thousand mahayugas constitutes Brahma’s one night. Thus a cosmic day and night of Brahma comprises two thousand Mahayugas or two Kalpas. It is said that 71 cycles of Mahayugas constitute one Manvantara, at the end of which there is massive devastation and also further creation. We are believed to be in the 7th Manvantara (named Vaivasvata after the name of Manu of this cycle), and 7 more Manvantaras will be coming in order to complete one day of Brahma. Each Manvantara has been named after the Manu being the first ruler of each Manvantara, beginning with Svaayambhuva Manu (son of the self-born) and ending with Indra-Saavarni Manu (son of Indra).

Each of the Devas and Brahma have been assigned hundred years of age in their respective domain in the given ratio of 1 day and night of Brahma = 2000 Mahayugas, and 1 day of the Devas = 360 days on earth. Brahma’s life span is known as Mahakalpa, at the end of which, all the universes are completely destroyed. In the next cycle, another Brahma comes into being and thus the cycle goes on at all levels, both micro and macro.

Are we in 5117th solar year of Kali yuga?

According to Surya Siddhanta, the current Kali yuga began at midnight of 18th February in 3102 BC in Julian Calendar. In the current year of 2015, we are in the 5117th solar year, according to Kaliyuga calendar. At the grossest macro level, it is believed that the current Brahma is in his 51st year of age. Considering that his one day and night is equal to 2000 Mahayugas, each Mahayuga comprising 43,20,000 earth years, according to popular belief, it would surely be mind-boggling to calculate how many earth years have elapsed since Brahma in the current cycle of Mahakalpa was born.

 

ALTERNATE VIEW ON YUGA – KALI YUGA HAS ELAPSED

Alternate view on the calculation of yuga and yuga cycle is based entirely on Manu Samhita without treating the duration of the yuga and yuga cycle in terms of Deva year, which is 360 times of earth year. According to Manu Samhita, the duration of yuga proper for Satya, Treta, Dvapara and Kali are 4000, 3000, 2000 and 1000 years respectively and each yuga proper is preceded by one-tenth and succeeded by another one-tenth of its above respective duration as transition time, thus working out to 4000+400+400 (4800) for Satya, 3000+300+300 (3600) for Treta, 2000+200+200 (2400) for Dvapara and 1000+100+100 (1200) for Kali.

Going by the above calculation, and given the accepted date of Kali yuga of current descending cycle beginning 3102 BC, Kali yuga is supposed to have elapsed long ago, even after combining it with Kali yuga of ascending cycle. To be more precise, if we add 1200 years of descending Kali with another 1200 years of ascending Kali, with effect from 3102 BC, the combined Kali yuga even then elapsed in 702 BC.

 

Are we in 317th or 117th year of Treta?

According to scholars and astronomers, it was a mistake committed sometime in the fifth century AD to treat the prevailing century as Kaliyuga by treating the period of 1200 years of Kaliyuga (which commenced from 3102 BC) as Deva years and arriving at an absurd figure of 4,32,000 earth years by way of multiplying 1200 years by 360. In case Kaliyuga indeed commenced from 3102 BC, as stated in Mahabharata and accepted by Surya Siddhanta, it ought to have ended long ago going by its normal span of 1200 years in descending cycle, combined with another 1200 years of ascending cycle (totaling 2400 years), as has been pointed out above. Going by this calculation, Dvapara is supposed to have already begun in 702 BC and having lasted for 2400 years, have ended in 1698 AD. Accordingly, we are now supposed to be in the 317th year of Treta yuga.

In case 3102 BC is taken as the end of Dvapara proper and the beginning of Dwapara transition time of 200 years before the advent of 100 year transition time of Kali yuga in 2902 BC, we should now be in 117th year of Treta yuga.

 

Are we in 315th year of Dvapara?

In The Holy Science, written in 1894 by Swami Sri Yukteswar (spiritual master of Swami Yogananda, the author of Autobiography of a Yogi), an entirely different conclusion based on astronomical data and mathematical calculation has been reached. According to his calculation, descending Treta and Dvapara yuga started from 6701 BC and 3101 BC respectively. In 701 BC, descending Kali yuga of 1200 years began, and 499 AD marks the beginning of ascending Kali yuga of 1200 years, which ended in 1699 AD, whereupon ascending Dwapara has begun. Accordingly, we are now in 315th year of Dvapara yuga (in 2015). Thus it will be seen that Sri Yukteswar differs from the traditional date of 18th February, 3102 BC, as the beginning of the descending Kali yuga.

It is, however, doubtful whether the traditional date of February 18, 3102 BC, as the beginning of the descending Kali yuga can be dismissed notwithstanding a clear mention in Mahabharata that the Kali entered the arena of time with the death of Sri Krishna, which is believed to have happened on the aforesaid date.

 

UNRAVELLING MYSTERY OF CYCLICAL UPS & DOWNS

While Manu Samhita and several other Puranic texts describe Satya yuga as the golden age and the Kali as the period of extreme degeneration, logical explanation for such cliché is often lacking. Sri Yukteswar, however, made an attempt to explain the above phenomenon from astronomical perspective in his book ‘The Holy Science’.

According to Sri Yukteswar, the sun revolves around another sun or its dual, along with its planets and their moons, taking 24000 earth years to complete one revolution. The sun and its dual also revolve around a Grand Centre called Vishnu Nabhi (the navel of Vishnu), situated at the centre of the universe, which happens to be the seat of Brahma and also the source of universal magnetism. During its rotation, when sun with its planets comes closest to Vishnu Nabhi, the intellect of the man gets fully developed so as to comprehend the mysteries of the nature and the spirit. When the sun gets farthest from Vishnu Nabhi, degeneration of intellect and morality gets at the lowest. In-between, Treta and Dwapara yugas witness either descending or ascending degree of human intellect and morality, as the case may be.

From the above it is deduced, when  the sun gets closest and farthest to the Grand Centre or Vishnu Nabhi, while on rotation, it affects the earth. When it gets closest, the intellect and virtue of the man reaches the highest point of development, and when it gets farthest, the same get to the lowest point. At its highest point, the man comprehends the attributes of Divine Magnetism and unravels the mystery of the universe and life. According to Sri Yukteswar, in ascending Treta yuga, the man will be able to comprehend Divine Magnetism which is a higher discovery than electro-magnetism. At its lowest point, the man loses much of his intellectual faculty, and cannot grasp anything beyond the gross material world.

 

DECIMAL & ZERO IN CALCULATION OF TIME

Calculation of time and yugas without the aid of decimal and the number zero was clearly not feasible, particularly for calculation of astronomical numbers involving determination of Brahma’s day (Kalpa) or longevity (Mahakalpa), and also for inventing sub-atomic time units. It is no wonder that India is credited with the invention of decimal as also zero (both as a number and a symbol).

The earliest documentary evidence of the use of decimal system in India is available from a Jain astronomical work, viz. Lokavibhaga (parts of the universe), written on 28th August, 458 AD (Julian calendar). Mathematician Aryabhatta, however, is credited with the invention of modern decimal-based value system in 498 CE, when he stated “Sthanam sthanam dasa gunam” or “place to place is ten times in value”. We have a record of this value place assignment in a donation charter of Dadda III of Sankheda in Bharukachcha region in 594 CE, and a recorded inscription of decimal digits, and also number ‘0’ at the Chaturbhuja temple at Gwalior, dated 876 CE. In the latter inscription, number ‘0’ was used in ‘50’ and ‘270’ to describe the number of garlands. It is also evident that Sanskrit numerals including zero with a base 10 system were well known during the Gupta period (c.320-540 CE), when Egypt, Greece or Rome did not have a place value number system. The Mayans, who were well known for their mathematical talent in astronomical calculation, as also Babylonians found zero as the symbol and not as the number. China invented place value without zero as the number, till a Buddhist astronomer from India showed them in 718 CE how zero could be used as a number.

Incidentally, it is believed that zero was conceptualized first by Indian philosophers as a symbol to represent ‘nothing’ or complete void, as ‘Shunya’ or ‘Purna’. Later, the mathematical value of zero as a number was invented. It was Brahmagupta who was perhaps the first mathematician to write down the rules for the use of zero, as also negative numbers and the algebraic rules, in 628 CE in his book ‘Brahmasphutha Siddhanta’ (The opening of the Universe).

It is by now well known how the knowledge of zero as a number in mathematics travelled from India to the Arab world and thereafter to Europe. Interestingly, the use of zero and decimal was initially viewed with extreme suspicion in Europe, deeming the decimal arithmetic as dabbling in occult, which was potentially punishable with death.

It is, however, an admitted fact that Indian astronomy and mathematics were far older than the written evidence of the use of decimal and zero, as stated above.

 

RELATIVITY OF TIME – WAS IT KNOWN TO VEDIC PEOPLE?

In Book nine, Discourse 3, verses 29-36 of Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana, the following interesting anecdote of space travel has been recounted.

Kakudmi, son of Revata and the king of Anarta (modern Gujarat) with capital at Kushasthali (known as Dwaraka in Krishna’s time), could not find a suitable match for his beautiful daughter Revati. He short-listed names of prospective groom, and travelled with his daughter to Brahmaloka (the place of Brahma) to ask the Grandsire as to who among them would be the ideal match for his daughter. On his arrival he found that Brahma was busy listening to musical performance of the gandharvas. He, therefore, waited till the music session got over. After the performance was over, he bowed to Brahma and requested him to advise him about the most suitable groom for his daughter on the earth. Brahma burst into laughter, saying that during the time he was patiently waiting with his daughter for the music to get over, 27 Mahayugas on earth rolled by, and not only her prospective suitors, but also his kingdom and all his progenies had disappeared. By the time he would get back to the earth, it would near the end of Dvapara, and her suitable match would be Balarama, to whom Revati should be married. Bhagavata says that on return to earth Kakudmi truly found that nothing relating to his time survived. He came across Balarama and Krishna and married his daughter to Balarama. We find the same story in Mahabharata and in some Puranas as well.

What is striking in the above narrative is not the story as such, but the fact that it was known to the people in ancient time that there was a difference between space time vis-à-vis earth time, and that the time-difference depended upon the distance from the earth. As for instance, the equation between deva’s time and earth time was 1 day : 360 days, while the equation between Brahma’s time vis-à-vis earth time was 1 day: 1000 Mahayugas (1,20,00,000 years). If 27 Mahayugas passed by when king Kakudmi was waiting in the court of Brahma during the performance of the Gandharvas, it only meant that 3,24,000 earth years rolled by, which was equal to just about 19.5 minutes of Brahma. It is patently clear that Kakudmi himself was not aware of the time difference between Brahmaloka and the earth. How he performed the space travel is also not explained in the Bhagavata or Mahabharata. Thus it is reasonable to doubt the above episode of space travel. However, all contemporary literature including Mahabharata mention that Balarama indeed married Revati, daughter of Kakudmi, from a different yuga cycle. We find it difficult to reconcile the fact of the said marriage to the fiction of space travel. Even if we dismiss the space travel of Kakudmi and Revati as figment of imagination, we cannot surely rule out the knowledge of the ancients about the relativity of time on earth and space.

That the ancients had the knowledge of relativity of time gets further support from verse 8.17 of Gita where Krishna tells Arjuna that those who know that Brahma’s one day is equal to one thousand Mahayugas on earth and his one night is equal to another one thousand Mahayugas, are the true knowers of day and night. The above verse, no doubt, is a conclusive proof of the knowledge of relativity of time during the period of Mahabharata (4th millennium BC, going by Kali yuga calendar).

 

CONCLUDING REMARKS

In our introduction we raised a poser whether the miniscule time units that the Indians in Vedic period envisaged were merely speculative or imaginary. We also felt that there should be a satisfactory answer to the query whether ancient Indians were aware of the concept of relativity of time. Let us deal with the above two questions herein.

As to the first poser, we can reasonably refer to Vedic concept of murttakala, meaning the time manifested by nature, and amurttakala, meaning un-manifested time, essentially man-made. Vedic astronomical texts make it clear that barring ahoratra (one day and night of 24 hours), prana (time derived from heart beat) and nimesha (time derived from twinkling) all other time units are man-made. Obviously, Paramanu (sub-atomic unit) and anu (atomic unit), which are the minutest time units denoting 60,750th and 30,375th of a second respectively, fall in the category of man-made time units. Were these time units astronomically derived? Pertinently the question is, when the reference was made to anu and paramanu as time units, why such miniscule time units should not have been based on the vibration of those tiniest particles, like our latest quantum clock and optical clock timing are based on? When the ancients took the name of anu (atom) and paramanu (sub-atomic particle), there is no reason to think that those names were imaginary and speculative and had no bearing on reality. However, it is undeniable that during Vedic time there was no concept of watch or clock, even though it was known that a day (ahoratra) was made of 24 horas (hours), a week was made of seven days, a month was made of 30 days, and a samvatsara (year) was made of twelve months. One may say that it was primitive to calculate time with reference to twinkling or heartbeat, but in the absence of timekeeper, it was perhaps the best possible means to determine time. But we cannot reconcile this primitive method of time calculation to the concept of minutest time units called paramanu and anu. Did those minutest time units belong to the domain of astronomy or space time, where an anu or paramanu, a few light years away, may mean a sizeable time span on earth? We may leave this issue with a big question mark.

Let us now take up the second poser, viz. whether Vedic Indians knew the concept of relativity of time? Preponderance of probability based on the story of kakudmi and Revati in Bhagavata and Mahabharata, together with verse 8.17 of Gita and the Vedic time equation of Devaloka and Brahmaloka vis-a-vis earth would strongly suggest that the Vedic people were generally aware of relativity of earth time and space time. This awareness, however, does not suggest by any stretch of imagination that the story of space travel by Kakudmi and Revati is reliable. As a matter of fact, we find it inexplicable how kakudmi with his daughter Revati could have travelled to Brahmaloka, which must have been several light years away, given the time equation of 1 day :1000 mahayugas or 12,00,00,00 earth years. There is no mention of spacecraft as the means of transport. They could not have travelled with subtle bodies (one of the known yogic modes of travel) leaving their gross bodies behind, which would have surely perished by the time they returned. They could not have converted their gross bodies into light and travelled with the speed of light, which highly advanced yogis are believed to have been doing, inasmuch as it would have taken several light years to reach Brahmaloka. Given the time equation and the nature of query that Kakudmi had in mind, such travel to Brahmaloka would have been undertaken only if Kakudmi knew how to travel faster than light. In the light of Brahma’s statement that 27 Mahayugas rolled by when Kakudmi was waiting in Brahma’s court, Kakudmi may be reasonably taken as preceding Balarama’s era by approximately 1.5 lakh earth years. It is rather far fetched, if not absurd, to believe that the humans knew how to travel faster than light at that time or at any time, including the current age. However, it is not deniable that Mahabharata and Bhagavata state that Balarama married Revati, the daughter of king Kakudmi, from an earlier yuga cycle. Thus it will not be permissible to dismiss the marriage of Balarama and Revati as imaginary. This being the case, we find it difficult to reconcile the above fact of marriage of Balarama with Revati to Revati’s space travel with her father Kakudmi, about 1.5 lakh years before.

As is stated above, the veracity of the story of space travel by kakudmi and Revati (or lack of it) is not critical to our inference that the Vedic people were aware of the relativity of earth time vis-à-vis space-time.

 

 

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SRI KRISHNA – INSIGHT INTO HIS THOUGHTS & ACTIONS

                                           (Interactive session on 17.6.2015)

Keynote address by Asish Kumar Raha

(Other participant speakers: Mr. A.K. Sengupta, Dr. Kalyan Chakravarty and Mr                                                                                 Asim Banerjee)

Anchor: Dr. Ramesh Chandra Chanda

Opening Song: Mr. Basudeb Shandilya

Closing Song: Ms. Jayanti Dasgupta    

INTRODUCTION 

Among all the spiritual leaders of all times, none perhaps was as versatile and as dynamic as Sri Krishna. While spiritual leaders in general made a clear distinction between the spiritual and the mundane, Sri Krishna spiritualized the mundane with his irrefutable reasoning, essentially secular in character. One may nevertheless find it difficult to reconcile Sri Krishna’s deepest spiritual proclamation (in Srimad Bhagavad Gita) viz. immortality and unassailability of the soul, to his simultaneous encouragement to Arjuna to fight the bloodiest battle of contemporary time, where several lakhs of warriors were to lose their lives with a handful eventually surviving at the end.

Was his sermon to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra an Ode to spirituality or Ode to violence?

Vast majority of Hindu sages and commoners including philosophers and thinkers hold Sri Krishna and Srimad Bhagavat Gita in highest esteem. At the same time, contra views about him persisted since the days of Mahabharata. Therefore, the very first poser that one is required to address is how do we reconcile the apparent contradiction between philosophical texts of the Gita and its apparently provocative verses meant to inspire Arjuna to engage in a bloody battle with devastating consequences.

Sri Krishna in contemporary texts, viz. Mahabharata, Bhagavata Mahapurana, some Upanishadas, Hari Vamsha and some well known Puranas has been described as the Purna Avatar (of Vishnu) or God incarnate, who possessed cosmic consciousness. In the Bhagavad Gita, the cosmic consciousness of Sri Krishna is amply demonstrated when he spoke in first person as the Supreme Creator, Sustainer and the Destroyer of the universe. He also manifested his cosmic form to Arjuna (refer chapter eleven). The contemporary texts on the other hand are also replete with references to his seemingly amorous relationship with a number of women since his early childhood. According to those texts, the number of his principal spouses was eight, viz. Rukmini, Jambavati, Satyabhama, Kalindi, Mitravinda, Satya, Bhadra and Laksmana. He also symbolically married sixteen thousand Yadava women upon refusal of their husbands to take them back after he rescued them from captivity of a demon called Narakasura. In the above context, the second poser that confronts us is how Sri Krishna with his supreme wisdom and yogic equipoise could engage in amorous sport or relationship, which all other spiritual seekers scrupulously avoided.

Although the contemporary texts hail Sri Krishna as the ultimate founder, saviour and protector of the Dharma (righteousness), the narratives appear to suggest deceitful conduct on his part in the course of the Battle of Kurukshetra, when as the charioteer of Arjuna he became instrumental in the killing of Bhishma, Drona and Karna by flouting the well-set battle norms. What is the rational explanation for such deceit in a righteous battle?

Before we attempt to address the above three posers, let is first understand Sri Krishna in the light of his thoughts and actions as were depicted in the contemporary texts.

WHO WAS SRI KRISHNA

“Who is this Keshava (Sri Krishna)” was precisely the question asked by Yudhisthira to his Grandfather Bhishma after the battle of Kurukshetra was over (refer Shanti Parva, chapter 1528/200, Mahabharata).

Though flattened on the bed of arrows, Bhisma was in his full sense, waiting for the onset of Uttarayana (northward journey of the sun from Capricorn to Cancer, starting from January 14 up to July 16, and viewed as spiritually auspicious) for departing from this world.

It was not as if Yudhisthira did not know who Krishna was. As a matter of fact, if any person outside the dynasty was intimate to the Pandavas, it was Krishna, known also as Vaasudeva, Keshava, Hrishikesha, Pundarikaksha, Madhava, Madhusudana etc. Born on 18th July, 3228 B.C, (as per astrological data based on stellar position at the time of his birth as recorded in contemporary texts) Krishna was of the same age as Arjuna, the third Pandava (Krishna was younger by 8 days only), and the friendship between the two was legendary. It was also well known to him that Krishna was born of Vasudeva and Devaki of Yadava clan in a prison cell at Mathura as Kamsa, the tyrannical king for reason of a prophecy that the 8th son of his sister Devaki would kill him, had put the couple into the prison so that he could kill their offspring as soon as they were born. Yudhisthira was also well aware how Krishna was transferred to the custody of Nanda and Yashoda at Gokula to evade detection, brought up in Vraja Bhumi (Vrindavana) among cow herders when he demonstrated his miraculous power, and how he eventually killed Kamsa and thereby incurred the wrath of Jarasandha, the king of Magadha, who happened to be Kamsa’s father-in-law, and how Krishna became instrumental in getting Jarasandha eliminated in a wrestling bout with Bhima, the second Pandava. It was also known to Yudhisthira that Krishna was related to him as his mother Kunti was the sister of Vasudeva, father of Sri Krishna. Besides, Krishna was like friend, guide and philosopher to Yudhisthira in his days of glory and adversity. Finally, in the battle of Kurukshetra Krishna took the side of the Pandavas and, though widely known as invincible in battles, he volunteered to play a secondary role as the charioteer of his bosom friend Arjuna. Even in that role, he had ensured the victory of the Pandavas by his constant guidance and extra ordinary skill.

Despite knowing him so intimately, Yudhisthira still felt that he did not know the real Krishna yet. Hence this question to the Grand Shire of the Mahabharata, known to be the wisest Kshatriya of his time.

Bhishma’s reply was not simple. He elaborately described Sri Krishna as the incarnate of Vishnu (one of the Trinity, the other two being Brahma and Maheswara), and also as the Purusha or the first evolved form of Brahman. He cited as his source his Master Parashurama, the sage Narada, Vedavyasa (author of Mahabharata, Hari Vamsha and Bhagavata Mahapurana), sage Markandeya (believed to be immortal by the boon of Lord Shiva) and sages Asita and Devala, all highly respected contemporary persons known for their strict adherence to Truth. Bhishma concluded by saying that truth was Krishna’s real strength and that Pundarikaksha (Krishna) was inconceivable.

Bhishma’s above understanding of Krishna assumes significance when one considers that Krishna was not only his adversary but was also critical of his oath of loyalty to the throne of Hastinapur at any cost as perverse, as in the process he shackled himself to embrace untruth / falsehood by taking the side of Duryodhana, knowing fully well that truth was on the side of Yudhisthira as the rightful claimant of the throne.

In the end, Bhishma correctly read the signal of Krishna and decided to give up his life as he realized that his continuation in the battle would have made the victory of the truth extremely difficult, if not impossible.

There was no dearth of negative assessment of Sri Krishna in the Mahabharata. Duryodhana often referred to him as no more than a magician and was not impressed at all by his valour or prowess. King Jarasandha considered him as a petty operator who ran away from Mathura to Dwaraka out of his fear. Sisupala abused him as cowherd in the open court of Yudhisthira on the eve of Rajashuya Yajna, which eventually led to his death. Shakuni considered Krishna as a shrewd rival in diplomacy and politics. Ashvatthama considered him as beatable if only he could be dispossessed of his Sudarshana Chakra. Ashvatthama, in fact, offered him Brahmashira weapon in exchange for Sudarshan Chakra so that he could challenge him to a battle and defeat him too (Even while Krishna agreed to gift him the Chakra, Ashvatthama failed to lift it with all his might). None of the above characters, however, was respected for wisdom or sagacity. But the fact remains that even Arjuna for whom no sacrifice was considered enough by Krishna, admittedly failed to recognize who he actually was till he witnessed his cosmic form (ref. chapter 11, verses 41-42, Gita). And that too despite his awareness of the revelation made by all the great sages that Sri Krishna was self-evolved eternal being (ref. chapter 10, verses12-13, Gita).

Be that as it may, when we examine thoughts and actions of Krishna, we have to take into consideration all the contemporary views as available on record.

CHILD KRISHNA AGAINST IRRATIONAL CONVENTION

It was customary for the cowherds in the land of Vraja to worship Indra, the god of rain, at a particular time every year. When preparation for Indra worship was in progress, little Krishna asked his foster father Nanda as to why must they worship Indra and for what benefit.

Nanda explained that if Indra was pleased, he wiould favour the Vraja land with shower to the delight and benefit of all beings.

Krishna instantly questioned this age-old convention, saying that ‘the rain is a natural phenomenon and Indra has very little to contribute to it. Life of all beings is governed by Karma alone and not by Indra. Karma is our preceptor and almighty Lord. Indra is incapable of altering the course of actions performed by men according to their nature. Therefore, instead of worshipping Indra, let us worship cows, as cows have been our only means of subsistence. Let us also worship learned Brahmins who guide us on the correct path. Even the mountain Govardhana deserves our worship as it shelters us.’

The elders of the Vraja were already convinced of his divinity from several past instances. Therefore, they accepted his suggestion and worshipped the cow, the Brahmins and the mountain instead of Indra. This enraged Indra who unleashed torrential rain for seven days, non-stop. According to Bhagavata Mahapurana, Sri Krishna lifted and held the mountain by one hand so as to provide shelter to all cowherds till the remission of rain (refer Bhagavata Mahapurana, 10.24).

What is pertinent to ponder here is not whether a mountain could be lifted and held for seven days by a little child, but that the little Krishna had the courage to question irrational tradition of Indra worship by convincing logic and to set a new tradition of worship on the basis of substantive benefit to the society rather than illusory gain.

GOPI LOVE – A NEW VISTA TO SPIRITUAL HEIGHT

Sri Krishna’s amorous sport with the Gopis (cowherd maidens), more famously with Radha, known as Rasa Leela, has been subject of folklore and dance drama in all parts India. It is generally believed that the Gopis, most of them already married, were in deep love with Krishna who also responded to their love. What was the nature of their relationship, as is evident from contemporary texts such as Bhagavata Mahapurana?

At the outset, it may be mentioned that Bhagavata does not mention Sri Radha in particular. Therefore, the fabled love affair between Sri Radha and Sri Krishna may not have any strong foundation in contemporary texts, and in all probability Radha-Krishna love saga came into currency at a later period.

Secondly, Sri Krishna was only twelve when he left Vrindavana (Vraja Bhumi) for Mathura. Therefore, it would be quite logical to eliminate physical angle from the Gopis’ love toward much younger Krishna.

Thirdly and more importantly, sage Garga categorically told Nanda and his community elders that Sri Krishna was no ordinary child. He was Vishnu incarnate, born of Vasudeva and Devaki (not of Nanda and Yashoda) to deliver the world from oppression and ignorance. It was his divinity, extra ordinary mental and physical strength and mesmerizing flute-play that attracted the Gopis toward him. Their love toward him was clearly of the nature of absolute surrender to the Divine and opened a new vista to spiritual liberation, hitherto unknown.

Now the question is how Sri Krishna responded to the Gopis’ unique love. To understand the nature of Sri Krishna’s love toward the Gopis, we will rely upon two narratives, one from Bhagavata Mahapurana ( ref.10.32) and the other from Gopala Uttaratapaneeya Upanishada.

 KRISHNA LOVE – NARRATIVE FROM BHAGAVATA

Let us first refer to Bhagavata narrative. Once the Gopis told Krishna that some loved in return of love, while others loved unilaterally without any expectation of return love, while still others did not love at all. What according to Krishna was the ideal situation?

Krishna replied that love in return of love was not true love as it was actuated by self-interest. One-sided love without response may be compassionate love. As to the last category of persons who did not love even those who loved them let alone those who did not, they could be sages reveling in their own self or those who had realized their mission and were, therefore, free from all craving for enjoyment, or those who were dullards incapable of enjoyment, or ungrateful people inimical to their own benefactors. “I, O my dear friends, do not come under any of these categories, being supremely compassionate and friendly, even though I do not visibly reciprocate your love, and remain out of sight……I love all of you invisibly…….Let your services (love) to me be repaid by your own goodness.” The above narrative clearly establishes that true love does not go in vain and even the Divine responds to true selfless love, though invisibly. The last sentence in the above narrative is quite significant; implying that one who loves God should not expect any tangible return. Response of the Divinity is reflected in the glow of goodness in such lover.    

KRISHNA LOVE – UPANISHADIC ANECDOTE

After a nightlong amorous sport with Krishna, the Gopis asked him to whom they should offer first alms in the morning. ‘Let it be sage Durvasha who is camping on the other side of the river Yamuna and quite hungry’, suggested Krishna. As the Yamuna was in full spate in the monsoon, and no boat was in sight, the Gopis asked Krishna how they would cross the river. “Request Yamuna” said Krishna, “to make way for all of you to cross over, if it is true that Krishna is a Brahmachari (celibate)”. The Gopis wondered how Yamuna would respond to such atrocious lie. Nevertheless, they complied with Krishna’s advice and found to their surprise that Yamuna made way for them to cross over to the other side.

After serving sage Durvasha with milk, butter and sweetmeats, the Gopis requested the sage to help them cross the river, as not a single boat was available. The sage asked them how in the first place they crossed the river to reach him. The Gopis narrated the Krishna episode. The sage asked them to repeat the same exercise, requesting Yamuna this time to make way if it was true that Durvasha had not eaten anything. The Gopis were baffled by this apparent falsehood.

Understanding their confusion the sage explained to them that he in reality was not the body, but soul who was without action. It was his body that took the alms, not his soul. As for Krishna, the sage explained to the Gopis that whom they knew as Krishna was in fact all pervasive Soul, existing in all living beings. He was the sole existence before the creation. He was incomprehensible by our sense organs. One who had lost one’s self being engrossed in love with him would eventually become him. The duality would get lost in such love, the lover getting merged into the beloved. Krishna was that beloved Soul in whom lay the final destination of the Gopis. In that sense, Krishna was single, the eternal Brahmachari.    

SYMBOLIC MARRIAGE WITH SIXTEEN THOUSAND RESCUED WOMEN

According to the narratives from Bhagavata and Mahabharata, Sri Krishna rescued sixteen thousand captive Yadava women after killing demonic Narakasur, the ruler of Pragjyotishpur (now Assam). It is said that the husbands of those women refused to take them back following the Rama tradition, inasmuch as their chastity was taken as tainted in the custody of the demon. Answering the prayer of the deserted women, Krishna out of compassion as also his resolve to change the cruel and unfair tradition, married all those women symbolically on the same day so as to give them respectability together with security. By this unusual and unprecedented act, Sri Krishna proved once again that he had scant respect for irrational tradition. On the other hand, he had no hesitation to change the age-old tradition set by Sri Rama, making it mandatory for an abducted wife to pass the severe fire-test to prove her chastity. Krishna found this tradition barbaric, irrational and disrespectful to the women who had been forcefully abducted. Realizing that love and respect in a relationship cannot be revived by force or persuasion, he decided to marry all those women instead of compelling their husbands to take them back, so that they were given due respect as his wives and none could raise a finger against them in future.

TRUTH VS. TRUTH – CONFUSION OF BHISHMA AND DRONA “Nasti

Satyasamanam Tapaha” (Vedavyasa) or ‘there is no religion higher than Truth’ was the constant refrain of the sages and the enlightened souls during the time of Krishna. But there was enormous confusion among the wisest and the enlightened persons when it came to the question of distinguishing Truth from falsehood,

The case in point is the confusion of Bhishma and Dronacharya on the eve of the Battle of Kurukshetra. As for Bhishma, he had taken a vow to protect the kingdom of Hastinapur at all costs. For a Kshatriya like him, allegiance to truth meant staking of his life to keep his vow. However, he received a boon from his father that he would die only when he so wished. Therefore, the ground reality in his case was that if he lived on to fight for Duryodhana, none could dethrone the ruler of Hastinapur. Hence, in the battle of Kurukshetra, the victory of Yudhisthira was nearly impossible. But Bhishma was convinced that in the fraternal dispute for the throne, truth was on the side of Yudhisthira, not Duryodhana who stood all through his life for falsehood with tacit support from his blind father Dhritarashtra. Thus Bhishma faced the worst dilemma of his life, i.e. whether he should be truthful to his personal oath and side with Duryodhana who represented untruth or falsehood, or in pursuit of truth, he should side with Yudhisthira, ignoring his vow to protect the kingdom of Hastinapur. He also evaluated the third option of going into withdrawal mode, but rejected the same, as it would have been against the prevailing norms for a true Kshatriya. Eventually, even though he blessed Yudhisthir for victory, he stuck to his vow of fighting the battle for Duryodhana. In doing so, he gave priority to his Kshatriya dharma, which mandated him to stick to his vow and enjoy heaven after death or else to suffer in hell. He obviously opted for the former going against his conscience.

Dronacharya also confronted the same dilemma. Like Bhishma, he also eventually decided to side with Duryodhana despite his conviction that truth was on the side of Yudhisthira, whom he blessed for victory. Drona’s compulsion was that he was obligated to Duryodhana for his son Ashvatthama, whose welfare was his sole consideration. Besides, according to Kshatriya dharma, he was not permitted to betray his benefactor. In case he did so, he was to be consigned to hell, which was the last thing he desired.

Same thing could be said about Karna, who like Bhishma and Drona was well aware that truth was on the side of Yudhisthira, and yet for reason of his personal obligation and loyalty under oath to Duryodhana, and also his oath to either kill Arjuna or get killed by him, he did not waver for a moment from supporting his benefactor. And this he did even after being informed by Sri Krishna as also by his real mother Kunti that he was her eldest son and, therefore, had the foremost claim to the throne of Hastinapur.

SACRIFICE OF LOWER TRUTH FOR HIGHER TRUTH

Let us now look at Krishna’s views on Truth. In doing so, let us leave aside the perception of the leading sages and the wise men such as Narada, Parasurama, Markandeya, Vedavyasa, Suka, Asita, Devala, Durvasha and lastly Bhishma himself, that Sri Krishna was the Ultimate Truth. To Sri Krishna, there was no absolute Truth barring Brahman. When a man rises to the highest level of consciousness, he becomes one with Brahman and Truth. In this phenomenal world of man-made rules and rituals, truth is relative, intricately connected with the goal, whether personal or collective, changing according to time and perspective. He made a gradation of truth, viz. higher and lower. When lower truth comes in conflict with higher truth, higher truth must prevail and lower truth must give way. As for instance, personal oath of a Kshatriya is a lower truth if compliance of the said oath results in loss of innocent lives, thereby sacrificing higher truth, viz. non-violence to innocent living beings.

When Bhima took an oath to kill Duryodhana and his brothers in a battle, and in order to make sure that he got a chance to fulfill his oath, he was insistent that Krishna as the messenger of Yudhisthira must not bargain for peace. But Krishna admonished him, pointing out that his personal oath was not as important as the lives of a million soldiers. Therefore, he requested for only five villages for Yudhisthira when Duryodhana denied his title to the throne of Hastinapur.

On at least two occasions during the battle, he was prepared to break his personal oath of not taking up weapons. The first such occasion arose when Arjuna was unable to resist Bhishma from destroying the army of the Pandavas ruthlessly. Krishna jumped out of the chariot and rushed to Bhishma with an intent to kill him. Though eventually Krishna withdrew at the persuasion of Arjuna, his aggressive stance served a signal to Bhishma that his time to leave this world had come. In fact Bhishma himself gave out the secret to Yudhisthira how he could be killed, when he learnt that it was Krishna who advised Yudhisthira to find that out from his grandfather directly.

The second occasion when Krishna was prepared to break his oath was to help Arjuna kill Jayadratha before sun set as otherwise Arjuna vowed to end his own life. Krishna asked Daruka to keep his chariot in readiness so that he could join the battle, if need be.

Thus Krishna’s view was crystal clear, i.e. when personal oath comes in conflict with higher truth, there is no sin or fault in violating personal oath.

Now the question is how Krishna judged the conduct of Bhishma and Drona. He made no bone of his adverse views on the decision of the above two highly respected elders cum fierce warriors to take the side of Duryodhana. He called their decision perverse as they sacrificed higher truth for self-centric lower truth. According to Krishna, the minimum that they ought to have done was not to fight at all, in which event, Duryodhana would not ventured to battle with the Pandavas relying entirely on the strength of Karna, and the destructive battle could have been avoided.

As for Karna, the distinction between higher and lower truth got totally blurred in his vision as his jealousy and complex against Arjuna clouded his judgment. Therefore, in the interest of higher truth, those three great warriors ought to have perished in the battle, according to Krishna. Here, the end was more important than the means. Accordingly, it was immaterial whether the means to the end were ethical, proper or moral so long as the end was to establish higher truth.

There is yet another perspective that clearly surfaces from the text of Mahabharata. Sri Krishna unmistakably emerged as the judge punishing the wrongdoers, logically explaining the grounds for and deciding the manner of the punishment inflicted upon each such person.

KRISHNA RESOLVES ARJUNA’S CONFUSION ABOUT TRUTH  

As we are aware, Bhagavad Gita was all about truth at different levels of perception, with Karma as the driving force. It was meant to remove the doubts and confusion from the mind of Arjuna. But Arjuna’s mind was not yet fully disabused. This is evident from the following anecdote of Mahabharata.

When Karna was at his destructive best, injuring Yudhisthira severely so that he had to retire into the tent for treatment, Arjuna accompanied by Krishna dropped in to find about his condition. This infuriated Yudhisthira as he thought that Arjuna had run away from the battle out of fear of Karna. He insulted the third Pandava, calling him coward and unfit to hold the Gandiva. Arjuna took a vow to kill anyone who would insult him by calling him unfit for the Gandiva. Therefore, he picked up the Gandiva to kill Yudhisthira. Krishna intervened and reproached his attempt to kill his elder brother who was like his father, forgetting his ultimate goal to establish righteous rule (Dharma Rajya) for the good of the people under Yudhisthira. Arjuna’s counter was that as a Kshatriya, it was his bounden duty to honour his oath failing which he would be consigned to hell. Krishna countered by saying that if he killed his father-like elder brother he would not be able to escape from hell. To that Arjuna replied that if hell were unavoidable, he would like to suffer it as a Kshatriya and not a fallen one. Now Krishna must find out a solution for him so that his oath was not violated and Yudhisthir also survived. Krishna’s solution was unique and pragmatic. He said that insulting a honourable man is like killing him. Hence, my dear friend, insult Yudhisthira.

After harping volleys of insult on Yudhisthira, Arjuna pulled out his sword to commit suicide, as he vowed to end his life if ever he insulted Yudhisthira. Now it was Krishna’s turn to convince Arjuna how sinful it would be to commit suicide and that for higher truth he ought to sacrifice the lower truth. But Arjuna would not be convinced. Finally, the solution fell from Krishna’s mouth. ‘Self-praise, O Partha, amounts to killing self. Therefore, indulge in self-flattery and honour your vow.’ The problem got resolved and higher truth eventually prevailed without violating the lower truth.

QUESTIONING MERITS OF GANDHARI’S BLINDFOLD

Queen Gandhari who had blindfolded her vision in empathy with her blind husband Dhritarashtra was hailed as one of the most pious ladies of her time for this supreme sacrifice. She was otherwise also known for her righteousness and pursuit of Truth. She did not hesitate for a moment in wishing Yudhisthira victory in the battle of Kurukshetra as she was convinced that truth was on his side and not on the side of her son Duryodhana. Like Bhishma and the venerable sages, Gandhari also believed in the divinity of Sri Krishna and hoped that by his mercy, at least one of her hundred sons would survive the battle. As it did not happen, crestfallen Gandhari accused Krishna that it was very much within his power to stop this destructive war. Because of his non-intervention, the battle happened and she had lost her hundred sons. Therefore, she cursed Krishna that not a single male member in his Vrishni clan would survive him. Smilingly, Krishna replied that he was well aware of the destiny of his clan and also that none of them would survive him, irrespective of her curse. However, her accusation had no basis. The Battle of Kurukshetra happened not because of him, but primarily because of Gandhari’s failure to discharge her duty as a mother to properly bring up, train and control her sons. She had no justification in putting a blindfold on her eyes and remaining blind to her sons’ activities. Since her husband was born blind, she ought to have taken extra care and responsibility for proper grooming of the children. If only she had kept her eyes open, her children would not have fallen under the evil influence of her brother Shakuni, and the battle could have been averted. Gandhari broke into tears, understanding her incurable mistake.

NON-VIOLENCE – THE ULTIMATE GOAL

However paradoxical it may sound, Sri Krishna was an ardent advocate for non-violence. To him, nothing was more important than protection of innocent lives. Unless it was absolutely necessary to terminate life of a demonic character, who himself posed a threat to innocent lives, Krishna had not raised his weapon famously known as Sudarshan Chakra. Even while engaging in battle against such demonic and egoistic characters, he had scrupulously avoided mass scale killing. This explains why he chose not to confront Jarasandha in a battle where loss of lives on a large scale could not be avoided. He instead migrated with his people from Mathura to strategically more secure Dwaraka, which was situated between the sea on the west and Raivataka Mountain on the east. When the time was apt, he escorted Bhima and Arjuna to Jarasandha’s palace and got him killed by Bhima in a wrestling bout. Likewise, as an emissary for Yudhisthira he tried his best to avert the battle by proposing to Duryodhana that let him offer just five villages to Yudhisthira and the latter would accept that, instead of fighting for the throne of Hastinapur. To stop the battle, he even approached Karna and disclosed his true identity as the eldest son of Kunti, as he knew that without Karna’s support, Duryodhana would not dare to go into friction with the Pandavas.

Krishna’s ideal of non-violence is best demonstrated in verse 55, chapter 11, of the Gita where he proclaims:

“Nirvairah sarva-bhuteshu yah sah mameti pandava”

[One who is free from enmity toward all beings attains me]

It is pertinent to note here that Sri Krishna was talking of non-violence of mind here, as in the same breath he was inspiring Arjuna to engage in the battle selflessly as his duty (Karma). In other words, Krishna’s message to Arjuna was to fight the battle without any sense of enmity toward Duryadhana or his army. Thus there does not appear to be any contradiction between the above two propositions. Krishna’s concept of non-violence of mind is further elucidated in verse 28, chapter 13 of the Gita where he proclaims: “He who finds God in every being does not injure the Self by the self. That man reaches the supreme goal.”

SPIRITUALITY REDEFINED

Traditionally, a line of demarcation divided spiritual pursuit from secular affairs. Krishna brought a revolution in the conventional thinking by integrating the mundane with the spiritual. Thus there remained no bar for a butcher or a cowherd from being spiritually more advanced than a sage or a learned Brahmin, by steadfastly and selflessly pursuing their respective professions. Krishna defined selfless Karma as the highest worship. A Karma Yogi need not go to temple for worship or to a forest for meditation. Instead, if he dedicates his Karma to the Divine with no desire for the result, he would be liberated from the bondage of action. This happens to be the central theme of the Gita, contained in verses 27 and 28 of chapter 9 which are cited below.

“O son of Kunti, whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer as sacrifice, whatever you give and whatever austerities you perform, all that you offer to me. Thus you will be free from bondage of actions”.  

If we apply this standard to our daily life, every piece of our mundane work can be spiritualized if only we perform it selflessly and dedicate the same to God. The uniqueness of this concept is that its cornerstone is not God as such, but selfless Karma, i.e. action without the desire for its fruit, as the result is not in our hands. It is not just an idealistic approach, but realistic and pragmatic too.

CONCLUDING REMARKS  

In the light of the above in-depth discussion on the thoughts and actions of Sri Krishna, let us now revert to the three posers made in the Introduction.

Our first poser was whether the sermon to Arjuna in the Gita on the battlefield of Kurukshetra was an Ode to spirituality or Ode to violence? It has been explained above with reference to relevant verses from the Gita, viz. verse 55, chapter 11 and verse 28, chapter 13, that non-violence of mind was the ultimate objective and the ideal. The cardinal message of Sri Krishna to Arjuna was to fight the battle as his duty or Karma, as truth was on his side; but he should engage in the battle without any self-interest or desire for the fruit of his action, and most importantly, without any sense of enmity to Duryodhana or his army. In this sense, the Gita is an Ode to spirituality as selfless Karma necessarily pre-supposes Gnana (knowledge), Buddhi (intellect), Bhakti (devotion) and Vignana (ultimate wisdom) of the doer. In other words, the Gita spoke of integral Yoga, which Sri Aurobindo developed into a distinct philosophy.

It is pertinent to mention here that Mahatma Gandhi, the champion and practitioner of non-violence was an ardent follower of the Gita. He once stated that he found resolution of all his problems and doubts from the Gita.

Let us now deal with the second poser, viz. how Sri Krishna with his supreme wisdom and yogic equipoise could engage in amorous sport or relationship with women, which all other spiritual seekers scrupulously avoided. While dwelling on the Gopi love and the nature of Krishna love, it has been explained elaborately with reference to contemporary texts that the Gopi love was far from physical or amorous. It was of the nature of a devotee’s love of God. The Gopis who were simple cowherd maidens sincerely believed that Sri Krishna, a boy not yet adolescent, but possessing enormous mental and physical strength, was God incarnate. Their love for him was intense, deep and total. As for Sri Krishna’s love, it was invisible, compassionate and detached, as Bhagavata mentions in Krishna’s own words. Besides, it goes to the credit of Sri Krishna that he opened a new vista to spiritual liberation through love of absorption and total surrender, which was held as a taboo by the ascetics on spiritual path, during and before his time.

As for the allegation of deceit against Sri Krishna, our in-depth analysis of various anecdotes from Mahabharata establishes that Sri Krishna was ideologically and rather openly inclined toward compromising lower truth for higher truth. Therefore, the charge of duplicity or deceit against him does not stand our scrutiny.

Krishna said in Gita (4.18) “He who finds inaction in action and action in inaction, is a great Yogi, the performer of all actions”. Swami Vivekananda has interpreted it a bit differently as follows: “He who in the midst of intense activity finds himself in the greatest calmness, and in the greatest peace finds intense activity, is the greatest Yogi as well as the wisest man” (The Complete Works of Vivekananda, Vol.I, The Gita I). We agree with the Swami that there is no better candidate than Sri Krishna to answer the above description, as he possessed the unique calmness to preach the deepest thoughts of the Vedanta on a battlefield on the eve of probably the ghastliest battle known to history.

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UNDERSTANDING VEDANTA THROUGH PHYSICS

                                               

                                                             (Interactive session on 20.5.2015)

Keynote address by Dr. Kushal Shah

(Other participant speakers: Mr. Jyotirmay Bhattacharyya, Mr. Ashok Kr.                                       Sengupta, Mr. Niharendu Bhattacharya & Dr. Suhas Majumdar)

Anchor : Mr. Asim Banerjee

Introduction and concluding remarks by A. K. Raha                                                                                                  [Opening song – Mr. Basudeb Shandilya]

 

INTRODUCTION

Vedanta can be called the science of consciousness just as physics is the science of the matter. Vedanta that postulates Brahman or ‘Pure Consciousness’ as the ultimate cause of the macro-cosmic and micro-cosmic universes, is apparently incompatible with physics that deals with the phenomenal world of matter and laws of the nature, having very little to do with consciousness. Thus in other words, if Vedanta says that Pure Consciousness is the cause of the material world, quantum physicists contend just the opposite. How then is it possible to understand Vedanta through physics?

The Prakriti or the nature, however, has an important role in Vedanta as it explains the expansion of the phenomenal world at both macro-cosmic and micro-cosmic levels. Like physics, Vedanta also describes the nature as Jara or insentient. Mind, intellect and ego being derivatives of insentient Prakriti or the nature are also insentient, according to vedanta. As to the question how the insentient mind, intellect and ego or ‘I’ consciousness became sentient, the explanation of Vedanta is that when those attributes of the nature reflect upon the Chit (consciousness) of the Purusha (the Soul), the Purusha becomes sentient. In the words of Swami Vivekananda, one of the greatest Vedantists of recent time, “According to Vedanta the three fundamental factors of consciousness are, I exist, I know and I am blessed.” When that supreme awareness gets transmitted into a mortal entity in this phenomenal world, the consciousness becomes a compound or a product of the nature, conditioned by dimensionally limited mind, intelligence and egoism.

Even though physics does not dwell upon consciousness as a phenomenon, physicists are generally inclined to look upon consciousness as a product of the nature. As to how the nature produces consciousness, not much light has been shed by physicists. Primarily for this reason, the adjective ‘accidental’ is used by quantum physicists like Stephen Hawking to qualify consciousness as a byproduct of the nature, describing it as an ‘accidental byproduct’. Does this limited similarity between Vedanta and physics in regard to ‘consciousness’ in the phenomenal world make their relationship symbiotic? Perhaps not. But can the fundamental difference between Vedanta and physics, as explained above, stand on the way of understanding various concepts of Vedanta through the lens of physics? Our theme addresses the above poser as to how a physicist understands and interprets various Vedantic concepts.

Science Vs. Spirituality

Science and spirituality have had a tumultuous love-hate relationship for the past few centuries. The first sign of trouble emerged when Copernicus declared that the sun is the center of the solar system and not the earth. Galileo’s discoveries further added fuel to the fire and life has never been easy after that. Though the fight between these two human endeavours in the west is out in the open, we in India still try hard to push it under the carpet. Seldom do we realize that dirt under the carpet smells much worse than when it is out in the open. Oh yes, Vedanta surely has no problem with evolution or the heliocentric view, but some of us seem to feel threatened by science itself. Many otherwise well-meaning people often claim that ancient Indians knew everything and western scientists are only re-inventing the wheel. The technology of aircrafts and atom bombs was all known to them and may be they also used iPads (poor Steve!)! The current fascination among some Vedantins is to prove that ancient Indians also knew all about dark matter and God particle.

Despite all this tumult, some Vedantins have genuinely made sincere efforts to bring together the spiritual and scientific pursuit. Vivekananda probably was the first one to start this effort. But unfortunately, modern science was in its infancy during his time. His efforts in this direction have been quite fruitful and several educated people in India at least don’t see science as being opposed to spirituality. But a serious lacuna still exists in the current understanding. The argument through which the relationship between science and spirituality is explained consists mainly of two points:

  • Science is about ‘how’ and spirituality is about ‘why’
  • Science is about ‘matter’ and spirituality is about ‘spirit’

We would like to put forth some ideas, which show that both the above views are quite limited in scope, if not altogether wrong.

How and Why

 How means ‘in what way or manner, by what means’. And why means ‘for what reason or purpose’. If we think about these deeply, it turns out that both science and spirituality are about how and not so much about why. In fact, most of the answers to the why questions turn to be actually answering the how. A popular question in science is ‘why does the sky appear blue?’ and we say ‘shorter wavelengths are scattered more’. This is actually the ‘way or manner’ through which the sky appears blue, and so an answer to how and not why. If we really pressed hard on asking why, we would most often never get an answer. Similarly, spirituality is mostly about the way in which one should live in order to purify oneself. So, it is also about how and not about why. Of course, we may say that spirituality also tells us the purpose of life, which is God realisation. But this answer would not be acceptable by all. The purpose of one person’s life may be God realisation, but may not be the purpose of another person’s life.

Matter and Spirit

Usually matter is defined as ‘physical substance in general, as distinct from mind and spirit’ but it can also mean ‘a subject or situation under consideration’. The first definition of matter was probably applicable few centuries back, but modern science has shown that there are no rigid boundaries between physical substance and mind. So, now when we talk even of science, we need to use the second definition of matter and here science and spirituality have lots of common ground. Science is about physical substance, mind, and everything else that is a part of the observable universe. Here observable does not just mean visible, but encompasses everything that is a part of prakriti! This is a very important concept and needs to be understood clearly. If you agree that spirituality is also about how and not about why, you will agree that spirituality is also about things that belong to prakriti only. In this context, there is only a subtle difference between science and spirituality: Scientists have no desire to go beyond prakriti, but spiritual aspirants do. This is however not a major difference since our Vedas also say that in order to go beyond prakriti it is also important to give up the desire for moksha. So who knows, scientists are probably better prepared for liberation!!

Now that we understand that there is not a very major difference between spirituality and science, can they help each other? Can a scientist benefit by being spiritual and can a spiritual aspirant benefit by pursuing science? The answer is a resounding yes! Pursuing the spiritual path has lots of benefits for people in all walks of life. We will not go into this further for now and would like to focus on the other aspect: benefit of science to a spiritual aspirant. Vedanta says that the spiritual path can be followed in four ways: Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga. The interesting point is that the scientific pursuit can help one in pursuing spirituality through any one of these four paths. A scientist interested in Karma Yoga can develop new technology to solve various social problems. The scientific pursuit can be very helpful in developing concentration powers thereby helping in pursuit of Raja Yoga. A study of mathematics can help one in realizing the limitations of logic thereby preparing one for Bhakti Yoga. In fact, many mathematicians are actually very religious!

Science and Jnana Yoga

In simple words, Jnana Yoga consists of a systematic approach to acquire a deep understanding of the nature of this world and the Self. Science also aims to acquire a deep understanding of the nature of this world. So, there is a strong overlap. So, can the scientific pursuit also help in following the path of Jnana Yoga? Most people would intuitively answer yes, and that’s absolutely correct. It may sound counter-intuitive, but the biggest obstacle to the pursuit of Jnana is lack of faith in one’s own logical conclusions. One may logically feel that this world is transitory, but if one does not have faith in this view, one cannot progress spiritually. Interestingly, science can provide this required faith. The biggest strength of science is that the validity of various scientific theories does not depend on subjective experience but mathematical logic and objective experimentation. So, now if we can connect the various philosophical truths of Vedanta to the scientific concepts, we can instantly remove many of our doubts. Not just this, forming these connections also helps us in understanding Vedantic concepts in a much better way. Also, Vedanta is quite silent on many issues of grave importance, probably because this knowledge is not directly required for enlightenment. However, for those who are interested, science can help a lot in bridging the gaps. The question is: why should such connections exist between scientific concepts and Vedanta? One reason is that both are making a serious attempt at understanding prakriti and the only difference is in the approach and language used. So, drawing these connections is only like translating a document from one language into another. Also, if we believe that the physical world is only a reflection of the subtle world, it is but natural for strong analogies to be present between these.

Let us now take up a few Vedantic concepts and see how science can help us in understanding them better.

Advaita vs. Dvaita

This is the million dollar question in Vedanta and people from both sides has fighting over it for centuries! One argument that is used to bridge this gap is that Advaita is a higher truth and Dvaita is lower. How would science view this? In science, Newton’s equation of motion is a good example of a lower truth with the higher truth being quantum mechanics (Schrodinger’s equation, for example). We can say this because one can derive Newton’s equation from Schrodinger’s equation by making some approximations. Can one derive Dvaita from Advaita by making some approximations? Well, not at all. It is like saying that gravity can be derived from quantum mechanics! So then how do we resolve this conflict? The difference between Advaita and Dvaita is like the difference between gravity and quantum mechanics. One describes the macroscopic universe and the other the microscopic. So, the conflict arises when each side claims that one of these theories applies to the whole universe. Well, it does not! It is strange but the macroscopic universe seems to have a very different behaviour than the microscopic! The macroscopic is not an average of the microscopic. Its a different beast altogether! It may be that the behaviour is essentially the same at both these extreme ends, but we see the difference because we perceive the world with our mind, which is quite limited in its perceptive capabilities. And that is why the difference between Advaita and Dvaita ceases when the individual mind merges in the cosmic mind.

Sattva-Rajas-Tamas

These are considered to be the three gunas that make up all that exists in this world. The usual definition is that sattva is pure, rajas is excitable and tamas is indifferent. Again, its not very clear what exactly is meant by pure or indifferent? Science can be quite helpful here. In classical mechanics, there is a concept of order and chaos, two terms, which have become a part of common vocabulary. We could view sattva as order and tamas as chaos. Thinking of Devas (sattva) and Asuras (tamas) can help in accepting this analogy. What is rajas then? It is Newton’s third law of motion: every action has an equal and opposite reaction! It is this action-reaction which leads to activity, which is the basic function of rajas.

Creation of the world

Vedanta has very good explanations about many aspects of nature, but this is one aspect where it’s theories are quite insufficient. And here science can play a very significant role. Concepts like the big bang, oscillating universe, etc. can provide lots of insights into how the universe comes into existence in every cycle and then disappears again.

Nirvikalpa Samadhi

This is probably one of the most profound concepts in Vedanta and the least understood. And how can one understand it when it is a matter of experience! What is more profound about it is that there are some beings, who are able to come back to this universe even after having experienced that state. And the enigma is that though they have experienced it, they are not able to describe that state at all! Is there a parallel in science? Yes, black holes come quite close. Most particles that fall into a black hole never return. But Hawking radiation can escape from these objects. However, this radiation contains no information about the inside of the black hole!!!

Concluding remarks

One striking similarity between science and spirituality or, to be more precise, between physics and Vedanta is that the ultimate objective of both is to know the truth, although the approach differs. While physics looks for experimental and empirical proof or validation of each proposition, Vedantic postulates are often based on realization of the macro-cosmic and micro-cosmic truth by the sages through the medium of Yoga which is strictly outside the purview of physics. However, some such truth that Vedantins claimed to have realized millenniums ago now stand validated. The case in point is the truth postulated in Bhagvad Gita (8.17) as also Mahabharata several millenniums ago that earth time and space time are not to be calculated by a common standard or measure. The above truth came to be scientifically established in the 20th century only as the theory of relativity of time by Albert Einstein. The difference is that Einstein explained scientifically why space time differs from earth time, while such explanation was wanting in ancient texts. Another Vedantic postulate, sans validation that a physicist looks for, is that the time, mind, intellect and ego are derivatives of Prakriti or the nature. That time is a physical phenomenon is established in Physics. Neuro-biologists are also inclined to think that the diffrence between the mind and the matter is only superficial and that the brain particles such as neurons, electrons etc. substantially determine the level of intellect as also ego-centric thoughts.

However, the fact remains that the much talked about yogic vision of cosmic truth at both macro and micro levels clearly falls outside the ambit of a physicist, as of now. The day is not far off when quantum physicists like Stephen Hawking may enter into the domain of consciousness / mind, working on a hypothesis that man is pre-programmed by the nature as a biological machine. Parallel researches by neuro-biologists like Sir John Eccles, Robert Lanza etc. into the phenomenon of mind / consciousness may find validation in near future for the Vedantic postulate that consciousness is not necessarily body-centric and out-of-body experiences are a reality. Till the time we find scientific validation for Vedantic postulates, there is nothing wrong in treating those postulates as mere hypotheses. But scientific validation need not necessarily be confined to physical matrix.

Modern scientific researches aim at unraveling the ultimate mystery of all time, ‘the theory of everything’, which is still elusive. The Vedantins also sought to unravel the same mystery or the Ultimate Truth, which they called Brahman, knowing Whom there would be nothing left to know. Thus it would stand to logic to treat the theory of everything of quantum physics as the Brahman of Vedanta.

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