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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23 Responses to UNDERSTANDING VEDANTA THROUGH PHYSICS

  1. RKGupta says:

    This is an interesting topic and the debate between science and spirituality is never ending. In my opinion there should be no conflict between the two. This I say because in my understanding, the whole world is relative; there is relativity in every thing we do, see or feel with our senses. This relativity in philosophical terminology is “Maya”. Maya does not mean something non-existent, but something, which is relative, which is perceived differently by different persons, depending upon their own standing or the level of evolution. The difference in science and spirituality is that science is the study in the field of relativity. It is trying to find the relative truth, whereas spirituality tries to realise the ‘absolute or the Eternal Truth’ that which is not changing.
    In my understanding, there is nothing in the universe which is devoid of matter, energy, intellect, consciousness and soul. There is nothing which is not an existence of these five dimensions and these five dimensions are not something different from each other but different states of the one basic element the ‘soul’, which is one and the eternal principal of all existence. The soul, however, is beyond all explanation, description or understanding. Everything that exists is an expression of this soul. In fact there is a very clear mention of this in the ‘Srimadbhagwatmahapuran’.
    Consciousness is the first expression or of soul. So long it is in the un-manifested state, there is no consciousness of ‘being’. Consciousness means being conscious of the fact that one is the part and parcel of that ‘One’ or the ‘Eternity’, the ‘Poorna’. As the level of consciousness declines,it is pronounced in the form of ‘Ahankar’. Intellect is that faculty which leads to discrimination between various options.Energy is the capability to give effect to the option so chosen or in other words to do the work. Matter is the bound state of consciousness, where the consciousness is guided and feels bound by the constrains of time,space and other circumstances. It is thus one thing alone, the soul which expresses and appears in different forms. Science tends to study the material form and its behaviour in material form. Spirituality is trying to realise this very basic core of existence, the soul.

  2. Sonali Sengupta says:

    interesting analyses. physics=subject (I the superconscious viewing matter through the lens of the mind/intellect/ego. advaita=subject (i the lower consciousness/mind/intellect/ego) cleansing itself of impressions, to get a view of I the superconscious. in advaita matter is only a dream , a construct of an opaque lens of the mind.

  3. akraha1948 says:

    Guptaji, you have brought out the difference in approach between science and spirituality succinctly. As regards your observation: “In my understanding, there is nothing in the universe which is devoid of matter, energy, intellect, consciousness and soul.”, you may have perhaps kept in view human beings and other beings only and not insentient matters or particles. This would require further elucidation by you, in case you hold that every particle has intellect, consciousness and soul.

    Besides, you may like to clarify whether in your considered opinion, soul per se is a matter and part of the universe or a non-matter, independent of the universe.

    You have very nicely explained the spiritual concept of Maya as relativity from the perspective of science. However, the fact remains that some physicists are not sure whether particles can be called matters or waves, or like bubbles that are illusory. In their search for the truth, scientists like spiritualists also strive to go to the root of the matter and do not stop with the holistic explanation of relativity.

    Finally, having regard to Vedantic postulate that the ultimate cause of the universe or the world of particles is Brahman or Pure Consciousness which is non-matter, what follows is that matters owe their origin to non-matter. How would you explain this phenomenon in terms pf physics?

    • RKGupta says:

      Thanks for your comments, Sir.
      My understanding is that there is nothing in the universe, living beings or insentient beings, which is devoid of soul. In fact, when I mention soul, I do not differentiate between soul and the ‘Parmatma’ (the Supreme Soul). In my understanding there is existence of nothing else except the One, the Root Cause of all causes, the Core of everything and that is the soul or the Supreme Soul. Consciousness, intellect, energy and matter in that order are expressions of the soul alone or in other words derivatives or condensed form of the soul. Ultimately there would be no difference in the real form of matter, energy, intellect, consciousness and the soul, though the degree of their presence in different forms vary and that is why these are differentiated as matter, energy and so on or as living beings or insentient.
      Philosophically, if there is existence of something else than the Supreme Soul in any form in the universe than the whole Vedantic theory fails. Then that other thing also is ‘Swaymbhoo’ or Eternal and stands in juxtaposition to the Supreme Soul. It cannot be so.
      It is the expression of one and one alone that manifests in all forms. Essentially, therefore, at some level, the science would also have to find that core form, if it could, because no instrument can measure beyond its zero error or finer than what it is made of? How can then material existence acquire knowledge of that of which it is made of. It can only be a question of realisation, when in the state of deep meditation (you may call it Nirvikalp Samadhi) one may attain understanding of the Truth.

  4. akraha1948 says:

    Guptaji, you touch the core of the Vedanta when you say, nothing exists except the Soul. Vedanta puts it as follows: Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma (Brahman pervades all). From the perspective of a physicist, such Existence may be described as Infinite Light. Since It is Infinite, it cannot be called matter. An Infinity cannot also be subject to gravitation. Such Infinity is also beyond our perception as our perception is governed by sense organs that have limited capacity. This precisely is the core of the Advaita philosophy, best enunciated by the following Upanishadic verse:
    Om Purna Madah, Purna Midam, Purnat Purnamudachyate
    Purnasva Purna Madaya Purnamebabshishyate II
    [All that exist here is Purna (WHOLE), all that exist beyond is also Purna. From Purna what is derived is Purna. If Purna is deducted from Purna, the remainder is also Purna.]

    Now let us look at the above concept of Purna from the angle of quantum physics. According to the physicist, from a dot of the size of a trillionth of a centimeter, there was exponential expansion coinciding with the Big Bang, approximately 13.5 billion years ago. leading to the formation of innumerable universes almost in no time. The physicist also foresees Big Crunch in distant future when all those universes will be pulled back in trillionth of a second to the same dot and become non-existent.

    The only difference between the physicist’s concept of the dot (cosmic egg) eventually expanding into macro-cosmic universes to be later subsumed in the dot again and the Vedantist’s concept of Bindu (dot) as all pervasive Purna or Brahman, evolving and involving with cyclical regularity, is that to a physicist, whatever happens is a natural phenomenon, while to a Vedantist, whatever happens is driven by choice inasmuch as Brahman is not insentient Nature, but Pure Consciousness. But the question is, can insentient Nature be the cause of our consciousness?

    Even though the physicist has not found any satisfactory answer to the above question as yet, as consciousness falls outside the ambit of his research as of now, hopefully, in near future, this fundamental gap between physics & Vedanta will be bridged, if not closed.

  5. RKGupta says:

    I fully endorse your views with only one comment. When one talks of the dot, the ‘Infinite’, which is outside the dot, is also a part and parcel of that dot. One can visulise the dot, as the one comprising of that which exists within or that which exists outside, it is only a question of ‘realisation’. In fact all that exists within or outside, it is only a reflection. If one turns one’s consciousness within, it is like confining within the dot and when the consciousness is directed outside, innumerable universes are created-it is endless, growing with the thinking. In fact in the Sanskrit, Brahman is comprising of ‘Brah’-which means growing and ‘Manan’-which means thinking. Thus Brahman means that which grows with thinking.
    I also give below a few Zen poems, the group may perhaps enjoy reading:

    Don’t measure that Infinity,
    In light years-after light years,
    It is only one step ahead,
    That line, which is called time,
    This is what the Eternity is?

    ‘Advaitta’ (Non-duality or the Unity) is the ultimate knowledge,
    And to perceive the One, in all that exists,
    It is ‘Param Karuna’ (being kind) (D. I. Suzuki)

    The Parmatma (Supreme Soul) is like the center of the circle,
    For them, who have accepted Him entirely,
    And for whom, who are standing at the center,
    He is like the circumference of the circle.

  6. akraha1948 says:

    Guptaji, when you say: “the ‘Infinite’, which is outside the dot, is also a part and parcel of that dot.” So far as the second part of your observation is concerned, there is no dispute from the point of view of either Vedanta or physics, as both visualize the dot as the infinite and all-inclusive Whole. But the first part of your observation that visualizes “the Infinite outside the dot” is not compatible with the second part that visualizes the dot as the Infinite. As a matter of fact, with our 3-dimensional sense perception we assume a dot to begin with rather than an infinite void for the simple reason that no expansion is possible for the Infinite, as Infinite cannot expand into Infinite. However, our sense perception tells us that there is growth & expansion in the phenomenal world. And for every such phenomenon there must be a cause. Therefore, we must search for the ultimate cause in the micro-cosmic sphere. It is thus we conceptualize the dot (call it cosmic egg or Brahmanda in Vedantic term). Thus when we visualize the dot as the ultimate cause, there is no Infinite outside the dot as the Dot (Bindu) is the Infinite. Surely there cannot be two Infinites running criss cross or parallel to each other.

    You are absolutely on dot when you say that the all-inclusive Infinite dot can be visualized only through deep meditation. It is only a matter of realization. This is where physics may differ. If spirit can expand into matter, by the reverse engineering, matter may evaporate into spirit. May be one day, science may validate in its own way the postulates of Vedanta.

  7. Kushal Shah says:

    First of all, my sincere thanks to Mr. Gupta and Mr. Asish for their wonderful comments! 🙂

    I would just like to respond to one comment made by Mr. Gupta:

    “The difference in science and spirituality is that science is the study in the field of relativity. It is trying to find the relative truth, whereas spirituality tries to realise the ‘absolute or the Eternal Truth’ that which is not changing.”

    This is certainly true from one point of view, but the opposite is also true from another point of view. One could also say that science is a study of the ‘absolute or eternal truth’ and spirituality is a study of ‘relative truth’. This is because science deals with objectivity and spirituality deals with subjectivity. One could say that all souls who attain the final samadhi, experience the same thing. But there is no way one could validate that. Also, almost all the enlightened souls have been found to propose their own theory of the absolute truth and many of these theories are contradictory. One could say that all contradictions are only on the surface and all theories are in agreement in their essence. But the fact remains that there are multiple interpretations of the truth and thus, the experience of all these people could not have been exactly the same. Another possibility exists that all these people actually experienced the same thing but they gave different interpretations as per the need of the time and place. But again, this is quite debatable.

  8. RKGupta says:

    Thanks for your comments, Mr. Raha and Dr. Shah.
    To carry the discussion forward, which is interesting and revealing, I wish to say that I mentioned “the Infinite outside the dot” only for the sake of explanation. It is only to explain that the dot is not the dot in the physical sense, but an all inclusive Omnipotent existence. When the consciousness is focused within, it is directed towards the state of non-being, or the dot state but when it is focused outside, there is no end or limit to its expansion and it keeps on growing.
    As far Dr. Shah’s comments “the enlightened souls have been found to propose their own theory of the absolute truth and many of these theories are contradictory” are concerned, I would like to mention that what can be explained in words or given as a theory, it cannot be termed as the ‘Absolute Truth’. Words are imperfect, theories are subject to conditionalities and limitations, these are true in certain situations and to certain extent only. Most of these people have talked only about the path they followed to realise the Truth and Dr. Shah is right in observing that many of them followed different and contradictory paths, but when it comes to mentioning about the Truth, I do not think they mentioned the ‘Qualities or the Attributes of the Truth’ differently. I fully realise that even the ‘Qualities or the Attributes of the Truth’ are also not the “Absolute Truth” by Itself. I would like to quote a couplet of Saint Bhikha:
    “Bhikha Baat Agam ki, Kahan, Sunana ki Nahi,
    Jo Jane so Kaha Nahi, Kahe So Jane Nahi”
    It means-The One, which is Unapproachable, cannot be explained in words; Those, who have realised, do not speak about It, and those, who speak about Him, have not known Him.
    And further, as Shri Ramakrishna Paramhans has said: “Namak ka Putla Samudra ki Gahrai Napne Gaya, so Gaya” (A lump of salt took a dip in the ocean to measure its depth; never to come out)

  9. Kushal Shah says:

    “It means-The One, which is Unapproachable, cannot be explained in words; Those, who have realised, do not speak about It, and those, who speak about Him, have not known Him.”

    I couldn’t agree more! This is precisely why I like to think of spirituality as a search for “My Truth” instead of “Absolute Truth” since there is no way one can narrate one’s deep spiritual experiences to another person.

  10. akraha1948 says:

    Socrates once said: “I know nothing.” Then he added with a chuckle: “Nothing is everything”. Upanishadic sages in India approached the Truth from both negative and positive angles; negative by eliminating whatever is perceptible by senses, known as ‘Neti’, and positive by including whatever is perceptible by senses, known as ‘Iti’. While approaches may differ, the Truth is absolute and not relative. Thus depending upon the approach, we call it Shunyavad (zerosome theory) or Purnavad (wholesome theory), suggesting two different routes to reach the same destination.

    It is not correct to say that those who realized the Truth (read ‘Brahman’) remained silent and those who spoke about the Truth did not realize it. The Vedanta is all about the Truth proclaimed by those who realized It, and accepted by those who followed the path suggested and validated the said proclamation with their own realization. In course of time, Vedantic Truth came to be recognized as axiomatic by different sages in different times. But this happened after a lots of doubt, scrutiny and battle of intellect, As for example, Vedanta did not accept the axiom of the Samkhya that there were two Infinites, the Purusha (Soul) and the Prakriti (Nature), without beginning or end, or in other words, without any cause. Hence, the sages looked further deep into the cause for the both. It was not an intellectual search for the Truth, but an intellectual rejection of the axiom of Samkhya that motivated the sages to search for the Truth deep inside the soul. The sages who found out the Truth were known as Brahmarshi (the sage who has realized Brahman) and none of the Brahmarshis was self-designated or self-proclaimed, but going by the standard procedure of recognition, a Brahmarshi could be recognized as such by the proclamation of a Brahmarshi only. The case in point is the proclamation of Vashistha in favour of Vishvamitra.

    As for the question whether sages described Brahman differently according to their individual perception, thus making the concept relative, let us examine the poser in the light of only two Upanishads, viz. Chandogya and Brihadaranyaka, leaving aside other Upanishads, wherein different sages have described Brahman from their realization. Brahman has been described as follows in Chandogya Upanishd:

    “Ekam Ekavadvitiyam Brahma
    “Brahman is one, without a second” (6.2.1.)
    “sarvam khalvidam brahma”
    “All is truly Brahman” (3.14.1.)
    “Tat Tvam Asi”
    “Thou art That” (6.8.7)

    Brahman has been describes as follows in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

    “ayam ātmā brahma”
    “The self is Brahman” (4.4.5.)
    “aham brahmāsmi”
    “I am Brahman” (1.4.10)

    Apart from the above descriptions, Brahman has also been described as Sachchidānanda Brahma
    (Existence Absolute , Consciousness Absolute & Bliss Absolute). It is impossible to find any difference in perception in those varied description of Brahman.

    Like I have observed earlier, realization of Brahman can be very well likened to the elusive concept of Theory of Everything in physics. Till the time the physics explores ‘The theory of Everything’, all its findings are tentative and not conclusive.

    • Kushal Shah says:

      “As for example, Vedanta did not accept the axiom of the Samkhya that there were two Infinites, the Purusha (Soul) and the Prakriti (Nature), without beginning or end, or in other words, without any cause.”

      I personally tend to lean more towards Samkhya philosophy and believe that indeed there are two infinities : Purusha and Prakriti.

      “The sages who found out the Truth were known as Brahmarshi (the sage who has realized Brahman) and none of the Brahmarshis was self-designated or self-proclaimed, but going by the standard procedure of recognition, a Brahmarshi could be recognized as such by the proclamation of a Brahmarshi only.”

      Thats a huge problem since there is no objective way of finding out whether a person is a Brahmarshi or not.

      “Apart from the above descriptions, Brahman has also been described as Sachchidānanda Brahma (Existence Absolute , Consciousness Absolute & Bliss Absolute). It is impossible to find any difference in perception in those varied description of Brahman.”

      But there have been huge differences in the description of Atman (Advaita, Dvaita, etc) by self-realized souls. Also, Brahman is beyond the scope of language and even the human mind, so any attempt at describing it does not lead anywhere. We just keep substituting the word Brahman for other equally esoteric words.

      “Till the time the physics explores ‘The theory of Everything’, all its findings are tentative and not conclusive.”

      You might be surprised to know that many physicists (including myself) don’t really care for Theory of Everything. In fact, the most mundane theory of physics (Newton’s Laws) are based on the most solid foundations and are unshakable. It is these laws that not only have the maximum applications for most scientific and engineering problems but have also led to one of the most complex concept of physics : chaos and fractals. If scientists are ever able to find a ‘theory of everything’ it will mostly remain untestable for many centuries. Even string theory in its current form is unlikely to be verified for a very long time. So, strangely, it is these esoteric theories of physics which are relative and the mundane theories which are absolute.

  11. RKGupta says:

    Raha Sahab, you made very interesting observation by quoting Socrates-“I know nothing.” and : “Nothing is everything”. This is the whole issue. Reaching the state of ‘knowing nothing’ is the state of knowing everything, since one then becomes one with the One that is to be known and all other states in-between are the relative states. All the volumes, the Vedas, Upanishads etc. are written to explain Him, yet He is inexplicable. The Holy Qur’an says: “KALAM BANA LO SAB PEDO KI, SAAT SAMUNDAR SIHAYI KAR LO, KHATM NA HONGI USKI SHIFFTE, CHAHE JITNI KOSHISHE KAR LO”, which means even if you use all the trees in the world as the pen and use the seven oceans as ink, even then you cannot describe His Qualities and Attributes completely, however hard you may try. And Maulana Rumi says: The Truth is infinite. How then can you think that the entire knowledge is contained in the Holy Qur’an, which is only a few pages? This equally applies to the other scriptures and the scientific knowledge, as well. The more one gets deeper, the more one realises the unending depths of the ocean of knowledge.

  12. akraha1948 says:

    Guptaji, you have beautifully explained the inexplicable, the Abam-manasagochara (the One beyond words and mind). Indeed what is meant by that expression is that Brahman is not perceptible by one’s sense organs as the same are limited by the prevailing laws of nature. But that does not prevent one who has transcended the dimensional barrier and the shackles of Prakriti (Nature) from becoming one with Brahman through Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Some of those self-realized sages on return from their Samadhi have recounted their experience in the Upanishads (read Vedanta), describing in great details how the evolution from cosmic egg (read Brahmanda) into this phenomenal world and involution of the world of matter into the cosmic egg have been happening cyclically. Looking for validation of such yogic experiences with the aid of our sense organs is no doubt futile. However, we have no dearth of validation of those Vedantic postulates from great Yogis of modern time, such as Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Swami Yogananda, Ramana Maharshi etc. Discarding their findings without going through the yogic procedure as suggested by them is like rejection of Theory of Relativity by a man who is ignorant of physics.

    Kushalji, your personal inclination toward two-infinites-without-cause theory needs to be logically explained. As regards your contention that Atman (soul) has been described differently by self-realized dualists and monists, the said difference in perception or realization has been aptly described by Swami Vivekananda as being one of degree and not of kind. In Bhagavad Gita also it is indicated that Truth is perceived in various ways depending on the state of mind of the perceiver. To be more precise, a dualist may perceive Brahman as distinct from self while a monist may find self as Brahman. One cannot say that the other is wrong, like Madhavacharya or Ramanuja never said that Sri Sankaracharya was wrong. Their difference only lay in the interpretation of some of the verses of Brahma Sutra of Badrayana (identified as Vedavyasa). Like physicists differ from each other, it is but natural that sages also would have their own logic to differ from one another. Like Newton’s Third Law of Motion is accepted as a postulate by physicists, the Vedantists accept Brahman as the axiomatic Truth. Like Newton’s Third Law of Motion is scientifically established, prevalence of Brahman is also established by self-realized Yogis through their extensive and intensive yogic pursuits. Like the Third Law of Motion is beyond comprehension of a science-illiterate person, yogic experiences are also beyond comprehension of a non-initiate person. Finally, we may end this long debate by citing Einstein that unless something is proved to be impossible, it is possible. And a true scientist must take the onus on himself.

    Kushalji, your conclusion that esoteric theories of physics like the Theory of Everything or String Theory are relative and mundane theories like Newton’s Laws are absolute are again subject to serious scrutiny by quantum physicists like Stephen hawking, according to whom, no law of nature can be taken as absolute in this macro-cosmos that includes 10 to the power of 500 universes each of which has different laws of nature. You may consider this presumption as esoteric, but surely such esoteric presumption from macro-cosmic perspective shakes the very foundation of Newton’s Laws being absolute.

  13. Kushal Shah says:

    “Kushalji, your personal inclination toward two-infinites-without-cause theory needs to be logically explained.”

    Mr. Asish, I don’t think there can be any logical explanation for this. It is an axiom based on which I am trying to understand both physics and Vedanta. Only time will tell whether it is true or not.

    “In Bhagavad Gita also it is indicated that Truth is perceived in various ways depending on the state of mind of the perceiver.”

    That is precisely my point. Even people who are called self-realized have a difference in perception. So we cannot really call their experiences as being absolute.

    “quantum physicists like Stephen hawking, according to whom, no law of nature can be taken as absolute in this macro-cosmos that includes 10 to the power of 500 universes each of which has different laws of nature. You may consider this presumption as esoteric, but surely such esoteric presumption from macro-cosmic perspective shakes the very foundation of Newton’s Laws being absolute.”

    This idea of multiple universes is the result of string theory which has failed to produce even a single testable prediction. So there is no reason to doubt the validity of a well established theory on mere mathematical speculations.

  14. akraha1948 says:

    Your observation:
    “Even people who are called self-realized have a difference in perception. So we cannot really call their experiences as being absolute.”

    My response:
    Kushalji, according to Vedanta, irrespective of whether it is Dvaita or Advaita Vedanta, nothing is absolute Truth except Brahman. Hence, your observation that owing to their difference in perception, their realization is not absolute does not fit the case, more so when Advaita and Dvaita relate to Brahman only in involved and evolved forms (not a form in material sense).

    Your observation:
    “This idea of multiple universes is the result of string theory which has failed to produce even a single testable prediction. So there is no reason to doubt the validity of a well established theory on mere mathematical speculations.”

    My response:
    String theory is outdated by now and the currently prevailing theory is ‘M’ Theory to which vast majority of quantum physicists subscribe. Physicists’ research without well founded hypotheses is not conceivable. When such hypotheses lead to inferences that are mathematically validated, physicists tend to accept such hypotheses. 11 dimensions in ‘M’ theory are generally accepted by quantum physicists after mathematical validation. The domain of physics is thus ever expanding which would not have been possible if physicists had stuck dogmatically to Newton’s Laws merely because its validity was well established and not ‘M’ theory that can shake the foundation of all well established laws by establishing that even all well established laws are relative and not absolute. Newton’s Laws are absolute in our given situation and there is no guarantee that it would equally apply in another universe. Surely, in the absence of any such certainty, Newton’s Laws cannot be termed as absolute. From Einstein to Hawking, physicists in general are of the view that unless ‘the theory of everything’ is found out, absolute truth is a chimera. If ‘theory of everything’ itself is dismissed as a fiction, like what you are inclined to suggest, Kushalji, it does not conversely validate the proposition that there could be absolute truth in physics. It would rather lead to the contra proposition, viz. that there can be no absolute truth in physics, neither Newton’s laws, nor Einstein’s theory of Relativity in the absence of clear proof that all those laws and theories would equally apply to other universes, black holes or other dimensions.

  15. Kushal Shah says:

    “String theory is outdated by now and the currently prevailing theory is ‘M’ Theory to which vast majority of quantum physicists subscribe.”

    Mr. Asish, M-theory is just another name for String theory. Just because some leading physicists work on string theory does not imply that most physicists subscribe to these ideas.

    “Physicists’ research without well founded hypotheses is not conceivable.”

    String theory actually does not have any well founded hypothesis. It was started by accident. A physicist was studying the quantum mechanical description of strings (just for fun) and suddenly he started getting results which gave an impression that this could be a potential theory of everything. But soon this theory ran into huge problems (mathematical as well as physical) which are yet unresolved.

    “The domain of physics is thus ever expanding which would not have been possible if physicists had stuck dogmatically to Newton’s Laws merely because its validity was well established”

    I am certainly not asking physicists to dogmatically stick to Newton’s Laws. But any law that is proposed must lead to the Newton’s Laws under certain limiting conditions. In other words, physicists won’t be surprised if quantum mechanics or general relativity is proved wrong someday but it will be a huge shock if Newton’s Laws are found to be wrong. Imagine what would happen if someday it turns out that every action does not have an equal and opposite reaction!! Actually, now there is some evidence to show that either quantum mechanics or general relativity needs a major change. But Newton can always rest in peace!

    “From Einstein to Hawking, physicists in general are of the view that unless ‘the theory of everything’ is found out, absolute truth is a chimera.”

    The story of physics is not just the story of these few top scientists. We should not generalize their views to that of the whole scientific community. It is same as saying that life is worthless till we are able to achieve self-realization. Some people certainly do hold this view, but a vast majority does not subscribe to this.

    “It would rather lead to the contra proposition, viz. that there can be no absolute truth in physics, neither Newton’s laws, nor Einstein’s theory of Relativity in the absence of clear proof that all those laws and theories would equally apply to other universes, black holes or other dimensions.”

    I think our primary difference of opinion is probably in our definition of the term ‘absolute truth’. As you have said, different people view the truth in different ways. And this probably applies to the definition of absolute also.

  16. akraha1948 says:

    Kushalji, absolute truth is understood as the truth that is unchanging and unchangeable in all circumstances, all environs, all over, all time. Philosophically and logically too, it is the ultimate cause of the creation of the phenomenal world of matter and consciousness. If that cause is removed we confront the absurd proposition that something can come from nothing which would clearly defy the universally accepted axiom that nothing comes from nothing. You may call this root cause ‘the core element’ or ‘Sat-Chid-Ananda’ from which the matter and consciousness have come forth. Barring that root cause, everything else is in a state of flux.

    • Kushal Shah says:

      “absolute truth is understood as the truth that is unchanging and unchangeable in all circumstances, all environs, all over, all time.”

      Mr. Asish, in that case, it is possible that nothing really fits this description. What we call Brahman is said to be beyond space-time-causation. Hence I am not sure if its meaningful to say that Brahman does not change with time.

      “Philosophically and logically too, it is the ultimate cause of the creation of the phenomenal world of matter and consciousness. If that cause is removed we confront the absurd proposition that something can come from nothing which would clearly defy the universally accepted axiom that nothing comes from nothing.”

      May be its true that there is no ultimate cause. May be this physical universe is also eternal and has had no beginning and will have no end.

  17. RKGupta says:

    The above discussion is very interesting and I think both of you Mr. Raha and Dr. Shah are right in your perceptions and from the relative points of view.
    Here I would like to add another dimension from the philosophical point of view and that is that the state of Gyan (Knowledge) itself is the state of duality. Knowledge relates to making a distinction between things, which relates to the domain of duality. When we talk of ‘realisation’, what exactly is meant by it? What have the saints and yogis realised? Can that exactly be translated in words and can it be understood by others who have not entered the state of realisatin? If it was so, there was no need of Sadhana (shedding the ego-or the sense of possessing an individual identity) and mere reading and learning the scriptures would have made a person a realised soul. The real meaning of scriptures is understood only in the state of absorption by divine grace. Similarly many scientific postulates are understood in the state of deep contemplation. Exploring the mystery of creation through scientific means is also a Sadhana, but there also, one needs to keep ones mind free to receive the knowledge as it is revealed.

    • akraha1948 says:

      Guptaji, the distinction you have made between knowledge & realization is apt and irrefutable. When a realized soul like Sri Krishna or the Buddha pronounces to the world what is liberation or Nirvana and how to attain it, for their followers it is knowledge. For those who follow the path as ordained and attain liberation or Nirvana, it is realization. However, one may be deluded into thinking that he has realized the Truth. In this regard, following verse from Bhagavad Gita (7.3) is pertinent:

      “Manushyanam sahashreshu kaschit yatati siddhaye I
      Yatatam api siddhanam kaschit mam vetti tattvatah II”

      [Among thousands of men, perhaps one strives for spiritual attainment; and among the blessed seekers who have seemingly attained realization, perhaps one has realized Me.]

      Thus only a realized Master can determine whether an initiate has attained the highest state of liberation / realization, like sage Gautama could determine the spiritual state of his disciple Satyakama by a single glance at him when he returned to his Master after completing his assignment (refer Chandogya Upanishada). It would not be correct to think that such yogic assessment is subjective. In fact, such assessment is objective, strictly determined by the light emitted by the soul, visible only to yogic eyes. Spiritual enlightenment, however, is distinctive from acquired knowledge or even worldly wisdom.

  18. akraha1948 says:

    Kushalji, the rational doubts that prevail in your mind are signs of growth and are welcome. May these doubts lead you to enlightenment in both material science and spiritual science.

  19. Kushal Shah says:

    Mr. Gupta, I totally agree with what you have said regarding Knowledge and realisation. It was a great pleasure to have this discussion with you!

    Mr. Asish, as always, I thoroughly enjoyed this discussion with you and thanks a lot for your wishes! Now looking forward to the next post on this blog. 🙂

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