Chapter 6: Modern Science Meets Ancient Philosophy
The cosmology of Sankhya and Vedanta, as far as practical purposes are concerned, should be considered as similar. We have discussed to some extent the content of this doctrine in its principle stages, especially in the concept of creation as a universal manifestation of the Supreme Being gradually descending into denser formations until, in the terminology of the Sankhya, we have these cosmic principles known as the mahat and the ahamkara. Correspondingly, we also noticed that these stages are almost the same as what Vedanta calls Hiranyagarbha and Virat. It is essential for us to remember what these things actually mean. The terms are not important; the clarified concept involved in these terms is what is of consequence because these become stages of meditation in certain types of practice, whether according to Sankhya and Yoga or Vedanta.
The human mind has found it very difficult to visualise these stages, and it shall always remain a difficulty for the human mind. We cannot imagine what Virat is, what Hiranyagarbha is, though illustrations and analogies have tried to make the point clear to us as far as possible. These stages represent dimensionless expanses of the Ultimate Reality. ‘Dimensionless’ means no object is there outside this universal consciousness; it is infinite. What we call the finite is that which has a counterpart side by side – one finite is set against the other, one finite becomes the object of the other, one finite is related to the other – but here, no relation exists. This is a relationless – rather, a conceptual visualisation – of the original stages of the creation of the universe.
There is a belief based on the declaration of the Upanishads that up to the level of Virat – or to speak in the language of Sankhya, ahamkara – creation is divine. But we all know very well that we are not living in a Virat condition. We do not know what Virat is, what mahat is, what Hiranyagarbha is, what sort of creation this could have been. We live in a world of human societies with discrete particulars and consciousness of isolated individualities, with loves and hatreds, prejudices and intense egoisms of various categories. From where do they descend? They cannot be found in the Virat, in the mahat, or in any of these degrees or stages of manifestation mentioned. This is the Kingdom of God, to put it in popular language, or we may say the Kingdom of Heaven, where supreme divine righteousness reigns supreme.
But creation is not complete in the sense we understand creation, even at this level. Something else takes place. There is a further descent into special forms of particularities – or we may call them individualities. This is described in some detail in the Upanishads, such as the Brihadaranyaka and Aitareya. Our foundational scriptures in regard to the doctrine of creation are the Upanishads. In the Epics and Puranas, they go into great detail, into more concrete forms. This final act of God, we may say, or the fiat of the Supreme Being, played this drama of self-manifestation into these levels of descent which we call Ishvara, Hiranyagarbha, Virat, or prakriti, mahat, ahamkara. In this dramatic act, God has played a game within Himself. There is an aphorism in the Vedanta Sutras saying that this creation is a play of God. It is a play with His own self. He is not playing with somebody else; that ‘somebody’ does not exist there. It is supreme ‘I am what I am’. It is itself delight of an infinitude of being, inconceivable for the human mind, because one cannot imagine what this kind of delight could be in a play with one’s own self. However metaphorical the description of the process of creation there may be, we have to take it in the way it is described and humbly accept that we are not intended to understand it.
Whatever it is, something interesting follows which is very pertinent to the states of the practice of yoga as far as people like us are concerned. The Upanishad tells us that a tripartite split occurs immediately after this lowest descent takes place – call it ahamkara in the Sankhya language, or Virat in the language of the Vedanta. A threefold split takes place, as it were, in this supreme body of a universal nature, which is indivisible in itself in its pristine purity. A section of this universality is thrown out as the objective universe and a section is struck off as the individual percipients; but here, interestingly, perhaps humorously, the Upanishad cautions us by saying that God has not committed any blunder in this apparent splitting of Himself into the objective universe and the subjective percipients. In central administrations – whether governmental circles or otherwise – even when they give a long rope to subsidiary departments, they keep hold in a very careful manner, lest there be an assertion of total independence on the part of those who have been given some sort of freedom. This is what God has done, says the Upanishad. He has given a beautiful picture before us of this vast creation and He has given us the freedom, as it were, to stand or to fall, as Milton puts it beautifully. God has given us the freedom to stand or to fall. We may choose either way, and perhaps we have chosen to fall rather than stand because it is easier to lie down and flow with the current of the river than swim against it, because swimming against the current is hard. We always choose the easier way, the softer, the tastier, and the pleasanter, as the Upanishad tells us.
However, this is a little digression. God has kept a control over this multiplicity of manifestation by keeping a central authority, even in the midst of these apparently isolated particulars. These central principles of authority that He has placed are known only to Him and not to anybody else. The way in which a central intelligence operates is not a public matter; it is a great secret of management, and such a secret is operated upon, as it were, by God Himself, by the positing of what is Himself, as the devas or the divinities, the presiding principles to superintend over these particulars. It is not possible to have consciousness of an external world unless there is some intelligent connecting link between the percipient and the perceived world – or any object, for the matter of that. Visibly there is no such link. You will not see any link between me and you; there is nothing, practically. Yet any kind of logical observation of the situation of perception would reveal that perception is a state of consciousness with which the percipient is endowed in relation to an object; and this has to be explained in an intelligent manner in light of the fact that the object always remains outside the consciousness that perceives, and yet one cannot account for the possibility of such a perception if the object stood totally outside consciousness. This peculiar connecting link is the superintending deity. I become aware of you on account of the presence of a central operating medium, whose glorious functions are beautifully sung in the Varuna Sukta, a hymn of the Atharva Veda, which is something beautiful for you all to study. The Varuna Sukta says that when two people secretly speak in the corner of a dark room so that no one will hear what they say, a secret agent is noting and observing what is spoken. Everywhere and in every walk of life, in every level of being and under every condition, when two people speak there is a third principle. Two things cannot collaborate or come in contact with each other for any purpose whatsoever unless a third invisible principle also participates in it, as an umpire in a game. This umpire is not visible to the eyes of either of these two terms of the relation we call the percipient and the perceived object, you and I, and so on.
Thus, the threefold creation mentioned is, on the one hand, the vast universe, so-called, which has its own internal constituent diversity, and, on the other hand, the individual percipient. To make it more concrete and intelligible to you, midway between the world that you see outside you and yourself there is something which nobody can see. That is the central intelligence of God operating, and no one can know where it is or how it is. The Upanishads say that every limb of the body has a superintending principle over it. The sense organs, the mind, the ego, the subconscious, the intellect, and all that we are made of, have some presiding deity. For instance, the Sun is supposed to be the presiding deity of the eye, or the instrument of perception, and so on. As many levels of manifestation there are, as many degrees of creation as we can conceive, so many divinities are also there.
Here comes the great question of the multiplicity of gods or the diversity which the religions speak of among the celestial entities – or, more popularly, the many deities of religion. Are there many Gods? These questions sometimes occur to our minds. Why do we worship this god and that god? Are there so many Gods? There are not many Gods. These gods are the officials of the central government of the Supreme Being, and we cannot say the officials are many governments. They are the fingers of the centre, operating under a central control, and if we can call the officials of a central government as many governments, then we can call these divinities also as many Gods. But no one will consider the officials as many governments, as they are only the operating media of a central authority. Likewise, these gods are not Gods; they are the fingers of a Single Person. Our ten fingers are not ten persons, though they may move in ten different ways. Similar is the way in which God works in this multiplicity, whether in the form of the percipient subjects and the perceived objects or in the form of the multiplicity of the divinities or the superintending intelligences.
Now, in the Sanskrit language or in the language of the theology of the Vedanta, particularly, there are certain names for these section-wise creations of the Supreme Absolute. The cosmic universe objectively perceived is called the adhibhuta prapanca. Prapanca is the universe, the vast creation, and adhibhuta is the visible, concrete, or we may say the material universe. These terms also appear in the Bhagavadgita, and it is good to remember them. Adhibhuta is the objective universe, the material content of objective experience, adhyatma is the subjective percipient principle, and adidaiva is the divinity I referred to.
There are mainly three aspects, or rather phases, of this universal manifestation of the Ultimate Being we may call Virat, and these are the adhibhuta, the adhyatma and the adidaiva – the objective universe, the subjective individual, and something mysterious operating between the two. While we know something about the objective world, and very little about our own selves as the percipient individuals, we can know nothing about the third principle. We not only do not know anything about these divinities, but we also cannot have access to them because they are subtle organisations of highly potent divine elements and they cannot be contacted unless certain disciplines are practised.
We can contact any god, we can have a vision of any divinity, we can summon any celestial, if some discipline is practised. Now I am giving you a little hint into this matter, since it may be a interesting to you, though it is not a part of the subject that we are discussing. You can summon anything – any god, any celestial – provided you undergo a certain discipline, and you may be interested to know what this discipline is. You are concerned mostly with your own self, and there is a prejudice in the mind of every percipient individual that the world of perception outside is totally segregated. We have no time to consider the necessity of there being such a thing as a divinity presiding over both the subjective and the objective side in order that perception or experience of any kind may be possible at all. The divinity reveals itself in your consciousness. Whatever be the degree of the intensity of the divinity, whatever be that god, it reveals itself before you when you overcome the barrier that you have created between yourself and the world, because this divinity is nothing but the link between yourself and the world. It is the bridge between you and the world outside, and how can you be conscious of this bridge as long as you are concerned only with one side of it and not your organic relatedness with the other side? The word ‘bridge’ is used in the Upanishad. The Chhandogya Upanishads refers to it as setur vidharanaar, the great ideational connecting link. Esha setur vidharanah: the whole world is maintained by this bridge, says the Upanishad. This is the bridge of the central universal consciousness, which has never forgotten to maintain its authority even in the midst of this lowest of discrete particularities that have been created. God is very wise; He has never let loose His control.
Now, the consciousness of this divinity, the realisation of this celestial superintending principle in our own direct experience, is possible only to the extent we are able to outgrow our egoisms or our self-affirmations as physical bodies and psychic entities, totally different from the world outside. Insofar as you are able to approximate yourself to the world outside and become a friend of things in a communion that you establish in an organic manner with the world and the objects outside, in that light and to that extent only will the divinity reveal itself. Therefore, no egoistic person can have the vision of God. God is a non-ego, and the stages of this experience of the non-ego are the stages of the realisations in your meditation, in your samadhi, or in your divine experience.
We again come to the point that there has been a threefold manifestation, the adhibhuta, the adhyatma, and the adhidaiva. Modern science, or any kind of science for the matter of that – physics, chemistry, biology included – are busy with the objective world, and certain branches of psychology have busied themselves with the individual percipient. The scientific analysis of the objective world and the psychological analysis of the individual is a vast area of study. You should be acquainted with these themes to some extent, though you need not go into great details of these researches. They may not be very intimately connected with your own purpose here, namely, the practice of yoga; but it would be good to know that science has probed into the structure of the physical universe and has come to gradational conclusions through the process of the history of science that this physical universe is made up of five elements – earth, water, fire, air, ether.
This is an ancient conclusion which stands good for practically all purposes even today, but scientific curiosity is not satisfied merely with this study and observation. It was noticed that these five elements are not actually five gross objects standing before us, but they are constituted of minute particles called molecules and, as you all know very well, these molecules are made up of finer things called atoms. Western thinkers such as Democritus and Indian thinkers such as the Nyaya and the Vaisheshika logicians thought alike in concluding that this vast universe of five elements is finally constituted of the building bricks we call atoms – which are dimensionless according to some, but have minute dimensions according to others. But, great controversy prevailed later on as to the manner in which dimensionless atoms could produce a dimensioned universe. How would it be possible for atoms which have no three-dimensions to create a world of three dimensions? How could something come from nothing? Ex nihilo nihil fit: nothing comes from nothing. Anyhow, this is out of the jurisdiction of our study.
The world of material observation is supposed to be constituted of atoms, but today we have gone deeper and discovered that the world is not made up of atoms. It is more a force rather than a thing; it is more a condition of living than a substance; it is a circumstance rather than an object – all of which are only words with no meaning for us. We do not know what it all means. We live under a peculiar condition, and this condition is called the universe of experience, all of which means finally that the world as it is presented to our senses is not the real world. There is some mystery behind the visible forms of the contents we call the five elements – earth, water, fire, air, ether – or the various objects, forms, colours, sounds, etc. There are neither colours nor sounds nor tastes nor smells nor touches. These sensations are nothing but certain peculiar reactions set up by the structural idiosyncrasies of our own sense organs which react in particular manners to a uniform spread-out continuum, call it by any name you like. Some people call it the space-time continuum; some say it is the electromagnetic field. Whatever the name be, there seems to be some uniform ubiquitous equally-distributed something which is not at all the so-called diversified hard stone, water, fire, etc., as we see.
Why are there five things, five sensations? They are the five manners of the reception of this one ubiquitous thing by the diversity of our own sense organs. God knows, if we had a hundred senses, we would see the world in a hundred ways. Fortunately we have only five senses, so we have five experiences. We are not going to study science here. This is only to point out that the objective analysis of the physical universe has, no doubt, come to a very grand and majestic conclusion that the universe of perception is not merely a diversification of particulars, but is somehow a continuum which is indivisible in its nature. Though this is something very interesting and worthwhile remembering, and we may say science has done a great service even to philosophy, the study of religion and the living of a spiritual life, yet it has maintained a peculiar prejudice of its own – namely, the world is outside. Our problem is not what the world is made of, but where it is: it is outside. This is the crux of the whole matter. But today our scientific friends have become friendlier with us, and have somehow or other jumped into another unexpected conclusion that the world cannot really be outside the observer because the world so-called, the universe that we are thinking of, is inclusive of the observer himself. When we speak of the universe, we are not expected to discount our own existence as an observer, who is part and parcel, perhaps organically connected to this so-called universe of perception.
Now, here is a terrible difficulty before us. How would we observe a world of which we ourselves are a part? Here science has nothing to say. It cries “Halt! Thus far and no further.” When science halts, philosophy begins or, rather, religion starts, we may say. So, modern physics and science are great advances, and they have shaken hands with philosophy, metaphysics, and perhaps even with spiritual adventures. That is one side of the matter. The great benefit philosophy and religious researches receive from scientific discoveries of modern times is that the observer cannot stand outside the observed universe. Then, who observes the universe? Who is the scientist?
This will give you a little clue to understanding how God has become this threefold universe in spite of the fact there cannot be a threefold partition of a one indivisible Absolute. God cannot be cut into three parts. The Supreme Being is one indivisible existence even now, and yet it appears threefold. Perhaps these few words I uttered today, in the light of what science has concluded, are also a clue to understanding how one indivisible Being can appear as a threefold variety, adhibhuta, adhyatma, adidaiva. The stages of– the cosmology of creation are going to become more interesting further on.
We have to know ourselves very clearly; we have to diagnose ourselves threadbare in order to know what our disease is. What is our sickness? What are we suffering from? Why do we study yoga? Why study Vedanta? Why meditate? Why any of these things? What is the matter? There is something very strange about us which keeps us restless and makes us feel everything is irksome. What is wrong with us? Why do we do anything at all? This has to be probed into with an incisive understanding, in which adventure of ours these studies in cosmology that have already conducted by the Sankhya and Vedanta are very helpful to us by explaining the threefold partition, as it were, of the one indivisible Absolute, Brahman, mahat, or whatever it is called.
I have said something about the physical universe of five elements. The Indian doctrine says that these five elements are the product of a peculiar permutation and combination of subtler principles, called tanmatras. These are invisible potencies, potentialities of the five elements – earth, water, fire, air, ether. They are the principles of sound, the principle of touch, etc. I mentioned to you that we have five senses or five sensations. The corresponding objects of these five sensations are the tanmatras. These are objective counterparts of the subjective reactions set up by our senses – sound, touch, colour, taste, smell. The objective principles or the substantial basis of these sensations lie behind the manifestation of these gross elements, called mahabhutas – earth, water, fire, air, ether.
The objective universe manifest from this Virat, or the Supreme Being, became a sudden spatial expanse. There was only space in the beginning, or we may say space-time. Here our ancient doctrine seems to be telling us the same thing which modern science tells us again: there is only space-time, nothing more, nothing less. God created the world out of nothing practically, as we can understand this statement of the Bible. What was the material out of which the universe was manufactured? Where was the material for God? Nothing! The world is made of nothing, and now you will perhaps know why the world is nothing, finally. It is not a hard substance; it is a big balloon, inside which there is nothing. That there appears to be something very valuable in this nothing, is due to another reason. That reason again, to come to the point, is the presence of the third divine element, a substance, a reality appearing behind this presentation of the phenomena. Even appearance cannot be without reality behind it. As the old adage goes, if the rope is not there, a snake cannot be seen. Though the snake is not there, the rope is there; therefore, we feel the presence of a solid substance. We feel that there is a solid universe, a tangible thing before us, not because there is anything tangible or solid actually, but because there is a reality behind the sensation of tangibility, the cause of our feeling that there is some hard world in front of us.
This physical universe of five elements, therefore, is a product of what is called the quintuplication, a peculiar fivefold permutation and combination of these tanmatras – shabda, sparsha, rupa, rasa, gandha, which means the principles of sound, touch, etc., mentioned already. Thus, the physical universe is created. Then where are we coming from? The question arises: “You have told us about these five elements and tanmatras all coming from the Supreme Being in some way, and here we have our Jacks, Johns, Ramas, Krishnas, Gopis and Radhas. From where do these people come? Who created them? Who created us? Where have we jumped from?” We are more interested in these things than the study of the physical elements. Let them be there; what does it matter to us? But our problems are our problems.
Now from the widespread cosmological study of an objective universe, we have to turn our attention to the study of individual psychological entities called persons, human beings, animals, this and that. So from the objective side we turn to the subjective side, and then we see what has happened to us and where we are standing today.