THE NATURE OF MATTER
In Pursuit of Reality
Oriental Mysticism and Modern Science
N. C. Rana
The search for the nature of matter — bhutah — is a fundamental one to both scientists and non-scientists. A careful thought to this process leads to the fact that it ought to be some kind of a realisation in the form of human perception, awaiting an expression. Over the years, people from different disciplines of science and humanities have acquired some wisdom of how this perception can (or cannot) be expressed in terms of their own ‘languages’. Even though all languages, be they mathematicians or any other mortals, are symbolic and are chosen as a matter of conventions, we have gathered here with the hope to understand each others’ language, and see where exactly we all are in this game. I call it a search for reality, and shall try to express my own understanding of some of the viewpoints of the modern scientists and philosopher-cum-spiritualists of the oriental traditions in a language supposedly comprehensible to people of both the categories.
Is there anything common in the ways the two Categories
of People practise their own Disciplines?
If we are to compare our views across the table in a serious manner, we better start with our modes of practising.
Practising science has, broadly speaking, three stages: (i) providing the logistics, for example, laboratory, computing facility, library, training facilities, institutionalised schools of people of common interest, and so on; (ii) performing the experiments and/or theoretical calculations and ending up with seminal presentation of results in a logical manner and in the most concise form; and (iii) reaching the results of pure research to the laypersons by way of popularisation or writing science fictions, and transforming the knowledge of pure science into technology for improving the standard of everybody’s day-to-day life. More often than not, all these three stages representing actually three categories of activities are not practised by the same persons. Obviously, pessimists may find in the first category, a possible promotion of dogmatism in a big way, keeping the second one, of course, relatively free from such prejudices, if any, and in the third one, an average citizen is on the whole expected to be benefited tremendously but eventually might turn into hapless victims of the hazards of man-made pollutions, or dreadful star wars due to possible abuse of the pedagogical results of scientific inventions. Who would then set the guidelines for a sane approach to scientific research and technological transformations?
A parallel to the above scenario can be found in the ways of practice of the other side in what is known as Prasthanatraya, meaning three paths to perceiving the reality with a possibly better introspection: (i) through the door-way of Sruti-prasthana, or the head/revealed texts, such as the four Vedas (Rk, Sama, Yajuh, Atharva) and six Vedangas (siksa, kalpa, vyakarana, chanda, jyotisa), for which the priest’s (or teacher’s, as the case may be) instructions are the final; (ii) through the door-way of Nyaya-prasthana, such as the classical six darsanas (schools of philosophies), such as Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisesika, Purva-mimamsa, Uttara-mimamsa, and others, for which the superiority of either logic or some methodology of practice is accepted; (iii) through the door-way of Smrti-prasthana, or the remembered, i.e., secondary, texts based on the Vedas, such as, Manu-smrti, eighteen Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Srimadbhagavadgita. Again, in the fold of mysticism and philosophies, religious dogmatism plays a key role in making virtually each one of the so-called religions as a fundamentalist’s ritualistic sanctions on the methods of training of the would-be scholars. But the second door-way has by and large remained free of dogmas, unless the scholar really ends up in justifying the pre-existing form of the logical basis of the school of thoughts he/she belongs to. The third path does really aim to set some well-defined moral and social codes for their own communities in order to enable any ordinary individual not only to promote himself/herself to exercise the highest moral standards, but also to achieve the highest realisations under certain special circumstances.
How far can the Concepts of Reality in Religion and
Science be Stretched to be Compared at par in Principle?
Let us consider Vedanta, one of the oldest disciplines of acquiring a knowledge of the Self as well as the external world, which claims that the question of the perception of reality in the external world is intimately related to that of the perception of the Self. One of the denominations of the Vedantic schools (Advaita Vedanta) claims even further that the world external to ourselves does not simply exist, or more precisely, does not have an ontological status at par with our own selves. Using inductive logic, they say, it is merely our ignorance that leads to an illusory perception of the whole world external to ourselves. They do not say that ‘the world does not exist’ is a false statement, but it appears otherwise so long as one remains ignorant of its falsehood. The most common allegory used in this regard is the following:
If we now begin to analyse how we proceed in our scientific mission of understanding the nature, we find that the process is qualitatively very similar to the one stated above. How can we convince ourselves of a thing beyond what we have already been able to convince ourselves up to that moment? Most scientists start with a set of a priori postulates, build up their ladder of arguments leading to certain conclusions which, under circumstances, though rare enough, do return to the falsifiability of the initial postulates, thus making at some stage or the other, the chain of the logic to be circular. This provision for any feedback mechanism to operate on it makes the system of logic to be self-regressive in nature. Without a feedback or a posteriori observation and experimentation, the methodology of scientific empiricism cannot work. Thus, every scientific assertion including its basic postulates is endlessly falsifiable, so long as the switch of its feedback mechanism is not turned off. The ultimate scientific truth, if it exists, can never be reached by any finite process of the scientific methodology, unless, of course, we hit by chance the real truth itself. At that point, the system of logic ought to become closed and remain absolutely self-consistent thenceafter. Thus, even in science, the real truth ought to be unchangeable, if at all it can be hit upon par chance.
Therefore, there is no inconsistency between science and certain schools of philosophies and religious denominations, even if the later category dares to claim that it has reached the Absolute Truth, but in that case, it would be their responsibility to provide answers to all possible questions. There are enough examples of such obsessive tendency that are prevalent in practically all of the religious denominations, a process which has perhaps made many philosopher-scientists turning a totally deaf ear to their sayings beyond what any sensible logic could permit to digest. This obsession has to be controlled, and a Yogi is supposed to have mastered in that art in the sixth stage of his/her eight-fold Yogasiddhis. In this respect, both scientists and philosophers (and Seers) are often found to be quite ordinary human beings only, not rationalists. Why Maharsi Krsnadvaipayana Vadarayana Vyasadeva, supposedly the composer of Mahabharata, Brahmasutra and Puranas, has put Dhyanayoga (the art of mastering over mind) above the Karmayoga (the art of mastering over one’s activities without having an expectation of reward/curse of any kind), Jnanayoga (the art of proving anything, right or wrong, by the sheer power of the intellect and knowledge) in the Gita, supposedly the quintessence of all the Vedas, Upanisads and Darsanas, may provide you with some further foods for thought. I shall return to this point once again why he put Samkhyayoga in the second chapter, and attributes of matter (physical as well as psychic) in the fourteenth chapter of the Gita.
Is it possible to Eliminate the Subjective Elements
from Science, Philosophy and Religion?
Let us now move on to have a closer look at the ways or the modes of expressing a fact in science or otherwise. The mode of delivery of this talk, for example, is verbal (and also visual). It is a process by which the desired content of information of my lecture is codified into a train of propagating, sound and electromagnetic, waves in the air, which are received by your appropriate sense-organs, and these are expected to be decodified in some standard way. I am emphasizing the phrases, expected and standard, because they are my a priori assumptions that are made use of in the act of conveying a particular set of messages from my head to your head. Let us analyse the process a bit more critically in the following way.
Surely, I want to convey some ideas of mine. To the best of our knowledge, the ideas, by themselves, are abstract. They are surely given an explicit form, by way of generating sound waves and all that. You are assumed to have been trained in the same standard way, I believe, I am trained to enable myself to encode as well as decode an idea. We know that the sounds or the trains of light pulses, thus produced are by no means the idea themselves, yet the ideas must have also been carried with these forms, else how can we reconcile with the fact that you would most probably get the same idea as I wanted to transmit? This time of very apparent contradictions exist at all levels of our day-to-day life. Let us give another example. While reading a book, we merely look at a page which contains, materialistically speaking, nothing other than some patterns of some chemicals, called inks, on a sheet of paper, supposedly made up of some other chemical substances. A mere pattern of the ink cannot be the idea itself, but at the same time it ought to carry the idea somehow. According to Karl Popper, the art of understanding the exhibits of fine arts, be they created by the humans or by the maiden nature, requires what is called the cultural training by a perceptible and imaginative mind. Here, as in other cases, a set of conventions are likely to act as the vehicles of an otherwise totally abstract idea. This process seems to be far from being understood by the biophysicists at present.
If reasoned in the above way, it becomes obvious to us that our understanding of the outside world is an involved process that goes on in our head only. The system is not closed, as it interacts meaningfully with the external world, but it is not necessarily open, as our brain can reconstruct any event in our head using what is called the power of imagination. This second possibility has far-reaching significance, and to emphasise that a Vedantin might argue in the following way. When I say that a table really exists in the external world before my eyes, all I mean is that my brain is perceiving an image through its assembly of the sense-organs, that compares reasonably well with its prototype that already exists in some cognisable form in our brain. Now, in order to perceive an image, a distribution of photons is required to be incident on the retina, or more correctly, the optical nerves must be stimulated in a particular way. We also know that in our dreams, we do simulate such images without receiving any stimuli from the external world. Further, in dreams, we do recognise the simulations as real as we perceive them when we are awake. Then, how can one be confident enough to distinguish between a dream and the so-called reality, particularly when, in a dream, it is difficult to realise that it is a dream. The converse is, however, not true because when we are awake, we are able to distinguish between a dream and reality. The inherent power of imagination in the humans to create fake images by simulation only has really put us in a state of confusion between reality and dream or hallucination. Whether in the sojourn of our human lives we are in a state of superdream or not cannot be answered without facing a circular argument.
At this point, we may have a brief look at what revolution the computer technology has brought into our understanding. A computer, when bought, does not have any softwares loaded, much like a newly born child, having its memory not stuffed with pride and prejudices. Through constant interaction with the outside world the child develops its own culture. Now, we have come to a stage where the network of computers are found to work in unison, much like a matured person interacting with other people in a society. However, whether computers or robots can acquire an artificial intelligence or not is a matter of further research, but abstraction without a form or pattern has not so far been achieved in the field of computer technology.
Much more than that, one can see that the process of creative thinking or finding a new solution to a problem cannot proceed without making explicit use of the potential faculty of telling a lie or imagining attributes to the face-value of the reality of any object of study. By this, basically I mean that a poet’s vision (for example, imagining a ‘woman’ in a tree or cloud or river) is not much more unreal than a scientist’s or philosopher’s vision of the outside world (for example, a ‘cloud’ of electrons in an atom, or electric field as ‘something’ like a streamline flow of an invisible fluid). Now, how can we hope to succeed in the pursuit of truth by making the best use of basically the precious faculty of ‘lying and imagination’? We simply cannot. The very basis of the notion of so-called ‘objectivity’ cannot in principle come out of the vicious circle of ‘subjectivity’.
Even though I have spent more than a page to discuss about, this fact is nothing new to the scientists. Of course, time and again, fraudulent claims of some extra-ordinary phenomena, such as decay of protons, cold fusion and detection of magnetic monopoles, do come up, and one vital criterion for checking the scientific objectivity, namely, the ability to repeat the experimental results elsewhere (for theoretical claims, thorough re-checking of the calculations and the mathematical logic), has so far proved to be quite effective on deciding the issues. Nevertheless, even if 100 scientists firmly argue in support of a theory against even one individual who does not subscribe to it, there are enough number of historical evidences to suggest that the consensus alone was not the most reliable measure of scientific objectivity. In fact, the progress of science has suffered many set-backs in the past due to the prejudice of some of the ‘great’ scientists.
What does the Modern Science say about the Nature of Matter?
Since science is an evolving discipline of knowledge, we need not have to bother about what mistakes the previous scientists did in the past, where this notion of past may refer to even as late as yesterday.
As of today, scientists have indeed pursued the nature of matter in a very diverse way. For some, the quest is one, of acquiring the knowledge of the ultimate microscopic structure of matter; for others, it is to know what kind of symmetries in the form of laws of motion of matter obeys on different scales of length and time; yet for others, it may be a question of how matter is created, and so on. A few notable observations can be made in the following points:
(i) One of the profound discoveries of the previous century is that heat, electricity, mechanical work, etc. are merely some form of ‘energy’, which is indestructible but only mutually interchangeable in its form or the brand name. However, it was further realised that all natural processes have an inescapable tendency to transform all other forms of energy into heat, leading to Jeans’ fatalistic prediction of the heat death of the whole universe. Heat was linked with the chaotic motion of the microscopic particles, and therefore, gradual increase in the heat content implied a gradual but sure change from any existing ordered structure or ordered motion into a totally disordered state, devoid of any structure.
Today’s universe as it appears to us is highly structured and ordered, and so is the highly ordered state in the prevailing life forms on earth. But the most surprising and revealing fact is that our past was in a less ordered state than our present, be it in regards the form of life on earth or the overall state of the universe. Somehow the second law of thermodynamics seemed to have been violated in the working principle of life on one hand (virtually perpetual engines are running to produce work at a constant temperature) and the universe on the other (virtually homogeneous and isotropic universe turning into a structured and clumpy one)!
The physics behind the evolution of life forms is not yet clearly understood, but it is the negative specific heat of gravitating systems (namely, an evolved star continues to emit radiation causing its temperature rather to increase than to decrease with time) that is known to be responsible for violating the second law of thermodynamics in gravitating systems, such as the universe.
(ii) The concept of energy (E) is an integral part of the notion of inertia of matter (represented by its mass m) through the famous equation E=mc2, where c is the speed of light in vacuum (=299,792,458 metre/second, exact by definition). The energy can be potent and can act like an inertial mundane object, but if it is fully released, it would still carry the same amount of inertia. Given a finite amount of energy, whether one would call it energy or inertia, makes absolutely no difference to a physicist. However, given a mundane object having a finite rest mass, its total transformation into an active form of energy is usually not possible, except for a small fraction and that, too, depends on the situation. Just by measuring the amount of energy released in a chemical or thermal or electrical or nuclear process, the amount of inertia corresponding to that amount of energy (Dm = DE/c2) is only converted, which is usually very small compared to m itself.
(iii) The greatest import of quantum mechanics is the concept of ‘quantum’, as opposed to the classical idea of continuity or infinite divisibility. Planck’s constant (h) is its sole representative. It does not mean that everything is quantised. To start with, the energy of a light-carrying particle, called photons, were quantised with the Planck law of radiation which says that the energy content (E) of a photon is intimately related to one of its classical attributes, namely, the frequency v of the electro-magnetic radiation (representing now the photon), by the relation E=hv, where h (=6.626 x 1034 joules/sec) is a universal constant. A few years later, the angular momentum or the spin, and another subtle classical concept, ‘action’ were also quantised. The implications of these new inputs were tremendous as well as revealing. The Planck law paved the way to the development of the wave-mechanics, and wave-particle duality, a concept hardly could be reconciled in a totally classical manner. Similarly, the classical idea of spin can be perceived if and only if a particle has an inherent structure. It was very soon realised that classically an electron cannot be thought of an object smaller than a certain size (simply because, the amount of electric charge e it contains will lead to have a store of some finite electrostatic potential energy, which cannot be allowed to exceed its inertial rest-mass energy E = m½ec2, ‘m½e ’ being its rest-mass; that is, potent energy cannot exceed its internal rest-mass energy). This required size (5.85 x 10-15 metre, for m½e = 9.11 x 10-31 kg and e = 1.602 x 10-19 coulomb) is so tiny that even if its equatorial parts are allowed to rotate with a speed as fast as that of light in vacuum, its maximum possible angular momentum will fall short of the Planck constant by a factor of several thousands. So it was hopeless to think of the elementary particles in a manner our classical concepts would allow for, and this fact alone demonstrates that the concept of spin is non-classical.
Losing the battle on such fundamental issues, it was no more considered to be painful to picture the elementary particles as structureless. The wave-particle duality of photons and the elementary particles became the part of our life. Till the advent of quantum mechanics, physicists were quite content with the idea that the complex numbers were only mathematical tools for simplifying certain mathematical problems and all solutions having a root in the form of complex quantities were rejected as unreal solutions. But in the hands of Schroedinger, the differential equation of motion itself could not get rid of the use of i (= h — 1), thus raising the status of complex numbers to describe the reality of the quantum world. Even though Max Born was bold enough (and correctly so) to re-establish the prime role of the real numbers to describe all measurable physical quantities, the role of complex numbers in the context of the Hilbert space, in resolving the mystery of wave-particle duality in the Argand plane of complex numbers, in the use of unitary matrices and unitary groups to describe the unification of forces of nature, in the idea of Minkowskian space-time continuum retaining the Euclidean character, got its profound recognition.
Another major import of quantum mechanics, namely, how to define the process of measurement and what the genuine observables are, has raised a lot of controversies, leading to Schroedinger’s cat problem, Einstein-Podolski-Rosen (EPR) paradox, Bohm-Aharonov effect, etc. There is at present a mixed feeling about the role of an observer in the process of observation, a process leading to spontaneous collapse of wave function, which basically amounts to collapse of the observer’s ignorance about the eigenstate of the quantum system to which the measurement process out to ‘collapse’ and hence ‘reveal’ it to the observer. In Schroedinger’s cat problem, the system with the measuring device is such that the probability of collapsing to one of the two possible eigenstates is exactly 0.5, and therefore, the revelation is the only option left to the observer to know the real state. In the EPR paradox, the two measuring devices are placed wide apart, the probability of collapsing to one of the two possible eigenstates is 0.5 for either of the two measuring devices, but the EPR case is formulated in such a manner that revelation of the result in one device will ‘spontaneously’ determine what the revelation would be at other device, without allocating any time to inform each other’s observational results. To some, these instances are bothersome and they see a role of the conscious decision of the observer, to others there is nothing mysterious. Scientists of both the categories have learnt to live with such instances. In the Bohm-Aharonov effect, one attempts to devise a case in which a supposedly non-observable quantity becomes measurable, and this chosen non-observable quantity is such a fundamental one that its reality as well as non-observability is responsible for what is called the principle of gauge invariance of elecromagnetic theory. All such propositions are based on a hypothesis of some hidden variables to defy the claims of the standard formulation of the quantum mechanics, and to that effect, Bell’s inequality, a very cleverly designed test for distinguishing between the two schemes, has lost by a wide margin on real experimentation over the past 15 years. The Copenhagen interpretation of the standard quantum mechanics is still found to be valid, and the Einsteinian concept of physical reality seems to have remained illusive in the wizard world of the microcosmos.
(iv) Originally, the space and time were considered to be as merely concepts, which did not have any ontological status. But in Einstein’s hand, the general theory of relativity, has unified the space, time and matter to such a level that space-time is no longer assumed to be concepts only, thus allowing the possibility of gravitational waves (fluctuations in the space-time continuum, not of matter) to be given the same ontological status as electro-magnetic waves are endowed with. Similarly, nobody believed before Maxwell that mere electric and magnetic fields in free space could sometimes behave like physical entities as tangible as the ‘light’ itself.
(v) The uncertainty principle due to Heisenberg has shaken the firm classical belief that the principle of causality is a sacred one, namely, all effects are precisely predictable if their cause (the law) is stated clearly. This principle was blatantly violated by the world of the atoms and electrons. The culprit was finally found to be no other than the vacuum itself. Even Maxwell had suspected that vacuum was not simply void; as he thought, how vacuum could produce electric currents, called displacement currents! Vacuum is known to have finite electric polarizability, magnetic permeability, and can witness processes such as annihilation and creation of particles and anti-particles, and transmutation of particles. Today’s vacuum is a dynamic world full of virtual particles, unrealisable potentialities, and eagerly awaiting a proper chance to manifest itself as cognisable entities. In science, a theory however nice and beautiful it be, its ultimate test is to get some or other observable or experimentally measurable effect. If we merely say that vacuum is full of virtual pairs, it will not become a fully acceptable theory. In fact, Lamb shift and Casimir effects are the two pillars for us to witness the reality of the above theory of vacuum. The sound of music of vacuum can really be compared to that of an orchestra having an infinite number of strings of all the possible lengths of chords. Similarly, the above-mentioned Bohm-Aharonov effect ought to manifest in some or other way if the basis of the electro-magnetic gauge invariance ought to get the actual scientific recognition.
(vi) The elementary particles, more precisely, the fields representing them, such as electrons or neutrons or quarks, are assumed not to have a structure at all. No one would be in a position to give any idea of how exactly two such field entities do encounter in space and time, even though the results of interactions are predictable by the appropriate laws of the quantum world. Physicists are very much concerned about revealing the aesthetic beauty in the form of unifying principles of symmetry in the diverse behaviour of the whole world. For this, they had to pay a very heavy price. The behaviour of the known elementary particles suggests that many of them have finite rest mass, and therefore, obey laws of lesser symmetry. Everytime one moves from the plane of higher symmetry to a lower one, some of the field entities are to be endowed with some finite rest mass from an original state of their zero rest mass. This mass-giving ceremony is christened as Higg’s mechanism (also recall Mach’s headache regarding the origin of inertia of matter), supposedly an outcome of the spontaneous (causeless) symmetry breaking principle but so far not been directly witnessed in any of the laboratory experiments. Of course, long before Higgs, Einstein talked of the spontaneous emission of photons. If one has to be so fussy about the concept of spontaneity, Newton can hardly be spared of introducing it in his celebrated third law of motion, in which any creation of momentum in any internal or external process needed to be complemented by the simultaneous creation of exactly equal momentum but opposite in direction. In order to save the principle of Newtonian causality, spontaneity had to be allowed to get its way into the realm of physics at the hands of the very person who founded the subject itself.
(vii) Let us now have a look at the cosmos. Although the modern foundation of cosmology was laid by Einstein in 1917, the subject of cosmogony began with Gamow’s idea of the hot big-bang in 1946, soon to be followed by Bondi, Gold and Hoyle’s idea of a steady state universe in 1948 (the title ‘big-bang’ was for the first time used in a BBC radio talk delivered by Hoyle in 1950). One of the key differences between these two models is that the creation of matter in the universe takes place at a finite and continuous rate in the steady stat model, when in the hot big-bang model the entire creation took place some finite time ago. The popular mandate is to let the process of creation of matter, space and time an altogether, a painful process no doubt, be it for once and once only at the very beginning for the big-bang models, or on a continuous basis (begging the vacuum to do it) for all the time for the steady state model. However, the pandora box of the ultra-high energy particle physics has been equally kind to both the possible options. Once the sanctity of vacuum is gone, it is gone forever; now it is no crime to ask vacuum to provide a continuous creation or creation in bangs, mini or macro. Of course, the idea of the hot big-bang has unified the origin of a macroscopic world with that of the microscopic particles. So in the Beginning, if there was any, the whole learnt to respect for its tiniest parts, and these tiniest parts assumed the wholeness, for reasons still quite mysterious to both particle physicists and cosmologists.
(viii) The general theory of relativity and the quantum mechanics have in one sense ruined the possibility of deriving infinite energy out of the collapse of a finite system into a structureless point. Quantum mechanics has given stability to atoms and nuclei by putting them on to some kind of ground states, even though classical mechanics and classical electromagnetism allowed them to derive infinite amount of energy out of it by the process of spiralling into a point. The same is true with the collapse of a star into a blackhole which would be in a position to convert only a fraction of its total mass-energy content, but classically gravity allowed the possibility of deriving an infinite amount of energy from the gravitational collapse. However, general relativity could not give stability to matter, it led to an unavoidable singularity in case all other forces of nature surrendered to gravity. When quantum mechanics and general relativity were combined at the hands of Steven Hawking, it was found that a blackhole ought to die out and would make almost 100 per cent conversion of matter into energy possible in the long run, with the tiniest bit of the remnant left, which is a particle of Planck mass (~ 10-8 kg). Similarly, the very nascent phase of the hot big-bang model also cannot get rid of this effect of quantum-gravity, and therefore, it ought to begin with finite density and radius, both having the tiniest Planckian dimensions. Philosophers must note the implication of this interesting consequence, namely, even though the potentiality of a finite system appeared to be infinite about 80 years ago, today’s physics has been able to put a limit to the extent to which the actual manifestation is possible, which is nearly 100 per cent, though under some extraordinary circumstances only.
(ix) There has been another interesting development over the past few years. When matter changes its state through what is called phase transition, the clustering or reassembling of the constituents may not evolve as a three or two-dimensional object does, obeying the Euclidean type of geometry, even though they are all supposed to be embedded in the Euclidean type of space only. Their hierarchical growth is found to follow a non-integral dimension, that is, growth with an effectively fractal dimension of space.
(x) The quantum world has proven not to be in a position to dismiss the uncertainty principle, and the price one pays in the form of lising the most fundamental and classically aesthetic principle of causality. Then what is the link between chaotic behaviour and the exact mathematical prescriptions that lead to definite and quantitative predictions, even though it had to be statistical in nature? Can we really say that the mathematical laws governing the quantum world is precisely acting the role of a task master to obey certain set of equations as absolute laws, namely the overall conservation of measurable energy, of linear and angular momenta, of lepton and baryon numbers under the most general conditions? There is indeed a kind of continuity maintained, but that might be absolutely in the form of some covariant mathematical equations or some sacred quantities that are to be conserved in most cases. Without allowing at least one of these expected properties to serve duly the purpose of maintaining a continuity in the form of some or other conservation law(s), physics cannot in principle work at all.
(xi) Having said so much about the physicists’ profound ignorance and revelations, let me switch over to biology. In the age of genetic surgery, it might not be an act of sin, if we talk about what makes a body assume life. If it is merely the result of assemblage of the biochemical molecules in some particular order, then it would be possible to revive a dead animal either by the process of resurrection or by superfast transplantation of a live head in place of the dead head. The question remains, if parts of the brain could be set right by surgery, why not the whole.
Again, if we carefully look at the history of evolution of life on earth during the past 3,600 million years, we find that the record begins from the unicellular proto-viral form to the most complex form in the human beings. It is a long journey, nevertheless, at every stage, the process of natural procreation has ensured to develop a miniature form of the adult in the foetus starting from a single cell, a most cleverly codified result of experimentation in the nature that took several billion years of time, in usually less than a year’s time. If we compare the complexity of the primeval cells with those of human’s, it is no more than a factor of 100 or so. Molecular biologists have not so far been able to synthesize a complete cell in the laboratory. So it would be a tall claim if they begin authentically to state that life has originated on the surface of the earth (that is, emphasising on absolutely no need for any seed of life to have come from extra-terrestrial sources). So far as mind and consciousness are concerned, both physical and biological sciences are too premature to address such issues at the present.
The pace at which the cultural evolution is taking place in the Homo Sapiens, the modern humans do not need to wait for solving their problems (ecological or otherwise) by the extremely slow process of biological adaptation cum evolution. Humans are indeed meeting all their needs by way of inventing new ideas and techniques in the name of discovery or inventions, a process that takes place at the neuronal level in the cerebral cortex in the form of creative thinking or restructuring of a tiny portion of the neuronal network. Therefore, the need for biological evolution for solving survival problems has ended in the cultured humans, and the nature has been able to produce such a highly intelligent and exalted form of life as it would have surely been required to perceive its own manifestation with awe and wonder. (Of course, it sounds like claiming a fundamental basis for the anthropomorphic principle). But the fact remains that being and becoming are the two sides of the same coin for witnessing the fun of nature by no other than the nature itself!
Whether this coin subscribes to an eternally existing entity (namely, whether ‘soul’ or ‘consciousness’ is perishable with the decay of the body or not) cannot be answered at this stage: speculations as diverse as arguing in favour (such as, when the brain stops functioning biochemically it dies along with its harbours, namely mind and all that), or arguing against (by giving an analogy, for example, except for some portions of the cerebral cortex, the whole body is known to have been continuously replaced with its replica cells on a time scale of a few weeks to years without losing the sense of the identity of one’s self at all; there is then no guarantee that mind and soul will not continue to exist even when the cerebral cortex is totally discarded) can hardly be distinguished on a firm scientific basis. Only if the future research turns out to support the latter possibility, then and only then, one would be in a position to talk about the eternity of souls and all that in a scientific manner.
(xii) No science can be practised without mathematics. Before Godel (1930) most people thought that mathematics is something that ought to exist irrespective of whether there is any human being to comprehend it. Godel’s famous incompleteness theorem demonstrated that mathematics is an invention of the human brain only. Numbers, symbols and algebra are no sacred entities by themselves, they are basically some adopted conventions, and the logic of connecting them are also conventions. Matter or entities serve merely as vehicles for adopting these conventions, but a conscious brain, if of course required to formulate these conventions. Then, there is a whole machinery of the complex numbers and their beautiful applications in solving physical problems. If the real numbers are obliged to describe the physical world in a quantitative fashion, the complex numbers should also do the same under some special circumstances. Its reality in physics has now been proved in the way the mathematical formulation of quantum mechanics depends upon it. Another most crucial test will definitely be provided if the Bohm-Aharonov effect becomes ‘visible’. Even though mathematics is considered to be figs of ‘imagination’, the reality of all abstract mathematics must in some or other way ought to have an application in the experimental science, today or tomorrow. This has indeed been happening so far.
(xiii) Subjects like psychology and sociology are regarded as separate disciplines of science, but in both the cases, statistics brings in some meaningful quantifications, otherwise psychic and social attributes are by and large still awaiting to be quantified.
A Brief Account of the Oriental Conclusions
from the Religious and Philosophical Traditions
As a scientist, my primary job has been to present my views on the scientific developments, but at the same time, I also wish to present my perceptions of the teachings of various traditions of oriental philosophies and religions in a scientifically acceptable perspective. I am not much worried about the distinguished philosophers in this respect, because they have by now got the messages in the previous sections as to what scientific results are relevant to their respective schools of thoughts.
(1) Unlike science, religious and philosophical traditions are dogmatic in the sense that they try to preserve the quintessence of their logic and teachings of their own schools established by some spiritual leaders or highly placed philosophers in the past. However, just as two textbooks on any subject in science are never identical, yet they ought to teach the same subject-matter, the schools of religious and philosophical traditions have written textbooks on their specific themes and they are traditionally regarded as commentaries on their respective original texts. The commentators have by and large tried to follow the progress in the knowledge of relevant topics in other disciplines and updated the viewpoints, if such a need was felt, but the originality of the commentators are also respectfully acknowledged by the peer scholars belonging to their schools.
Since the race of the modern humans is believed to have originated in Africa, Egyptians and Hebrews were perhaps the first ones to develop an agro-pastoral culture. On the other side, the Mongoloids were not far too behind, as the recession of the recentmost Ice Age made more northern latitude zones more habitable for the humans later in the history, but the early Caucasoids (having darker skins) who survived through the Ice Ages in South India basically continued their hunting cultures (there was hardly any need for developing an agro-pastoral culture for them). By about 6000 bc, the natural forces and the heavenly bodies became their first subjects of worship. The Sumerians, Babylonians, Aryans, Mongolians and the tribals habitating in Asia founded the earliest religions, and developed languages for expressions verbal as well as literal. Even with the two distinct approaches to constructing alphabets and vocal sounds by Caucasoids and Mongoloids, the early civilizations had indeed interchanged their cultural, social, religious views more freely than what we practised in the more recent past.
(2) The original texts in all religions are claimed to be The Revelations from some mythical Supreme Lord, be He referred to as Lord Brahma for the Aryans, Siva for the Dravidians, Ra or the Sun God for the Egyptians, Anu for the Babylonians, Gaea for the Greeks, Jeovah or God or the Moon God Sin for the Hebrews (Jews and Christians), Allah for Moslems, Ahura Mazda or the Fire God for the Zoroastrians, no God for the Buddhists and Jains, Hu for the early Chinese, Tao (Yin and Yam) for Taoists, and myriads of Gods for Shintos in Japan, for example.
The earliest propounders and their oldest Canons in the form of verbal instructions or written scriptures or inscriptions may be given tentatively as follows: Pyramid texts of the Egyptians were written in hieroglyphs by the priests of Heliopolis (ca. 2400 bc), their Coffin texts (2190 bc-1786 bc), the Book of the Dead (1590 bc), monotheistic faith during the reign of the king Amenhotep (1350 bc), 12 large clay tablets by a Babylonian king, Gilgamesh Epic (ca. 2000 bc), the Greek epics, Iliad and Odyssey, of Homer advancing polytheism (ca. 750 bc), the Call of Abraham in the land of Cannan (somewhere between Mesopotamia and Egypt, ca. 1700 bc) followed by the Call of Moses with his Ten Commandments (the oral version of the Old Testament) on behalf of 12 tribes of Israel (1200 bc), emergence of Seers and Ecstatic Prophets, such as Samuel, Saul with a well defined concept of God (1025 bc), the written version of the first five books of the Old Testament (900-850 bc) and Deuteronomic Reforms banning the use of sacred prostitutes and child sacrifices during the reign of Josiah (621 bc). The poetical books, such as the song of Solomon appeared during 400-200 bc, the Synoptic Gospels of the Christian faith emerged sometime between 60 and 100 ad, the New Testament of the Holy Bible emerged about 150 years after its propounder, Jesus Christ was crucified and got its establishment under the patronage of the Roman emperors since then. The Christianity arrived in India before the fourth century a.d Out of the Christianity, Islam has branched out under the leadership of the Prophet Muhammad, and his revelations (obtained from Gabriel) were recorded in the Holy Book of Qur’an (or, Koran) in 610 a.d. Muhammad’s sayings and his life were recorded ca. 810 ad in the book Hadith. The predicaments of the Old Testament were to be continued religiously followed by the Israelis (the so-called Jews) till today.
The following revelations in the Qur’an are relevant to this topic: The Book of Revelations is in Arabic for men of understanding (41: 1), Allah is the Almighty and the One, and is the Creator of Heaven and Earth (35: 1). The unbelievers shall be sternly punished, but those that accept the true faith and do good works shall be forgiven and richly rewarded (35: 7). Allah created you from dust, then from a little germ. Into two sexes he divided you. No female conceives or delivers without His knowledge. No man grows old or has his life cut short but in accordance with His decree (35: 8). For every soul there is a guardian watching over it. Let man reflect from what he is created. He is created from an ejected fluid that issues from between the loins and the ribs (86:1).
However, the Islam got soon divided into Shia and Sunni doctrines following the blood-shedding paths of history, and paved the way to evolving Sufism, a peaceful and popular version of the orthodox Islam. This is much like presently existing various Christian denominations based on some new interpretations of the New Testament. Islam has by and large remained bound by too much of its imposing rituals, very rigid moral codes, and social obligations. Judaism, Christianity and Islam have seen so much of political warfare that fundamentalism had to become the way of their lives.
(3) The branch of civilization that undergoes in the name of the Indus Valley civilization, archaeologically dates back to about 3000-1700 bc. (the Mohenjo-daro and Harappan cultures) with at least seven times being flooded (extinct) and rebuilt along the river Indus and in its fertile valley. The threat for survival compelled them to migrate all over the Indo-Gangetic plane, and the agro-pastoral culture they developed goes by the name of the Aryan culture.
They are the founders of the four Vedas, the oldest being the Rk and the latest being the Atharva. The astronomical information contained in the 8th (containing 5 slokas) and 9th (containing 14 slokas) stanzas (sukta) of the 1st chapter (anubak) of the 19th volume (kanda) of the Atharva Veda suggests that these were not composed later than the fifteenth century b.c. We really do not know when the Rk Veda was formulated (it can be anytime between 1700 bc and perhaps 5000 bc.).
The Rk Veda was composed (by scholars of the clans beginning with Sakala, Vaskala, Bharadvaja, Vasistha, Kanva, Angira, and many others) in the praise of all the natural forces and the celestial objects. The Sama Veda (composed by about 50 scholars) is basically the songs in the praise of the gods. The Yajurveda (composed mainly by Yajnavalkya and his contemporaries) prescribes the actual ritualistic procedures to be adopted in order to please these gods. The Atharva Veda is concerned about medicines, social norms and customs, magic, anatomy, how to acquire wealth, processes of love-making and sex, descriptions of various diseases, how to live long, and so on.
Each Veda has basically two parts: one is the collection of hymns (Mantras), called the Samhitas; and the other is the discussion of pedagogical (philosophical and moral) issues in the Brahmanas in the form of prose and poetry.
The examples of the Samhitas of various Vedas are as follows: Sakala Samhita, Vaskala Samhita, etc. of the Rgveda; Samaveda Samhita of Samaveda; Vajasaneya Samhita of Sukla Yajurveda (the story behind this goes like this: the teacher of Yajnavalkya was displeased with him, so Yajnavalkya prayed to the Sun God, who revealed the True Knowledge to him and the other disciples of his previous teacher had to learn it from Yajnavalkya assuming the form of falcons, Baja paksis, but before he began to pray to the Sun God, he attempted to acquire his own teacher’s knowledge by sheer meditation, and this knowledge was also shared by the other disciples of his same teacher assuming the form of sandpipers, the Tittir paksis, hence the term Taittiriya); Katha Samhita, Maitrayanni Samhita, Svetasvatara Samhita, Taittiriya Samhita, etc. of the Krsna Yajurveda; and Paippalad Samhita, Saunaka Samhita, etc. of the Atharvaveda. In order to give you an idea of the size of the Vedas, the number of hymns Mantras in the Samhita parts alone, of all the four Vedas turns out to be 10,552 + 1,875 + 1, 975 + 5,977 = 20,379 (I have personally counted from my own collections).
While performing a sacrificial rite, a Rtvik will perform the rite for the welfare of a Yajman, duly assisted by a set of people singing/chanting with musical voice and another set of people telling the Rtvik what to do and when. In that respect, most parts of Samaveda Samhita are taken word by word from the Rgveda except for only 75 hymns, but the difference is that each hymn belonging to the Samaveda Samhita has a prescribed note, rhythm and the name of its composer.
The Brahmana parts were mainly written by the people of the so-called Brahmana class, and these have again two parts: the Aranyakas (composed in the secluded places such as deep inside the forests) and the Upanisads (the philosophical and pedagogical aspects regarding the origin of life, origin of the universe, the nature of matter and life, etc.) The kings and learned people from the warrior class, later to be known as Ksatriyas when the system of castes emerged, also took part in these discussions. The examples of the Brahmanas are Vahvrca Brahmana, and Samkhyana Brahmana of the Rgveda, Tandyamaha Brahmana, Tandya-ssa Brahmana, Devatadhyaya Brahmana, Arseya Brahmana, Samhitopanisad Brahmana and Chandogya Upanisad Brahmana of the Samaveda; Kanva and Madhyandin branches of the Satapatha Brahmana of the Sukla Yajurveda; Taittiriya Brahmana, Maitrayani Brahmana, Ballabhi Brahmana, Satyayani Brahmana, etc., of the Krsna Yajurveda, and the Gopath Brahmana of the Atharvaveda.
There are 12 main Upanisads, namely Aitareya, Kausitaki, Chandogya, Brhadaranyaka, Taittiriya, Kena, Katha, Svetasvatara, Isa, Mundaka, Mandukya and Prasna, of which the first six are the oldest ones and they formed the cream part of the Vedanta Darsana. The contents of the latter six are so similar in constituents and arguments to those of Samkhya (due to Kapila) and Yoga Sutra (due to Patanjali) that these six Upanisads were perhaps their precursors, or might even be contemporaneous. However, so far as the number of Upanisads are concerned, 50 Upanisads were translated into many different languages other than Sanskrit, and to date, the total number is about 120. That there is The One Ultimate Reality behind the phenomenal world (which may be real or unreal) was the sum and substance of all these Upanisads. Even though the ascetic way of life was considered to be the fourth stage (quarter) of life in those days by tradition, it was nowhere spelt out that it was a must for perceiving the above Truth.
So far as the non-Aryans (Anaryas) were concerned, they also had deified the natural forces of calamities. As regards their perceptions about the origin of the world, their theory was very naive and simple. As they could see, a baby is born due to sexual union of male and female, and so they worshipped the Lord Siva in the form of Sivalingam, which, according to Siva-purana, is an explicit representation of the Anadi lingam placed inside the Gauri pata, the yoni of Gauri. Later on, Samkhya combined this idea of Siva as the Purusa or the inert, but potent, male principle, and Prakrti as the active and manifestive, female principle. The most modern form of it is found to be in the concept of the Siva-Kali form, where Siva is actually made to lie inert with his potent of creation, while the naked and outrageously vibrant form of Sakti, the Kali, standing on the body of Lord Shiva laid in His supine posture below the walking feet of Kali, to be worshipped in a crematorium.
(4) Between 850 and 400 bc, there were many other interesting developments that took place in India, Persia and China. Jainism, though claiming to be almost eternally existing, had their 23rd saint or Tirthankara (the other 22 are mythical), Parsvanath (born in 850 bc) took an ascetic way of life and gathered around him a community of naked monks (Nigranthas) who aspired for nothing other than salvation. It was the 24th saint, Mahavira (599-527 bc), who laid down the rules and the philosophy (the scriptures, namely, 11 Angas and 12 Upangas, were written between 300 - 550 ad) for the Jain community with 12 commandments for the lay followers (they must not kill, and are not to lie, not to steal, not to be greedy, be faithful in marriage, avoid unnecessary walking to avoid killing ants, etc., practice regular meditation, give alms to poor, must become a monk/nun for some period, and so on). There are basically two sects of Jains: the Digambaras (= naked monks), and the Svetambaras (= white-clad monks with brooms). Like the Hindus, they never embarked upon missionaries or made converts, but their philosophy is one of negation, non-violence and self-humiliation.
Taoism was founded in China by Lao-tzu, a legendary figure born in 604 bc, with his writings Tao-Te-Ching. According to this philosophy, the Tao or the ‘Way’ came to be represented as the living principle pervading the universe, and in the popular form of Taoism, Tao is worshipped as a deity. Its existence is assumed to precede anything in nature, and though described as inactive, inert, invisible, intangible and impersonal, it was the source of all being as a result of the union of the female principle Yin and the male principle Yang. The Taoist canon of literature Tao Tsang began to emerge in written form since fourth century bc, and developed into 1100 volumes over the next 1500 years. Confucianism in China began with the teachings of Confucius (actual name K’ung Fu’tzu, 551-479 bc), the only mystique without claiming for having obtained a divine revelation. He concentrated on setting more of moral than of religious codes for lay people with the declared five cardinal virtues: benevolence, righteousness, wisdom, trustworthiness and propriety. Later, both Taoism and Confucianism were immensely influenced by the arrival of Buddhism in China.
In Persia, Zarathustra (628-551 bc) received divine revelations in 598 bc from an arcangel, Vahu Manah, who was sent from the True God, Ahura Mazda. He preached monotheism, One God, the Creator of the Universe. He could make his contemporary Iranian king a convert. Zoroastrianism survived in Iran until the aggressive arrival of Islam in 652 ad, leading to exodus of a handful number of them to India, to be known as Parsis today. The personified aspects of Ahura Mazda, The Holy Immortal, are the good mind, right order, divine power, devotion, perfection, and immortality.
(5) Back in India, there came Siddhartha Gautama Buddha (563-483 bc) who attained the state of Buddhattva while meditating under a pipal (Bo) tree on the bank of the Niranjana river in Bodh Gaya sometime in 521 bc and was since then referred to as one of the many incarnations of the Tathagata (or Bodhisattva). Buddha’s teachings were based primarily on the Vedic traditions, perhaps as much as the Islam did on the Judaism and the Christianity. He preached his first sermons to five ascetics in Varanasi in the language of the common people, called Pali, instead of Sanskrit, the ‘official’ language of the Hindu scholars (even today there are about 40 families in South India who use Sanskrit as their true mother tongue). He was also the first ‘Revealed Personality’ to let the door open to the common people for attaining the highest state of knowledge (called Nirvana) irrespective of the cast and creed of the aspirant (Note that in Chandogya Upanisad, Uddalak Aruni accepted Jabal Satyakama, an illegitimate son of Jabala, with the presumption of his unknown father being a brahmana, because such a shameful truth could have been acknowledged by none other than a brahmana, supposedly the truthful one by heart and deed). Buddha was also the first to initiate the ‘missionary’ activities as a travelling teacher of Dhamma, and built monastries, called the Sanghas, for both monks and nuns. All Buddhists must abide by Five Precepts (not to take life, not to steal, not to be sexually impure, not to lie and not to take drugs or consume alcohol), better ones including the monks and nuns would further abide by another Five Precepts (not to eat after midday, not to listen to music or watch dancing, not to use any cosmetics, not to sleep on any comfortable bed, and not to accept silver or gold).
There are in fact a total of 227 rules stated in the book Vinaya for the Buddhist ascetics, who should live only on alms. Those who adhered strictly to all these rules laid down by Buddha belong to the Hinayana school, and by about 350 bc, another moderately stringent adherent school of Buddhists, called the Mahayana, who soon outnumbered the former school, developed a philosophy later to be known as the Madhyamika philosophy.
The precepts of the former school, the (Theravada), acknowledging Buddha as merely a great preacher (there is no place for God or soul in the actual Buddhism), travelled wide across to Sri Lanka, Burma (now Myanmar), Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, and Greece under the royal patronage of the King Ashoka and before him by some army staff of Alexander, during the third and fourth centuries bc. The actual scriptures in the three volumes of the Tripitaka were however written down in the first century bc.
The latter school, namely the Mahayana school, projected Buddha as The Saviour, a divine principle and an object of worship in the form of an idol, translated the Pali Canon of Theravada into Sanskrit, Chinese and Tibetan, wrote the Sutras, Sastras and Tantras sometime between the first and fifth centuries ad, and paved the way to form various sects of Mahayana Buddhists, such as the Pure Land and Ch’an Schools in China, Nichiren and Zen Schools in Japan, and Lama School in Tibet.
(6) It was only then the so-called Brahmanism received the greatest possible jolt, and discovered that Buddhism has taken all the good elements of Brahmanism, and has very cleverly given a transformation to its legends, allegories, philosophical constituents in evolving a fully self-consistent scheme of thoughts, namely, the Madhyamika philosophy. Not that between 400 bc and 600 ad, Brahmanism remained idle, but unfortunately, it also developed two major systems of philosophies in the same lines of thought.
The Samkhya (the accepted number of elementary attributes, psychic as well as corporeal, being 25) and Yoga (the accepted number of both the category of elementary attributes being 13) putting a lot of emphasis on the reality of the physical world only, and a well-defined methodology of sheer practice to attain this highest state of realisation. The concept of the Almighty Creator was virtually eliminated in these philosophies. The Nyaya (the accepted number of elementary attributes being 16) and Vaisesika (the accepted number of elementary attributes being 7) systems laying emphasis on the superiority of the pedagogical arguments leading to revelations of the same truth, namely, the reality of the physical world only. In addition, the ritualistic part of all the Vedas was summarised by Jaimini (ca. 200 bc) in his voluminous work Purva-Mimamsa Darsanam, and the pedagogical part by Badarayana (almost contemporary of Jaimini, as the two texts refer to each other at some points) in four volumes of his Uttara-Mimamsa Darsanam (Brahmasutra). The two Mimamsas differed both in their objectives and methods, the former accepted the plurality of Selves or Souls, the Reality of the Universe, and righteous actions are the means to self-realisation, whereas the latter only identified the Self with the Omnipresent and Eternally Conscious, the Brahman, which was claimed not to be realisable by the finite mind and finite intellect, let alone the righteous actions.
All these philosophies did however accept that the Vedas are eternal and are revealed only to certain Rsis, the Seers. As such the authority of the Veda was regarded unquestionable. The Mimamsas go a little further and claim that even words are eternal (Sabda = Brahman) and their meanings are therefore fixed, whereas the Nyaya and Vaisesika claimed that the meanings of words were subject to change, and hence in principle, the structures of the logic. Between the Nyaya and Vaisesika, the former school argued that matter is infinitely divisible, the sense of finiteness arises from the way we perceive them, and the forms are mere representatives of finiteness, and therefore, cannot be the true nature of matter. But the latter school believed that matter is not infinitely divisible, at some stage the discreteness is bound to manifest, and the gross matter would form as composites of these elementary and discrete entities, called Anus. At such face values, the Samkhya supported the Purva-Mimamsa and did not accept the Purusa as the Almighty Creator but only as the Potential Cause for all the Actions, the Prakrti. The Yoga Darsana laid down the procedures and practices for the absolute control on one’s body and mind, in the form of the Astangik Yoga Marga, namely, Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Ekagrata, Dhyana and Samadhi, required for attaining the highest state of the Realisation (the first seven were essential for performance of miracles, the so-called Hathayoga, and all the eight were required for the Rajayoga).
By the turn of the eighth century ad, the Madhyamika and Yogacara schools of Buddhism took a full control over the Brahmanism. In short, the Madhyamika philosophy as propounded by Nagarjuna, Aryadeva and others, is known as the Sunyavada. It claims that the Ultimate Reality is Paramarthic, that is, transcendental to human intellect. It is neither subject to the processes of creation, persistence and annihilation, nor eternal or divisible. The Phenomenal Reality is Samvrttik, that is, intelligible but either illusive (= tattvasamvrtti, for instance, a sensual perception cannot be the substance itself) or non-existent (= mithyasamvrtti, for instance, an optically virtual image produced by a mirror). There are three categories of Phenomenal Realities: (i) all disappointments and unhappiness in life (duhkha samudaya), (ii) the cause of all such disappointments and unhappiness (duhkha karana), and (iii) the cessation of all disappointments and unhappiness (duhkha nivrtti). But (iv) the Way to Transcend all these three kinds of phenomenal realities (duhkha nivrtti marga) leads to the Realisation of the Ultimate Reality, known as the Nirvana or the Tathagata Dharma. It has ten stages with the last one being the attainment of the state of the Bodhisattvabhumi, the state of attributeless, which is equated to the Sunyatva or nihilism. This is the gist of the so-called Bauddha Madhyamika Sunyavada or Buddhistic Theory of Nihilism. On the other hand, the Bauddha Yogacara school, as propounded by Maitreyanath and Acarya Asanga, claims that the Phenomenal Reality is the virtual image of the Ultimate Reality. The state of Buddhattva cannot be attained till the knowledge of the Self as a perceiver persists somewhere in the mind, thus the state of Nirvana is the cessation of all attributes, merging one’s own self with the eternal Sunyatva or Nihilation. There are two other schools of Buddhist philosophy, namely Vaibhasika and Ksanavadi schools, who differ from the above schools in some minor details.
So, both the Buddhist camp and the majority of the contemporary Hindu camp (except for the hard core Vedantins) developed their philosophies in almost the identical lines before 800 ad.
(7) The stage was then set for the arrival of Acarya Sankara (788-820 ad). Originally, he was a defender of the Samkhya, then he wrote the Sariraka Bhasyam, a commentary on the Vedanta Darsanam, and this had made him realise the true achievements of the philosophy of Vedanta. He then went on a long pilgrimage, and confronted with all the best scholars of Buddhism, Jainism, Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya and Vaisesika, and Mimamsakas of his time and defeated each and everyone by unparallel arguments in favour of what is known as the Visuddha Advaita Vedanta, the Pure Monism. All he had to do was to replace the atheist’s Nirvana or total dissolution of the self at the point of realisation into an undescribable nothingness, by the Akhanda Saccidananda Param Brahman, or in other words, the state of nihilation was replaced by the state of all-pervading and eternally present consciousness, The One and The Very Same Reality in Every Object and Subject of the Universe. What was the Phenomenal Reality for all the atheists as the Only Reality, was interpreted by Acarya Sankara as Mayik pratibhasa, an illusive projection of the Self-evident Brahman created in the mind of an individual perceiver, arising due to the mere ignorance of the perceiver about its own Reality of the Self, the (Atmajnanam). He showed that the reality of the phenomenal world cannot be established by any acceptable arguments or by any experiments, simply because it all ought to occur in the head of a perceiver. No words can express it, no mind can fathom it (Abangmanasagocaram). Nobody could argue against the fact that the sense of ‘I’ does exist, but at the same time ‘It’ could not be expressed, because how a thing can be expressed solely by itself to itself. The modern science also says the same thing, yet differences in opinion arise (or may arise) when Acarya Sankara claims further that this so-called ‘I’, the Soul, is eternally existing even after the clinical death of the corporeal body. Legends say that he had in fact demonstrated it in his own life, for a different reason though: he left his body, occupied the clinically dead body of a king, his disciples safely guarded their teacher’s body for a month, and he returned to resume his body again. Legends also say that Jesus Christ left his body and appeared before some of His disciples assuming the same corporeal body. Yet, there are sound philosophical reasons behind why Hindus prefer to cremate a dead body than preserve it for the day of Resurrection. Hindus believe that the Soul is immortal and that it will take up another body for rebirth, whereas many others think that the same body is going to be resurrected on the Day of Judgement. For Hindus, such judgements depend on their cumulative actions, the karmas; and their sufferings and pleasures are derived exclusively by making bad or good use of their so-called Free Will, a faculty enjoyed equally by each and every Soul.
After establishing the Advaita Vedanta for once and all, he literally revived the glorious past of the Hinduism, drove away Buddhism from India (later on Hindus of course have given the place for the Ninth Incarnation, the Avatara, of the God to the Lord Buddha), literally converted all the giant atheistic personalities of Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisesika, and Purva-Mimamsa into theistic ones by showing where and how they had deviated from the authenticity of the Vedas, and established the Hindu monastery systems of the Dasanama Sampradaya at the four corners of the country (Tirtha and Ananda sampradayas at the Sarada Math in Dwaraka in the west, Vana and Aranya sampradaya at the Govardhan Math in Puri in the east, Giri, Parvata and Sagara sampradaya at the Jyotirmath in Jyotirdham in the north, and Sarasvati, Bharati and Puri sampradaya at the Srngeri Math, in Rameshwardham in the south). Even today these Mathas are having their Acaryas in the 67th generation or so of the respective Mathadhisas.
(8) After Sankaracarya, the commentaries of Samkhya and other Hindu philosophies were written with due recognition to preserve the integrity of the Vedic conclusions, but not just the conclusions of the Vedanta, as interpreted by Sankaracarya. In fact, today no scholar of the Hindu Darsanas would claim to be atheists or Nirisvara-vadis. Buddhists did not change their standpoint, and therefore, they had to quit India, and those who stayed back home reduced to a minority as the Jains or Parshis are today. Of course, we should not give the full credit to Sankaracarya, because before him Vyasadeva composed the Epic of Mahabharata (nobody knows who transcribed it later into written form and when), and there he had expressed fully the theistic viewpoints of Samkhya, Yoga, Jnana, Vijnana, Bhakti, Guna, Moksa, etc. in the Gita portion, and declared the Gita to be the quintessence of all the Upanisads. It is a kind of the Biblical Canon readily digestible even by an ordinary individual. In fact, it contains precisely 730 slokas which can be read and contemplated once through a year if the reader proceeds with chanting and contemplating on one sloka in the morning and one in the evening of everyday of the year. The point I want to make is that what Vyasadeva did accomplish with great ease, took Sankaracarya to adopt a path of highly pedantic and aggressively warring battle. Nevertheless, it initiated another phase of highly pedagogical activities in India, much like the European Renaissance, in the field of religion and philosophy, in spite of the fact that the Pathans and the Mughals were to soon flood the country bringing in a totally different culture and religion with also the privilege of using their political power.
In the following centuries, after Sankaracarya, Madhvacarya propounded the theory of Dualism Dvaitavada (in which entity is of two kinds: The Eternally Free and Determinant, The Isvara = Srihari = Siva = Purusa = Brahma; and Everything Else being subject to Causality and to the God, The Prakrti = Jagat and Jiva (representing the inert as well as conscious constituents as perceived through the sense-organs). All other theories of reality can be classified under the title of some or other kind of Pseudo-Monism, in which the individual selves and the material world were regarded as constitutionally one and the same as the Universal Consciousness, the God or the Paramatma. The metaphor they use is that wood and table are constitutionally one and the same, the former being merely a generic name, which can assume any form or shape to manifest itself as the latter, a chair or table or any other wooden furniture. Just to name a few such theories, we may refer to Bhedavedavada due to Acarya Bhaskara, Acintyavedavedavada due to Acarya Valadeva Vidyabhusana, Dvaitadvaitavada due to Acarya Nimbarka, Suddhadvaitavada due to Acarya Ballava, Visistadvaitavada due to Acarya Ramanuja, Sivavisistadvaitavada due to Acarya Srikantha, and Visesadvaitavada due to Acarya Sripati. In order to maintain a balance between the Samkhya-Patanjal and the Nyaya-Vaisesika theories, Acarya Vijnanabhiksu wrote a commentary on the Vedantadarsana, which is known as Samanjasyavada. Later on some commentaries on Vedantadarsana appeared from the Sakta cults which can be categorised under the Pseudo-Monism, for example, Saktavisistadvaitavada due to Bhattacarya Pancanana and Saktadvaitavada due to Maharsi Haritayana.
However, history had to wait till the arrival of Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), who in 1898 interpreted all these isms to be nothing but the last few steps for the latter leading to the ultimate realisation of the undescribable state of the Principle of pure Monism. His explanation for the illusory nature of Maya is very simple: if we become desperate to see ourselves, we can at best place a mirror before us, and we ought to be satisfied with viewing some artificial and illusory projections of ourselves only, else we close our eyes and believe that ‘I exist’. There is no other choice. Once again, he only reiterated the glorious past of Hinduism, and gave a proper interpretation of idolatry before the world.
(9) Interestingly enough, a combination of Saiva, Sakta and Vaisnavas is found to have taken place in the development of the cults, such as Tantrikas and Mantrikas, both aiming at making some curious combinations of geometrical symbols (Yantras) and extra-physical skills (Tantras) directed towards achieving any particular miracle following anyone or more of the ten Mahavidyas. The ultimate success (Siddhi) of the practitioner, usually rests upon his/her absolute control on the sexual impulses in all kinds of Vamacar Sadhanas. At present there are about 400 known Siddha Tantrikas and Mantrikas in the country, but as a scientist, I have been impressed by at least one account of the Tara Sadhana by one Mr. Vasudev Sharma under the guidance of Dr. Narayandutta Srimali (Jodhpur), which can be scientifically verifiable, as the methods are prescribed in most precise terms in the Proceedings of a convention of the Tantrikas held at Kamakhya in 1988. It is a matter of only 15 night’s sadhana. (I do not dare to attempt to practise it by myself as I have paid a heavy price for practising Rajayoga in 1972 without a Guru’s instruction leading to severe heart conditions. Moreover, the fact remains is that most Siddhas are so short-tempered and rude that hardly any scientist would accept such personalities as their teachers and practise these sadhanas with patience, even though a modern graduate student would not turn into a rebellion if he/she fails to write a paper after putting two or more years of hard work. We all prefer to go by the customs and conventions of the day.)
Another off-shoot of combination of Sufism and Hinduism has led to Sikhism, formulated by its Ten Preachers. Political and Brahmanic oppressions have made them choose the path of war, but the monistic preachings in Granthsaheb by Guru Nanak (1469-1533 ad) assured every Sikh of an absolute self-defence with their identifying makers of five k’s (kesa = uncut hairs, kaccha = short trousers, kada = an iron bangle, krpan = a short dagger, and kangha = comb), and the Sikhs fought bravely against Moslem rulers. Today, Sikhs are the best farmers and the best sentinnels in the Army, but also vulnerable to taking aggressive measures at the slightest provocation on religio-political issues. For political reasons, many Hindus were also forced to take Islam, and this was considerably checked by Sri Caitanyadeva (1485-1533 ad) by making the Vaisnava dharma extremely popular.
(10) Over the past two centuries, the eastern philosophies have seen a lot of influences by the Western philosophies, and vice versa. The Christian missionaries along with their colonism in the Asian countries have brought about revolutions in the fields of science and technology, sociology, economics, and religious traditions. Idolatry has become a taboo for many intellectuals, and Marxism has played its role too, even if Marx ought to have been worshipped like an idol. It seems that there is no substitute for idols, as one’s mind cannot work unless something tangible is placed before one’s eyes, and keep aside the abstract mathematicians.
During the British colonial period, it was Raja Rammohun Roy, who was the first to remove the idolatry from Hinduism and tried, historically once again, to revive the symbolic Monism from the Upanisads. His ardent followers soon established the Brahma Samaj, a breakaway sect from the then existing orthodox Hindu society, and accepted the principle of Brahman as merely a symbol, Om, without assigning any attribute of any kind to it. Similarly, there emerged the Arya Samaj, the Theosophical Society, and so on in the same line. They had of course declared themselves as non-Hindus, but not the so-called Indian Marxists, however. Side by side, Hindus also gathered together under the leadership of various religious personalities, and paved the way to formation of Ramakrishna Mission, Bharat Sevashram Sangha, Satsang, Satya Sai Baba Society, Hare-Krishna Society, and many others, including the religio-political ones, such as Shiva-Sena Dal, Ananda Margis and Vishwa Hindu Parishad. All claim to be Hindus, and their preaching texts mostly root back to the authenticity of the Vedas or the Upanisads.
Relevance of Vedanta in the Present-day Society
It is beyond doubt that Vedanta contains something so vital that has made it viable time and again against all possible rough times in its history of rise and fall over the past three millennia. It was Swami Vivekananda, who demonstrated the relevance of Vedanta in our social life. He used to quote one of his Guru Sri Ramakrsna Paramahamsadeva’s instructions, namely, Siva jnane Jiva seva, which means, ‘Serve your fellow person (in need) assuming him/her as an incarnation of the Lord Shiva’. In my opinion, concurring fully with Vivekananda’s, this would be the most practical applications of Vedanta in the present-day civil life, if one can indeed practise and live up to this standard. He said that there is no need for worshipping a God (whatever be its form, as inert as an institution, or as alive as a film star, for example) spending colossal amount of money on performing Yajnas (whatever be its modern form), if the neighbour has to die of hunger. Swami Vivekananda said that to serve the destitutes and truly needy people are the highest object of worship for today, and that individual’s Salvation can be achieved by executing merely its own duties towards the society (Atmanomoksartha jagaddhitaya ca), because it is after all the society that has given us all the privileges we consider to be so essential for leading a ‘decent’ life.
All differences of opinion between two individuals arise because they fail to place themselves in the heart of each other’s. Obviously, nobody expects that any two individuals would have the identical views or approach to life. Some we call stupids, some we call demoralised, some we just pity upon, and some we do adore and respect. A person develops certain moral and social principles depending on his/her background of education and the society he/she lives in. When we were born, we hardly had any softwares loaded in our brains, the circumstances have led us to become what we are today. If, and only if, we can see ourselves in the heart of everybody else (Sarvabhute Atmadarsanam), there cannot arise a situation for quarrel. No philosophy other than Vedanta has ever proclaimed that every individual is indeed Him and Him only, the Almighty, and not merely one of His subordinates. We are all potentially divine, and ‘education’ is merely the process of unfolding this infinite potentiality into useful actions. By the clause of the ‘Free Will’ in the decree of the Divine Lord (= Self for a Jnani, much like the possibility of any worthy citizen of a democratic nation to become its First Citizen), we are totally free to choose our own paths and courses of action. If we ponder on it a bit carefully, we should be able to see that we do really possess the free will, the greatest possible virtue that anyone could have. Vivekananda thus proclaimed, ‘Truth, purity and unselfishness — wherever these are present, there is no power below or above the sun to crush the possessor thereof. Equipped with these, one individual is able to face the whole universe in opposition.’ Let us not forget that Hinduism is the only religion which allows even the atheists or the non-believers to be a part of it. Let us all practise it in this very right spirit.
©1995 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi