Mystic Universe – An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology
By Rsiraja Das
1.Mystic Universe – An Introduction Vedic Cosmology
Cosmology has been of great interest to devotees ever since Śrīla Prabhupāda instructed his disciples to construct the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium. However, since the Vedic cosmic model is so different from the modern one, devotees often struggle with many common differences such as heliocentric vs. geocentric models of the “solar system”, flat vs. round descriptions of the planets, rotating vs. stationary models of the Earth, the enormous mountains which cannot be observed, etc. Somewhat surprisingly though, devotees unquestioningly accept “higher” and “lower” planetary systems, and linear vs. cyclic time, which are fundamental to grasping Vedic cosmology, because they change space and time from flat-linear (in modern science) to hierarchical-cyclic (in Vedic cosmology). What we have unquestioningly accepted (although not adequately understood) holds the key to a better understanding of Vedic cosmology.
This is what my new book Mystic Universe attempts to do. It shows how the hierarchical-cyclic view of space and time is intimately connected to Bhagavata Sāńkhya, and once this theory of matter is correctly understood, other currently “problematic” features of Vedic cosmology become directly amenable.
2.Modern and Vedic Cosmology – The Key Differences
There are many important differences between modern and Vedic cosmologies:
The size of the visible universe in Vedic cosmology is only 4 billion miles, which is about 100,000 times smaller than the universe in modern cosmology. However, the age of the Vedic universe is significantly larger: 15 billion years in modern cosmology, and about 10,000 times older in Vedic cosmology. This far older and yet much smaller universe is contrary to Big Bang: if the universe was this old, it would also be significantly bigger considering continual expansion.
Space in modern cosmology is largely flat and the occasional bumps in it represent matter. Time in modern cosmology is similarly linear and reversible. Furthermore, there is only one space and time for the entire universe. In Vedic cosmology, space is closed and time is cyclic, and there are many spaces and times embedded in each other, like cities are within states and states are within countries, or like minutes are within hours, and hours are within days.
The so-called solar system in modern astronomy is heliocentric, while it is geocentric in Vedic astronomy. However, this “geo” in Vedic cosmology is not a single planet called Earth; it is rather numerous planets which constitute a planetary system called bhū-mandala. Why we cannot see these other planets has been a topic of numerous interpretations in the past, none of which take into account the understanding of matter in Vedic cosmology.
The planets in Vedic cosmology are sometimes described as flat surfaces, and sometimes as spheres. This presents great difficulties for those who compare this to the medieval flat Earth theories, although the nature of this flatness in Vedic cosmology is quite different.
Both space and time in Vedic cosmology are hierarchical. There are thus many higher and lower planetary systems in the Vedic universe, and the “vertical” dimension in the universe is treated quite differently than space is treated in modern cosmology.
It is not enough to simply describe these differences; it is also imperative to understand why these differences arise from a different theory of matter, space, time, causality, and lawfulness in nature. To that end, it is imperative to grasp the theories of nature in Sāńkhya before we can understand their implication to cosmology. If these theories are understood, Vedic cosmology becomes directly amenable without an interpretation. If these theories are not understood, many interpretations have to be created, which appear to reconcile parts of Vedic cosmology with our observations and modern scientific theories, while creating new kinds of problems and contradictions.
3.The Goal of Mystic Universe
The central goal in Mystic Universe is to present Vedic cosmology just as it is, without an interpretation, while making it amenable to a modern audience through a different theory of space, time, matter, causality and lawfulness. The goal is to understand Vedic cosmology, rather than merely read about it; as someone has aptly said: an ounce of understanding is better than a ton of knowledge.
This book would have been impossible without earlier books which that elaborate the Vedic theory of matter, space, time, causality, and lawfulness, contrasting it to modern theories in science. How a different view of nature becomes essential due to problems in modern science, and how the Vedic view addresses these problems, paving the path to a new kind of science is necessary for a firm grasp of Vedic cosmology. The differences between modern and Vedic cosmologies should therefore be viewed as different models of the universe, based on a completely different theory of nature.
The Vedic model also explains the same observations, and there is remarkable agreement between Vedic and modern cosmologies with regard to observations—e.g. the observed periods of planetary motion. However, there is complete disagreement between the two on the interpretation of these observations to produce models. All interpretations are based on a theory, and if the underlying theory is changed, then the model changes too. In that sense, Vedic cosmology is also empirical, and yet based on a completely different theory of nature. How the same observation is explained in different ways is then the essence of the difference between modern and Vedic cosmologies.
4.The Everyday View of Space and Time
In Vedic cosmology, the universe is described as an inverted tree, whose roots are above and leaves are below. This is not merely a euphemism or an analogy; it is the Vedic model of space.
This tree-like view of space pervades our ordinary world. For example, if we describe the present Earth planet, we would have Earth as the root of the tree. The countries in this planet would be the trunks, the states in each country will be the branches, the cities in each state would be stems, the streets in the cities will be twigs, and houses on the street would be leaves and fruits.
The key difference between the flat and the hierarchical views of space is that we don’t consider the countries, states, cities, or streets as real physical entities—i.e. the entities that will enter a theory of nature, because modern science reduces the macroscopic world to the microscopic world. We thus call the countries, states, cities, and streets by names in ordinary language, but we disregard their real existence in science. What would happen if science acknowledged all these as real physical entities?
5.Five Blind Men and the Elephant
This problem is analogous to that of the five blind men and the elephant. The men individually touch the legs, trunk, stomach, tail and ears of the elephant, but, being blind, cannot see the elephant itself. They then model their observations according to different concepts—e.g. a line (tail), cylinder (legs), sphere (stomach), hollow cylinder (trunk), and flat surface (ear)—thereby producing contradictions among the different men. As a result of these contradictions, there cannot be a consistent and complete theory of the entire elephant. If you describe the parts of the elephant by individual concepts such as line, cylinder, flat surface, sphere, etc. then the theory works for only limited parts of the elephant. If you try to extend this theory to the entire elephant, you create contradictions with other views.
You can only solve this problem by recognizing that there is an elephant apart from its legs, stomach, trunk, tail, and ears. The elephant is the whole, and the legs and stomach are parts. The recognition of the whole changes the description of the parts from line to tail, from cylinder to legs, from sphere to stomach, from hollow cylinder to trunk, and from flat surface to ear. In other words, when you recognize the reality of the whole elephant, you must change the description of all the parts as well. If science were conceived as a “working theory” of the parts, which works well for some of the parts, all these theories would have to be changed if and when the whole’s existence is recognized.
6.The Vedic Theory of Matter
The problem is: if we remove the tail, trunk, stomach, ears, and legs, we would not see the elephant. In other words, if you take away all the parts, then the whole seems to disappear. This is where the Vedic theory of matter (Sāńkhya) is important, because it says that the whole elephant doesn’t disappear even if you remove all the parts, although it becomes invisible to sensual observation.
Underlying the body of the elephant is the elephant’s mind. Underlying that mind is an intellect, underlying that intellect is an ego, and there are several higher layers of matter. Therefore, if you remove all the elephant’s body parts, the mind still exists. This mind is a type of mentality that constitutes the idea of being an elephant. Similarly, if you remove the parts of the mind, the intellect still exists; this intellect is the ability to judge the truth of ideas, and evolve the ideas into new ideas. If you remove this intellect, you still have an ego, which constitutes the intentions based on which different things are considered right and wrong. And if you remove this ego, there is there is still morality based on which intentions are formed. The removal of the body parts of the elephant therefore doesn’t destroy the elephant, because there are many deeper meanings of ‘elephant’ beyond the body.
The elephant’s body in fact is developed from the mind, the mind is developed from the intellect, the intellect is developed from the ego, and the ego is developed from morality. We cannot sensually perceive these higher levels of material reality, but their effects on the body can be perceived. If you take out the effects, however, the cause doesn’t automatically disappear. Since modern science considers the body to be the cause, it thinks that if you take out the parts, then the whole disappears. In Sāńkhya, even if you take out the body parts, there are still many layers of matter which can be called the “elephant”. The word “elephant” therefore has many meanings beyond the body.
7.The Vedic Theory of Space and Time
The so-called “macroscopic” objects therefore are also real, even if the “microscopic” objects are removed, although this “macroscopic” object exists as a kind of entity, different from the body. Due to this existence, we cannot reduce the whole to the parts. In fact the whole exists before the parts, in a different form, and produces the parts, like fruits grow on the branches of a tree. If you pluck the fruit, the branch still exists. If you cut the branch, the trunk still exists. If you cut the branch, the root still exists. All these manifest portions of the tree are produced gradually one after another.
Since we cannot “see” anything beyond the fruits, we think that if the fruit is plucked, the tree must have disappeared. That view is rejected in Vedic cosmology. Accordingly, space and time are like a tree structure, rather than a box. You can dismantle the visible parts of the box and ultimately the box disappears. But even if you pluck the fruits from the tree, the other parts of the tree still exist.
The “higher” realms of the universe are therefore like trunks and branches, while the lower realms are like fruits and leaves. Occasionally, the leaves and fruits are plucked, and the visible portions of the universe are destroyed. But the higher trunks and leaves still exist because these higher parts of the tree are of a different type than the visible parts. Like trees shed leaves during fall, and grow them again during spring, similarly, the universe also sheds and creates its manifest parts periodically.
This cyclic addition and removal of leaves is described in Vedic cosmology as cyclic time. The higher realms of the universe count the same number of units as the lower realms, but the higher realm counts in larger units while the smaller realm counts in smaller units. Just like if one person counts 100 hours and another person counts 100 seconds, they have both counted 100, but their durations are not the same. In the same way, the natural clock in the universe operates at many levels, producing long lives for the beings in higher realms, and smaller lives in lower realms. These higher and lower are parts of hierarchical space, and the longer and shorter life durations are part of hierarchical time.
To understand Vedic cosmology, therefore, we need to grasp only one key idea: namely that space and time are hierarchical rather than linear. This can be both a scientific construct, and is consistent with everyday notions of space and time. The scientific basis of this space-time is the existence of meanings or what we call wholes beyond parts. The mathematical foundations of this space-time requires the rejection of some assumptions in Euclidean geometry, which the book discusses in greater detail.
8.The Theory of Light
A direct consequence of this viewpoint is that light does not go in straight lines. Rather it goes up and down the tree. To go from one leaf to another, you cannot jump from leaf to leaf. Rather, you must traverse up to the branch where the two leaves are joined. To go between farther leaves, you have to traverse even more branches until you find the branch from which both the leaves have grown. The physical proximity of the leaves therefore has no bearing on the real hierarchical distance between the leaves. Things that appear rather close can actually be quite far apart, while things that appear far apart may be quite close. Thus a new notion of “distance” is created, which is not physical.
In this new notion of distance, an astronaut traveling in his or her space suit is like a leaf swaying on its branch: this swaying does not attach the leaf to a new branch. There are clearly limits to this swaying, without detaching from the branch, and similarly, there are limits to how far we can travel in space in this body. If the leaf sways too far, it will break off from the branch, and the astronaut will die.
It is thus not possible to travel to other parts of the universe without rising up the tree, which in turn involves changing the body and mind of the traveler. Essentially, to travel, the old leaf must disappear and a new leaf must grow on a different branch. The time taken in this travel is the time it takes to modify one meaning to another. If meanings can be changed rapidly—because the logically prior meanings have been acquired—then the time is short, because one only needs to change the body. If, however, the mind has not been modified, then simply a bodily change cannot take us to a new location.
All distances in Vedic cosmology are described in terms of this new notion of “distance”. It is not physical distance, but a “semantic” distance, which represents the effort and time it takes to modify one idea into another. This motion is not like running a car on a road. It is like the car modifying into a truck. Travel in the universe is therefore not like motion of objects with a fixed design. It is rather like one object modifying into another. This modification doesn’t simply need motion; it needs a rearrangement of the parts, discarding some parts, and creating new parts. In other words, you need a completely different design. This design is the mind of the traveler, who acquires a new kind of body.
9.Flat vs. Round Descriptions
The vertical dimension in the universe is therefore not the vertically upwards dimension in physical space. The vertical dimension rather represents the branches and trunks which are logically prior to the leaves. All the leaves are therefore at the same “level”; the twigs are “higher” level, the trunks are even “higher” and the root is the “highest”. We cannot see these higher levels through our senses, just as we cannot see the mind, intellect, ego or morality through our senses of perception.
To understand Vedic cosmology, therefore, the three-dimensional physical world has to be understood as a two-dimensional “plane” in which all the leaves are at the same level, the branches are the same levels, the trunks are at the same level, etc. If we think in terms of a physical space, we can never understand Vedic cosmology, because the higher and lower will simply mean some elevation or depression in physical space. How the physical three dimensional world is reduced to a two-dimensional conceptual space requires a deeper dive into modern physics where two properties—position and momentum—are used to completely describe the state of an object. The two dimensions used in modern science correspond to two ordinary ideas—what an object is and what it can do.
A knife can be used to cut, saw, and hit, although other things can also be used to cut, saw, and hit. Therefore, the nature of an object doesn’t specify its uses, although it limits the uses. Similarly, a certain type of use doesn’t fix the object, although it limits the possible objects. Two properties are therefore necessary to completely specify a state, and this space of two properties is called phase space in modern science. The two-dimensional flat description represents a phase space rather than physical space. Vedic cosmology is therefore not describing a physical space, but a conceptual space in which the properties of an object are completely specified simply by their location in space. Since two properties are necessary to specify the state completely, there are two dimensions. These two properties are measured by two kinds of senses in Sāńkhya—the senses of knowledge and action.
This leads to the question: If the space is flat, why do we see it as three dimensional? There are two reasons for this. First, the three dimensional space we see through our senses, is only one dimension of the phase space—denoted by the senses of perception (sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell); the second dimension is for the senses of action (holding, walking, speaking, procreating, and evacuating), which we never see by our five senses, although the mind perceives it. Second, this single dimension of visible space is divided in three ways by the three modes of nature to denote three types of ideas. For example, color is represented by three ideas like cyan, magenta, and yellow, and to completely denote all the colors, these three colors must denote three dimensions, forming a color sphere.
In reality, each sense has its own three dimensional space, and they are not identical. For instance, the three dimensions perceived by the tongue are different from the three dimensions perceived by the eyes; the three dimensions of the tongue denote different kinds of tastes, while the three dimensions of the eyes denote different kinds of colors. But the mind mixes them up and produces a combined picture. Our materialist intellect then interprets this combined picture as a single “external” world. Thus distinct three dimensional spaces for each sense are combined into a single three dimensional space.
The real space in Vedic cosmology is three-dimensional. Of these three dimensions, we sensually perceive only one dimension—through the five senses of perception. This space is then further divided to produce a three dimensional “picture” of the single dimension. At the level of the mind, this space becomes nine dimensional, when we can see what an object is, what it does, and other abstract concepts from which this object has been derived. At the level of intellect, this space becomes 27 dimensional, and at the level of ego, it becomes 81 dimensional. At successive levels, the space acquires more dimensions. In one sense the universe has more dimensions or types than we can see sensually. In another sense, there are only three types—the three modes of nature—which form a three dimensional space. A deeper understanding of Sāńkhya is necessary to grasp this description of space.
The round Earth is a three dimensional blowup of a single dimensional reality perceived by the senses of perception. A more complete description of this Earth, involves a six dimensional phase space perceived by the senses of action and knowledge, and these six dimensions are actually blowups of a flat two dimensional space, perceived by the mind as the ideas of what a thing is and what it can do. There is no contradiction between flat and round Earths, as long as we understand what they mean. The flat Earth description, however, is a superior description based on the fact that it is more complete.
10.Heliocentric vs. Geocentric Descriptions
Both heliocentric and geocentric models currently used postulate that all the planets are in the same plane, called the ecliptic. In the Vedic model, these planets are not in a plane; rather planets such as Sun, Moon, Jupiter, Saturn, etc. are successively higher from the Earth. Therefore, the Vedic model is different from both heliocentric and geocentric models. The “heights” are in a semantic space, not in physical space. In other words, these planets represent higher nodes in a tree through which light passes in going from one location to another. When I’m seeing the computer screen while writing this post, the light is not traveling in a straight line from the computer to my eyes in a physical space. Rather, the light is information that travels up the tree, passes through one or more of the planets, and then enters the senses. The objects on Earth are like leaves, and the other planets are higher nodes. The informational transfer between two objects is not occurring between two objects because of direct “line of sight” between the objects but because these planets are involved in the transactions.
11.The Description of a Material Transaction
In Vedic philosophy, all perception involves three parts: ādibhautika or the object being seen, ādiatmika or the observer’s senses, and the ādidaivika which is the demigod controlling this perception. In this case, the computer that I’m seeing is ādibhautika, my senses (eyes) are ādiatmika but the light doesn’t travel directly between the computer and the eyes. Rather, this light goes up to a planet where a demigod controls the transfer of information and approves this transaction, based on prior karma.
As a sidebar to this, it is important to note that the current scientific view that light travels at some fixed speed must be rejected to arrive at this view. Information always travels instantaneously but it takes time to be absorbed, depending on how well the receiver is prepared to absorb the information. For instance, if a teacher wants to impart information to a student, the rate at which the student can learn does not continually improve by increasing the teacher’s proximity to the student. Rather, the student has to learn the prior concepts, so that the new concepts can be acquired. In that sense, the hurdle in learning is not the time taken for the sound from the teacher’s mouth to the student’s ear; the hurdle is in the student’s ability to absorb that sound, understand it, and integrate it in his or her mind.
The time taken to transfer information can be zero, but the time taken to absorb this information could still be finite. In the simplest case, the time taken in transfer and absorption are both zero. In other cases, both could be finite. The speed of light overturns this idea: it takes zero time to absorb, but finite time to transfer. The empirical observations only measure the delay between the emission and absorption. This delay can be attributed either to the transfer or the absorption. The Vedic and scientific views are opposite in this respect. Any idea can come to us instantly if we are prepared to receive it.
The implication is that the planets that control the karma are higher nodes in the tree, and information goes up and down this tree. The demigods thus exercise control on all our perception and activity, directing them towards those entities where the corresponding karma can be vectored. For example, if you were donating money, which particular individuals will get that money is controlled by their karma and by the demigods. The demigods therefore redirect information flow, thus matching the source and destination of the information instantaneously, although absorption takes time.
Those of you who find this idea problematic, must consider the fact that matching of source and destinations presents a serious problem in modern quantum physics, because unless the destination has been decided, the source cannot emit. But how can the source decide the destination if all destinations are equally likely? Moreover, if the source is light-years away, then this star cannot emit unless it decides that I am the destination, and it cannot know that I even exist if the knowledge of my presence takes many years to reach the star. If the star is 100 light years away, then at my birth, a signal can travel to the star indicating that I have been born. The star will receive this signal after 100 years. Then it can decide to emit another signal, which will arrive after another 100 years, by which time I would have died. In effect, this entails that a source-to-destination transaction occurs when the destination doesn’t exist, which is a contradiction of how quantum theory describes quantum phenomena.
This problem is called nonlocality in quantum theory, but it arises only if we suppose that light takes a finite time to ‘travel’ from one place to another. The problem disappears if the time is spent in absorption, for then, we can identify those instances when it doesn’t take any time to absorb because all the information that is necessary for a new idea to be accepted already exists. But this view also requires us to treat light as meaning rather than as a physical entity. The transfer of meaning is not random, and not defined by the meaning itself. It is rather produced by a material entity called karma and controlled by the demigods, and this process should be understood to understand cosmology.
12.The World is Different
Vedic cosmology is very vast and Mystic Universe captures only limited parts of the Vedic description. However, to understand even this limited description, all fundamental concepts in modern science have to be reformulated. This includes ordinary ideas such as that space is three dimensional, that light travels in a straight line, that light takes a finite time to travel, that matter is objects without meaning, that there is nothing ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ in the universe because parts of the universe are essentially similar, that the Earth goes around the Sun in an ecliptic plane, that the Earth is a sphere that rotates on its axis, that the axis is tilted which causes the changing of seasons, etc. Any attempt to “reconcile” modern and Vedic cosmologies is likely to end in serious compromises and contradictions.
If, however, we are prepared to resolve the problems in modern science and overturn the current scientific concepts, then a completely new theory of nature emerges, which changes our view of the world. Mystic Universe describes these changes and the new worldview that follows.
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