THE WISHING TREE:
The Presence and Promise of Hinduism
by Professor Subhash Kak
In the imagination of the West, India is the land of magic and mystery,
wisdom and religiosity, tradition and ritual. India is exotic; its arts,
literature, music, cuisine appear different.
But, at the same time, there are aspects to India that speak straight to the
heart of the West.
This shouldn't surprise us because India and the West have had a shared
prehistory. Sanskrit is the oldest remembered language of Asia and Europe. That
the Indians and the Europeans shared the same homeland in remote antiquity has
been the grist of ceaseless speculation. The Indians are still connected to
their past, so is India a doorway to discover the long-forgotten past of Europe
and America? The art historian and philosopher Heinrich Zimmer, put it thus:
``We of the Occident are about to arrive at a crossroads that were reached by
the thinkers of India some seven hundred years before Christ. That is the real
reason why we become both vexed and stimulated, uneasy yet interested, when
confronted with the concepts and images of Oriental wisdom.''
Columbus set out to find a new seaway to India and he ended up discovering
America. Since then America and India have met in the realm of the spirit. In
the 19th century, the transcendentalists, inspired by India, gave a
characteristic orientation to America's self-definition. In our own century,
Mohandas Gandhi's ideas influenced the civil rights movement. Most recently,
Hindu wisdom about yoga, mind-body connection, and self-knowledge has swept the
West. It appears that we are nearing the time when the quest of Columbus will be
taken to its logical conclusion, by understanding the heart of the Indian
America is a country of great spaces and great appetites--- both material and
spiritual. The machines that are the foundation of America's material wealth
compel conformity to their rhythms, leading to alienation, carpal tunnel
syndrome, and angst about meaning. Americans are the most church-going nation of
the world, but they are increasingly becoming aware of the limitations of
organized religion and now they seek psychologists and religious masters. Indian
spirituality, an unbroken sequence that goes back to hoary antiquity, holds a
special fascination for the American. It is a spirituality that is
non-sectarian, universal and unconnected to ritual.
Addressing the deepest questions of meaning and knowledge, it seems to speak to
man's innermost concerns in this age of science.
Indian wisdom has been replenished for each generation by its epics,
literature, fables, and aphorisms. India, with its ancient remembered past, is a
counterpoint to an America whose history is no more than five hundred years old.
Through epics, literature, fables and aphorisms from the sacred and secular
texts of India, Indian Wisdom exemplifies the great promise that the universal
truths discovered by the sages of India will find resonance in America and the
rest of the world.
But in India this tradition has been under relentless attack by the
Indologists and Marxists, who have controlled the public discourse and contents
of the textbooks. The intention to destroy India's own traditions of knowledge
was articulated in Macaulay's famous Minute of 1835 which
led to the establishment of a colonialist system of education that is still
in force. Macaulay justified this by saying, ``I am quite ready to take the
Oriental learning at the valuation of the Orientalists themselves. I have never
found one among them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European
library was worth the whole native literature of India...It is, I believe, no
exaggeration to say, that all the historical information which has been
collected from all the books written in the Sanscrit language is less valuable
than what may be found in the most paltry abridgments used at preparatory
schools in England...We must at present do our best to form a class who may be
interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons,
Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in
Macaulay's ignorance about India was matched by his arrogance. His ideas were
challenged in his own times, but they were adopted because they suited Britain
in its creation of a system which would make India dependent not only physically
but also intellectually. Indian tradition was now interpreted for Indians by
Western scholars who were ill-equipped to understand its complexity.
Their synthesis cast Indian history in a mold that did it disservice. And
outside the halls of the ivory towers, the tradition was described as being
devoid of any real scientific achiements. The complexity of the social
institutions was represented in the ill-fitting categories of hierarchical
caste, and this, together with speculative philosophy, were declared to be the
hallmarks of Indian civilization.
Those, especially in the cities, who learned about India from these textbooks
soon came to hate their past. After independence, the Nehruvian socialists
seized control of institutions of education and the process set forth by the
British was much accelerated. It is only now, fifty years after political
independece, that an objective understanding of the foundations of Indian
culture is emerging.
A Bridge to the Future
There is a legend about a magic tree, [kalpataru], that fulfills all wishes.
Indian civilization is this tree of riches and wisdom. Kings and emperors sought
to conquer India for its material wealth; the campaign of Alexander, the
unceasing attacks of the Turks, the voyage of Columbus, the British
empire—these all had India as the focus. On the other hand, Indian sages,
philosophers and mystics have held out a shining vision that has inspired the
world. Even Alexander took Indian yogis back to Greece with him.
Indian thought transformed not only China and Southeast Asia, it may also
have provided key impulses to Western thought. We find the Indic people in West
Asia in the second millennium BC, in the Kassite kingdom of Babylon and the
Mitannis of Israel.The father of the famous Queen Nefertiti of Egypt was the
Mitanni king Tushratha (or Dasharatha). The Indic element has been seen in the
beginnings of Greek art. It is quite conceivable that the religious traditions
of West Asia preserve a remembrance of their Indic past.
The modern mind was shaped after adoption by the West of the twin Indian
beliefs of living in harmony with nature and search for a scientific basis to
reality. In the past 300 years, these ideas of universality and a quest for
knowledge have transformed European and American society. Many of the greatest
writers and scientists of the past 100 years have taken inspiration from Indic
Perhaps the most remarkable intellectual achievement of the twentieth century
was quantum theory, which is at the basis of our understanding of chemistry,
biology, and physics and, consequently, it is at the basis of the century's
astonishing technological advances. One of the two creators of this theory was
Erwin Schrodinger (1887-1961). In an autobiographical essay, he explains that
his discovery of quantum mechanics was an attempt to give form to central ideas
of Vedanta which, in this indirect sense, has played a role in the birth of the
subject. In 1925, [before] his revolutionary theory was complete, Erwin
This life of yours which you are living is not merely apiece of this entire
existence, but in a certain sense the whole; only this whole is not so
constituted that it can be surveyed in one single glance. This, as we know, is
what the Brahmins express in that sacred, mystic formula which is yet really so
simple and so clear: [tat tvam asi], this is you.
Or, again, in such words as ``I am in the east and the west, I am above and
below, [I am this entire world.]''
Schrodinger's influential [What is Life?] (1944) also used Vedic ideas. The
book became instantly famous although it was criticized by some for its emphasis
on Indian ideas. Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of the DNA code, credited this
book for key insights that led him to his revolutionary discovery.
According to his biographer Walter Moore, there is a clear continuity between
Schrodinger's understanding of Vedanta and his
The unity and continuity of Vedanta are reflected in the unity and continuity
of wave mechanics. In 1925, the world view of physics was a model of a great
machine composed of separable interacting material particles. During the next
few years, Schrodinger and Heisenberg and their followers created a universe
based on superimposed inseparable waves of probability amplitudes. This new view
would be entirely consistent with the Vedantic concept of All in One.
He became a Vedantist, a Hindu, as a result of his studies in his search for
truth. Schrodinger kept a copy of the Hindu scriptures at his bedside. He read
books on Vedas, yoga, and Sankhya philosophy and he reworked them into his own
words, and ultimately came to believe them. The Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita
were his favourite scriptures.
According to his biographer Moore, ``His system---or that of the
Upanishads---is delightful and consistent: the self and the world are one and
they are all. He rejected traditional western religious beliefs (Jewish,
Christian, and Islamic) not on the basis of any reasoned argument, nor even with
an expression of emotional antipathy, for he loved to use religious expressions
and metaphors, but simply by saying that they are naive.''
Schrodinger was a professor at several universities in Europe. He was awarded
the Nobel Prize in 1933. During the Hitler era he was dismissed from his
position for his opposition to the Nazi ideas and he fled to England. For some
years he was in Ireland, but after the conclusion of the World War II he
returned to Vienna where he died in 1961.
Quantum mechanics goes beyond ordinary logic. According to it reality is a
superposition of all possibilities which restates Vedic ideas. It is quantum
mechanics which explains the mysteries of chemical reactions and of life. In
recent years, it has been suggested that the secrets of consciousness have a
In a famous essay on determinism and free will, he expressed very clearly the
sense that consciousness is a unity, arguing that this ``insight is not new...
From the early great Upanishads the recognition [Atman = Brahman] (the personal
self equals the omnipresent, all-comprehending eternal self) was in Indian
thought considered, far from being blasphemous, to represent the quintessence of
deepest insight into the happenings of the world. The striving of all the
scholars of Vedanta was, after having learnt to pronounce with their lips,
really to assimilate in their minds this grandest of all thoughts.''
He considered the idea of pluralization of consciousness and the notion of
many souls to be naive. He considered the notion of plurality to be a result of
``the same illusion is produced by a gallery of mirrors, and in the same way
Gaurisankar and Mt. Everest turned out to be the same peak seen from different
Schrodinger's ideas continue to be fundamental in a variety of new fields.
The wonders of modern science, such as electronics, biology, chemistry, wouldn't
have been possible without the insights of quantum theory. The possibilities
inherent in quantum theory have not all been realized. Schrodinger remains one
of the most discussed figures in modern scientific thought. His ideas will
continue to inspire science.
Schrodinger was a very complex person. But he had a sense of humor and
paradox. He called his dog [Atman]. Perhaps he did this to honour Yudhishthira
whose own dog, an incarnation of cosmic justice (Dharma), accompanied him on his
last march to the Himalayas. More likely, he was calling attention to the unity
that pervades the web of life.
So there are several reasons for us to be interested in India. Some relate to
the past to the origins of science and religion, others concern our yearning for
knowledge of self and future of mankind. The Indian culture area provides us
extensive material, across a very broad time-span, to help us understand some of
the the earliest history of ideas. The ancient Indian texts are layered in such
a fashion that we can see the gradual development of mathematical, physical,
linguistic, and psychological ideas. We find that the ancient Indians were
greatly interested in geometry, astronomy, grammar, music and other fields. They
were also interested in cognitive science where they were so advanced that their
insights may yet be useful to modern science.
The understanding of the chronological framework of the Indian civilization
has changed greatly in the last few years due to revolutionary discoveries in
archaeology. The archaeological record has been traced in an unbroken tradition
to about 8000 BC. The earliest textual source is the Rigveda which is a
compilation of very early material. There are astronomical references in this
and the other Vedic books which recall events in the third to the fifth
millennium BC and earlier. The recent discovery that Sarasvati, the preeminent
river of the Rigvedic times, went dry around 1900 BC due to tectonic upheavals
implies that the Rig Veda is to be dated prior to this epoch. According to
traditional history, the Rig Veda is prior to 3100 BC.
Tbe beginning of Indian writing has been traced to about 3300 BC. The
original writing was called Sarasvati and it is this that was given the name the
Indus script in the last century, when inscriptions in this writing were
unearthed. The later historical script called Brahmi evolved out of this
writing. The invention of the symbol for zero appears to have been made around
50 BC to 50 AD.
The earliest Indic art is preserved on rocks in the paleolithic, mesolithic
and neolithic stages (40000 BC onwards) and the seals and the sculpture of the
Indus-Sarasvati phase which lasted from about 8000 BC to 1900 BC. The beginnings
of the rock art have been traced to 40,000 years BP (before present) in the
decorated ostrich eggshells from Rajasthan, dated using radiocarbon techniques.
Subsequent phases have been determined using evolution of style and other
radiocarbon dates. The mesolithic period has been dated as 12000 to 6000 BP. The
sites of the rock are found distributed all over the country, although the most
impressive sites are to be found in Madhya Pradesh.
The earliest drawings of this tradition are characterized by dynamic action,
vitality in form, and an acute insight into abstraction and visual perception.
It has been found that there is significant continuity of motif in the rock art
and the later Indus-Sarasvati civilization indicating an unbroken link with the
paleolithic and the mesolithic cultures of India. A striking aspect of the early
rock art is its drawing of tessellations, which show infinite repetition. This
repetition may occur for a basic pattern or, more abstractly, the lines extend
spatially in a manner so that a basic pattern is repeated in two directions. An
understanding of this abstract concept must have been a part of the thought
system of the artists. This is in continuity with the central place of the
notion of infinite in later Indian thought.
The abstract and the iconic elements in Indian rock art are different from
the more naturalistic ancient European cave paintings. There is also difference
in the nature of the community and state in the Western and the Indian
civilizations in the earliest urban phase. The West has monumental temples,
tombs, palaces whereas the society in India appears to have been governed by a
One aspect of the Indian literary tradition, which is several thousand years
old, is its imagination. The epic Mahabharata mentions embryo transplantation,
multiple births from the same fetus, battle with extra-terrestrials who are
wearing air-tight suits, and weapons of mass-destruction. The Ramayana mentions
air travel. The Bhagavata Purana, a medieval encyclopaedic text, has episodes
related to different passage of time for different observers which is very
similar to what happens in the theory of relativity. The notion of self in the
Upanishads embodies a very subtle understanding of observers and of reality. The
Yoga Vasishtha and the Tripura Rahasya present a deep discussion of the nature
In this lecture we will present several new findings about ancient India. But
before we do so, we outline the main periods of Indian archaeology and
literature. The archaeological periods are:
1. The Rock Art Period: 40,000 BC onwards to historical times
2. The Indus-Sarasvati Tradition: 8000 BC to 1300 BC
3. Early Harappan: 3300 BC to 2600 BC
4. The mature Harappan period: 2600 BC to 1900 BC
5. Late Harappan: 1900 BC to 1300 BC
6. The Second Urbanization: 900 BC
The Puranic genealogies start with mythical events and the early Saptarshi
calendar starts from the epoch of 6676 BC which is taken to be beginning of the
genealogies; a later Saptarshi calendar, still in use in different parts of the
country, begins from 3076 BC. Other old calendars are Kaliyuga (3102 BC),
Vikrama (58 BC), Shaka (78 AD).
The Mahabharata War was the epochal event of ancient India. Later astronomers
assigned it to 3137 BC or 2449 BC. Still another tradition assigns it to 1924
BC. The main actors of this War belong to generation number 94 in a list that is
supposed to begin in 6676 BC.
The early Indian Sanskrit literature falls in the following main layers:
The Vedic collections: pre-2000 BC by the Sarasvati river argument.
Traditionally assigned the period pre-3000 BC. The Brahmanas (prose commentaries
on the Vedas): 1900 - 1600BC, because they speak of the drying up of Sarasvati
river as a recent happening. The Aranyakas (forest books): 1500 - 1200 BC, this
period followed the Brahmanas.
The Upanishads (wisdom books): 1900 - 1000 BC appears to be the period of the
earliest Upanishads. The Bhagavadgita appears to belong to the the end of this
period. The Sutras (aphoristic books): These were written in the centuries
before and after the Buddha. The Puranas. The original Purana was coterminous
with the Vedas, but this later gave rise to several texts. The Puranas are
encyclopaedias of Vedic mythology and spirituality.
The Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The
original Mahabharata dates to the Mahabharata War. A series of enlargements made
it attain its size of 100,000 verses about two thousand years ago. The Ramayana
is epic verse that deals with events earlier than those of the Mahabharata.
There was another problem related to the finding that
Indian and European languages belonged to the same family. Indians and Europeans
must have, at some remote time in the past, lived in the same homeland. Since
India was poor and ruled by the British, it was easy to hypothesize that the
original European blood of the ancient Indians was weakened by admixture with
the dark races. Modern science has debunked this theory connecting race and
language but this was the standard view in the 19th century. In their extreme
form, these ideas led to the racism of Hitler. A more subtle telling of the same
racist ideas continues in many books on India.
The myth that Indian astronomy is derived from those of
the Mesopotamians and the Greeks arose from similar racist thinking. Indian
geometry texts were dated to a period after Euclid solely on the grounds of
assumed priority of Greek geometry.
A similar logic was applied in astronomy and the theory
that Indians knew very little astronomy was considered corroborated by a passage
in an ancient text called the Panchavinsha Brahmana, The Knowledge-Book of
Twenty-five Chapters.'' It says, The world of heaven is as far removed from this
world as a thousand gava stacked one above the other.'' What does the word gava,
which is the plural of gauh, mean? If we consult Nirukta, the earliest book of
etymology from India, we find two primary meanings of the word gauh in the
1. The planet earth
2. The animal, cow.
Now guess which of the two meanings was used by the famed
Dutch translator of this book: The cow! His translation reads:
The world of heaven is as far removed from this (earthly)
world as a thousand cows standing the one above the other.
How do we know that this translation is wrong? Weren't the
ancients primitive and even though the statement that the sky is one thousand
cow-heights sounds ludicrous to us, it may very well have been believed then. We
can be sure of our meaning by seeking independent evidence from other texts.
These other texts tell us that the sun (taken to be halfway to the sky) is about
500 earth-diameters from the earth, so the second meaning, the commonsensical
meaning, is the right one. The Greeks and the Babylonians also took the sun to
be at this same distance. Nevertheless, the textbooks base their histories on
If one looks at the order in which the meaning of the term
gauh is given, it reveals to us that the sacredness of the cow may just have
symbolized the sanctity of the planet earth? The Greeks also visualized the
earth as Gaia, the cow!
VI MYSTERY OR CHANCE
Imagine that archaeologists, digging a thousand year old
virgin site in Antarctica, come across an inscription deep underground that
shows the sun, and next to it the numbers 186,000 miles per
second, the speed of light. What would the world do? More
likely than not, this find will not be accepted by scholars. A fraud, they would
say, committed for cheap fame. The reputation of the archaeologists will be
Only lunatics will support them, claiming that this proves
that aliens have visited the earth from time to time. The high priests of the
academy will say that even if the find was genuine it proves nothing; at best it
is a coincidence. But what an astonishing coincidence! Just the right number out
of an infinity of different numbers!
The speed of light was first determined in 1675 by Roemer
who looked at the difference in the times that light from Io, one of the moons
of Jupiter, takes to reach earth based on whether it is on the near side of
Jupiter or the far side. Until then light was taken to travel with infinite
velocity. Even Newton assumed so.
The reason why we are talking about the absurd scenario of
the archaeologists in Antarctica is because we are confronted with a situation
that is quite similar!
I am an archaeologist of texts. I read old texts from the
point of view of history of science. One such book is the celebrated commentary
on the Rigveda by Sayana (c. 1315-1387), a minister in the court of King Bukka I
of the Vijayanagar Empire in South India.
Of a hymn addressed to the sun (RV 1.50), he says that it
is "remembered that the sun traverses 2,202 yojanas in half a nimesha.
This statement could either relate to the speed of the sun
or to that of light. The units are well known. For example, the Puranas define 1
nimesha to be equal to 16/75 seconds; 1 yojana is about 9 miles. Substituting in
Sayana's statement we get 186,000 miles per second.
Unbelievable, you'd say! It cannot be the speed of light.
Maybe it refers to the speed of the sun in its supposed orbit around the earth.
But that places the orbit of the sun at a distance of over 2,550 million miles.
The correct value is only 93 million miles and until the time of Roemer the
distance to the sun used
to be taken to be less than 4 million miles. This
interpretation takes us nowhere.
What about the possibility of fraud? Sayana's statement
was printed in 1890 in the famous edition of Rigveda edited by Max Muller, the
German Sanskritist. He claimed to have used several three or four hundred year
old manuscripts of Sayana's commentary, written much before the time of Roemer.
Is it possible that Muller was duped by an Indian
correspondent who slipped in the line about the speed? Unlikely, because
Sayana's commentary is so well known that an interpolation would have been long
discovered. And soon after Muller's Rigveda waspublished, someone would have
claimed that it contained this particular secret knowledge. The fact that the
speed in the text corresponds to the speed of light was pointed out only
recently. Also a copy of Sayana's manuscript, dated 1395, is available.
Further support for the genuineness of the figure in the
ancient book comes from one of the earliest Puranas, the Vayu, conservatively
dated to at least 1,500 years old. (The same reference is to be found in the
other Puranas as well.)
In Chapter 50 of this book, there is the statement that
the sun moves 3.15 million yojanas in 48 minutes. This corresponds to about
10,000 miles per second if considered as speed of light, and 135 million miles
for the distance to the sun, if considered as the speed of the sun. Sayana's
speed of light is exactly 18
times greater than this speed of the sun! Mere numerology?
We must also not forget that the Puranas speak of the
creation and destruction of the universe in cycles of 8.64 billion years, that
is quite close to currently accepted value regarding the time of the big bang.
For the rationalists these numbers are a coincidence.
Given the significance of these numbers, they'd look very carefully at the old
manuscripts of Sayana's commentary. There are others who would say that
consciousness, acting on itself can find universal knowledge. Look, they'd say,
by examining biological cycles one can know the periods of the sun and the moon.
So why shouldn't it be possible to know other universal truths? They'd add that
ancient texts speak ---and this is true --- of embryo transplants, multiple
births from the same fetus, air and space travel, slowing or speeding of time,
weapons that can destroy the entire world. They'd say that it is more than
ancient science fiction, it shows that the human imagination can envision all
that can happen.
VII THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE
The tree of knowledge may answer our wishes, but it is so
dense that one can get lost in it. The Upanishads tell us that the gods love
what is paradoxical (paroksha) and detest what is straightforward (pratyaksha).
Not surprisingly, the Upanishads also tell us that those who worship only the
material end up in darkness, and those who worship only the spirit end up in
The path of wisdom is a narrow path. The pulsations of
reality may be subtle, but appearances are structured. Great scientists, who
work at the frontier of their field, are aware of the limitations of their
knowledge and its transitory nature, but most other scientists are no more
open-minded than religious
When I was a boy, I heard my father tell me about his
extraordinary experience during his years of quest. He chose to mention some of
these in his fragmentary autobiography, Autumn Leaves. I heard and marvelled but
didn t know what to make of it. I shut my eyes and tried to envision everything
or nothing but it didn t take me far. So I chose science.
I started out by studying information; this eventually led
me to quantum theory. It was good to see that, at its deepest, science asked as
many questions as it answered. I was also interested in grammar, linguistics and
machine translation and before long I marvelled at the magnificent creation of
Panini. I also found a long-lost astronomy in the Vedic books.
The ancient rishis were incredibly prescient and creative.
A lot of what they said is still relevant. After all, their main concern was
consciousness, precisely what modern science is trying to understand.
This brings us to yoga-- the union of our ordinary
awareness with our true self. The promise of Indian wisdom is the realization of
our potential. This is done through yoga as a discipline that complements the
way of looking at the outer world through academic science. We get gleanings of
the spark within by learning to observe ourselves.
The universe is woven together and interconnected. The
symbol of the interconnectedness of the physical universe is the invisible axis
(pillar) around which the stars move; likewise, the unity of our experience is
established by the axis of consciousness to which we bind our associations.
We are so used to the routine of the everyday that we
become oblivious to the extraordinary nature of our commonest experience. It is
not just the coming of new life that is magical, every experience when our
senses are truly open is magical. The dance of Shiva happens not only at the
cosmic level, it occurs also at each moment, and as one grain of time is gone
and dead, the next grain comes along and there is new creation!
There lie many adventures in the path to the unfolding of
the mystery of consciousness. Each human being is a scientist and historian of
sorts: we reason and gather knowledge, we structure all that happens around us.
If it all doesn't add up, we must step back and wonder.
Mind is the last frontier of science. We observe the
physical universe through our mind, yet we have
no clear idea how mind functions, how memories are stored
and recalled and what is the origin of
our subjective feelings. Is this level of ignorance a
result of the reductionist nature of the tools that
have been used in the study of mind and consciousness? If
that is so, will an approach that has a different
philosophical basis help? It is for this reason we turn to
the Vedas, where the central concern is self and awareness.
The Vedic texts consider reality to transcend the duality
of matter and mind. This non-dual reality is termed [Brahman]. Although seen to
be present in all its material manifestations, Brahman is understood best as the
knowing subject within us. The space of this knowledge is called [chit],
consciousness. Later literature, like the Yoga Vasishtha and the Tripura Rahasya,
self-consciously describes itself as dealing with the nature of consciousness.
The Vedas, and later the yogic and tantric texts, speak of
the cognitive centers as individual, whole entities which are, nevertheless, a
part of a greater unity. The vocabulary used in these texts challenges the
modern reader, but once one has learned the definitions of the operative terms,
the structure soon becomes apparent.
Vedic mythology is often an explication of understanding
of consciousness, and so mastering the Vedic vocabulary provides us a means of
unlocking the hidden meaning behind the myths.
In the Vedic discourse, the cognitive centers are called
the devatas or devas-- deities or gods, or luminous loci. The Atharvaveda
(10.2.31) calls the human body the city of the devas. This passage also speaks
of the body consisting of eight cognitive centers which, other references
suggest, are hierarchically organized.
The devas are visualized in a complex, hierarchical
scheme, with some being closer to the autonomous processes of the body and
others being nearer creative centers. In analogy with outer space, inner space
of consciousness is viewed to have three zones: the body (earth), the exchange
processes (prana, atmosphere), and the inner sky (heavens). The number of devas
is variously given, the most extravagant passages count 3.3 million. The
Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (3.9.1) remembers a hymn that praises 3306 of them,
arguing there are 33 major deities, distributed in three groups of eleven among
the three zones. All these devas are taken to embody the same light of
consciousness. The mind consists of discrete agents, although it retains a
Since each deva reflects primordial consciousness, one can
access the mystery of consciousness through any specific deva.Thus there is a
deva for reading and learning, one for recognition, one for friendship, one for
generosity, and so on. Physics and the Vedas agree that reality is consistent
only in its primordial, implicate form. The Vedas insist that speech and
sense-associations cannot describe this reality completely. In quantum physics,
use of ordinary logic leads to paradoxes such as the present can influence the
past! At a less technical level we may ask: How do we reconcile the determinism
of science to the subjective sense of free will?
The modern discoveries that are based on a study of
consciousness states and the deficits caused by lesions, stroke, injury, or
surgery that disrupts the normal functioning of our senses and cognitions
appears to uphold the Vedic view. For example, we have the case of alexia
without agaphia, in other words, a patient who, due to injury or a stroke, is
unable to read, yet able to write. These discoveries suggest that the mind is a
complex structure of various localized functions held together by a unitary
To conclude, Indian has had a glorious past, but that, in
itself, is no reason for us to do anything more than take notice. The more
interesting reason for our fascination with Sanatana Dharma is the possibilities
it offers to the modern man, curious to know the nature of his self. It is for
this reason that we celebrate the tradition, and for this reason alone that this
tradition will eventually triumph all over the world.
For more information on the material in the
essay, see the following books:
1. O. Alvarez, Celestial Brides: A Study in
Mythology and Archaeology. Stockbridge, 1978.
2. G. Feuerstein, The Yoga Tradition. Prescott, 1998.
3. G. Feuerstein, S. Kak, and D. Frawley, In Search of the Cradle of
Civilization. Wheaton, Illinois, 1995.
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