I’ve checked where I stopped last time with “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology” and turns out I was just a couple of chapters away from the very first explanation of Brahman. I hope to get to that Brahman chapter today but let’s see how things go.
Last time Dalela talked quite a lot sbout symbols and goggles and, more than a month on, it all sounds a bit confusing. Those analogies are good but too complicated to remember for the rest of your life. Not to worry, these upcoming chapters approach the same topic from a more familiar angle and tie it to what we have heard from Śrīla Prabhupāda all along.
For me the troublesome word there is “symbol”. Traditionally it means something more abstract and therefore higher in hierarchy than phenomena it symbolizes. In Daleela’s usage, however, symbols are lower than the what they represent. First come ideas or phenomena and then come symbols, as usual, but this development is seen as progress in thinking for me but as simplification for Daleela. Symbols do not carry all the information with them and in that sense they are, indeed, inferior to phenomena they represent. At the next step of the evolution of the universe, however, symbols serve as “goggles” – forcing people to create new phenomena by adding more information, applying ideas they derive from symbols to their local environment.
I guess it’s like new rock music genres – first they emerge in one particular scene, then they are expressed through symbols, like sounds, instruments, and attitudes associated with punk rock, for example, and then people on the other side of the world adapt and use these symbols (as “goggles” now) to create their own music in their own language to express their own emotions. For these people symbols are higher in hierarchy but for original creators they are lower because their music came first and widely adopted symbols do not represent all the nuances of their experiences with it.
Now let’s look at all these things from a familiar perspective – modern process of acquiring knowledge is ascending. Vedic process is descending.
Modern world is made of physical phenomena. People then put together theories explaining them. These theories are mental constructs, they exist only in people’s minds, and that created a millenia old problem – how does this mental world relate to phenomenal one? Greeks thought that the world of ideas exists separately and is real. Centuries later Descārtes explored this duality again, springing from his famous “I think, therefore I exist”. Modern philosophers are still not clear how thoughts and theories co-exist with the physical world. Are they “real” or not? Are laws of physics physical themselves?
Vedic universe avoids this though-phenomenon dichotomy altogether because it is not fixated on treating only physical phenomena as reality. Everything in the Vedic universe is real it itself. Theories also PRECEDE physical reality, not grow out of it. In the Vedic world theories and ideas are origins of subsequent phenomena. Sometimes this evolution ends with physical manifestations and sometimes it doesn’t reach that stage at all. At each stage of Vedic evolution a theory gets specified by adding more and more local data to it and so more and more local phenomena gets produced.
This process is not entirely foreign to science either – they do exactly the same thing when they apply their theories in practice. They have a theory of how diesel engines work, for example, but for each and every application they create and entirely new engine, always making them different. They all still work on the same principle but there’s a huge difference between diesel engines in modern cars and diesel engines that powered WWI era tanks. One thing that scientists do not realize is that the same “creative” process works even BEFORE things become manifested.
Vedic creation of a horse begins with the mind of a horse – what kind of sense enjoyment it wants to have. According to these desires horses then acquire suitable bodies so that they can run fast, have long legs and also long necks to eat grass. They also want to be beautiful and come in different colors, they need long tails to chase away mosquitoes and they need strong hooves, though they clearly didn’t plan on running on concrete surfaces.
In modern view, however, the idea of a horse comes from existing animals, and from that idea we imagine what horse’s mind could be like so we can put words in horse’s mouth for a children book. The existing animals were created by change through random mutations, the process that has no purpose behind it but only registers species that survived longer.
So, modern science has theories for everything which they create from observing physical world. They they try to unify these diverse theories into one theory of everything. Vedic process is the opposite – the universe is a diversification of one single theory upon which everything depends. Each step in thise diversification is real regardless of whether it’s manifested as physical reality or not. Most of these steps are invisible to us and this explains why science remains skeptical. Let them figure out if their theories are real first, they are really confused about the role of consciousness here.
In Vedic world everything begins with Brahman. We know it begins with Kṛṣṇa, of course, but for the Vedas this remains a tightly guarded secret. This the part where someone else should check if Daleela deviates from our accepted views in any way. Some of what follows might be at odds with some of our usual views and explanation. I don’t see any direct contradictions but it doesn’t mean there aren’t any.
Daleela says that Brahman is not conscious and therefore it’s a representation of God, not God Himself. We don’t normally use the word “representation” when talking about Brahma but it’s okay, I guess. Also Brahman is the sat feature of the Absolute, so it isn’t conscious (cit), so that part checks out, too.
Then Daleela says that Brahman has six qualities – knowledge, beauty, power etc, which are “objectivized in the material creation”. This looks more controversial but, when put in the overall context, it’s not as outrageous as it sounds at first.
Brahman combined with three modes of nature when they are in perfect balance is called pradhāna. Balance here means that no mode is higher than the other and therefore the hierarchical tree of knowledge doesn’t yet exists. When the balance is disturbed the same thing is called prakṛti and in this prakṛti the six original qualities CAN become manifested in various ways.
The living entities desire certain types of pleasure and prakṛti then mixes up the modes to produce suitable minds and bodies, creating diverse material trees for various types of enjoyment. This diversity is called mahat-tattva. If this contradicts with other definitions of pradhāna, prakṛti, and mahat-tattva I’m not in the position to either reject or reconcile it right now. It doesn’t sound outrageously wrong to me and I trust that this explanation was really taken from saṅkhya philosophy presented in the Third Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam.
From the mahattattva the ego is produced, from the ego comes the intelligence, from the intelligence comes the mind, from the mind come senses ans sensations, and from the sensations finally come sense objects. These things are not substances, the author says, but only a combination of three modes of nature further and further subdividing themselves to create the semantic tree of the universe.
There’s more to this particular chapter but I’d rather stop now. Tomorrow I’m starting another round of chemo and will in hospital bed for another three weeks or so. Maybe I will be well enough to continue with the blog, maybe not. Let’s see. I still can’t read the computer screen without magnifying glass, which in turn requires a gorilla hand to hold it, so forgive me for not proof reading this postagain.