Without further ado, the next topic from “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology” I planned to talk about was comparing universe to a book, however, the next couple of chapters describe creation of the universe as a scientific process and so I want to skip the book metaphor for now in favor of reviewing the formula of this process in detail and return to describing the universe as a book tomorrow.
The chapter I want to start today is called “Scientific Knowledge of the Material Tree” and there are a couple of contentious points there. The very first sentence has a phrase that the universe is “like a book within meanings” – I suspect the author meant “book with meanings” – because that’s how we expect it to sound in English and I just don’t see how it could mean anything sensible otherwise, especially considering that this phrase follows by “rather than like a meaningless thing with only physical properties.”
Next sentence says that the universe “describes God”, which is not how we usually talk about it in our community. We rather see it as an inverted or perverted reflection of the spiritual world. We don’t say things like “universe is a description of Kṛṣṇa”, though in a way it is. We could also say that Vedic scriptures quite often talk about “universal form” of God and these descriptions are authorized, we are just being told that they are given for the neophytes rather than for advanced devotees. I don’t think we ourselves get even the universal form, I don’t know anyone who has “realized” it, so from our actual position we should be rather humble here.
From there on the process is described as stages where the same formula repeats itself over and over again – God produces a phenomenon and from observation of that phenomenon another form of God is produced. First God says His own name, which the sound of Oṁ, and from further observation of that sound there appears the form of Mahā Viṣṇu. From Mahā Viṣṇu’s observation there appears pradhana, undifferentiated matter, and from further observation of that matter there appears Lord Śeṣa. We have slightly different versions of the sequence with different names. In Brahma Saṁhitā, for example, first there’s Śambhu (Śiva), from whom emerges Mahā Viṣṇu, so let’s not argue about the details but try to understand the principle here.
Lord Śeṣa becomes the observer of prakṛti. From that observation mahat-tattva is produced and to observe this mahat-tattva there appears Garbhodakaśāyī Viṣṇu. Mahat-tattva is a curious thing, it’s the root source of all material pleasures and depending on how many of these pleasures the Lord observes there appears an individual universe for this specific number. So, if the Lord meditates on four root pleasures there appears one universe and one Garbhodakaśāyī observer, if He looks at five there’s another universe for that and another Garbhodakaśāyī observer.
From meditating on mahat-tattva there appears Lord Brahma who, in his own meditation, creates Kṣirodakaśāyī Viṣṇu and Rudra and together they become observers/owners of the three guṇas. I don’t want to contest appearance of Kṣirodakaśāyī Viṣṇu from Brahma here, it sounds reasonable because there was a time in the universe when there was no one but Lord Brahma, how exactly the appearance of Kṣirodakaśāyī Viṣṇu occurred in not important here.
Lord Brahma is the universal creator and from his meditation there appears many forms of the demigods, too. They become observers of subsequently created reality but they see it in abstract form while living beings created to observe that reality see it in greater detail. We are observers, too, and we see many more details, such as gross matter, that the controlling demigods do not pay attention to. We feel as controllers and we employ other people or animals to work for us. We create jobs, as politicians say, which means we create reality for other beings to observe. We don’t micromanage things and our employees outsource their responsibilities to those lower on corporate ladder, who become the owners and observers of their own fields of work. I guess the formula is clear now – create something and put someone else in charge of it.
There’s one very important sentence in the book there – being in illusion, and so under the law of karma, means that we don’t have complete knowledge of how this whole thing works. This will be elaborated in further chapters but it’s a thought that we can make a “sticky” in our brains already – we get entrapped in illusion because we don’t see the whole picture. You can see politicians doing it all the time right now, in the heat of the American election season, when they select their talking points and ignore everything else. Political spin, a must in any political discourse, is a willful neglect of some facts thus hiding the whole picture, which, in turn, means it’s a willful creation of illusion with all the consequences that come with it.
There’s also the difference between “scientific” understanding of the universe and what has been described here. Science views the universe as flat and open – made up of infinite points in space, which are all the same everywhere, and with time progressing infinitely forward. Vedic universe is hierarchical and cyclic instead. The whole universe is one location, one “point”, although more abstract than the planets within it. We should think about it like postal addresses where names of the country, state, county, city, street, and the house number are all contained one within the other rather than being separate points in space. In that sense we are not on a different planet from the demigods, we are sort of “within”, but looking at it in greater detail. Or we can say that demigod planets are within us but looking at our lives in greater abstraction and dismissing all the stuff we think is important. They are not somewhere out there – that’s the point. They are hierarchically higher, not spatially removed from us by millions of miles. That’s one of the reasons our literature calls them “higher” planets, too. Time is also not open and linear but is like a clock – it just goes in circles, repeating itself over and over again. Vedic concept of time is highly complicated for those who grew up with western education so let’s leave it for now.
If we want to understand any object in the universe, starting with material objects, as science does, we need to know where it came from, what is its previous step in the hierarchy. All objects are symbols of higher meanings and we should know those meanings first; independent studying of symbols themselves will not be fruitful. If we look at some room its full function can be understood only when we know how the whole house is organized. It might not look like a dining room and have a computer desk instead but in the context of the house there might have been many many dinners consumed at that desk and there might not even be a separate dining room at all. Is there evidence of dinners being had at the computer desk? There could be, or there could be not, depending on how well the owner cleans up after himself. The point is you can never know for sure until you know the connection to and the nature of the higher object first, in this case the house.
Ultimately, everything is hierarchically connected to Kṛṣṇa so we CAN say that the universe is a description of God, if one is still not at ease with this assertion.
Science, of course, also interprets observations as meanings – light is interpreted as coming from stars, for example, but the main difference is that each observation is interpreted in isolation first and then all the theories are bundled together later, leading to numerous contradictions and the absence of one “theory of everything”. In Vedic approach every sensation is interpreted in relation to its higher sensation first, and many of these higher sensations might not be physically perceptible – like mind, thoughts, ego etc. As a society we know these things exist but, scientifically, they do not, and there going to be even more problems when they are explained as only chemical interactions in the brain, as “scientism” does.
The main difference is that in Vedic view everything has a meaning and sensations or observations are expressions of that meaning, while in science meanings do not exist but are rather created by the scientists – the observers. You create one meaning and I create another explanation and then we argue whose is better. There’s no thought given to discovery of one true, pre-existing meaning whatsoever. Their universe is meaningless and only we, humans, can give it one.
That’s where the book metaphor can come in very handy, so tomorrow.