Vanity thought #1758. VC – time and karma

Link: “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”.

Next chapter in the book is called “Prāṇa and Time” and it introduces two additional concepts to the discussion on Sāṅkhya – time and karma. The book is really packed with information and sometimes I feel like I got it, that I organized it in my head and can present it from the abstract to details, like Sāṅkhya itself would have wanted, but when I re-read some of the chapters I get thrown back as I come across concepts I’ve completely forgotten. This is one of those chpaters.

The reason for this, I think, is that there are many valid ways to describe reality, some will be more complete than others. When we talked about prāṇa, for example, we didn’t change the way the world looks but offered an alternative explanation of why it works this way.

I should pause here and admit that at this point what I read in the book is still accepted as an alternative to science but it should be the other way around – with science providing an alternative to Vedas. I suppose this change from what is considered a primary theory to what is considered an alternative will take some time and effort. We need to internalize the knowledge given in the scriptures and learn to see the world through their eyes. Then science will become an alternative, and a poor one at that.

On the plus side, when I think about Vedic cosmos I don’t care what science thinks anymore, which might lead to problems when talking to those unfamiliar with Vedic universe. Materialists want to see a Vedic explanation of THEIR cosmos but in Vedic view it’s not the topic of interest at all. They build their theories on their sensual perceptions and perceptions are created to satisfy their desires. There’s no objectively existing material universe which would create perceptions. Perceptions are created from the mind according to guṇa and karma and that’s what should draw our interest, not irrelevant arguments over the shape of black holes or something. Plus their theories are created according to their desires, guṇa, and karma as well. We should look into the source of it instead and hope that one day we’ll actually see the Lord behind everything.

By the way, on the subject of prāṇa as it was discussed yesterday – there’s a story of Pracetās in the Fourth Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam who once burned all the trees (SB 4.30). In modern terms we would describe it as a destruction of an ecosystem and it turned out there WAS someone who felt responsible for it – there was a mind and a jīva behind it who wanted to preserve it. That someone is not mentioned in Bhāgavatam explicitly but he apparently appealed to Lord Brahmā who pacified the Pracetās and negotiated a deal where they get the daughter of the forest in return for stopping burning the trees (SB 4.30.47).

Anyway, in this chapter the author proposes another short description of how the universe works and I admit it makes as much sense as any other, though with less detail. First, the author discusses karma and he introduces it as possibilities of experience presented by time. The consequences, for which we know karma for, are the result of incomplete knowledge of reality when we make choices among these possibilities. Karma then comes back to correct our misunderstandings. All the stimuli from the world are produced by karma and by responding to them and making choices we produce more karma, and that’s why the author talks about karma as possibility of experiences.

These possibilities exist individually for us and ours are a subset of all the possibilities in the universe, and I mean all of them for all times. These possibilities constitute the realm of Garbhodaka and are manifested from it by time. That’s when possibilities become real for us and for everybody else and before that they lie unmanifested. Cosmic possibilities are manifested by cosmic time and our possibilities are manifested by our individual times. This relation between different times is discussed later in the book and I’m not clear on this yet.

Individual events in our lives depend on our responses and constitute our individual karma, which manifest our individual experiences, which are still subsets of all the possibilities in the universe. There are times when nothing in the world is manifested and the scriptures talk about these times as when the world is submerged into Garbhodaka, which makes total sense now – the possibilities become unmanifested and so there’s no “reality” for us to observe and act upon.

This is where the author presents another theory of life. The description of processes in the body is subordinated to description of karma, which is subordinated to time. Going the other way – time selects the possibilities which create particular karma which then creates a particular process which then gets converted into physical objects by prāṇa. This time-karma-prāṇa sequence describes our entire lives but not in great detail, as I mentioned earlier.

To add more details – the pre-eminent role of time means that the universe creates events independently of the observers who participate in these events, which means we can’t change the destiny of the universe. When presented with choices we can, however, create our own sequence of observable events and this means we are responsible for our choices.

I can’t make sense of the next sentence. Give it a try yourself:

    The role of prāna entails that choices can be abstracted from a process description and a material system can appear to work automatically due to ‘forces’ and without conscious intervention,..

The sentence continues but it switches to the view of the materialists and doesn’t clarify the quoted part. I don’t get “abstracted from a process description” at all. When we talk about abstracts we are supposed to move UP the semantic tree but here “abstracted” means creating contingent phenomena further DOWN. Perhaps in a sense that once the phenomena is manifested it becomes an abstract, a symbol for the next step. How that leads to perception of independent “forces” is unclear, but we do see forces acting out without our participation all the time.

Maybe the author means that we do not see the “abstraction” process of converting karma and choices associated with it into reality, which is done by prāṇa, which is the actual reason for the appearance of “forces”. It would sort of make sense – what we see as a “force” is actually someone’s desire to maintain his system or to project his desires into the world. We can’t perceive neither praṇa nor karma and to us “forces” simply exist and we need another explanation for them.

The rest of the chapter deals with the differences between Sāṅkhya and materialism in this area and I will try to make more sense of it tomorrow.


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