Link: “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology“.
Last time I got questions regarding free will. A comment to yesterday’s post offers some suggestions, they look familiar but not satisfactory in light of what is said in the book. First idea was that whenever a possibility remains open and there are no living entities to fulfill them the Lord Himself steps in. Okay, He can certainly do that, but that should be an exception rather than a rule and it doesn’t make sense from the standpoint of Sankhya, too. The Lord isn’t an enjoyer of our fields, He delegates this role to those who are into this kind of pleasure – living entities. Why would He step in into our shoes? Would the universe break if no one wants to be a goalkeeper? That would be a serious design flaw. Consider it from another angle – the amount of choices is always far greater than there are souls because each soul is constantly presented with many choices and the possibilities presented by time and karma are going to pile up exponentially with each step. Who’s going to fulfill them all?
The second proposed answer was that our free will is limited. We don’t choose but rather have the ability to reject and most people, unless they are skilled yogis, don’t exercise even that. This is close to the usual ISKCON position where we can choose only between maya and Krishna and not anything among the choices presented by maya – that would be imposed on us automatically. This contradicts the theory offered in the book where choices are being made constantly.
Allow me to recapitulate – the description of objects is incomplete because it doesn’t explain forces, and so it is dependent on descriptions of prana. Prana can move things around but it needs to know which way to go and so it is dependent on choices. Choices can be made only when there are possibilities so they depend on karma, and karma can’t manifest anything unless it is prodded by time. We cannot skip choices in this sequence without breaking the chain. The author attributes choices to free will here and it’s understandable – we are active living beings, it’s natural for us to be attracted and try to satisfy our quest for pleasure.
There’s another obvious solution, though – choices are made by gunas. This theoretical chain has integrated concepts of gross and subtle bodies, time, and karma, but no description of the material world would be complete without mentioning of gunas, and they have been left out so far. We don’t need free will when we have gunas pushing us towards one thing or another. At best we can resist the temptations, as was proposed in the comment, but for us it usually means going with another guna rather than the one we were initially attracted to. We might resist one particular temptation but we can’t stop acting altogether – we aren’t accomplished yogis yet.
Last week I mentioned the story of Buridan’s ass from the book and how it couldn’t decide whether to eat or to drink first. The answer was that we are ananda seeking entities by design and we don’t need reasons to be attracted to things. The ass was weighing options such as the distance to food and drink to decide which way to go but our desire does not depend on external causes – it comes from within us. If we introduce gunas into the picture the problem with the ass becomes even easier – gunas are never in balance in this world and one option will always be more attractive than the other, so let’s see what these gunas are and how they work.
First, the chapter highlights circular reasoning inbuilt in modern science. They describe laws of interactions based on properties of objects but these properties are defined by effects of interactions themselves. The law of gravity, for example, depends on mass but mass is defined by applying law of gravity. Without gravity mass doesn’t exist, so to speak, and without mass there would be no gravity. What is real then? Mass or gravity? Or neither?
Sankhya avoids circular co-dependency between laws and properties by stating that there are only three properties in nature, three gunas, and nothing else. Interaction between these gunas creates new objects on the tree of the universe, all arranged in hierarchical order. The combination of the modes does not need a law to describe its effects, like interaction of properties in material science does, it just produces a new tree to branch out further. The way new branch is produced is fixed and depends on the relative quantity of the gunas being mixed. The predominating node becomes the abstract and two subservient nodes instantiate and refine it. What we call interaction in the material world is a work of prana anyway.
The author uses a production of a black shirt as an example of how two different properties are never equal and one must become an abstract and the other the description of a particular case. First, therefore, you need an idea of a shirt, and then you refine this idea by making it black. In real life you’d also include fabric, style, size etc because all these details are needed when someone orders a shirt and they are all subordinate to this overarching shirt concept. They are never equal to it.
If the modes were in equal proportion then semantic hierarchy couldn’t be constructed and there’d be no universe – which is the state of matter known as pradhana when the modes are in perfect balance. The Lord’s glance agitates this pradhana and immediately modes start fighting with each other for dominance, which produces the hierarchy which produces the tree of the universe. Somewhere way down the chain gunas instantiate sense objects and that’s where our scientists wake up and that’s what they declare as “universe”, so cute in their blissful ignorance.
In whatever is produced here all three gunas are always present but only one of them predominates and the other two refine the concept. If we want to be truthful, for example, then this desire is a sign of sattva and the other two gunas might urge us to hold telling the truth back but they won’t turn us into outright liars. If, on the other hand, tamas predominates then we’ll be liars and sattva will manifest by making our lies consistent with each other. This consistency will be true but it would come as subservient to the desire to lie, probably making our lies even worse.
The predominating mode is “more” of this guna and this “more” means bigger space and time (not sure what kind of space is meant here). As time passes, however, another guna might come to the fore and reach a tipping point where master-slave relationship is reversed. I guess that’s when a new node is added to the tree because here we will have a new predominating abstract refined by two now dominated gunas. It’s not the same object as existed before.
Another important aspect described in this chapter is that we can consider objects and even living entities as types with functions. The type would be defined by the higher node on the tree, like “shirt” is semantically more important than “black”, and lower nodes branching out, the subdivisions, will be various functions. The number of subdivisions is fixed, according to the book, and is a property of each particular universe. These functions are not overlapping and this makes them orthogonal to each other, like XYZ axes in mathematics. More or less of one function will not perform anything done by any of the others. Each function can be subdivided further and there it takes the role of the whole itself. Because functions are not overlapping the only possible relationships on the tree are slave and master because functions do not interact with each other but only with their wholes.
The author says that this description of the semantic tree of the universe opens doors to creating a new mathematical theory of space and time based on Sankhya but it’s beyond the scope of the book and is a target for some future endeavors. I’ll stop here and pick up with the next chapter tomorrow. Sorry for no diacritics today, I don’t have them on this machine.