Vanity thought #1763. VC – Sankhya for ham radio enthusiasts

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

The book takes a sudden turn and expresses Sāṅkhya in terms familiar to modern scientists, or even ham radio operators – hence the title. Let me repeat the last point first, however, because it’s important.

Unlinke modern science, in Sāṅkhya’s sequence of events physical objects appear last. We have grown up to believe that contact with sense objects produces sensations but Sāṅkhya reverses it – it’s the desire for sensations, modified by karma, that produces sense objects. So, if we see something it doesn’t mean it’s there and has been there the whole time, but that it appeared to match with our quest for sensations.

This sequence also means that the mind is automatically aware of the sensations because it’s the mind that caused them. The mind might like it or it might not – that depends on karma, but if you step into the room and smell the air it’s this desire for smell that is primary and the mind is already working on it even before the odor hits you nose.

I don’t want to discuss the question “Does a tree falling in the forest make a sound if no one is there to hear it?” which is very relevant here. Our entire paradigm needs to be changed before such speculations will become useful. Right now I still operate on the assumption that the street behind the corner continues even if I can’t see now. I get this conviction because I turned that corner many times and the street was always there. Overturning this conviction would require some time.

On with the book.

In Sāṅkhya material objects are described as values of sensations just as they are described as values of properties in material science where an object would be defined by the value of its mass, its color, size etc. The difference is that in science these values are numerical, they talk about quantities of this or that property, while in Sāṅkhya the values are qualitative, they talk about different types of properties. In Sāṅkhya properties of color and shape are given values yellow and square, for example. Square is a type of shape and it’s refined further, I suppose. Only at the very last step when every value of every property is finally set, the object “appears” and can be perceived.

If you are reading this page in a browser like Chrome then you can right click on any of its elements and select “Inspect” or something similar. There will be a new panel or a window with all the properties of the selected element. When you click through them all you’ll realize that you have no idea what 99% of them are but they are all required to be set before the element becomes visible on the page. We just don’t realize how much information simple things must actually carry and all this information need to be present for things to become perceivable – just like in Sāṅkhya.

There’s a hierarchy in the appearance of senses as well. To understand an object we also must know it’s higher, more abstract nodes, too. If we hear something there already is a meaning because the mind that perceives meanings is more abstract and, therefore, higher in hierarchy than the sense of hearing. We can’t understand sound unless we know it’s meaning. Touch is the next sense that comes out of hearing and therefore it contains sound and meaning. Sight contains touch, sound, and meaning, and so on.

The sound is the first element in Sāṅkhya but it depends on meaning, which is perceived by the mind, and because the mind is more abstract than the hearing it, therefore, cannot be heard. Mind has a location in the space of material objects, both gross and subtle, but it’s not the space as we understand it in material science but rather a collection of meanings. The next more abstract object, the intelligence, also has a location in this space and it cannot be perceived by the mind, I suppose, but the author doesn’t go that far.

What we have next is a statement that all these objects are vibrating and we cannot hear the vibration of the mind because its frequency is too low. Frequency lower than we can perceive means that information there is more abstract. Okay. If the frequency rises up out of our hearing range it creates a sensation of touch. When it rises further and the touch can’t be perceived the vibration makes the object visible.

When we say that an object can be seen, tasted, and touched it means that all these frequencies are simultaneously present. As far as I remember from school, it’s perfectly possible to modulate a higher frequency so that it carries a lower frequency signal at the same time. This is controlled by amplitude and other properties of waves – wavelength, phase etc. I’ll just quote a sentence here: “E.g. in the detection of light, amplitude corresponds to the intensity, frequency to the color, waveform to the saturation, and phase to the form of an object.” I don’t see how exactly but it looks like it makes sense.

In this view there’s no such thing as empty space because locations in space represent meanings and so if there is no information then there’s no space either. Once again, we are not talking about flat space of modern science but a hierarchical collection of meanings. Unlike material space this space isn’t static but it always vibrates and this vibration creates “sound”, once again different from sound both in material science and Sāṅkhya, too. This “sound” can be abstract and detailed. Abstract “sound” is perceived by subtle senses and detailed sound is perceived by gross ones.

There are many receivers in the Vedic world, all tuned to different frequencies, amplitudes, wavelengths etc – sort of ham radio operators. At this point I might call them string theorists, too.

Locations in ether are not material points in space but rather forms of sound. Like a word or a phoneme carries a meaning but it also has a form. These forms of sound is how the ether is divided into locations within it. This meaning is detailed into this form and that meaning into that other form. That’s another concept hard to comprehend in full even if the principle is simple.

The rest of the chapter is dedicated to explaining inadequacy of modern science, once again. In Sāṅkhya the detailed objects can’t perceive their abstract predecessors but are rather the evidence of abstracts’ existence. The subtle body is the evidence of the consciousness (I think it’s more appropriate than the word “unconscious” the author uses here). The prāṇa is the evidence of the subtle body, and the gross body is the evidence of prāṇa.

Material science rejects prāṇa but what happens is that now they can’t explain gross objects behavior and end up with indeterminism of quantum theory. They should realize that they can avoid it by rejecting that causality lies in gross matter and induct prāṇa into science. They might call it differently but it acts the same for everyone regardless of the name. Eventually they’ll realize that prāṇa is inadequate, too, and then they would have to induct the subtle body. Subtle body will become inadequate, too, and they will have to induct guṇa and karma. In the end they’ll realize that none of it works without soul and, finally, God.

Fat chance we’ll see the completion of this process in our lifetime. In fact, it is not likely to happen ever as Kali’s progress is inevitable while scientists can’t get over themselves and keep working on wrong theories just because. The path to the Truth is clear but they don’t walk it anymore or as fast as they used to.

Vanity thought #942. Scratching the itch

For the past couple of days I’ve been writing about woes of feminism, how it destroys lives of women and children. My conclusion was that feminism is irrational and that modern society, which prides itself on following the scientific method, fails to implement logic and reason but acts rather out of strong attachment to self-destructing ideas.

Seeing people doing this to themselves immediately irritates the itch to start blaming them for their stupidity and lecturing them on what to do. Should we scratch that itch? What are our solutions anyway? Do we know how to run this world better?

As devotees we spend a significant amount of time castigating materialists for all their faults. We need to hear this in order to break our own bond with and trust in science. We also need to know this because it’s the truth about this world, materialism IS an erroneous philosophy and we need to know how it is so. We also have example of Śrila Prabhupāda who loved to berate scientists and call them rascals and other names, so it’s legit.

Or maybe not – we are not in the same position as Śrila Prabhupāda, his heart was free of envy and his criticism did not affect his ego, did not make him feel superior himself. This could be the area were we should follow footsteps but not imitate. We need to know how materialism is wrong but we should be careful about effect of this knowledge on ourselves. If it makes us proud we should stop and change our attitudes and direction of our attacks.

Materialists might be wrong about many things but they are also sensitive towards hypocrisy, they can smell self-aggrandizement a mile away and so our preaching can quickly become counterproductive. Śrila Prabhupāda could get away with it but we cannot. He once said that this is the natural advantage of children and old men – they can say anything and go anywhere.

There’s also one very instructive verse in this regard (SB 11.28.1)

    One should neither praise nor criticize the conditioned nature and activities of other persons. Rather, one should see this world as simply the combination of material nature and the enjoying souls, all based on the one Absolute Truth.

This was spoken by Kṛṣṇa Himself so it’s as authoritative as possible. We can try to explain how Śrila Prabhupāda complied with this instruction while ostensibly criticizing materialists but we should not try to find a wiggle room for ourselves.

So, when we see materialists doing something wrong it should not be an excuse to criticize them, we shouldn’t scratch that itch.

Okay, what about offering solutions? In case of feminism it’s very simple – there shouldn’t be any to begin with, it’s a non-Vedic concoction and it can’t be fixed, it must be abandoned. We need varṇāśrama instead.

Women should act according to their nature, ie be raised and trained to become nurturing mothers, not try to imitate and compete with men. To me it doesn’t even need quotes from Manu samhita or any other Vedic literature, it seems like a perfectly reasonable solution on its own strength. If materialists want science, there’s a game theory which, according to wikipedia, is meant for intelligent and rational decision makers, and which calls for men and women to adopt different roles for the sake of mutual benefit rather than try to outdo each other in the zero sum game of feminism.

Actually, feminism is worse than zero sum game because when women perform duties of men it leads to a host of side effects, it affects how men perform their duties in other areas, it affects how women perform their remaining duties, too.

If, for example, you need to clean the house it doesn’t really matter who does what as long as the house is clean, the amount of work is the same even if men and women could argue who did more and who did less. That would be zero sum outcome. With feminism, however, house would remain dirty and men and women would be angry at each other, and the fact that instead of cleaning a lot of other work had been performed would be irrelevant because no one really asked for it, it’s just a distraction.

So, women scientists, soldiers, fire-fighters etc are distraction. Great that they can do that but it’s not really necessary, especially if we get less wives, mothers, and children as a trade off.

Anyway, we propose varṇāśrama dharma instead but I’m not sure it’s the correct answer. Dharma for this age is harināma sañkīrtana, not varṇāśrama. If we want to fix people’s problems we should teach them to chant, not force them to follow rules they strongly rebel against.

One could say that varṇāśrama has never been a yuga dharma so the argument is incoherent, it’s not an either/or proposition, but I could answer that practicing yuga dharma would naturally lead to varṇāśrama, not the other way around, and that varṇāśrama was created by Kṛṣṇa Himself so it’s not up to us whether to establish it or not – it exists perfectly fine in one form or the other without our interference.

We can try to implement it better, ie we can try to suggest how people should perform their existing duties in whatever situation they find themselves in but if we want a complete revolution we need to start with chanting, not Manu Samhita.

Consider this, for example. In China and Taiwan they just started using something called baby hatches – a specialized areas with boxes where people can come and drop their unwanted babies. It is illegal to abandon a baby and it also illegal to have more than one so there are plenty of mothers who find themselves in a twist. In places like Shenzhen an abandoned baby if found every day, often in sewers or dumpsters and with umbilical cords attached, many of them die before being discovered.

We can flatly say that abandoning babies is unlawful, from the POV of varṇāśrama, but our declaration wouldn’t matter because people would still be doing it, so it needs to be regulated instead. It’s the same logic as with jails – the king needs to build them even though he doesn’t plan for his subjects to become criminals. It’s the same logic with goat sacrifices, too, or consuming liquor – can’t stop this and so Vedas propose a regulated solution.

Baby hatch is a regulated solution to child abandonment, so it’s good. Will it encourage more mothers to abandon their babies? Probably, but we have to weigh it against how many babies would be saved. Some countries in western Europe have pretty comfortable jails and so some people from less developed countries come to Europe specifically to commit crimes because they’d get better living conditions in jails there. It’s an unfortunate side effect but, afaik, no one proposes to roll jails back to the times when it was really uncomfortable there. Main purpose of jails is to correct the criminal behavior, not to make people suffer needlessly.

Same with gay marriage – many of us would flatly deny such a thing but if we consider it as a regulated sex life, however illicit, it beats gays blowing each other in public toilets, so it’s good. I mean, what is a better way to reduce one’s sex drive than being married? It’s only half a joke, btw, marriage DOES decrease sex drive pretty fast – five six years and that itch is almost gone.

It would seem that I’m against varṇāśrama but, actually, I am not, I’m only pointing out that implementation should be suitable to the modern age, which will definitely come short if compared to varṇāśrama of the Vedic times. Following some sort of varṇāśrama is unavoidable and I would conclude this post with another instruction given by Kṛṣṇa Himself (SB 11.10.1):

    Taking full shelter in Me, with the mind carefully fixed in the devotional service of the Lord as spoken by Me, one should live without personal desire and practice the social and occupational system called varṇāśrama.

What could be clearer? What is not clear is implementation. We’ve been told that Kṛṣṇa’s own description of varṇāśrama is impossible to implement in present day and ago so precedent for re-considering old rules is there. In the absence of an ācārya telling us exactly what to do we have only principles and our own intelligence to go on, it’s not the best way but we have no other choice.

Vanity thought #858. Science beats materialism

Earlier this month The Guardian published not one but two articles on some recent research confirming that greater materialism leads to greater unhappiness (here and here).

By research they mean not one but a series of studies published this year alone and also a body of research for the past 35 years. The connection is indisputable and some studies insist not only on correlation but also on causation – that, indeed, materialism causes unhappiness. One study even focused on feedback loop, how materialism causes loneliness and how resultant loneliness causes even more materialism. That particular study was done over six years. Other studies followed the subjects for several months and there was one that compared results over the course of twelve years. Science is solid here.

What is left to dispute is what they mean by materialism and what they mean by happiness.

Happiness is a fuzzy concept, especially when so many studies are done independently. They were not measuring one and the same thing but rather a collection of parameters that relate to happiness in general. Sense of well-being, sense of self-worth, sense of fulfillment, sense of satisfaction, peace of mind, or even the decreased levels of opposite emotions like post traumatic stress. In some studies they relied on standard diagnostic tests to identify mental problems, like when they show you a few ink blots and then tell you you have suppressed sexual feelings for your mother.

All in all, however, there isn’t much room left for skepticism here. They weren’t measuring spiritual happiness, of course, but, in our terms, they noticed increased levels of mode of goodness, which always feels better.

There’s more room left for the argument what constitutes materialism there and whether we and them are talking about the same thing at all.

By materialism they mean mostly consumerism, or, more directly, shopping. At one point they talked about two kinds of materialism – “using possessions as a yardstick of success and seeking happiness through acquisition”. Interesting distinction but it’s still talking about shopping. Elsewhere they made another distinction – buying experiences instead of buying things, ie spending money on a trip to a theater or a vacation is better for your wellbeing than spending the same amount on clothes or new phones.

What complicates the matter somewhat is that shopping does bring immediate happiness, that is also indisputable, but the effects are rather short lived and beyond that you are doomed. Much has been made there of this tumblr blog where people show off their possessions and they seemingly look happy but one astute observation always holds true: “If you have four Rolexes while another has five, you are a Rolex short of contentment.”

In other places they notice that instead of inciting envy in others these images reek of desperation and slavery, as if all the displayed stuff has taken control over people’s lives and they send these pictures as some sort of a message in a bottle to remind the world that they still exist. Personally, I don’t see it that way but I understand why someone else would, there’s a point to this argument, too.

So, how does this relate to us? Is is the same materialism that we battle in our lives as aspiring devotees? Yes and no. We want things just as anybody else and, on many occasions, we also fall into slavery to status establishing possessions. For me, there’s nothing more painful than watching a brahmachari lusting for an iPhone and putting forward ridiculous reasons to justify it – “Steve Jobs was a devotee”, or “It’s for preaching”.

I’m still uncomfortable with Bhagavatam speakers who consult with their notebooks or tablets, as if possessing these gadgets is what made you qualified to give a class. Pretty soon we’ll have listeners equipped with tablets, too, ready to double check your every quote, your every reference, and if you don’t bring one to class you’ll be made to feel inadequate and maybe not even serious about your spiritual progress.

There could be valid reasons for justifying this technology but as soon as it inserts itself between a speaker and a listener it ruins everything. One prerequisite for acquiring spiritual knowledge is unconditional surrender, it won’t happen if you doubt the words of your guru and always ready to check Folio for accuracy. Surrender means surrender, you leave everything else behind and you take a leap of faith. Path to Krishna’s feet does not lie through double checking every step. Accuracy does not give rise to devotion, rather the opposite.

This little rant is about obvious effects of materialism, however, even they, the infidels, can spot it and accuse us of hypocrisy.

The most important difference between their understanding of what materialism is and our definition is that what they consider as non-materialistic, the buying of experiences and seeking relationships and a place in a society, for example, is rejected by us with equal force.

What they say is better for your happiness is objectively better, in a sense that mode of goodness is better than the mode of passion, but it’s still to be rejected. We reject their notion of happiness itself, too. We don’t want to be happy, we don’t want to be self-fulfilled, we don’t want to possess extraordinary self-worth, we don’t want peace of mind, for attaining all those things only deepens our illusion that separation from Krishna can be pleasant.

In fact, seeking happiness here is more dangerous than being affected by a bout of envy. With envy we at least know that it’s our enemy and an anartha meant to be purged, seeking of happiness, otoh, is fundamentally undevotional. As long as we seek happiness here, even with Krishna’s help, we’ll never become devotees. Bhakti is about seeking happiness for Krishna, not for ourselves.

Authors of these Guardian articles would also agree that being selfish is bad but their idea of selflessness is to expand your interests to cover even bigger chunk of the material world. You are considered selfish if you project your ego only on your own body but if your ego includes family, nation, and the entire humanity than you are being selfless.

No, you aren’t, you might be being even greedier that way. Hitler wasn’t selfish by that definition, after all.

Hmm, perhaps I reached a point here where Godwin’s Law must take over. Even if I can rant some more I won’t add anything useful to this topic. Selfish, selfless – doesn’t matter, we should try to please guru and Krishna and not waste time on useless arguments.

Vanity thought #432. A little backtraction

I’m not going to retract any of my statements about mayavada during the past week, I just want to clarify them a bit and because “backtracking” is not a noun I need a new word, again.

Association with mayavadi is undoubtedly dangerous, there are plenty of explicit warnings about this starting from Sanatana Goswami’s Hari Bhakti Vilasa:

pūtaṁ hari-kathāmṛtam
śravaṇaṁ naiva kartavyam

“Don’t hear anything from, about Kṛṣṇa, from the Māyāvādīs or the avaiṣṇavas.”

However, we should also remember that simply being in this world is dangerous, too, it’s all about proper management. Srila Prabhupada accepted help from mayavadis when it was needed, like during the first few months in America when he lived with Dr Misra. Yes, it was dangerous, and, on the face of it, he should have rejected asat sanga, as per Mahaprabhu’s instruction in Chaitanya Charitamrita (CC Madhya 22.87), but that association was necessary for the preaching mission. No one in his right mind would bring it up to question Srila Prabhupada’s behavior.

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur invited professional kirtaniyas and reciters of Bhagavatam to attract general population. That was actually cited in a case against his son, Srila Bhaktsiddhanta Saraswati, who outlawed such practices. The reason, however, was that it was done to attract people to the Holy Dham where they would have not come otherwise.

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur never recommended hearing Krishna-katha from those professionals, he only used them as a bait for non-devotees.

This tells us that we should always carefully judge pros and cons of every situation and every application of otherwise ironclad principles. Some danger has to be undertaken for the sake of the preaching mission, it’s inevitable, the only question is how much.

Another fact of life is that we will never be able to estimate that danger correctly, it’s simply impossible due to the nature of this world. If we overestimate the danger of taking mayavadis on board we might miss preaching opportunities, if we underestimate that danger we might harm ourselves.

Making a mistake like that is natural, it’s much better than not being aware of the danger at all. The worst case scenario is if we are aware of the danger but decide to partake in mayavadi association for our own pleasure.

Bottom line – without knowing the specifics and the context we can only demand explanations, we should not pass judgments in haste. If explanations are not forthcoming than we should leave it to Krishna to sort it out, that’s the proper etiquette.

In the past week I always have been on the verge of breaking it but that is also the risk I should calculate when talking about such a sensitive topic.

On another subject, the one I raised yesterday – it appears that the split between religion and science in the Western world is largely imaginary. Catholic church, as it turns out, has been the biggest catalyst for scientific development for almost two thousand years. The first split came up to the surface only in the late 19th century and it found significant audience but its historical analysis has always been questioned and by the 1970s it was totally discredited.

The changes simply hasn’t reached the public education yet, and then came the battles over evolution vs creation and fundamental Christianity was born. Don’t expect any rational discussion about role of church in scientific development any time soon.

I’m bringing this up to further support my point that materialism is not a “natural” state of modern civilization as I, and I’m sure many others, have learned at school. It’s just a side effect of corruption of religion.

Vanity thought #329. Getting on with science

I’m trudging along with “Advancements of Vedic Culture” I mentioned earlier, the initial excitement has worn off. Half way through the book something occurred to me, though, and I’m in two minds about it.

First thing is that the book actually betrays Vedic civilization. There are a couple of places where the underlying attitude shines clear – science is the king, we all came from monkeys, it’s just that ancient Indians were a little better at this than everyone else.

This is a hugely disappointing discovery and I’ve noticed this attitude quite a few times among people who outwardly profess to believe in God. Christians gloss over stories of the Old Testament, Muslims are proud of their medieval scientists, and now it came down to Hinduism, too.

These are reactions of people who don’t have any strong faith, only a faint hope that their beliefs might have some merit in them. These are the reactions of people firmly schooled in materialism and empirical science, people still convinced that the scientific method of learning about the world is absolute and supreme.

The only concession they give to the religion is that there might be something else there, beyond the experience of their material senses, but in no way that experience can overrule what they see with their own eyes, or someone else had seen and taught them about at school.

These are reactions of people who think that the material illusion is real.

Even when they appear to challenge the scientific view of history they still rely on the same empirical evidence and explanations, same kind of reasoning and arguments, and indoctrinate their followers in exactly the same way as scientists.

Christians do it with creationism where they just keep drilling into people that the universe is only seven thousand years old and hope that they would become immune to scientific arguments. I guess they figured out that if it works in politics it would work in religion, too. They do not (and cannot) explain why the science is wrong and their calculations are right, they just hope that if they repeat their lines often enough people will stop thinking about that.

“Advancement in Vedic Culture” is trying to do the same thing with Hinduism. It substitutes self-revealing knowledge passed down through the parampara system with twisting conclusions drawn from results of sensory experiences. It doesn’t say that Krishna lived five thousand years ago because that is what the gurus teach us, it says Krishna lived five thousand years ago because they found some empirical evidence for it.

By doing so it preaches materialism.

The second thing is that I don’t know whether this approach is right or wrong. As devotees we have certain lines drawn for us – that which leads to materialism and impersonalism is wrong, that which leads to developing of devotional service is right. In the big scheme of things both materialism and impersonalism is the philosophical service provided by the Lord for conditioned living souls desiring to forget about Him but, as I discussed yesterday, by accepting this service the living entities deprive themselves of their eternal knowledge and bliss and devotees shouldn’t be callous towards that.

The thing is that I don’t know where books like this, or preaching creationism in the West, lead their readers. I would happily give Stephen Knapp a benefit of doubt in this regard, I hope he knows what he is doing and he has a plan but I also have doubts that he fully realizes the power and the direction of the force he is unleashing, I don’t think anyone does.

He doesn’t present this book as a devotee and he doesn’t sneak in religious ideas, so far he sticks to empirical arguments only, and that is fair to his readers. He also clearly hopes that once the readers develop appreciation for the Vedic culture they will take Vedic scriptures a bit more seriously and start developing actual faith. In this way he increases people’s mode of goodness that is essential for practicing any religion. I hope that works.

On the down side we have a massive nationalistic movement in India that has nothing to do with serving the Lord and gets mentioned in the news mostly for barbaric violence towards Muslims or Christians. These people use Vedic traditions only to prove their own supremacy and I bet they would gulp books like this in one sitting. Who will take responsibility if it inspires someone to burn another train carriage full of people?

This is the danger of getting on with science – we think that we can inject ourselves into the workings of this world and came out clean. We think that we are transcendental and so won’t be affected by the laws of karma but that is not true. The blazing fire of material existence that we are engulfed in right now started with a one little spark of interest.

Alcoholism starts with the first beer and addiction to drugs starts with the first cigarette. No one takes those steps with the goal of becoming a drug addict or an alcoholic, it just happens, and so dabbling in science has all the potential to produce very very undesirable results.

Our life is short, we shouldn’t be spending it on dangerous things unless absolutely necessary, we should be very careful pouring our enthusiasm into clearly materialistic activities.