Vanity thought #1772. VC – keep your head level at all times

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

The last chapter in the section on Vedic view of causality is very short so it’s very likely that I’ll start the next section today. The injunction to keep balance, however, is applicable to both, as I hope to demonstrate later.

We’ll start with “Theory of Balance” as it applies in ayurveda. Too much of kaphā can cause rigidity in the system and nothing can move, just like an obese person can’t function normally. Too much pitta means “paralysis by analysis”, in author’s words. There are tons of genuine ayurvedic symptoms of pitta imbalance and to me they look like they all relate to excessive processing creating extra “fire”. Pitta works on producing contingent details out of abstracts of kaphā. It takes things and breaks them down, releasing energy in the process. This “breaking down” can, indeed, be described as analyzing larger concepts and converting them into collection of details. If this is all what the body does then it can lead to “paralysis by analysis”. Makes sense. Vāta means changes and excess of it manifests as instability in all aspects and improper coordination of various functions.

The point is that imbalance of any of the three is called disease in ayurveda and it’s for this reason that kaphā, vāta, and pitta are not called guṇas but doṣas instead. In Vedic terms guṇa signify good qualities while doṣa bad. When qualities are in balance they are guṇas, when they go off-kilter they become doṣas. “Everything is good in moderation,” as they say. The author also says that kaphā, vāta, and pitta are related not only to gross bodies but manifest themselves in the mind as well, and in any kind of organism or organisation, too.

In a business company kaphā is the big goals and goal posts set by top management and sales and marketing, pitta is engineers working on translating this big vision into products and services, and vāta, or prāṇa, is the operations department that keeps it all in proper motion. If kaphā predominates then the company becomes big on announcements but short on delivery. If pitta predominates then engineers lose the sight of the goal and come up with tons of irrelevant stuff. If prāṇa predominates then everyone is made to run around like headless chicken and nothing gets accomplished at all. That’s my rendering of that paragraph and I think it’s pretty close to author’s own words.

The point is that kaphā, pitta, and vāta are universal and manifest in every system, not just our bodies, and that we should always keep them in proper balance. And that’s how the section ends.

Next we get to problems of modern cosmology and the first chapter is the overview of the Big Bang theory. It has a Gītā quote as an epigraph and I noticed that it’s taken from “as it is” 1972 edition, not the current BBT version. I hope it doesn’t mean that the author is on the same “no editing allowed” bandwagon as serial offenders from ex-ISKCON circles. The possibility that the author holds a critical view of BBT policies should not be discounted, however. It means that when we look at his work we should always be alert to whether it fully complies with our siddhānta or not. So far it deals with subjects that are not controversial but the explanation of “free will” offered here opens the door for disagreements.

I’m saying this to stress importance of balance, and I need a reminder of it myself – I can’t forget Śrīla Prabhupāda’s explanation of our philosophy in lieu of Sāṅkhya. As soon as Sāṅkhya as presented in the book becomes at odds with our teachings it needs to be reconciled one way or another, we shouldn’t take it for granted and we shouldn’t take it as an authority over Prabhupāda.

The short story of Big Bang is another example of the need for balance. The author’s version looks generally okay to me but when he says that the universe was created from “nothing” (even if “nothing” is in quotes) I bet lots of scientifically educated people would disagree. Btw, the previous chapter contained a spelling mistake in a phrase “..the observer is changings its mental..” and the last sentence of the first paragraph in this chapter has an unnecessary comma: “The nature of this ‘nothing’ and why it exploded in the first place, remains the subject of much debate and research to this day.” I don’t think I’ve seen any editing errors elsewhere and two of them appearing so close to each other are easily noticeable. I’m a sucker for unnecessary commas myself but my ramblings here are not a published book.

The next paragraph presents an overview of how different theories fit together – gravitation governs the behavior of stars and galaxies and when the matter is condensed it falls into the domain of quantum theory. After Einstein came up with theory of general relativity in 1915 our views on what gravity is changed dramatically. It’s not longer a force, as it has been thought of since Newton times, and its propagation isn’t instant either. So now we have general relativity for stars and big objects and quantum theory for everything else. It appears that quantum theory can explain behavior of our everyday macroscopic objects but we, as a whole, are not yet ready to talk about “two trains leaving station A” in the language of quantum particles. It becomes mindbogglingly complex.

Next the author discusses implications of the universe starting with a huge explosion. In Einstein’s time people thought the universe was static but if it started with a massive expansion then all kinds of scenarios become possible. We have the energy that drives the stars apart and we have gravity that pulls them back together. Is their speed enough to escape the gravitational pull of the rest of the universe? If it isn’t they are ought to come back and collapse into each other like failed rocket launches into space. If they are fast enough it would mean the universe is expanding.

The author demonstrates several scenarios – Big Crunch, where the universe expands initially but then stars are pulled back and collapse, Flat Expansion where initial blast eventually evens out with gravitation and universe becomes stable, Open Expansion where the universe expands but at a steady rate, and Accelerated Expansion where gravity pull becomes weaker and weaker and stars speed up to expand universal frontiers faster and faster.

I’ll leave history of scientific experiments to confirm or reject any of these models for another time.

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Vanity thought #1771. VC – prana and trajectories

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

As I mentioned at the end of the previous post, the rest of the chapter talks about trajectories. I thought I knew the word but it turns out the author uses it in a complicated way. Trajectories will come up again in later chapters on time and it was even more confusing there. There are plenty of highlighted failings of the modern science, too, and the caveat I mentioned yesterday still applies – not everything attributed to science in this book will be agreed on by scientists.

The very first sentence introducing trajectories goes like this: “The existence of prāna is like the trajectories that exist independent of particles.” Uh-huh. Is “independent of particles” important here? What other trajectories are there? Or does it simply state the obvious to remind us that trajectories are independent of particles? Are they? Never thought of it this way. Next few sentences aren’t very helpful either. I can understand how we conceive trajectories as a collection of consecutive locations taken by objects as they move but not much more than that. “Motion” has been denied here, I guess for the reason that will become clearer in the next paragraph, and otherwise it’s something something something and there’s not causality. Prāṇa is also a trajectory but not that of the objects, it’s the trajectory of the observer as he moves through the experiences of his life. Mmkay.

In quantum theory objects have discrete states and therefore we cannot talk about their motion in the conventional sense. How an object jumps from one state to another cannot be described either. In fact, we can’t be sure that it’s the same object that is doing the jumping and so we cannot talk about continuity of the succession of states either. We can only talk about the succession of our observations. In other words, the author says, it’s not the objects that go from state to state but it’s the observer who is moving from one state to another. It’s not the particle that unites the succession of the states but the observer. This is where prāṇa comes in – it does not describe motion of particles but the experiences of the observer. Prāṇa is a trajectory of the souls and not the motion of particles, and it carries the soul from one state to another.

This idea is simple enough but then we must remember that “states” in the Vedic world can be different levels of abstraction and we can have experiences even when the body doesn’t move. Prāṇa, however, works only on the gross body, not on the mind. It is a product of the mind, as I understand, and the author says that controlled prāṇa can help regulate the mind, too. What prāṇa generally works on is senses and sense objects and it moves them under control of karma, which is under control of time.

Like in quantum theory, it’s not one body that moves from state to state but the soul that takes shelter of one body after another at every step, as created by prāṇa. We sense continuity and talk about one body living through life experiences and the author compares it to the illusion of motion picture which is made up of multiple stationary frames changing very fast. The old body is a state of senses and sense objects that becomes unmanifest and the current body is the currently manifested state, but it’s not the same body as the old – that’s an illusion.

In science the succession of consecutive locations in space was used to create the illusion of “motion” but, because of quantum theory, we can’t talk about it in these terms anymore. Science doesn’t know what connects different states but Sāṅkhya says it’s the observer, the soul. It’s the soul that moves from body to body. This travel is caused by prāṇa, which is controlled by karma, which is controlled by time.

At the time of death prāṇa detaches abstract concepts like the mind from their contingent details (bodies) and carries the soul to a place where new details are developed as a new body. This agency of prāṇa is known as transmigration of souls in Vedic world but it’s not understood in modern science, which leads to the collapse of causality in any movement.

This would be a good place to introduce new concepts into science, the author says, but so far we can remain very skeptical whether science will embrace any new notions coming from Hinduism, of all places. Nevertheless, the need is there and they can dance around their problems only for so long. In Vedic theory the trajectory, path, or process is unrelated to properties of objects and the “force” that moves the observer through the succession of states is not the same as force field in science either. Force fields in science can only put objects in stationary states and so they have causality missing from the picture. This causality can be explained by introducing prāṇa.

The author then says that science has an equivalent of kaphā – fermions, which are actual particles of matter. Science also has bosons, which are particles of force, and they represent pitta – the force that subdivides, the energy that can be seen as information needed to create contingent objects. What science is lacking is vata, I guess, but the author says it rather needs prāṇa, which is trajectories without objects. The author says that we can visualize these trajectories in our minds but we can’t directly observe them, we can only see them through their effects – changes to the bodily states.

The collapse of causality in quantum theory is because they are trying to measure what cannot be measured – prāṇa is not a material object but a trajectory of material objects (or rather trajectory of the observer).

Śrīmad Bhāgavatam talks about celestial objects being moved by the “ropes of wind”. “Ropes” are paths and “wind” is prāṇa that moves planets along them. I’m not fully satisfied with the distinction made here but I totally agree with author’s main point – this “wind” of Bhāgavatam is not the “air” element of Sāṅkhya and it’s not gravitational force field of science either. It’s this wind that explains causality of movement because both matter and energy are inert. As I typed this I realized that the fact of energy being inert hasn’t sunk in yet. I still think that energy signifies movement. In quantum theory energy is released when an object changes its state in a certain way but the cause of that change is missing. Now we found it and it’s in our karma. Prāṇa is the agency that fulfills it.

Vanity thought #1762. VC – ether, air, fire, water and earth

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

We got to a chapter I’ve been waiting for my whole life. I’m exaggerating, of course, but I bet when we all heard that even in Kṛṣṇa consciousness physical matter is made up of these five elements we thought to ourselves that this needs an explanation. For westerners Bhagavad Gītā is not the first place to hear this “chemistry” and we’ve never taken it seriously before. Not when it appeared in the Bible nor in any other ancient religion of philosophy. The author says that this understanding of ether, air, fire, water, and earth comes from Greeks and they thought that these were the substances making up the world. Greeks also gave these substances forms but never explained how they interact with each other and how the combinations of forms and substances occurred. Perhaps some scholar of Greek philosophy would disagree here but it doesn’t matter. One way or another, we now treat this “science” as extremely naive because we figured out molecules, atoms, electrons and even small quantum particles. Water is H2O, not some primary substance, idiots.

When I heard that Bhagavad Gītā insisted on the same classification I put it aside as something to resolve in the future and, as I learned more about Kṛṣṇa consciousness, as something not important at all. Then I heard a simple explanation and I put my mind at ease and never thought of it again, until now. The explanations was, and I think I’ve typed it up here once already, that even an atom has all these material elements present in it. It occupies space – ether, it has moving electrons – air, it contains energy – fire, it has the force that glues it together – water, and it is made up of particles – earth.

The solution to this ancient dilemma is that Gītā and, I suppose, Bible, too, classify matter differently. It’s a different description of the same thing and based on this description it’s possible to do yoga while “scientific” description gives us processed food and lasers. And now we’ve got to the chapter that offers a more rigorous description of material elements taken from Sāṅkhya. Hooray!

Instead of Greek “substances” material elements in Sāṅkhya are objectifications of sensual properties, which makes them more of a “form” rather than “substance” – if we think of a form as a description of an object. When we describe sensual properties in Sāṅkhya we also create “forms” and they become gross elements.

Just like everything on the semantic tree of the universe these elements are produces by adding details to preceding concepts. Elements are produced from sensual perceptions – sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. This properties of perception are, in turn, are produced from senses – eye, ear, tongue, skin, and nose. These senses should not be confused with bodily organs in modern science. Senses are produced from the mind, mind comes from intellect and so on. In other words, intellect dispassionately observes all available distinctions but to observe only one selected object mind is born. When more details are added and mind alone becomes not enough to observe the object senses are born. Senses are a wonderful thing but with more details we get sensations, and what are sensations without sense objects? Each material element, subtle or gross, is created by exploring and expanding on the previous one.

We can also describe this process as objectification of meanings. The author here uses an idea of an apple, which is a meaning, and we can comprehend it by the mind. For this meaning to become perceivable, however, it needs a property of being seen, smelled, touched, and tasted. To become seen the apple must have form, color, and size. For the color to be perceivable it must have hue, saturation etc. For hue to be perceivable it needs to be a combination of primary colors such as greed, red, and blue. This is an example of the hierarchical process of objectifying meanings step by step that can be observed even in modern framework.

In Sāṅkhya there’s a different hierarchy, however, which I’ve never heard before even if the words are familiar. The property of being seen, touched or smelled etc is called the “sense” and it has three parts: subjective (ādiatmika), objective (ādibhautika) and their connection (ādidaivika). Subjective part is the ability to sense, the objective part is a corresponding property in objects, and their connection is enacted by karma and time. Together these three produce sensations experienced by the observer.

What we heard is that these words – ādiatmika, ādibhautika, and ādidaivika – describe three-fold material miseries. The transliteration, however, is different – miseries have adhi- in the beginning rather that ādi- as given here. I thought I should mention that to avoid the confusion. The miseries pertain to the same sources – our own bodies, other beings, and demigods/”forces out of our control”.

Further division of the senses produces properties which subdivide each type of sensation. Sight, for example, is divided into hue, brightness, saturation etc. When these properties are further objectified they produce values, like red, blue, and green for color, and at the last step of this subdivision we get gross elements of ether, air, fire, water, and earth. This isn’t very clear but the author mentions tanmātra here, which literally means “form only”, and it includes all the above mentioned subdivisions for all the senses. I understand that abstract concepts like hue or pitch or temperature are part of tanmātra and when tanmātra is given values we get actual matter like ether, air etc. This needs to be contemplated further.

If this is not confusing enough yet, there’s another division of the elements in Sāṅkhya into manas, prāṇa, and vak. Everything described so far falls under vak and it’s the vak that has subjective, objective, and connecting division, which means the property of being seen is different from the ability to see, or that the property of being visible is different from property to perceive the sight. Other senses are divided into ādiatmika, ādibhautika, and ādidaivika, too.

All these properties lie dormant unless activated by prāṇa and senses, therefore, are not the cause of vision but rather prāṇa is. Prāṇa, in turn, is subordinate to manas, or desire for vision without which sight does not become activated. This sequence has already been discussed in the previous post on Vedic cosmology – mind makes choices and prāṇa enacts them, but in this context it’s important to note that our senses perceive not what IS but what WE WANT. There’s no objective physical world out there, as we usually assume. Physical matter – sense objects – are a product of OUR desires instead. And, of course, they are restricted by what we deserved – karma.

The chapter is nowhere near the end and I’ll continue with it next time.

Vanity thought #1759. VC – processes and systems

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

The rest of the chapter on time and karma compares Sāṅkhya and modern science in yet another way. Following the framework presented in the chapter it talks about processes, descriptions, and uniting them into systems. Yesterday I got stuck on one of the sentences there but let’s move on and try to make sense of the rest of it. I’ll try to give the background in my own words first.

We have object description, process description, choice description and time description. In this order they are subordinate to the next. Time manifests possibilities of karma, mind makes choices, choices put prāṇa in motion, and prāṇa manifests physical reality where objects interact with each other. Time isn’t the same for individual observers and the universe itself. We cannot affect the universal time and our personal time leads us through our personal choices. On this I would suggests that universal time isn’t “objective” either but reflects choices of the universal observer, which is the Lord. He is present within each universe and in His other form He observes all the universes at once. If He desires to hold His breath, for example, the material manifestation will last longer and the time inside each universe needs to be stretched or more cycles added. I suppose that decision is left to in-universe observer form of the Lord.

The book then switches to materialistic view which reverses the order from the start – physical objects are primary, they are moved around by forces, and this interaction gives rise to mind and consciousness. The author gnotes three oversimplifications present in this view. The role of the universal time is ignored and so it appears that universal fate is decided by OUR choices, not by what is manifested to us by the universe which follows its own trajectory independently of our decisions. Secondly, our choices are reduced to forces, which makes us look as we are machines walking around without consciousness and therefore are not responsible for our actions. Finally, the forces are reduced to properties of objects, which makes objects appear as the only reality and everything else – aggregation of objects into systems, processes running in these systems, choices made by the systems, and, ultimately, the fate of the universe become the “epiphenomena” of objects.

Each of these oversimplifications ignores some aspects of reality and therefore produce various forms of indeterminism and incompleteness in scientific predictions. Vedic system is more generic here and modern science is a specific application of it with imposed constraints described in the previous paragraph. Vedic theory, therefore, is a superset of modern materialism when all the constraints are removed. It doesn’t mean that this specific case is untrue but it reveals truth only partially, which is enough to keep scientists excited. It works within their constraints and it explains enough phenomena they accept for consideration in their theories, and they always work on unifying these theories, which gives them hope but is impossible in principle due to the initial oversimplifications.

The author also talks about Sāṅkhya here as Vedic materialism. Maybe it’s because our interactions within this framework do not require God and deal only with gross and subtle matter – prāṇa, mind, karma, and time are attributes of the material world. Most of non-Bhāgavatam Sāṅkhya is atheistic, too, and doesn’t require God. I wonder how they explain the origin of puruṣa who kicked off the creation but after that it’s matter all the way indeed. The author says that even this Vedic materialism is superior to modern science and it’s also compatible with existence of God and souls.

For one thing, material objects are inert. It might appear ridiculous to anyone who looks outside the window but this is what they are on the quantum level – quantum particles do not change their state unless hit by photons or something. How and why quantum objects emit energy cannot be explained – it just happens and science talks about probabilities of outcomes instead, which is one form of indeterminism mentioned earlier. This is why “process description” must be superior to “object description”, like in Sāṅkhya, because processes puts objects in motion (and create objects, too) leaving no space to indeterminism.

“Mental description” is superior to “process description” because our choices put processes in motion. Karma description is superior to our choices because it controls the possibilities and keeps record of previous choices, and time description is superior to karma because it makes possibilities manifest according to evolution of the universe. Looking at it another way, each of these stages is incomplete and requires information provided by the superior stage. Can’t move unless there’s process, can’t start a process unless there’s a choice, can’t make a choice unless there are possibilities and karma, can’t show karma unless time turns around and manifests it.

Last paragraph in this chapter talks about “bodies”. In Sāṅkhya the object description and process description are merged into a “body”, but this body, unlike science, includes not only objects we can see, taste, smell etc but also senses by which we can perceive these objects, the qualities experienced in perception, and the force that moves the body. Altogether it’s more complex and subtle than the body in science.

In Vedic cosmology this merging of object and process description creates a horizontal, two dimensional domain which is referred to as loka in our literature. It is not like a two dimensional plane in space because dimensions are different, they are not physical X and Y but “what is” and “how it works”. Mapping this concept of loka into our three dimensional space is done in a later chapter, but don’t raise your hopes up yet – it’s not easy to comprehend and I have doubts about this mapping myself.

Another thing that bothers me in this chapter is the relationship between individual possibilities presented to us and how they relate to the evolution of the universe. Some of these possibilities are selected by us but somehow it doesn’t affect the flow of the universe at all. The author doesn’t acknowledge this and we are left to speculate how it can be resolved on our own. There are later chapters where he deals with the subject of universal and individual times but they come nearly at the end of the book and don’t provide clear answers either, as far as I remember.

Perhaps, there are enough potential observers, jīvas, to select all manifested possibilities and so the choice is which role we decide to play and if we don’t like this one in particular it would be selected by someone else. This explanation doesn’t remove indeterminism, however – what if there’s really no one to play the role of the villain? We can also speculate that choices are driven by guṇa and karma but that would remove the agency of free will. The author will not concede free will, that much is clear. There could be some other explanation where it doesn’t matter for the universe whether all possibilities play out or not but that would be counterintuitive and require a radically different explanation of how the world works that I haven’t grasped yet. Maybe it still remains hidden from me and I understood all this material through my own goggles, not noticing the forest for the trees.

Possible explanation for this is that selecting certain possibilities make them real for us – make them into our individual experiences, but from the POV of the universe they are equally real whether we participate in them or not. In what sense they are real for the universe, however?

It would all be much easier if we ditched free will in material world altogether and confined it to a simple choice – to serve Kṛṣṇa or not. Whatever happens here, whatever choices are made between wearing a blue or green t-shirt, are not ours. We can only choose to depend on Kṛṣṇa or to remain “observers” and “doers” and “seers” of the material field. This position makes more sense to me and is in line with our general understanding of free will but, as I said, the author is not going to concede it. Free might still be required for our personal selections to make the universe work. The subject will come up again so we shall see if free will is really a necessity in Sāṅkhya.

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.

Vanity thought #1757. VC – prana

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

Yesterday it was established that gravity is only one case of the workings of prāṇa and so to understand gravity we need to know how prāṇa works, first. The book notes several times on this matter that while gravity itself is simple in science (two bodies with mass attract each other), its explanation in Sāṅkhya is rather complicated. The reason for this is that once science builds theories to explain gravity and something else, like speed of light or time, their theories become far more complicated than Sāṅkhya and there’s no resolution in sight. Simplicity in one area covers complexity in other related fields, while Sāṅkhya’s prāṇa is “learn once, apply everywhere”.

Prāṅa is a curious thing because it pops up everywhere in our literature, including the eighth verse of Śikṣāṣṭaka where Kṛṣṇa is addressed by Rādhārāṇī as Prāṇa-nātha, the “Lord of My Life” (CC Antya 20.47), but it is never listed among material elements nor by Kṛṣṇa nor by Lord Kapila, nor by Prabhupāda, nor in any other Sāṅkhya literature, afaik. It looks like one of those “everybody knows” concepts we have not been initiated into. It is central to many descriptions of how the world works in Sāṅkhya but never explained in it. Yoga, Sāṅkhya’s sister disciple, is all about controlling prāṇa, too.

There’s an upaniṣad dedicated to prāṇa but there it’s approached in a different context and replies of the sage talking about it are too cryptic to make sense here. There’s one point, however, that looks straightforward and relevant to us – prāṇa manifests itself through the mind. It’s an intermediary, like the mind itself is, between the subtle and gross body, creating movement of physical reality. I have more questions about it but this will do for now.

The book lists five major “winds” of prāṇa and names them. I see no point in listing them because we’d forget these Sanskrit words immediately. I know I would. The first one is called “prāṇa” and it attracts elements into a system. Another one digests inducted elements. The third one distributes digested information, the fourth one expels the waste, and the fifth one is the “outgoing wind” that moves our senses of action and makes us talk, walk etc.

Perhaps I should back up here and remind us that we are talking about systems with boundaries – selected sets of elements. It could be a body, it could be a country, it could be a planet – any selection of elements and distinction into “this is me and this is not me” will do. It could be an ecosystem, it could be a book club, it could be biological species – prāṇa works everywhere. It’s not clear from the book but, I guess, these needs to be living systems with an observer attached to them. In this sense we can understand how the Earth is a personality in Vedic world and mountains are living beings, too. The planets are governed by their respective demigods – there’s life everywhere. At the level of the universe itself there’s Lord Brahmā and Garbhodakaśāyī Viṣṇu. Contrary to modern science there has never been a time when universe was there but there was no life. It doesn’t mean that chairs and tables have souls, too, but they could be included in our possessions and act as part of our extended self where they’d be governed by our prāṇa. This, perhaps, needs to be investigated further.

Another point is that prāṇa here deals with the movement of information. Information is not a word used in Vedic science but it’s easy to us to understand and it’s used in the book extensively. Information can come in many forms, it can be physical, like food, and it can be subtle, like ideas in a book. If we are talking about prāṇa in relation to the body then information could be air we breath in, too. Information is inducted into the system by the wind called “prāṇa”, as I mentioned earlier, and this new information needs to be analyzed for its composition and functions, or “digested”, so to speak. This process repeats itself over and over again as air passes through lungs and enters the bloodstream and then gets transported through the body to each individual cell requiring it. At every step it needs to be inducted into the next system and “digested” there.

Once new information has been processed it needs to be distributed to relevant parts and there’s a special wind for that, too. Blood could play this role on the scale of the body. Neurons pass information around the brain, media distributes news through the society – you get what I mean. There’s also the need to discard waste – veins collect used, oxygen depleted blood, trash collectors collect trash, toilets connect to sewage and so on.

Another interesting aspect of praṇa is the “outgoing wind” which creates things out of information. It manifests speech out of thoughts, produces articles out of news reports, makes us walk and, generally, fulfills our desires. The previous four winds deal with incoming information but this last one converts this abstract information into contingent form of matter, creates a carrier for it so that other systems can receive it.

We should understand that prāṇa works at every level of detail. If we take our body it works from the top, like putting food into our mouths, and then the same actions are repeated at each subsequent level down to the cell and to the molecules and atoms. Protein gets broken down into amino-acids and reassembled again into more useful forms – it’s prāṇa, too. Converting incoming photons into perceptions of blue or red is also prāṇa. Zooming back out we get passing stool and urine, which is the function of the wind of “waste” but also the “outgoing” wind when it is what we explicitly desire to do. We don’t have to be aware of all these things going on in our bodies, there probably are individual observers for each stage beside us. I suspect demigods controlling our senses here but it’s not stated in the book.

Going back to gravity – the Earth has a use for all the stuff that exists here and expelling this stuff meets with resistance – prāṇa wants it. NASA, in turn, wants to hurl stuff into space, out of Earth’s reach, and that desire is fulfilled by NASA’s outgoing wind. Sending rockets into space, therefore, is seen as a negotiation between two systems with two opposite goals. Sometimes one succeeds, sometimes another. To determine the outcome other parameters need to be brought in, and that’s the subject matter of the next chapter – how time and karma complement prāṇa.

Vanity thought #1756. VC – gravity

Next section in “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”.

Suddenly, we’ve come to end of the section on Introduction to Sāṅkhya. As far as I remember it was always “we’ll get to real Sāṅkhya real soon, practically in the next chapter” and then I flipped the page and it was already over. Quite unexpected.

I see two reasons not to delve deeper in Sāṅkhya now – it was only an introduction, after all, and, secondly, the section gave us a solid formula on which the rest of Sāṅkhya is based. It can be described in different ways but what I, personally, took from it is that three guṇas elaborate existing concepts and then produce a new type of object from it. For each new type of object there’s a new observer. When this new object requires absolute knowledge God Himself becomes its observer and emjoyer and when the new object requires ignorance of the rest of the reality ordinary living entities become its knowers.

On this I’d like to remind us of the difference between the seer and the seen expounded by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī. In the material world we are the seers, or we are knowers of our fields, as Kṛṣṇa described us in Bhagavad Gītā. In relation to Kṛṣṇa, however, we become not seers but seen. We become fields of Kṛṣṇa’s enjoyment. In the material world we are given bodies and we spend our lives watching how three guṇas and karma act on them, turning them this way and that. We are the seers of our bodies. If we direct our attention to Kṛṣṇa we might attempt to see Him as another object of our observation and that would be a clever move because He, unlike the material nature, can fulfill ALL of our desires, but this attitude is fundamentally different from bhakti.

In the material world we learn new things and we grasp new concepts all the time. Kṛṣṇa cannot be grasped, however, knowing Him means letting Him to know ourselves, letting Him to grasp us. Normally, there’s nothing in our personalities that could be of interest to Kṛṣṇa so we are often told not to try to see the Lord but act in such a way that He agrees to see us.

Sāṅkhya makes perfect sense here again, but it’s time to move on, and, not to disappoint, the next chapter explains Vedic understanding of gravity. I’ve never seen it anywhere before, not even an attempt to explain it. The section is called “Vedic view of causality” and gravity is explained with direction of causality in mind here.

Typically, we take gravity for granted, not even pausing to think it exists. Lord Śeṣa holds all the universes on His hoods and to Him they appear as small as mustard seeds. This implies that universes are heavy and their weight presses down on Lord Śeṣa’s heads – that there’s gravity there. Similarly, we say that by Lord’s arrangement all the planets in the universe float in their orbits without falling down – implying that without Lord’s intervention they would plunge into the Garbhudaka ocean, because gravity. Once the entire Bhū-maṇḍala fell to the bottom of the ocean and Lord Varaha had to appear, find it, and lift it back up – because gravity. What we were thinking? We just projected our experiences here on the surface of the Earth, where everything is pulled down by gravity, to the rest of the universe and even the realm outside it. We assumed that if things fall down here they’d fall down everywhere else, too.

Luckily, Sāṅkhya gives us a Vedic explanation for this phenomenon. Where exactly the author pulled this explanation from is unclear, our literature does not describe the workings of prāṇa in great detail but, otherwise, it’s common knowledge for students of yoga.

In modern science gravity is a force that rules the movement of planets, stars, and galaxies. In Vedic cosmology, this force does not exist and the phenomenon of objects falling down is described in a different way. I don’t think it has been explained before, but in Vedic cosmology all objects are collections with boundaries and meanings. Meanings were discussed extensively but here there’s an addition that meanings describe systems consisting of multiple parts. That is to say that our bodies are made up of two dozen of subtle and gross elements but bodies have a meaning of their own as a whole, they’re not just the sum of the parts.

All these system have an innate desire to maintain coherence – “defending” in our list of four main activities of conditioned beings. Maybe one day I’ll figure out how it maps to four fundamental virtues, four sins, and four regulative principles but I don’t want to delve into it now. As the guṇas keep working on us this coherence is always disturbed, some elements go missing and we need to induct new stuff to replace them. New stuff can be pushed on us by others, too, and, and some of the incoming stuff might be unnecessary or harmful and we’d need to expel it. Our entire lives are constant interactions with the world, constant addition and subtraction from our system. We see things and they add information to us, we eat things, we forget things, we pass urine and stool, we talk and we walk, at the very least we breath – we are very restless this way and we are never in balance. Practice of yoga is supposed to stop all these activities and it achieves it by control of prāṇa.

So, when a system is missing a function performed by missing part the desire for preservation generated “attraction” that inducts the missing function, and when the system contains a part inconsistent with the whole it generates “repulsion” that ejects the unnecessary function.

This repulsion and attraction appear to us as physical forces but they are not causes of action, as in material science, rather they are effects of the desire to maintain coherence.

Sometimes the universe must destroy things and in those times coherence cannot be preserved but we usually fight against our fate. When the time comes, the universe might push harmful functions into our bodies that will render then inoperable and we call these functions “diseases”. We fight them but we may or may not succeed. Sometimes we ourselves cause destruction of others. Actually, we do it all the time – jīvo jīvasya jīvanam – one living being is food for another.

This interaction between systems is not new by any means and it’s studied in great detail in biology, social sciences, and ecology, it’s the physics that is missing it. I’m not sure that this statement is entirely correct – I’m talking about people who claim to explain all these interaction from mere physics point of view while in branches of science dealing with living beings they are accepted as axiomatic. It’s not the time to discuss contradictions between different fields of science, though.

I want to stop today by repeating that what we call gravity is only a case of another natural law at work – system preservation and coherence. I’ll discuss how exactly that law applies to gravity tomorrow.