offerings अर्पणम्

June 6, 2010


Filed under: VEDANTA — Tags: , , , , — arpanam @ 8:21 pm

Few points I will discuss with reference to your query on Brahman in your message and then I will touch upon the problems faced by science/scientist esp. theoretical physics when it comes to understanding reality (of creation),and the relationship between science and religion/ spirituality. Central to the discussion will be the place of logic in religion/ spirituality.

Sole purpose of Vedanta/Upanishads is to help us get a clear “ understanding” of Brahman. In doing this two apparently contradictory aspects are involved, thus, making it a daunting task, for a teacher of Vedanta. These are:

(a)                In communicating something that is completely different to what the disciple already knows he (teacher/Vedanta)has  start from and make use of what he (already) knows and then bring him to understand, what he/she, at present, has no clue about. For e.g. If I wish to teach a new language, say French, I cannot start teaching of grammar in French, I will take resort, provisionally, of the language you are, at present, familiar with.

When Vedanta talks about creation it does so for this very purpose. We are familiar with creation, but its intention is not to reveal that the creation is unreal or relatively real, but to reveal Brahman, as only reality i.e. the only thing that is and there is NO creation, whatsoever. So there is no question of Brahman being trapped in the body, as you had asked, I will touch upon this point, again. From the standpoint of clay there is no pot, when rope is understood as rope, then any talk of snake is only an acknowledgement of our previous misapprehension, and perhaps, a futile exercise. From the standpoint of Brahman (to be precise this is not a standpoint) there is no creation, and therefore no person/body/atman or even Ishwara (creator).

But before I perceive the rope all the talk of snake makes a lot of sense as this is a “means” to get me to the “rope”. Our minds are caught up with pot, i.e. shapes and names, as we think they are real, by drawing our attention to clay the intention of the teacher/Vedanta is to shift our focus from the unreal to the real, that is to that which is the true entity in pot, clay.

Another interesting point, pertinent to our present discussion is the use of analogies in Vedanta. Analogies are used effectively if there intention and limitations are understood. Primarily, analogies, especially snake-rope, pot-clay & dream world, illumine the point: that perception is not the proof of reality. They are used to open the possibility, in our minds’, of this fact, which otherwise one can reject if presented in its bare form. Going further the onus is on us to find the corresponding entities and intelligently grasp the intended meaning.

All of these three analogies are extremely potent, and highlight some aspect or the other of what is real, and how it can/has to be understood, but the full import of these can only be appreciated when the student grasps the intended entity in its entirety. After that they lose there meaning and have to dropped, like a knife is, after doing its job. The problem that a student at time faces is that even tough he has not understood the intended entity he extrapolates and twists the analogy rendering it impotent.  For e.g. clay and pot correspond to Brahman and world, in so far as the entity in pot is clay, so the real entity in this world is Brahman, this is the primary intention, further  to point out other helpful ramifications of the analogy we can add: that inspite of perception of pot what I really perceive is clay, then in spite of correct perception clay, pot can be useful to store water and just because it is use full it does not  follow it is real and that pot is clay and not vice versa so on. But pot and clay have same degree of reality, but Brahman and world are ontologically distinct.  There fore by visual perception I can figure out both clay and pot but though world is available for visual perception Brahman is not (discuss this point, in detail, later) But in the dream-world example the ontological difference is highlighted. There fore the limitations and usefulness of this tool to aid our understanding had to be understood and then judiciously used . (Also, used are, actor and the actual, movie screen & blueness of sky etc. to highlight specific points)

(b)    the problem that comes when we talk about the things, already known, as an indispensable aid ( as discussed )the student tends to keep the same orientation that he is familiar  with till now to know and grasp all that he has, successfully, in the past. The problems here are two fold:

(I) all that he has known has been different and therefore away from him. If I want to find know the name or characteristics of a place it is implied that I am different from the place and also the place is away from me. So if I want to be a knower of  Brahman, I will assume that it is different from me and  will search it as something away from me. Upanishads make a  clear statement that “You are Brahman”. Thus a need to alter this  orientation Vedanta uses the 10th man story.(  another Nice story** to illustrate  this  point similar to the 10th man). Going further, in this statement we have to get clarity on what is the ‘You’ it is taking about. Till now as a convention and a unquestionable fact, you has  been used as a pronoun  referring  to the body. This is a universal orientation, and therefore no one ever questions it. But, the You in this statement is not referring to the body. Before we understand the true import of the statement we need to get clarity on this vital issue that You is not the body this process is called atma anatma viveka,  we have to first discriminate and distinguish  the chaff from the wheat, once this is done then and the structure which is distinctly different from a chaff when is pointed out by an able botanist as wheat, it would dawn upon the student immediately, but if he has not done his homework he will take believe that in chaff there are characteristics of wheat, but as this is not the fact/case it will produce an erroneous understanding and he will face problems. Hopefully, this should further clarify your query on Brahman being trapped in the body.

This discrimination between me being not the body/mind is done based on logic, which is ‘because I perceive the mind/thoughts and the body I am none of these’ or to put is differently ‘that illumine the thought is different from the thought’. Similarly thoughts modify constantly I remain constant thus I am thus, different. So a radical change comes about for till the thoughts were ‘my thoughts’ and now they looked upon as just thoughts, though this an intermediary step, but if done sincerely can off-load the seeker from lot of burden, but the real jettison is when the seeker sees clearly ‘that which illumines the mind is not only different from the mind but is Brahman: the very content of the mind’. In the former part of the statement logic has a role but the later part does not fall in the realms of logic, will discuss later.

(II) means to gain any knowledge, till  now,  primarily, has been:

(i)                              perception &

(ii)                            inference

for e.g. as pathologist I diagnose:

cancer, by looking at  a processed tissues ,biopsy, under a  microscopes. Seeing the characteristics of cells, I diagnose it to be a malignancy

diabetes, by measuring the blood sugar and then inferring that such a rise indicates a problem in the pancreas ( and not  by seeing his pancreatic tissue)and he/she is diabetic

this has been the tool to gain all my mundane as well as highly qualified scientific knowledge. Naturally there is reliance on these means and to certain extent dependence. I will be naturally inclined to employ similar means when it comes to getting the knowledge of Brahman. But as Brahman is not an object or thing these two good old trustworthy friends fail to deliver.  This is where a crucial understanding that: Vedanta is a pramana, a valid and indispensable means, which can, independently, reveal Brahman.

But this will work only when the student has done his bit to gain the prerequisite qualifications, which boils down to seeing clearly that You are not the body. Vedanta as a pramana is ‘You are Brahman’. (Brahman his to understood with help of what was discussed in the earlier  part of the discussion under section(a))

**once  a traveler figured out  that he is traveling with a clever robber and  that he has with him a precious stone, which unfortunately   the robber has a got a clue, and that they will have to spend the night together in the same rail compartment. To save his possession he hid the diamond beneath the robber’s pillow. The robber being, as smart as we are, searched in every nook and corner of the compartment but ignored, what was just beneath his head. It was his orientation to look for it away from him. It is indeed God, most invaluable entity, hides himself in such a place which is so intimately close to us but we miss it due our sheer orientation and perhaps even cleverness, by looking for it outside us.

Now to the second part, age old quarrel between science and religion/spirituality, here I would make a distinction between the way god is taken as creator, the efficient cause, more popular stand, later in the discussion and the philosophical position of it being real, the material cause.

LOGIC: as a tool to understand reality


two  basic dimensions, in our understanding of creation, are ‘space’ and ‘time’, mutually independent ; Thus we have taken for granted that ‘there is space’ and ‘there is time’.  Let’s examine them with help of logic.

Time is understood as finite (measurable) & linear flow. This also implies that there has to be beginning

When did time begin?

or  it never began: infinite,  but Infinity is a convenient positions ,mere concept, taken by the science/mathematics when its unable to answer this question. So is ‘zero’   and cyclicality in causation i.e. we don’t accept this merely because science/mathematics says so,

If we posit a beginning, then, was there time before time began? If yes then it never began?

Never began, as stated, is logically untenable as time has to have a beginning.

or, there is “something which is not of/in time”( ?Brahman) again this is concept.

Then what became of “some thing which is not of/in time” after time began. Time and that “something which is not of/in time” co-exist. This too is logically absurd, as time must encompass everything being a fundamental dimension.

Similarly with space: where did space begin? does it have a starting point ?if what’s before  its starting point  etc.

Through logic I can see the un-tenability of time and space.

Are time and space mutually independent dimensions, is it possible for space to be where there is ‘no time’ or time to be where there is no space; alteration in delineated part of space in a cohesive pattern, is the basis; all measurements of time are done with respect to this change; can time be conceived if there no alteration in the delineated space. Conversely time seems to always exert its effect on every thing known in the delineate space be it atom or the galaxy, as they  always in a state of flux. thus any attempt to determine the nature  of the delineated space(creation) will give an error as it would have changed by the ‘time’ data is collected. They always co-exist and possibly have  effect on each other.

Thru logic I can call ‘god’ as being an illusion, fair enough, thru logic fundamental tenets on which science stands breakdown, one* needs true scientific temper to appreciate this fact.

Logic has an essential place in science as long as we don’t push it too far, for it will not take you beyond a point.

Logic has a definite place in religion as long as we know its limitations, which is to logically see the inability of logic in understanding god as a substratum of this creation(have discussed this in earlier section and will also further )

Why does logic not solve these questions?


(i) logic has its limitation. We can ,so as to say ,‘get away’, in many branches of science eg Newtonian physics with mere logic is extremely helpful in itself but not with fundamental questions of reality &

(ii)  the user of logic excludes himself in his analysis. If in any experiment I don’t include all factors or components then the results will be erroneous. this is true, more so, when we are doing  fundamental analysis either in  modern physics or in religion. we will, grope in the dark , if we use logic , in isolation, for time immemorial, in our quest to understand reality,

So, we have bring ourselves, experience, in the discussion, but before we do that, lets look at some of issues with respect to god as a creator vis-à-vis science, to do this a I will keep  few statements of , venerable, Mr. Richard Dawkins,in mind, and take cue from his line of argument and the logic he provides. He was formerly Professor for Public Understanding of Science at Oxford . He as he has emerged as a strong and a vociferous critic of religion/god, in the elite scientific circles, and is the author famous book ‘the God delusion’.

LOGIC: god as intelligent cause (maker) of creation

When is see collection of bricks on the way side & if they are intelligently stacked, in contrast to haphazardly piled, so as to make a wall, I presume the work of a mason. I need not ‘see him’, to ‘believe’ that he has done the job, I infer.

Now science infers for everything there is a cause and explores to get to the bottom, i.e. find the cause and then looks at it as an ‘effect’ and find a cause. It is laudable that in past 400 odd years, more so in last 150yrs, it has done, unquestionable, a terrific job.

But in this process and its success it necessary presumes that the every cause has to be matter, extrapolation of the trend. And every discovery is feather in its (science) cap of, a triumph of human intellect, failing to appreciate the intelligence behind the intelligently put universe. It is obstinately adheres  to its stand that there cannot be a  ‘non material intelligent cause’, the reason for this is that the driving force, for its commendable discoveries, was its belief that there has to be a  ‘ material intelligent cause’ behind what ever humans perceive, and it has been successful. This orientation makes it difficult for many scientists including Mr. Dawkins, to even presume, leave alone try to investigate, that a ‘non material intelligent cause’ is plausible.

Instruments of science, be it telescope or a microscope or  x ray crystallography ,coupled with razor sharp human intellect, can discover and understand only that which lies in the realm of matter. It would be incorrect to presume that it will find an intelligent cause that is not made up of matter for the inherent limitation of its very instruments. In scientific jargon every instrument has its least count and cannot measure anything only with its limits and not beyond that.

It is a fair statement to say that that there may not be a ‘non material intelligent cause’, behind all this (creation), but it is equally fair to say there may be. If we bring in probability then your guess is no better than mine, and your scientific ‘rational followers’ are in no way more rational than ‘blind believers’ of various religions. If you bring erudite group consensus, to tilt odds in your favor, then I quote Warren Buffet “a public opinion poll is no substitute for thought”

God as ‘non material intelligent’ cause is a matter of belief, and belief is not a weakness(as long as, it does not manifest only during times of weakness). It is a matter of belief because by its very nature it is not an object of our five senses, and we don’t have to believe as most scientist do(as much as they say we do) that for everything to be it has to necessarily fall into the category of being an object of senses.

A true devotee doest doubt is existence, is it fact ‘for him’, for it does exist, as much as the world exists’. Also, by inference we are not speculating and neither are we saying that just because we are inferring from a perceivable data and therefore material that which is inferred has to be material.   A scientific effort to prove it will be futile, for, as discussed, its instruments (perception and inference) are faulty.

Dawkins:” Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence”

However, if you shout standing on your roof top “you cannot prove, god” some one else can, standing on the pavement beneath, whisper with equal clarity, without being loud, that “you cannot disprove, either” for he may not give two hoots weather you listen or not.

One of the things that is wrong with religion is that it teaches us to be satisfied with answers which are not really answers at all.

The pursuit of science is an attempt to understand the manifested; this does not mean one cannot, simultaneous, pursue the an understanding of the un-manifested along with the former understanding. Both are in different spheres and in no way contradict each other.  it is an error on the part of Dawkins if he feel that:

” I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world”

Thinking is, as much, if not more, encouraged and has a define place, in religious enquiry but we also understand its limitations. We think what can be figured out by thinking have do not try otherwise, for the very nature of certain things is such that thinking will not be productive.

“….and thinking is anathema to religion.”

We neither make any effort to take any help from science to assist us  to get clarity in religious understanding nor do need any encouragement to boost our morale as to science may be saying things similar.

Let’s get back to the need to bring ‘ourselves’ in this sacred enquiry  to understand reality.


Let us now examine time with reference to experience.

We sense time and therefore it is real.

Who senses time?

If that* which senses time is of/in time, and then he can’t sense time, (inference), as there must then only be time and no sensing of time, and therefore that* must be different and also free of time.

Or he inspite of being of/in time can sense time,(possibily) then we run into parallax error, but it appears we sense time fairly accurately, and we don’t accept this.

What is real, by definition, has to ‘always remains’(semantic paradox as we are examining time)

In deep sleep we say we were, as we report we had slept, and therefore we had experience, but we did not sense time.

So is also no proof of reality of time. We can extend the same logic with reference to space in sleep.

Then is the experience of time constant?

We experience dream but the time frame of dream time is entirely different from the experience of waking time.

Then during waking time is the experience constant? To quote Albert Einstein:

When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour. That’s relativity.

Similarly when are in influence of medical drugs esp. anesthetics or when we consume intoxicants like cannibilis (marijuana) etc our experience of time alters. Then in yoga ’Samadhi’  also goes further to show that experience is no proof of reality of time.

We can by, only logic and logic & experience demonstrate that unreality of time, but we cannot get to what is real.

Here Vedanta comes in and acts as direct means to reveal: ”that* which experiences time is the reality of time” , this cannot be fathomed by our logic and does not need the aid of logic like when you wake up you don’t need logic to verify your waking state.


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