04 March 2009

my teacher's wisdom

"Charles Darwin’s 200th birth Anniversary has indirectly energized many to restart the debate about God, Creation and Evolution. This kind of discussion, though, has been going on from time immemorial.

Sayana, the well known commentator on the Vedas, starts his commentary by pointing out that several of the sayings of the Vedas on Heaven and the less favorable place and the details of how to get to the former and avoid the latter can never be proved or disproved. Even if they debate for a billion years (sata koti varsa) the believer can not prove to the nonbeliever the existence of these worlds and God, nor can the non-believer disprove their existence to the believer. Recently, several Darwin believers have put up graffiti billboards, etc., proclaiming, inter alia, “Probably there is no God, so go out and enjoy life”, drawing an equally telling response from a believer, “God exists, so go out and enjoy life”.

The most popular theory of creation of modern science is the Big Bang theory. Great minds have propounded this theory. Basically it asserts that the present Universe we experience evolved out of a dime sized entity called “Singularity” that the universe has expanded from this primordial hot and immensely dense initial condition at some finite time in the past, and continues to expand to this day. The mathematicians would say that this singularity has no dimension and infinite density. Then the Universe evolved out of it. I understand that the Big Bang theory does not address the question whence the Singularity was formed and how. Some speculate that these are formed from matter and energy sucked by the Black Hole(s), which is the end chapter of the previous evolution. Implicitly there is no mention of the need for an intelligent cause (Nimitta Karana) for the creation. It evolves by itself. Of course there are many scientists who believe that there could be an intelligent principle behind it—though they may not call it God. This view that the Universe evolved without God or an efficient cause has been there along with the theistic view from time immemorial. An orthodox philosophy, Samkhya avers that the entire Universe evolved out of a singular non-dimensional entity called Mula Prakriti, without an efficient cause (nimitta karana) called God.

Both these views hold that the Universe, the macrocosm that we experience has a real, material cause. And theists believe in a material cause which is also efficient/intelligent cause, which is God. This macrocosmic view that out of the huge macrocosm, countless individual entities like us have sprung up or were created, or evolved, is generally accepted. But there is a third view less known, less straightforward, which tries to understand the whole evolution from a different point of view, from the point of the individual microcosm.

Yoga looks at it from the individual viewpoint, as briefly explained below, which will help and lead us to understand the third viewpoint about Creation propounded by the Advaitic School of the Upanishads.

All my life I am the subject and the world around is the object. I see objects, hear sounds, smell things etc. When I am awake and see an object, the sequence as all of us know is as follows. Light falls on the object that I see, the light is reflected by the object, and the light particles, reach my eyes and then the retina. The retina
converts them into electrical impulses and they reach some part of my brain. Then there may be some chemical changes in my brain cells and communications among the brain cells resulting in my seeing the object. But in physical terms all the information reaches my brain and is absorbed. With this the physical phenomena end. After these reach my brain, how do I see the object, outside of me, in front of me? The information is in my head physically but how do I see it outside of me? Nothing goes out of my head. The brain projects an image, not outside but in the mental space according to Yogis, because the projection does not and cannot take place in the physical space. My mind projects it and there has to be some awareness or consciousness in me which sees or experiences this mental projection. The yogis call
the projection a chittavritti. The chittavritti is the projection of the mind made out of the information received through the eyes.

Of course the projection is a little more involved. The mind not only gets information through the eyes but also through the ears and other senses, and the mind collates the information and makes a composite presentation which I see in the mental space, just as the objects appear to be outside of me. I not only have the outside picture reproduced in my mind but also me, the subject, as part of the experience. I am also aware that I am in the midst of the total picture as the ‘subject’ experiencing the outside world. I also feel emotions attached to the mental picture. I also react to the experience, sometimes with a happy or sometimes an unhappy
disposition. Anyway there is a composite picture I experience. The totality of what I experience including that I am the observer, I like it, I don’t like it, everything -- this is the chittavritti at a moment. In the next moment, the chittavritti changes. Moment after moment there is a new chittavritti and the non-changing Self, the pure consciousness keeps observing this changing flux of chittavrittis.

The chittavritti is not confined to objects outside that I see directly. Sometimes, I infer from partial sensory perceptions or occasionally I try to picture on the basis merely of what I hear. Then there are occasions when I close my eyes and produce my own chittavrittis, without objects, like in dreams—day or night. Then I have chittavrittis produced purely from past incidents which I remember. Then of course my mind completely closes shop when there is an ‘experience of sleep’. So I have a variety of chittavrittis, all taking place in my head. My chittavritti which is the totality of my experience at any given moment takes place not in physical space but in mental space or in virtual space. So even though the objects I
perceive may be real, what I experience is virtual. This is what happens in all of us all the time. But even as the experience may be with virtual objects, the objects of the outside world are real according to Yogis.

But the Vedantins especially advaita vedantins ask a further question. If the experience we have takes place in mental space or chitta akasa, the experience of the prior moment also should be taking place in virtual space. So the objects that reflected light particles for my eyes to perceive themselves are virtual objects. Thus going back they aver that our entire life experience is only virtual and not ‘really’ real. We can extrapolate this to the entire outside world and say the Universe is not really ‘real’, it is an illusion.

So we have three possibilities, following this line of reasoning. Firstly the universe is real even though our experience, known as chittavritti is virtual. This is the position of the Yogis, and we would agree with that. The second view is that it is not possible to say for sure if the outside world exists or not (anirvachaniya) since our experience is limited to our virtual chittavrittis. The third view is that there is no real outside world, there is no real creation and the experience is virtual and the universe is illusory. But, one may assert that the objects are real, we can see, we can feel them. But the Mayavadins or those who say that the world is only an illusion, aver that just as we feel the dream space, dream objects and the dream self to be real during dream but they are found to be an illusion when we wake up, likewise the waking state experience also is virtual and there is no real world outside. They say that there is no real creation, all our life we have a succession of virtual experiences.

Let us get back to the ideas at the beginning of the article. So we have now three views about creation of the universe. One is that it evolved from “Singularity” and that is the material cause of the Universe. Like the modern scientist, Samkhya does not feel the need to agree to an efficient cause like God, the creator. The second view is that God created the Universe and He is both the material and the efficient cause. The third view is that the creation itself is an illusion and hence there is no need to subscribe to a material cause, like the Singularity or the Mulaprakriti. However since there is an experience, the experiencer (Atman or drashta), which is non-changing pure consciousness alone exists which observes the illusionary experience. Some Buddhists schools find no need for even postulating the constantly observing Self.

So, the Upanishads aver that there is an origin of the Universe, like the Singularity of the Scientists or the Mulaprikriti of the Samkhyas, which ‘origin’ the Upanishads call as Brahman, literally meaning “the principle that expanded into this Universe’. But the comparison ends there. While the Singularity is inert, without consciousness, Brahman is pure, non-changing consciousness. It is the considered view of the vedandins that matter cannot produce or become consciousness; the object cannot become the subject. The advaita vedantins further aver, likewise, Consciousness cannot produce or become matter, it can only be an observer. So they postulate the theory that what evolved out of the Brahman is not really real, but only an illusion. Brahman does not expand like the Singularity does as postulated by the Big Bang Theory. In fact it is said that the zero dimension Brahman contains the entire universe within itself, but the Universe appears to be outside of it--like during our dream state the dream objects are within our consciousness but appear to be outside us. Or, it is like the thin film of the reflecting surface of a mirror giving the impression of having the three dimensional space and objects behind it.

One may therefore examine theories of creation other than the most popular views of “God created the Universe” or “the Universe evolved on its own”. The third view is that there is no real creation. Uncomfortable? But this obviates the need to answer the rather difficult questions, “Whence did all this material come to make this
Universe.” Or “Why God created this Universe” and many other questions. The theory of illusory evolution is plausible and tantalizing. Some traditional theists (astikas) who are drawn towards the logic of this third theory of Virtual Creation (maya vada), call the Lord a Mayavin, or the Creator of the Grand Illusion."

Srivatsa Ramaswami, March 2009


svasti said...

Personally, I like the theory that the universe spontaneously arose because it could. Shiva is both 'free to be, and free not to be'... and that means that all things are of the One, and there is nothing that is not Shiva (where Shiva is the symbol of the collective 'everything' rather than a blue dude).

So if any and all possibilities are possible, one of those things is this world. And in that creation, spontaneously arisen and pulsating in and out of existence moment to moment, there are various levels of awareness and conciousness in all so-called 'objects' that are a part of this arising.

I like thinking of waves rising and falling, but still part of the ocean. Or swirls of wind picking up dust and making shapes, only for them to vanish again.

Is this creation, or simply Abhasavada - theory of appearance? Where conciousness, perceiving through the veils of Maya, sees things in a certain way although its never the full story, until Maya is pierced.

Where the Saivites differ in philosophy to the Advaita Vedantins is by saying - actually, no, this world is real, but the illusion/delusion is that of seperateness from God. From all other things.

One story says that when Shiva dreams, the world comes into being. When he opens his eyes, it dissolves.

What we can be certain of, is that the world, creation and God, are definitely nothing like we think they are...


Bob Weisenberg said...

This is a very interesting analysis, but it is also a perfect example of why the Buddha disdained these sorts of metaphysical discussions, and focused entirely on the practical path to achieve happiness, as described in the Dhammapada. He reportedly refused to answer the question about whether there is a God, both because it is unanswerable and irrelevant to his spiritual system.

The Yoga Sutra is similar in its approach. It simply ignores these questions about the origin of the universe and the existence of God (except a brief suggestion to "meditate on your personal God") in favor of a very practical step-by-step system, not unlike the Buddha's.

The Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads, on the other hand, deal with Ramaswami's issues above by saying that Brahman or God or the Supreme Life Force, whatever you want to call it, is UNKNOWABLE and UNFATHOMABLE but what we do know for sure, just from simple Yogic observation is that this thing, whatever it is, is infinitely wondrous, encompasses absolutely everything, including all of us, and compels us to behave in a certain dharma-driven way.

This seems both true and deeply satisfying to me, and that's why the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads are my ultimate spiritual beacons.

Bob Weisenberg

P.S. I've written more about this at:

God or Reason--Is There Really Any Difference?