Advaida Darshana as presented in the Geeta is the best imaginable package to salvage the present world from the conflicts and unrest ravaging it so as to lead mankind to a peaceful and sustainable order
There are two diagonally opposite views on the Geeta in relation to science. One rejects it as absolutely unscientific, whereas the other claims that whatever modern science has discovered so far is already there in the Geeta. This divergence extends to the evaluation of the utility of the Geeta. While many hold scriptures including the Geeta responsible for all the degeneration and stagnation suffered by India over thousands of years, many others believe that ultimate salvation can be achieved merely by keeping the text of the Geeta under the pillow and sleeping over it, not opening it ever.
The Geeta advises absolute dependence upon ‘science’ in deciding which way to act in life. (‘Let ‘science’ be your guide to distinguish between what matters and what does not’ – 16, 24). What is obviously referred to here is not modern science. It is adhyatma vidya, the science of one’s true self. It is also known as para vidya. It makes use of the body, mind and intellect to find and reach, through oneself, the eternal essence of the universe. On the other hand, modern science is apara vidya, the means to know and manipulate the external world at the material level. While the former is based on subjective and nontransferable experiences, the latter is built upon universally verifiable ‘practical’ experiments.
Modern science has been able to transform the material world dramatically. But fundamental questions remain unanswered. For instance, how does the universe work, what is life and its purpose, why do bodies attract each other, how and where did the universe begin and to what end does it go? Moreover, indiscretion in application of scientific knowledge has caused untold miseries. In short, science and technology on its own have not been able to help human kind achieve peace and well being. Moreover, human mind and its environment have been getting dirtier with the advancement of science, if not ahead of it. Pollution and tension multiply by geometric progression. It is a sorry scene, getting sorrier by the minute.
The emotional state of the observer, experimenter or applicator is no concern of science. In other words, science is amoral. Para vidya, on the other hand, in addition to seeking knowledge, is also about theory and practice of emotional cleansing. In fact, the knowledge it propounds cannot be imbibed unless one’s mind is under control. So the right combination of it and modern science can be considered a viable and no-expiry-date antidote to the ills of the world. Both are products of human enquiry. There is a major difference, though. Para vidya or adhyatma vidya claims that its basic vision is Vedanta (literally ‘the end of all knowledge’). This means there is nothing to be known beyond it. Science claims no such finality. Its stand is there is along way to go to reach the know-all stage (if at all) and for a scientist therefore Vedanta looks a tall claim. However, modern science can take Vedanta as a challenge demanding evauation and disposal. If Vedanta proves to be what it says it is – ultimate knowledge – science can certainly benefit from it and turn moralistic. Therefore, the need of the hour is to closely examine Vedanta in the light of modern science and modern science in the light of Vedanta at the same time. Oversimplified comparisons between the two or immature conclusions from either will not do.
Therefore I ventured to do the first ever science read of the Geeta – now available in Hindi and English besides the Malayalam original – to find convergences and divergences between the two and to evolve an approach to life combining the two – to the extent logically tenable. I found the Geeta to be the best-bet never-fail kit for self-and its upliftment. What follows is a brief presentation of this experience.
The need of the hour is to closely examine Vedanta in the light of modern science and modern science in the light of Vedanta. Oversimplified comparisons between the two or immature conclusions from either will not do
To put my findings to test I did two pieces of fiction – one depicting the trials and tribulations of a great soul who could finally identify himself with the essence of the universe, and another showing how a young couple faces life on the lines the Geeta lays down and wins against heavy odds. The first – the biography of poet-saint Ramanujan Ezhuthachan, the Father of Malayalam Language – won the Murtidevi Award of the Jnana Peeth Trust. The Trust has brought out a Hindi translationion.
The structure of Mahabharatha of which the Geeta is a part is multi-dimensional. It can be read at many levels and on many a plane. One can consider it to be: 1. Just a great piece of poetry. 2. A true story. 3. The biography of an incarnation. 4. The illustration of Vedanta Darshana. Each approach proves fruitful and interesting in its own way. ‘Make your pick!’ seems to be the meaning of the compassionate smile on the face of sage Veda Vyasa, the author. Nonetheless, there is every reason to believe that he expects the reader to climb the steps of these approaches in the same order. Obviously, he considers the last step the victory stand and hopes everyone reaches there. This inference is warranted by the many special features of this composition – the greatest ever written in the history of the world.
- The Geeta, of course, is poetry at its best. But it is primarily a book of knowledge which also contains precautionary warnings about misuse. For instance, it concludes saying, ‘I have thus conveyed that knowledge to you which is the secret of all secrets. Examine it critically from end to end and then do as you please’. This amounts to declaring that the author does not want his work to be used as any religious text. No text of any religion gives its followers this kind of total freedom regarding its teachings. It is only fair and just that we treat the Geeta only as a comprehensive ‘user’s manual’ to human life.
- There are 701 stanzas in the Geeta. The marathon question-answer session is supposed to be taking place right in the midst of a battlefield after the clarion call for battle is sounded. Once the ‘March!’ order is issued, no army stays back that long for any reason. So, this certainly cannot be any true story!
- Vyasa indicates at the very beginning of the Mahabharatha that the entire story is an exercise in magical realism. Look at the genesis of the main characters in it. Bhishma’s mother is the symbolic embodiment of the river Ganges! Brothers Pandu and Dhrutharashta are, in fact, Vyasa’s own ‘progeny’! Pandavas are children of various forces of nature! Their wife Draupathi is born out of fire! To top it all, the 101 Kauravas were ‘cloned’ by Vyasa himself!
- Krishna is presented as a highly talented statesman and master of yoga vidya, the science of self-realisation, and not as any incarnation. He is one who has known his real self and identified himself with it. In the Geeta he speaks from that standpoint. Expertise in yoga vidya makes him a talented psychiatrist as well. In the scenario of the epic he represents the author’s alter ego.
- The Geeta promulgates the view that every object in the universe and the universe itself is ‘alive’. ‘Life’ is not a phenomenon that ‘originates’ out of nowhere at some stage in the material evolution of the universe. A subatomic particle is alive in its own way, a molecule in a different way, a macromolecule in yet another and so on. The same is the case with man, family, society, etc. Each one is a different kshetra (field). The entire cast of the story – Kauravas, Pandavas, Draupathi, Krishna and all others together can be visualised to form a kshetra. The whole epic then becomes the story of the progress of this kshetra towards moksha (salvation). The very names of major characters are symbolic. The objective of any life is moksha. There are three means to reach it – justice (dharma), action (karma) and devotion (emotional surrender). In Kurukshetra, ‘Dharmaputra’ literally means ‘the son of justice’; ‘Vijaya’ (Arjuna’s pseudonym meaning ‘success’) is the action component; Bhima (the very big) symbolises relentless loyalty and blind dedication stemming from it; Draupadi represents the mind of the kshetra, Krishna its pure consciousness and the Kauravas the unhealthy emotions born of the embodiment of blind greed, Drutharashtra. The Kauravas have been given names literally meaning evil. (Will any parent in real life, not to speak of maharajas, christen their children this way?) The epic tells the story how the pure consciousness of the kshetra leads it to salvation. The symbol of decisive action, Arjuna, at a critical moment asks Krishna, the symbol of pure consciousness, for clarifications and guidelines. Naturally, the dialogue that ensues can have parallels within any individual, family, society, nation or the entire world itself any time. Therefore, anyone anywhere and at any time can read the Geeta and learn to handle any kind of turbulence in life.
- Arjuna is portrayed as a product of the customs, beliefs and education prevalent at that time. His attitudes and turpitudes are derived from this background. Though different, modern man has his own background and it varies in various measures from individual to individual. So we too have common questions and individual questions. Whom shall we ask? Ask yourself, i.e., your pure consciousness, your real self, says the Geeta. Model questions and answers have been provided for help. The question how and where to find your self has also been answered. The deep and long standing incision dividing life into the material and the spiritual is healed. The need for agents and intermediaries on the road to salvation is ruled out and the efficacy of rituals demolished. It is shown that salvation is an experience possible here and now itself (not something that has to wait till after death).
The Geeta, of course, is poetry at its best. But it is primarily a book of knowledge which also contains precautionary warnings about misuse. For instance, it concludes saying, ‘I have thus conveyed that knowledge to you which is the secret of all secrets
- The Geeta carries the essence of all Upanishads and has a message of its own. It attempts to take one to pure consciousness, the consciousness of the universe. The quality of any kshetra depends on the degree of refinement in its internal integration. The Geeta is a perfectly integrated kshetra of all kinds and types of erudition.
Anyone or anything, anywhere, is part of many a kshetras at the same time. Man has the freedom and ability to know, see and align himself with the highest consciousness. If he does that he fits well with all stages of higher telescoping that includes him and also, every telescoping that has gone into his making fits well within him. The emphasis is on the individual. If anyone does not realise his real self and fails to fit in, the entire universe suffers. Laws cannot make a good society and even exemplarily royal heredity need not produce noble rulers. Revolutions will never cease to lead to counter-revolutions unless all revolutionaries attain realisation. Holism is the ultimate mantra.
The Essence of Vedanta
Vedanta Darshana is the soul of the Geeta. Though Vedanta is generally considered very tough to grasp, it is in fact a simple concept. Derivation of its basic principle can be accomplished through logical answers to four easy questions. Question one: Isn’t it right to assume that there is a force forever basic to our vast, complex and ever-changing universe? The obvious answer is yes. Question two: Where does that force possibly reside – in some nook or corner of the universe or everywhere at the same time? The latter should be the case in the light of elements of logistics. Question three: As we are in the universe, doesn’t that force reside in us too? Again, no one can say no. And, now the last question: Whatever else we are – body, mind and intellect – being perishable, isn’t this force the only everlasting thing in us? Again, simple logic demands a positive response. The moment this question is thus answered we arrive at the first of the four ‘great statements’ (mahavakyas) of Vedanta, namely ‘thath thwam asi’ (‘that is you’). This is in the form of an instruction (from a guru). When imbibed and personalised its form is ‘aham brahmasmi’ (‘I am the underlying principle of the universe’), the second mahavakya. On further investigation by oneself, this knowledge is refined through the discovery that the fundamental force manifests itself most as my jeeva (life principle). This is the third mahavakya ‘ayam athma brahma’ (my jeeva is Brahma). The pinnacle of this step-by-step revelation is the felt knowledge denoted by the fourth (and last) mahavakya ‘pragnyanam Brahma’ (the very awareness of this truth is that).
How this fundamental force functions is the essence of Vedanta. Though the entire universe is its manifestation, it has three apparent levels. One is the observable universe, ever regenerating itself. This is called kshara (perishable). The next is the invisible template which the kshara comes from and goes back to. It is named akshara (imperishable). The third is the unified force ‘eesam’ (the universal governing principle). This basic entity that transforms itself into akshara and then manifests itself as kshara too is termed aksharaatheetha (that which is even beyond the akshara) or purushothama (the supreme entity). Though these layers appear different, they are in fact one and the same. The false feeling that they are separate as well as taking any level for any other is termed ‘maaya’ (described as ‘ignorance’). The basic force is unitary and singular (advaida).
Everything ‘natural’ including man exists at all the three levels at the same time – the perishable, the imperishable template and the supreme entity. The eternal template akshara, the wall in between, creates maaya or ignorance about aksharaatheetha. Adhyathma Vidya provides the know-how and practice to overcome this. It does not negate this world or the life in it; kshara too is eesam itself. As one truly knows, discords will disappear and all suffering and sorrow will cease to be.
At some point of time in the past, it was wrongly believed that Vedanta negated all worldly life. This was the result of insufficient interpretation of the idea of maaya. Awareness of a deeper reality need not make any surface reality any less real. For instance, for anyone familiar with the total picture of the solar system, sunrises and sunsets are no more than ‘apparent’ realities. But it does not mean one need not get up in the morning or light a lamp to show the way in the dark! On the other hand, the greater understanding should help us live better. If it does not, higher knowledge goes waste like a life-saving drug wasted. Vedanta Darshana has been with the world for eons almost like a pot of gold on a donkey’s back!
Modern cosmology in particular and physics in general can overcome many an obstacles. These disciplines confront now if the concept of the three-tier universe envisaged by the Geeta is given a try. I have done some work to this end. The result is a research paper entitled ‘Avyakta – the Fabric of Space’. It has been published in the November 2017 issue of the Prespacetime journal. There are many riddles and roadblocks in front of various branches of physics, why in almost all branches of physical, chemical and biological sciences. Specialists in various areas are welcome to examine possibilities of application of this new idea in their respective areas.
I am convinced that advaida darshana as presented in the Geeta is, by any reckoning, the best imaginable package to salvage the present world from the conflicts and unrest ravaging it so as lead mankind to a peaceful and sustainable order. But first it has to be cleansed of all dilution and pollution so that its efficacy is fully restored.
(The writer is a reputed scientist-turned writer of Malayalam)