mat-sthani sarva-bhutani, na caham tesv avasthitah
pratyakshavagamam dharmyam, su-sukham kartum avyayam
jnanam vijnana-sahitam, yaj jnatva moksyase ’subhat
Since time immemorial, mankind has pondered over the question of what constitutes our bodies. While we may have made tremendous progress in understanding the human anatomy, modern science is still very scared of the C word – consciousness. It is a word that has kept some of the smartest people this world has ever seen awake at night – from the likes of Albert Einstein to Neils Bohr to Erwin Schrodinger. What is that thing within us that makes us unique? What is that thing that makes us different from rocks and sand even though we are all built with the same fundamental building blocks of nature? What does the deceptively simple word – ‘life’ really mean? Modern science is so handicapped in this field that we don’t have the correct vocabulary to even begin framing the question we want to ask. For the lack of a better term, ‘consciousness’ is the often used catch all phrase that describes human beings beyond their material selves.
We live in a material world where we are primed to believe that everything that exists is matter. In fact, we even define vacuum as absence of matter. However, many of us have experienced that there is something beyond matter at play in this world. What is that unknown thing within us that causes feelings? What is this consciousness? Spirituality and modern science generally mix just as poorly as water and oil. However, when science has insufficient answers, even the greatest of scientists look towards religion and spirituality for clues. The elusive explanation to the aforementioned questions has often driven scientists to the Vedas and other ancient Hindu religious texts that hold an explanation for the above – one that material science hasn’t been able to fully comprehend until now.
Of the many verses in the Bhagvad Gita that speak about the material body and the spirit (or consciousness), I have chosen two for the purposes of this text. With reference to the material body in Chapter 2.22, Sri Krishna mentions to Arjuna –
vasamsi jirnani yatha vihaya, navani grhnati naro 'parani
tatha sarirani vihaya jirnany, anyani samyati navani dehi
meaning that as a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones. Further, with reference to the spirit it is said in Chapter 2.24 –
acchedyo 'yam adahyo 'yam, akledyo 'sosya eva ca
nityah sarva-gatah sthanur, acalo 'yam sanatanah
meaning this individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can be neither burned nor dried. He is everlasting, all-pervading, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same.
The Bhagvad Gita clearly suggests that we are a composite of two different building blocks – the material body (matter) which is temporary and the soul (spirit) which is permanent. In the material world, everything that has a beginning must have an end. The material body is also subject to the laws of the physical environment without exception – all humans have to face the realities of disease, old age, and death. This body is not designed to endure and is by its very nature a temporary structure. However, the spirit is transcendental in nature and is not governed by the laws of physics and other laws of nature. It has always existed and will always continue to exist. There is neither birth nor death for the spirit. It cannot be created or destroyed. It cannot be damaged or injured. It will always prevail endlessly and forever.
In Chapter 2.11, Sri Krishna says –
asocyan anvasocas tvam, prajna-vadams ca bhasase
gatasun agatasums ca, nanusocanti panditah
clearly stating that our true identity is not associated with the matter but with the spirit. The material body is nothing but a temporary structure in the eternal journey of our spirits. Our spirits assume the material body (birth) only for a leg of their eternal journey and then this body is discarded (death). Eventually another body will be assumed (rebirth) and this process will continue until the spirit attains moksha.
So where does all this leave us with respect to modern science? Einstein proved that raw energy and mass are interchangeable. We know very well that matter can be converted into energy (for example, by burning a piece of wood). However, it is the reverse process that is more of an enigma. Surely the particle accelerators at CERN have been successful in creating matter out of energy; however, it has only been done by an incredibly inefficient process. This inefficient process is also unfortunately not one that modern science understands completely. Even if we were to, for a second, believe that we will be able to convert energy to mass in a way that is economical by nature’s standards – we are utterly clueless about what provides ‘consciousness’ to matter. Some scientists suspect that we may never truly understand ‘consciousness’ because modern science’s efforts to understand it has only been on a material plane. Einstein also believed that to understand consciousness we need to adopt a different plane of reference – one that is not governed by material laws but by other laws suited to the imperishable and everlasting nature of entities that reside on it.
Of the various theories that may possibly explain the creation of life and matter from energy, one of the leading ones is that of the ‘non conscious observer’. This theory suggests that energy can be converted into matter in the presence of a third entity which makes this conversion process possible. Modern science has no clue about the identity of this mysterious third entity – all we know is that this entity must NOT be matter. Obviously, since this mysterious entity is not matter, it cannot be governed by material laws of physics, biology, etc. We do not have the vocabulary to explain this third entity; and that has led to it getting the name of the ‘non conscious observer’.
So is there really a thing called ‘spirit’? Could the ‘non conscious observer’ be it? Modern science is no better today than Alice in wonderland when she first got there. For the rationalist, the correct answer may or may not come with progress in science. However, for the believer, the correct answer has been there all along.
Dear Social Networking King(s)/Queen(s),
Tongue planted firmly in cheek; mode = ON
First and foremost, let me apologize to you for writing this letter in a language that is probably difficult for you to read and understand. I prefer constructing sentences with complete words and punctuation, and I do realize that such verbose forms of communication may appear pointless to extremely busy and noble people like you. However, it is my humble request that you stay with me as I attempt to share my thoughts through my archaic and abysmally boring language.
Tongue planted firmly in cheek; mode = OFF
Confused and perplexed; mode = ON
As I surf through countless tweets and Facebook conversations, I am often baffled by this new language that you have invented. A language that some of my old-fashioned friends and I struggle to understand the point of. For example, why do you insist on saying, ‘c u l8r’, instead of “see you later”? Is the time saved on a few key presses really critical to your daily schedule of doing whatever it is that you do? Or is it your way of projecting a cool dude/dudette image of yourself into the virtual world? Shortening long words and phrases is understandable, acronyms are also fine, but what is this obsession with making short words even shorter? Sometimes, it’s not even shorter … but just, different! Case in point: ‘kewl’ versus “cool”.
And you don’t stop there. You would rather use ‘n’ instead of “and". For you the three articles in the English language are ‘a, an, d’ instead of “a, an, the”. For you ‘sumthin hapnd cuz of sum1’ instead of “something happened because of someone “. You stay up ‘l8 in d nite’ instead of staying up “late in the night”. You want to have a ‘gud lyf’ and that’s great, but I just wish that you rather had a “good life”. And what’s with you when you ‘suppalyk’ your friend’s FB comments? Is the like button not enough to show your appreciation if you don’t have any other words to contribute? Also, it doesn’t bug me when you LOL, but kindly explain what the hell is ‘lollzzzzz’? Did you fall asleep with laughing out loud?
Confused and perplexed; mode = OFF
Annoyed and irritated; mode = ON
I hate it when you say that things were ‘gr8r b4’. Remember, it’s “never” and not ‘neva’. We are “friends” and not ‘frens’. It’s “whatever” and not ‘wateva’. It’s “with” and not ‘wid’. It’s “right” and not ‘rite’. It’s “what” and not ‘wat’. It’s “today” and not ‘2day’. It’s “phone” and not ‘fone’. D lyst is far frm cmplet, i cud go on foreva …
Here’s a tip to avoid looking like a complete moron: make the extra effort to type the last ‘g’ when you feel like ‘singin wen itz rainin’, or when you use the –ing form of any word.
Annoyed and irritated; mode = OFF
Polite request; mode = ON
PLEASE DON’T TYPE IN CAPS ALL THE TIME. Please use punctuation where you can especially in a long sentence because it increases the readability of the sentence like this one and to make my point I am going to try to make this sentence even longer by saying some unrelated things that nobody cares about see you have started getting weirded out and I did this just to make you realize how disgusting it is to read such poorly constructed language. Please understand that special symbols such as the question mark (?), exclamation mark (!), period (.). etc., don’t need to be repeated a billion times to stress its importance. Do you understand ???????????? I hope you do!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Also, please realize that the period is not a substitute for the space bar. It’s perfectly alright to write a sentence like this and ……………..you……………don’t………………need…..to……..write…………like……….this.
Polite request; mode = OFF
Trying to be nice so that you don’t feel bad; mode = ON
Nobody has to be grammatically and syntactically correct all the time while tweeting, facebooking, or IMing. We all use shorthand at times. Things like brb, tc, ttyl, etc. are perfectly acceptable. The problem is when you take it too far with words like ‘wurdz’. The occasional usage of such ludicrous language is also fine, but when you insist on talking in gangsta rap format al da tym – it can get really unbearable for some of us. No, you don’t save any significant amount of time when you talk like this. Neither do you come across as cool.
Trying to be nice so that you don’t feel bad; mode = OFF
Parting words and final shot; mode = ON
Some of you may argue that why make a fuss when what you want to communicate gets communicated anyway, even with your moronic language. Fair point, but I beg to differ. There’s one heck of a difference in what you are asking me to do when you say ‘cum onlyn’ instead of “come online”.
If you want to discuss this further, feel free to write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Parting words and final shot; mode = OFF
Troubled Social Network User
Cool beads of perspiration trickled down a can of Coca-Cola forming a water ring on the table. The smell of hot samosas spread through the little open air eatery as the cook brought in a fresh batch from the kitchen and placed them in a glass compartment for all to see and none to touch. As soon as the samosas made their way into the public eye, an army of people crowded around the cash counter to pay and get their daily fix of the delightful savory treat. Some shouted at the top of their voices to make their orders heard, while others just pushed and pulled through the crowd to get as close to the counter as possible. A group of American tourists took a break from enjoying the samosas and whipped out their cameras to capture yet another glimpse of chaos in this seemingly maddening country called India. “Why don’t they queue up instead of crowding the counter?” asked one American to another.
Emma Jones took another swig of her coke to wash down the spiciness of her samosa. As a doctorate student studying Indian culture at the University of Oxford and currently on her third trip to India, she smiled to herself at the naivety of the American. Her professor, Dr. Avinash Kumar, had cautioned her long ago that it is futile to try to understand India from a western world perspective. Just like the intricacies of differential calculus are of little use in understanding literature, the concepts of culture and society as formed in the west serve little purpose in understanding the enigma that is India. She had long ago stopped wondering why Indians don’t queue up at the cash counter unless forced to, why don’t they answer a question with a direct yes or no instead of rambling on and sounding noncommittal with frequent uses of words like ‘mostly’ and ‘probably’, and other such things that exasperated most of the western world. She had been rather quick to realize that there was no linear model or well-defined matrix used in the study of cultures that could capture India in its entirety.
The objective of her research work was to make an attempt at identifying the strong but invisible threads that held this land of mind boggling diversity together. By now all she had learned was that India is more than the sum of its contradictions. But how could she go about understanding an ageless civilization that has educated the world’s largest pool of engineers and scientists, yet is home to the world’s largest illiterate population? How does one make sense of a country that has a vast desert (Thar Desert) in close proximity to lush alluvial plains (Indo-Gangetic Plains) believed to be one of the most fertile regions in the world? It never ceased to amaze her how a country that had the world’s largest snow covered region outside the polar caps was also one of the hottest places on the face of the planet. It seemed like any truism about India could be immediately contradicted by another truism. The truth about India, she often thought, is that there are many truths. Multiple truths - once again, a concept that perplexed most of the linearity and standardization obsessed west.
She licked the last bits of the samosa from her fingers and proceeded to wash her hands at the banyan tree next to the roadside dhaba (café) that had now become her regular haunt. A little kid poured water from a steel jug and helped her wash her hands and asked, “Very hot today, no?” She smiled and said “I don’t mind the heat; I am used to it now.” The kid just smiled and she realized that she had spoken far more English than he could understand. It always amused her when Indians used the word ‘no’ at the end of every other sentence. “You had a comfortable flight, no?”, “The taxi driver didn’t charge you extra for luggage, no?” etc. Her favorite still remained, “Please join us for lunch, no!”
She started walking back through the crowded streets towards her hotel absorbing the sights and sounds around her. “The only way to start understanding India is to surrender to it and to embrace it with all its craziness, chaos, and inefficiencies”, Dr. Kumar had said. “As you immerse yourself in this cauldron of diverse geographies, multiple languages, different faiths and ideologies, you will start to realize that it is a society impossible to parameterize for general understanding. In India very few things are black or white and everything is sprinkled across a vast spectrum of grey where even black is thought of as very dark grey and white as very light grey”. Over the years, Emma had realized that the last statement was probably true. Indians did seem very comfortable with chaos and obscurity, something that freaked out most of the western world. They had even coined a word for getting things done amidst total chaos – “jugaad”. It’s a word that doesn’t even have an accurate English translation, simply because the western world probably never thought that it is possible to live life comfortably without standardization and predictability. But how was it that a civilization comfortable with fuzzy logic managed to produce the world’s largest fleet of software engineers who have to adopt binary logic for problem solving? “Yet another unresolved contradiction in the endless list”, she mumbled to herself as she entered her hotel room.
Once again it was the time of the day for the same realization to hit her once again – a realization of getting nowhere with her research work. Earlier she would get depressed when such thoughts hit her but off late she had started not worrying about it. One of the tasks that were assigned to her on this study tour was to maintain a journal and to capture her thoughts about India every day in one crisp sentence. She took out her journal and wrote – “Understanding India requires developing a comfort with fuzzy logic over binary logic, comfort with contextual thinking over standardized thinking, comfort with relative ideologies over absolute ideologies, and opening up to the notion of cyclic reasoning over linear reasoning.”
She closed the journal and heaved a sigh of relief. She had been working hard for the last few days and was going to a night club with some of her local associates to party all night. She promised herself not to think about work until the next Monday and started thinking about what to wear. As she counted the currency notes in her purse she saw the country’s national motto printed on it: Satyameva Jayate i.e. truth alone triumphs. “Whose truth?”, she wondered.
A question that has 1.21 billion answers if the 2011 census hasn’t undercounted us again.