This is the edited transcript of the first episode on my podcast. The episode discusses the relation between religion and science from the perspective of Vedic philosophy, and how an original meaning embodied by God expands into symbols which include both the soul and their material experiences. This relation between meaning and symbols requires us to treat the material world as a representation of meaning. The podcast discusses how this ideology about matter provides the incremental steps through which the study of pure matter transforms into the study of God.
Table of Contents
- The Interface of Religion and Science
- The Study of Matter in Religion
- Can Nature Encode Meanings?
- Does Relativity Forbid Meanings?
- Does Nature Have a Language?
- How the Problem of Religion Becomes a Problem of Science
- God, Soul, and Meanings
- How God Expands the Meaning
- Why God Expands the Meaning
- Scientific Undersanding of Vedic Texts
- Wrap Up
- Share This Post
The Interface of Religion and Science
You write on the interface of religion and science. You appear to straddle both worlds. Doesn’t it sound conflicting? How do you reconcile these two things?
Honestly, I don’t write on religion per se. I write on Vedic philosophy, which is not exactly a religion as something based on faith and belief. Vedic philosophy is completely amenable to rational inquiry, and empirical confirmation, just the same as science. Furthermore, Vedic philosophy has a material component that overlaps in the subject matter with modern science, and a spiritual component which transcends matter. So, when I speak about religion and science, I’m talking about the continuum from material to spiritual as it exists in Vedic philosophy and as can be rationally and empirically understood.
Now that we set aside the issue of science-religion conflict, we can trace the journey from religion to science through the following steps – (1) to know God we must know the soul, (2) to know the soul we must know transmigration, (3) to know transmigration we must understand the natural law of guna and karma, (4) to understand guna and karma we must understand the judgments of good and bad, right and wrong, apart from the judgment of true and false, (5) to make these judgments we have to first have meanings, and (6) to address the issue of meaning we have to describe matter as meaning.
These steps from God to matter are described in Sāńkhya – a school of Vedic philosophy – very clearly. There are of course material objects in Vedic philosophy, but immediately following these objects are qualities, senses, and the mind. So above the material elements are the qualities, above the qualities are senses, above the senses are meanings in the mind, above the mind is the intellect which performs the judgment of truth, then the ego which carries out the judgment of good and bad, and then a moral sense responsible for the judgment of right and wrong. The soul is transcendent to these material elements, and God is transcendent to the soul. Therefore, to reach God, we have to pass through these levels.
The problem of understanding soul and God begins in the problem of matter itself because this matter has to be described in a way compatible with the qualities of perception namely color, tone, touch, smell, taste, etc. Matter in modern science is described in a way that is devoid of these qualities, which creates the problem of perception namely how the body which is made up of matter devoid of qualities leads to the perception of qualities. Most cognitive scientists today are struggling with this problem, which lies at the bottom of this hierarchy and occurs between the objects and qualities, and is sometimes called the problem of qualia. They call it the problem of consciousness, but of course consciousness of the soul is far above this issue.
To reach the problem of consciousness, we have to first describe the qualities, then the senses, then the mind, then the intellect, then the ego, and then morality. This is a very long journey which is indicated in Sāńkhya philosophy. Modern science and philosophy are struggling to solve the problem in understanding the very next level of matter called qualia or qualities, so the destination of soul and God is distant. The problem of qualia is created in science because science rejected the idea that the world had anything to do with human perception. John Locke famously drew the distinction between primary and secondary properties where the primary properties are length, mass, charge, energy, etc. while the secondary properties are color, taste, smell, sound, touch, etc. Locke claimed that the material world was primary properties and human perception was secondary qualities. Once the divide between these two was framed in this way, the chasm could not be crossed in philosophy or science.
To solve the problem of qualia we have to rethink the primary-secondary property divide, and define matter in a new way. This description is available in Sāńkhya philosophy, but it is not the description of modern science. It is rather a type of reality that is consistent with the existence of the qualities.
So, before we can reach the study of soul and God, we have to study matter in a new way. This study begins in qualities, progresses to the senses, mind, intellect, ego, and morality. I collectively call these problems the problem of ‘meaning’ because they involve the use of everyday concepts.
The study of meaning is two things – (1) the study of the mind, and various types of judgments, and (2) the study of matter in a way that is compatible with the existence of the mind. Once we have understood how matter is different from the description in modern science, then we can induct the mind, then intellect, then ego, then morality, and then the soul. The study of God follows after the study of the soul. So, there is a natural progression from the study of pure matter (which constitutes science) to the study of God (which constitutes religion). This study passes through the intermediate levels including a new understanding of matter, then mind, then intellect, then ego, then morality, then soul.
The Study of Matter in Religion
You mentioned above that before we can study religion we have to study matter in a new way. What do you mean by this study? Is it like the modern science? Can you elaborate?
The new study of matter is also rational and empirical, but it is not like modern science. Modern science is based on the distinction between primary and secondary properties. The primary properties are studied in science, and the secondary properties are the observations not studied in science. The nomenclature itself suggests that the world is primary and the observer is secondary.
However, in Sāńkhya this idea is inverted. Therein, the sensations are primary and the objects are embodiments of the sensual qualities. The sensual qualities are encoded in matter quite like we encode a picture in terms of RGB colors and store it on a computer disk. The RGB colors involve a linguistic convention of R, G, and B, which are encoded using the properties of atomic objects. Therefore, from a physical perspective, we just see the physical properties of atomic objects, but these physical properties can also be described as symbols representing meaning. To describe material reality as symbols, we need to say that there is a language which converts the physical states into words. To describe nature in a new way we have to describe it as representing these words or symbols of meaning. So, by a new type of science I mean that matter is the objective representation of subjective meaning. Matter is therefore not the objects of science; it is rather like the symbols which also encode meanings.
Each symbol has two kinds of properties — it has a physical state and it has a meaning. These two things are not separate. Now, most linguistics and philosophers separate the physical state from the meaning, but in Sāńkhya these two are not separate. The physical state is the representation of meaning.
For example, when you see the color yellow, in science you think there are some atomic particles which have physical states and when the atomic state changes, light is emitted and you see some color. Thus you believe that yellowness is not in the world; it is simply a frequency of light that is interpreted by our eyes as RGB colors. But in Sāńkhya philosophy, that atomic state is itself a symbol of meaning, which means that physical properties like location, direction, duration and tense are used to create a language. The directions in space for example are types of meanings. So, when a spin vector points in a particular direction, it represents a certain type of meaning because of the space itself.
In modern computers, for example, the up spin denotes the digit 1 and the down spin represents the digit 0. So, we are already using directions in space to denote meanings. By this representation, we convert a physical property – i.e. a spin – into a symbol (1 or 0). As these symbols aggregate we can create more complex meanings. But this language of up spin being 1 and down spin being 0 is arbitrary. It can also be the other way around. To fix up to 1 and down to 0 you require a linguistic convention. Namely, you have to say that the upward direction denotes the symbol 1 and the downward direction the symbol 0. Similarly, to convert location, duration, and tense into symbols, you need a convention. All these conventions are methods by which we interpret physical states as meanings. Once we have defined these conventions, we don’t have to talk about the physical state at all. Just like you don’t have to talk about up and down spins when you say that the computer bit is 1 or 0.
So, these conventions constitutes a language, because by the convention the physical object becomes a symbol of meaning. If nature can be said to have a linguistic convention, then we will simply talk about the symbols or words. For instance, you will say that these atomic objects represent color and that color is red. And those atomic objects represents taste and the taste is sweet. You don’t require to speak about energy, momentum, mass, charge, spin, angular momentum, etc. Instead, the entire vocabulary of physical sciences can be replaced by a new vocabulary of sound, touch, sight, taste, and smell by using a language convention that converts physical properties of science into symbols of meaning. Then the physical world is no longer the electrons, protons, neutrons, quarks, mass, charge, energy, momentum, angular momentum, spin, etc. It is rather the objective representation of sound, touch, sight, taste, and smell. The key bridge from physical states to symbols is therefore a linguistic convention.
Can Nature Encode Meanings?
But isn’t it true that languages are all arbitrary? That any physical state can be interpreted differently using different linguistic conventions? If so, doesn’t this mean that languages are completely arbitrary and therefore nature cannot be said to encode meanings.
You are partly right here. There are indeed many possible linguistic conventions using which we can interpret the same reality as embodying different symbols which have different meanings. But my contention and the contention of Vedic philosophy is that there is indeed a natural language.
Remember that by language we simply mean that up is 1 and down is 0. Or left has this meaning and right has that meaning. So, if someone wants to give these directions a different set of meanings, they will have to change the coordinate reference frame which is used to speak about meanings. For example, you can invert the reference frame by the z-axis then spin directions are inverted and what was 0 previously would now be 1 and vice versa. If each person defines their reference frame in their own way, then meanings are indeed arbitrary, but it means that no two individuals can communicate with each other. Each person would be only able to talk to others who are in the same reference frame.
Therefore, when I say that there is language of nature, all I’m really saying is that there is an objective reference frame which defines an absolute sense of up and down, left and right, before and after. Each of us is free to interpret these words in a new way using their own reference frame. But I’m insisting that there is an objective reference frame in which nature itself encodes meaning. For example, there is a particular direction in space which constitutes the +z direction and therefore the symbol 1. We cannot invert the reference frame to make 1s into 0s or vice versa, because just by inverting the direction, the computer disk which stores this information will have all 1s flipped into 0s, and that will mean that the person reading that disk would obtain completely different information. Two individuals who have their z-axis flipped relative to each other will read the computer disk in completely different ways.
To maintain the meaning in the computer disk, we have to maintain the +z direction. This idea constitutes the rejection of relativity in a very specific sense – we allow all kinds of reference frames and each person has the ability to interpret the meanings in their own way. However, these interpretations are just like misperceptions, or seeing snake in a rope, or a broken object in a broken glass.
An objective reference frame instead gives us the way to perceive reality just as it is. So, if a person uses the objective reference frame, then they get the true meaning. But if they use their own reference frame they still get some meaning – which is a transformation of the original meaning – but it is false. So, in a sense, when we have meanings, the relative reference frames are illusions and the objective reference frame is truth. The illusion also exists and we can observe it empirically. But there can be no intersubjective agreement about the illusion; everyone is going to have a different illusion.
In fact, we can now formulate a theory of illusion based on this theory of perception. Correct perception is using the natural language to interpret reality, and incorrect perception is using one’s own language. This means that to even know the nature of reality, we must know the language convention in terms of which we interpret. This language exists in all of us as an innate sense of up and down, before and after, left and right, etc. For example, everyone knows that going up is being progressive, and going down indicates decline. Forward indicates the future, and backward indicates the past. The right side is the good side, and the left side is the bad side. This type of understanding is pervasive in all of us, and is innate. Even children intuitively understand these things. So, there is something in our biology and psychology by which directions have absolute meanings, although these directions are also relative to the observer. So, for example, if you turn around and face the opposite direction, then the meanings of forward and backward remain intact, but they are physically different directions.
In a way, we are all carrying the reference frame of meanings along with us, which has common and shared conventions. However, the physical mapping of these conventions to directions is arbitrary. Thus, up and down have an absolute meaning, but what is up or down is relative. If we can align this physical sense of direction then we already have the shared meanings of up and down.
Does Relativity Forbid Meanings?
But doesn’t relativity reject the existence of a universal reference frame? And since it is an empirically proven theory, shouldn’t we accept the rejection of such frames?
The reason relativity works is because space is like a tree rather than a box. The branches of this tree are both objects and reference frames. Each branch has an orientation relative to the higher branch, and therefore the reference frames themselves are not aligned; they are twisted relative to each other. To define this twisting of the frame, we have to take the higher reference frame as the reference relative to which the twisting of the lower reference frame is to be defined. As we proceed upward in this tree (from the leaves toward the root of the tree), we come to the reference frame that is not defined by a twist relative to another reference frame. This root of the tree is a reference frame, and yet it is the reference frame in relation to which every other reference frame is oriented.
We have to also understand the meaning of a reference frame. It represents a higher level concept. For example, if the axis is color, then the values are red, green, and blue. If the axis is sight, then the values are form, color, and size. Each person’s collection of concepts by which they interpret the world is a reference frame. And therefore each observer has a unique reference frame that may not be aligned with the reference frames of other observers. However, each reference frame has properties or location and orientation relative to the higher reference frame. Therefore, even though there are many individual reference frames, there is an absolute reference frame. This means we don’t deny the possibility that each person can interpret the world differently. We are just saying that these interpretations are not equivalent. So, we are not denying the possibility of many reference frames. We are disputing their equivalence. Relativity works precisely because many reference frames are possible.
In each reference frame there is an observer who interprets, but the observer is itself not being interpreted. That is, their interpretation of the world is not subject to a judgment – e.g. if this interpretation is true, right, and good. The tree structure instead allows us to both interpret and judge. This judgment includes judging ourselves in relation to a higher reference frame. If we neglect that judgment then we can say that all frames are equivalent even though the observer in each frame sees the world differently and they cannot agree on what is the true nature of reality.
Each observer says – I’m not interested in understanding you, I will rather judge you from my perspective but I am not prepared to be judged by anyone else. In the ultimate sense, each observer is being judged by a higher observer, but modern science – by adopting relativity – is rejecting the outcomes of this judgment. The outcomes of judgment in Vedic philosophy are called karma. And this karma places the observer in a situation where he is compelled to experience certain events. When we reject the existence of judgments, then the theory becomes incomplete. For example, in relativity, we can predict all the events that will occur, but not who will participate in which events. So, when the outcomes of judgment are neglected this neglect leads to incompleteness in the theory.
Relativity works because there are indeed many reference frames that are oriented differently, but it doesn’t work because these frames are not equivalent and are judged by other frames. We have the choice of arbitrary reference frames, but these choices entail a responsibility through judgment. When relativity neglects these judgments, it becomes an incomplete theory. This is an involved topic that we should discuss some other time, but I just wanted to quickly respond to your question, namely that the existence of relative frames doesn’t deny the existence of the objective reference frame because these frames are organized like a tree and the higher frame judges the lower frame. Relativity is an incomplete theory precisely because it rejects the existence of higher and lower reference frames.
In a simple sense, we are individual observers free to choose. But this choice is being judged by higher observers, and the judgments create karma which pushes us into new situations by changing the reference frame. If we say that all frames are equivalent, then we can’t explain how the observer is pushed into situations automatically by the laws of nature, and therefore we cannot predict which observer will experience what. We can only talk about all the events of the universe, but not the events specific to an observer.
Does Nature Have a Language?
OK, so I understand that the connection between religion and science is meanings, or rather, meanings are really the first step in connecting religion and science. Using these meanings we understand, and based on these meanings we also interpret and judge. I also understand that to make this connection we have to discard physical properties, and treat the world as meanings. But I am still not clear how postulating that there is a natural language changes the nature of reality, and how this connects to Vedic philosophy. Can you elaborate?
That’s a great question – one that can be a segue into the nature of reality in Vedic philosophy. Nature is described in Vedic philosophy as originating in symbols. The term used is śabda-brahmān, which means eternal sound–and actually this is the inspiration for the title of our podcast. This eternal sound is comprised of alphabets, and they are vibrations. These alphabets comprise material objects, which atomic theory describes as standing waves (with forward and backward components). Vedic philosophy is saying that there is a natural language in which matter encodes meanings, and perception is like reading a text by which we decode these meanings.
The difference in everyday reading and perception is that in everyday reading we use knowledge of grammar and dictionaries to understand meanings. But when nature itself is linguistic then our senses are also linguistic. For example, our sense of sight is a symbol whose meaning is “seeing”. This “seeing” is further divided in our senses through further properties such as “color”, “shape”, “distance”, etc. These properties are called tanmātra in Sāńkhya philosophy. So, the seeing symbol attaches to the color symbol, and the two symbols become the meaning “seeing color”. Then when the senses interact with the material world, which is an objective encoding of RGB colors, then the “seeing color” symbol is enhanced into a new symbol which means “seeing color red”. In this symbolic construction, seeing is called the indriya or sense, color is called the tanmātra or property, and red is the external object.
So, we have to understand that symbols are not just material things which encode redness. Nor are symbols simply existing in the external world. Rather, there are many kinds of symbols. Some of these symbols have a meaning called red, other symbols have a meaning called color, and then there are symbols whose meaning is seeing. All these symbols are atomic objects, which means that our senses are atomic, the properties are atomic, even the mind is atomic. Atomic, in the original sense of the word – a-tomos in Old Greek meaning “indivisible”. This is a very general sense in which atomism is used in Vedic philosophy. All these atoms are organized hierarchically. For example, the seeing atom is higher than the color atom, and the color atom is higher than the redness atom. Just by attaching these atoms we can construct complex propositions. Our experience is these propositions.
Based on this hierarchy we can distinguish between the atoms and the connections between them. Space is nothing other than these connections or linkages between the atoms. So, atoms are like points in space, and the linkages or connections between atoms is like distance between points. This distance or linkage between symbols is called prāna in Sāńkhya. It is like a force field in which the symbol particles are embedded. Just like in modern science we have atomic objects which are interacting with other particles through a force field, similarly, in Vedic philosophy the atomic objects are replaced by symbols, and the force field is replaced by prāna. This prāna operates under the control of choice. It is not a mechanical force devoid of control by choice, but it is a force nevertheless. So by the prāna, we can choose to join our senses to this objective reality in the process of trying to know the world.
When the body dies, the prāna or the force field leaves the body, and that means all the atoms are still present but the connections between the atoms begin to break down. This deterioration of the body is understood as decay. But it is not chemistry laws which are responsible for this deterioration. It is rather prāna which was previously joining the atoms, and now it has left the body, so the energy gradually leaks out and the connections between the atoms are broken down.
That’s how the body deteriorates from a living thing to a non-living thing. Therefore, this prāna is also called the “life force”. It is the key difference between a living and a dead body. From a spiritual perspective, the soul has left the body, but from a material perspective, the prāna has left the body.
So, in essence we are talking about a new theory of atomic particles, and how these particles are connected by forces. This places the discussion of meaning not as mere philosophical topic that has been debated for centuries in the past squarely within the domain of physics. It is not just traditional physics. It is a new kind of physics in which atoms are symbols, and forces are connections between atoms.
How the Problem of Religion Becomes a Problem of Science
Let me see if I got this right. You are saying that the problem of religion initially reduces to the problem of morality and judgment. Then it becomes the problem of meaning, and finally becomes the study of symbols and so it reduces to the problem of physics. Or am I reading this wrong?
No, you are right in thinking like that. The connection between religion and science is that science has to be changed to deal with meaning. Very specifically, we have to talk about a new type of atomic theory in which particles are symbols, and force is prāna. So, we have transformed the problem of religion into a problem of science, and this is the key difference between how science-religion unity is treated by other people and how I am treating it. This unity is based on Sāńkhya philosophy and how matter is organized into several tiers or levels, and we talk about the lowest level of matter in atomic theory.
The big advantage of this approach is that once we establish that atomic theory has to deal in symbols and connections between symbols, then the rest of Sāńkhya automatically becomes amenable, because just as the lowest level symbol is connected to a higher level symbol, similarly the higher level symbol is connected to an even higher level symbol, and finally, the highest level material symbols are connected to the soul by the same prāna. Therefore, the soul is controlling the material world through prāna and prāna constitutes the resolution of the mind-body problem as the go-between mind and matter.
So, the model of Sāńkhya is not just about material particles, but a general paradigm of how different levels of reality are interconnected. In Western philosophy, mind and body are just two levels, but in Sāńkhya there are many such levels including qualities, senses, intellect, ego, morality, etc. So, we cannot rely on solving the mind-body problem just once. We have to find the general paradigm by which this problem of the interaction between multiple tiers of reality can be solved many times.
However, before we can solve the mind body problem we have to say that both mind and body are symbols of different types of meaning. The difference is that mind is the symbols of more abstract meanings while the body is the symbols of more contingent meanings. And they are connected by prāna. This is why in Sāńkhya philosophy, the terms manas, prāna, and vāk are used. The term vāk denotes speech or body, and manas denotes the mind. The mind and the body are connected by prāna, which is the force or distance between a higher level symbol and the lower level symbol.
Before we talk about religion, we have to talk about soul, and that immediately brings the mind-body problem in science. So we have to solve the mind-body problem before we can talk about the soul, and the solution is not different from the material force problem. Just like prāna is controlling the external objects, similarly, the soul is controlling the mind, intelligence, ego, and morality. This naturally means that the soul is also a symbol of meaning. It is just that the meaning denoted by the soul is “self” or “I”. Material symbols can never encode “I”, which is why there is a need for a new type of symbol called the soul. Material symbols have objects and properties, and the spiritual symbol is called “I” or soul.
But both matter and spirit are symbolic, and this means that when we have a theory of material symbol interaction then we can understand why there is a need for a separate type of a symbol and how this new type of symbol interacts with the material symbols. The mind-body interaction presents no divide. It is rather many tiers of reality which are interconnected by the same process—prāna.
God, Soul, and Meanings
OK, so let’s say we can understand all these types of symbols, including that the soul is a symbol. How does that lead to religion and understanding God? Are we terminating this hierarchy of symbols at the soul, and rejecting the existence of God? This would lead to an impersonal understanding of religion. Or is there something more to this even beyond the soul — e.g. into the understanding of God? Is God also a symbol?
No, God is not a symbol, God is the meaning that precedes the symbol. Just like there are many symbols of redness, but none of these symbols is the idea of redness, or the meaning redness. Similarly, there are many symbols of “I” which are individual souls, but none of them is the pure idea of “I-ness”.
In semiotic philosophy, the terms signifier and signified are used. The signifier is the symbol, and the signified is the idea. They are connected by the prāna which represents signifying. So, the idea becomes a symbol, or the meaning is transformed into a sign of that meaning by an act of signifying.
In Vedic philosophy there is a distinction made between śabda–brahmān and artha-brahmān. We can say words and their meanings. The artha-brahmān represents the meanings. The difference between word and meaning is that there is only one instance of meaning, but there are many instances of the words. So from that original meaning many individual words are created. These words represent the same meaning, but there are many words, and each word represents the original idea. This is stated in the Vedic literature as eko bahunam, which means God is one and there are many instance of this meaning created from God. The soul is also a symbol – just like a word – and God is the meaning.
Vedic literature give the example of candles. The claim is that there is an original candle or lamp from which many candles or lamps are lighted. After they are lighted up, they seem all the same. But because there is an original candle, this candle is the meaning. And subsequent candles are symbols.
The soul is also a candle lighted from an original candle. The difference between soul and God is that God is a big candle and the soul is a small candle. Just like there is an ocean of water, and a drop of water. The water in the drop and the ocean is of the same type, but they are quantitatively bigger and smaller. Like that the soul and God have the same qualities, but the soul is a small drop out of the ocean. Therefore, by studying the self, one can know the nature of God, but the self is not equal to God. So, we have to distinguish between the type of thing and the quantity of that type. Just like a big house and small house are both houses, but the big house is not equal to the small house. So, the big house is the original meaning of being a house, and the small house is like a toy built in imitation of the big house. Due to this similarity, the soul sometimes starts considering himself equal to the Supreme Soul.
The material journey begins when this confusion between soul and Supreme Soul is created. There is indeed a similarity of type, but there is a difference of quantity. The drop is part of the ocean, and by knowing the drop you can roughly estimate the nature of the ocean. The ocean is the meaning, and the drop is the symbol of that meaning. Thus it is said that the meaning of existence is God. This is not a euphemism. It is literally true, because the soul is a symbol and God is the meaning of that symbol. We can also say that God is the meaning and soul and matter are representations of that meaning. Similarly, because the symbol is a small meaning, therefore, soul and matter are parts of God.
This idea can be expressed by saying that due to sat the soul and God are of the same type. Therefore, in Brahman – where only the type is considered – soul and God are identical. But God is Param-Brahman or the original and supreme Brahman and the soul is individual Brahman. The similarity of type is sat, the difference of size is chit, and the individuality is ananda. So, the soul is similar to God based on type, dissimilar from God based on size, and both are separate individuals due to ananda.
So, once we reach the understanding that matter is symbolic, then we can talk about how the soul is a symbol. And when we get to the understanding of the soul, or the most fundamental meaning called “I”, then we talk about what is the original “I” meaning from which words are expanded. This original “I” is the personality of God. From this original “I” many individual “I”s are created. So, God is the meaning, and soul and matter are symbols. The artha-brahmān is the personality of God or the source of all subsequent symbols, and the śabda-brahmān is the collection of all those symbols.
How God Expands the Meaning
This philosophy of word and meaning seems very interesting. Can you speak more on this? I mean, how is God as meaning expanding into symbols of meaning? What is the process, and can this process be understood rationally and scientifically?
Yes, it can be understood scientifically. There are three aspects of God called sat, chit, and ananda. Corresponding to each of these aspects of God is a type of energy. The energy corresponding to sat is called bhūti śakti or the power of being. When this śakti combines with God, then many instances of the meaning are created. Just like lighting many candles from one candle. So, God is the meaning, and the instantiation of this meaning into symbols is caused by the bhūti śakti. This is the first aspect which creates the expansion of meaning into words, or ideas into symbols of those ideas.
Then the second aspect is called chit or meaning itself. When sat is expanding the meaning, it is actually expanding the chit which constitutes these meanings. However, there is a separate śakti called kriya śakti which divides the chit into many parts. Just like you can say that I am going to divide the property of color into many individual colors like red, blue, and green. So, this chit-śakti divides the original meaning into parts, which means that if God is the original meaning, then the chit-śakti creates many smaller meanings out of God. And bhūti śakti is acting on all these meanings, which implies that chit-śakti creates smaller meanings, and bhūti śakti creates instances of these meanings.
Then there is the third aspect called ananda, and there is a corresponding energy called māyā śakti. This śakti decides how we are going to divide the original meaning into smaller meanings. Just like you are given a pie and you have to slice it up into pieces. You can cut the pie into square, rectangle, circle, triangles, etc. There are many ways to cut up, and māyā śakti is the method of cutting up. In everyday language we say that we have to classify the world into different types of things and there are many ways of classification, which all amount to dividing the whole into parts in many ways. So when we talk about the whole dividing into parts, the mechanism is a method of classification.
The philosophy is that ananda is the pleasure and māyā-śakti is the pleasure-giving energy. To enjoy Himself, God divides Himself into parts. However, there are many ways of dividing. For example, you can divide color into cyan, magenta, and yellow, instead of red, blue, and green. We have to choose one such method, and alternatives of division are called māyā-śakti and the choice of one method is ananda. So, God wants to enjoy Himself, and He chooses a method to divide Himself into parts so that He is known in a particular way. The possible methods are māyā-śakti, and the division itself is chit-śakti. This chit śakti is also therefore called kriya-śakti. It is doing the job of division after a method is chosen.
In the Śrimad Bhāgavatam it is stated that God divides Himself by Himself. There are two Himself here. The first Himself is the chit which is the thing being divided. The second Himself is ananda which is the thing that is dividing. So, chit is the dividend and ananda is the divisor. And sat creates instances of these divided parts, such that God first creates many ideas, and then these ideas become symbols.
Ultimately there is a hierarchy, and chit-śakti operates under the control of māyā-śakti, and the bhūti-śakti operates under the control of chit-śakti. There is also hierarchy within God – ananda or pleasure is the highest, the chit or meaning is the next lower, and sat or expansion is the lowest.
First God determines that He wants to enjoy. At that point māyā–śakti presents many methods of enjoyment. God chooses one method, which becomes the process by which God will divide Himself into parts by His own desire to know and enjoy His existence. Then these parts are expanded into symbols by the bhūti-śakti. This is a complex topic and maybe we can cover this process of creation by God in a separate discussion. Certainly it needs a deeper dive into God and His energies.
Why God Expands the Meaning
One quick follow up question before we finish. I know we can do a whole other episode on this, but maybe you can give a quick answer now and delve deeper later. Why would God want to enjoy? Isn’t he supposed to be perfect and thus not need anything?
Good point, this question is sometimes used as a critique in the question of the existence of God. There is a difference between asking for happiness, and expressing happiness. For example, if you are unhappy because you lost your job, then you will seek someone’s company to relieve that unhappiness. But if you have just gotten a new job, then you seek someone’s company to express your happiness.
God is not seeking happiness; God is expressing His happiness. He is delighted with Himself, and He wants to express this delight. So, God’s happiness is not about asking for happiness from someone. It is rather about giving away happiness or sharing it with others. Similarly, the happiness of a devotee is not about asking for happiness; it is about sharing the inner delight with other individuals.
There are many kinds of devotees. In the beginning one worships God because he or she is in pain and needs a shoulder to cry on. Then one worships because one is having many desires, and wants the emptiness to be relieved by the fulfilment of desires. Then one becomes inquisitive about God; we are inquisitive about many things, and this is also a sort of suffering out of ignorance. Then after one has acquired sufficient knowledge about God, he or she is convinced that there is nothing else to be known; this conviction leads to the anxiety that I still do not possess the most important thing.
A true devotee is one who has found the ultimate destination from a pursuit and is no longer unhappy. So, he seeks the company to express his delight and joy at having found the ultimate truth. There is no expectation of reciprocation in this search; one is contented and shares causelessly.
Scientific Undersanding of Vedic Texts
This has been an enlightening session. I can see how science is connected to religion and the nature of God through a succession of steps described in Vedic philosophy. If there is one more thing you wanted to say to the listeners as a parting message, what would that be?
Well, so many things can be said in this regard, but the simple message is that there is a continuum from science to religion, from matter to spirit, and there are detailed descriptions of this continuum found in Vedic philosophy. Unfortunately, these texts are suffering from two problems. The first problem is that they are written in Sanskrit and most people don’t know how to read that language. We can try to translate these books into English and Śrīla Prabhupāda, whose teachings I follow, began this journey in the 1960s creating a library of books. The second problem is that even when these books are translated into English, we are still not able to fully follow them, because many words cannot be perfectly translated into English without a lot of explanation.
For example, I just explained how bhūti-śakti is the power of expansion by which a meaning is expanded into a symbol. And chit-śakti is the process by which the whole is divided into parts. And māyā-śakti is the many methods of this division of the whole into parts. I was able to provide this description because we prior developed a full-fledged philosophy of symbols, their interrelation, the soul, and finally the meaning in God. Unless we develop this understanding, it is not possible to translate words such as bhūti-śakti, kriya-śakti, and māyā-śakti into English. And until we do that translation, most of the text is not understood, even though we write the words in the English alphabet and grammar.
So, we have to continue the journey that Prabhupāda started in terms of translating more books into English, and the other languages where people can read them. But this is by itself not enough unless we can also provide a detailed philosophical explanation of what the words which cannot be translated directly into English mean. My focus and my work is on this latter part of the problem, where I try to explain the words of Vedic philosophy using commonsense, science, and reason. I believe that this is not a replacement of the translations that Prabhupāda has already done. It is rather for those who may read such books but will fail to grasp them fully. So, just like Prabhupāda wrote commentaries on Vedic texts, I am essentially writing detailed commentaries on his books, trying to explain them.
The process of explaining and understanding these texts is not easy. We have to bring a lot of things to the table, before anyone can understand. This naturally means that the readers and listeners must be prepared to spend the time and energy as investments into knowledge. We can use these conversations to touch upon more such topics in the future, but hopefully this has been a good start.
Yes, I think this has been a great conversation. Thank you very much for taking the time, for this gentle introduction. I would ask the listeners to post comments and questions, or drop us an email at [email protected] in case you have more things you would like to see us talk about, or questions you want answered. Any final word before we close the conversation?
We will try to use the initial set of conversations to present a broad overall understanding of the work we are doing, so some of the questions that might be common to many people may be answered upfront and we can then use the dialogue to delve into more details. Thank you for listening!