In my first book—Six Causes—I described a theory of creation that comprises six causes, namely, Material Cause, Efficient Cause, Personal Cause, Formal Cause, Instrumental Cause, and Systemic Cause. This was in a way a contrast to the Greek use of four causes (Final, Efficient, Material, and Formal). Now, as I work on the Six Systems of Vedic Philosophy, there is another set of sixes—Vedānta, Sāñkhya, Yoga, Vaiśeṣika, Nyāya, and Mīmāṃsā. Is the use of six categories serendipity? This post argues that it is not. Reality must be described from six perspectives, which are necessary to complete the understanding.
Table of Contents
- 1 Six Causal Questions
- 2 Classical Deterministic Causality
- 3 The Collapse of Classical Causality
- 4 The Problem of Contradictions
- 5 The View of Complementarity
- 6 The Fungibility of Six Perspectives
- 7 Six Systems of Philosophy
- 8 Jīvā Goswami’s Six Treatises
- 9 Veda Vyās’s Six Divisions of Vedas
- 10 Many Possible Six-Way Constructions
- 11 Absolute Truth and Perspectives
Six Causal Questions
Without undue complexities, we can state the doctrine of six perspectives by noting the six questions necessary to completely describe causality—What, When, Where, Why, Who, and How. If any of these questions remain unanswered, causality is incomplete.
Then we must note that the answer to one of these questions underdetermines the answer to others. What happens—i.e., the events that occur in the universe—can happen in different places, and times, caused by different people, in different ways, and for different reasons.
For instance, let’s consider the event of a war. What happened? A war. When did it happen? Such and such a year. Where did it happen? So and so place. Why did it happen? It was perhaps ideological conflict, economic competition, political control, etc. Who fought? We can name the individuals who participated, and the rulers who triggered it. How did it happen? A certain number of soldiers, tanks, ships, and airplanes were mobilized from one place to another. These six questions are neither mutually independent nor mutually determined.
For example, since tanks did not exist at a certain time, hence, they could not be mobilized for war at that time. But even if tanks exist at certain times, the war could be fought with drones instead of tanks. The answer to “how” (drones vs. tanks) is neither independent of “when” (since tanks did not exist at one time) nor completely determined by “when” (even when tanks exist, a war could be fought using drones).
Similarly, the answers to “why” (e.g., religious vs. economic objectives) neither determine the answer to “how” (since both drones and tanks could be used for winning wards based on religious or economic objectives) nor are the answers to “how” independent of the answers to “why” (nuclear weapons will not be used if the purpose of the war is to get control over resources and people for economic growth).
Likewise, the answer to “why” (e.g., a religion) neither completely determines the answer to “where” (e.g, one or another country, because two religions may not fight everywhere) nor is the answer to “why” (e.g., a religion) completely independent of “where” (because the religions that might fight each other may not exist everywhere). The answer to “why” (e.g., a religion) neither completely determines the answer to “when” (e.g., one century vs. another, because the religions that could have fought may not necessarily fight at some time) nor is the answer to “why” (e.g., a religion) is completely independent of the answer to “when” (because that religion may not have existed then).
We could go on listing how the answers to each of the six questions underdetermine the answers to the other five questions, but it would greatly elongate this post. Therefore, we can summarize: Even as the six questions are different, they are not independent. Arbitrary combinations of answers will not work, but many combinations will. We cannot reduce the six questions to one, and we cannot provide answers to each question independently. There has to be a relation between answers, but many variations are possible.
Classical Deterministic Causality
At the dawn of modern science, these six questions were combined into two—predictions and explanations.
What is a prediction? It is the combination of three questions—What happened, where it happened, and when it happened. The where, when, and what was collectively called “prediction”. What is an explanation? It is the combination of three answers—How it happened, why it happened, and who participated in the events. The answer to “why” was a “force”. The answer to “who” was a “particle”. And the answer to “how” was a “trajectory”. Thus, there were two tiers of reality—an observational tier of events, places, and times, and an explanatory tier of particles, forces, and trajectories. The observational tier required empiricism and the explanatory tier required rationalism.
There was however a problem of philosophical indeterminism: The same observation could be explained in many ways, and we could never establish the necessity of one explanation over another. Many explanations could be called sufficient but neither was necessary.
However, this problem could be overlooked or disregarded by dissolving the difference between the observer and reality. This dissolution required us to equate the observer as one of the particles, situated in space and time, evolving according to a trajectory, pushed by forces exerted by other particles, with their experiences being described as the collision of particles. This merged the observational tier of events, places, and times into the explanatory tier of particles, forces, and trajectories. Space, time, events, particles, forces, and trajectories were all merged into a single description. This methodology also collapsed the distinction between the above-mentioned six questions.
Now, “what” happened fully determined “how” it happened because the events were merely points on a trajectory. Similarly, “why” it happened—i.e., why the force was exerted—fully determined the answer to “where” because force varied with locations in space. Since force varied with motion, therefore, “when” something happened fully determined the answers to “what” happened. In this way, a model of scientific description was constructed in which the answer to one question fully determined the answers to the other five questions.
The Collapse of Classical Causality
But, slowly, cracks begin to appear in this model. For example, if reality is a possibility, then space is a domain of possibilities, which is different from the space of observations or events. Now you cannot reduce reality to observation, or an observer to a space-time entity, because the observer experiences events while reality is just possibilities. All possibilities are not always observed as events.
Similarly, time is measured in classical physics by motion, and this time cannot be measured if events are discrete because then the idea of continuous motion collapses. What is happening, when events are not occurring? The classical view would say that time isn’t passing because there is no motion. But we cannot say that; we must insist that time passes even when nothing is happening. The result is that time has to be disconnected from the idea of events. It is now a cause that produces the event. Now, an event (what) is the manifestation of a possibility (that exists in a space of possibilities–where), caused by something called time (when). The simple idea that matter exists as a possibility thus separates what, where, and when. The question of predictions is no longer a single question; it is three separate questions.
Likewise, indeterminism reappears in science if the same event in the same place and time could be caused by a different particle, by the intersection of different trajectories, or due to different forces. This is just like saying that if I did not do something, then someone else could, in a different way, for alternative reasons. Even if what, when, and where are fixed by observation, the who, why, and how are not.
Indeterminism in science is simply the fact that there are six distinct questions, and fixing the answer to one doesn’t fix the answer to others. Determinism in science collapsed the six questions into one, whereas indeterminism in science separates these six questions.
The Problem of Contradictions
Some scientists still dream of a time when indeterminism did not exist, and they try to find a single theory in which all these six questions can be combined again as they were in classical physics. But this has proven to be impossible for rather unprecedented reasons.
If we try to combine six answers in a single theory, we get logical contradictions, rendering the theory self-contradictory. And if we separate these questions, then each theory is self-consistent, but it is also incomplete—it only answers one of the six questions. Atomic theory, for instance, can say what will happen, but don’t expect it to answer where, when, why, who, and how. Its predictions are just like saying “food will be cooked” but don’t ask who will cook it, where and when it will be cooked, how it will be cooked, and why it will be cooked.
We have two possible approaches to this problem. One, where we can say that we will one day find a complete description of reality in which six questions will be reduced to one and then answered completely without a contradiction. Two, where we can say that these six questions cannot be reconciled in any theory, and science will forever remain incomplete. Different people prefer different kinds of answers.
The View of Complementarity
There is also a third view in which there are six questions, and even as they cannot be reduced to a single question, they can co-exist as six complementary perspectives on reality. So, if you want an answer to one of the six questions, you shift into a certain type of perspective and get the answer to that specific question. But the answers you get from that perspective will not fully determine the answers to the other five questions. You will also not get the answers to all the six questions within a single perspective. To know something completely, you have to look at the same thing from six perspectives, each time obtaining an answer to one of the six questions. The six together are the full truth.
Complementarity doesn’t mean independence. While there are many how, when, where, who, and why of what happens, any random how, why, where, who, and why doesn’t answer what happens. So, there is some connection between the six questions. This connection appears as the probabilities of atomic theory. While we cannot accurately predict where, when, how, why, and who, we can say that certain things are more and less likely. The more or less likelihood of something happening becomes the probability of atomic theory predictions.
This problem can never be overcome in the classical deterministic sense because we cannot find a single description or perspective that will answer all the six questions. We have to rather find a description in which we need six different perspectives, to be used alternately.
The Fungibility of Six Perspectives
The six questions of what, where, when, how, who, and why is just an example of the six questions we can ask. If we take the complementarity view, then these are not necessarily the only possible perspectives. We can, in fact, construct any arbitrary six perspectives to describe reality.
For instance, in the book Six Causes, I presented these six perspectives as Personal, Material, Efficient, Instrumental, Systemic, and Formal causes. These six causes are a different set of six perspectives than those noted above. The first chapter in Six Causes provides the following illustration of this idea.
While these causes are distinct and perform different roles in the universe, they are not independent. They act concertedly with each other and this can be understood through a simple example. Consider a potter who shapes pots out of clay, by turning clay on the potter’s wheel. What are the causes responsible for creating the pot? First, there must be a potter. The presence of the potter is the personal cause of the pot; the pot comes about because there is a potter. A potter is an individual person and the existence of this person is the first cause of the pot. Second, the existence of the potter is not sufficient to create pots. The potter must act like a potter. That is why the actions for the creation of a pot are called efficient causes. Third, the potter needs instruments to create pots. The potter’s wheel on which the clay is turned is an instrumental cause of the pot because it plays a supporting role in the creation of the pot. Fourth, the potter must have the shape of the pot in mind to create the right kind of pot and so the formal cause determines the shape or form of the pot. Fifth, having instruments and acting with a purpose is insufficient without the matter on which these actions happen. The potter needs clay from which to create the pot, and clay is, therefore, the material cause of the pot. Sixth, the potter creates pots because he is rewarded and remunerated within an ecosystem of pot consumers, so the economic environment of purchasing pots is a systemic cause of the pot. A potter is both intrinsically motivated as well as forced by external and systemic circumstances to act towards pot creation.
This system of Six Causes elucidates the need for multiple perspectives in describing causality. But as this system of Six Causes is different from the foregoing example of who, where, what, when, why, and how, we must also note that there are multiple ways to conceive the six perspectives.
Once we realize that there are many such six perspectives on reality, then a revolution in philosophy occurs, which is that (a) there are numerous ways to describe reality, and (b) in order to be complete, they must describe it from six perspectives. The first conclusion leads us to the idea that there can be many different descriptions of reality, and the second conclusion obviates the apparent relativism arising from different perspectives—if you fix one perspective, then the alternatives in the other five are reduced too.
Six Systems of Philosophy
With that general background in mind, we can now understand the Six Systems of Vedic philosophy as yet another way of describing reality from six perspectives. Any curious onlooker naturally asks: Why should there be six systems? Why not just one? Or why not a hundred? The number six is not arbitrary. But it is one way to construct a complete philosophy of nature.
The Six Systems of Philosophy divide the reality into the following components—Object (Vedānta), Qualities (Sāñkhya), Activities (Yoga), Atomism (Vaiśeṣika), Logic (Nyāya) and Semantics (Mīmāṃsā). In fact, by putting these singular words against each system of philosophy, I am most likely committing the error of oversimplification because these philosophies certainly discuss other topics. However, this is necessary for two reasons. First, since no answer is ever complete unless it accounts for the other five perspectives, therefore, each system delving into other topics is inevitable—to create some completeness. Second, each aspect can itself be further divided into multiple other aspects.
Nevertheless, in these Six Systems, we can see a different way of describing reality than the examples I employed previously. The choice of dividing the whole truth into the above six perspectives is a choice that the Vedic tradition made collectively. It is not some random people who came up with some random ideas, formed some random groups, and produced a random tradition to say some random things. There is a precise system of six perspectives, although those were chosen collectively. The goal of my Six Systems of Vedic Philosophy project is to show how these perspectives form a coherent system. But a side effect of that project is the ability to see why six perspectives are necessary for completeness.
Jīvā Goswami’s Six Treatises
Jīvā Goswami, one of the six prominent disciples of Sri Chaitanya, who were tasked to create the philosophical texts pursuant to Gaudiya Vaishnavism, wrote six treatises known as the Six Sandarbha. These are Bhagavat Sandarbha (Transcendent Person), Paramātma Sandarbha (Immanent Person), Krishna Sandarbha (the Whole Truth), Tattva Sandarbha (the Whole-Part relationship), Bhakti Sandarbha (the process of attainment), and Prīti (the goal of the process). This is another set of six perspectives.
In my previous writing, I have presented a description in which reality is said to exist in three aspects called Brahman, Paramātma, and Bhagavan. Bhagavan is transcendent, Paramātma is immanent, and Brahman is the collection of everything. Brahman is everything; Bhagavan is One Thing. Paramātma is each thing.
We can think of this in terms of ordinary ideas such as a “mammal”. The idea mammal is transcendent; the idea mammal is immanent in each cow, dog, horse, etc. And the idea mammal is the collection of all the cows, dogs, horses, etc. Thus, Bhagavan is Supreme Being, Paramātma is the same Supreme Being inside everything. And Brahman is that Supreme Being expanded into everything such that everything is inside the Supreme Being as His part. Through the course of the evolution of Vedānta philosophy, there has been a shift in the presentation of what Brahman truly means. In Advaita philosophy, Brahman is an impersonal existence. In subsequent Vaishnava interpretations, Brahman is Lord Vishnu. And in Jīvā Goswami’s presentation, Brahman is Krishna. Brahman is everything. And Krishna is everything.
Then, if you are familiar with the three aspects of the soul, which are described as Sambandha, Abhidheya, and Prayojana, Tattva Sandarbha is about the relation or Sambandha, Bhakti Sandarbha is the Abhidheya or the cognition and conation, and Prīti Sandarbha is the emotional goal of life. These three are described as the three aspects of the soul—sat, chit, and ānanda—and I have presented them as three aspects of reality in many different forms (you can find more on these aspects here).
Thus, Jīvā Goswami’s philosophy presents the three aspects of the soul, and then three aspects combined into three types of souls—the Transcendent Truth, the Immanent Truth, and the Whole Truth. His presentation of the six aspects of reality is a different view on how to create six perspectives.
As a follower of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, I consider Jīvā Goswami’s presentation of these six aspects—i.e., three types of souls and three aspects of the soul—as the preeminent philosophy to employ in presenting Vedic philosophy in modern time. For example, all science and philosophy fall into the category of Tattva and their goal is to establish Sambandha—the relationship to God. They are not directly Abhidheya or Prayojana, or Bhakti and Prīti, but steps leading toward these two stages.
Veda Vyās’s Six Divisions of Vedas
Veda Vyās is credited to have classified and divided the Vedic knowledge into six aspects (the term Vyās means dividing and organizing). These six aspects are Samhita (Worship), Upaniśad (Philosophy), Purāṇa (Stories), Tantra (Worship), Itihāsa (Stories), and Darśana (Philosophy). There are two sets of texts devoted to three aspects—Philosophy, Worship, and Stories—one set that is mostly God-given and the other that is mostly created by advanced souls based on the God-given set. For example, Samhita is mostly worship prescribed by God, while Tantra is mostly worship presented by advanced souls. Upaniśads are God-given philosophies, and Darśanas are philosophies created by advanced souls. Purāṇa is mostly God-related pastimes whereas Itihāsas are mostly stories about advanced souls. (While Rāmāyana is considered an Itihāsa, it is not Veda Vyās’s composition, but of Vālmīkī; hence it presents the story of Lord Rāmachandra, but it is quite different from Mahabhārata composed by Veda Vyās which predominates in stories of the advanced souls, and the pastimes of Lord Krishna occur occasionally in that broader narration. Vālmīkī thus combined things in Rāmāyana that Veda Vyās separated in the Vedas).
Similarly, there is a parallel system of Six Vedāñga, called Vyākaraṇa (grammar), Nirukta (etymology), Chandha (prosody), Śhikśā (pronunciation), Kalpa (rituals), and Jyotiśa (time and place). Together, these six systems create a view of language in which there are atoms of meaning (Nirukta), combined into sentences by grammar (Vyākaraṇa), composed in a poetic form for memorization (Chandha), to be pronounced in a specific manner (Śhikśā) so that language can be employed for performing rituals and sacrifices (Kalpa) at appointed places and times (Jyotiśa). These six systems of Vedāñga comprise the aspects or perspectives on what Vedas mean by “language”.
An important side effect of this understanding is that Vedic cosmology or what we call Jyotiśa cannot be separated from the other five aspects dealing with etymology, prosody, pronunciation, grammar, and ritual. If we make that separation, then we don’t understand what Jyotisha is. Most people may find it strange that cosmology has a connection to language, but the Vedic tradition has studied Jyotiśa as a part of linguistic performances. Mystic Universe, therefore, upholds this principle and includes a chapter on “The Theory of Language”. This connection has to be upheld from the beginning in understanding that all places in the universe are different representations of meaning. The space of the universe is a domain of varied linguistic propositions because reality is itself text.
Many Possible Six-Way Constructions
The above are samples of how the six-way philosophizing system works. There are numerous such systems of philosophy that present reality through six perspectives and they are not the only possible systems. For instance, we can divide modern technical education into six areas—Logical Sciences, Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, Mind Sciences, Social Sciences, and Philosophy—because most people today are comfortable with this way of looking at things.
The problem in this division of knowledge into six perspectives is that people tend to separate these six areas from each other. For example, physical science cannot be about the study of meanings because meaning only exists in mind sciences. Matter cannot make choices because choices are only studied in life sciences. Society cannot be a living organism because social sciences are not life sciences. Logic and mathematics cannot be applied to the study of the mind because that is the domain of meaning and not of mathematics. And philosophy has nothing to say about anything other than some transcendent questions which are by definition outside the scope of every science.
The philosophy of six perspectives tells us there are indeed six different perspectives, but they are not independent. We cannot construct a theory of atoms unless we treat atoms as symbols of meaning. We cannot have a perfect understanding of logic and mathematics unless numbers can represent meanings. We cannot have a theory of material causality unless we take into account conscious choices. We cannot construct a social theory unless we understand the interconnected nature of a living organism. And we cannot formulate any theory without realizing its purpose and moral implications, because these philosophical questions underpin why we want to know anything.
Thus, when we look at the modern world through six perspectives, the problem is not the perspectives but their supposed independence. We can teach perfect knowledge through a system of six perspectives—Logical Sciences, Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, Mind Sciences, Social Sciences, and Philosophy—in a new way by breaking that independence. And that description of reality through six perspectives can be quite different from the types of six perspectives traditionally employed in Vedic philosophy. (This, by the way, is how I think of Shabda Academy, as the means to bring Vedic knowledge through modern fields of knowledge by acknowledging their usefulness, but breaking their supposed independence.) We did not create this system of six perspectives, but we can adapt to this perspective system.
That adaptation would constitute yet another method of presenting the Vedic system of philosophy, although in a way that people today can understand. Those who understand Vedic philosophy deeply can also transform the philosophy into yet another system of six complementary perspectives. This would also constitute a “scientific presentation of the Vedas”, although through a modern scheme.
Absolute Truth and Perspectives
There is an overarching philosophy that underlies this way of thinking, which is that there is an Absolute Truth but it can be described through infinite systems of six perspectives. Each individual can have a different way of understanding, describing, presenting, and explicating that Absolute Truth. All these descriptions are various “branches” of the Absolute Truth in which the same reality is presented using different words and schemes, but these are not contradictory to the other perspectives.
There is hence radical freedom in knowing the truth, although the truth itself is fixed. God is a person in the sense that there is a certain way that He views Himself. But that is just one of the infinite views! Similarly, each soul can be perfect in the sense that it can view God through one of the many established perspectives—the “branches” established by Achāryas—or, even create a new perspective. The only criterion is that there must be six complementary perspectives that describe the Whole Truth. This “relativism” in the understanding of the Absolute Truth constitutes free will. It doesn’t mean arbitrary conceptions. But it means multiple perfect understandings of reality.
This radical philosophy of Absolute Truth and infinite perspectives constitutes the Vedic system. In one sense, there is only one system. In another sense, there are many different presentations of the same truth through six perspectives. These include the system of Veda Vyās (Samhita, Upaniśad, Purāna, Tantra, Itihāsa, and Darśana), the Six Darśana (Vedānta, Sāñkhya, Yoga, Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika, and Mīmāṃsā), Jīvā Goswami’s Six Sandarbha (Bhāgavat, Paramātma, Krishna, Tattva, Bhakti, and Prīti), and the study of reality as language in six aspects (Vyākaraṇa, Nirukta, Chandha, Shikśā, Kalpa, and Jyotiśa). Even God is presented as a composite of six aspects called Knowledge, Beauty, Renunciation, Wealth, Power, and Heroism. Hence, it would not be unfair to say that what we call the “Vedic system” is actually many systems of six perspectives.
The same system of six perspectives can also be presented differently as six questions (What, Who, Why, Where, When, and How), a collection of Six Causes (e.g., Personal, Material, Efficient, Instrumental, Systemic, and Formal), or a description in terms of six sciences—Logical Science, Physical Science, Life Science, Mind Science, Social Science, and Philosophy.
The soul lives eternally. What are we going to do for eternity? If truth is fixed, static, or eternal, then life would be infinitely boring and painful. But it is not. That’s because there are infinite ways to know the Absolute Truth. The Absolute Truth interacts with the different parts because each part brings a new perspective. That is a way for the Absolute Truth to discover something new. By looking at things from a new perspective, He sees things that always existed but were never highlighted. Eternal life is thus not scary because there is a continuous novelty. And temporary life need not mean something false—it can also mean the same eternal Absolute Truth.