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A law is defined as things that could or could not happen, should or should not happen, and would or would not happen. The limitation of could and could not depends on a person’s ability; a more capable person can do more things and a less capable person cannot do those things. The limitation of should and should not depends on a person’s morality; morality entails that we should and should not do certain things; immorality entails that we would do what we should not do and we would not do what we should do. The limitation of would and would not depends on a person’s will; based on will, a person would and would not do certain things. The three aspects of should, could, and would are three aspects of a person, and called sat, chit, and ānanda. Thus, what we call the “laws of nature” depend on a person’s moralities, a person’s abilities, and a person’s desires. There is simply no inviolable law. These inviolable laws have been conceived in Western religions and sciences to depersonalize and impersonalize nature.

Laws of Modern Science

Modern science conceives two kinds of laws, based on could and could not, would and would not. An example of the laws of could and could not is conservation laws. For example, the law of conservation of energy is that energy could take many forms (e.g., kinetic energy, thermal energy, potential energy, etc.) but the total energy could not increase or decrease. The law of conservation of momentum says that the momentum could be distributed into many particles, but it could not increase or decrease. Then, there are predictive laws, such as Newton’s three laws of motion, which predict how a particle would move and not move. Based on these two types of laws, modern science predicts order in nature.

As science progresses, additional conservation and prediction laws are postulated. For example, there is a law of conservation of charge, due to which the total charge could not increase or decrease, however, it could be redistributed into many particles. Similarly, Maxwell’s laws of electrodynamics predict how the charged particles would and would not move. These laws are used to make predictions about electromagnetic waves too, which are essentially chargeless particles but still deterministic. Once such prediction of Maxwell’s laws of electrodynamics is that an electromagnetic wave has a constant speed. This speed incidentally turned out to be identical to the measured speed of light, which is why science leaped to the conclusion that light must be an electromagnetic wave. It is one of those happy coincidences where electricity, magnetism, and light were explained by the same theory.

Experiments are conducted to validate these laws. Then, if the experimenter finds that certain things repeatedly happen as they are predicted and constrained by laws, then nature must be governed by laws. How mathematics governs nature, however, has never been understood in science. Eugene Wigner called this the “Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences”. This problem cuts to the core of what we mean by law, but nobody wants to discuss that.

Laws of Modern Society

A problem, however, arises in discussing the laws of society, because they clearly could be violated and would be violated unless there was punishment. Therefore, the laws of society are framed as things that should and should not be done. However, since someone can violate these laws, therefore, they are not absolutistic like the purported laws of natural sciences. Generally, violation of laws entails a punishment, although, with immorality and corruption, it is not certain that punishment would or would not be given.

Then, there is a discussion about how much punishment could or could not be given. For example, do certain crimes merit capital punishment? Then, if some punishment could be given, what are the ranges within which the punishment could or could not be given? For example, could a juvenile be sent to prison for a long time? Could a repeated offender be sent to prison for the entire lifetime?

Governments in society debate what could or could not be done. Then, the judge, lawyers, and jury decide what should and should not be done. However, due to corruption and immorality, it is not certain if it would or would not be done. Thus, we could discuss the moral character of a society, government, lawyers, judges, etc. because something that should be done and could be done would not be done, or something that should not be done would be done just because it could be done.

Natural Laws vs. Social Laws

In contrast, the issue of should and should not doesn’t arise with regard to natural laws. Thereby, what would and would not happen is also supposed to be fixed. Nature now becomes impersonal and amoral.

These impersonal and amoral laws of nature, however, don’t explain all that would or would not happen. Many things that happen are not predicted by these laws, and many things predicted by the laws don’t happen. When such exceptions to laws are found, the scientist says: We will limit these laws to domains where they are found to work, and not apply them to domains where they don’t work.

This restriction of the application of laws to domains is should and should not introduced by the scientist: We should apply the laws to a certain domain, and should not apply them to other domains. Of course, you could apply them to other domains, but after many failures, you would not. The scientist thus makes a moral judgment about which laws should and should not be applied to which situations, but keeps that judgment out of natural laws or science. Thereby, scientists talk about right and wrong theories, good and bad science, however, those judgments will never enter science itself.

The result of these problems is that that could and could not, would and would not laws of nature become highly arbitrary. Scientists keep inventing new laws, and outdating older laws, as problems arise. Likewise, the discussion of what could or could not happen, or should or should not happen in a society, is highly arbitrary. Politicians keep inventing new laws, and outdating older laws, as problems arise. Finally, due to immorality and corruption, whether those laws would or would not be applied is uncertain. Social laws are arbitrary both because they are different in different societies, nations, or cultures, but also because they are not certain to be applied due to immorality and corruption.

Vedic Philosophy Rejects All Laws

In Vedic philosophy, nature is not working due to laws. It is rather working due to persons. These persons have different abilities, personalities, and duties. The abilities determine what they could or could not do; their duties decide what they should or should not do; and their personality decides what they would or would not do. By this, everything in nature is personal, rather than impersonal.

Whatever we call “laws” are subsumed into dharma which is then defined in three ways: What a person could or could not do, what he should or should not do, and what he would or would not do. Nature thereby is segmented into many departments with their department heads, who are assigned different duties, based on their personality and ability. Each department is ruled by higher departments.

For example, there is a department called Agni, governed by a demigod called Agni, who has (a) the ability to control fire, (b) the duty to control fire, and (c) the desire to control fire. There is a department called Varuṇa, governed by the demigod called Varuṇa, who has (a) the ability to control water, (b) the duty to control water, and (c) the desire to control water. Nature has regularity because the demigod is given a job that he can do, wants to do, and has the duty to do. Since the demigod is capable, therefore, he is powerful. Since he wants to do that kind of work, therefore, he enjoys life by working in a certain way. And because he is duty-bound to do it, he doesn’t stop working, obligated by moral commitments.

Regularity doesn’t mean inviolable laws. There are several exceptional scenarios where this natural regularity disappears. For example, when Lord Kṛṣṇa danced with the gopis on Sharada Pūrnima, Chandra (the presiding deity of the moon) stopped in his place to watch the beautiful dance. Then, when Hiraṇyakaśīpū tried to burn Prahalāda, Agni (the presiding deity of fire) stopped working selectively on Prahalāda. Then, when Lord Ramachandra ordered the construction of a bridge over the ocean, the presiding deity of the ocean (a servant of Varuṇa) stopped working selectively on the stones. At the beginning of the Surya Siddhānta, Vivaswān (the presiding deity of the sun) says that he has to perform his duty of going around in his orbit, and therefore, he doesn’t have a lot of time to teach. Nevertheless, he pauses for a short while in his orbit just to teach the science of the planets. When the residents of Vraja stopped worshipping Indra on the advice or Kṛṣṇa, he flooded Vraja out of anger. Thus, rain, sunshine, wind, water, fire, and everything else in nature, is controlled by demigods.

The Common Principle of Dharma

The above examples are not the only ones. Vedic texts are replete with such examples, which show that nature is controlled by demigods, not by mathematical laws. Nature works regularly because demigods perform duties regularly. Therefore, regularity is due to duty. If a duty is not performed, then, the higher-level demigod either removes the demigod from his position or is punished in some other way. This is just the same way in which duty performance in a society is responsible for observed regularities: Trains run on time, airplanes fly on time, bills have to be paid on time. Similarly, if a human neglects his duties, then the ruler is supposed to remove the person from society or punish him in some other way. If the sinner escapes for some reason, he is punished by demigods in future life.

Thereby, there is no distinction between social laws and natural laws. They are both dharma. The social laws are enforced—to the best of their ability—by pious and moral rulers on earth. The natural laws are enforced by a hierarchy of demigods, ensuring that the lower-level demigods do their job. Ultimately, everything is working under the supervision of Lord Viṣṇu who appoints moral rulers—e.g., Brahma—and teaches him about the nature of duty. Brahma then teaches his numerous disciples about duty, who then propagate the performance of duty to others. In human society, this knowledge was formerly transmitted by Brahmanas who described both natural and social laws simply as dharma.

Thereby, nature’s working was personalized, human society was personalized, and each person was understood in terms of their ability, personality, and assigned duties according to those things. Everyone was not doing everything since they did not have the ability, did not want to do such things, or would make mistakes in duty performance, which would then worsen their life in the future. Restricting people to certain roles and duties in society was therefore an act of compassion, not one of oppression.

Misunderstanding Science and Religion

There is no word like “religion” in Vedic philosophy. Rather, the words are dharma and sanātana-dharma. The word dharma is science, but that science covers natural laws, social laws, karma and reincarnation (which include many species of life and hence mind and body), higher places in the universe that control the lower places, and how they are controlled by Lord Viṣṇu. Then, sanātana-dharma pertains to the other world, where a soul has an eternal body, relationships, and love. One could call this “religion” but it is also a science based on the same principles as dharma. The difference is that dharma changes with every life and sanātana-dharma remains eternal because life is eternal.

If there is any difference, then it is a difference between temporary life and eternal life. Eternal life is not static life; eternal life means body, relationships, and love are eternal. Within this eternity, the activities are performed, but those activities don’t change the body, relationship, or love. Material activities, however, change our bodies, relationships, and love. Therefore, if we understand what causes a change to the body, relationship, and love, then we automatically know what will not cause such changes. Thereby, the study of dharma is neither identical to that of sanātana dharma nor totally separate from it.

Basically, the words “science” and “religion” don’t exist in Vedic philosophy. The words are dharma and sanātana-dharma. Both are science, both are religion, both are rational, both are devotional, both involve soul, nature, God, both involve space, time, and causality, both are based on the nature of consciousness, namely, sat, chit, and ānanda. The difference is simply that in dharma, actions cause changes to the body, relationship, and love while in sanātana-dharma actions don’t cause changes.

Motion vs. Change

Spiritual life involves a lot of motion—dancing, eating, playing, etc.—quite like material life. However, in material life, every motion also causes a change. Conversely, in spiritual life, motion does not cause a change.

This distinction between motion and change is described by Lord Kṛṣṇa in Bhagavad-Gita. Change means consciousness moving from one body to another, and motion means consciousness attaching and detaching to different parts of the body. For example, every day everyone gets a hungry body; the change from a satisfied body to a hungry body is the change of body. Then, we have the option of focusing or defocusing from hunger, which is the motion of the consciousness in the body. Likewise, the world around us is evolving, and we have the option to focus or defocus from this change; the evolution of the world is change and the change in the focus of consciousness is motion.

Both motion and change are associated with consciousness. The initial practice of yoga is meant to stop the motion and change. Over time, it is meant to develop a motion without a change. By stopping the motion, we stop focusing on worldly changes and things. And by stopping the change, we stop evolving from one body, relationship, and love to another.

In the material world, change can exist without motion, however, motion cannot exist without change. For example, the body can get hungry, but we don’t have to focus on it. This is change without motion. However, if there is motion—e.g., observing, eating, playing—then there is always change, namely, that the mind gains ideas, the body feels full, or body gets tired. Hence, to stop change, we have to stop motion—in the material world. In the spiritual world, there is motion—perception, cognition, emotion, play, eating, talking, etc.—however, there is no change.

Therefore, there are multiple scenarios for science: (1) change with motion, (2) change without motion, (3) no motion and no change, (4) motion without change. The first is ordinary life—you eat and your body changes. The second is yoga practice—you defocus from the world, but the world changes without you. The third is yoga perfection—by stopping your consciousness, you stop bodily changes such as hunger and thirst. The fourth is spiritual perfection—you keep moving, without getting tired. Out of these four, the first three can be included in dharma and the last one is sanātana-dharma.

The Laws of Dharma

Once we understand these principles of motion and change, then there is a simple question: Which type of motion of consciousness leads to which type of change of body? Likewise, the question is: What type of motion of consciousness stops the changes to the body?

Factually, even the changing body is a moving consciousness, but it is forced by the evolution of matter. However, the movement of consciousness is its free will. Thus, in the material world, we can say that change is governed by natural laws, and motion is the soul’s free will. That change is always caused by some motion of consciousness. Thereby, there are motions that lead to change, and motions that do not lead to change. The former is dharma and the latter is sanātana-dharma. Both of these are rational and logical sciences.

All motions of consciousness are judged by nature and these judgments are recorded in the chitta. These judgments take three forms—could, would, and should. The could judgment becomes our ability—as we do something over and over, we get better at doing it; practice makes perfect. The would judgment becomes our habit—as we do something once, we are more likely to do it again; actions are repeated due to habituation. And the should judgment becomes karma—it changes the kind of situation we will be placed under, what we will get from that situation, etc. Once the could, should, and would judgments are created in the chitta, time automatically produces bodily changes. We cannot control those bodily changes unless we purify the chitta. But we can still stop the motion of consciousness—i.e., withdraw from those bodily changes, worldly situations, emotional impulses.

Therefore, law means judgment, which takes three forms—could, would, and should—which makes us more or less capable, puts us in different situations in life, and creates a material personality of likes and dislikes. If consciousness has moved, then the judgment is automatically produced by the demigods. However, since consciousness can stop moving, therefore, these laws are not inviolable, because they are simply judgments of the motion of consciousness. Then, there are motions of consciousness that are never judged, which means our ability, situation in life, and personality remain unchanged or eternal.

Judge, Jury, and Judgment

Lord Viṣṇu is the judge. The demigods are juries. The juries pass the judgment. And the judge simply supervises the process and approves the judgment. The judgment is three-fold—could, should, and would. Once this judgment is created, the rest of the process is automated as time and material energy. This means that once the judgment is passed, the reward or punishment is automatically fixed. You will automatically get a less or more capable body, that body will automatically be placed in a favorable or unfavorable situation, and the body will have its natural proclivities, impulses, likes, and dislikes. We cannot stop these things, but we can withdraw from these things because we don’t control the changes to the body, although we control the motion of consciousness. Change vs. motion is paramount.

Now, if we like, we can impersonalize the actions of the judge and juries and call it a law of nature. However, these laws are not inviolable, because they are judgments of personalities. Those juries are not impersonal computational machines. They are persons, they can be influenced, and they can judge you harshly or gently; they can reward you with greater or lesser punishments and rewards. Does that mean they are corrupt, immoral, or biased? No, they are not. But it also doesn’t mean they are impersonal. In rare cases, when the judge sees that a particular jury member is not doing his job properly, he removes the jury member. The judge can even sack the entire jury and appoint a new one. That is again based on the judgment of the judge, who judges the jury on their performance, who then judge the ordinary mortals on their actions. Therefore, there is nothing called an inviolable law.

It is always the decision of a person, who is a capable, dutiful, and fair person, but still a person. We can understand this system of personalities and how they typically judge, and that could be called a law. It will never be an inviolable law, but it can be depersonalized and impersonalized to a great extent. Since the law is always a judgment, therefore, there is always a person being judged based on their choices. If we remove these conscious persons, then there is no law. Hence, order exists in nature because there exists a judge, juries, judgments, plaintiffs, defenders, and machinery to execute the judgments.

The judge is above the law; he creates the law. The juries are duty-bound by the judge’s laws, and the ordinary mortals are duty-bound by the judgments and decisions of the jury and the machinery of executing the judgments. Therefore, the judge can unilaterally pardon anyone if he likes. Thereby, Lord Viṣṇu, as the judge, can liberate any soul if He so likes. For the most part, He doesn’t do such things.

Variability of Judgments Across Societies

Since the judicial system is not impersonal, therefore, the persons judging ordinary mortals always take into account their peculiar situation, constraints, disabilities, good or bad intentions, the history that might compel them into certain types of actions, etc. The entire spiritual, mental, bodily, and social situation is taken into account to pass a judgment. Thereby, there can be harsh judgments for those who violate duties despite being born in a good society, to good parents, imparted with proper knowledge, and so on. Likewise, there can be lenient judgments for people in societies dominated by a bad situation, ignorance, etc. This means that the laws of dharma are not uniform for everyone. A person in a different social stratum, different society, and a different situation is judged differently.

Thereby, Vedic texts accept that there can be many systems of dharma, which are prevalent as different “religious doctrines”. For example, in some religions, a man can take only one wife, in some religions a man can take four wives, and in some religions, a man can take unlimited wives. Likewise, in some religions property will be inherited by both male and female children, in another religion only by male children, and in yet another religion, only by female children. Then, in some religions divorces are allowed easily, in other religions they are allowed with difficulty, and in yet other religions they are totally forbidden. In some religions, money can be borrowed and lent for profit, in other religions lending and borrowing can be done without profit, and in yet others, there should only be charity and no lending or borrowing. In some religions, theft would require cutting off the hands, while in other religions it will merit imprisonment, while in yet other religions it will warrant banishment. In this way, based on the culture, nature, and differences of societies, there can be many systems of dharma.

However, there is only one sanātana-dharma, only one theology, only one understanding of how the universe works, only one science of the soul and its transmigration from body to body, time and space, the process of motion vs. change, the methodology of judge, juries, judgments, plaintiffs, and defendants. These things are not arbitrary or socially and culturally adjustable. The adjustment is simply in what constitutes a person’s duty in a society, how they must act in relation to others, and how to live peacefully.

Approaching God Through Any Religion

Great Acharyas have therefore always said: You can approach God through any religion. What does it mean? It means any system of dharma, such as marriage laws, inheritance laws, lending and borrowing laws, what kind of punishments are meted out for what types of crimes, and so on. It doesn’t mean an endorsement of arbitrary ideas about the universe, theology or the science of God, the science of the soul, the process of judgment by demigods, the structure of the universe, or whimsical acceptance and rejection of karma and reincarnation. It simply means that varied types of dharma systems are possible within the framework of the above scientific principles because the judge and juries are prepared to accommodate variety. Hence, don’t try to enforce your morality and social ideologies on others, but you are free to practice your morality and social ideologies within the boundaries of your society.

This permission to practice your dharma is translated in English as “freedom to practice your religion” which is then falsely equated to their theology, the nature of the soul, and all other scientific principles of how nature works, whereby everything becomes completely whimsical, unscientific, and irrational. The root of the problem is that the Acharyas are talking about dharma, but there is no word for it in English or other Western languages. So, they use the next-best word called “religion”. But that word mixes so many other things including their varied conceptions of God and soul, acceptance or rejection of karma and reincarnation, acceptance or rejection of the system of demigods, their personal ideas about the structure of the universe, and interprets the freedom to practice your religion as the freedom to concoct even the scientific aspects of nature, soul, God, the system of judgments, the structure of the cosmos, as part of your religion.

Then, if we criticize a religion’s bad ideas, which are specifically focused on the scientific aspects, people might say: You are not respecting other religions, you are being sectarian, intolerant, and fanatic, thereby ignoring or condemning what the Acharyas have stated previously. This is a misrepresentation of what Acharyas have said, why they have said it based on Vedic philosophy, and what it means.

There are indeed universal scientific principles regarding God, nature, soul, transmigration, and karma. There is indeed an objective cosmology, populated by demigods who judge others. However, these personalities allow for cultural, social, historical, and situational differences. As a result, along with universalism, there is also contextualization. Then, these personalities allow for differences in a person’s particular situation, abilities, desires, etc. And based on that there is individualism too. The judge, juries, and judgments are based on the incorporation of the universal, contextual, and individual. It is not radical individualism, radical contextualization, or universalization of the contextual truth.

Peace Through Scientific Knowledge

Overcoming all these misconceptions requires us to understand dharma and sanātana-dharma, and disconnect them from mundane ideas of religion and science, their flawed ideas of impersonal laws, inviolable laws, changing laws, mathematical laws, conservation laws, predictive laws, social laws, etc. There is simply no law. There is just one Supreme Person, who appoints other persons to judge yet other persons, who are kind, compassionate, and accommodative of social, cultural, and historical differences. Thereby, we can accommodate many systems of dharma within a scientific understanding.

We can stop these unnecessary wars, exclusivism, supremacist ideas based on race and region. Everyone can learn science, use it to realize the nature of the soul, understand the nature of God, and yet, live in a society governed by different cultures, norms, histories, and social preferences. The scientific aspects are invariable, but the social, cultural, political, and historical aspects are variable.

If, however, we reject the science—e.g., by rejecting demigods, karma, and reincarnation, the judgments of could, should, and would, the machinery that executes these judgments—then we enter ignorance, whereby there are clashes between religion and religion, between science and religion, between religion and social, cultural, and historical norms, just to universalize one flawed idea over another.