Thursday, March 18, 2010

Concept of Consciousness in Advaita Vedanta and Modern Science
(With Special Reference to Brahmakumaris Philosophy)

Presented paper on 18th International Congress of Vedanta, held at University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, MA, USA (16th-19th July 2009).


Introduction :

Philosophy, Modern Science and Spirituality – a compact trinity of the most elevated dimensions of knowledge can definitely explore the real nature of any physical or non-physical entity in this universe and can also give an integrated vision of truth and an integrated personality by which one can achieve perfection in every milieu of the activity.

The object of Science is to know the nature of reality in physical realm. All the scientific explorations aim at discovering certain secrets behind the forces and phenomena of Nature and understanding the laws underlying them. Similarly, Philosophy explores both the realities, mundane and transcendental; but all the established philosophical systems e.g. Advaita Vedānta, Sāmkhya, Nyāya etc. impart explanations on these two realities with their own methods of logic to justify them.

Here in the present paper, endeavours have been made to throw some light on the spiritual perspective of Brahmākumārīs. Spiritual Wisdom which promotes spirituality has the power to synthesize all branches of knowledge integrated into one undifferentiated whole; because it is so logical as to gain support from scientific and philosophical methods of exploration. It gives a comprehensive and clear world-view that verily inspires and unites mankind to a higher level of consciousness and a way of life enriched with the divine qualities. It has the sound blend of knowledge of both mundane and transcendental realities. Brahmākumārīs, an international spirituo-educational institution, shows a special paradigm of spiritual wisdom for all the humanity towards acquiring its culmination. Brahmākumār Jagdish Chander, Chief Spokesperson of this spiritual organization, tries to establish an essence of the true nature of the subject-matter in metaphysics through applying proper logic as well as scientific and philosophical techniques.

Attempts have been made in the present paper to focus on the views of Advaita Vedāntins, Modern Scientists, Physicists and Brahmākumārīs to provide a deep insight into the nature of Consciousness i.e. the Primary Reality.

Advaita Vedāntic View :

Advaita Vedānta is considered as the culmination-point among all the Indian philosophical systems. Referring to the Upanişadic statements, the founder of this Vedāntic school Ādi Śańkarācārya and his followers like Swāmī Vivekānanda have lucidly elucidated on the concept of Consciousness or Self. According to Śańkarācārya, Ātman or Brahman (Transcendental Self) has the nature of undifferentiated consciousness. Ātman is eternal, self-luminous, universal consciousness which shines by its own light and it reveals Jiva (Empirical Self) and all the objects which cannot reveal themselves. It is devoid of enjoying nature (bhoktŗtva) and activity (kartŗtva); but it appears to be an enjoying and active agent owing to its limiting adjuncts. Ever-liberated Ātman is beyond space, time and causality which is non-dual and one (ekamevādvitīyam). The Absolute, Transcendental Supreme Self is the foundation of the empirical universe and the Supreme, infinite Brahman is the essence of Ātman.

Jīva is the Ātman limited or individuated by the adjuncts of the body, the sense-organs, manas, buddhi and ahamkāra. It is the psycho-physical organism. Ātman, the Supreme Self, is one; but it appears to be many individual selves (Jīva) owing to its limiting adjuncts (upādhi). The internal organ (antah-karaņa) is the adjunct of the Ātman and it takes the forms of manas, buddhi, vijñāna and citta. Thus the internal organ in its four-fold form is the individuating principle of the Jīva. Ātman is the transcendental and universal self, while Jīva is the empirical and individual self. Jīva is neither a part nor a modification of the Ātman but it is only its appearance. The adjuncts as body, sense-organs, manas, buddhi and the like are creations of avidyā (ātma-māyā-visarjita) which are not real in nature. Jīva is an imaginary construction of the adjunct of buddhi that has no existence apart from buddhi which is the individuating principle and with the destruction of the psycho-physical organism, Jīva, the individual self, merges in Ātman, the supreme self. The pure consciousness or Brahman is the irrelative, formless, supreme reality that manifests itself in various forms (eko’ham bahu syāma) and the whole universe is its apparent transformation.

Refuting the analogy or example of space occupied by jars and the great space with souls and Brahman respectively, given by Śańkarācārya, Brahmākumār Jagdish states that Souls (Jīva) are conscient beings and have individual samskāra and with the destruction of their respective bodies, they cannot merge into the Supreme Soul who is perfect and omniscient. In fact, the souls can never be as perfect as God; for, if they could, they would not have an occasion to remain in illusion or be in a state of ignorance. It should be remembered that the happiness of one soul affects others. A man’s happy state affects even plants – it has been proved. So, in no way, the analogy of the space of jars etc. suits the typical case of God and souls, of which the former is a perfect conscient being and the latter are under illusion (Māyā or avidyā) and are, therefore, affected and are imperfect and vary even among themselves.

Modern Advaita Vedāntī, Swāmī Vivekānanda gives his view regarding this matter : “According to the Advaitins proper, the followers of Śańkarācārya, the whole universe is the apparent evolution of Brahman. Brahman is the material cause of the universe; but not really, only apparently. The celebrated illustration used is that of the rope and the snake, where the rope appears to be the snake; but was not really so…Even so, the whole universe, as it exists, is that Being. It is unchanged and all the changes we see in it are only apparent. These changes are caused by Deśa, Kāla and Nimitta or according to a higher psychological generalization, by Nāma and Rūpa.”

Again he says : “Modern science has really made the foundations of religion strong… What the metaphysicians call ‘being’, the physicists call ‘matter’; but there is no real fight between the two; both are one. Though an atom is invisible, unthinkable, yet in it are the real power and potency of the universe. That is what the Vedāntist says of Ātman.”

Criticizing the above-mentioned view of Swāmī Vivekānanda, B.K. Jagdish logically renders his statement : " The Monists are not able to explain how God or Brahman totally gave up its divinity, Knowledge or Consciousness. How the immutable became mutable? Since the Monists cannot say that God is mutable, therefore, they say that the transformation is not real, but is only apparent. But, in the case of the forces of Nature or Matter, the scientists say that the transformation is real or factual; it is not apparent or illusory. So the analogy of the snake and the rope is not befitting and the attempt at unification of God, souls and matter is only arbitrary. The parallel of the unified-field theory, cited as an analogy by the Monists is only a contrived one and, in fact, goes against them."

"There is no denying the fact that the things of the world are transitory or momentary. They are changing every moment. But this change is factual and real and this momentary existence also, for that moment, is real. There are so many sub-atomic particles and even if we thought that one of these kinds, say the Quarks, are the ultimate or original form of energy, we know that even that is momentary. But it does not mean that it has only illusory existence or that it does not exist. Moreover, even the Quarks, or whatever be the ultimate or original form of Matter or Nature, are not conscious. So we cannot say that 'the Being' and 'the Matter' are the same. Certainly, we cannot."

Modern Scientists’ Views :

In the light of Modern Science, especially in physiology, it is described that Consciousness and Body are two different entities where the Body changes (because every seven years old cells are replaced by new ones), grows or decays with age; but Consciousness maintains its identity and continuity. If a person be considered as a mere body including brain, the fact of his continuous identity and continuous consciousness cannot be explained.

B.K. Jagdish gives stress on these two realities by saying – The body may get exhausted of physical energy where as the Mind or Consciousness may feel inexhaustibleness of physical, metaphysical or spiritual energy and may, in fact, grow with the years. While the body ages with years, the Mind gets only wiser or more experienced. The heart, which is a part of the body, may grow weaker with age; but the Consciousness or Mind may grow in its power to love or hate. Thus the two are different entities whereas the body is cellular and molecular, i.e. physical and is subject to law of chemistry and physics and physiology. The Mind, Consciousness or Soul is psychic, spiritual or metaphysical.

Many eminent scientists and physicists such as Max Planck, Eugene Wigner, Fritjof Capra and Erwin Schroedinger have thrown much light on this Consciousness in different angles.

(i) Max Planck has said : “Consciousness, I regard as fundamental. I regard Matter as derivative of Consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing postulates consciousness.”

The sentence “Matter is derivative of Consciousness”, can be interpreted that both matter and consciousness are non-different, i.e. both are two sides of the same coin. But B.K Jagdish declares that the existence of all the things is known only because of the existence of consciousness. So consciousness is a fundamental reality.

(ii) Nobel physicist Wigner says : “There are two kinds of reality or existence – the existence of my consciousness and the reality of existence of everything else. This later is not absolute, but only relative. Excepting immediate sensations, the content of my consciousness, everything else is a construct.”

Through the Principle of Indeterminacy, Heisenberg finally stated that while observing quantum particles, uncertainty or indeterminacy would always remain and it cannot be eliminated. Einstein, who didn’t believe in this uncertainty principle, said that there must be a ‘hidden variable’ somewhere which is responsible for this uncertainty. In 1961, Wigner gave his statement that it is the Consciousness of the observing scientists which is itself the hidden variable. He asserted that it is impossible to give an accurate and certain description of quantum processes “without explicit reference to consciousness”.

B.K. Jagdish’s comment on this above statement : If Wigner meant that the consciousness of the observer is a material energy which affects the observed particles, he would be wrong; because consciousness is not a form of material energy. Consciousness of the observing scientist most probably affects the quantum particles, but in another way. Consciousness or Thought (which is one form of manifestation of consciousness) itself is non-physical or non-material, but it works through brain. Its own field interacts with the electro-magnetic field of the brain waves at a very subtle level, perhaps, at the level of photons. It is those brain’s waves whose voltage can be measured and field can be determined that affect the quantum particles.

Therefore Matter and Consciousness interact and influence each other; but they are not convertible into each other.

(iii) David Bohm has used the concept of ‘Holon’ in his theory of matter where he called it ‘An implicate order’. The scientists have felt that the inclusion of consciousness as a factor in determining external reality, as Geoffrey Chew has suggested, is an indispensable necessity. Famous scientist Fritjof Capra has asserted that Consciousness is an essential feature of David Bohm’s Holon Theory, according to which the movement of one single particle is connected with the movement of the entire universe.

B.K Jagdish puts his statement : If all these assertions mean that it is necessary to understand that beside Matter, Consciousness also exists as a primary reality and in order to understand the universe, it is essential to understand Consciousness also, then that also is alright. But, if by making the above statements, one means to say that Consciousness and Matter are inter-convertible or that souls and matter are one and the same entity, one changeable into the other, even as the Monists say, then their these assertions are without any foundations. They are mere assumption, unsupported by logic or science.

(iv) Erwin Schroedinger has also given the argument or statement on the concept of consciousness. He contends : “Consciousness is never experienced in the plural, only in the singular… How does the idea of plurality so emphatically opposed by the Upanishadic writers arise at all?... Consciousness finds itself intimately connected with and dependent on the physical state of a limited region of matter - the body… The only possible alternative is simply to keep the immediate experience that consciousness is a singular of which that plural is unknown, that there is only one thing and that, what seems to be a plurality, is merely a series of different aspects of this one thing produced by a deception (Indian Māyā). Similar view has also been seen in the 4th chapter of his book ‘My View of the World’.
Here Schroedinger has delivered this statement in support of Monism. Commenting on this view, B.K. Jagdish states : “Consciousness is never experienced in the plural, only in the singular.” He shows the error committed here is that Schroedinger is taking ‘Consciousness’ and ‘Conscious entities’ as one and the same, whereas the fact is that these are two different entities.

To illustrate this point further, B.K. Jagdish gives an example of ‘fragrance’ and ‘flowers’. ‘Fragrance’ in general sense, is one or singular; but the fragrant flowers – roses, jasmine, lotus etc. are different and many or plural. Each one of these varieties has ‘fragrance’ in singular; but each one of the flowers is also different from others. If, therefore, we keep in mind that ‘consciousness’ finds manifestation in the forms of thoughts, desires, emotions, memory, judgement etc. and these are different from one to the other individual, then we wouldn’t say that souls are not plural. Schroedinger has, therefore, been wrong in identifying ‘Souls’ with ‘Consciousness’ and there too, he has lost sight of the fact that even ‘Consciousness’ as manifested in each individual case, is not the same and therefore, not singular.

(v) Thomas Huxley, British biologist and Darwinist has said : “I understand the main tenet of materialism to be that there is nothing in the universe but matter and force, two primitive factors… It seems to me pretty plain that there is third thing in the universe, to wit, Consciousness, which.. I cannot see to be matter or force or any conceivable modification of either.” Thus according to him “Consciousness is not a material force”.

(vi) Sir John C. Eccles in his book “Self and its Brain” says that the experienced unity (of consciousness or mind) comes not from a neuro-physiological synthesis, but from the proposed integrating character of the self-conscious mind. He made his firm opinion that self or consciousness is not an epiphenomenon of the brain.

(vii) Performing many experiments by stimulating various sites or points on the brain, scientist Penfield came to the conclusion that consciousness is located near the Hypothalamus and the Brainstem and it is not an epiphenomenon of the brain.

(viii) Dr. Raymond A. Moody, in his book “Life After Life” conducting research on ‘the clinically dead’ describes that the soul, the self or the conscious entity doesn’t die with the body; but rather survives after the body has been disposed of.
In this way, modern philosophers and scientists have elaborated much on the area of consciousness with their enlightened views or statements. Now the disposition of Brahmākumārīs depicted with illustrations logically and meaningfully by Brahmākumār Jagdish Chander, is being discussed here.

Brahmākumārīs’ View :

According to Brahmākumārīs’ philosophy, Consciousness is an essential and inherent attribute of the metaphysical energy called Soul, different from the organic and inorganic matter, body and the brain. As electricity is known by various names depending upon its different manifestations such as light, power, heat and electro-magnetic force, so also Consciousness manifests itself in various forms and is named as Mind, Intellect, Memory, Emotion, Impression (Samskāra) and so on. Ego, Mind, Intellect etc. are not material in nature; but the very consciousness or the soul-energy becomes manifest as thoughts, memory etc. as it comes in contact with the material body. The conscient soul functions through consciousness; but the brain limits it and enables it to have an experience of only three-dimensional objects, while without this limiting faculty, the Self can have multi-dimensional experience and exceptional insight. The soul does have an aura which appears in the form of subtle body, having different brightness depending upon the degree of its purity. The Self or soul is a point of light which is spiritual in nature, divine in its original potential scintillating with seven divine qualities – Knowledge, Purity, Happiness, Peace, Love, Bliss and Power, and is different from the mundane light.
Souls (Ātmā) originally dwell in the Soul-world or Brahma-loka, i.e. far beyond this material world with the Parent or Supreme Soul (Paramātmā or Īśvara) in the incorporeal, inactive, thoughtless and calm state. But when they come down to this earth and take birth in the form of bearing the bodies, they become known as individual souls (Jīvātmā). Within body, soul resides in between the two eye-brows, the central point of the Hypothalamus, Peneal and Pituitary glands and from there it controls the brain and the whole body. Souls are plural and are not parts of God. All souls are eternal sons of God. In the state of liberation or release, the soul does not merge into God, who has his separate identity. God or Paramātmā is also a soul, a point of spiritual energy, but He is supreme among all souls and is not bounded by any action and its reactions. He is beyond the limitation of birth and death. He is omnipotent, omniscient and ocean of all divine qualities e.g. knowledge, bliss, peace, purity etc, but is not omnipresent or all-pervasive entity like Brahman of monists. Souls are numerous, individual and immortal. Therefore, the analogies of Sparks to Fire and Rosary etc. given by Advaita Vedāntins, are erroneous or fallacious.

All the knowledge, namely science, is a result of a person’s abilities that are only manifestations of consciousness at various levels. Consciousness is the first or the prime reality; for, without it, all the realities and laws - physical, chemical, mechanical etc. would remain unknown. It is consciousness that knows and can know, or learns and can learn. Consciousness is the knower (Jñātā), while the material forms of reality or the events and phenomena belong to the realm of known or knowable (Jñeya). The use and purposes of material forms are determined by the knower, consciousness, and it is the consciousness who experiences or consumes the physical things. So there is vast difference between ‘I or Self’ and the ‘Matter’ i.e. material, physical, phenomenal or transient. It is ‘I’ or ‘Consciousness’ that makes continuity possible in life and without it, all would be meaningless, purposeless, useless and worthless.

Consciousness is not observable and quantifiable; hence it is out of the scope of science. Therefore, either science should enlarge its scope or it can be studied in the discipline called ‘Spiritual Science’ or ‘Meta Science’. ‘Consciousness’ is the other name for the ‘Self’. We give it the label ‘consciousness’ in order to distinguish it from all that which doesn’t have ‘consciousness,’ i.e. which cannot think, judge, remember, analyze, focus, decide and do such other mental, intellectual or emotional activities. Each one of us is an individual ‘Self’. Consciousness has a moral dimension. All our actions or efforts have some motives underlying them and we employ some means to reach our goals or to attain certain ends. Motives determine our attitudes and outlook and influence our behaviours that are related to Values or ethical principles. In other words, Consciousness has another aspect, namely ‘Conscience’.

In conclusion, B.K. Jagdish clearly points out that if any philosophy denies the existence of soul or self as a separate conscious entity, then it leads to peacelessness. The learned ones in science try to discover with-out; but they do not try to know the ‘self’ i.e. with-in. Without the scientific knowledge of the self, one would have only a distorted, incomplete or fractured and fragmented world-view.

Conclusion :

From the above discussions, it can be maintained that Consciousness or spiritual energy is quite different from the material forms of energy manifested in the mundane world. The super-mundane entity soul, self, spirit or psyche is eternally existent and conscient in its nature and acts and reacts to the stimuli and also thinks, feels and reaps the fruits of its actions. Hence, one should always endeavour to recognize one’s own true identity i.e. divine, pure, conscient, infinitesimal point of metaphysical energy giving up identification with the physical or the material, then that paves the way towards perfection and by acquiring the completely true knowledge of Self, Supreme Self and the Universe, one should approach to a holistic world-view. In this regard, Brahmākumārīs’ deliberation gains a place of special significance with a comparative philosophical perspective.

References :

1. Eternal Drama of Souls, Matter and God, Part-I, B.K. Jagdish Chander, Prajapita Brahma Kumaris Ishwariya Vishva-Vidyalaya, Pandav Bhavan, Mount Abu, Rajasthan, 1998, Rpt.

2. The Eternal World Drama (Part-II of the series, titled ‘Eternal Drama of Souls, Matter and God’), B.K. Jagdish Chander Hassija, Prajapita Brahma Kumaris Ishwariya Vishwa Vidyalaya, Pandav Bhavan, Mount Abu, Rajasthan, 1985, 3rd Edition.

3. Brahmasūtra-Śāńkara-Bhāşya (S.B, Bra.Sū,), with Ratnaprabhā Commentary, Bholebābā, Bhāratīya Vidyā Prakāshan, Delhi, 2004.

4. Īśādinau Upanişad with Śāńkara Bhāşya (S.B.), Gita Press, Gorakhpur, 2000.

5. Māndūkya Kārikā with Śāńkara Bhāşya (S.B.), Gita Press, Gorakhpur, 1998.

6. The complete Works of Swāmī Vivekānanda, Advaita Ashram, Calcutta, 1977.

7. Science and Spirituality, B.K. Jagdish Chander, Brahmakumaris World Spiritual University, Pandav Bhawan, Mount Abu, 1988.

8. Parallels between Science and Religion and Philosophy and Science - A Critical Review, B.K. Jagdish Chander, Brahma Kumaris Ishwariya Vishwa Vidyalaya, Pandav Bhawan, Mount Abu, Rajasthan, 1994, 1st edition.

9. What is Life with Mind And Matter & Autobiographical Sketches, Erwin Schrodinger, Cambridge University Press, London, 2002.

10. My View of the World, Erwin Schrodinger, Cambridge University Press, 1964

11. The Turning Point, Fritjof Capra, Flamingo, London, 1983.

12. Symmetries And Reflections, Eugene P. Wigner, The M.I.T. Press, USA, 1970.

13. James Jeans : Philosophical Aspects of Modern Science, George Allen and Unwin, 1932.

14. Mysticism and the New Physics, Michael Talbot, Bantom Book, New York, 1971.

15. Do you know your Real Self, B.K. Jagdish Chander, Brahma Kumaris Ishwariya Vishwa Vidyalaya, Pandav Bhawan, Mount Abu, Rajasthan, 1994.

16. Complementarity of Science and Spirituality for better life, B.K Jagdish Chander, Prajapita Brahma Kumaris Ishwariya Vishwa Vidyalaya, Pandav Bhavan, Mount Abu, Rajasthan.

17. A History of Indian Philosophy, 2 Vols, Jadunath Sinha, 1956.

18. A Critical survey of Indian Philosophy, Chandradhar Sharma, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1990, Rpt.


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