Volume 7 - Issue 08
August 2009
Other Articles
IN QUEST OF INFINITY – 28
By Prof. G. Venkataraman

Loving Sai Ram and greetings from Prashanti Nilayam. I hope you are surviving, just as I am! More than merely surviving, I do hope you are keeping track of this rather wild and dizzy tour I have been taking you through. Maybe, I should pause for a moment and review where all we have been.

The Legacy of Forgotten Stars

To start with, we started on a grand tour of the sky, that took us all over, past stars, galaxies and what not. We then tried to learn something about what makes a star shine, that is to say where its energy comes from. Having learnt something about that, we then asked: “What happens to a star when it runs out of the fuel it is burning in order to shine?” Well, it dies; but interestingly, the story does not quite end there, and that took to us to the story of the rebirth of a dead star, and its going through many cycles of birth and death.

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The ever amazing universe in which earth is only an infinitesimally small particle and we are almost negligible...

Okay, but why do stars have to do it? What is their Karma? The answer is: “Stars have no Karma but they go through repeated cycles of birth and death so that they can cook various elements in the periodic table, all the way to iron.” What for? That is a question we really ought not to ask for if there was no iron cooked in stars billions of years ago, we would not have any iron on earth. Just think of how life would be if there was no iron. Do you realise that body of your car is largely made of steel? Do you realise that the huge ships that carry oil and cargo and ply across the oceans in hundreds of thousands are all built of steel? That every railway engine also is built of steel? That without steel, we would have a big problem cutting vegetables?

So, a kind God, made stars work for us, so that we, coming late in the life of the Universe, can have not only iron but also silver, gold, uranium and such other precious metals. But wait a minute; these heavy elements like gold cannot come out of the cooking going on inside stars for stars cannot produce anything heavier than iron by the cooking process. That precisely is where the final collapse of the star comes into the picture. Remember I told you that there comes a stage when the star gets tired of the cooking business and quits? What happens then?

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The Sun which burns itself out every moment to sustain the solar system

Well, when the fire inside goes out, the star begins to cool. And with no radiation pressure driving the outer skin outwards, the star yields to gravity and begins to massively collapse. Here, depending on the mass of the dead star, we saw that there could be three scenarios. First was that the corpse shrinks and shrinks and ends up as what is called a White Dwarf. This happens if the mass of the dead star is less than 1.4 times the mass of our Sun. What if the mass of the star happens to be greater than 1.4 times the solar mass? That said, young but brilliant Chandrasekhar way back in the thirties, was a mystery.

Subsequently, that mystery was solved. For dead stars with masses greater than 1.4 times the solar mass, one option is to undergo a supernova explosion followed by a collapse of the core into a neutron star.

In Quest of Infinity

While the latter usually shows itself up as a pulsar, the stupendous explosion that we call supernova is what produces silver, gold, mercury, uranium etc. All of which implies that our solar system was born out of some star that exploded way back, donating to our solar system some of its treasures in the form of iron, silver, gold etc.

You know, just so that we can have ships, jewels, and nuclear power plants, God made the stars do so much for us for so many billions of years! Have you ever thought of that?

Just to complete the story of the final collapse, we also saw that very heavy corpses end up as Black Holes, some of which then become indescribably powerful gravitational engines driving quasars and such astronomical objects. Lots of incredible things going on out there, all due to the Infinite God in quest of Whom we are.

So, where exactly is this Infinity? Once in a while, I have asked this question, only to dodge it and take you on a side tour. One of the important side tours I took you on in this manner was into the world of the atom and the nucleus. That was because in a rather amazing way, inside the nucleus is buried the entire gene of the whole Universe! This then led us right up to the Big Bang and what is supposed to have happened immediately thereafter. I even briefly discussed what might have existed before the Big Bang, from a physics point of view that is.

All this kept us very busy with what might be called inanimate entities. OK, but where do we human beings, with life, consciousness, awareness and all the rest of it, fit in? That is what I have been trying to deal with during the last two or three issues and we came up to the point where I said: “Listen, before Creation, there was Pure Consciousness. That is the real Mother of our Universe. If we choose to refer to that Mother as God, then obviously Pure Consciousness must be God; Vedanta emphatically proclaims that it is indeed so (Pragyanaam Brahma!); which means, that our Quest for Infinity has brought us right up to the doorstep of Vedanta.

Looking for God

So what do we do next? Go and buy a copy of Bhagavad Gita and pore over it? Will that bring us face to face with Infinity? Not necessarily. In fact, we do not have to do all that I just suggested! Instead, all we have to do is pay serious attention to one key sentence used by Swami from time to time. What is that key sentence? Let me introduce that to you by recalling what happened one afternoon here in Prashanti, many years ago. That day, Swami was to give a Discourse, and as always, He asked someone to speak ahead of Him. The person who was chosen began with such questions as: “Who is God? Where is this God?”, and so on. Good rhetoric and it sure caught the attention of the huge audience present.

When Swami began His Discourse, He literally dropped a bomb! He said, “The person who spoke earlier asked various questions. All these are meaningless questions.” We were all stunned; at least I was and I began to wonder, “What does Swami mean?” I did not have to wait long, for almost the very next moment Swami said – and this is the key sentence I mentioned earlier – Swami said, “There is only God and nothing else, everywhere, in everything, and at all times!” That sentence got permanently etched in my memory and that is what I am going to elaborate on next.

If we reflect carefully then what Swami said can be restated as follows:

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  • In the beginning, there was only God.
  • Then, this God decided to create a Universe.
  • And so, God Created a Universe.
  • This means we now have God plus a Universe.
  • Swami says no! There was God before and there is God now. There is only God and nothing but God!

That of course makes our head spin wildly and we have got to figure this out. But before we do that, let me recall another Discourse one rather hot afternoon, many years ago. I remember it very clearly. Swami was speaking about Universal or Pure Consciousness and repeatedly hammering into our thick skulls that everything is nothing but Consciousness. And then, suddenly He waved His hand and created a lemon, a nice, fresh, bright yellow lemon.

There were of course the usual oohs and aahs, as Swami held up the lemon and everyone craned his or her neck to catch a glimpse of it. Swami then said slowly and emphatically, “All of you think this is a lemon. Indeed it is so from a worldly point of view. However, in terms of Vedantic Reality, this is nothing but Consciousness appearing as a lemon!” That was His way of reinforcing at that moment that the diversity that we think we see is really God and that indeed the Universe is only God and nothing else.

That said, the empirical reality of the diversity that we see, touch and experience all the time is extra-ordinarily powerful. So powerful it is that it makes us forget the True Reality behind it, just all of us saw only the lemon that afternoon and not the Consciousness that lay behind it. Vedanta no doubt says [as Swami reminds us often] that behind the “seen” lies the Unseen which is the basis of everything animate and inanimate, and is the True Reality.

We of course find it very, very difficult to accept that, which is not at all surprising. Even the great Vivekananda found it difficult to swallow, at the time when as young college student named Narendra, he was going frequently to have the darshan of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. This is what he said later, recalling an incredible experience he had at that time:

In Quest of Infinity
Swami Vivekananda

One day, in the temple garden at Dakshineshwar, Sri Ramakrishna [Vivekananda’s master as many readers might know] touched me over the heart, and first of all I began to see the houses – rooms, doors, windows, verandas, the trees, the sun, the moon all were flying off, shattering to pieces as it were, reduced to atoms and molecules and ultimately became merged in the Akasha [sky/ether].

Gradually the Akasha too vanished, and after that my consciousness of these ....what happened next, I do not recollect. I was at first frightened. Coming back from that state, I began to see the houses, doors, windows, verandas, and the other things. On another occasion, I had exactly the same vision by the side of a lake in America.

If you read Vivekananda’s writing, there is in fact a graphic description of what happened before this extra-ordinary experience. Young Narendra describes how while walking towards Dakshineshwar, he was talking to himself expressing deep doubts about his master’s teachings that everything was the Self or the Atma. I remember reading that he touched a fence and said mockingly, “This is supposed to be Atma!” He then kicked an iron gate or something and as it hurt his foot, saying once more in disbelief, “How can this gate which just hurt me, be the Atma!”

Swamiji adds that perhaps his master suddenly gave him that incredible experience merely for his prospective disciple to know that the Atma was for real. And that is the Infinity we are after. We looked for it everywhere, thought we missed it, while Swami is telling us, “Listen you fool, there is only Infinity and it is everywhere, in you, above you, below you etc.” More about this soon, but meanwhile let me mention that the lake where Swamiji had this incredible experience for a second time is, I believe, in upstate New York. I recall visiting that region way back in the summer of 1958 when I made a brief visit from Canada. I saw Lake Placid, and that region is indeed one where a highly spiritual person can go into a trance. I am told that near this particular lake that Swami refers to (I believe it is not Lake Placid, but some other lake near it), there is in fact a small plaque referring to this visit of Swamiji.

Why We Are Fooled

Let us get back to the fundamental question, which is: “If everything is indeed Infinity, and there is nothing but Infinity, and we who believe we are particular individuals [as stated in the business card if we have one – I do not, by the way!], then how come we do not know we are Infinity and that it was in fact foolish to set out on a Quest for Infinity? Have I, in collusion with H2H, taken you for a ride? Have I, like the proverbial trickster, sold you a lemon [which, by the way, is also Infinity!]? What is going on? Some serious explanation and discussion are called for. 

In Quest of Infinity
In order to see the Unity in the diversity that surrounds us, we must move above the senses and mind, to the heart
 

If I get back to what we were discussing, it all boils down to: “How do we see Unity in the diversity that surrounds us and overwhelms us?”

The answer is simple. We see diversity in Divine and Cosmic Unity, because we are using our senses and the Mind.

As Swami has reminded us many times, both these are below Creation. If we have to see Unity in diversity, then we have to go above the senses and the Mind, to the Heart. In practical terms, what does that mean? Before dealing with that issue, a simple discussion about how the senses can mislead.

It is a common fact that no matter how spiritual we may claim to be, we are in fact, strongly attached to the body, and that is because we think, as Swami tells us, that we ARE the Body.

But do we realise that contrary to our belief, in a sense there is really no sharp boundary between our body and the rest of this planet?

You think I have gone bonkers? Well, consider what follows in that case.

 

Atomic Connections

We start with the question: “What is my body made up of?” This is an enquiry about ourselves at the gross level, and that is why we are bringing in the body here. The simple answer is of course that our body is made up of atoms, mostly hydrogen, quite a bit of oxygen and carbon, no doubt. Then there are vital necessities like phosphorous, calcium, sodium and potassium [widely prevalent in the heart], iron [playing a central role in haemoglobin, a crucial constituent of the blood] and so on. There are also what are called trace elements, that are present in very tiny quantities, so small that till the advent of high-resolution spectroscopy, their presence in the body was not even suspected.

OK, we can make a distribution plot and say how much of each of the elements of the periodic table is present in our body. By the way, some rather interesting studies have been done in this area. There is a man in the US who regularly gives blood and tissue samples to a research lab and has been doing so for years. After carefully analysing these samples and comparing them with samples available from say around 1900 or so, scientists find the following:

  • These days, many elements are found in the human body that were not found before,
    i.e., in samples going back to 1900 or earlier.
  • The quantity of these new elements is found to be increasing in some cases.

After many further studies, scientists have concluded that some of these new elements have begun entering our body on account of our extensive use of new products and change in life style. I mean in this space age, we are using all kinds of products for all sorts of things. Suppose we drink plenty of soft drinks. Then all kinds of stuff enter our body from the paper cup or straw may be. They could even originate in the water, which these days has all sorts of elements, thanks to ground water pollution. Anyway, that is a different matter altogether, and the point I presently want to make is that our body is simply made up of all kinds of atoms, making their entry from all over the place.

Next, consider a new born baby. Its weight is small, as is to be expected. Ten years later, this baby boy is now an ugly fatty! So much weight! Weight means mass and mass means lots and lots of atoms. So, where did all these atoms come from, and how did they get into the body? That is an easy one. Most of the atoms in our body come from what we eat and drink. And some of it comes from what we breathe. There could be the occasional other sources also, like organ transplant or even a simple blood transfusion. Good, this we understand, namely how atoms come in.

What about atoms going out? There are many ways for atoms to exit, all the way from the excreta to hair cut and the air we breathe out. There are many other ways we hardly ever think of. When we cut nails, we are losing atoms. When we rub our hands, we lose a lot of cells and loss of cells means loss of atoms. If we get injured and we lose blood, once again there is a loss of atoms, a serious loss it might turn out to be. Surgery also takes out atoms, sometimes in a rather drastic manner of course.

Now the reason I am mentioning all this is simply to stress the following points.

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The first planets, dinosaurs and people are all made from the same cosmic soup of atoms

  • Although we imagine there is a skin that forms the formal boundary of our body, that boundary does not diminish the strong linkage between our body and the rest of the planet.
  • In fact, thanks to recycling and all that, a particular carbon atom in my body might have resided a long time ago in the body of a dinosaur!
  • Not only that. Since every atom on planet earth came from a long extinct star, we are not only connected in a sense to all the planets of the solar system and indeed the sun itself, but our galaxy as a whole.
  • In fact, going back in this manner we can trace our linkage right to the Big Bang.
  • What is even more amazing is that all the forces that govern the entire Universe are deep within us, in the nucleus of every atom of our body.

What it all means is that if for a moment we stop being wrapped up in our utterly trivial egos, we can see that all of us are not only connected to each other, but to everything in this Universe. It is indeed a staggering thought, but do we ever bother to think of it?

Hardly ever. The point is that if we fail to see how we are all connected not only to each other but to the entire Universe at the material level, how would we ever be able to see our immanent Unity at the Cosmic and Divine level?

The Evil within our Minds

So, it all boils down to this. We allow our senses to dominate, and egged by the agents of evil who hide in the crevices of the Mind, we allow the Mind to be a slave of the senses. The evil agents then use this slave to implement their agenda in the wide world. How do we know all this happens? Well, look at conflicts and wars, for example. Wars may be fought between countries but as someone said, every war is born in the Mind, the Mind of one evil person who spreads poison all round, or a group of like-minded evil persons, all of whom suffer from the same deadly mental infection.

Let me give a graphic example. The First World War [1914-1918], often called the last gory trench war, was really horrible. Millions, yes millions died in the trenches of France, but mercifully civilians were not killed in millions. Germany lost, surrendered, and later a Peace treaty was signed. Was it really a Peace Treaty? No; it was a document that was so full of insult and humiliation [to the loser, namely, Germany] that right away it sowed the seeds for the next war, World War II which broke out, though in a limited way, as early as September 1939. And when it ended in 1945, the death toll exceeded fifty million I believe, a substantial number of those killed being civilians. For the first time, war meant death not only to soldiers but to civilians as well, in fact in greater proportion.

Once more the leaders scratched their heads and created an international institution to prevent further wars. Never again war, they all said, and thus the UN was born amidst great hope.  What happened? There was tension once more very soon, and this time it was a Cold War instead of a hot war. But that did not prevent wars. There were many, but fought on the sidelines, like the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and so on. What prevented a massive nuclear catastrophe was MAD, the fear of Mutual Assured Destruction, as used to be said by political commentators.

Luckily, sense prevailed and in 1989 I believe, Ronald Regan and Gorbachev signed several treaties to scale down the inventory of deadly nuclear weapons and missiles. Shortly thereafter, the Soviet Union itself collapsed and over night as it were, communism disappeared in Eastern Europe. There was cheering everywhere, and it seemed that at last, confrontation had disappeared in substantial measure from the face of the earth. But can it, if Ego continues to rule?

Experiencing Infinity

You might, at this point, wonder: But what has all this to do with our Quest for Infinity? The answer is simple: Our objective was flawed to start with; there is really no need to go in search of Infinity when it is everywhere and within us. Our objective must have been to EXPERIENCE the Infinity that is already everywhere, including within us. In fact, we were really wasting our time! I deliberately made all of us waste some time just to drive home the point that what we do is mostly to waste our time, even though we may think we are sending an urgent tweet or whatever.

OK, we were after a wrong goal; we should have spent time to experience Infinity rather search for it. But why is this also not a waste of time? Why is this being rated as so very important? The answer is simple. If at least a critical number of us experience this Infinity that is within us and all around us in the real sense of the world, then such people getting together can really do something to solve the seemingly insurmountable problems that humanity now faces. That is the reason Swami wants all of us to experience Infinity.

I realise all this might seem very fuzzy, vague and not convincing at all. I fully appreciate that. But don’t worry; next time, I shall address all that fuzziness and vagueness. Meanwhile, I think I have given you enough to think about!

Take care, and will be with you again next month. All the best till then, and Jai Sai Ram.

(To be continued...)

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