Volume 8 - Issue 05
MAY 2010
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MUSINGS ON AWARENESS – 04

By Prof. G. Venkataraman

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This series is based on the Awareness Course that is incorporated at the post-graduate level programs of the Sri Sathya Sai University. Its author is the Sri Sathya Sai University’s former Vice-Chancellor Professor G. Venkataraman who has been closely connected with the formulation, content and delivery of this program for more than a decade now. The series was first broadcast over Radio Sai in response to requests from many listeners seeking clarifications on many spiritual dilemmas faced in daily life. Therefore, it was presented in a simple format suited for anyone who wishes to live life in a state of Awareness as prescribed by the Supreme Teacher Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba.

In the present article, one of these radio talks has been adapted appropriately and supplemented with apt illustrations for ease of understanding. 

 

One must go through life in full awareness of our cosmic nature and inevitable connection with creation. This awareness is vital for giving expression to our soul.

 

If the soul is held in bondage, our vision would be very narrow, and a person with narrow vision is likely to be very narrow-minded. Once a person becomes narrow minded, he/she becomes an easy prey to greed, avarice, selfishness, jealousy etc., all of which soon lead to conflicts and even to very violent conflagrations.

Today’s world is full of problems, and one way or the other they are all due to the dominance of the head over the heart, with the soul being denied self-expression.

The head can easily create problems but seldom solve them, especially when the problems arise from lust, greed, anger and jealousy.

Given the magnitude of many of the problems of our times, most of which arise from a denial of the finer nature of the human being, how can we be obstinate and keep shutting out the soul from being given a chance to bring peace and harmony to a troubled mankind?

It is to create that awareness in some measure that we here in the Prashanti Digital Studio are trying in every possible way, to spread far and wide, the priceless teachings of Swami, which, in my opinion, offer the only hope for mankind today.

Omnipresence of God

Awareness is all about being conscious of the fact that God is everywhere. If so, how is it that we cannot see Him?

Way back in 1930 when Gandhi was in England, he recorded a spiritual message to the world and the first sentence of that message was: “There is an indefinable mysterious power that pervades everything. I feel it though I cannot see it.” Gandhi identifies that indefinable mysterious all-pervading power with God.  That remark of Gandhi sets the stage for our current discussion on omnipresence.

 

Divine Signature in Every Atom

Our bodies are made up of atoms of all kinds of elements ranging from hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon, all the way to calcium, phosphorous, iron and so on. So is everything on earth, whether it is the bacteria or the mountains, the land below or the sky above; all are made up of atoms. We would have to agree that at least where the earth is concerned, there are atoms present everywhere.

We also know that though the atom is extremely tiny and cannot be seen even with a powerful microscope, it has, locked within it, enormous stores of energy. In fact, the energy contained in just five grams of uranium was enough to wipe out Hiroshima. That presence of atomic energy everywhere is one simple example of the signature of Omnipresence.

Nature weaves beautifully into itself, the micro and the macrocosms together. To get a feel for the size of the atom, let us start with one centimetre. Now imagine one billionth of a centimetre. Take that as the unit. On this scale, a typical atom would have a size of ten units.

The energy that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki actually came from the nucleus of the atom. If we imagine the atom to be like a mini solar system, then the nucleus is like the sun of that system. How big is this atomic nucleus? You would be in for a surprise. Imagine now a distance that is one trillionth of a centimetre. Take that as the unit of distance. The atomic nucleus has a size of about ten units on this new tiny scale of ours.

The energy of atom bombs and of the hydrogen bombs, which are a hundred to a thousand times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, is contained in the nucleus! Amazing, is it not? Gandhi did not know anything about all this; in fact, even scientists did not way back in 1930. But Gandhi sensed that the power of God was everywhere, and that is what is important for us now.

Five grams of matter when converted into energy could wipe out Hiroshima. Consider a man weighing say a hundred kilos. This man has a mass equivalent to twenty thousand Hiroshima type bombs! Have you ever thought of that? I do not want you to get the impression we are all walking bomb arsenals. Actually, if we wish, we can all be walking torrents of love; but that would happen only when we develop awareness, and so back to our theme on Awareness.

This power of the atom is the power locked up in the tiny, tiny atomic nucleus. If one goes deeper and deeper into the atomic nucleus, then one would encounter even bigger and vaster reservoirs of energy, such as is packed within the whole cosmos. In short, every single atom in our body, and there are trillions and trillions of them, is a reflection of the vast cosmos outside. Thus, speaking even from the point of view of an atheistic scientist, our inside so-called is no different from the outside. It so happens that our skin forms an artificial boundary, like those imaginary lines drawn on the face of the earth, to earmark different countries.

I mean, we may erect a fence and say this side of the fence is India and that side is Pakistan, and fight a lot about where exactly the fence ought to be, but does a bird living there care two hoots about that? It flies all the time from India to Pakistan or vice versa without any security checks, passport, visas, etc. In other words, when we adopt the broader picture, there comes into view a magnificent oneness, in this case the oneness of cosmic energy, and at least in that sense, one can say there is an indefinable mysterious power that is omnipresent.

Awareness of Existence

Back to the body again and this time we take a look at its biological functions. As Swami has said, the human body and indeed the human being is God’s greatest miracle. Just consider this: Consider a stone and a living being, like say a rat. Both are made up of atoms, but there is something special about the combination of atoms that makes up a rat. A rat is a living being. We all know what life is but you know something? Life is a force not easy to define. Scientists have tried to define life and have given up for the time being. But one thing all grant, including scientists who are atheists, which is that a living being is aware it exists; a stone on the other hand, does not. We describe this by saying that a living being has the capacity for consciousness and self-awareness whereas inert matter does not.

Vedanta says that this capacity is characterised by a force called praana shakti, which is sort of a generic name for life force. Scientists are very uncomfortable with this nomenclature, but that is their problem. Scientists recognise various forces like electromagnetic forces, gravitational force and so on. They have sophisticated theories to describe these, they can do all kinds of experiments related to these forces, and so on.

But when it comes to the life force or praana, they agree that life exists – do they have a choice? – but they leave it there. Consciousness is something scientists are not comfortable about. While some dismiss it as a mere brain faculty, others reluctantly admit that there might be something that goes beyond the mere brain, which is just a hunk of meat.

God’s Masterpiece

We shall leave these matters of argument and get down to something practical. We all take our bodies for granted, hardly conscious of what a wonderful system it is. In this wide world, there are all kinds of living species and each living species has some unique capabilities. The cheetah, for example, can run incredibly fast. The monkey can do amazing feats of climbing, and so on. When it comes to humans, we hardly realise what a tremendous flexibility we have. You do not have to take my word for it. Just watch a tennis match or a cricket match; or for that matter, a ballet, ice skating or bharata natyam performance – amazing flexibility everywhere.

One should not imagine that when the Universe is created, the primordial background of universal consciousness disappears. The latter continues to exist, acting as a backdrop in the manifested universe.

Again, consider the human fingers. Have you ever considered the remarkable things the human fingers can do? They can knit, stitch, paint, sculpt, play all kinds of musical instruments from mridangam to violin to the flute, veena…. And then again, using fingers one can perform surgery, paint, do clever spin bowling, and what not. Take a simple thing like opening a bottle. Do you realise that without the thumb, we just cannot do it? Try it and you would know what we are talking about it. That is why the famous scientist Newton exclaimed, “The thumb alone is enough to prove that God exists!” 

Evolution and God’s Omnipresence

We agree that the body is packed with innumerable wonders; but in what way does that prove the omnipresence of God?  Well, here is where evolution comes into the picture. Now everyone agrees that the universe is a constantly evolving system. As far as we humans are concerned, there are three distinct stages of evolution that matter.

In the first stage, there was the actual birth of our universe, via the Big Bang as many say. This birth of the universe took place about 14 billion years ago, and this number, by the way is fairly precise. In the next stage, our solar system was born about 4.5 or 5 billion years ago. After this came the emergence of life on planet Earth and its subsequent evolution through the various species, culminating in the human species. This third stage got under way about three billion years ago.

We shall skip for the moment how life first appeared on earth, because there is some difference of scientific opinion on that issue. But which ever way life first appeared everyone agrees that subsequently, life slowly evolved from lower forms like plants and insects to more complex forms like fish, birds and animals. And at the end of it all came man.

Evolution and a Memory Stick Called a Gene

 

How exactly did this evolution of species take place? Once again, science enters the picture. The broad brush picture was first given by Charles Darwin nearly a hundred and fifty years ago, and fifty years ago, a molecular basis was given to that with the discovery of the structure of the famous DNA molecule.

Science says species evolved from each other. How exactly did this happen, we may wonder.

The short answer to this is that for every species there is a gene. At the molecular level, the gene is a remarkable memory stick that holds all the information about the species and the particular individual in the series.

For example, in the case of the human being, the human genome not only holds all the characteristics that identify the being as a human, as opposed to say a chimp, but also the characteristics of the particular individual, such as the colour of the skin, the colour of the eyes, the facial features, etc.


Now this remarkable and complex molecular arrangement can be disturbed by many factors, including radiation, and when that happens, we say the gene mutates.

It could happen that the mutated gene could be the beginning of an entirely new species. This in short is the way one understands the evolution of species at the molecular level.

The question now becomes when do mutations that lead to new species occur? There are many possible causes, for example radiation effects caused by cosmic rays. But whatever the process, mutation is widely believed to be a random process. Random processes are quite frequent in nature and so one cannot complain about such a hypothesis for mutations to occur.

We now have to put all this together and make up the story of evolution of species. This exercise was first undertaken by Charles Darwin in the middle of the nineteenth century, and his findings are as important to the life sciences as those of Newton are for the physical sciences.

Survival of the Fittest

Basically, Darwin said that when a new species evolves from an older one, it struggles along with all the other already present species for survival. Sometimes it succeeds and sometimes it fails. In this way, only the fittest of the newly emerging species survive, and evolution is thus a sequence of species that can survive, coming one after the other. This mutation business became better defined once the structure of the DNA was unravelled.

This is where a new question comes up, and with it also a debate. From the very primitive form of life that appeared about three and a half billion years ago, living forms have seen millions of new species, each one being the product of a random mutation. The question that we referred to is: “What time span is required for so many mutations and trial and error processes to take place so that we have the sequence of species that history has presented us with?”

This mathematical calculation has been done by mathematicians, but biologists often ignore them. That is because the finding of the mathematicians is not very comfortable for biologists! Mathematicians say if all evolution is by pure random evolutions followed by selection of the fittest via natural processes, then evolution as we now have it, would require a time span much, much longer than the age of the universe.

At the highest and subtlest level, cosmic energy exists as the energy of primary consciousness, probably as a field that is still beyond today’s physics. It will remain so, unless physics becomes enlarged to go beyond the time and space that describe our particular universe.

Biologists often ignore such an objection and solidly swear: “Evolution and natural selection is a purely random process.” Some others argue: “True, at the molecular level mutation is indeed a random phenomenon. However, there possibly is an intelligent principle that drives evolution at the macro level. Thus it is that we have not only more and complex forms of life emerging, but also better forms. In other words, the emergence of humans is not entirely the result of a purely random process but the result of process that has been directed.” This has created a lot of furore in America, where biologists believe that the hypothesis of so-called Intelligent Design is a conspiracy of the God lobby, that is to say people who swear by the Bible.

Biased Random Walk

I am by no means a fundamentalist, evangelical Christian; if anything, I am a hard-nosed scientist. Yet, I am indeed persuaded that evolution is not a purely random process but something like a biased-random walk, well known in mathematics. In biased-random walk, while the individual processes are indeed random, there is nevertheless a general direction of drift.

 

My favourite example is that of water molecules in the waters of a river. At the molecular level, individual molecules do move in a random fashion. This is a universally accepted scientific truth. At the same time, since the river is flowing down a gradient, superposed on the random walk is a general, macroscopic slow drift in the direction of downstream.

Intelligent Design

In other words, I believe there is no negation of science to say that while individual mutations could indeed be random in nature, macro evolution could, however, have an arrow, that arranges the successive steps in a general direction, even as a river flows from higher to a lower level. This is what some people call Intelligent Design, implying that evolution knows in which general direction it has to proceed, and does not have to waste too much time in pointless trial and errors as a 100 % trial and error philosophy would require.

The hard-core biologists, especially in America, summarily dismiss this hypothesis, ridiculing it to unfounded religious speculation. However, I do not see why there cannot be the possibility of a higher field that Vedanta would call the field of universal consciousness, which could drive a directed evolution, even as physical fields drive physical and inanimate processes.

The concept of mind-matter interaction has engaged the attention of many scientists in the West for nearly a century, and the list has included many star names. People like Max Planck, who first discovered the existence of quantization in nature in 1900, declared that material reality arose from consciousness. George Wald of Harvard who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his investigations on the human eye said he was forced to admit that matter’s primordial source was a ‘mind stuff’ which he called primary consciousness.

In short, the cosmic omnipresence pervades the universe at three distinct levels:

1) The first is the gross, where cosmic energy resides in atoms, which, as all of us know, are there everywhere in the universe.

2) Next, cosmic energy operates in living systems as what Vedanta describes as praana and what we would term the mysterious life-force.

3) Finally, at the highest and subtlest level, cosmic energy exists as the energy of primary consciousness, probably as a field that is still beyond today’s physics. It will remain so, unless physics becomes enlarged to go beyond the time and space that describe our particular universe.

Scientific Prejudice

Before we leave this topic, we must make a reference to prejudice. Primitive people are supposed to be superstitious, biased and all that. Strangely, however, when scientists indulge in speculation that far outweighs even science fiction, that is considered perfectly respectable! Take the following example. In quantum mechanics, there is a thing called duality of existence. Matter, as we know, is capable of exhibiting, especially at the level of atoms, a dual nature. It can appear to be made up of particles or it can appear to be wave-like. This may sound absolutely crazy to ordinary people but for nearly eighty years now, the world of physics has got used to this dual nature of matter.

Defining the Nature of Matter

The question now arises: “What precisely is the nature of matter? Is it wave-like or is it matter-like, or sometimes of one type and at other times of the other type?” Actually, this question engaged the most brilliant minds in the early part of the 20th century, including the founders of Quantum Mechanics.

 

Niels Bohr, the man who laid the foundations for the philosophy underlying Quantum Mechanics said that when it exists all by itself, matter is at once both wave-like and particle-like.

But the moment an experiment is set up to observe it, that piece of matter presents itself in just one form. If the experiment is designed to detect a wave, like a wave it would appear; if it is designed to detect a particle, like a particle it would appear. Sounds very much like Yad Bhavam, Tat Bhavathi (as we think, so we become) does it not?

Quantum Physics Echoes Vedanta

Indeed that is precisely what Bohr, the high priest of Quantum Mechanics declared. Naturally, there was a fierce debate, particularly between Bohr and Einstein. And Erwin Schrodinger, the founder of the wave aspect of Quantum Mechanics designed a funny paradox called the cat paradox that was meant to ridicule Bohr’s hypothesis.

But do you know what? Today, the Bohr interpretation is not only widely accepted but is the official dogma. The language one uses is: “The wave function of matter is a superposition of both aspects of quantum reality. But when an actual observation is made, the wave function collapses onto one of the two possible states.”

Reflect on this for a moment. From the perspective of the man on the street, this is an absolutely bizarre statement, and yet, most eminent physicists accept it without batting an eyelid. In fact, you would be astounded by some of the hypothesis of modern physics like the many-world interpretation of Quantum Mechanics that would beat the craziest science fiction hollow. Yet no one raises eyebrows or pours sarcasm. True, not all agree with all these interpretations, but even the dissenters simply say, it is a point of view but our view is different.

Wave Function Basis of Modern Innovation

The argument is simply that in the lowest version of Quantum Mechanics, which by the way we now teach to B. Sc. level students of the Sri Sathya Sai University, the centrepiece is the wave function. Being a complex quantity, meaning it involves a mathematically imaginary component, it is not a physical observable. Yet there is not one physicist in the world who would say the wave function is pure fiction, nonsense and things like that. Nobody protests: “How can a complex, unreal thing drive the real world?” The fact is that a hundred years of rigorous investigations have shown that we simply cannot do without the wave function; with it, we can do wonders. Believe it or not, without the wave function, there would be no silicon technology, no microprocessor, no PC, no mobile phone, no digital camera, etc.

If we can allow the wave function to rule our lives, if the man in the street says, “Well, Schrodinger says the wave function exists even though I cannot see it or touch it,” then why cannot the scientist also say, “Schordinger ultimately accepted the highest teaching of Vedanta namely, atman pervades everything?”  If the man in the street can say, “Well, there is after all a quantum aspect to nature as Max Planck discovered in 1900,” then why cannot scientists who have named so many Institutes and even one satellite after Planck also accept what Planck said, “From consciousness came material reality”? 

This brings me back to the question of prejudice. Yes, evolution proceeds substantially according to what Darwin said. But there are gaps in the theory, and purely random processes coupled with the principle of natural selection cannot be promoted as a dogma.

God is present as the power immanent in the atom. Since atoms are to be found everywhere in the universe, God too is immanent everywhere in the manifested universe.

The problem is that for most scientists, the mention of the word God is anathema. I maintain that when we talk of God, we should not be guided purely by our prejudices and instincts. If one considers the issue along the lines of Vedanta, I do not find any compelling reason to rule out an arrow of evolution. And, according to me, that arrow might well be directed by an intrinsic force that compels evolution to move in the direction of increased consciousness in the species. Let me add a few remarks to suggest that I am not talking through my hat, as that arch atheist Richard Dawkins might declare.

There is in physics a principle called time-reversal symmetry. In simple language it means that physical phenomena do not distinguish between time going forward and backward. Using popular language one might say that if a vase falls from the table and breaks [due to laws of physics operating] then it is equally possible for the pieces to get back and stick together to form a full vase again. This is clearly a highly diluted way of stating the law of time-reversal invariance, but what it implies is that if a phenomenon occurs as we would see in film, then the phenomenon that we would see if the film is run backwards is also allowed according to the laws of physics.

Now in the macro world this is simply not possible; people get old but never younger. In other words, in the macro world, there is a clear arrow of time that enables us to say this is the direction of time. In one direction, phenomenon happen while in the reverse they do not; which in turn means that in the macro world, there is NO time reversal symmetry. So we have here a curious situation; in the micro world, this particular symmetry does hold; there is plenty of experimental evidence for that. Equally, in the macro world, this symmetry simply does not hold.

Arrow of Evolution

While evolution as Darwin explained is not being ruled out, there is a possibility that additional considerations might in fact apply giving evolution a definite arrow, even as time flow has a definite arrow.

While in the case of time, we know how that arrow arises we still are to discover the core principle that defines the arrow of evolution. My own intuitive guess is that it would be connected with consciousness, and that connection would become revealed to science once it expands its horizons beyond space and time.

Since many thought-provoking ideas have been discussed in this chapter, here is a summation for easy recall:

  1. We started by discussing the omnipresence of God.

  2. This omnipresent God is the abstract, formless God.

  3. In the manifested universe, God is present in three distinct aspects.

  4. Firstly, God is present as the power immanent in the atom. Since atoms are to be found everywhere in the universe, God too is immanent everywhere in the manifested universe.

  5. Scientists may be able to give a physical explanation for the presence of energy in the atom; but the question remains, “Where did that energy originally come from?” This is where Gandhi’s observation about an indefinable mysterious power pervading the universe becomes very pertinent.

  6. This omnipresence is common to inert as well as living beings. In living beings, God is present or immanent at a still higher level also, that of praana or the life force.

  7. There is a still higher level, which is the level of pure consciousness. This is present in an active form in humans. It is this that enables humans to see God, if they want, both within and without.

  8. Pure consciousness is supreme, which means it can exist all by itself. Stated differently, when the universe disappears, it dissolves into pure consciousness, as Krishna described.

  9. One should not imagine that when the Universe is created, the primordial background of universal consciousness disappears. The latter continues to exist, acting as a backdrop in the manifested universe.

  10. This backdrop acts rather like a physical field driving evolution of living species in the direction where consciousness flowers fully, rather like a fruit bud growing and ripening into a sweet fruit.

  11. Where evolution of life is concerned, that fruit is the human being.




Suppose one grants all this. What then is the bottom line?

According to me, the bottom line is the following:

Man must be aware that he is a spark of the divine. This divine is no ordinary thing; it is omnipresent in the physical universe in every piece of gross matter, is present as the life force in every living entity, and as consciousness or self-awareness in all living entities.



Particularly in humans, this consciousness can, if harnessed, enable humans to not only cognise the divinity latent within, but also enable man to recognise his cosmic nature and his cosmic connection with the entire cosmos. As such, man has the responsibility of ensuring that all his actions are in total harmony with the cosmos in all its aspects.

Jai Sai Ram.

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