The Worship of Number

navaghrahapoojaIndians love numbers. We might say Number is worshipped like a Goddess. In fact, perhaps it is this sense of awe the worshipped inspires that left India behind in the second half of the last millennium when the West took over to shape the destiny of the world, making advances in science that never occurred in India, even though many of those advances could not have happened without the breakthroughs in the sciences, mathematics for the most part, at a much earlier date in the East.

What happened along the way, and why was India left by the wayside as the West surged ahead, making good use of the discoveries of the ancients? Perhaps it was precisely the reverence Number inspired. Indeed, we have evidence of this attitude in the great South Indian contemporary mathematician, Ramanujan, whose legacy of equations continues to fascinate and befuddle. He openly acknowledged that it was the Goddess who directly inspired his work. In point of fact, his genius took the shape of all ancient science on the subcontinent by its reverence for Number, indeed as one would revere the Goddess. But where has that led India?

Clearly the West took over after many centuries of slumber – the very centuries during which India produced some of her greatest works of science. Why was India left so far behind while the West surged forward to overtake the forward thrust of evolution and become its leader? Indeed, so forceful was the thrust that the West succeeded in becoming the master of the world while the East cowered into a shell, taking all its glorious achievements with it into seclusion. The pre-eminence of the West was primarily seen in the use it made of those grand discoveries. In a word, it was the manner in which its science evolved to produce the astonishing technologies that have shaped our contemporary societies. And the development is exponential to the point of causing a serious imbalance: That very applicability has resulted in the stockpiles of devastating weapons that can destroy even our entire planetary home.

This is an application of science that could never have taken place in India for the reasons stated above: the awe-inspiring reverence for Number and its affiliates which is, we could say, built into the genetic make-up of those who have dedicated themselves to the pursuit of the sciences within the ancient culture. This is due to the awareness of an underlying unity in creation; or, as it is sometimes called, the unity consciousness enjoyed by the sages and seers of old who made discoveries in the sciences, on the shoulders of which the technologies of the West could evolve. The atom bomb was the result, though unintentional, of the path-breaking work of the physicist who shaped 20th-Century science, Albert Einstein. We live in the world he created where relativism conditions every aspect of our societies. The hydrogen bomb, along with the vast array of destructive items we cling to and stockpile, in anticipation of the protection they are believed to offer, could never have emerged from the consciousness of unity of the ancient scientists. And given this perception of an underlying unity embedded, if you will, in the genetic makeup of the race. India has never been an aggressive civilisation, or even to have indulged in the less obvious, though perhaps the more effective mode of aggression, the export of her spiritual achievements through proselytising – another mask donned by the world aggressors.

To sum up, it is the applicability of science that has given the edge to the West and enabled its hegemonic conquest. We lament that India lags far behind in breakthroughs in scientific accomplishments, usually measured by the number of Nobel Laureates belonging to a nation; when actually this paucity of ‘laurels’ from this ‘noble’ institution is a sign that India is destined to rise and take over the leadership – but the shape this takes will surprise many, primarily those who lament the lack of a scientific temper in contemporary Indian society. What is sought to be extirpated from the collective consciousness is not superstition – the supposed outcome when the scientific temper is lacking – but the reverence for Number that assures India will never create mechanisms for the annihilation of the human species.

This is a struggle that has been in progress for several centuries in India, culminating in our very times. It is her momentous choice of destiny: ancient or new. But there is evidence that an amalgam of the two is emerging, a breakthrough that can solve this legitimate conundrum. India is the only nation on Earth that faces the problem of carrying forward an ancient way of being that refuses to be silenced because it is still a living force in the culture. This being the case, we need to reflect on why this is so and how best to deal with the challenges this unique situation poses. It seems more than clear that a purpose is being served by this continuity. What might that be? Science in today’s India does not show evidence of path-breaking accomplishments that can throw light on this unusual circumstance of destiny, much less to offer a solution; rather, it follows the lead of the West unquestioningly. Any attempt to deal with the problem is dismissed as backwardness. Admittedly, the desire in some quarters to highlight the scientific achievements of the ancients stirs up a hornet’s nest, perhaps doing more harm to the cause than good. The issue is not to show what might or might not have been done in the past. What is being done today to heal a divide and offer a solution?

The global culture of relativism as it exists today stands in stark contrast to the ancient culture founded on the Sanatana Dharma. It is a barbaric place, by far more uncivilised than ever before, in spite of the swift strides taken in organising our politics, our judicial systems, and many other areas of collective living, which, compared to the Eurocentric civilisation we are fast leaving behind, appear to the modern mind as enlightened. But is this really so? I repeat, we stand on the brink of total destruction. Our cherished science has created an array of weapons for our total annihilation. All that is needed is the push of a button and catastrophe is unleashed. Will the moral and ethical standards that regulate our societies be able to restrain the human being, as ‘barbaric’ as he presently stands, from pushing that button? The imbalance between matters of science and spirit almost assures us a fate of inescapable collective suicide. The ancient spiritualised scientific mind of Bharat would be the answer, as many feel, except for the fact that a millennium or two stand between the Rishis and the scientists of our 21st Century – a cluster of centuries that can neither be wished away nor ignored. Yes, India can solve the conundrum; but first she has to understand the problem to be solved. The search can begin by re-examining precisely the points being made: the great leaps the scientists-cum-yogis made in the ancient world arose in a civilisation that knew no distinction between matters of the spirit or the material. It was all one. History provides an example.

There was, in those remote times, no separation between astrology and astronomy. The former studied the mechanics of the cosmos solely for the purpose of constructing a horoscope whereby the totality of life of an individual could be known. Mechanics served a higher function; for example, the advanced geometry in the Vedic Age served to construct the vedi, the altar for the Sacrifice; it was not simply geometry as an abstract subject for those to indulge in who take delight in the rarefied reaches of the speculative mind. These activities were not merely indulgences in dissecting surface phenomenon. Life was a seamless whole: the surface phenomenon of astronomy was understood to be merely a garment worn by the Shakti to enhance her inner beauty. The Body beneath could never be ignored, as in the practice of astronomy today. Therefore, when the astronomer cries PSUEDO-SCIENCE! at the millions in India who refused to be sidetracked, we must ask how the contemporary astronomer can be so foolish when the sage sees that he is enthralled by and entangled in only the outer garment and cannot come close to the astrologer who worships that Body of the Goddess beneath, in no way disconnected from the garment she wears and periodically changes in the unending delight she takes in keeping abreast with the fashion of the times – indeed, she herself being the Designer. She embodies the very essence of reality: multiplicity in unity. Put another way, diversity in unity. It is time for India to live up to the formula.

 

The problem goes even deeper. If we follow the thread from the ancient past to the present, it can be summed up as the conflict between the spiritual and the material. However, the ancient Indian mind knew no such conflict; it is a malady of our times across the globe and can best be described as the affliction of a separative consciousness. But let us be clear. The West simply stepped in to fill a void that was created in India, indeed by those wisemen who set aside Fullness (the ‘womb’ wherefrom Number arises) in favour of the Void, the Emptiness. This shift in the spiritual quest that began to take shape in the early days of the first millennium bore direct results on the theme of this essay. The focus on the Void was India’s response to the abolition of Goddess worship the West experienced. There it took the shape of a disregard for the Spirit and a focus entirely on the material. Science was the tool to give substance to this focus, while wisemen in India mastered the art of escape into the luminous expanses of the Beyond. That became the goal of all spirituality. The split between Spirit and Matter was thereafter a fact of life on the subcontinent, to the degree that even the filth that surrounds us no amount of social activism can change; this too can be traced to the split and the escape route as the preferred spiritual attainment, chosen by those who had always been the leaders of the civilisation. This was a dramatic departure from the civilisation as it stood in the Vedic Age when no such escape was taken. Is it any wonder therefore that the verses of the Rig Veda remain a mystery to scholars, even the most erudite, and by consequence the Rig Veda has been used to divide and rule the subcontinent by Indologists at the service of mammon?

In the last century the Earth was seen from space as a single expanse without borders; the division between East and West is an illusion conjured up in our separative consciousness which, we are forced to admit, seems now ironclad. Yet the photograph of a boundary-less Earth haunts us; it has become the new Icon to worship. How then is the divide to be bridged and for unity to give birth to a new paradigm?

The thread of the Sanatana Dharma survives, worn but still recognisable. The proof is that India struggles with the problem even though she has not grasped its fullest depths and its corrosive effects on her contemporary civilisation. Bharat in the world of today is like a fish out of water. The conundrum is resolved when she learns to follow the thread linking then and now and realise where the fault line truly lies. It is not in the lack of a scientific temper, or the little-understood genie of Hindu resurgence freed from the bottle in which it has been imprisoned for several centuries, pre- and post-independence. These are all distracting surface conflicts – all of which mask the true problem: Being a civilisation where the Spiritual has always led the rest, the fault lies right there, and nowhere else. It is the shift in the yogic quest to a Beyond, thereby abandoning the Earth to the most aggressive predators, those who pursue the path of material exploitation, having lost sight of the Body of the Goddess that is the Earth they mindlessly ravish. The call of the hour is to worship the Goddess in her full glory which, it needs to be stated, cannot be experienced in rarefied dimensions beyond this material plane. This material universe is her Body. To be endowed with a consciousness that can recognise this highest truth is the supreme boon. She alone can inspire the civilisation that she has been nurturing in her bosom where true all-inclusiveness resides.

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