Following its evolution from ancient times, in search of of keys for renewal and application today
‘… [F]or some two thousand years at least no Indian has really understood the Vedas…’
The Great Divide
– Its purpose and implications for survival of the Veda
India is a good model to use if we want to follow a civilisational development from the beginning of at least recorded history to the present. For this purpose there is the abiding discipline of cosmology. The earliest recorded example of that discipline, or rather its product – a certain widespread level of awareness along the particular lines the record indicates – would be the Rig Veda. Few would be willing to accept that this early record of cosmic praises can be considered cosmology. But if we follow the unbroken line from that period to the present we easily note the relevance. And we are also able to understand the fundamental difference with our world as it moves in toto to its ‘brave new’ complexity.
The important element that distinguishes the cosmology of the Vedic Age and our present scientific brand is the focus on the human element and the development of a superior consciousness central to the collection. The difference can also be evaluated by the simple fact that to the modern Indologist and historian the hymns are simply the emotional outpourings of primitive nature worshippers – pagans, as they are labelled in the religiously-influenced mind of monotheistic academicians and theologians. Only very few have detected anything deeper in the Veda. And yet the text, to one initiated into the same system it propagates, is our best example of what contemporary cosmology lacks. Scientific cosmology makes no mention of the element so central to that of the Vedic Age – the evolution of human consciousness in harmony with the cosmos and able to use its harmonies for self-perfection and the perfection of the entire civilisation it spawned – a society in which the ills of the modern world would appear to have been absent. As an example, the approach to Nature in those former times reveals a very different connection. The world was alive, a living being; the same awareness was extended to the entire solar system with each planet given an identity and imbibed with a consciousness. Indeed, the significant difference between then and now is that there was clearly in evidence a spirit of oneness, making the Earth and the surrounding cosmos a single being.
In our times this understanding has only come through certain mystical experiences to select individuals. It is an awareness that has been aggressively eliminated from our sciences, with the exception of certain trends somewhat outside of the mainstream such as the Gaia Hypothesis of James Lovelock in the 1960s. Given the thirst abroad upon the planet to find connectedness and purpose, it became a beacon for New Age and ecology groups throughout the world. But even the Gaia Paradigm, now considered a theory and no longer an hypothesis, does not incorporate a precise method to evolve a higher consciousness and a spirit of oneness which we find elaborated in the Veda, for indeed there are the guidelines of such a system in the ancient text.
The Rig Veda has preserved its yogic method of the evolution of consciousness for all times. But evolution cannot be fooled. The very fact that the verses are in the main incomprehensible, or have been poorly interpreted to support a largely fossilised ritualism rather than the deeper aim of self-perfection, confirms that the old cosmology had lost its bearings. Somewhere along the line the human component was eliminated, which had previously been the central objective of the process. Having deliberately secured that elimination the resultant scientific cosmology has brought the world to a critical crossroads. Science and technology have run amok with their successes. Almost every branch of learning and technology has carried us collectively to a dangerous crossroads without being able to ensure us that these remarkable discoveries will not carry us to a partial or complete annihilation of the human species.
This impasse would have been unthinkable in the Vedic Age precisely for the reason stated: the focus was on the human element and the development of all parts of consciousness-being in harmony with the cosmos. Perception of the binding integrality and oneness of creation is lacking today, though with every breakthrough science makes we are faced again with the disastrous effects such ignorance can cause to humanity. We could argue that being so ‘primitive’ and ‘technologically under-developed’ the inhabitants of the subcontinent had little choice but to concentrate on the only available laboratory for experimentation: the human component.
While that focus bore the desired results in producing a society in harmony with the cosmic surround, this was only part of Nature’s plan. As it turned out, this one-sided development of sorts while essential would not have served the evolutionary purpose as mapped out in cosmology itself. Our good fortune is to be living in the age of synthesis. To play out the cosmic Purpose there had to be a separation, a determining divide precisely in what has come to be known as the concerns of the spirit in contrast to those of material existence. Both had to go their separate ways and be left to their own resources for the destined synthesis to evolve. The question now is to examine those developments on either side of the divide. In the process we will uncover the way to that Synthesis.
The unravelling begins
Early in the Age of Pisces (234 BCE to 1926 CE), the definitive split between the way of the Spirit and that of Science became consolidated. It was also then that the Vedic Way began to suffer a decline. The effects of the parting of ways was harshly felt in the subcontinent in that gradually a corrosion set in with the loss of an emphasis on a cosmological system geared toward establishing a society of a higher model by first consolidating that superior level in the individual and collective consciousness. On the other hand, science on its own, bereft of the control a higher consciousness can provide, veered off and gradually produced a global society demonstrating this failure in that its proclivities have carried us to the brink of annihilation. If we do not bring about our downfall through global warming and its consequences, we may well do so by the unstoppable stockpiling of lethal weapons of mass destruction. Regarding the latter, it is now generally accepted that it is just a question of time before something of that stockpile falls into the hands of extremists who are playing out their religious or ideological beliefs on the world stage. For instance, the arrival of religions offering salvation in an afterlife made it possible, when carried to an extreme, to convince vulnerable youth that martyrdom is the way to that salvation, the quickest and surest way. Thus armies are gathering, weapons are amassed to play out a final Judgement Day, but one that may be quite different from what is prophesied in our holy books.
Scholars often become victims of the parameters set around their respective disciplines; they tend to miss the forest for the trees. The true purpose of cosmology is to transcend those limitations. As a discipline it alone among all others is capable of revealing a consciousness of unity and oneness such as the ancient sages enjoyed and which will be the solution to our problems today. In this essay I will introduce a cosmology that calls up that ancient way but now brought fully into the context of our contemporary civilisation. This exercise will prove that in understanding the ‘logic’ of the cosmos the culprit at whose feet the divisive consciousness of our times can be laid is, in a word, otherworldliness, with its focus on an afterlife. But it is not only exclusivist Piscean-Age religions of the Middle East that have inculcated this belief in a redeeming Beyond; the subcontinent has been its victim as well. After the great divide all spirituality, with perhaps only few exceptions, took the same route away from an Earth-based realisation such as the Vedic Age had produced. The only difference between this development and the occidental model based on that Piscean exclusivism is the continuity we find in India, extending to a former Age prior to the Piscean. Though the Veda is a closed book for thinkers today, it remains the bedrock of the evolution of consciousness and the many spiritual disciplines that have evolved over this period. Fortunately we can make use of this continuity to discuss the problem the great divide has caused in order to pinpoint that culpability and thereby to learn the manner in which it can be overcome.
To this end the cosmology bequeathed to us from the Vedic Age has to be updated. In so doing when we seek to apply the system today, not only will its inadequacies be revealed but also that the need for updating is upon us. None of the postulations of the Age of Pisces will adequately serve us in this process, precisely because of the otherworldly emphasis they all harbour. But in maintaining the thread of development intact, even if distorted, we find ourselves in a position to discover exactly how and when the degeneration set in and, above all, what its purpose has been. In the realm of spirituality just as in science it had become imperative to lose the original poise in order to encompass a wider base, global in fact; this would be provided by science set upon its own discoveries, thereby creating a new field where cosmology of the Vedic type could flourish in an unprecedented manner because science had paved the way.
The key lay in integrality. This was present in the Vedic Age as we will discover, but the scope or reach of the realisation was perforce limited to the subcontinent. Today cosmology must be integral and all-encompassing: it must cover the entire globe.
Universalism and wholeness
It would be unfair to lay the blame entirely on spirituality for our woes; the materialist consciousness out of which science arose plays its role in the conundrum as well. If this material life is all that matters and there is neither an afterlife nor future births to consider, then the control religions could hold over human beings is eliminated by dissolving the notion of sin, punishment and recompense. With that elimination, however, went a certain respect for our planetary base: science of the staunchly materialistic kind repeatedly demonstrates this disrespect, to the point that in an uncontrolled frenzy it has collaborated with the spiritual camp to bring us to the brink of extinction.
Based on a study of the development of cosmology from the Vedic Age to the present, we are able to note the limitations that brought about the need for the great divide; and also how processes are constantly evolving to prepare avenues of expression for the new dispensation so that the whole Earth can benefit and not just the subcontinent. This analysis will provide evidence to suggest that the cosmology of the Veda continues to be not only the bedrock of Indian spirituality but how the survival of the thread connecting today’s expressions to that bedrock in itself indicates the necessity for the planet to preserve and protect that continuity for the survival of not only the Veda but the species itself. In this exercise it will be interesting to note how these discoveries can be made simply by observing the degeneration that set in after the Vedic Age had passed, and the inadequacies of the old cosmology when analysed with a contemporary eye. These made it imperative for science to lend a helping hand by providing an Earth whose body itself had become whole in the last half of the second millennium; this perception of wholeness has been further consolidated by space travel and the image of an undivided borderless planet irrespective of the ills a divisive consciousness continues to generate, depriving human beings of that binding sense of Oneness which is our natural birthright.
We will attempt to follow the thread connecting us to those former times via one precise area: cosmology. Ervin Laszlo, whose thoughtful book, The Creative Cosmos, makes the case for cosmology as the one discipline capable of expressing and answering the concerns of our contemporary world, writes on page 26,
‘…The next great paradigm shift in science will be by nature transdisciplinary – it will be a cosmological revolution in the classical sense in which cosmology has always been the science of the whole of reality (kosmos, after all, means ‘ordered whole’ in classical Greek).’
In this essay I intend to present just a few examples of the way a cosmology or a philosophy can escape fossilisation. In point of fact, it will become clear that only a culture, a civilisation rooted in the cosmic harmony can indeed escape the dogmatism that must perforce accompany a system without such an in-built mechanism. There are two aspects to note. One is that a certain stable constant exists which when discovered serves as an axis similar to those proper to every planetary and stellar object; indeed, proper to the centre of our galaxy and universes beyond. We could almost state that the Axis is the basic premise and truth of existence in a material creation. Without this ‘centre that holds’, there can be no formation of a cosmos; at least as we are able to discern from observation of our particular dimension.
An axis is the pole whereby that which is static becomes dynamic. It does so by involving certain cosmic ‘directions’. There are two such directions in our manifest universe, contraction and expansion. When we speak of ‘the other side’, we actually mean the intensified compaction of its essence, beyond the reach of our present mathematical aids, in an ever increasing drive as if in a descending movement. The borderline or threshold is the barrier beyond which that ‘drive’ cannot pass without, it would appear, disappearing into nothingness. But since our world is born of fullness, this never occurs. Fullness is thus the unalterable upholding quality or principle of our universe.
When this compacted essence meets or crosses that threshold, it turns back upon itself. The result is the emergence of a pulsating point born of this intense contraction in its self-generated drive. That threshold is the direction of expansion. Contraction and expansion wrap around each other, in a sense, and an axis is born. These conjoined directions stabilise each other everlastingly – a steady state as it were. Thus there is no material aspect involved, measureable with our current tools. Nor is it exactly an energy. The ‘substance’ of an axis is simply the marriage of two directions which can be described as contraction and expansion. The ancients did not rely on measuring devices to plumb the depths of Reality and its true nature, as we understand the term; they experienced the creative process in their innermost beings. The result is the record they left of those experiences, the Rig Veda. Naturally its hymns are incomprehensible today; they belong to another world, another time, another poise of consciousness.
The lived experience in the human consciousness of the conjoined directions is a new balance; that is, when the proper balance or harmonisation occurs an axis can emerge, be this macro- or micro-cosmic, the result of a cross-sectioning of these basic cosmic directions. The Rig Veda hymn, Nāsadīya Sūkta (RV X, 129), translated by Raimundo Panikkar as the Hymn of Origins, states in verse 5:
A crosswise line cut Being from Nonbeing.
What was described above it, what below?
Bearers of seed there were and mighty forces,
thrust from below and forward move above…
Who really knows? Who can presume to tell it?
Whence was it born? Whence issued this creation?
Even the Gods came after its emergence.
Then who can tell from whence it came to be?
And the Rishi concludes with these inimitable, profound words,
That out of which creation has arisen,
whether it held firm or it did not,
He who surveys it in the highest heaven,
He surely knows – or maybe He does not!
The origins of material existence in this view would not be a ‘big bang’ but rather the combined directions similar to the breathing mechanism with its own contraction and expansion, born of a primordial Pulsation (tapas) which lies at the root of all motion. However, we experience breath as a contiguous rise and fall. In the creation of a cosmos they are simultaneous. In the Rig Veda the axis that is formed of these intertwined ‘directions’ is known as Skambha, the cosmic Pillar, support of the worlds and the fulcrum of creation. Panikkar defines it in the Glossary to his book, The Vedic Experience, as ‘The cosmic pillar, understood to be the stable center of the universe (axis mundi) and its hidden support.’ (All India Books, 1977.)
Being creation’s ‘centre’ this axis or skambha supports movement, essential to all consolidated bodies in this universe whose essence is perforce movement. In point of fact, it would be the first stirrings within that original ‘something’ that ultimately creates an axis which in turn becomes the binding energy of that particular body. The ancients on the subcontinent called that first stirring OM – the primordial sound at the Origin and which reverberates endlessly in the great diversity that is the universal manifestation. Science calls it, or seeks to discover this secret ‘something’, by other names – the Big Bang for one. The two are hardly comparable, we must admit; OM creates or reproduces that stirring vibration every time it is sounded with the correct intonation and within the correct context. We can hardly expect ‘big bang’ to do the same!
Again we must not miss the forest for the trees. Whatever the origin the result is a constant unfolding or ‘becoming’ of that original Being of a compressed pulsation. Thus, Becoming is truly the grace we are granted to escape fossilisation, once we realise that we are only more and more complex displays of that original creative Sound.
It is possible to state that each consolidated body in our universe strikes a particular note in this immensity, and its axis obliges that body to mark out a certain tempo as in a musical composition. But all have their origin in OM – however we wish to call it. In other words, using the Becoming of that ‘sound’ we can not only find our way to Being but we can discover just what our ‘note’ might be in the grand scheme of things.
Encouraging the observing Eye to seek and dwell on the ‘first moment’, as science does, is to move farther and farther away from the means not only to discover that ‘note’ but to take our place in the cosmic design, fully conscious of what we are meant to contribute. Therefore the ancients in the subcontinent focussed on the method to bring the human being to the point where he or she could join the cosmic symphony in full awareness of its overall Harmony embracing both the vast and the small in a sublime experience of Oneness. They provided a background for the process which reproduced both Being and Becoming close at hand. They did not extend the eye of perception beyond their recognised ‘field’ so that a certain intense concentration (tapas) would come about that could provide each individual with the energy demanded to undertake the sacred ‘journey’, as it was known in the Vedic Age. The parameter for the process was our solar system. It was viewed as a single ‘family’, and as we are creatures born of the Sun’s third ‘offspring’ our experience of life in all its aspects must be coloured by our position within this family unit, as it were.
There is a certain temporal aspect to the issue: contemporary science uses evermore complex instruments to peer through the folds of space in the effort to reach that First Moment, that Big Bang and the beginning of Time. In other words, it is a penetration into the past. There is no other way for science to proceed because of the POISE it has adopted, – almost an obsession with the known, with what has been and will never more return. This is a positioning external to the fact. It might be argued that quantum physics proceeds in the opposite direction and hence into the minute present; but experience records that the phenomenon observed cannot be separated from the action of observation. While this indicates a certain desirable unity, it more likely indicates that this method of discovery is also inadequate; and though the timeframe is shortened to the extremes our observational techniques permit, simultaneous identification is withheld, the keystone of the Vedic experience.
Extension beyond is simply another manifestation of the belief in an Afterlife that religious adherents cling to in the expectation of salvation. The scientist of course does not dwell on the future, heavenly or otherwise, which to him and his kind cannot be known or proven. On the other hand, religions put all their cards only in the basket of that future condition, whose reality, if any at all, can only be speculated on and never proven as science demands. It must be believed. There is no factual proof of the existence of ‘heaven’ of whatever sort. It is a condition which can be known only by crossing the threshold of Death. And as we experience Death today, we cannot then consciously re-enter life to factually prove what that heaven might be and if it truly exists. At the time of death the human being experiences the same contraction to a ‘point’ as described in the passage across the border of our material dimension. But our transitional stage of evolution makes the passage an experience of nothingness not Fullness, ergo …‘dust unto dust’.
Thus the unknown future blocks the aspirant’s path with only faith to sustain him through life’s tumultuous avenues of pain and suffering. The scientific method, on the other hand, would appear to be far more concrete and believable, because one is constantly dealing with the known, the accumulation of past experience, be this for the individual as in psychoanalysis, or for the theoretical physicist and scientific cosmologist who peers into space, carrying his perception deeper and deeper into the past and to that First ‘Bang’.
The Vedic practitioner, in contrast, does neither. Its initiate does not extend his perceiving eye into the past or into the beyond and the future. Moreover, and this is important to note, the only ‘telescope’ used for the purpose of discovery rather than an extension outward carries the aspirant deep within to that inner most point of the Soul. This reveals the different poise adopted – neither into the known past, nor beyond and into the unknowable future. The inner point is the temporal Present; it is attained through centering of the consciousness on the axis of being that comes through a perfect balance in time and space. In that innermost dimension the truths of the cosmos are unveiled through the lived experience, as the Rig Vedic Hymn of Origins reveals.
The stabilising Axis of Being
Being and Becoming are offered to us eternally, for as long as the solar system exists. The quality of Being is cosmically conveyed by the Stable Constant. It is the ecliptic upon which, within which the entire Family travels; and through the respective tilts and rotations of axes, our System creates its very own music of the spheres.
In our solar system the ecliptic ‘densifies’ the cosmic directions of contraction and expansion via the Solstices and Equinoxes. Within the 365 days of the year, at four points in our annual circumambulation of the Sun, this same function is carried out to become ingrained in the constitution of all things born on planet Earth.
As creatures of planet Earth, it appears that we alone in the Family are provided with a special device whereby we can not only ‘hear’ that music but we can become conscious of our role and contribution to the Harmony. If we observe our solar system within the parameters laid out above, the Axis stands out among all other aspects of the System as a determining factor; yet so little is known of its own origin and the cause for its emergence at a given time and place. The purpose of this essay is not so much to uncover the origins of an axis but how a deeper understanding of the special assembly of axes in our solar system can help us fulfil the destiny of the Earth.
In the Vedic Age the axial function was understood in depth. The hymns of the Rig Veda are testimony to the fact that the solar system with its rhythms and harmonies was a living being and all its planets and living creatures were expressions of that particular ‘note’ the System contributes to the total Reality. While the ecliptic stable constant exists for the entire universe, it is the abiding truth of all its individual components. In our solar system the ecliptic stable constant is the eternal pathway of the planets around the solar Paterfamilias, whose own axis is truly the pole of our existence, the ultimate ‘centre that holds’ the Family together. For the ancient Rishis fulfilment was clearly connected to understanding the cosmic harmony and discovering a method whereby not only would that understanding come but the aspirant undertaking that special journey would discover the internal axis and thereby his or her place within the whole, commonly known as one’s inner truth (swadharma) and destiny. It was never a question of disengaging from the Harmony but rather to become evermore conscious of its ‘sounds’; and in the process the individual note each soul contributes to the symphony in praise of the Sun.
Regarding the Axis, macro- or micro-cosmic, we must take note of the fact that its origin is largely unknown because the axis is our link to the beyond – that is, beyond science’s singularity. When in the new cosmology we refer to compaction of the trinity in the Zero, expressed in Number as 9, 6, 3, and from that Zero the first point of space emerges, or in the number 1, we are actually describing the origin of the axis. It would be a further densification of OM. There are the three dimensions of Time whose fourth dimension is the first point of Space. It could also be said that Time’s fourth dimension is precisely the point of the origin of the Axis. These three dimensions of Time are properties of the side beyond the singularity of material science. Naturally they cannot be examined because, as we know, the laws of scientific cosmology break down at that threshold. The cosmologist stands before a closed door. Thus, however much he pushes his probing into the depths of the past, he will always crash up against this tightly-sealed door. Access is barred because his poise of consciousness is not a harmonious balance of time and space, or contraction and expansion. It is that balance produced by alignment born of centering which offers the possibility of access to that dimension on the other side of the Zero. Out of that Zero comes the Point; its pulsations (tapas) ultimately create an axis: Skambha of the Veda which in turn is personified as Agni, navel of the world, the Son of Force, and the primordial Fire.
The Contingency Plan
I have laid emphasis on the disease of Otherworldliness, which we have inherited from the Age of Pisces with its clear evidence of the Great Divide, because it demonstrates what the result must be when we reject our place in this material universe in favour of an unprovable Beyond disconnected from our solar system and its harmonies. The critical crossroad we have reached is only because we stand on the edge of the Divide and we must make a choice. That choice is not of one side or the other of the divide, i.e., spirit or matter. It is the greater harmony of Synthesis that must be the choice if we are to continue on this journey as a global society. To reach that synthesis we have to accept our destiny and place in the cosmic manifestation and cease fleeing from the ‘land of our birth’.
That land is our solar system. The ancients understood this by universalising their consciousness to the point where they experienced the whole world as their abode, kutumbhakam vasu…. Naturally today’s Indologists, historians and pundits cannot understand the records they have left of that vastness and wideness of consciousness because their approach is one of an a priori rejection, even in the best of cases. The key to unlock the door to the worldview they enjoyed is to retrace our steps and seek to recapture their acceptance of the cosmos as the only path to integral self-perfection, and thereby to the establishment of a society, now global, that can express the harmonies of the System and so to eliminate the cacophony we now know and attempt to prolong, though we all realise its death is near at hand.
Indeed, as I have written, evolution is not to be fooled. Therefore, the decline in consciousness and the poise of rejection had to have been a carefully crafted part of the universal Becoming of Being like everything else. The experience of Oneness makes this obvious. The Divide would necessarily bring quake-like disturbances: cacophony would be the result. But to help the evolving species survive the tumultuous breakdown, an escape route was devised. This was the focus of all religions and yogic systems of the Age of Pisces when the global disruption was destined to begin. It is often stated that religions are the major cause of discord in the world, incongruous as this would seem. But if we understand that they were part of a merciful ‘contingency plan’, we understand how this incongruence can be true. Buddhism is an example. It had to be a mahatma of the Buddha’s calibre, with his immeasurable depth of compassion, to introduce the reversed direction away from life and not flowing with it. Proponents of Buddhism may argue that it seeks to do just the contrary, to join the flow, as Zen Buddhism in particular encourages. The truth be told, there is only one vehicle available to the human being to ‘join the flow’. That vehicle is the Soul, and Buddhism disregards its place and purpose in the scheme of things.
This was a deliberate act because the Buddha’s only concern was to free human beings from suffering, from entrapment on the wheel of endlessly generated samskaras. Given the unavoidable breakdown after the Vedic Age, the method or contingency plan, which would carry evolution through the most dangerous period of its trajectory somewhat in tact until the arrival of better times, would be to preach the illusion of that suffering itself. It was unreal, or only as real as the subject’s poise of consciousness would allow. With the loss of the true and full Harmony and given the breakdown with its attending diminished awareness, those seeds of undermining were easily planted. They have been flourishing ever since.
The soul is precisely the element that can harmonise Being and Becoming in the individual. It is the compact essence of the Transcendent and Cosmic powers/principles as they become embedded in our universe and in particular in the consciousness of the highest species on planet Earth. The compacted Transcendent is born as the Immanent in each individual consciousness. But it stands that a world where Death is lord and master with the consequent suffering this lordship entails, the soul, the Earth’s very own contribution to the universal harmony of an integral truth, had to be rejected. This rejection continues into the present and can be identified as the root of the destruction of our habitat itself. Rather than free ourselves of suffering by this denial, we have become more solidly entrapped in this diminished state where Death is the sole master.
We must realise that the breakdown the Divide caused is not external to the whole; therefore, it too must ‘make sense’, as indeed it does. But the contingency plan is also part of the whole and its very existence points to the ultimate solution.
When the ecliptic is the foundation, the stable constant of our existence, the ups and downs of the evolution of consciousness can be understood as the increase and ebb tides of destiny. One follows the other, even as the Earth dips and rises below and above the plane of the ecliptic, similar to ocean tides. But plateaus are reached from time to time in the ascent of consciousness. The ‘downs’ are experienced from ever higher levels as we scale the evolutionary mountain. At this stage in our journey we are almost at the summit, the mountain’s apex from where a steady state can be attained: from truth to greater truth.
Director, Aeon Centre of Cosmology
17 November 2009
© Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet 2009