Monday, December 13, 2010

Decoding the Geeta - Part 2

Caution :– Long post ahead
Continued from here.

Link between spirituality and science
As I have expressed before, concepts of religion and spirituality were created by great thinkers at various stages of human history in order to show man the right way of living life. While some aspects of various streams of religious thought are in the realm of fiction, used to force man to follow the right path based on a feeling of fear of divine beings, some other aspects do have parallels in science. It was perhaps the very limited development of science at the time that these ideas were first propagated, that resulted in them being represented in the realm of religion and spirituality than the realm of science, for the sake of a common man’s acceptance. For example, the fact that the “tulsi” plant has renowned medicinal properties perhaps resulted in it being designated the status of a holy plant. The various benefits obtained from a cow (as a source of transport, resource for ploughing fields, source of milk, manure and energy) resulted in it being designated a divine animal. According to Hindu cosmology, the entire universe is created and destroyed in one day of Brahma’s life. The next day in his life heralds the creation of a new universe. One full day (1 kalpas) in Brahma’s life consists of 8.64 billion years. Modern science estimates the age of the universe as being about 13.75 billion years. The fact that ancient astronomers got the order of magnitude of the biggest calculation in the world right, indicates the maturity their scientific awareness, and also shows how they used religion to convey scientific truths.

Now that we live in an age of science, where blind belief in religious and spiritual thought is not considered rational by many, perhaps linking scientific truths to spirituality will help a modern man understand it better. Unfortunately, most literature of the day on the Geeta has been authored by religious gurus, who have not moved on with the times in terms of explaining the purport in a language of the modern scientifically thinking rational man. If efforts in made in this area, today’s generation can view the great poem in a completely new light and appreciate it. Who knows, they may even be able to inculcate some of the teachings in their lives.

As an engineer, I have often tried to find parallels between spiritual and scientific thought. One of the greatest theories in Hindu spiritual thought is the concept of “aatman” (soul). As elucidated in the Geeta, “aatman” is un-damageable and indestructible, whereas the body is not. And the aatman keeps going through infinite cycles of taking various bodily forms. Although this idea seems to be in the realm of fiction to most people, I believe I have a theory for linking the concept of “aatman” explained in the Geeta to parallels in science.

Literal meaning of relevant shkolas from the Geeta
na jayate mriyate va kadacit
nayam bhutva bhavita va na bhuyah
ajo nityah sasvato 'yam purano
na hanyate hanyamane sarire

Breaking it word by word -
na -- never; jayate -- takes birth; mriyate -- dies; va -- either; kadacit -- at any time (past, present or future);
na -- never; ayam -- this; bhutva -- having come into being; bhavita -- will come to be; va -- or; na -- not; bhuyah -- or is again coming to be;
ajah -- unborn; nityah -- eternal; sasvatah -- permanent; ayam -- this; puranah -- the oldest;
na -- never; hanyate -- is killed; hanyamane -- being killed; sarire -- the body.

Literal Translation
For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. The soul has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being. The soul is unborn, eternal, ever-existing and primeval. It is not slain when the body is slain.

Vasamsi Jeernani Yatha Vihaya Navani Grihanani Naroparani
Tatha Sharirani Vihaya Jeernani Aniani Samyathi Navani Dehee

Breaking it word by word -
Vasamsi- Clothes, Jeernani- worn out, Vatha- as, Vihaya- Casting off, Navani- now, Grihanani- takes, Narah- A man,
Tatha- so, Sharirani- bodies, Aniani- others, Samyathi- enters.

Literal Translation
As a man casts off his worn out clothes and adorns new ones, so does the soul casts off worn out bodies and enters into other which are new.

Avyaktadini bhutani
Vyakta-madhyani bharata
Avyakta-nidhanany eva
Tatra ka paridevana

Breaking it word by word -
avyakta-adini--in the beginning unmanifested; bhutani--all that are created;
vyakta--manifested; madhyani--in the middle; bharata--O descendant of Bharata;
avyakta—non manifested; nidhanani--all that are vanquished; eva--it is all like that;
tatra--therefore; ka--what; paridevana--lamentation.

Literal Translation
O descendent of Bharata, all beings start without a physical body and at death they are again without a body. Only in between do they have a physical body, so why lament?

na tv evāhaḿ jātu nāsaḿ
na tvaḿ neme janādhipāḥ
na caiva na bhaviṣyāmaḥ
sarve vayam ataḥ param

Breaking it word by word –
na — never; tu — but; eva — certainly; aham — I; jātu — at any time; na — did not; āsam — exist;
na — not; tvam — you; na — not; ime — all these; jana-adhipāḥ — kings;
na — never; ca — also; eva — certainly; na — not; bhaviṣyāmaḥ — shall exist;
sarve vayam — all of us; ataḥ param — hereafter.

Literal translation
Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.

Explanation given by religious gurus -
The core principle elucidated in these shlokas is the fact that the soul is eternal entity that has no beginning or end. Neither does it have any shape or form. The soul passes from one body to another limitless number of times. The soul enters a living being’s body at the time of his birth and exits at the time of his death. Subsequently, it may enter another living being’s body. A living being can be any animal or plant. No person in the world knows the living being that his soul had inhabited previously or will inhabit in the future. The body is just like a dress that the soul wears which can be thrown away after a while and be replaced by a new one. Hence one should not lament the loss (death) of a bodily form, as the soul has not died with it.
Krishna tells Arjuna that there was never a time in the universe when Arjuna, Krishna or any of the kings fighting the battle did not exist in the past. And there will never be a time when they will cease to exist in the future. But Arjuna or anyone else will never know the various forms in which they exist.

Possible scientific parallels –
Everything in this universe is made up of atoms and molecules. This includes the living and the non-living. A man is born from the atoms of his mother. The food and nutrition that help him grow and become an adult consist of atoms. When a man dies, the atoms that make up his body get dissipated in nature. They transform into other natural elements and mix with soil, water or air. These atoms may then follow an infinite number of routes to the body of another living being. An atom mixed in soil may become a part of a seed of a plant, an atom mixed with water may be ingested by an animal, inhibit its body and then move to its offspring. The possibilities are endless. Some atoms may spend an extended period of time in a non-living form (in metal, rock, air etc.) before moving into living being’s body.

The atoms that all of us are made up of are nothing but our soul. They come together into a finite form (“dress”) that we call our bodies. They will depart from our bodies after our death and merge with some other part of nature. And this cycle with infinite number of combinations is each stage is repeated infinite times. None of us know where the atoms that we are made of come from, which living or non-living entity did they inhabit earlier, or what they will transform into after our deaths. Hence an enlightened person should not mourn the loss of a bodily form, as the constituent elements will never be lost. The atoms that all of us consist of are in a sense eternal and cannot be destroyed.

Conclusion –
This example shows how intelligently the writer(s) of the Geeta may have molded a scientific truth into a spiritual concept in order to show man the right path. They used the fact that all things in the universe consist of the same constituent elements (atoms) that go through infinite cycles of transformation to impress upon man the idea of "aasakti" from the physical body. The concept of the “aatman” was been used to motivate people to "give their best" to anything which they do without actually attaching a very material significance to their actions.

Readers are welcome to leave their thoughts as comments. 

References -
1.     Mahabharat Episodes with the Geeta (Must watch) –
a.     Episode 72 
  1. Bhaktivedanta VedaBase: Bhagavad-gita As It Is 2.20
  2. A to Z Calender 
  3. Chapter 2. Contents of the Gita Summarized
  4. Srimad Bhagavad Gita 
  5. Bhaktivedanta VedaBase: Bhagavad-gītā As It Is 2.12
  6. Wiki link for Age of the Universe
  7. Wiki link for a Day in the Life of Brahma
  8. Carl Sagan on links of Hindu Mythology with modern astronomy

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