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A New Paradigm
The need for a THIRD way

 By Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet

Meera Nanda’s call to intellectuals (Calling India’s Free Thinkers, THE HINDU, 22 May 2004) to help dispel superstition from Indian culture is provocative and challenging. The challenge lies in the fact that while one accepts the gauntlet and would like to contest the interesting arguments put forth in her article, point by point, there are certain impediments.
         First of all, we speak different languages. By this I do not mean that she speaks the language of science and I the language of spirituality. As they are both known and practiced today, neither is adequate. One can only agree with Meera Nanda when she argues that some Hindutva proponents err in seeking to find science in the Veda. Certainly since the publication in the early 1960s of Fitzjof Capra’s best-selling book, The Tao of Physics, there has been a trend to show that science is somehow catching up with eastern spirituality to arrive at the same conclusions, thereby indicating not only the authenticity of the ancient Scriptures but in a certain sense their superiority. Hence this stick cannot be used exclusively to beat the Hindutva brigade. It is a fever that has gripped the whole world.
         Concurring with Nanda, we have to admit that science, as we know it today, is not present in the Veda. However, if we accept the terms laid down in the Veda itself, we discover a third way of perceiving reality which carries us beyond both postulations.
         Before proceeding, it needs to be noted that when I write of the Veda as the bedrock of Indian spirituality, there is a substantial difference between what is held as Vedic today and what we find in ancient documentations of yogic practices and achievements such as the Rig Veda. The true Vedic perception of reality is not in evidence today.

Evolution in Science and Spirituality

Both spirituality and science are in a process of elaboration and evolution. Regarding science this statement may be easy enough to accept. However, in dealing with matters of the spirit, believers will assert that the truth they uphold is eternal and immutable. In this regard, it may be argued that Hinduism cannot be clubbed together with the exclusivist religions of the Middle East, insofar as the latter’s literal interpretation of Scripture certainly argues against evolution, while Hinduism does not. But the practical application of Hinduism in its many schools of yoga contradicts this belief. Like the Middle Eastern religions, Hinduism has been moulded to concur on this essential point which has influenced culture on the subcontinent ever since.
           According to the tenets of Creationism, evolution cannot be accepted because God created the world and the human species in seven days. On the other hand, Exclusivism holds that there is only one God and one Truth, static and unchanging.  Since postulations of this sort cannot be reconciled with a world in obvious movement and therefore subjected to limitless mutations and continuous change, religions are left on one side of the chasm which this perception of reality produces, and science on the other.
          In this regard, though not following the Creationist or the Exclusivist, the point needs to be made that the Eastern spirituality we know today is a distant relative of the path described by the ancient Seers and documented in the Rig Veda. But if there is any greatness in Hinduism it is that it holds firmly to its roots in the Veda. And therefore, in spite of a new direction it adopted some 2000 years ago, embedded in its core is that very evolution the Veda supports but which Hinduism later came to deny through modifications in the practical implementation of its tenets. This stance is what denies to Hinduism the right to lay claim to science, as we know it today.
          To differentiate between contemporary Hinduism and what existed earlier, for clarity’s sake the new direction has to be termed post-Vedic. The distinguishing feature between the two is the goal offered to the seeker, as well as the means to reach that summit.

‘Heaven’ beyond the Earth
In the ancient way the direction of the quest pointed squarely to the Earth, an apotheosis enjoyed right here on our planetary base. Swar became ‘otherworldly’ at a later date, when Hinduism came to be influenced by post-Vedic spirituality, whose main feature is a goal beyond the cosmic manifestation in a static transcendent dimension. This interpretation continues into the present, though Swar is very clearly Earth-oriented in the Rig Veda. In pursuing the matter more deeply, we have to admit that while holding itself apart from the religions of the Middle East, Hinduism of the post-Vedic persuasion follows the same pattern by offering the seeker a reward beyond our material universe; and certainly beyond the Earth, where to be born is considered a ‘fall’. In all Eastern spirituality the goal is a purification which ultimately assures us that we will not return to this planetary base and be born into this maddening dance of material creation which it came to label impermanent and hence somehow unreal. Even if it takes a thousand lifetimes, we are encouraged to seek liberation from birth and an extra-cosmic ‘heaven’ similar to religions the world over. Yet at the same time, we seek to lay claim to science which deals exclusively with that Cosmic Dance. This is both contradictory and incongruous.
         The problem lies in the fact that we do not find yogic practitioners today who can follow this investigation through to these logical conclusions. They repeat slogans, and the investigation stops there. In this sense science is a cut above spirituality in that it propagates experimentation, validation and constant reassessment. (For the present discussion we will deliberately ignore the abundant evidence that science can be as orthodox and rigid as spirituality.)
           Spirituality is in a process of evolution no less than science. But here is another contradiction: If there is any greatness in Hinduism it is to be found in its wholehearted acceptance of evolution, as demonstrated in the civilisation’s rich cultural heritage which so clearly reveals this acceptance. It can safely be stated that every noteworthy piece of art the subcontinent has produced is a living testimony to that acceptance. And certainly the bedrock of Hinduism, the Line of Ten Avatars, which utilises Myth as a time-tested method of preservation and transmission, does describe the evolution of the species. It is supported by the two epics, Ramayana and Mahabharat, which continue to provide a cementing factor in the on-going, evolving civilisation.
           Notwithstanding the changed direction practitioners of yoga may be pursuing, leading to a static, trans-cosmic Peace, there remains a fixation with change, mutation, and the truth of all that moves. If Shiva in the form of Mahakal is revered, there has to be a reverence for the truth of our material world. That truth is its ever-changing nature. But one thing is to worship an icon of Nataraj as symbol of this great cosmic dance; another is to realise that poise yogically. And this is what we find in the ancient Rig Veda but that is absent today. We praise the Dancer but refuse to accept his invitation to the Dance!
          Subsequently, the acceptance of a reality that incorporates dynamism became a hidden truth, the ‘lost sun’ as it is known in the Rig Veda, which the seeker is encouraged to discover once again but within the context of our evolving world. This is explicitly stated in the ancient Veda, rooted in the cosmic manifestation as it is.

The Old beside the New
India today is very different from Vedic Bharat. It is obvious that contemporary culture expresses different values, a fact lamented by many of us who would prefer the world as it once was, without the complications our divisive perception has inflicted on humanity. We blame this on the West, the Left, the Right.  But how many are willing and able to discover a cross-cultural, fundamental flaw in the spiritual domain, which forces us to agree with many statements Meera Nanda makes in her article? To retrieve the summits reached by the earlier culture, the post-Vedic spirituality we practice today is of little help and cannot harmonise the moving and the static. A fragmented perception of our world is not the answer we seek.
          Problems arise in this discourse when we remove dynamism from the postulation, as advocates of spirituality are wont to do, notwithstanding their protestations to the contrary. By so doing, in one sweep the spiritual seeker cuts himself off from the world science explores so diligently. Practical application and the results produced, not slogans, are the test. Considering this, it has to be accepted that spirituality has no right to hold itself up as a practical method to discover the ultimate reality because it insists in denying any reality to half the equation!
          From the time of Buddhism onward, in what concerns a practical application, spirituality persists in placing matter, cosmos and the Earth on one side, and the unmoving and unchanging Spirit on the other, thereby fostering a cleavage between the two by claiming that only the Unmoving is real. Science does the same but in reverse. These entrenched positions are made clear in Meera Nanda’s article itself.
          Science as we know it today deals exclusively with what is in continuous motion. Our material world can be defined as a play of energies in constant movement; that is, a measurable world to which we apply diverse epistemologies and technologies for that measuring, excluding from this purview anything that cannot be measured by the tools we invent for the purpose. Again, this is confirmed by Nanda’s article itself when she labels the ‘dogma’ of consciousness in matter as another ‘superstition’. (‘…We must demolish this dogma because it denies the existence of deeply oppressive superstitions, including the occult notion of the presence of consciousness in matter.’).
           To simplify the discussion, the challenge lies in overcoming this basic flaw afflicting both science and spirituality. Both dissect reality and then focus on only a portion. What is needed is a means to bridge the two and not, as Meera Nanda desires, to drive a wedge even deeper into the already existing cleavage that appears to divide the indivisible.

A Unified Perception: the new Paradigm

One of India’s greatest achievements is having preserved fragments of a knowledge that reveals a civilisation uninfected by this divide. It may be referred to as a consciousness of unity. But if the word consciousness is offensive to Meera Nanda and those of her persuasion, let it be termed a faculty for perceiving reality in its entirety, where there is no such division between the two, - spirit and matter as opposites on a pole of irreconcilable tension. Indeed, what the colonial religious/political dogmatists refer to as paganism, with reference particularly to the Rig Veda (invading nature-worshipping hoards), is simply utterances of sages who could not conceive of a split of this order. With a perceptive faculty of this nature, founded on a vision of the world as a unified whole, of course one cannot but sing praises to the sky, the elements, the cosmos, the Sun, the planets, the earth and her rivers, and whatever else populates this superlative Dance of Shiva, simply because these are the multiple manifestations of that underlying unity. The Rig Veda sings praises to an ever widening, ever more comprehensive perceptive faculty, indicating an observer who accepts constant change and an evolving truth in the quest of ever higher summits of itself. It establishes this goal as the Earth’s evolutionary purpose. And this is its praise-worthy uniqueness.
          Somewhere along the way the perception of an underlying unifying substratum, where both the static and the dynamic find their place, was perverted. What remained was only a super-stratum; anything below that otherworldly Swar was perceived as illusion. A perceptive faculty has to be reacquired that can heal this wound which has afflicted humanity with a science separate from spirituality. Indeed, a third way.
          Alone neither will suffice. It is an ability to perceive always as if from a central position rather than linearly, from one or the other side of the chasm. Meera Nanda encourages us to further strengthen the divide. She offers us a fragmented vision that is certainly contrary to the real Vedic way; or even to the current trends in science itself to reach beyond its present limitations. At the same time, the spirituality practiced today cannot provide the investigator with the keys that unlock the doors to this comprehensive reality because post-Vedic spirituality has denied any reality to our evolving world.
          Once we have accepted that a state of comprehensive perception does exist and was lauded in the ancient Veda, then we can embark upon the discovery of the truths embedded in those sacred texts on their own terms.

Pseudo-Vedic Astrology
Let me provide a practical example of the problem facing the two camps. I will take up just one favourite subject of both: Vedic Astrology. Meera Nanda concludes her article by decrying, as many have before her, the inclusion of so-called Vedic Astrology in university curricula.
          First of all, it needs to be clarified that what goes by this name today is anything but Vedic. If it were termed Post-Vedic there would be no problem and we could argue the matter on a substantive basis. Since we cannot do so because practitioners of this ‘science’ refuse to listen to any arguments that will destabilise their drive to keep the study of this pseudo-­Vedic astrology in schools, we must agree with Nanda that its inclusion serves to strengthen the very things we seek to eradicate from both science and spirituality.
           The study of this so-called Vedic Science does nothing to further truth. But it is truth as perceived via this integral vision and not the divisive postulation of science as we know it today. My objection to the inclusion of this subject in curricula is not because it fosters superstition but because it purports to be what it is not.
         Cosmic harmonies of the true Vedic school never dealt with predictions – which is the sole obsession of the contemporary ‘Vedic’ astrologer. When the path propagated in the Rig Veda is pursued, that same all-comprehensive vision of old emerges which never used cosmic harmonics as a tool for divining the future but rather for acquiring a wide and all-inclusive perception of the forces at play at any given moment and, above all, the part we may contribute to this great Dance of Shiva. To focus on forecasting, the exclusive concern of the pseudo-Vedic Astrologer, demonstrates a total deviation from the Vedic Way. But there is no practicing ‘Vedic’ astrologer who will admit the existence of this flaw and deal with it. Therefore he must rename his ‘science’ since it has nothing to do with the Veda.
          Post-Vedic astrology is what he or she practices, - without even respecting the only system advocated in the Veda, Sayana not Nirayana. This essential point, technical as it is, has been dealt with in depth elsewhere and need not detain us here. Though this may make confusion worse confounded, the point I wish to make is that there is sufficient proof available to show any well-intentioned investigator that this so-called Vedic Astrology finds no sanction in the ancient texts.
          Astrology of the ancient way was a total system of knowledge, for which reason throughout the world historians call it the ‘Mother of all Sciences’. Therefore to connect the ancient way with the astrology practiced today is misleading because we equate it with this pseudo-Vedic astrology, a very distant relative of the cosmic harmonies underlying the entire Rig Veda.
         The Vedic Seer never fragmented time as the contemporary astrologer does, focussing only on the future. There is what is called trikaladrishti, - a perception of a unity of time that is the basis for the unified poise of consciousness described above. When a consciousness of unity evolves in the practitioner, Time is perceived as the essence of the universal manifestation and becomes our greatest aid in the quest for an undivided perception. In this light, verses from the Rig Veda make sense and are not the babblings of pagan nomads:  

Certain eternal worlds are these which have come into being,
their doors are shut to you (or, opened) by the months and the years;
without effort one (world) moves into the other,
and it is these that Brahmanaspati has made manifest to knowledge.
(RV, II.24-5)

         These simple verses describe the method and purpose of the true Vedic Astrology. Substantiating this statement is an entire body of knowledge that provides us with the new paradigm. It is both Vedic as well as devoid of superstition because it carries the practitioner, by the aid of Time, to the discovery of a faculty for a unified perception beyond both the science and spirituality of today.  He then constructs the bridge between the two seemingly opposing realities when he penetrates the ‘doors’ mentioned in the verses above. But for that he must have the right key to insert. Science as we know it today cannot provide that key. But neither can spirituality – and much less so-called Vedic Astrology.
         In this light, the new paradigm is related to cosmology, but neither scientific nor spiritual. It is a new paradigm, though it uses the same cosmic harmonies of old. How can it be otherwise when the cosmic surround is eternally what it is, and yet eternally mutating? It is those mutations that are integrated in the new paradigm.
        There is no question of this paradigm fostering superstition. Superstition comes into being precisely when there is no knowledge, when practices evolve over the centuries that are only vaguely connected to the original source of knowledge by a flimsy thread; it is only a distant memory that survives. According to Sri Aurobindo, ‘The letter lived on when the spirit was forgotten; the symbol, the body of the doctrine, remained but the soul of knowledge had fled from its coverings.’ (The Secret of the Veda.)
         In this regard, Meera Nanda is right in decrying the introduction of such subjects because they foster the wrong things. They consolidate a darkness that arose during India’s decline as a civilisation, precisely when the divisive consciousness took centre stage and science became separate from the pursuit of the spirit. This left both camps orphaned, as it were, and in need of an integrating principle.
           However, this principle presents its own language. The true investigator of whichever camp has to learn that language before attempting to throw the baby out with the bath water. Nothing positive is ever achieved in this manner. Those who cling to this divisive method must accept their limitations in all humility when faced with a very different faculty of perception than they possess; and which, because of its divisiveness, is severely flawed. Similarly, spirituality of all schools, which are believed by their adherents to offer an integral perception of reality, must open to new vistas and re-establish the ancient way which was a harmony and integration of stability and change. Not one or the other, but both simultaneously.
           This is the very same message the Cosmic Dancer preserves. It is really nothing new. But the challenge lies in dropping the slogans and retrieving ‘the lost sun’ right in the midst of an evolving world of both spirit and matter.

 

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Ganesa - god of learning & wisdom