The Sanctity of Materialism
by Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet
For me all is Brahman and I find the Divine everywhere.
Everyone has the right to throw away this-worldliness and choose other-worldliness only,
and if he finds peace by that choice he is greatly blessed. I, personally, have not found
it necessary to do this in order to have peace. In my yoga also I found myself moved to
include both worlds in my purview - the spiritual and the material - and to try to
establish the Divine Consciousness and the Divine Power in mens hearts and earthly
life, not for a personal salvation only but for a life divine here....
Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga
It is certainly a sign of the times that again an article has appeared
which seeks to drive a wedge between ancient Indian culture and the contemporary. This
time it is Debashis Chakrabartis Hindutva: The religious incongruity (The
However, there is a positive side to the frequency of these analyses in the
printed media. It is that it provides us an opportunity to bring into the public domain
certain obscure facets of the philosophy handed down throughout the ages, in the vast
accumulation of thought and practice we call Hinduism today. In so doing, areas of the
culture that appear puzzling, or even downright perverse (carnal, to use
Debashis Chakrabartis description), are brought into a clearer perspective.
There is no need to dwell on the question of the so-called Aryan Invasion, which
Debashis Chakrabarti posits as an historical fact. This theory has been thoroughly
discredited to the extent that it is surprising to encounter a researcher today who dares
to continue citing this fictitious happening as real. But to delve into the more pertinent
questions he raises, one quote from his article in this regard will suffice. He writes, In
fact, the Rigvedic culture represents the ancient naturalism of primitive, nomadic and
pastoral Aryan/Indo-European tribes who had settled in the Sindhu-Ganga basin in the
second or third millennium B.C.
Apart from continuing to propagate the now dislodged theory as fact,
Chakrabarti has raised deeper questions by his contention that the Rigveda is a
document produced from a primitive, tribal and nomadic
culture. It is necessary to expose the fallacy in his proposition; and this can readily be
done when the sophistication of the Hymns is elaborated and the depth and breath of the
consciousness in which these visions arose is explored. When this analysis is concluded,
it will be for the public to decide if the Rigveda is the result of primitive
nature worshipers, pre-religious and animistic-naturalistic magic. Or else, as
is my contention, this sacred text is the product of a consciousness of unity unknown in
the world today.
Dividing the Indivisible
Before all else, it needs to be stated that Chakrabartis perception of a
materialism suffusing the Rigveda is appropriate, given the fact that
today we are limited in our appreciation of these aspects of reality
(materialism/spiritualism). We tend to divide what for the Rishi was indivisible. The Rigveda is of most ancient origin. At that time there was a decisive homogeneity in the culture,
wherein these distinctions not only did not exist, the very act of dividing aspects of
that One Reality into these compartments was anathema.
However, the materialism that Chakrabarti attributes to the Rigveda fails to encompass the sacred. It was, for the Rishi, a material sanctity, if you
will, or a sanctified materialism. The acme of the quest was not posited beyond
material creation. The Seer had no need to: the Absolute was part and parcel of the
creation that was perceived as an extension of the Absolutes own Being.
Today we are very far from possessing this type of perception as a lived
experience and not just an intellectual exercise. Therefore, India cannot lead the
world to an appreciation of this holiness of the material that is needed to save the
planet from continued desecration and relentless destruction. Indeed, the situation is
such that some of the activities most damaging to Mother Earth take place in India, in
spite of the lofty position she held in ancient times in the culture. We may safely state
that this is directly related to the development of the spirituality
Chakrabarti attributes to the Upanishadic period and denies to the Vedic. I shall
elaborate this point in the course of this discussion.
Chakrabartis contention is that the adherents of Hindutva are waging a lost
battle in seeking to revitalise the Vedic foundations in contemporary Hinduism and to firm
up links that time and circumstance seem to have severed. The religion we have
come to call Hinduism, Chakrabarti claims, is unrelated to the Veda as that ancient school
has reached us through the four Vedas. He even goes further and states that there is no
spiritualism therein, this term being employed according to his contemporary
yardstick, it must be stated.
The author, in seeking to establish his argument, ventures into waters where he is
sure to drown; for he is treating themes such as spirituality and its opposite,
materialism, from the standpoint of an historian or sociologist moulded in the corridors
of our modern universities. This is untenable insofar as the language and the methodology
of the spiritual realiser are entirely different. Furthermore, most intellectuals today
are products of institutions that foster entirely Euro-centric viewpoints, with all that
goes with such a formidable conditioning, making all the finer points of the culture
virtually impossible to comprehend.
To illustrate the point, the historian cannot be blamed if he analyses the Veda
from the level of his worldly orientation and preparation. True penetration into its
mysteries occurs through the direct experience that the systems of Yoga and other
methods of self-perfection of the human consciousness provide. If, for example, we wish to
establish the materialism of the Vedic Rishis, this cannot be deduced from an
academicians scrutiny of the sacred texts. A long and laborious process of
self-discipline is required, longer than the years spent in pursuit of an academic degree;
as well, there must be an entirely different direction and purpose in the quest.
We may state further that the apparent schism Chakrabarti believes he is
uncovering in his analysis is illusory. There is no such chasm between the most ancient
Veda and the Hinduism of today. There is, on the contrary, a thoroughly organic
development linking the two. This process starts from a point of Unity, and from
that original seed an evolution of consciousness makes its way through the
ages, revealing a connected process which, while conditioned by time and circumstance,
remains ever faithful to that original seed.
Inadequacies of a contemporary yardstick
There appears to be a severance at a certain point in this evolution. From a
superficial observation one may deduce that a linear or hemispheric divide
has occurred and that the two, from that point in time, stand on opposite edges of an
inviolable chasm, holding opposing positions: materialism versus spirituality. This
superficial observation results from adopting the contemporary yardstick modern
institutions of learning provide, unrelated to the ancient way. Yet with this the
researcher proposes to make deductions and definitive conclusions concerning those former
Debashis Chakrabarti would have us believe that the Vedic Age stood for
materialism given the fact that physical elements were worshiped as divinity. He
further contends that true spirituality only began to manifest after Buddhism
and Jainism in the age of the Upanishads.
In point of fact, to one who has followed this ancient path of Yoga as alluded to
in the Rigveda, there is no such division or deviation of the nature proposed. The
Vedic Seer might, in fact, view the Vedantic way, which is the dominant school in India
today, as simply an escape midway through the process, a failure to
complete the journey as demanded of the practitioner in ancient times.
There are many throughout the world today who find spirituality, in the way we
have come to understand the term, only in these latter-day schools; or else in the
orthodox religions that arose just after this brand of spirituality finally became
dominant in the subcontinent. But truth lies elsewhere. It lies in a real and not
imaginary consciousness of unity, virtually unknown in the world today in either camp, the
spiritual or the material.
In the scientific domain, for instance, the much sought-after Theory of Everything
(TOE) is forever to remain beyond the event horizon of the human
consciousness, unless the scientist comes to appreciate that TOE is not within the grasp
of a separative consciousness. No formula will open those magic doors to this
ultimate knowledge unless a unified perceptive capacity exists where a divide such as
spirit and matter ceases to exist.
The truth is that the ancient path demands a poise of unity, an act of
seeing entirely suffused with the lived experience of oneness. Then there is no
label of materialist or spiritualist because this division took place many centuries after
the Vedic Age.
The Vedic divinities indeed were worshiped as the sacred Fire and the other
elements of nature because the sage had no difficulty, as the Hymns reveal, in
experiencing the divine essence in all of creation. The entire material kingdom was not
only the habitat of the Supreme; it was itself an extension of the Absolute into this
material universe. On the other side of that event horizon the transcendent
Absolute, by its own self-engendered Will, brought into being a compression of
Itself into a seed. That seed was the first point of space and its
expansion after this severe contraction is the universe as we know it today. And further,
it is a continual process of creation not only at the root of material manifestation but
at the origin of all that is born in this manifestation, including the human being and all
creatures of this Earth.
Science at the service of the Sacred
The rites of ancient times were not the rituals of nomadic tribesmen (inferred in
this is a primitive consciousness lacking all sophistication and scientific knowledge).
Debashis Chakrabarti should study the mathematics and geometry employed in the
construction of the altars where these rites were performed to learn just what heights the
ancient civilisation had attained in the sciences, surpassing those of Egyptian and Greek
cultures of a later date.
Further, there were specific reasons for focussing on a sacred worship of this
order, so thoroughly rooted in material creation. For only in this material dimension can
certain aspects of the Absolute be known, lived. For example, what metaphysics
refers to as the Infinite and the Eternal are the spiritual counterparts of
material space and time respectively. These are realised by the Seer in his
own consciousness in this material dimension when the Yoga of the ancient
school is followed.
To illustrate, we may experience the Infinite in other subtle dimensions of
consciousness which we attain in trance or samadhi and other such
states removed from the physical, but the Eternal can only be lived and experienced in
this most material dimension. That is, time is required for this experience. The
Eternal must be realised through the movements of Itself which is experienced as
time in our universal manifestation. Once we remove our consciousness from this plane and
enter a more subtle one, time disappears; and with it so does the possibility
of identification with the Eternal in creation. We need only carry this thought over to
our dream experience each night. A long dream can be experienced in a question
minutes or even seconds; for we have lost that sacred thread of the Eternals
measurable movements of Itself. We appear to be in a timeless dimension and
thus free from times inescapable hold over all things material.
With this background for our discussion, let us reflect on the moment in the
evolution of consciousness on the subcontinent when apparently a more
spiritual direction took hold of seekers and realisers. This occurred in the
period just after the appearance of Buddhism and before the rise of orthodox religions
such as Christianity and Islam. It is what has come to be known as the Vedantic period,
based largely on the authority of the Upanishads. Debashis Chakrabarti has this to say
about the two periods: It was because of these materialistic [sic] tendencies and total absence of any spiritualism in the four Vedas that the Upanashadic
era, when idealism and spiritualism started sprouting, branded the Vedas as a whole as
belonging to Aparavidya, that is, a kind of knowledge with which one cannot know Brahma[n],
the ultimate spiritual being.
We must bear in mind that by the time this position was taken, that consciousness
of unity enjoyed by the ancient Rishis no longer permeated the civilisation. We need to
understand therefore what this Vedantic Brahma[n] really signified. We need to
be clear about our terminology.
The challenge of Mahakal
In view of the points I have made earlier regarding the Infinite and the Eternal,
we could state, and perhaps Chakrabarti would have to agree, that seekers then for the
first time veered entirely in the direction of the Infinite during the era he labels
spiritual. This meant otherworldliness. Removing ones
consciousness from the body, from this material dimension, simplified the task. There were
no encumbrances such as the senses to deal with, or the pulls and tugs of dense matter
entrapping consciousness in a human frame. For to contend with the steps of the
Eternal in time is a challenge few are able to accept. The true vir,
or hero, is required. And this is what the spirituality of otherworldliness lacks.
The quote from Sri Aurobindo at the beginning of the article clarifies his position and
reveals that his own Yoga approximated the more ancient school of a marriage of the two,
spirit and matter.
We have the authority of the Gita to illustrate the inability of the fragile human
being to sustain the experience of God as the Time-Spirit, Mahakal, though noble and
dedicated as Arjun was in his representation of the human species. The Gita in its
eleventh chapter reveals that the deviation had already occurred on the subcontinent, and
a less vigorous and demanding path was laid before the seeker: the path of the Infinite as
separate from the Eternal, the path of otherworldliness.
This marked a great turning point in a development that began in the earliest
Vedic Age. Time, which in the earliest culture occupied a central position as revealed in
the fact that the most material elements and forms were worshiped as forms of
the Eternal, became the devourer, the destroyer, and an obstacle on the path to
God-realisation. The loftier poise, which Chakrabarti claims was the truly
spiritual, became equated exclusively with the subtle and evermore subtle dimensions
of consciousness-being, until the seeker merged into those rarified strata where time is
This, of course, was the big illusion. Time, or the movements of the Eternal,
never ceases. Once into a physical body again, the seeker resumes his connection with
time; but in the interim precious energies have been withheld from this dense physical
plane. The result was a civilisation that increasingly lost hold over this material
dimension. Pari passu, those true vir energies also suffered by this withdrawal
until finally the civilisation lost the ability to cope with invading armies and foreign
India turns to Science
We thus come to 21st century India seeking to find her way through the
morass the spiritualists have left and for which those realised souls now have
no solution. India today seeks answers from a different source, from a realm apparently
severed entirely from the spiritual. Science today, in India no less than throughout the
rest of the world, is expected to provide the answers and solutions these spiritualists
have not and cannot offer in any satisfying manner. Their exhortations to
peace, love and goodwill carry no force or the
strength and vigour needed to counteract the boldness of the scientific materialist
enamoured of the manner in which he has divested the physical domain of all that is sacred
However, there is a solution and it is found lodged in that original Vedic seed
itself: the circle has to complete itself. We have been living through a long process of
harmonisation and integration, not of communities and diverse religions. That is the most
external layer. It is a process that goes much deeper. Things apparently fall apart, only
to find a new order and in the process to reveal deeper depths and higher heights than
ever before attained. But the sanctity of those integrated dimensions has to be
established here, in time, and not in any Beyond, however venerable that may
Thus, it has to be stated that to the Vedic Rishi all of this has been an escape and a fall from the poise of unified being that he/she enjoyed. A necessary deviation, no
doubt, but a decidedly painful one.
The role of Myth
An intermediary passage between that and this is what is known as the Puranic age.
Myths of the order we encounter in these delightful and profound collections, are simply
the refuge of a civilisation under siege when the language of the soul, hidden in the cave
even as Guha is hidden, is the only means of continuity amidst a hostile world. These
sacred stories flourished when the land was overtaken by hostile armies and foreign
cultures. The Vedic Seed took refuge in these tales, hid itself in the language of the
soul in a sublime act of preservation. At the same time, this was part and parcel of the
evolution of consciousness with all the levels of existence explored and then integrated
and made a firm foundation wider than the civilisation has ever known. Thus, to sustain,
as Debashis Chakrabarti has, that the Puranas have no connection with the Vedas is to
reveal ignorance of the process of transposition when obscuring veils
have to be accommodated in order to camouflage and protect the culture.
The Veda describes processes of transmutation of one essential Energy from
the broader perspective of an integral, unified vision. The Puranas, on the other hand,
while describing the same process - the transmutation of energy - draw their symbols from
a different dimension of consciousness. They will state the same thing, but the focus is
different in both, and therefore the scope as well. Succinctly we may state that in
cosmological terms the Energy to be transmuted is represented by the planet Mars into its
finer substance as represented by the Sun. In the Puranas this has been expressed as Shiva
who stands before you in the form of his son, as described in the chapters of
the Shiva Purana relating the birth of Skanda. And that form is precisely the War God,
Kartikeya, the very godhead in the pantheon who represents Mars. But it is Mars
Victorious, transmuted, its lesser or baser characteristics hammered out to become the
power that conquers, as the higher aspect of Mars is known. The Son is then equal to the
Father. This will also explain the often conflicting tales of Murugan: he is both celibate
and divine paramour of the hill maidens.
Or else, there is the same process described in temple form. At Konarak, the
Orissa temple in the form of the Suns chariot, the external sculptures adorning the
temple depict the lesser characteristics of Mars, carnal, as Debashis
Chakrabarti would describe, sensuous, a trap of seekers no doubt, but real. Once
passage has been made through those beguiling outer layers, the seeker enters the temple
of the Sun and its closed and dark chamber, like the hidden and veiled chamber of his own
soul. Mars has been transmuted and its less refined energies left in the outer corridors.
The remaining gold after the transmutation is the power that
conquers, the Martian energy becomes the power of the Sun. The son has
become the father.
Thus do we have the same transmutation in the Puranas as in the Rigveda.
And while the focus of the former is the individual and the innermost recesses of the
soul, the latter refers to cosmic processes and the integration of the individual with
this greater design. For example, the description of Daksha as both father to and son of
The cosmic message in this quaint lineage is the Transcendent (father) through the
Individual Soul (daughter) is born as the Immanent (son). Thus father to and son of his
Time is secularised
We can follow this progression onto the development of cosmology and other
branches of the sciences that have come down to us from ancient times, covering this same
period. As we know, there was no split in the sciences then. There was the Sacred and all
sciences served at its altar. For example, astrology was astronomy and considered,
together with cosmology, to be the mother of all science.
Indeed, contrary to what Chakrabarti claims, at the time when he populates India
with nomadic tribes from Central Asia who knew only animism and nature
worship, those same tribesmen seemed to demonstrate a most astonishing
knowledge of geometry and arithmetic, to the point where they were able to construct the
geometrically elaborate vedi, or altars, used in the sacrificial rites. We need not
dwell on this contradiction since unbiased historical research into the development of
mathematics in the world have at last acknowledged the superior position India has held in
these sciences from Vedic times, which indeed stretch farther back than the Euro-centric
historian would have us believe.
A clearer example cannot be found of the consequences of such a split, between the
sacred and the scientific, than in the confused condition of the calendar in use. And we
may note that the division which produced the confusion occurred about the same time
Chakrabarti believes true spirituality to have sprouted in India.
Cosmology as the mother of all science suffered a deadly blow when the escape of
spirituality became the norm. The inability to deal with things material and of this world
resulted in a loss of the true time measure in use during the Vedic Age. The Sayana
(Tropical) Zodiac as backdrop for the measure then used was replaced by the Nirayana
(Sidereal) Zodiac. Nothing in the history of the subcontinent explains better the
difficulty India experiences at integration and harmonising spirit and matter than this
one major deviation from the ancient way.
It meant that instead of the Earths own measure prevailing, as it had in the
Vedic Age, with paramount importance given to the seasons and the calculation of the
shortest and longest days of the year, science stepped into this domain
reserved for the Seer and declared that the beyond must be the sole measure -
similar indeed to the escapist route of a spiritualism that had abandoned matter and all
things of this Earth. Science was therefore simply a projection of the prevailing
consciousness that overtook the subcontinent at that point in time. Thus, whatever
difficulties have arisen from this shift must be laid at the doors of
spirituality and not materialism.
The result is today reflected in a fragmented time measure with hundreds of
almanacs catering to the needs of hundreds of sects, communities, castes, all at odds with
each other over the issue, all propounding a different ayanamsha, or zero point of
the Sidereal Zodiac to the exclusion of the Tropical, as the start of the calculations.
In the Vedic Age such a situation would have been unthinkable. And not merely in
India in those ancient times, but in all the great civilisations of antiquity as well. The
calendar was as sacred as the Gods themselves (witness Mayan pre-Colombian America), and
it served to unite society rather than to fragment.
Thus when wisemen opted for the Beyond and abandoned this material dimension and
our planetary home to its divisive fate, this withdrawal also bore its effects in the
realm of the sacred sciences. Astronomy arose shorn of the sacred. Cosmology became
secularised and time thus became random and relative. Skambha, that
first point of space, or the compression of the Absolute, lost its uppermost
position in the hierarchy. And with this occurrence emptiness replaced fulness and all things lost their divine Purpose.
Some may view this split as a benediction. Actually it is the cause of all our
woes. Until that wider poise of consciousness is reached, integrating all the layers of
individual and collective consciousness-being that have manifested in the interim, this civilisation will always appear to stand on the brink of that unbridgeable Abyss.
The key to salvation of the civilisation lies precisely in eternal Time, the very
vision Arjun shied away from. But that was another age, the 8th Manifestation
of Sri Krishna; while this is the time of Kalki who returns to humanity the saving formula
of sacred Time.