Vivekananda on Cosmology – a Multiple Universe perspective
Vivekananda’s Syncretic View of Microcosm and Macrocosm
(A paper presented at vivekananda study circle madras e chapter to commemorate his 150th Birthday)
(Part of series of Lectures Delivered at Los Angeles California., 5th January, 1900) Abridged Version
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There are two worlds, the microcosm and the macrocosm- the internal and the external. We get truth from both of these by means of experience. The truth gathered from internal experience is psychology, metaphysics and religion; from external experience, the physical sciences. Now a perfect truth should be in harmony with experiences in both these worlds. The microcosm must bear testimony to the macrocosm, and the macrocosm to the microcosm; physical truth must have its counterpart in the internal world, and the internal world must have its verification out side. Yet, as a rule, we find that many of these truths are in conflict. The modern European nations are very strong in their research of external physical knowledge. On the other hand… the Orientals… are very strong in their researches of the internal… Real truth in any field of knowledge will not contradict itself; the truths internal are in harmony with truths external.
We all know the theories of the cosmos according to the modern astronomers and physicists… and how woefully they undermine the theology of Europe, how these scientific discoveries that are made act as a bomb thrown at its stronghold; and we know how theologicians have in all times attempted to put down these researches.
I want here to go over the psychological ideas of the Orientals about cosmology and all that pertains to it, and you will find how wonderfully they are in accordance with the latest discoveries of modern science; and where there is disharmony, you will find that it is modern science which lacks and not they. We all use the word nature. The old sankhya philosophers called it by two different names, prakriti, which is very much the same as the word nature, and the more scientific name, Avyakta, undifferentiated, from which everything proceeds, such as atoms, molecules, and forces, mind, thought intelligence. It is startling to find that the philosophers and metaphysicians of India stated ages ago that mind is material. What are our present materialists trying to do, but to show that mind is as much a product of nature as the body? And so is thought and, we shall find by and by intelligence also: all issue from that nature which is called ‘Avyakta’ the undifferentiated. The sankhyas define it as the ‘equilibrium’ of three forces, one of which is called sattva, another Rajas and the third tamas. Tamas, the lower force, is that of attraction: a little higher is rajas, that of repulsion: and the highest is the balance of these two sattva: so that when these two forces, attraction and repulsion are held in perfect control by the sattva there is no creation, on movement in the world. As soon as this equilibrium is lost, the balance is disturbed and one of these forces gets stronger than the other, motion sets in and creation begins. This state of things goes on cyclically, periodically. That is to say, there is a period of disturbance of the balance, when force begins to combine and recombine, and things project outwards. At the same time, everything has a tendency to go back to the primal state of equilibrium, and the time comes when the total annihilation of all manifestation is reached. Again, after a period, the whole thing is disturbed, projected outwards, and again it slowly goes down- like waves. Some of these philosophers hold that the whole universe quiets down for a period. Others hold that this Quieting down applies only to systems; that is to say, that while our system here, this solar system, will quiet down and go back into the undifferentiated state, millions of other systems will go the other way and will project outwards. I should rather favor the second opinion that this Quieting down is not simultaneous all over the multiple universes, and that in different galaxies and nebulae different things go on endlessly. But the principle remains the same, that all we see- that is, nature herself is progressing in successive rises and falls. The one stage, falling down, going back to balance, the perfect equilibrium is called pralaya, the end of a cycle. the projection and the pralaya of universes have been compared by theistical writers in India to the out breathing and inbreathing of God; God, as it were, breathes out the universe, and it comes into him again. When it quiets down, what becomes of the universe? It exists, only in finer forms, in the form of cause, as it is called in the sankhya philosophy. Philosophy, it does not get rid of causation, time and space; they are there, only it comes to very fine and minute forms. Supposing that this whole universe begins to shrink, till every one of us becomes just a little molecule, we should not feel the change at all, because everything relating to us would be shrinking at the same time. The whole thing goes down and again projects out, the cause brings out the effect and so it goes on.
What we call matter in modern times was called by the ancient psychologists as Bhutas-the external elements. There is one element which, according to them, is eternal; every other element is produced out of this one. It is called Akasha. It is some what similar to the idea of ether of the moderns, though not exactly similar. Along with this element, there is the primal energy called prana. Prana and akasha combine and recombine and form the elements out of them. Then at end of the kalpa everything subsides, and goes back to Akasha and prana. There is in the Rig-Veda, the oldest human writing in existence a beautiful passage describing creation, and it is most poetical-“when there was neither aught nor naught, when darkness was rolling over darkness, what existed?” and the answer is given, “it then existed without vibration”. This prana existed then, but there was no motion into; Anidavatam means “existed without vibration”. Vibration had stopped. Then when the kalpa begins, after an immense interval, the Anidavatam (unvibrating atom) commences to vibrate, and blow after blow is given by prana to Akasha. The atoms become condensed and as they are condensed different elements are formed. We generally find these things are very curiously translated; people do not go the philosophers or the commentators for their translation, and have not the brains to understand them themselves. A silly man reads three letters of Sanskrit and translates a whole book. They translate the elements as air, fire and so on; if they would go to the commentators, they would find they do not mean air or anything of the sort.
The Akasha acted upon by the repeated blows of prana, produces vayu or vibrations. This vayu vibrates, and the vibrations growing more and more rapid result in friction giving rise to heat, tejas. Then this heat ends in liquefaction, and then it condensed into gross matter; and it goes back in exactly the reverse way. The solid will be liquefied and will then be converted into a mass of heat, and that will slowly get back into motion; that motion will stop, and this Aalpa will be destroyed. Then again it will come back and again dissolve into ather. Prana cannot work alone without the help of akasha. All that we know in the form of motion, vibration or thought is a modification of the prana, and everything that we know in the shape of matter, either as form or as resistance, is a modification of the Akasha. The prana can not live alone or act without a medium; when it is pure prana, it has the Akasha itself live in, and when it changes into forces of nature, say gravitation, or centrifugal force, it must have matter. You have never seen force without matter or matter without force; what we call force and matter are simply the gross manifestations of these same things, which, when superfine, are called prana and Akasha prana you call in English life, the vital force; but you must not restrict it to the life of man at the same time you must not identify it with spirit, Atman. So this goes on. Creation cannot have either a beginning or an end; it is an eternal on-going.
… All gross things are the results of fine ones. Everything that is gross is composed of fine things which they call the Tanmatras, the fine particles. I smell a flower. To smell, something must come in contact with my nose; the flower is there, but I do not see it move towards me. That which comes from the flower and in contact with my nose is called the Tanmatra, fine molecules of that flower. So with heat, light and everything. These Tanmatras can again be subdivided into atoms. It is sufficient for our purpose to know that everything gross is composed of things that are very, very fine we first get the gross elements which we feel externally, and then come the fine elements with which the nose, eyes and ears come in contact. The eyes are only a secondary instrument, not the organ of vision. The organ of vision is the nerve-centre in the brain. Likewise the nose is an instrument, and there is an organ behind it. The senses are simply the external instruments. It may be said that these different organs, Indriyas, as they are called Sanskrit, are the real seats of perception.
It is necessary for the mind to be joined to an organ to perceive. There is a different organ for each different instrument. What are the organs made of? We see that the instruments- eyes, nose and ears- are made of gross materials. The organs are also made of matter. Just as the body is composed of gross materials, and manufactures prana into different gross forces, so the organs are composed of the fine elements, Akasha, Vayu, Tajas etc., and manufactures prana into finer forces of perception. The organs, the prana functions, the mind and the Buddhi combined, are called the finer body of man- the linga or sukshma sharira. The linga sharira has a real form because everything material must have a form.
The mind is called the manas, the chitta in vritti or vibrating, the unsettled state. If you throw a stone in a lake, first there will be vibration and then resistance. For moment the water will vibrate and then it will react on the stone. So when any impression comes on the chitta, it first vibrates a little. That is called the manas. The mind carries the impression farther in, and presents it to the determinative faculty, Buddhi, which reacts. Behind Buddhi is Ahamkara, egoism, the self- consciousness which says “I am”. Behind Ahamkara is Mahat, intelligence, the higest form of nature’s existence. Each one is the effect of the succeeding one. Behind intelligence is the self of man, purusha, the atman, the pure, perfect, who alone is the seer, and for whom is all this change.
Why does nature do all this? Nature is undergoing all these changes for the development of the soul; all this creation is for the benefit of the soul, so that it may be free. This immense book which we call the universe is stretched out before man so that he may read; and he discovers eventually that he is an omniscient and omnipotent being
A whole of the universe is built upon the same plan as a part of it; so just as I have a mind, there is a cosmic mind. As in the individual, so in the universal. There is the universal gross body; behind that a universal fine body; behind that, a universal mind; behind that a universal egoism or consciousness; and behind that a universal intelligence. And all this is in nature, the manifestation of nature, not out side it.