Certain things need to be understood first: The Vedic universe is NOT physical and to know what it IS we need to understand the philosophy of Sankya first, which deals with mostly non-physical, “subtle” matter. Sankhya is like a theory and the universe is its application. Once we really know Sankhya all the phenomena in the Vedic universe will become self-evident.
Krishna describes the material world as an inverted tree and this should be the most authoritative model of the universe; all others will always be somewhat inferior, however helpful. On a tree things always grow out of each other – leaves from twigs, twigs from branches and so on. Similarly, the universe grows out of the spiritual world, first we get pradhana, which then gets agitated by the Lord’s glance and becomes prakriti, which gives birth to mahat-tattva, from which grow other things like false ego, mind, intelligence and so on.
The Vedic universe is thus a hierarchical collection, a pyramid of morals, judgments, thoughts, sensations, and all kinds of things that do not exist according to modern scientism. That is, they exist but only as chemical reactions, whereas in the Vedic world they are real, they exist prior, and, as they continue growing, they eventually turn into atoms and physical matter.
Let’s say we talk about mountains on the plane of Bhu Mandala. In English, ‘mountain’ means a pile of rocks of a certain shape and certain height and that’s how parents teach their children – by pointing at things and giving them labels. In Sanskrit, however, what we see as a mountain is a physical manifestation of the meaning of the word that existed prior, from even before the universe was created, and we need to know that meaning to understand what sky high mountains on Bhu Mandala really are. Perhaps someone with deep knowledge of Sanskrit can help us here. For example, one word for ‘tree’ in Sanskrit means “that which drinks with its feet”. Perhaps there’s a meaning, “an obstacle that needs to be overcome” or something like that for Sanskrit mountain, too, which is, incidentally, close to one of the usages in English as well. Perhaps mountains from Srimad Bhagavatam do not have to be made of rocks at all and can serve their purpose in some other, even non-material form. Or it could refer to a mountain of paperwork one needs to fill out to get a visa to the US, if US was on another varsha of Jambudwipa, or something like that.
Concepts of islands and oceans are easier. If we want to visualize the universe as brahmanda, then we need to accept that its dimensions are not our physical X,Y, and Z but sattva, rajas, and tamas. Z-axis becomes sattva, and its value is more or less the same for the denizens of Bhu Mandala, so the main difference between us is the combination of rajas and tamas, the X and Y. Oceans are such locations where their particular combinations of rajas and tamas are impossible to manifest as karma.
Think of cats and dogs, they are pretty close to each other on the evolutionary tree but we accept that there are no half-dogs or quarter-cats; those combinations are impossible. If we say that dog bodies are given to jivas desiring to enjoy loyalty and cat bodies are given to jivas desiring to enjoy independence, then it’s hard to think of any values in between. In English we’d say “there’s a gulf of difference between these two”, and in the Vedic universe there would literally be an ocean of difference. What kind of difference? Difference in desires, in meanings, like between loyalty and independence, and, ultimately, differences in underlying rajas and tamas, which are not necessarily physical, just like cats and dogs can still live in the same household here.
Speaking of meanings, we can understand even our ocean as a place where human life is impossible – there’s no ground to build houses, start families, etc., etc. We can’t build karma there. The size of the Vedic ocean then would correspond to the amount of changes in rajasand tamas needed to manifest karma again, on the other “shore”.
The concept of impossibility is also important. We tend to think that nothing is impossible in the Lord’s creation and that the universe is made of an unlimited number of points in space – a view we take from our ideas about the physical universe. We’ve been taught at school that even between 0 and 10 there is an unlimited number of values. Some are even impossible to write down in decimals, like the square root of 2 or Pi. This is not true about Vedic cosmos because while it can subdivide phenomena further and further, there’s a time limit to it. So, if our universe had a decimal system, it would be impossible to create even a simple fraction like 1/3 because time would put a limit to how many 3s we can add to 0.33333…, and even in infinity that number will always be slightly less than the actual 1/3.
On that subject, it could be said that the base counting system in our universe is 12 – three gunas subdividing four fundamental principles of mahat-tattva, which manifest themselves as four heads of Lord Brahma, four Vedas, four sides to sacrificial altars, and, incidentally, protected by our four regulative principles. Our universe can easily make 1/3 but not 1/5, which is an option (and its related ways of enjoyment) available in some other universes, but not to us where they can only be approximated.
When we look at the Moon in our physical universe we think that light reflects off its surface and travels to our eyes in a straight line, passing an unlimited number of points in space between us, but that is not what happens from the Vedic perspective. Both we and the Moon are objects on the universal tree and there’s no space between us, there’s only this tree and nothing else. The only connections we can make are up and down the branches, passing all the required nodes. When we want to look at the Moon first there’s the desire, then, according to this desire and karma, relevant controlling demigods/nodes negotiate between us and the Moon how much the Moon is willing to show and how much we are allowed to see, then the information (light, shape, color ,etc.) is passed from the Moon along the route on the tree and eventually a relevant sense object is created for our sense organs to perceive. If we really want it and deserved it, the Moon and the demigods might allow us to feel that we walk on the Moon or chip away some its rocks, all without lifting ourselves one inch from the flat plane of Bhu Mandala. The physical manifestation of the Moon is not what objectively IS, but what is given to satisfy our cravings – while strictly ON the plane of Bhu. In Vedic cosmos, physical sense objects don’t appear anywhere on the tree above the level of Bhuloka.
To get to the Moon in the Vedic sense means to transform our bodies to subtle ones suitable for the full and direct Moon experience, and the distance between the Moon and Bhu Mandala is the size of that transformation, it’s not physical distance between two physical objects. The Moon is on the level of the universal mind, above the planes of sense objects (Bhu), sensations (Bhuvar) and senses (Svarga). Without “lifting” our minds above sense objects and senses, Moon travel in the Vedic sense would be impossible.
We shouldn’t think of “subtle” Moon being somewhere in our physical space (but invisible) either. Physical Moon is more like a book in our hands and Vedic Moon is the ideas in the author’s head. These ideas do not exist in physical space. You can measure how physically far a book is from your eyes but you can’t measure how physically far the ideas expressed there are, nor do the ideas exist strictly inside the physical book, though they are contained there, too. Scientists and astronauts, on the other hand, refuse to admit that ideas or authors exist or that books express prior existing meanings. They can’t even read and instead deal with sizes, colors and chemical compositions of ink, paper, and Moon rocks.
Maybe one day we will be able to successfully map the content of Vedic universe to physical manifestations as sense objects – why the Earth looks round now and where did all the varshas which were accessible earlier go, or are lower planets really subterranean, but that would be a really advanced understanding and we need to learn a lot more before that happens.
Is this knowledge useful? It should be absolutely necessary for the TOVP team, but for average devotees? Well, not really, but both Sankhya and cosmology have been taught in Bhagavatam so we can’t go wrong by learning these lessons. I suppose Maharaja Parikshit learned them far better than we ever will and, perhaps that’s what it means to “prepare ourselves” for Krishna’s pastimes from the Tenth Canto first.
Mystic Universe – Islands and Oceans,
BY: SITALATMA DAS
Sep 12, 2016 — USA (SUN) —
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