In this article I am going to talk about the Origin of the Universe and the Vedic Philosophy. I will first discuss the most accepted scientific theory about how the universe came into being and then show you how the philosophy of the Vedas provides answers to several questions left unanswered by the theory.
How the universe originated has been one of the most baffling questions faced by the human mind. Even after collecting the enormous data about the universe using the Hubble telescope and its more advanced successors, scientists have not been able to generate a foolproof model of the origin of the universe. What comes closest is the scientific theory called the Big Bang Theory. You should not confuse it with the famous TV comedy show.
According to the Big Bang Theory, since the universe is expanding continuously, working the process backwards, it may be postulated that there was an initial point of unlimited heat and seemingly infinite density from where the process of formation of the universe started. Scientists call this initial point the Singularity, which expanded, not exploded as the name suggests, to produce the entire universe.
The process initially produced a small space filled homogenously with unknown substance at high temperature and high density, along with an unknown form of energy. This was followed by a very rapid expansion, called inflation. The inflation seems to have been caused by an uneven distribution of energy resulting due to some kind of quantum noise that arose when the Universe was extremely small. After the event of inflation got over, elementary particles like electrons, protons etc. were formed out of initial unknown substance and they together created a huge cloud. As the temperature of this cloud came down gradually, gases, and other denser substances were formed and eventually the universe came into being after several billion years.
Scientists however, do not know what was there before the Big Bang took place? What was the singularity and where did it come from? What was the initial homogenous substance? What exactly was nature of the energy that appeared? What was this quantum sound that caused the event of inflation and where did it come from? Why did the inflation stop? And, above all, how the entire process was controlled?
Let us now bring in the Vedic knowledge and try to explain this strange scenario presented by the Big Bang model. In nutshell, Vedas maintain that the process of creation was caused and controlled by Brahm. Since He is everywhere and so, the singularity must lie within Brahm Himself. Now let us explain the entire process in detail.
Vedas tell us that before the creation of the universe, there was formless, motionless Brahm everywhere. He then desired to be many out of one since He loves variety, that means He decided to create the universe by manifesting Himself into innumerable forms that we find in the universe, with the help of His Infinite Power or Shakti. Vedas call this entire process of creation as his leisure activity, called Lila in Sanskrit.
Brahm uses two aspects of His Cosmic Power for this purpose. The first one is His illusory power, called Maya which projects the universe out of Himself while hiding His underlying presence in everything. The second type of power is called Prana or Pranik Energy, which is the Energy assigned by Him to run the universe. It represents the total universal force. Later in the creation this force manifests itself as four physical forces comprising of Gravitational force, electromagnetic force, weak nuclear force and strong nuclear force. It also manifests itself as the life-force which enables all living beings to be functional.
Now let us get back to the Vedic account of the origin of the universe. Vedas mention that first of all Brahm, who always stays still, starts manifesting Himself into His active form called Mahat with the help of Maya. This Mahat is nothing but Hiranyagarbha, the one fourth portion of Brahm in which He creates the Universes. Mahat, like Brahm, is also transcendental, the only difference is that now His energy is coupled with the superfine transcendental particles with the help of which he creates the various transcendental forms. So, whenever Brahm wants to assume a transcendental human form or create a transcendental kingdom, He does it at the level of Mahat, the active form of Brahm.
Now for creating the universe, a part of Mahat transforms Itself into two primal entities belonging to the physical universe, which are Prana or Pranik Energy, the energy for creating and running the universe, and Akash, the physical version of superfine transcendental particles of Mahat. Thus, the particles of Akash are the superfine particles of physical matter, the smallest building blocks of all universal matter. They permeate the whole universe, including the empty space between heavenly bodies, gases, liquids and solids. This is the same initial homogenous substance which later gets converted into the elementary particles in the Big Bang theory. This superfine matter appears to be the same substance what scientists have labelled as Black Matter or Black Energy, and which they have not been able to discover so far. These superfine particles seem to be something similar to the vibrating one-dimensional strings of the proposed String Theory of Quantum Physics, which are considered as the building blocks of the elementary particles! Soon we will be able to know the exact character of Akash once the ultra-fast technology of Quantum Computing becomes available to us.
Initially, particles of Akash densely cover the small created space at a high pressure. It causes darkness all around and everything appears standstill. Next, the force of Prana starts acting on the particles of Akash incessantly in the newly created space, generating tremendous heat. This is the region which the Big Bang theory calls the singularity. At this point the transcendental sound vibrations of OM start emanating from Brahm at His will. The frequencies of these sound vibrations carry the idea forms of all the various entities of the universe like galaxies, stars, planets, hills, rivers etc. These idea forms were stored in the Supreme Consciousness. These sound vibrations distort the energy distribution in the created space which causes the sudden rapid expansion of the universe, called inflation. This inflation stops after all the idea forms are released via the vibrations of OM. These ideas include information about all the inanimate and animate objects belonging to the universe.
Particles of Akash then start combining to form bigger particles which are the elementary particles, under the pressure exerted by the Pranic force. This produces a massive cloud of the elementary particles such as electrons, protons, neutrons, etc. As the cloud cools down, elementary particles start combining to form atoms and molecules. Gradually gases, liquids, solids etc. are formed. At this point, the idea forms of various entities combine with necessary material type and get converted into their actual physical forms by the perfect will of Brahm through His projecting power of Maya. All the galaxies, stars, planets, earth start forming, so do the hills, forests, oceans, rivers, animals and humans start appearing on earth when the time is right for each of them.
A major dilemma faced by the Big Bang theory is that after the formation of the universe, its expansion should now slow down since the force causing the expansion should be countered by the forces of gravitational pull exerted by the heavenly bodies on the expanding galaxies. The astronomical observations, however, don’t support this thesis. These observations show that the process of expansion, on the contrary, is accelerating.
The Vedic explanation for this dilemma is that the space is not a vacuum. It is permeated by the undetectable superfine substance of Akash which counters the gravitational pull on the expanding universe.
Vedas make one more assertion that there are several universes and they exist like bubbles lying side-by-side. This is supported by the ‘multiverse’ model proposed by the scientists, according to which, during the massive push of inflation different parts of the space and time grow at different rates resulting in several universes.
Let us now talk about the Nature and the individual consciousness or individual soul. Nature as we know, comprises of inanimate and animate entities. Inanimate entities include galaxies, stars and planets, hills, rivers and other physical objects, whereas animate entities include vegetation, micro-organisms, insects, birds, animals and humans. The difference between the two is that unlike inanimate entities, animate entities are born, they grow up and eventually die. The bodies of all living entities are inanimate, but as soon as a tiny part of the Supreme Consciousness or Supreme Soul, enters the body, it becomes alive. This tiny part is called the individual soul. It is the presence of the soul that imparts life and consciousness to the entity and makes it animate.
Vedas declare that all the inanimate physical objects in nature are made up of Five Basic Elements called Panch Maha Bhutas. These elements are not to be confused with the elements of the periodic table. These are actually different states of matter to which all the objects in nature belong. The first of these elements is known as Prithvi or Earth which is the symbolic name for anything solid. The second of these is Jal or Water, meaning anything liquid. The third is Vayu or Air, meaning anything gaseous. The fourth is Agni or Fire, meaning plasma like fine gaseous form emitting light and heat, and the last is Akash or empty space, which here means invisible superfine matter appearing like empty space.
Since bodies of the animate objects are also inanimate, we can trace the presence of these elements of nature in, say a human body. Earth or a solid substance in our body includes teeth, bones, etc. Water or liquid substance in the body comprises of blood, saliva, semen, etc. Vayu or air in our body includes our breath, stomach gas etc. Agni or fire in our body is the stomach acid which reacts on food and digests it. Akash or superfine element in our body permeates our whole body and fills the empty region in the neck region between the spinal cord and the voice box.
One thing which is noteworthy here is that the sequence of basic elements given above shows the progression from the gross matter to the fine matter. Solid (Earth) is the grossest, followed in the order of diminishing grossness by Liquid (Jal), Air (Vayu), Fire (Agni), the finest being the superfine matter (Akash).
Apart from the above five elements, the Nature, both animate and inanimate, is endowed with three Qualities or Gunas. These are Sattva (Purity), Rajas (Action) and Tamas (Inertia). A person or an object can have a combination of Sattvic, Rajasic or Tamasic quality in a varying degree. Sattva or purer form of nature represents purity, brightness, nobility and goodness. Rajas or active passionate nature stands for action, passion, bravery, egoism and self-centeredness. Tamas or darker form of nature represents darkness, viciousness, cruelty, dishonesty and inertia.
Vedas declare that all the objects in nature are composed of either one or more of the five basic elements and are endowed with one or more of the three qualities of nature. While the elements of nature impart physical appearance to a human or an object, three qualities impart specific character and behavioral pattern to them. For example, Sattva predominates in a noble human being having an intellectual bent of mind and sober nature, with social good at heart, representing purity. At the object level, pure drinking water or fresh air has Sattva. Rajas is dominant in a very dynamic and passionate person, a little selfish but good at heart. At the object level, a ray of sun has predominance of Rajas since it moves from the sun to reach you and gives you the warmth. Tamas dominates in a shady character like a thief, leading a vicious, dark and sedentary life. At the object level, a stone at the roadside has inertia and can hurt you if you stumble on it. So, it is predominantly Tamasic.
Let us now talk about the characteristics of an individual soul. Although it is a part of Brahm or Universal Soul, the individual soul does not have Brahm like qualities or power since it loses these due to of its association with the body. On account of the influence of Maya it gets covered in the layer of ignorance, forgets its true character and starts feeling oneness with the body. It resides in the mid- region of the brain but due to its transcendental nature it cannot be seen by human eyes.
Along with the soul of the living body, a part of Brahm with His full potency also resides in a living body in the upper side of the brain or crown of the head. Like the living being’s soul, It, too, cannot be seen with human eyes due to its transcendental nature. It, however, retains Its original character since It is in no way associated with the body. It resides in the body only as a witness to the actions of the person and stores the record of the actions and the consequences of those actions, i.e., Karma in the consciousness of the individual. That is how the karma stays with the person.
Here the question arises, when Brahm is indivisible, how can He get divided into parts? The answer to the question according to Vedas is that Brahm in reality does not get divided into parts. Due to His illusory power Maya, although He is one, He appears as many, seated within everybody in His pure form as well as in the form of individual’s soul. Even the inanimate nature is not separate from Him but appears so due to the delusional influence of Maya. Thus, Brahm actually remains one but appears divided and diverse as the universe due to Maya. It also shows that, in the ultimate analysis, mind and matter are not different form each other. They are just different manifestation of the same entity, I.e., Brahm. Mind is at the finest level while, at the matter is at the grossest level.
Narsingh Saxena is a Scientist, turned Management Consultant, who is now a Scholar of the Philosophy of Vedas and a practitioner of Vedic Meditation.