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Srimad Bhagavatham

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In modern physics, the idea of a 'field' is introduced by thinking of an object like a magnet. The magnet somehow influences the space around it, so as to attract or to repel other magnetic objects. This influence on space is described as a 'field', generated by the magnet. Similarly, our planet earth is said to create a gravitational field, which pulls us down onto the ground beneath our feet. So also, the nucleus of an atom creates an electrical field, which attracts electrons and keeps them circling around it.

However, this idea, that objects create fields, is only an introductory one. This is just an initial indication, made rather crudely at first, on the way to a more subtle and sophisticated understanding. As a student learns more physics, the idea is actually reversed. It isn't objects that create fields, but the other way around. What our gross senses see as objects are only partial and inaccurate appearances. More accurately viewed, these seeming objects are made up from subtle fields that underlie them.

In quantum theory, all objects are conceived to be made of sub-atomic particles, which are not just little bits of matter. Instead, they are quantum elements in subtle fields that condition all space and time. Through some rather abstract mathematics, this subtle field conditioning is theoretically described. It cannot be seen directly by our gross senses and our material instruments. But it is everywhere..

The theory of relativity goes even further. Instead of describing subtle fields of force, it gives up the idea of 'force' altogether. It thus describes a four-dimensional continuum, with three dimensions for space and one for time. In this continuum, all movement is entirely unforced. Each line of travel is always the most natural. It is always a straight line, taking always the shortest path in a four-dimensional geometry that joins together the differing events of space and time.

That interconnecting geometry is curved, rather like the bumpy surface of our planet earth, with its mountains and valleys. The earth's surface is of course only two-dimensional, with one dimension for latitude and the other for longitude. But where this two-dimensional surface is bumpy, as in a mountainous region, the shortest and straightest path often seems to twist and turn, in a forced and unnatural way; when it is seen from a one-dimensional perspective that looks at the path point by point, as one travels along it.

Something similar happens in the four-dimensional geometry of the space-time continuum. In our usual perspective, through our immediate senses, we see a world of three dimensions in space, changing from moment to moment. As the bumpy geometry of space-time is seen from this three-dimensional perspective, the four-dimensional bumpiness produces the appearance of separate material objects and the forced motions that they seem to inflict upon each other.

In our habitual perspective, we are material observers, travelling through a world of objects that are located in the three dimensions of space, at each point of time. The theory of relativity describes a more fundamental perspective, in which space and time are taken together, as an underlying continuum that subtly interconnects all different seeming things.

In Srimad Bhagavatham the details of five traditional elements: called 'prithivi' or 'earth', 'apas' or 'water', 'tejas' or 'fire', 'vayu' or 'air', and 'akasha' or 'ether'. These names must not be taken too literally; for they represent a progression of increasingly subtle levels, in our experience of the world.

'Earth' is the 'solid' element, found at the level of gross matter that is separated into different objects.
'Water' is the 'fluid' element, found at the level of dynamic energy that flows in organic patterns of changing activity.
'Fire' is the 'illuminating' element, found at the level of meaningful information that enables a further perception of represented things.
'Air' is the 'qualitative' element, found at the level of conditioned character that may be contrasted and compared in different and changing things.
'Ether' is the 'pervading' element, found at the level of underlying continuity that is implied by all difference and change.

These five levels are found in modern physics as well, but with a difference. The older sciences include a profound consideration of life and living process, as expressing an underlying consciousness. So, where modern physics is restricted to investigate the macrocosm of the external world, the older sciences go on to analyze the microcosm of individual experience.

Thus, corresponding to the 'pancha-mahabhutas', or the 'five elements' of the macrocosm, there are five 'koshas' or 'coverings' of personality. These coverings are layers or levels of experience. As they are penetrated, by reflecting inwardly, we go down towards the depth of consciousness. And here the traditional descriptions are more abstract, so their scientific character becomes a little clearer.

The outermost layer is the 'annamaya-kosha' or the 'covering of food'. It is the external body, made of matter, like other objects seen outside by our gross senses. Here, matter is called 'food', thus conceiving it organically. It is what gets consumed by natural processes that function to produce and to transform the different objects of the outside world.

Reflecting inwards, the second layer is the 'pranamaya kosha' or the 'covering of energy'. Here, energy is described as 'prana', which also means 'living breath'. This is an energy that is inspired from within. It is not an energy of artificial force, exerted by one object upon another. Instead, it is a living energy that naturally expresses consciousness. In everyone's experience, this living energy arises quite spontaneously, from an inner ground of consciousness that we all share in common. We share that inner ground of life in common with each other, and with the whole universe. It is the ground of nature's life, in every person and in the world outside. In the world as a whole, the living energy of prana is expressed impersonally, through the impartiality of nature's ordered functioning. In the limited bodies of living creatures, the same energy is expressed more personally, through our partial faculties of physical and sensual and mental activity.

Beneath the level of living energy, there is a third layer, called the 'manomaya-kosha' or the 'covering of mind'. This is the conceiving intellect, made up of thoughts that interpret the patterns of activity that our senses perceive. Thus interpreted, these patterns are conceived as meaningful information, telling us about an intelligible world. Here, as information is meaningfully represented, modern physics is confined to quantitative measurements and calculations of mathematical variables like distance, time, speed, mass, momentum and energy. But the older sciences go on to a broader and fuller investigation of language, thought and meaningful experience.

Next, beneath the level of information and its interpretation, there is a fourth layer, called the 'vijnyanamaya-kosha' or the 'covering of discernment'. This is our discernment of qualities and values, which we compare and contrast in the information that we perceive and interpret and describe. In modern physics, the comparison is strictly quantitative, ascribing a mathematical value to each point of space and time, and thus formally describing a mathematically abstracted 'field'. By contrast, the older sciences consider quality and value in a much fuller way, as a conditioning that we discern and judge intuitively, through our inner feelings. So, instead of being restricted to calculating theories that have to be applied by an external technology of material instruments, the older sciences are more essentially concerned with a systematic and reasoned clarification of our discerning faculties.

Further still, beneath the level of quality and its discernment, there is a fifth layer, called the 'anandamaya-kosha' or the 'covering of happiness'. This is the co-ordinating layer of personality, with the word 'ananda' or 'happiness' being used in the sense of 'harmony' and 'integration'. The co-ordination takes place through assimilated understanding. Through it we comprehend the continuity of underlying principles, beneath the change and the variety of superficial appearances.

Here, at the level of continuity and integration, the old sciences show up their subjective basis. When the concept of 'akasha' or 'ether' is rightly understood, it corresponds closely with the space-time continuum of modern physics. 'Akasha' means 'pervading space'. It is the continuity of space and time, pervading through all experience. But this same word, 'akasha', also implies a knowing light, which is subjective. The continuity of akasha includes both objective and subjective experience.

When it is considered subjectively, this continuity is called 'prajnyana' or 'consciousness'. It is the knowing ground that lights up all appearances, no matter where, no matter when, no matter in whose experience. On that subjective ground, the old sciences are based.

But, if these sciences are founded in this way, on a subjective basis, that might seem to make them merely personal. How then can they be scientific? The answer is that they are meant to be based upon an impersonal subjectivity. They depend upon a ground of consciousness that is at once subjective and impersonal.




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Last updated on 31-03-2007