Time and space

Understanding time and space from a scientific viewpoint is one of the eternal quests of mankind.

Transcending time was also one of the goals of the ancient Indians. Thus the phrase “sanatana dharma” (eternal dharma) is used to describe the Hindu religion.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna narrates how he is the embodiment of Time, as he reveals his universal form.

kālo ’smi loka-kṣhaya-kṛit pravṛiddho
lokān samāhartum iha pravṛittaḥ
ṛite ’pi tvāṁ na bhaviṣhyanti sarve
ye ’vasthitāḥ pratyanīkeṣhu yodhāḥ

This can be roughly translated to:

Time I am, destroyer of the worlds. Even without your participation, the warriors arrayed in the opposing army shall cease to exist.

– Bhagavad Gita, 11.32

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Names

The ancient Indians recognized the world as experienced by sense organs to be composed of two fundamental principles: name and form.

Form refers to the seen objects and name refers to how humans describe what they see.

 

Having so analyzed the world, the Vedas then cultivate a sense of belonging and oneness with nature and the world.

A 3000 year old hymn proclaims thus

Eeshetva urjetvava
Vaayavah sthopaayavasthah
Devovah savita
Prarpayatu sreshta tamaya karmaNe

This can be roughly translated to:

For food thee, for strength thee!
Ye are winds, ye are approachers.
Let the god Savitr impel you to the most excellent offering.

–  Krishna Yajurveda, Taittiriya Samhita, 1.1

Worthy

The ancients had different ways of looking at the world and understanding it.

Ancient Indians saw nature and found it worthy of worship.

There came about an elaborate system of worship known as yajna.

Mantras (sacred chants) are specified for every part of the yajna. For example, a mantra is chanted for the wood being collected for the fire by thanking the trees.

What is known

Human knowledge has increased exponentially in the last few centuries thanks to many scientific and other innovations.

Though this may appear significant, it may very well turn out that there is much more that remains unknown.

Perhaps this was the thought behind the famous verses from the Purusha Sukta, part of Rig Veda, composed more than three thousand years ago.

Purusha Evedam Sarvam Yad-Bhuutam Yacca Bhavyam |
Uta-Amrtatvasyeshaano Yad-Annena-Ati-Rohati ||2||

Etaavaanasya Mahima-Ato Jyaayaash-Ca Puurussah |
Paado-Asya Vishvaa Bhuutaani Tri-Paad-Asya-Amrtam Divi ||3||

This can be roughly translated to:

The Purusha (supreme being) is indeed all this in essence. That which existed in the past, and that which will exist in the future. Everything is woven by the immortal essence of the Purusha; by becoming food of which one transcends the world.

The Purusha is Greater than all the greatness (which can be expressed by words). His one part has become all these known worlds, and his three parts rest in the divine (unknown) world.

 – Purusha Sukta, 2-3

Discipline

In ancient India, a code of life developed that has had remarkable continuity over the millennia.

One of the concepts that came to be is the yajna. The idea behind the yajna (worship) was multifold. One’s life often revolved around the yajna.

On one hand is the personal discipline that came about with the daily nityayajna. On the other hand are the community based yajnas that involved bringing the entire community together.

The latter were events such as the soma yaagas. These brought together the entire village or town in a worship and celebration that lasted days. One of the interesting aspects of this is that the performers of such yaagas are required to be honored members of the community who are debt free.

Means of knowing

In establishing any ideas or understanding of the world, one needs to be clear about one’s starting premises and assumptions.

The Indian tradition of philosophy began as a way to a define a practical way of life.

The premises of this philosophy were classified based on what makes sense from a practical standpoint.

  • Direct perception (pratyaksha): this is accepted by all schools of thought
  • Inference, analogy (anumana, upamana): these are accepted by all schools of thought
  • Testimony (shabda): this consists of the Vedas. This is only accepted by the Vedanta and Purva Mimamsa schools. One cannot practically understand all there is to know in a limited time. Accepting the research and studies done by past generations is part of most fields of study. Newton said:

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.

– Issac Newton

Investigation into nature

Mankind has found nature to be a source of endless fascination. Ever since the human brain evolved to a more advanced stage, humans have been playing around with and trying to figure out what nature is and how it works.

This sort of curiosity has been with us since before the agricultural revolution of ten thousand years ago, when agriculture became dominant as opposed to hunting. We find records of this kind of curiosity from ancient times.

In the three to five thousand years old Nasadiya Suktam, one finds expression given to this quest to understand where creation came from.

nāsa̍dāsī̱nno sadā̍sītta̱dānī̱m nāsī̱drajo̱ no vyo̍mā pa̱ro yat |

kimāva̍rīva̱ḥ kuha̱ kasya̱ śarma̱nnaṁbha̱ḥ kimā̍sī̱dgaha̍naṁ gabhī̱ram ||1||

na mṛ̱tyurā̍sīda̱mṛta̱ṁ na tarhi̱ na rātryā̱ ahna̍ āasītprake̱taḥ |

ānī̍davā̱taṁ sva̱dhayā̱ tadekaṁ̱ tasmā̍ddhā̱nyanna pa̱raḥ kiñca̱nāsa̍ ||2||

tama̍ āasī̱ttama̍sā gū̱ḻhamagre̍’prake̱taṁ sa̍li̱laṁ sarva̍mā i̱daṁ |

tu̱cchyenā̱bhvapi̍hitaṁ̱ yadāsī̱ttapa̍sa̱stanma̍hi̱nā jā̍ya̱taika̍ṁ || 3 ||

This can be roughly translated to:

Neither existence nor nonexistence was there. Neither matter nor space around

What covered it, where it was and who protected?

Why, that plasma, all pervading, deep and profound? ||1 ||

Neither death nor immortality was there. And there was neither day nor night

But for that breathless one breathing on its own

There was nothing else, surely nothing ||2||

It was darkness concealed in darkness. And an uninterrupted continuum of fluid

Out came in material form and shape

That one lying deep inside, on its own intent. ||3||

– Rig Veda, 10.129.1-3

Nature and its wonders

Nature comes with so many amazing wonders that most of them are not understood or appreciated.

Just what happens in the wild, how what we understand to be an “ecosystem” functions is a subject that one can spend several lifetimes understanding.

The ancients understood the unfathomable depths of nature and revered it accordingly.

We find traditional reverence of nature even today in India where several unbroken traditions still flourish.

The rishis (sages) who composed the Vedas dedicated several verses extolling the wonders one comes across in the natural world.