Category Archives: Cosmology

The cosmological way of relating to the sun-Brian Swimme

Brian Swimme is a mathematical cosmologist I have quoted several times in this blog. In a TV series called ‘The Sacred Balance‘, he explains how the new understanding of the universe modern science has given us can help us relate in a profound and meaningful manner to nature and more specifically in these three following quotes, to the sun.

One of the gifts of science is in understanding that life exists by drawing in the sun; one of the gifts of science is to realize that what is surging through us in every moment of our life, with every breath we take, is the sun. So in a real sense the human is the human form of a solar flare. It is surging into the life of the Earth, and in all beings, in the fish, in the mammals, and in the human we have another form of the energy that first was captured by the early photosynthetic organisms. We are the sun in a new form.

He further speaks about the process of inner transformation and self sacrifice on the part of the sun which he qualifies as an act of ‘cosmic generosity’. This unconditional and incessant pouring of energy is what enables all life forms including us human beings to live on this Earth, from a distance of some 93 million miles.

Ninety-three million miles the light has to come, and already we’re being warmed up by it. You know, if it weren’t for the sun, the entire Earth would be 400 degrees below zero. It just constantly pours out all of that light, and what’s amazing is to think about the sun being a million times as huge as the Earth. It’s just this vast fire that enables all of life to take place here. And what I really find fascinating is the way in which the sun produces this light. Right at the core it’s transforming hydrogen into helium. And in that transformation it’s converting some of its mass into energy. Every second, four million tons of the sun is being transformed into this light. That’s like a million elephants. So there’s another million elephants, another million elephants, and if it weren’t for that ongoing bestowal of energy, we wouldn’t have any life on earth. So one way to think about the sun, every time you see it at dawn, is to think of it as an act of cosmic generosity. It’s this vast giveaway of energy that enables us to survive, enables all of life to thrive. So we are surfing around the source of ongoing cosmic generosity.

Brian Swimme then says in this last quote how he greets every morning the sun. This passage cannot but  remind me how his relating to the sun is close to the vision of Vedic seers or rishis who invited us a few thousands of years ago to appreciate the presence of one Intelligence and Power manifest in the universe in the form of the sun, the moon, the stars, the planets, etc. and which makes them what they are. In other words, just like a wave is connected to the ocean from which it is born, is sustained by and goes back to, our connection as an individual to the sun, and therefore to the cause of the universe, is so fundamental that we need to appreciate and understand it as it is. Because it is a reality of our living as a human being in this universe which cannot be ignored or bypassed.

I greet the sun each morning just by reflecting for just a moment on the vastness of the sun, a million times the size of the Earth, in bestowing all this energy. And just in that moment, I remember that we are spinning around the star, and it’s because of the star’s energy that we exist. So that we are this star in a new form. And by doing that I remember my cosmological dimension. And it puts everything in perspective for the whole day.

To know more, some links to the website Vedanta, Being alive to what is:

[1] The equation ‘You are that’, the cause of the universe

[2] The equation ‘You are that’, the nature of ‘that’

[3] Article in pdf format, The vedic vision of God

Other links :

[1] Brian SwimmeSéries of documentaries (Global Mind shift : ‘The new story’ et ‘Current Moment’) on http://www.global-mindshift.org/discover/viewMeme.asp?memeid=291

[2] Article in this blog: Modern cosmology & Vedanta – Does the universe have a beginning?

[3] Article in this blog: Sun and clarity of thinking : Gayatri

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The design of the universe-Georges Smoot-TED video

To display sub-titles in any languages, click on ‘view subtitles’ and select a language. To watch this video on TED, go to the following link.

The astrophysicist, cosmologist and Nobel Prize winner George Smoot shows stunning new images from deep-space surveys, and prods us to ponder how the cosmos — with its giant webs of dark matter and mysterious gaping voids — got built this way.

So the question should come to your mind is, what kind of design, you know, what kind of creative process and what kind of design produced the world like that?

…we have a model, and we can calculate it, and we can use it to make designs of what we think the universe really looks like. And that design is sort of way beyond what our original imagination of it was.

…I’m going to show you the results of a very large-scale simulation of what we think the universe might be like, using essentially, some of the play principles and some of the design principles that, you know, humans have labored so hard to pick up, but apparently nature knew how to do at the beginning.

Georges Smoot – The design of the universe

When one see these amazing images resulting of years of research, these simulations models (which required for some of them 1,000 processors to run during one month), one cannot but wonder about the unimaginable knowledge which manifests in the building process of the universe.  And also wonder about the insatiable curiosity of the human being who is able to dis-cover some of the fundamental structures of the universe.

To know more, some links to the website Vedanta, Being alive to what is:

[1] The equation ‘You are that’, the cause of the universe

[2] The equation ‘You are that’, the nature of ‘that’

[3] Article in pdf format, The vedic vision of God

Other links :

[1] Brian SwimmeSéries of documentaries (Global Mind shift : ‘The new story’ et ‘Current Moment’) on http://www.global-mindshift.org/discover/viewMeme.asp?memeid=291

[2] Article on this blog: Modern cosmology & Vedanta – Does the universe have a beginning?


The vision of Upanishads explained through the form of Shiva as a Teacher (Daksinamurti)

This is the presentation I made at National Museum in Bangkok on 19th November 2009 and which is available on Slide Share. To view it full screen, click on the ‘full’ icon at the bottom of the video screen.

I chose to speak during this talk about various representations of Lord Shiva as a teacher (Daksinamurti). Why this choice? Because it conveys in a condensed and visual manner the entire philosophy and vision of Upanishads. Thus it makes us have access and understand the Indian psyche and culture, as it is lived throughout the ages, from the ancient times to today. Also, Daksinamurti as a teacher brings into the picture the teaching element, which is missing in the well known figure of Shiva as a Dancer. Indeed the relationship between teacher and student is a key to understand Hinduism as it was and is lived today, since it is essentially a teaching tradition.

The Upanishads start by our sense of inadequacy, dissatisfaction, limitation at various levels since as human beings, we are confronted to the vastness, powerfulness, unpredictability and complexity of the universe. Our helplessness and thirst for meaning is represented by the Banyan tree as the background. The banyan tree stands for an endless life of becoming with secondary roots perpetuating further this human predicament. Its roots are getting more and more entrenched, making us unable to find any lasting satisfaction in life. What we want is to find our way out of this thick forest and put an end for good to this sense of limitation.

The palm leaves in the left hand represent the sacred texts (Upanishads) which are capable of giving us knowledge of the reality of ourselves and the universe. They reveal to us that the conclusion about myself, that I am limited, is wrong and comes from the ignorance of my real nature. In their vision I am already free from any limitation. Teaching is done for me to discover this fact. Nature of the individual, the universe and its cause are inquired into very systematically with the help of an evolved methodology of teaching, handled by a teacher. The student who desires to put an end to his sense of inadequacy and limitation chooses to expose himself to the words of a teacher, reflect upon them with the help of reasoning and contemplate upon their meaning.

The gesture of knowledge (cin mudra) expresses the content of the teaching : ‘you are that’, you are the limitlessness you have been endlessly seeking through all your pursuits. It reveals the identity between you, the individual (index finger) and that, the cause of the universe (thumb). Just like wave and ocean when they are equated are found to be essentially nothing but water, all that is here is one limitless being, and that you are.

However, my experiences seem to suggest that I am distinct from everything else and hence I am small. If each name and form in the universe that I see is different from me and from each other, then there can not be oneness and I can not be limitless. Again, the representation of Daksinamurti shows how these apparent differences in names and forms resolve into one as Daksinamurti (the cause of the universe) is containing the whole universe. According to the Vedic model, this universe, with all its varied forms and characteristics, is in fact made of five elements— space, air, fire, water and earth. Space is represented by a drum, in his right hand, which encloses empty space. Next air is represented by the ‘bandana’ holding Daksinamurti’s hair in place against the wind. In his left hand, the torch represents fire. Water is shown by sacred river Ganges, in the form of a Goddess, on Daksinamurti’s head. Earth is represented by the material of which Daksinamurti is made.

Further, the universe consists also of the sun, moon and stars. Sun (all luminous bodies) and moon (all planets) which are seen above the head of Daksinamurti are also not-separate from the cause. Then there are people, who are the disciples of Daksinamurti, sitting at the base of sculpture.

Finally, Daksinamurti wears a male earring in the right ear and a female earring in the left ear. This is a way to suggest that the cause of the universe is both maker and material, the intelligent and the material cause. Both female and male implies also he/she/it is neither male nor female.

The vision indicated here is that the whole universe including me, —the one who is looking at the world, with all its galaxies, planets, stars and all things unknown to me,  is not separate from its cause. In other words, ‘all that is here, is one Isvara [all knowledge and power]‘ (Isha Upanishad). Manifested in the various forms of the universe, it pervades, permeates, sustains and supports the whole universe. All different names and forms in universe are in fact not separate from Isvara (the cause). Just like in Ocean, all the different waves are not separate from the cause (Ocean).

The teaching goes one step further, by resolving the equation ‘you are that’ shown in the gesture of knowledge. The truth of ocean is water, that is why truth of every wave which is part of ocean is also water. With this analogy, we can understand how truth of cause of the universe is one limitless being. And the truth of every form which is part of universe (including me, the individual) is also one and limitless being. There is only one limitless being, and that you are.

Three other elements in the form of Daksinamurti (rosary of beads, bull and dwarf) represent the areas in which we have to grow, some of the various ways to become prepared for this knowledge and see it intimately. The bull stands for dharma, justice and virtue. To be able to assimilate and understand this vision, I have to be in harmony with the ethical universal order and live a life of values, compassion, giving, non violence. The dwarf who is shown under the right foot is Apasmara holding a sharp knife that can tear off our being. It stands for the ego who is trying to preserve its reality. It can also be seen as the unconscious which keeps on interfering in our life and which needs to be processed and neutralized. Mala of beads which usually evokes religious disciplines indicates a life of relating to Isvara (the cause), to what is, to be alive to the grand order which is manifest in the form of various orders such as the physical, biological, psychological, epistemological orders, etc.

To conclude, the form of Daksinamurti presents us in a very complete manner the human quest of freedom from limitation and inadequacy. It points towards the essence of the teaching of Upanishads : there is an essential non-difference, an identity between the individual and the cause of the universe, Isvara. Both the individual and the cause of the universe being essentially one limitless being. Finally it reveals the ways to achieve this knowledge and gain the absolute freedom (moksa) through exposing ourselves to the teaching of the texts, inquiring into their meaning, leading an ethical life, relating to the total and mastering our body and mind.

Modern Cosmology & Vedanta (1)- Does the universe have a beginning?

Mandala of the universe by Matthieu Ricard

Mandala of the universe by Matthieu Ricard

We (Neema & Surya) have often been asked about the position of Vedanta on the origin of the universe and more specifically the Big Bang theory. We decided to address this question in the form of a live conversation; the result is the following animated dialogue. The second part should follow soon…

Question: In the field of cosmology, Big Bang is the theory that best explains the formation of the universe. It is accepted by the majority of scientists and stands until now confirmed by various empirical data and experiments. It says in short that the universe was created about 14 billions years ago as an unimaginably small, dense and hot concentration of energy exploded, creating in the process time, space and matter.

What does Vedanta have to say about the beginning of the universe? Does the universe have a beginning?

Answer: There are two aspects to answering this question. One, for Vedanta, the universe is cyclical in nature, meaning there are cycles of manifestation and resolution. A given manifestation of the universe follows an order which can be recognized in the form of various laws that exist in the universe. Because of the presence of the order, science has been able to arrive at the beginning of the present cycle of creation. It is quite amazing how scientits could trace back the beginning of the universe… The story is that, everything began 14 billion years ago; the whole universe expanded after the creation of time and space and became more and more organized and complex. The universe got differentiated into matter as the temperature of the universe cooled down; this led to the emergence of elementary particles of matter such as quarks and electrons, which further caused creation of stars, galaxies, planets, the beginning of life on Earth up to the birth of human beings.

According to us, what astrophysicists and cosmologists have discovered during the twentieth century is only the story of this present cycle of creation. In our vision, this is not the beginning of the universe; there have been infinite cycles of creation and dissolution of the universe. The entire universe was indeed in an unmanifest condition before the current manifestation, and will again become unmanifest. This is how we think about the creation.

The position that we hold is supported by examination of what is present now and at any given point in time. If you look at the present, things are constantly shifting from an unmanifest to a manifest condition. Even while the universe is there, every fraction of a second, things which are not manifest are becoming manifest either one second later or several thousands or even millions years from now. There is nothing like a static universe. It is true at the level of the cells of our body and also for all tiny particles constituting any object, which appear and disappear all the time; in fact we can say that everything is changing constantly. In the process, things which are not manifest now become manifest.

You can then transpose what is happening now to the beginning of time itself. There must have been something even before the Big Bang. There must be something which is the origin of this immense primordial energy. Logically, it cannot come from nothing. Then, what is the cause of this energy itself?

Physicists say that they can only describe what happened 10-43 seconds after this immense explosion, which is called the Planck time, when the diameter of the universe was 10-33 centimeters, the Planck length. Science admits it does not know what is the nature of the universe or its characteristics before the Planck time. Known physical laws are not valid any more behind the ‘wall of Planck’.

What we say is that you cannot postulate there was nothing and that everything came out of nothing. The universe must have been there in a potential form which then manifested in the form of the universe according to a certain order. It is because of the presence of an order that science can trace back what happened but only to the accuracy of 10-43 seconds ‘after’ the big bang.

Question: You are right, physicists say that they cannot arrive at the source or the origin of the universe because the mathematical models they have, with the extreme conditions that were existing at that time, are not applicable and therefore find their limit. This is why cosmologists say that modern physics have not found the key to the origin of the universe, the ultimate cause but can only describe its early beginnings. Etienne Klein, who is a French physicist at the prestigious CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) says,

We very often mix the origin and the beginning. Indeed when one listens to those who speak about the origin of the universe, time, matter or life, one rapidly discovers that they speak mainly and only about beginnings, evolutions, genealogies.

Thus, the Big Bang theory does not reveal the absolute origin of the universe but rather the events which go along with the decrease of the temperature of the universe. Etienne Klein adds that,

Telling a story [of the universe] is not equivalent to revealing its origin. Science only evokes dates of beginning, or the contexts or its first appearance. Because it needs, to build upon something that is ‘already there’.

Therefore the very origin of the universe itself is not arrived at by the theory of Big Bang. This theory only describes what happened a few seconds after the Big Bang. Still, why should the universe be cyclical and not have any beginning? Why do we transfer the question of origin to previous cycles, which are, if I understood well, infinite in number? It seems easy to do that and claim that everything is cyclical and use the egg-chicken or seed-tree analogy to support this statement. Is there any reason that would make us understand why it is tenable?

Answer: This is precisely the second aspect I wanted to speak about. First I said that with reference to the universe, we talk about the cyclical nature of universe. While doing so, we did not yet question how real the world is. If the world is absolutely real then it must have a real beginning and hence, you should be able to go back in a linear fashion and find the origin of the universe. If we discover that the world is not as real as what we think, we need not look for a linear answer to the question of the origin of the universe. Vedanta unfolds that even though this universe is cyclical in nature and follows an order because of which we are able to describe with precision and trace back to few moments after the big bang, when we examine the reality, we find that there is no ‘real’ creation at all…

How is this tenable? Let us look at anything here and now, whether it is a sentient being or an insentient object. It all resolves into something else. If we take a table as an example, table has no existence apart from the wood it is created from. The wood itself has no existence other than the molecules the tree is made of. The molecules are themselves nothing but atoms, and then particles. When you reach the level of particles, you cannot find any tangible or solid basic substance about which you can say categorically that this is the building block of matter, the ultimate substance from which everything is made. It means that when you look at things which are manifest, you find that they themselves resolve into something else and again something else. Ultimately, you are not able to say what is the substance from which comes everything that is manifest.

Vedanta says that when we look in to things that are here and now, we can appreciate the presence of all pervading intelligence that appears simultaneously as atoms, molecules, fibers, wood and table. The source of all manifestation is only that all knowledge and power from which everything has come. Things which are not manifest right now will come to manifest next second or in 1 million years according to a certain order which rests ultimately in all knowledge and power. It is important to understand that this all knowledge and power is what brings forth cycles of manifestation and before any manifestation, it is very much present but as potential which is unmanifest. Vedanta gives us the useful analogy of the dream world we create several times during the night to assimilate this fact. From deep sleep, where our own knowledge rests in an unmanifest condition, comes the dream world, which is only the manifestation of our knowledge and power to create. The dream world goes back to a potential undifferentiated state, in deep sleep, where our knowledge is very much present in a latent condition, before we make the next dream world appear.

Question: There are two ideas in what you said. First, there is no beginning because the creation is cyclical. The other is that the universe is not as real as we think. What is the link between these two ideas? In what sense the idea of all knowledge and power can lead us to appreciate that there is no real creation? Can you elaborate on that?

Answer: We do not accept the world as having an absolute reality. We say that the universe is mithya in terms of reality; as it depends upon all knowledge and power. When we speak about cycles of creation, we say that this all knowledge and power when it manifests in names and forms (we call it creation of universe) and when it goes to unmanifest (we call it resolution of the universe),

This understanding of the nature of the universe is supported when you observe what is here and now. While the creation is there, as indicated through the example of table, this table is nothing but molecules, atoms, particles etc. All the way, the creation that we say is manifest is found to be mithya in terms of its reality. If everything is mithya, has a dependent reality, we need to know what is it that it depends upon, ultimately.

To this, science has no answer because it tries to go back in a linear manner to find the first cause. In fact, if we examine the nature of universe there is no linearity anywhere. For example, we can not find the beginning of anything in the universe, a river, a human being, a flower, etc. It is like a child who would ask you what is causing the rain. Then you have to say the water in the clouds. What is the origin of water? You have to say rivers. What is the origin of rivers? Some smaller rivers, and so on until you are stuck by your child persistence.

While the universe exists, the sun exists, what is the first cause, the first father, the first cell, you cannot find. What we talk about holds, because the whole universe is mithya; it resolves only in all knowledge and all power which is everything, and which was there even before the universe got manifested. That ‘entity’ exists always. There is no beginning for this ‘entity’.

If I say everything resolves in all knowledge and power, you could very well ask when did this entity itself begin? This is again coming from the same linear type of thinking. We say that this all knowledge and power is always there, it does not depend upon the creation. When it manifests as names and forms we call it creation, and again becomes unmanifest and again manifest. This is what we mean by one reality (all knowledge and power) manifesting (creation) and un-manifesting (resolution) in cyclical way.

This postulation works even when you look at things here and right now. You have all knowledge and power within which at every point in time there is manifest and unmanifest. If I cannot not find the beginning of anything in the world here and if I postulate a beginning for the universe, I am bound to be confronted with contradiction which is irresolvable.

When I look into this manifestation, I find only all knowledge and power. And within the so called manifest creation also, what I find is an on going interplay of manifest and unmanifest. So that kind of understanding with reference to the creation is very much in keeping with what we discover now. This is how Vedanta treats the question of the beginning of universe.

Question: Even though you say there is no beginning of the universe, still you postulate that there is some kind of principle that you name all knowledge and all power which  is manifest as the universe and which is also what brings the universe itself to manifest from an unmanifest condition.

The word all intelligence or knowledge you are using is loaded with some connotations which makes it difficult to accept. In western philosophy, one of the attempts to prove the existence of a creator of the universe was based on the argument that since there is so much harmony, complexity, and order present in the universe, there must be necessarily an intelligent creator for it. This so called teleological argument (or argument by design to prove the existence of God from the fact the universe is ordered) is today much debated because of the progress of science. What is surprising is that even though you say that the universe does not have a beginning in time, contrary to the prevalent concepts of creation in Judeo-Christian theologies, Vedanta seems to have a quite similar view of the nature of the creator or God when it uses the terms ‘all knowledge and all power’. Then, you have to tell us more about the nature of this creator of the universe according to Vedanta. Is it a personified God as described by Judeo-Christian theologies or some principle present everywhere in the universe? What is exactly this all knowledge and power? And what is its relation with the universe?

Answer: This is a good point. Let us examine the idea of ‘all knowledge and all power’ further. When you see something that is intelligently put together, you suppose that it has a creator. For example, if you see a watch, then it is not difficult to imagine that there must be a creator, even if you have not seen him/her. It is not wrong to assume that there must be a creator somewhere or even several creators scattered in different locations who coordinated their work to create the watch.

In the case of the whole creation, you cannot assume the presence of a person somewhere because you cannot find it locally. Still, humanity has to somehow account for the creator for the creation which constitutes intricate arrangements, an amazing complexity, predictability, and presence of laws governing the behavior of everything. Since people could not find anybody locally, then they naturally turned their faces towards the sky and said the creator must be residing up, somewhere, in heaven. And seated in heaven, God created the universe. This is a general belief of so many people; humanity seems to be committed to a God sitting somewhere.

This is something that we do not accept. Because we can ask the question if God seated in heaven created the world, who created the heaven? And if you say God created the heaven, we can ask ‘where was God before he created the heaven?’ Another problem is that if you insist that God is located in a physical place in the universe, it is limited and must have a form. What form will you give to God? Male or female or something else? Also, an entity who is in time and space framework, with a particular form, cannot be told to be omniscient and omnipotent. In trying to answer these questions, one can get into some logical absurdities.

The nature of the cause of the universe according to Vedanta is completely different. What we say is that any creation has two kinds of causes. A material and an efficient cause. According to Vedanta the creator is both efficient and the material cause of the creation. To understand this, let us come back to our example of a watch; a person is the efficient cause (creator) of the watch while the wires, steel, etc. are its material cause. Just as creator(s) of the watch must have adequate knowledge and capacity to create the watch, the creator of the whole universe must have all knowledge and capacity to create the whole universe.

The pertinent question to ask here is: what is the material out of which the universe was created by the efficient cause of the universe? If you say the material already existed, then the creation is already there and somebody else has created the material. Then you have to ask who has created that material? There is another God who created the material for this God to use it! When you consider only the efficient cause and do not consider the material cause, you again get into problems…This is why we say that material cause cannot be other than the efficient cause – all knowledge and power. At the time of the manifestation of the universe, all knowledge and power becomes the material cause. Being the material cause, it can not be away from creation like wires and metals, etc, from which watch is made, cannot be away from the watch.

If all knowledge and power is not only the efficient cause but also the material cause of the universe, then it must necessarily be everywhere in the creation. This is what Vedanta says. God is not somebody sitting some where, it is not a given thing or entity. All what is here is only knowledge which is manifest in different names and forms. If all knowledge and power is the material cause, then you should be able to see it everywhere. You could ask, ‘Why do not I see it anywhere, I see only animals, living beings, mountains, rivers, etc. I do not see all knowledge and power!’ Vedanta makes you see that. Even if what you see are forms, if you look at them closely, everything, as I said before, is mithya; it ultimately resolves in all knowledge and power. This all knowledge and power manifests through an order so that the world appears with all its varieties, qualities, differences, etc. which depend only upon one thing that is there. This is our understanding of the cause of the universe.

End of part 1

Is all knowledge and power the final reality ?

Discover the answer in part (2), which will be posted soon…


Go further with Discover Vedanta, the yoga of objectivity

[1] The equation ‘You are that’, the cause of the universe

[2] The equation ‘You are that’, the nature of ‘that’

[3] Article in pdf format, The vedic vision of God

[4] The crux of Vedanta, Orders of reality


All pervading Intelligence

Microcosme & Macrocosme

Microcosm & Macrocosm

Two beautiful images to contemplate upon the all pervading intelligence and creative power that is unfolded by the Upanishads, with the help of modern science. It is quite amazing that similar arrangement and patterns are found at the level of the galaxies in the universe and in the network of neurons of a living being.

On the left is a microscopic image of the  neuronal network in the brain of a mouse produced by Mark N. Miller of Brandeis University’s Nelson Lab. On the right is the Max Planck Institute’s computer simulation of the vast dark matter network (purple) connecting visible matter of galaxies (yellow) across the universe.

Source : http://www.kosmictom.com/

Note : Some definitions of dark matter can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_matter & http://science.howstuffworks.com/dark-matter.htm

Go further with Discover Vedanta, the yoga of objectivity

[1] The equation ‘You are that’, the cause of the universe

[2] The equation ‘You are that’, the nature of ‘that’

[3] Article in pdf format, The vedic vision of God