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The Vedic Quest Concerning the Universe, Space and Time
by Rati Saxena Bookmark and Share

Then Gargi Vacaknavi 'O Yajnavalkya, of which they say, it is above the heaven, it is beneath the earth, that which is between these two, the heaven and the earth, that which the people call the past, the present and the future, across space is that woven, like warp and woof?'

He said 'The which is above the heaven and earth, that which the people call the past, the present and future, across space is that woven, like warp and woof'. 

She said 'O Yajnavalkya, of which they say, it is above the heaven, it is beneath the earth, that which is between these two, The heaven and the earth, that which the people call the past, the present and the future, across what is that woven like warp and woof?'

He said 'That which is above the sky, that which is beneath the earth, that which is between these two, sky and earth that which the people call the past, the present and future, across space is that woven like warp and woof. Across what is space woven like warp and woof?'  - Brhadaranyaka Upanisad 

Some questions, which provoke the innocent mind, may provoke the mature mind also. A child may ask some questions which are related to the curiosity of the adult as well: why the stars twinkle, why the moon shines, why the sun rises, why the night comes, where do we come from, where do we go, etc. In fact from the beginning mankind has been struggling with these problems. To resolve this curiosity, they had to increase their intellectual powers. Philosophy and science are the result of this intellectual process. The subjects, which cannot be handled in the laboratory, can be understood by means of the imagination. The curiosity regarding the universe comes under this category. 

The tradition of Indian science and philosophy is quite old. Here, with the understanding of life started with the understanding of the objects, which affect our life. The Vedic thinkers tried to understand the beginning, growth and end of life, and they tried to learn the truth, which controls not only our life, but the related planets too. The strange thing is that Indian literature started with deep philosophy and science; later on the Brahmanas and Puranas explained things by using mythology. Maybe, to reach the people at large, science and philosophy began to seek the help of mythology. The Vedic philosopher reached the result which was not known to the western philosophers for a very long time. They called the universe Brahmanda, and the earth a globe (golak), and with that, the stars and the Milky Way, the sun and the moon, dyow and sky.

In Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the questions related to the universe, time and space are very important. In this paper I am concentrating on the discussion between Gargiand Yajnavalkya. The questions asked by Gargi are related not only to philosophy, but also to science. In the fourth section of the third chapter of that Upanishad, Gargiasks simple questions, which makes Yajnavalkya angry. The first talk is like this. 

Gargi asks Yajnavalkya: 'O Yajnavalkya, if everything is otaprota ( warp and woof) with water, with what is water otaprota?' 
The reply comes: 'Gargi, with air.' 
Then, with what is air otaproa
'With antariksha.' 
With what is antariksha otaprota
'Gargi, with Gandharva loka.' With what is 'With Aditya loka.' Then,Aditya loka with Chandra loka, Chandra loka with Indra loka, Indra loka by Prajapati, Prajapati with Brahma loka
Then Gargi asks, 'Where is Brahma loka?' 

Then, Yajnavalkya gets angry. 1

This discussion may not have satisfied Gargi, but it gives some clues to the knowledge of Space Technology. Most part of the earth is covered with water, and water is the source of life and air is called the friend of water (apam sakha). This is the pranashakti of life. And that is why the loka of vayu (air) comes after jala(water). After vayu comes antariksha, but antariksha not in its modern sense.Antariksha is the source of the relations with other planets. That is why Gandharvacomes after antariksha. The rays of the sun are called Gandharva, so Gandharva is where the sun's rays cross. After that comes Aditya, in whose light the other planets shine. After this comes Chandra loka, scientifically and psychologically related to us. Then comes Devaloka. The word Dev comes from the div dhatu, which means 'to shine.' Actually, what is called 'antariksha' in modern space science is like the dyow of the Upanishad. Surya is called Indra, so in place of Surya, it is called Indra loka. The sun is the center of the universe. Gayatri mantra also worships the sun. Now, the universe, including the sun, is the virat roopa, which is Prajapati, and the controller of everything is BrahmaBrahma loka comes at last. So this is the formula:


There is a doubt whether they thought that the earth was the center of the universe. If it were so, it would be a big mistake. The doubt concerns the meaning of 'otaprota.' Does it mean 'covered with' or 'filled with'? or warp and woof. Languages change with the times. Another thing is that Vedic philosophers were looking at the universe from the earth. That is why their imagination starts with the earth. Certainly, it was not a correct formula. That is why Yajnavalkya got angry. But Gargi was not defeated. She came up with another set of questions. 

What is above the dyow and under the earth, between the earth and thedyow? What is called bhutabhavishya or vartaman? With what is itotaprota
Yajnavalkya says: 'Above the dyow and under the earth, between the earth and dyow, what is called bhuta, bhavishya or vartaman, is otaprota withakash

The second question is: with what is akash otaprota
Then Yajnavalkya says: "Akshara avinashya Brahma." 2

The word akash is made up of a+kashate (verb), which means what shines completely. This means, what makes others shine. In Latin, space means 'spatium,' which means 'to lie upon.' In Chinese Buddhism, 'agha' which comes from Sanskrit, means both visible matter and invisible emptiness. (cf. Y. Raguin, Terminologie). In Chinese stories also, there is discussion about jala, vayu and akash3

The second question of Gargi explains the problem. Here it is clear that above the earth and between the dyow and the earth, there is the kal (time), there is the akash. So the akash is the place of space and time. 

In Chandogya Upanishad, there is the question, what is the gati of loka? The answer is 'akash.' Raymundo Panikkar says, 'Space may be conceived as the continent that makes any content possible, because it is as much container as content.' This means that what science calls 'ether' is akash: only light passes through it, not sound. 

Just as sound waves consist of vibrations of a material medium, air, it was postulated that electromagnetic waves are propagated in a rarefied, all-pervasive (space filling) medium called 'the ether,' which was assumed to be so fine that planets pass trough it without appreciable friction. The electromagnetic field was taken to be a certain kind of stress n the ether, somewhat similar to stresses that occur in ordinary solids, liquid and gaseous materials that transmit the waves of sound and mechanical strains. 4

Space and time are a unit because in space we can go back, but not in time. When time and space pass through us, they look different, but they are connected to each other. If we consider the question of Gargi, we can understand the relation betweenakash and kal. In Atharva Veda also there is a mantra (17.1.19), which says: 'There issat in asat, there is sat in bhutabhuta is reborn in bhavishya, and bhavishya is inbhuta. In kal there are gatinivrti and sthiti.'

Asati sat pratishthitam sati bhootam pratishthitam
Bhootam ha bhavyam Aahitam, bhavyam bhoote pratishthitam.. 

Atharva Veda. 17.1.19

This is the sutra or formula, which explains the relation between space, time andsthiti. This is also the modern scientific theory that accepts this relation between time, space and sthiti. This proves the truth that in non-existence there is existence. Modern science also supports the integration of ether, time and space . Once this is grasped, one can be sure that a thing can come from nothing.

Contemporary scientists know that the universe is controlled by rules. Whether these rules are eternal (sanatana) or not can be understood on the basis of what was thesthiti before brahmanda and what it will be in future. Some scientists think that the planets are moving away from one another. But there was a time when they were quite closer. And it means that when the planets began to move away from one another, the time space relation also started. This was the utpatti of brahmanda. There are many theories about this in modern science.

1. The big bang theory
2. The steady state theory
3. The oscillatory universe theory.

Big Bang Theory

This theory was initially proposed by a Belgian priest Abb' Lema'tre. He carried the argument of expanding universe to its logical ultimate conclusion in 1931 and proposed that at some time in the past the universe was crowded into a very small volume. Lema'tre referred to this state of the universe as the primeval atom and assumed that it was instantaneously created. Subsequent workers, particularly George Gammow, showed that the primeval atom would have been extremely hot - hot enough to explode in a 'big bang'. This big bang would have expelled the material of the primeval atom outward. The expansion we see today is the residual motion of this violent event which took place at the beginning of the time. The model of the universe stemming from the proposal of Lema'tre, as modified later by others is commonly called the big-bang universe. It automatically incorporates the red-shift law and also satisfies the cosmological principle. 5

Steady State Theory

In this model, the universe is pictured as being, on the average, unchanged with time. It would have neither beginning nor end. This does not imply that small changes at some localized position, like evolution of a star or galaxy, could not occur, but it does require that new stars and galaxies would have to appear at the same rate others are dying out. This process would keep the mix of old and young systems the same in the future as we observe it now. 6

Oscillatory Universe Theory

This is an alternative to the Big-bang theory. Assuming that the universe contains enough mass that gravitational forces will be great enough to halt the expansion. The matter of the universe under its own gravitational field will begin to collapse. Eventually, all the matter in the universe will again be reduced to its elementary forms. The primeval atom of Lema'tre will be formed again. Two possibilities then arise. The universe may remain a small, dense object forever, or perhaps the reconstituted object will bounce back into expanding universe with fireball and formation of new galaxies and stars. Some time later the expansion will again be halted, and will set in once again. The universe will continue its expansion and contraction many times ' it will be an 'Oscillating universe'. In the oscillating universe, time is endless and beginningless.7

If we look at this in the light of Vedic philosophy, as in the Nasadiya sukta, there is the shadow of the big bang theory 'There was no sat, no asat, no akash, only something gahana gambhira.' What was it? Whether it was water or something like that or not, there was no death, no amrit, no day nor night, only apraketasalila

Nasadasinno sadaaseetdaanim naseedrajo no vyomo paroyat.
Kimavreevh kuhu kasya sharmnmbhh kimaseed gahanm gambheeram.
Na mrituraseedmritam na tarhi na ratrya ahna aaseetpraketath
Aaneedvataam svdhya tadekam tsmddhanynna parah kim chnaasTam aaseettmasa golahamgreapraketam salilam sarvma idam.

Rig Veda.10.129.1,2,3

Then for apraketasalilatadek (supreme power) has controlled his mental energy and given birth to Kama.

Kamastagre samvartadhi manasoreth prathamm yadaaseet. Rig, -10.129.4
Atharva Veda. 19.5.21

Maybe this was the sphota. Maybe this was the biggest bang.

The second theory holds that time and space are always the same thing. They do not change. In Atharva Veda, Ucchishta sukta, there is this imagination of purnasrishtifrom purna brahma.

Poornat poonaranamudachati poornam poornena sinchyate.
Uto tadadya vidyaam yatstat prishichyate.


This Poornsrista control the earth like axel of the wheel
( Atharva.11.4.4)

The third theory that the universe grows up to a point and starts decreasing: that is,pracarana and sankocana. Atharva veda talks about two different types of girls, one of whom spreads the thread and the other collects. There is neither spreading or collecting completely. This is the way to explain pracarana and sankocana.

Tantrameke yuvatee viroope Abhyaakraamam vayath shanmayookham
Pranya tantoostirate dhatte anyaa naap vrijjaate na mamaato antam.



Tayoraham parinrityanttyoriva na vi jaanaami yatara parstaat
pumaanenad vayatyungrinatti pumaanenad vi jabharadhi naake.


Now, the question is, who has started this universe? 

All religions accept the place of God. This power can be anyone or anything. But Indian philosophers have imagined an akshara brahma (tadek or swayambhu), which is bodiless.

In The Universe and Dr. Einstein, Lincoln Barnett says: 'In the evolution of thought, one fact has been impressively clear, there is no mystery beyond itself. All high roads of intellectual, all byways of theory and conjecture lead ultimately to an abyss that human ingenuity can never span, for man is enchained by this very condition of his being, his fitness and his involvement in nature.' This means that there is something above this world, which cannot be sorted out by science and man. Gargi wanted to learn about that. Modern scientists like Raja Ramanna try to understand this sutra. 

'We consider knowledge obtained purely by observation, i.e. observable world, as a set of Achit. Another set will exist which is entirely devoted to knowledge depending on ones state of consciousness which we call the set of Chit. The following possibility exist:

A. The Achit set is a subset of the Chit set since without Chit there is nobody to observe. The remaining part of the Chit set allows for the non-observable world which includes intuition, mysticism, mythology and the appreciation of the arts. 

This implies Sachit § Schit

B. The 'Chit' set is a subset of the Achit set. This is the standpoint taken by the materialists, who believe that physics can explain every thing and consciousness arises purely from molecular interactions. 

This implies Schit § Sachit

C. There is an intersection between the Chit and Achit sets as is required by Quantum mechanics. 

This implies  Schit ∩ Sachit # 0. 

If we continue the argument based on set theory, i.e. Sa d Sb and Sb d Sa then Sa is identical with Sb. Can I interpret to mean that whether the body creates consciousness or consciousness resides in appropriate body is tautological statement.

Beyond these two sets, there exists another set which includes absolute symmetry containing all knowledge, be it of the observable nature or the intuitively felt. This set is the very origin of the things and includes such concepts as what physics call 'Grand Unification'. It is perhaps justified in calling this set Isvara set. We also note that it is the departure from absolute symmetry that gives rise to the subset chit and achit. In earlier philosophy, this was termed as Maya.' 8

By understanding these sutras, we can understand the cause of chit and achit and what is Brahma. Stephen Hawking too believes in the place of God. In the Upanishads, God is called a-ksharaa-sthulaan-anua-hrsvaa-dirghaa-lohitaetc.

Yajnavalkya says that Brahma is the one who is inside akash, but akash does not know him. His body is akash, but he can control akash

Yah Aakaashe tishthnnakashadntaro yamakasho na ved yasyakashmantaro yamatyesh ta aatmachnttaryaamrith. 9

In ether or akash, light can cross and soundlessness grows into a situation which may be called nirguna. That may be the reason that Brahma is imagined as nirguna. In another sense, Brahma is opposed to Brahmanda. This virodha creates santulana. That is why Stephen Hawking says ' 

In the real universe, however the galaxies are not just moving directly away from each other ' they also have small sideways velocities. So in reality they need never have been all at exactly the same place, only very close together. Perhaps then the current expanding universe resulted not from a Big Bang singularity but from an earlier contracting phase; as the universe has collapsed, the particles in it might not have collided but have flown past and then away from each other, producing the present expansion of the universe. 10

At last we can say that the reality of the universe, which is still a problem for the scientists was thoroughly discussed by Indian philosophers long back. They are very close to the modern theory. If we want to know more about our modern research, we should re-learn ancient Indian philosophy and remember that in that philosophy a woman (Gargi) played a part

More by :  Rati Saxena
Views: 8162
Article Comment what a muddle...

too much ado about nothing.. I mean it .. literally...

Anyone seriously interested in learning the essence of Upanishad, should read Tao. Rajnish called it Tao Upnaishad (and for a good reason). And the best book for that is "Wisdom of Laotse" by Lin Yutang (1948).

The basic essense of all Upanishads is (1) The Universe, all the matter, energy and its foundational forces (gravity, EM, strong weak Nuclear), space and time are all ultimately formed by the One (& Only) Eternal Unknowable thing that existed before our time and space even came into being.

(2) Everything else is just its (created) form (or creature) and all experience is just its Nature (Prakruti)

(3) The One can NOT be understood or conceived by any intelligence or senses of the created creatures that are formed (by and of it) in the universe. Of course, leave alone discussed in any words or language (so forget about reading any books or listening to any wisdom!)

Beyond the above, all other knowledge and wisdom is just combinations of derived corollaries by thought and/or experienced Nature (thru one's senses).
Thus, it is not fundamental or absolute but only relative to the one who thinks or experiences.

Tue 20 dec 2011
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