J. Robert Oppenheimer carried a huge fascination for the Indian scripture “Bhagvad Gita.” Looking at the fireball of the explosion of the test nuclear bomb, Trinity, he exclaimed a quote from the book: “Now I am become the Death, the destroyer of worlds.” (Video reference)

J R Oppenheimer reminiscing his quote from Bhagvad Gita: ‘Now I am become the Death’ 

Oppenheimer was not the only scientist of the modern era with a fascination for Indian philosophy. Many scientists who pioneered modern day science were ardent enthusiasts of Vedanta and other aspects of ancient Indian philosophy.

There is a popular text ‘An open letter by Mary Boole to Dr Bose.’ This was written by Mary Boole, wife of George Boole, the famous logician who invented Boolean Algebra. Mary Boole was a prominent logician of her day in her own right.

George Boole, creator of the mathematics of computers

George Boole’s father-in-law, George Everest, had served assignments in Colonial India for a long time. He is credited to have made it to the highest peak in the world known to the rest of the world, which still bears his name. Whenever George Everest went back to England for his vacations, he carried copies of many esoteric works from Hindu scriptures, and George Boole read these with great fervour. Boole also spent a lot of time studying from various scholars in India.

According to Mary Boole, it was the fascination with the non-dual philosophy of India that helped George Boole create the foundation of binary logic, and with his colleagues Augustus de Morgan and Charles Babbage laid the foundation of the entire mathematical framework that gave birth to computers in upcoming decades.

Indian Spirituality – A journey into the Unknown

Indian Spirituality is essentially a journey of exploration – a venture to understand the content, composition, structure, dynamics, intent, and purpose of the Creation. 

That makes Indian spirituality a journey into the Unknown. It acknowledges that not everything can be made Known in a way that fits entirely into our linear, rational thought process. The Unknown also includes the Unknowable – stuff that can be experienced, and understood intuitively but cannot be expressed in our verbal vocabulary.

The Indian scriptures are primarily an articulation of the discoveries of stalwarts of spiritual exploration. These scriptures were never meant to be a book of rules. Rather than asserting “this is the way,” they are an enunciation of “this was my way, and this is how I explain what I found. Now find yours.

This is what made the spiritual content of India extremely scientific. At the dawn of 20th century, when scientific observations seemed to defy every known rational foundation of Science and were squeezing the hell out of the scientists’ brains, the pioneers of Modern Physics turned to Vedanta, the core of Indian spirituality, to arrive at an explanation of the Universe that could make sense.

The Connected Universe

One of the observations that was massively challenging scientists’ tolerance for absurdity was “instantaneous action between particles.” The scientists could not accept that any action on one particle could result in a reaction on its entangled counterpart far way, instantaneously.

This mystery was brilliantly explained by the genius of David Bohm.

David Bohm with J Krishnamurthy

Bohm had been a follower of Indian philosophy, too. His conversations with the spiritual icon, J. Krishnamurthy, captured in the book The Ending of Time, is a masterpiece.

Bohm drew the analogy of a fish in an aquarium. 

Suppose you see videos of two fish projected on two screens. You observe that whenever the first fish turns right, the other fish goes straight. When the first fish goes straight, the other one turns to its sides.

Instantaneous action at a distance between two fish

Trying to explain the instantaneous action of one fish on the other could be mystifying.

However, when we find out that both these images are projections of the same fish, filmed from perpendicular angles, the explanation is obvious.

The two fish images are projections of the same ‘unseen’ fish.

It’s not one fish influencing the other. They are two projections of an underlying “unseen” fish, the entangled particles do not influence each other, but are projected manifestations of an underlying inter-connectedness.

This, the inter-connectedness of everything, is the ultimate essence of the whole of Indian spirituality. Indian spirituality is all about one absolute Consciousness.

We are often quick to seek and make conclusions about the “causality” in the world around us. Probably, every causality around us has roots in a much deeper underlying inter-connected dimension.

The science that evolved in the 20th century rang a death-knell to the extremely solid science that had evolved in the previous few centuries. What appeared solid suddenly turned out to be almost entirely hollow, empty space. “The particle is here” gave way to “The particle may probably be around somewhere here.” All claims of accuracy and precision in measurements were replaced by an inherent uncertainty in the act of measurements itself. 

As if Physics was not creating enough problems, logician Kurt Godel came up with his incompleteness theorem that proved that not all statements which are true can be proven to be true within a given system. 

The entire objectivity and certainty of the material world was shaken at its very foundation.

Indian spirituality has always been based on this foundation of the relative nature of our reality. It has always considered realities as a matter of pure subjective, individual perception and interpretation, each reality being just an individual projection of an absolute truth that is beyond our rational perception.

The following poem is an allegorical and metaphorical depiction of this idea.

The Empress’ Carnival

Languishing in “Her” royal chamber,
I’ve been a guest for so long,
Enjoying her hospitality,
Relishing the pleasures of her surreal world.
She, the conjuror,
Brings up everything I wish for – instantaneously.
From a banquet for the taste buds,
To a feast for all my senses,
Oh, A stimulation of the intellect, too,
And endless goose bumps to my soul.
I make a wish and the Empress has it there, 
At the magical sleight of her hand.

I hum to the music that never stops,
Fixated at those dancers who never pause,
Inebriated by the intoxication all around,
That makes even my walk look like a step of a dance.
All these giant wheels in her carnival,
Those monstrous roller-coaster rides,
The wonder of gradually inching up the slide,
And the chill of the thrill as I go falling down.

Outside this royal chamber, there is another world.
No not one, countless many worlds,
A personal world for every being out there,
Each partaking of their own paradise.
I can just see their shadows,
Cast on the walls of their majestic tent.
Just as they see – not me,
But my silhouette on the walls of my tent.
I spent a lifetime, efforting,
To create the perfect exact image of how I wanted to be seen.
Forgetting – They are not there to look at me,
Nor am I here to be hooked to them.
We are all languishing in our universes,
Partaking of the Empress’ carnival,
Casting a glance, once in a while,
At others’ shadows, as we mount our personal rides.

The Veil of Illusion

A fundamental mystical concept in Indian spiritual tradition is the idea that the world is Maya – an illusion.

It is easy to mock this concept – if everything is an illusion, why can we not walk through walls?

The concept of Maya is beyond any of these misconceived and misconstrued arguments. It is more about a Veil that hides the absolute reality, preventing us from seeing what exactly is, and relegating us to a limited perception of the universe.

Maya, the Illusion is about the discrepancy of what is and what we perceive. The analogy of the reality being veiled signifies that we cannot see reality absolutely as it is, but only an interpreted version of it. This holds equally to the sensory phenomenon as well as our mental constructs. This is equally true of the physical aspect of the world as well as our inner psychological world.

What we perceive through our senses is a shared interpretation. It is the result of the way our neurology processes inputs from around us. Other living beings process the same inputs differently and have a different quality of perception about the universe around us.

It’s exactly the same when we make conclusions about behaviours, intentions, actions of another person.

Our perception of everything around us is laced with meanings, interpretations, judgements, that add layers of structure to what actually exists. Our individual realities are composed of a hierarchy of such structured layers.

We do not share a common reality. We carry our own individual realities, and what we share with others is an intersection of our realities. Each of us is the centre of our own individual reality, and we play a supportive role in other people’s realities. 

When we look at all of this from a strictly matter-based perspective, it may feel spooky. That is what drives some to assert that “faith” should be kept away from “rationality”.

The cosmic view of the Indian spirituality did not have such a dichotomy, because it was always based on the idea of the universe being constituted of “Consciousness” and “Energy” and matter being just a dense approximation of the same. The idea of God itself was a manifestation of these forms of Consciousness and Energy. Hence, the physical world was not separate from God, and faith was not contradictory to rationality.

Welcome to the world of waves and vibrations!

The World of Vibrations

The Indian view perceives the entire universe as constituted of vibrations. Matter is the densest form of this vibration, the vibrations of the lowest frequency of the spectrum, but vibration nevertheless.

Hence, the treatise on these subjects do not get confounded by any wave-particle dualities. Particle, too, is a form of wave.

The notion of the wave- nature of particle is what solves the conundrums of modern science. 

This perception of the universe as vibration is the key to the Science of ‘Mantras’. 

Mantras are not prayers. Mantras are not a call to the almighty for His grace. Mantras are a sequence of sounds that create a certain vibrations on intonation, which resonates with certain vibrations they resonate with to create a desired connection and an intended impact.

The whole of Sanskrit language, alphabet and grammar is a phenomenal expression of the concept of vibrations. 

The Sanskrit Alphabet

The Sanskrit alphabet is not a random mish-mash of randomly arranged letters.

The Sanskrit Alphabet itself is considered as a complete Mantra in itself. The Sanskrit Alphabet is the phonetic representation of all Consciousness – the human consciousness as well as the cosmic consciousness. 

Every language consists of vowels and consonants

Vowels are sounds which can be stretched infinitely. e.g. I could prolong the sound ‘eeeeeeeeeeee’ and elongate this sound forever without a break. Constants are discrete sounds, and require vowels for completion.

A simple representation of vowels in Sanskrit

Vowels in Sanskrit, because of the free-flowing characteristic of their sound, represent Shakti – the primordial Energy, which is also regarded as the feminine aspect of Divine.

In Sanskrit, letters are arranged in a sequence of points inside our vocal system from where sounds originate.

Arrangement of vowels in Sanskrit based on the location at which the sound originates

The sequence of vowels, too, are arranged based on the location of the origin of the sounds. 

Each vowel represents a facet and flow of Shakti, the Divine Feminine Energy and has a very precise impact.

The Consonants in Sanskrit are arranged in a similar schematic way. Consonants, because of their discrete nature, represent Shiva – the primordial Consciousness, which forms the substratum of the entire universe, but requires the support of Shakti, the vowels to have an existence.

Representation of the Sanskrit consonants

 The first 25 consonants are arranged in 5 sets of 5 letters each.

The arrangement of these sets depends on the location from where the sounds emanate. 

e.g. the first set of sounds, that includes letters like ‘k’ as in kite, or ‘ga’ as in ‘gun’ emanate from the throat area.

The other sets progressively move horizontally outward on the tongue, till we reach the last set which contains sounds like ‘pa’ and ‘ba’ which are pronounced entirely from the lips.

Within each set, the point of the source of the sound, moves upwards, the last sound of each set being a nasal sound, e.g. ‘m’. The nasal sounds play the role of prolonging the vibration of the entire word, just like the gonging of a bell.

Each letter carries a distinct vibration and can impact body, mind, spirit, as well as the environment around us in specific ways. 

Sound vs. Meaning

The vocabulary of Sanskrit takes into account that the meaning of words have a correlation with the vibration of the sound of the word. This is what essentially makes Sanskrit a language that does not only communicate with human consciousness, but with the existence in totality. The impact it creates does not only come from its meaning, but through the resonance of vibrations it creates.

The whole of Indian language, art and literature has evolved with this equivalence of sound and meaning, the emphasis being more on the sound than the content.

The Science of Vibration

There is an entire science of study, called the Naad Yoga, which studies the impact of sound vibrations on our body and consciousness as well as the universal and cosmic consciousness. Naad Yoga studies sound for the impact it creates through its frequencies and vibrations, with little regard to the content or meaning involved.

This – Naad Yoga – is the basis of the whole of Indian classical music.

Through this edition of this series on Indian Art+Spirituality, we are taking a few steps closer to the fascinating world of the Indian Classical Music.

Indian Classical Musical – Orchestrating the Cosmos

Music adds another dimension to vibrations – notes. Each note in itself has a distinct vibration, and when combined in a sequence of notes, creates a distinct impact.

The Indian Classical Music is essentially an exploration of the impact of all dimensions of Sound on Human Consciousness. 

The Indian Classical Music is a marvel. It has an existence beyond great music and fantastic lyrics, catchy tunes, haunting melodies or foot-tapping rhythm. It is beyond moods and emotions and thoughts and feelings. 

The Indian Classical Music employs the power of Naad – sound vibrations – in the most fascinating way. The spirituality of Indian Classical Music comes not from the content or lyrics, but the ethereal manner in which the sound is manoeuvred with. Even an instrumental rendition of a Sitar, Flute or Veena, can lead one to deep states of trance.

There are many folk-lore that describe how singers in the past have achieved feats like causing rain, stopping torrents, lighting up lamps, attracting and taming wild animals, etc. through a rendition of certain ragas (musical scales). While these do seem far-fetched, an understanding of the vibrational nature of the universe, does indicate a hint of what appropriate vibrations could do to the universal as well as human consciousness. 

While no musician of this era may be able to light a lamp through her singing, the impact of Indian classical music as an element of therapy causing real physical changes in our physiology is sufficiently documented. 

In the previous editions of this series, we looked at the role of gods and goddesses in Indian spirituality and we explored many art forms that draw inspiration from these personified forms of Consciousness. 

We are now ready to move beyond those and explore the meta-theological aspects of Indian spirituality.

In this edition, we have gradually worked our way to arrive at a point where we understand why and how could vibrations be so potent in shaping up our reality. With this background, in our upcoming editions, we will delve into the amazing world of ragas and the whole mystical and enigmatic world the ragas create for us. 

In fact, the Indian Classical Music is a means for orchestrating the cosmos!