The Upanishads from a Scientific Perspective – Dr Varanasi Ramabrahmam

UPANISHADS – TEXTS OF SCIENCE?

Dr. Varanasi Ramabrahmam

      It is a popular belief that the Upanishads are texts of theology and religion. But the Upanishads are also texts of science. How? Please read on.

     The Upanishads are treasure-houses of Indian spirituality and wisdom.  They together with The Brahma Sutras and The Bhagavadgita are traditionally commented upon theologically linking to God and hence religion. Thus we have advaita view of Sankara,, visistaadvaita view of Ramanuja, dvaita view of Madhwa and Saakaadvaita view as chief and popular views and sects are created around each of them. Vedanta Darsana and advaita siddhanta have their roots in the Upanishads.

     The Upanishads together with Vedanta and advaita philosophy can be viewed and understood from modern psychological and scientific points of view also. Such a view reveals the psychological and scientific content of the Upanishadic awareness. This view can be applied beneficially to the fields of mind-machine modeling, physiological psychology and natural language comprehension branch of artificial intelligence. .

     The Upanishads propose the existence of Atman in individuals and the Upanishads are source books of Atma Jnana. Atma Jnana consists of the theory of the origin, structure, function, cessation and control of mind in the four conscious states or phases of mind in which it works and ceases to work. Atma Jnana also provides us with the details of the source of psychic or mental energy whose changes and transformations enable us to know, perceive, reason, intuit, understand/experience and be aware of all these processes.

 

a) PSYCHOLOGICAL AND SCIENTIFIC MEANINGS OF CHIEF UPANISHADIC MAHAVAKYAS

    1.                Aham Brahma Asmi             I AM BRHMAN                  I AM SELF

        The real identity of ‘I’ is Unoccupied Awareness. The state of  SELF.

        ‘I’ is not a body, person, thought or not a sense.  ‘I’ is pure consciousness.

                ‘I’ is the impersonal Seer which is the source of mental energy and guide of    and witness to transformation of mental energy as mental functions but unaffected by them and transcending both mental functions   and their cessation.

 

2.                        Tat Tvam Asi    THAT IS YOU      YOU ARE THE SELF

Self and Pure Consciousnesses are same in nature, content, structure, form (function) and presence. At a given moment either self-consciousness or pure consciousness will be present. Self-consciousness is super imposition over pure consciousness. Pure consciousness is continuous, self-consciousness is transient and transitory.

 

      3.    Ayam Atma Brahma   THIS ATMAN IS BRAHMAN  ATMAN= BRAHMAN=SELF 

Atman is Brahman – Unoccupied Awareness — Energy Presence without transformation.

 

      4.    Prajnanam Brahma   PRAJNANAM IS BRAHMAN       PRAJNANAM IS SELF

Brahman– as Atman — Energy Presence – is Mental Time- Space and   Continuous Awareness.

Prajnanam is Unoccupied (by cognitions, thoughts, cognition-related and created experiences, senses or their retrieval) Awareness in Pure Consciousness.

     

      5    Raso vy Saha   AWARENESS OF MEANINGFUL EXPERIENCE/EXPERIENCED OF MEANING  IS BRAHMA ALL SOUNDS &SENSES ORIGINATE & MERGE IN SELF

Experience of Essence of the meanings of all vakyas (sentences) – All Cognition-related experiences in the awareness of the Atman– Meaningful Experience. Silence. Peace. Bliss.. Experienced meaning. Purport.

 

6.      Anando Brahma  BLISS IS BRAHMAN       STATE OF SELF IS STATE OF BLISS

Unoccupied Awareness is bliss.

 

7.    Sarvam Khalu Idam Brahma   ALL IDAM IS BRAHMAN  ALL KNOWN/ PERCEIVED / EXPERIENCED/UNDERSTOOD WORLD IS PART AND PARCEL OF AND CONTAINED IN SELF; IS A SUPERIMPOSITION ON THE REAL I STATE

Idam, (prapancham or jagat ) ( all the world – the collection of cognitions sensed by sense organs through the medium of manas) – is composed in, made up of, sustained by, rests in and ceases to be because of and part and parcel of psychic energy pulse generator – Atman.  

                                          

b) WHAT IS ‘I’?

The real identity of ‘I’ according to the Upanishads:

The term ‘I’, denotes human consciousness. Human consciousness is awareness of human mind.

‘I’ is not a term denoting any of an individual, individual’s body, self-consciousness, the social status, age, gender etc.,

‘I’ is the unoccupied awareness or pure consciousness in the individual in the Jagrat Sishupti (wakeful sleep) consciousness state when peace, bliss, silence and oneness or non-duality is experienced.

‘I’ is not a person, a thought, a sense, an experience or an understanding. ‘I’ is a consciousness which transcends all these and is a non-transforming seer and witness to all these and is revealed and experienced as peace or bliss or silence in wakeful sleep conscious state- the mind-transcending phase when all mental activities in the form of thoughts and senses etc, -cease to be. And one has to refer to this natural mental state when one refers to ‘I’.

‘I’ is unceasing, undivided continuous blissful conscious awareness.

‘I’ or Atman is consciousness present always (in all phases of mind) and is super-imposed but untouched by mental functions during wakeful (Jagrat) and dream (Swapna) conscious states and becomes sense/mood or thought or expression.  Self-consciousness arises in these two states and then ‘I’ is identified with individual’s body, sense and thoughts about I, me, mine, mental capabilities, gender, social status, age etc, and masks pure consciousness.  In deep sleep (Sushupti) conscious state (like zero in number system it is without value but is essential and significant) there is no awareness of the body, the within or without of the body.  No ‘I’ expression, thought, feeling or sense or experience relating to individual exists in this mental phase.

‘I’ or Atman is an eternal consciousness transcending the three conscious states – wakeful, dream and deep sleep- and observes all the mental activities or cessation of such activities taking place in these three mental phases.  ‘I’ is also present during these phases as continuous consciousness/awareness to happenings within and without of the body.

Upanishadic awareness uses the terms Atman, Brahman, Sat (Being), Chit (Pure Consciousness), Ananda (Bliss), Prajnanam (mental time-space – Unoccupied Awareness), Santhi (Peace), Maunam (Silence/Quietude/Mental Solitude) synonymously

 

      Atman is Brahmapadartha. Padartha is defined as an entity devoid of name and form. Atman and Brahman are one and the same. The presence of Atman provides us with mental energy (chit sakti) and mental time-space (prajnaanam).Atman is the source of psychic energy or chit sakti. Because of chit sakti only we are able to be aware of our body, mind and its functions.

     From Atman, chit sakti issues out and gets reflected in Medha (intelligence) as maya (illusion). Thus maya is reflected chit sakti and is virtual (mithya), in the same sense as there is the presence of a virtual image in the mirror which is there but is not real. Virtual also means it is sourced from something else and its being is dependent on its source and its phase of existence is transitory compared to its source. Maya is also known as chidaabhaasa or pranavam.

Maya, the mental energy providing current of awareness, pervades the whole body. It bifurcates and transforms into divya and swara. Divya is the jnaana sakti. It is divided as four antahkaranas (inner mental tools)- manas, buddhi, chittam and ahamkaaram. Swara, the praana sakti divides itself into pancha praanaspraana, apaana, vyaana, udaana and samaana.

     Manas is the inner mental tool that connects us to the outside world through sense organs and cognition of objects takes place. Manas also stores these cognitions as inner mental world (prapancham or idam) and retrieves from it when necessary the cognitions as jagat in the form of thoughts or feelings (bhavas).

     These cognitions when happening create perceptions and simultaneously cause corresponding experiences for us. These are called vasanas (remembrances). Vasana, which include also the meanings or senses of words and sentences we learn, are sensed, stored and retrieved by the inner mental tool chittam.

     The inner mental tool buddhi gives the ability for intellectual operations and discrimination. The inner mental tool ahamkaram gives us self-consciousness. Self-consciousness is a bunch of thoughts and feelings in the individual about oneself as I, me and mine, like the features of body, gender, job, social status, loves, hatreds, mental qualities and traits etc., when ‘I’ is identified with the individual’s body and mind.

     Prana sakti activates action organs which act and react according to the perception created when knowing an object (vishaya) takes place. Thus Atmajnaana expounded by the Upanishads provides the software of mental functions.

     Our learning of various languages, knowledge, subjects, disciplines and skills and actions and interactions using mind are thus chit energy transformations in mental time space known as unoccupied awareness (prajnaanam) provided by Atman.

     Our mental functions are a combined operation of Atman, maya, antahkaranaas, panchpraanas, jnaanendriyaas (sense organs- eye, ear, nose, tongue and skin) and karmendriyaas (action organs-speech, movements relating to hands, legs, bowels and reproductive organ).

       Atman is the result of the breathing process.  Srestaprana, (most possibly O2, and the consequent  rhythmic gaseous exchange taking place in the lungs) is given as the body (tanu) of Atman. Thus we can say that Atman is a bio-oscillator which generates psychic energy pulses which are responsible for mental energy materially (chit sakti) and also for mental time-space. Maya is a series of reflected and virtual chit energy pulses, which flow throughout the body enabling us to be conscious-beings. Thus chit sakti first transforms as maya and then maya transforms as as jnaana sakti and praana sakti creating antahkaranas (inner mental tools) and pancha praanas respectively activating sense organs and action organs and hence causes various conscious states and phases of mind.      

      Further, Atman – the Sat-Chit-Ananda– as sat gives humans the ability to relate themselves to the body, their self (egoistic mind), aches/pains/sensations within (to have self-consciousness) and without of their body, as chit gives the ability to know, to perceive, to think and as ananda to experience, to understand, to create and remove moods, to know the meanings of utterances and experiences and as Sat-Chit-Ananda gives humans the ability to be aware of all these. If humans are involved in these mental functions with an egoistic mind, they are self-conscious (jivatma/egoistic state of mind/individual) and if they witness these transcending as a seer or witness (saakshi) uninvolved and unaffected, they are pure consciousness (paramatma/egoless/ego-transcending/Divine).

     When studied with an open mind and further contemplation like this, it becomes clear that Upanishads are actually Texts of Science on Human Mind. The Atmajnana (Knowledge of Self) as revealed in the Upanishads as an integrated psychology in mental energy-presence and -transformation terms.

 

Sources:

Ramabrahmam, V, Being and Becoming: A Physics and Upanishadic awareness of time and thought process, Ludus Vitalis, International Journal of Philosophy of Life Sciences, Vol. XIII, Number 24, 2005, pp.139-152.

Ramabrahmam, V., The Science of human consciousness, Ludus Vitalis, International Journal of Philosophy of Life Sciences, Vol. XV, Number 27, 2007, pp. 127-142.

Ramabrahmam, V, Physical Structure and Function of Mind: A Modern Scientific Translation of Advaita Philosophy with application and implications to cognitive sciences and natural language comprehension, paper presented at the national seminar on Sanskrit in Modern Context, held at Department of Sanskrit Studies, University of Hyderabad, February 11th-13th, 2008.

Please click on the link below to open a PDF of the diagrams representing the ideas in this article:

scientific-upanishads-diagrams1

6 Responses to “The Upanishads from a Scientific Perspective – Dr Varanasi Ramabrahmam”


  1. 1 V V S Sarma February 6, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    I do not like the question mark in the title “UPANISHADS – TEXTS OF SCIENCE?”, while I liked the content. The modern glorification of SCIENCE as a panacea of the world and
    debunking of Science, religion and God as obscurantism is
    the bane of narrow thinking widely prevalent today, though top level scientists never subscribe to it. Upanishads are results of inquiry into the triple – self, God and World
    where as science for the most part – at the Newtonian level
    had at best a shallow view of the world. Quantum theory, relativity etc. have opened up gross and subtle levels of consideration, which is intrinsic in ancient Indian literature. I would suggest a title such as UPANISHADS – TEXTS OF RATIONAL AND INTUITIVE INQUIRY

    While this not a criticism of the text, it is a genuine feeling

  2. 2 Anand Viswanathan June 18, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    The reason for dissociating religion from anything remotely scientific mainly lies in the western world. There the major organized religious caused havoc in the name of religion for centuries and propounded such unscientific philosophies that it became common to believe that “religion” means dogma. Here this “religion” does not include all religions. When we look at the period of the upanishads, it is the time when such purity and clarity of thought was prevailing in this chaturyuga(Krita and treta yugams).

    And yes the author is right in pointing out that they are scientific. More about its relation to modern physics for eg, can be found in the book ‘The tao of physics’ by Fritjof capra

  3. 3 Kaneez March 14, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    I need some information on self and consciousness in upanishads?

  4. 5 anand August 2, 2011 at 8:38 pm

    Let me quote from a book on The Hindu Temples written by Alain Danielou. I find Alain’s comment very significant as it has interpreted Hindu thought in a similar manner. He says, “According to Hindu cosmological concepts, the world is divine thought, a divine dream without substance, made only of elements of energy that manifest themselves as atoms, tendencies and movements in what appears to us as matter, feeling, thought, consciousness and life. The continuity and interdependence of the various aspects of what we term ‘existence’ or ‘reality’ are absolute. Neither dimension nor duration exists as such. The dimensions of space and time are defined only in relation to ourselves, to the wavelengths on which our tiny centers functions as living beings.”


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